It’s that time of year again when horses seem to be ‘feeling their joints’, the weather (here in the UK anyway) is getting damp and cold, and this is when our horses can start to show more signs of joint pain.
I work with lots of ‘senior’ horses who have wear and tear based osteoarthritis, as well as younger horses with arthritic joints. The management of joint issues is the same - we need to look after and protect the degenerated/stiff joints, and in the winter more than any other time of year.
Tip 1: Use it or lose it!
Horses with arthritis, especially senior horses, do so much better when they are able to keep regularly exercising.
Joints are healthier when they go through their full range of motion, and movement produces more joint fluid, so it’s a self evolving cycle for the horse.
Movement and exercise keeps the joints mobile, supple, flexible, healthy and strong. And exercise strengthens all of the surrounding structures, so helps to protect damaged joints.
Tip 2: Keeping warm
It might seem like a simple tip, but horses with arthritis don’t do very well in the cold, so the winter months can take some more planning.
There are plenty of products out there to help with arthritis, but one of the main things to consider is keeping your horse with arthritis warm.
Making sure both their turnout and stable rugs are warm enough for them - horses can certainly change in their tolerance to the cold as they get older. And maybe leg wraps for when they are stabled or neck attachments for rugs etc.
My most recent alteration for my horse has been a turnout rug with a more ‘closed’ neck to keep the draught off his neck, and I do think it’s really benefitting him.
Tip 3: Warm up well
A good 10-20 minute warm up in walk on a loose rein before trotting or picking up the contact is really beneficial for horses with arthritis/stiff joints.
This enables the joints to slowly warm up, the blood flow increases with movement, and the range of motion improves, as well as the rest of the body can slowly warm up and get moving, all in walk which is low impact, so protecting from further injury to the joints and damaged structures.
You should feel that your horses stride lengthens and he seeks the contact more, the longer you walk in your warm up.
If you wanted to go for a run yourself, but you have stiff/arthritic joints in your legs for example, you would be doing some warm up exercises in your house first, then doing a walk warm up before running - so it’s the same with horses, the longer warm up will really help them out!
Tip 4: Daily turnout
Winter is such a tricky time with horses, we don’t really want our horses with arthritis getting cold and wet, however standing in the stable full time is not helpful for them either as they stiffen up in their joints and their whole body. It’s a juggling act.
In an ideal world our horses with arthritis need to be moving around as much as possible as this is healthier for their joints.
So if your horse with arthritis can’t have daily turnout in the winter, can you find other ways to build movement into their daily routine? Yard turnout, menage turnout, horse walker, hand walking, half a day out etc.
Tip 5: Physiotherapy
Having a qualified physiotherapist as one of your team members for your horse is super helpful!
From a treatment perspective, your horse will receive regular treatment to keep his joints functioning well, and to keep compensation at a minimum throughout your horses body.
Your physiotherapist will also be monitoring your horse regularly for subtle changes that may indicate further investigation or a change in routine etc.
AND your physiotherapist will be able to show you the specific exercises that will be helpful for your horse.
I usually implement core engagement exercises with the senior horses that I see, so that their body is being kept strong and supple, which helps to protect the joints.
I really hope this weeks tips around managing arthritis have been helpful - there really is so much we can do to help our horses with this diagnosis, to keep them in work, healthy and happy!
If you would like more detailed help on this topic, my EBOOK ‘Practical ways to manage your horse with Arthritis’ is full of recommendations on exercise, supplements, suppling work both ridden and on the ground, stretches, therapy equipment, management strategies and LOTS MORE!
Please get in touch if I can help you…Jenny x
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