Older horses often suffer from muscle stiffness or stiffness due to early osteoarthritis. It is important that horses keep moving in order to remain flexible. But are there also nutrients that help to keep your horse more flexible? How do you feed your horse to keep its joints healthy for as long as possible?
Stiffness in (older) horses is often caused by osteoarthritis. This is a condition in which (chronic) inflammations arise in the joints. Cartilage loss occurs, which reduces the cushioning in the joints. This often makes moving a bit painful at first, a horse with osteoarthritis has to ‘get going’. Only after a somewhat longer and careful warm-up do the joints have sufficient lubrication to be able to move smoothly. Osteoarthritis can also cause changes in bone structure in a more advanced stage.
How does osteoarthritis develop?
Osteoarthritis is usually seen as the result of aging and wear and tear of the joints. This wear and tear goes faster if a horse is overweight or is trained very intensively, one-sided or repetitively. Exercising on poor soils can accelerate wear. But crooked feet, bad leg positions or problems further down the body of a horse can also cause osteoarthritis. A horse will then compensate for the crookedness or try to prevent pain and thus develop a movement pattern that causes wear in other places. A good blacksmith, a good saddle and, if necessary, the involvement of a physiotherapist, chiropractor or osteopath therefore help to reduce or delay the development of osteoarthritis.
Prevent osteoarthritis and stiffness
Stiffness is a part of aging, but keeping your horse flexible for as long as possible is possible. You do this by properly managing and training your horse. Think of:
- Keeping a horse at a healthy weight
- Do not train the horse too hard or let it work on too heavy soil
- Don’t train the same things every day
- Do not let the horse run too much over pace or on the forehand
- More than enough free movement in meadow or paddock
Nutrition and osteoarthritis
Although there is no specific horse food that can prevent osteoarthritis, there are a number of things you can do with food to minimize the risk or slow the development of osteoarthritis. First, your horse’s feed should be tailored to your horse’s breed, age, and amount of work. Horses that are used for light sport or recreation usually have enough good roughage and a balancer kibble for the daily vitamins and minerals. We horse owners often tend to give them a treat or something extra, but in the long run you will not please most horses with large amounts of muesli, kibble or other concentrates. Foods that contain a lot of sugars and fillers put a strain on your horse’s system, making inflammation more likely. Sufficient omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) in your horse’s ration help to fight inflammation, also in the joints. EPA and DHA are beneficial in inflammation because they suppress the pro-inflammatory signaling molecules in the blood and improve the composition of the cell membrane. Salmon oil is a good source of these fatty acids.
In addition to healthy nutrition, good management and sufficient exercise, you can of course also use all kinds of supplements to support your horse’s joints. There is a lot on the market, so sometimes it is difficult to estimate what works and what does not. Many horses are deficient in silicon or other minerals. This can manifest itself, among other things, by licking sand. It is important when choosing a supplement that it is easily absorbable for your horse and that it actually does something in the right place. Horses have a special intestinal system and it is often very important in which form you give a mineral or other supplement. Some compounds are not absorbed at all, others first have to go through three conversion steps before a small amount of active substance remains. In either case, such a supplement is often a waste of money and effort.
Silicon and other minerals
Therefore, always choose easily absorbable supplements that contain an active ingredient. Hydrolyzed silicon for example. This is an excellent absorbable form of silicon that is directly absorbed into the cells. There, silicon stimulates the production of the body’s own glucosamine, with which the horse makes its own bone tissue, tendons, muscles, connective tissue, cartilage and joint fluid. This works much better than feeding a powdered form of glucosamine, which is often only absorbed to a small extent and therefore does not always end up in the right place. Silicon is a beneficial supplement for all horses. It is necessary for the growth of foals and yearlings, for recovery in sport horses and for keeping older horses supple. In addition, trace elements and other minerals are important. Due to the poor soils in the Netherlands, these minerals are often not or not sufficiently in the hay. A mineral supplement based on Bering Sea water is useful for this. You can do this through a bucket of drinking water and then horses choose whether they need it. Most horses like to drink this.
Fight joint pain?
If your horse is stiff and difficult to get going, it can be nice to give the joints extra support, in addition to replenishing the minerals. Herbs such as turmeric, boswellia, horsetail, black currant, field horsetail, and bamboo work well for this. An herbal extract of these plants ensures that small crystals of uric acid, which can accumulate in the joints, are dissolved. The horse can move better once these sharp and painful crystals have disappeared. They are caused by stress and exertion and accumulate over time, especially when a horse is in full training. If your horse has osteoarthritis, it may be a good idea to fight inflammation in the joints. Cannabinoids are very suitable for this. These plant substances have a signaling function in the body. They are anti-inflammatory and analgesic.