Joints make movement possible. Whether you rein, rope, barrel race, or trail ride, your horse’s joints take the brunt of the activity. Experts believe up to 60 percent of lameness is due to osteoarthritis, the progressive deterioration of cartilage cushioning joints. Arthritis can result when a healthy joint gets injured in a fall or twist, or from day-to-day stress over a horse’s working life.
Early detection of joint issues allows you and your veterinarian to manage your horse’s joint care for best results. Your vet may use a combination of palpation, joint-flexion tests, and diagnostic imaging (such as X-rays and ultrasound) to assess any problems you catch through vigilance.
There’s also much you can do proactively to help protect your horse’s joints from deterioration, or extend his ability to work comfortably even if arthritis does develop. Read on.
Mind the Movement
Consistent exercise tailored to your horse’s comfort and athletic level is critical to keeping his joints limber. In addition to regular riding as appropriate, provide him with as much pasture turnout as possible.
A proper warm-up at the start of riding is also important in protecting your horse’s joints, particularly as he ages. Aim to spend at least 5 to 10 minutes in this routine, starting with plenty of walking. This allows tendons and joints to stretch gently, without injury, before undertaking more vigorous action.
Any time your horse gets out of condition, bring him back to fitness incrementally over time to avoid stressing his joints. During training sessions, introduce new work gradually to enable his critical leg structures to adapt to unfamiliar maneuvers. Don’t over-drill.
Maintain your horse at his ideal weight; extra pounds increase the load bearing on joints. Regular, frequent hoof care to keep feet correctly balanced minimizes undue stress on legs, plus wards off injury-causing stumbles.
Work your horse in good footing with a solid, even, not-too-hard surface. This helps prevent missteps and lessens the ongoing stress that contributes to joint degeneration over time. Avoid riding or turning out on slippery ground. On the trail, steer clear of rock-hard surfaces or unsafe terrain.
Stalling your horse on concrete is tough on joints; if you can’t avoid it, be sure to use good stall mats and plenty of bedding to provide cushioning.