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Arthritis / Senior horses - winter management

arthritis winter Feb 03, 2021

This weeks Tips are around Arthritis / Senior horses and how to manage them in the winter months when it’s cold, wet, slippy, icy, snowy etc!

Senior horses and/or horses with stiff joints need some special care in the winter as the cold wet weather really does affect their comfort levels.

The good news is that there is a lot we can do to help our friends to keep them comfortable and able to exercise!

Tip 1: Medication: pain relief and joint supplements

Your senior / arthritic horse might need an alteration to their medication and / or joint supplement over the winter months to help them deal with their joint pain and keep them more comfortable when it's cold and damp. 

An update with your vet is the best place to start, so that your medication plan is totally up to date for your horse for the winter. And a review of your joint supplement too - it might be that you swap to a higher specification joint supplement over the winter months.

Once your horse is on the right medication plan, it can make an enormous difference to them. Their joints are more comfortable, so they are not compensating all over their body, they can relax a bit more, and find exercise more comfortable and more enjoyable, and exercise helps to increase blood flow, improve the internal health of the joints, and build strength to support their joints. So it’s a positive cycle.

Tip 2: Keep them moving

Senior / arthritic horses really do seem to do better when they can be kept in exercise - even if it’s only walking over the winter! Don’t underestimate the benefits of walking!

Once your medication/treatment is in place and your horse is more comfortable, light regular exercise is one of the next best things that you can be doing.

So if you’re able to do some walk exercise, here are some ideas:

  • Hand walking
  • Walk out around your farm/yard/lanes
  • Long reining
  • Walking over poles
  • In hand work for flexibility
  • PLUS add in core engagement exercises!

I have seen senior / arthritic horses transform with just a few changes to their routine, and low impact exercise (walking) can be ideal for them!

Tip 3: Team approach!

If you don’t already have a team of professionals around you to help you with your horse, set one up! I can’t advise this strongly enough!

Your vet, physiotherapist and farrier are all able to help you with the different aspects of managing your senior / arthritic horse, and especially during the winter months if your horse is struggling a bit more.

Your vet can make alterations to medication/treatment for you horse on an ongoing basis, and will be able to advise on new treatments that are available etc.

Your physiotherapist will also be invaluable in monitoring your horses comfort levels, and can set you up with the correct level of exercise for your horse, as well as specific exercises to help your horses individual diagnosis. And regular bodywork treatment is super valuable to monitor your horses body, help to deal with compensation patterns, and improve your horses joints and muscles.

And your farrier can help ensure that your horses feet are balanced properly to support their degenerating joints. Or they can work out a remedial shoeing plan alongside your vet, if this is what is required to help support specific joints.

Tip 4: What changes could you make?

Sometimes we, the owner/rider need to make changes to our mindset too, along this journey with our horses.

There comes a time with a senior / arthritic horse when we will need to reduce our horses intensity of exercise, sometimes temporarily but sometimes permanently, and this will actually allow them to stay in exercise, and enable both horse and rider to enjoy your exercise together for many more years to come.

No good comes from continually pushing a horse that is showing signs of pain - we MUST step back, allow professionals to help our horse, and maybe alter our plans.

It’s tough to see our animals ageing, but so important to manage them more sympathetically as they get that bit older. Some changes here and there really can make all the difference to them.

I have seen senior horses transform with alterations to medication, exercise, management, so it is possible with your team, to keep your horse comfortable and exercising well into old age! But you will need to change things, and sometimes reduce their workload, or change the type of work that they do.

Low impact work, flexibility exercises and core strength are the types of exercise that I normally put in place for senior horses - if you would like more detailed help on this topic, please have a look at my Ebook ‘Practical ways to manage your horse with Arthritis’ which is 40 pages of information about diagnosis, treatments, supplements, therapy equipment, and exercises to use to help your horse with flexibility. 


And if you would like some ongoing support and help, have a look at my Online Learning Platform, it's my growing library of training modules and videos, with a VIP members group. Lots of training of different ways to exercise and manage your horse sympathetically. 



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