Lameness is a common problem in horses and ponies which can strike at any time – often when it’s most inconvenient – and can have a range of causes.
For example, a change in your horse’s gait may be down to a minor issue such as a bruise to the sole of his foot or a range of other issues such as trauma, laminitis or arthritis.
But one of the most common causes, ranging from mild and intermittent to severe and debilitating, is joint disease – something that can seriously limit the working life of your horse as well as affect its quality of life.
Joint disease occurs when the degree of wear and tear, a direct trauma, or the abnormal loading arising from poor conformation, all result in more damage than the body can repair.
In a healthy joint, which is where two bones meet, each end is covered with a layer of shock-absorbing spongy, elastic cartilage, which helps to reduce friction and cushion the impact of work, especially on hard ground.
Cartilage is made from a collagen framework filled in with water-retaining compounds called glycosaminoglycans or GAGs, which include hyaluronic acid and chondroitin sulphate.
A healthy joint is encased in a capsule containing synovial or joint fluid, which bathes and nourishes the joint.
This synovial fluid, which contains the GAG hyaluronic acid, should be viscous and elastic to provide lubrication and shock absorbing properties.
In young, healthy horses, synovial fluid is produced from building blocks or precursors in your horse’s diet but in older horses, the degree of long term wear and tear, years of working on hard ground or poor conformation can all result in the ability to repair the joint being overwhelmed.
The cartilage becomes thinner, less elastic and pitted, and the synovial fluid becomes less viscous, providing poorer shock absorption, and pain will result. The efficiency of the repair process will also reduce with age, so pain and lameness become apparent as the joint damage progresses.
Fortunately, early intervention and nutritional support can all help to reduce the impact of degenerative joint disease in older horses, and the sooner support is put in place the better.
A vet may take x-rays or scans to assess the joint damage, and may recommend medicating the joint with mild steroids to reduce the excessive inflammation which causes further damage.
However, a careful programme of exercise, on suitable surfaces, together with nutritional support, will help many horses and ponies.
Supplements providing collagen to support the cartilage framework, hyaluronic acid to help maintain the viscosity of the joint fluid, key amino acids such as glutamic acid, and trace minerals such as manganese to provide building blocks for the horse to produce his own GAGs, or the provision of the GAG’s themselves, will be beneficial in most cases.
Supplements may also include plant based or natural anti-inflammatories and antioxidants such as Boswellia, MSM and Turmeric.
Glucosamine is another key component for joint health, helping to stimulate GAG production, and can either be made by the horse if the correct building blocks are provided in the diet, or it may be included in a supplement.
The provision of nutritional support for joint repair should ideally start in the horse’s early working life, to ensure optimum protection into old age, but can still be introduced in later life, to help to maintain comfort and soundness in older horses, either to keep enjoying a working life, or remain comfortable in retirement.
Bettertack stocks a range of Equine America joint supplements to help keep your horse’s joints healthy.
Call in today and talk to our knowledgeable staff for advice on the best solution for you and your horse.