Maintain a Healthy Weight –
Excess weight is tough on joints and horses are no exception. According to the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) most horses should have a body condition score in the moderate to the moderately fleshy range, (scores of 5 and 6 out of 9) are ideal. A simple recommendation is to keep your horse thin enough to feel the divisions between ribs but filled out enough such that ribs are not visible from a side view. Keep in mind that your horse’s job also has a bearing on what weight is appropriate for maximum performance. Polo, race and endurance horses might be perfectly fit with body condition scores of 4/9. Score chart by Kentucky Equine Research
Get Out and Move
Less movement will result in more stiffness in joints over time. Therefore, stall confinement is not an ideal long term as horses are designed to move and graze continuously over open fields. While that is not practical in most present-day situations, we can at least try to re-create this environment with adequate turn-out and exercise. Exercise and movement are actually essential to maintain healthy joints. Exercise increases circulation, which nourishes the joint, and removes damaging waste products. It strengthens muscles and tendons and increases agility that reduces wear and tear on the joint and protects against injury.
Don’t Forget to Warm Up
Be sure to warm up and stretch your horse before exercising. As important as exercise is for the horse, the warm-up is equally important. This is the opportunity to warm up muscles and tendons, to break down adhesions, and increase circulation. It greatly reduces the incidence of injury and joint trauma. Passive range of motion exercises is great to incorporate in the daily grooming regimen as well. Additionally, research has shown that passive exercise will increase the range of motion by reducing scar tissue development and encouraging cartilage and soft tissue healing. Likewise, don’t forget the cool down, post-exercise.
It is important to care for your horse’s hooves as the feet are the base of support. A well-balanced hoof absorbs concussive forces more effectively, reducing wear and tear on joints. Long toes, cracked and uneven hoof surfaces increase joint stress.
Feed more high-quality fiber and fats rich in omega-3s and fewer grains and oils high in omega-6s. A diet high in omega-3 fatty acids is anti-inflammatory in nature and a diet high in omega-6 fatty acids is pro-inflammatory. Research your oils as not all oils are created equal. The ratio of omega-6 fatty acids to omega-3 fatty acids in the total diet is important and should be around 3:1 to 5:1. Research has shown that arthritic horses supplemented with omega-3 fatty acids had reduced levels of inflammation measured in joint fluid and trended towards placing more weight on the lame leg than control groups (Manhart, et al 2009). Therefore, Omega-3 supplementation with products such as Excel ProElite with optimized omega-3 levels can help keep your horse active and healthy for as long as possible!
Manhart, D.R., B.D. Scott, P.G. Gibbs, J.A. Coverdale, E.M. Miller, C.M. Honnas, and D.M. Hood. 2009. Markers of inflammation in arthritic horses fed omega-3 fatty acids. Professional Animal Scientist 25:155-160