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Winter Exercise Series: Exercising the Arthritic horse in the winter

arthritis exercise winter Dec 12, 2022

Winter exercise can be quite a task, the weather and darkness being against us in addition to whatever our horses issues may be. And keeping the arthritic horse exercised during the cold, dark winter months can be quite complicated. 

Arthritic joints don't like the cold, damp conditions, and can stiffen up really easily and quickly. I commonly see horses with an arthritis diagnosis having 'flare ups' as soon as the weather starts to really change and get cold and damp. 

First port of call is always to have your vet check your horse, and review their medication, in case anything needs changing. It is good practice to do this every winter, as each year that progresses, your horses joints may change in terms of what they require for comfort and soundness over the winter. 

Once that part is complete, you can make a plan for how best to keep your arthritic horse in exercise - and they really are better kept moving as much as possible, it's so much healthier for their joint health, as well as the strength of the supporting structures. Lack of movement just creates more stiffness and pain. 

I'm a big fan of walk exercise, as it's low impact but effective, and can be used as a safe form of exercise, so can be used with the arthritic horse over the winter months. A good 30 minute power walk can work wonders with all horses, but in particular older/ arthritic horses. Each limb is on the ground individually in the walk, so the horse is supported well, and the slower pace allows the horse to really feel his limbs and move in a way that suits him on the day.  

So even just walking every day would be super useful! Hand walking, walking over poles after a warm up, long reining in walk, walk hacking, any type of walking! 

A good long warm up in walk is advised for arthritic horses in the winter, to give time for their joints to warm up in the colder conditions, as well as their body, and any stiffness to resolve, prior to moving into trot work, if that's what you're doing. 

Other low impact work that is hugely beneficial and a lot of fun to do, and gets the horses brain working...is in-hand work! If you have never tried it before, give it a go, you will learn a lot about your horses body AND brain, supple them up, improve their symmetry, and again it's low impact on the joints. It's useful for winter when we might just want a short session, but want to do something effective! And some of it you can do on the yard or in the barn, if the weather is really against you! 

I teach in hand work in detail in my Strength & Straightness online programme, as it's such a game changer with ALL horses! Details below if you would like to learn how to do it with your horse this winter! 

Using poles within a walk session is also good for joint flexion, warm your horse up without the poles first, and then just walk over the poles, monitoring your horse to see how they are doing. You don't have to make it complicated!! Literally just a row of 3 poles in a line is as effective as any fancy formation!! Just watch your horse for clipping the poles or avoiding them, and if it looks like it's too difficult on that day, make it easier for your horse. 

Keeping the horses joints warm is helpful too, especially prior to exercise. 

So the key message is, arthritic horse are better kept moving, especially in the winter, to maintain joint health and strength. So plan out what you can do, and just do your best with your horse! 

***STRENGTH & STRAIGHTNESS ONLINE PROGRAMME: if you would like some ideas on how to exercise your horse, to correctly and thoroughly strengthen their body and straighten their movement, click through for a look at my programme, it's a low cost way for us to work together, and you can get access to my entire sympathetic, effective training programme, as well as my lovely, friendly members group for live sessions and support on implementing the training! It can be useful to have support especially over the winter months, and a space to chat about your horse and your progress, so if this sounds like it would be useful for you, take a look at the details...: Strength & Straightness online programme

QUESTIONS? And if you have any questions about your horse, you can contact me through the CONTACT page here on the site! 

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