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Protecting your horses joints in winter is vital for health, welfare and wellbeing. From the fetlock joint up to the hock joint of a horse, and even the small joints of the spine, the winter season cause vulnerability to health and comfort in these joints. With numerous factors effecting equine joints, what should horse owners be doing to protect horse joints during the winter?
To protect horse’s joints through winter, considering diet is the most important step in supporting good joint health.
Healthy joints are key to prevent occurrence and development of injury. Healthy joints also ensure the maintenance of strength and stability of the joint. Horse joint health and stability are key to protecting joints through the winter, with harder, slipper ground increase injury risk.
To support joint health, include high quality, key nutritional building blocks into your horse’s diet. To ensure incorporation of key nutrients, many owners opt to add reputable horse joint supplements into their horse’s diet. Key nutritional building blocks, such as Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulphate, will guarantee the healthy development of joint structures, as well as enhanced repair and recovery after exercise. Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) and vitamin C also acts as key anti-inflammatories. Anti-inflammatory for equine joint protection during winter, guarding against high-impact terrains.
Alongside supplement, ensuring a constant and good quality supply of forage will help maintain muscle mass, body condition, and regulate body temperature.
Weight management is key another key component in protecting horse joints through the winter. Managing horse’s body condition will help to protect your horse’s joints from injury and the development of chronic conditions.
When horses are overweight, this can lead to excessive loading on joints which they are not designed to cope with. Not only can excess loading lead to wear and tear, but it can also lead to compensatory movements which can cause reduced performance and ultimately more serious damage to musculoskeletal structures. Strategies such as providing low-sugar, low-calorie feeds and increasing exercise can aid weight loss.
"Researchers have found only 11% of horse owners can correctly identify overweight horses."
On the other hand, underweight horses will also suffer from poor joint health, often not receiving adequate nutrition to support the function and integrity of these structures.
When protecting your horses joints in winter, keeping warm is key! Colder temperatures can exacerbate horse joint conditions. Therefore, colder days may mean extra layers and deeper bedding.
Intense cold is perceived by the body as dangerous. having the potential to cause harm, a pain response is produced to tell the body to move away from it. Therefore, in extremes of weather, cold can quickly progress to pain or enhance painful sites. Therefore, where horses are already suffering from aches and pain, on colder days, owners may be symptoms worsen.
Horse joint conditions become more common with age. Older horses a have reduced thermoregulatory ability, so might be more susceptible to cold related aches. In addition, older horses battle loss of muscle mass which comes with age, reducing muscle support from joints, making them more prone to damage. On colder days, older horse who may not have previously presented with symptoms of pain or stiffness, may begin to show signs.
Therefore, keeping horse warm through winter is vital for joint health can comfort. Steps to ensure warmth include;
When rugging or using stable bandages consider breed, age, body fat, and coat thickness. Rugging and bandaging is not essential for 'harder' horses over winter.
Exercise is one of the most beneficial, routine steps riders can do to protect their horses joints through winter. Turnout is not only beneficial for horse performance, it a quick, easy and affordable way of ensuring exercise is incorporated daily.
Turnout ensures horses have the freedom to move throughout the day. Movement is vital to ensure nutrient flow to joints, especially those in the lower leg, helping to maintain their health. Horses legs have poor internal circulation, relying on movement to push blood and fluid back toward the heart. Therefore, when horses are standing still for long periods, this means legs can fill with fluid. The reduce fluid flow from standing can also mean injuries take longer to heal, as transport of nutrient and waste products of repair cannot occur effectively.
Throughout winter, turnout alone may not be enough. The colder climates which winter blows in, means horses reduce their energy expenditure. Horses reducing how much energy they use from day-to-day is useful for weight maintenance, as they being to use more energy to keep warm, however can mean they decide to stand still for prolonged periods. Therefore, it is recommended that owner’s continue to incorporate additional exercise into their horse’s routine, even if they are not in work. Additional exercise could be anything from riding and groundwork, to in-hand exercises.
Horses with arthritis may particularly struggle with pain and stiffness in colder weather. Therefore, arthritis-friendly exercises for horses are recommended to be completed daily. These include dynamic stretches, which is a low impact form of strengthening exercise for horses. Strengthening muscles surrounding arthritic joints aids stability and ensure better symmetry to reduce asymmetrical loading of joints.