April 19, 2021
It seems simple enough—joints in a horse's body are what allow the bones to connect and absorb some shock during movement. However, joints are actually complex structures with lots of ingredients and moving parts that may require care and tending to in order to ensure your horse feels their best.
In order to properly care for your horse's joints, it's important to understand how they work. We created the ultimate guide for understanding and caring for your horse's joints.
Understanding your horse's joints
The horse's skeleton and soft tissue structures have three types of joints:
The components of a joint include bone, cartilage, tendons, and ligaments. There is also synovial fluid to keep all of the moving parts gliding along.
Tendons and ligaments are the connective tissues that hold your horse's body together. Ligaments are the link between bones, and tendons link muscle to bones. Tendons will stretch further than ligaments and have a better blood supply than ligaments.
When joints start to age
Joint health plays a major role in your horse's soundness. Arthritis is a common form of joint deterioration. It's translated to "inflammation of the joint" and produces stiffness and pain. As a horse ages, they typically tend to lose elasticity in the tendons and the ligaments over time. The cartilage in joints also thins. Repetitive movements, conformation, genetics, and injuries can call work to create arthritis, sometimes long before a horse's age dictates arthritis.
Arthritis does not mean the end of a horse's career. Partner with your vet to create a plan for your horse's joints. Feed a joint-healthy diet with appropriate supplements, keep your horse moving, and use ice and other therapies to help your horse.
Veterinary help for joints
Your veterinarian will help you determine the health of your horse's joints. It's likely some diagnostics, like exams and X-rays, will help your vet find the best course of action for your horse.
Some horses receive intra-articular injections. This procedure puts anti-inflammatory medications directly into a joint. IV and IM injectables for routine use to help the joints are another option, as are oral prescription medications.
Your veterinarian may recommend your horse receive shockwave treatments, laser treatments, chiropractic work, or corrective farrier work to better care for their joint health. More often than not, your horse's joints are a group effort between you, your farrier, and your vet.
Taking care of joints from the inside
Supplements are a convenient way for you to support your horse's bones and soft tissues from the inside out. The complex nature of joints has given way to various ingredients that help different parts of the joint. Here's how to understand what all of these elements do.
Support your horse's joint synovial fluid with hyaluronic acid and chondroitin sulfate. Hyaluronic acid is a component of synovial fluid, and chondroitin sulfate supports cartilage production and helps prevent cartilage wearing. Glucosamine also has a role in cartilage health.
Avocado Soybean Unsaponifiable (ASU) is a compound derived from avocado and soybeans. ASU can boost the effectiveness of joint supplement ingredients.
Manganese and chondroitin sulfate work together to form cartilage. It's also an anti-oxidant, helping to rid your horse's body of free radicals created by digestion and other body processes. Free radicals are linked to cellular damage, and anti-oxidants clean up these unstable atoms.
Selenium and vitamin E are potent anti-oxidants as well. Be careful with selenium, as too much in a horse's diet can be detrimental. Selenium needs for horses vary across the country, and your vet can determine an appropriate selenium supplement if necessary.
Resveratrol is a newer joint supplement. It contains anti-inflammatory properties and may support a horse's metabolic health, too.
Luckily for our horses, supplements are tasty, affordable, and easy to dose. If you are new to feeding supplements, you may need to give your horse increased amounts for the first few weeks and then taper to a regular dose.
Helping support your horse's joints from the outside
Many horses with arthritis need to warm up the joints to get moving. Therapeutic fabrics are helpful to warm up your horse's body. These fabrics reflect your horse's body heat to them. Whole-body sheets and leg wraps make quick work of loosening up your horse. Here are some helpful products to get your horse's joints to warm up:
Liniments are another option. Some liniments are warming, and some are cooling, and some do both. Menthol and camphor are common ingredients and serve to create that instant cooling effect followed by a warming effect. Liniments are easy to use and come in sprays, gels, jellies, and lotions. Here are some of our best-selling liniments:
Ice is just about the most fabulous and affordable anti-inflammatory available, and that brings pain relief. Icing your horse allows targeted treatment to your horse's joints. Let your horse wear their ice boots while you clean tack and do other chores.
Poultice is a cooling option that you can use overnight. Apply the clay or gel-based goop to your horse's legs under standing wraps. In the morning, brush or rinse off any dried poultice. Poultice helps to draw heat from the legs.
You can layer these therapies, too! Poultice after ice, or use a liniment before a ride and pair with a hi-tech sheet.