Q: I compete twice a week in affiliated show jumping and my horse is now 16 years old and needs help with his joints. What do you suggest?
A: In view of the age of your horse and the level of work he is in, you are wise to consider supporting his joint health. During his career his joints will have been subject to repetitive trauma, both in his everyday life and exercise, as well as during competition. This can lead to inflammation within the joints, or arthritis.
Diet, fitness, foot balance and the surface he is worked on will all play a part in supporting his future. For some horses, veterinary treatments and/or physiotherapy can also be appropriate, so it may be worth discussing the options with your own vet.
As they will be constantly moving, his synovial joints, such as his fetlocks, stifles, hocks, knees, pastern and coffin joints, are the most likely to suffer from the cumulative effects of exercise.
Healthy synovial joints allow two bones to slide smoothly over each other. The ends of the bones are covered with a thin layer of cartilage, which is shock-absorbing and slippery to allow movement.
A fibrous capsule lined by the synovial membrane and filled with synovial fluid, surrounds the joint. This viscous fluid lubricates the joint and contributes to the joint’s ability to cushion the forces placed upon it.
Ligaments which connect bone to bone both within the joint and surrounding the joint, tendons which link muscle to bone, and the joint capsule itself, also help to support the joints. Ensuring the limbs move in alignment minimises the effects of wear and tear.
Feeding to support joints
Glucosamine is an important constituent of Glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) which provide elasticity and shock-absorbing properties to the synovial fluid and cartilage within joints. The scientifically recommended level of glucosamine for a 500kg horse is 10g per day. To provide this level of glucosamine you can use an appropriate top specification feed balancer. Alternatively, an additive can be mixed with your horse’s existing feed.
Micronutrients including calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, copper and zinc, as well as antioxidants, such as vitamin A, C and E, all play an essential role in the underlying structure of joints. Therefore, it is important that your horse’s diet is balanced, and this can be achieved by using a top specification feed balancer or multi-supplement.
Methyl Sulphonyl Methane (MSM) can also be a beneficial ingredient and it is useful in some cases as a natural anti-inflammatory. For those more severely affected by arthritis, adding both glucosamine and MSM to their diet provides a broader level of support.
I would also ensure your horse has well-balanced feet with good hoof quality. This will enable them to absorb concussive forces effectively which can help to reduce stress on joints. Regular farrier visits and optimum hoof supplementation, including biotin (15mg/500kg horse/day), methionine, lysine, calcium, zinc, copper, iodine and vitamin A, are of enormous benefit.
Feeding an appropriate diet to maintain your horse at a healthy weight will minimise unnecessary strain on his joints. Regular appropriate exercise will help to strengthen his muscles and tendons, can reduce stiffness and swelling, and protect against injury as he continues to compete.