As the winter weather is upon us and the cold, damp conditions become the daily norm, we need to think quite carefully about how these adverse changes will affect our horses. Over the last few weeks I have seen a large number of horses with increased stiffness levels, in particular horses diagnosed with arthritis in their joints.
Although arthritis is a long term degenerative condition of the joint, fortunately there is a lot we can be do to help our horses cope with this disease and stay sounder for longer. I’ve put together a few ideas to get you focused….
You need to have a clear diagnosis from your vet to determine which joints are affected, the severity of the arthritis and whether a short or long term treatment plan is required. Your vet and a good set of x-rays should always be your starting point.
Once you have this all important information and a treatment plan, you can move onto the management phase of arthritis….
‘Use it or lose it’. Horses with arthritis seem to do much better in terms of soundness when kept in regular work. Once they have been treated by a vet, you need to gently encourage them to use their joints correctly and regularly. This not only helps the internal health of the joint, but sets up a positive cycle of improvement in the longer term.
30 minutes exercise 5-6 times per week is much better than 1-2 hours once a week, for horses with arthritis. Little and often is really beneficial in keeping the joints healthy and the surrounding structures strong to support the joints.
Heat: I find that horses with stiff, arthritic joints respond really well to their joints being kept warm, in particular in the cold/damp weather. Boots, heat pads and stable wraps can all beneficial to keep the joints warm. Even hot water bottles, if used with caution, can have great results.
Magnetic boots, lots of hype but are they all that? Static magnets are reputed to help with arthritic joints, by increasing blood flow to the area which helps to heal injured tissue. Although scientific research does not support this, lots of people do find that magnetic boots do help to decrease swelling and heat the joints, increasing comfort levels. Whilst it maybe in some debate from a scientific hard fact point of view, it is another useful, cost effective and noninvasive treatment option in your tool kit to manage arthritis.
Warm up well. Horses with arthritic joints respond well to a longer warm up in ridden or lunge work, so a good 10 minute walk on a loose rein is ideal to get the joints moving before we move into trot work or picking the contact up.
Flat paddocks are ideal. Steep hills and rough ground are not ideal turnout for arthritic horses. Flat paddocks are much more beneficial so that the joints don’t receive any additional strain.
Daily turnout is ideal for horses with arthritis as gentle movement is better for the internal lubrication and health of the joints. Continual natural movement also contributes positively to the suppleness and strength of joints and surrounding structures.
Supplements, that little help from the outside. A joint supplement recommended by your vet or physiotherapist can make a huge difference to your horses comfort and soundness levels. There are literally hundreds on the market, all with big bold claim their properties and beneficial results. Ask for advice, not only from your vet or physio, but also other horse owners who have had experiences with supplements already.
Feet. If your horse has been diagnosed with arthritis it’s really important to inform your farrier and have them assess your horse’s feet with this diagnosis in mind. They may be able to make alterations to the trim they carry out or provide shoes that will give support the joints affected.
Another important element that will help horses with arthritis is regular physiotherapy. In particular manual treatment to ensure the body is loose, comfortable, symmetrical and not compensating for joint pain. And then specific exercises that can be done daily at home to help the whole body maintain suppleness and correct function and movement patterns.
These points are by no means exhaustive, and there are many more aspects of arthritis and its treatment that I will be writing about over the coming months. But it’s a good starting point, and I am hoping it will help to focus your thoughts about the regimes and management that might assist the health and wellbeing of your arthritic horse. And of course, as ever, if you have any queries at all about what I’ve mentioned in this article (or anything that I haven’t!) then please get in touch.