What Are the Signs of Good Joint Health in Horses?
No matter how often you ride your horse or what kind of work it does for you, the weight of riders or carriages that it has to pull will cause normal wear and tear on its joints as it ages.
It’s important that you are aware of your horse’s joint health so you can make sure to take action if it is not in good condition.
4 Signs Your Horse's Joints are Healthy
1) No swelling around the joint
2) Joint feels normal, not hot to the touch
3) Horse is not favoring the leg when it walks
4) It has a normal gait
Causes of Joint Problems
While some equine joint problems are hereditary or simply due to old age, there are some conditions that can cause problems for your horse. (1)
If you work your horse on hard surfaces, you will want to limit the time as jumping can cause concussive problems in the joints and damage the cartilage.
If you ride your horse on pavement, then you will want to invest in padded boots to help absorb some of the shock before it is transferred to its fetlock.
In addition, horses that are overweight are much more likely to have joint problems than ones that are kept at a healthy weight.
Obesity will put pressure on the joints of any animal and horses are no different, especially when they are then required to run and jump, further stressing their joints and causing more health problems.
Symptoms of Poor Joint Health
You may notice that your horse is favoring one leg and not wanting to put as much weight on it as normal.
This is a sure sign that something has damaged its joint and that you need to act quickly to diagnose the problem, allow it to rest as needed, and treat the condition however you can.
You can optimize healing and ensure that your horse is back to normal quickly when you act immediately.
Read more more about this in our complete guide to lameness in horses.
Arthritis can occur in any horse and you will be able to tell that your horse is suffering from this when it begins to walk stiffly and with an uneven gait.
You also need to keep an eye out on whether or not it can easily keep up with you or change pace. Jumping horses may suddenly balk at jumping or be unwilling to perform.
Since arthritis is more of a gradual joint problem than a concussive one, it’s imperative that you pay close attention to how your horse moves and if it is growing stiffer as it ages.
By being aware of your horse’s health, you can help treat any joint problems before they get too painful for your animal.
Potential Dangers of Poor Joint Health
If you don’t take care of joint problems that your horse has, then they will only continue to get worse.
Any kind of damage in the joints or arthritis will cause very painful inflammation that can make it excruciating and difficult for your horse to walk.
Damaged joints take a long time to heal, and during that time, you will not be able to ride or work your horse as you are used to.
Both traumatic injury as well as arthritis can greatly affect a horse and are most common in the fetlock joint due to its complexity and construction.
When joint problems are left unattended, then there are often no ways to reverse the damage that has been done.
Some joint problems can be treated naturally and the horse will heal, albeit slowly, with rest and care while others will require medical intervention to have your horse up and active again. (2)
Natural Equine Joint Remedies
A healthy diet and great nutrition is the most important step in maintaining healthy joints for your horse, especially when the horse is young.
You want to do everything that you can to promote healthy cartilage and strong bones in all of the joints of your horse, especially in the legs, as these are the most stressed joints on the body.
If you are worried about the joint health of your horse, then you will want to look into adding supplements into its diet.
There are many supplement choices available on the market and all promise to help grow healthy, strong cartilage in the joints.
Look for ones that contain sodium hyaluronate if your horse is young and you want to help with the construction of cartilage or for supplements that contain chondroitin sulfate if your horse is older and you want to slow down any arthritis that is forming in its joints. (3)
How Can a Vet Help Your Horse with its Joint Problems?
Surgery can be used at the onset of arthritis and may be able to help the horse but does not have a very good outcome when used as a secondary therapy when others have not worked as desired.
If your horse has separated bone fragments in its joint, then surgery may be the best treatment option, especially if your horse is a high-performance animal.
Some owners opt for injections instead of surgery but these two treatments have similar, if not equal, effects on the quality of life for your horse.
Surgery is often a great choice because it can remove any damaged bone in the joint and stabilize the joint surfaces.
This is a fast cure but has to be completed shortly after the injury for the best possible outcome for the horse.
Even if you opt for infections instead of surgery, it’s important to know that the joint can continue to deteriorate without medical intervention and surgery is often required to halt the progression of joint problems and help your horse begin to heal.
Injected medications are also a great option for some injured horses and work in two ways.
They can either promote healing of the cartilage in the joint, which is preferred, or simply alleviate any of the signs of lameness that your horse is suffering from.
By reducing inflammation in the joint, these medications ensure that the soft tissue is protected; however, without surgery, they will not be able to stop the joint from shedding physical debris that will continue to damage the cartilage.
Maintaining healthy joints in your horse takes a lifetime commitment. If you provide proper nutrition, exercise, and treatment your horse will have great joint health and be a much happier boy.