Pain, lameness, reduced performance, and shortened careers – no horse is immune to joint damage, and the implications for the career of a performance horse can spell trouble. The question is, how can we preserve our horse’s comfort and soundness for as long as possible?
Management of degenerative joint disease begins with a trip to the vet for a lameness workup. Diagnostic imaging can be used to determine the source of the problem and identify the most appropriate course of action. Veterinary treatment may include injecting the affected joint with long acting anti-inflammatory medications, or administering a course of pentosan polysulfate via intramuscular injection.
However, management of joint pain does not stop there – owners can take a number of steps to keep their horses more comfortable and reduce wear and tear on their horses’ joints.
Manage their discomfort
An oral supplement can support veterinary treatment to promote joint health and reduce discomfort. These days, there are also many therapeutic products available to treat the various aches and pains our horses may acquire through exercise and competition – horses are athletes too. Horse acupuncture is also becoming popular.
Reduce unnecessary wear and tear
A good riding surface is non-negotiable – too soft and you risk soft tissue injury, too hard and the concussion on the legs will do damage.
Correct hoof balance is a crucial factor in preventing and slowing down joint damage. Incorrect hoof balance will have flow on effects throughout the entire body, creating joint stress through poor posture and movement.
Never neglect the warm up phase of your ride – exercise lubricates the joints by stimulating the production of hyaluronic acid, so it is important to start this process before you commence harder work that will put strain on the joints.
Look after the muscles – stiff muscles lead to stiff joints
The importance of a healthy muscular system is often overlooked when addressing joint problems. Muscle tension can create a huge amount of joint stress, reducing range of motion and causing joints to ride closer together. Asymmetry or imbalance in muscles can also cause joints to be pulled out of alignment, creating abnormal wear and tear.
The take home message?
Work with your vet to create a management program to keep your horse comfortable and active. There are many ways to reduce discomfort and preserve joint health for as long as possible, with regular exercise an important part of the equation. Look at the big picture when managing joint pain and you will have a much better chance of enjoying the partnership with your horse into the future.
Cat provides remedial and sports massage therapy to horses in Adelaide and surrounds. Cat is passionate about improving and sharing her knowledge in the fields of equine therapy, rehabilitation and training for soundness, with the firm belief that as horse owners we never stop learning.
You can read more about her and the services she offers from her website.