Arthritis prevention is all about protecting your horse’s joints
Protecting your horse’s joints from arthritis is all about reducing wear and tear and preventing injuries. To this end, protecting your horse’s joints requires a multipronged and diligent management program. Conformation, hoof care, arena surfaces, horse management, nutrition, training and veterinary intervention all have a role to play in optimal joint care.
If your horse has less than ideal limb conformation, be sure to manage associated joints accordingly. Foals should have their conformation assessed at around 6-8 weeks of age as less than ideal fetlock and knee conformation can be corrected to a degree but only if early intervention is sought from your veterinary/farrier team.
Know your horse’s joints and soft tissues
If you are familiar with your horse’s normal, you will be able to detect any subtle changes that occur. Run your hands over your horse’s legs every day and record any changes noted. Mild effusions, heat or wounds may alert you to an underlying problem before any obvious lameness develops.
No hoof, no horse; Foot care
Hoof balance and foot care is crucial to lower limb joint health. Additionally, consider radiographing your horse’s feet periodically to ensure optimal hoof trimming and shoeing.
When preparing for competitive horse sports, follow a logical training program that gradually increases in duration and intensity appropriate for the breed, age and base fitness level of your horse. Pay close attention to your warm up and cool down routine and avoid over training. Pleasure riding also needs to be sensitive to the fitness level of your horse. Consider icing and cold water hosing your horse’s legs post training/riding.
Training and competition arenas should neither be too hard nor too soft/deep and should have a level surface of uniform depth. Gallop tracks must also have reliable footing. However, our horses spend more time at rest than they do training/competing. Stables and yards must provide good, safe, uniform footing especially those which have a dirt base. Similarly, regularly check your pastures for rabbit holes, rocks and any other hazards.
Appropriate feeding is not only crucial to ideal development and growth in foals and young horses, it also supports optimal performance and behavior in mature horses. Ensure any oral joint supplements used are backed by scientific research and are produced to the highest safety standards.
A big part of joint care is avoiding accidents. This is as much about keeping your horse’s environment predictable as it is about knowing your horse. Introducing a new horse to your property, the show environment, storms, new surroundings etc. are all possible triggers that can lead to accidents. Manage your horse appropriately.
When it comes to avoiding accidents, equestrian properties and their amenities must be able to withstand the unpredictable flight response of your horse. With the joints of your horse’s limbs having minimal soft tissue cover, the risk of traumatic joint injuries is high. How does your fencing, stable complex, horse truck/float, wash bay, tie-up area etc. measure up? Competition and training centers should also be assessed in this light.
If you do notice any changes to your horse’s joints, the soft tissues of their legs or any signs of lameness, stop training and seek veterinary attention ASAP. Any wounds involving joints, no matter how small, should also be thoroughly investigated.