There are many horses with joint problems. This can be due to abrasion, injuries, their build or less optimal conditions when they were young. Whatever the cause, you as the horse owner are stuck with it! And so is your horse. What can you do for your horse with joint problems, for example osteoarthritis, OCD and kissing spines?
Joint problems come in different shapes and sizes. An older horse that is getting on a bit slow may have a mild form of osteoarthritis in some areas of the legs. There is nothing crazy about that, we humans often get that too at a certain age. But a young horse with joint problems, that makes less sense. Then you’re more likely to think of OC, overexertion or an injury.
Osteoarthritis in horses
Osteoarthritis is a condition of the cartilage in the joints and is also known as ‘joint wear’. Osteoarthritis sometimes causes pain and stiffness. As a horse ages, the cartilage, which sits between the bones in the joints like a damping cushion, can wear down and become thinner. This is a natural process. In younger horses, cartilage can become thinner due to skewed loading, compensation or deficiencies of certain minerals. Often, osteoarthritis also involves chronic inflammation in the affected joint. A horse with osteoarthritis in the legs often has difficulty getting going and usually moves stiff and short. Osteoarthritis in the SI joint is also common, often caused by the horse having compensated for a crooked pelvis or crooked hips. You often only notice this osteoarthritis when your horse starts making uneven strides behind, lifts one hip higher than the other, or no longer wants to bend. Osteoarthritis in the neck is also common, especially in horses that are forced into a certain neck position. This can cause abrasion at the third cervical vertebra or in the transition between chest and neck. Osteoarthritis in the neck can also cause the horse to walk irregularly, as the neck can no longer be used properly to maintain balance.
OC and OCD in horses
OC and OCD often arise as early as the foaling or rearing period. There is a genetic component to these conditions. In OC, something goes wrong in the bone formation from cartilage, a process that takes place during the horse’s growth. The joints can’t get the right shape, often there is some ‘flattening’. In OCD, this process goes so far that there are loose pieces of bone (chips) in the joint. These chips can cause pain and inflammation if they end up in the wrong place in the joint. You can (partially) prevent the formation of OC by ensuring plenty of free exercise and sufficient minerals in the diet of the pregnant mare, foal and young horse.
Horses have quite long protrusions on their vertebrae, called spinal protrusions. These are the ‘little bones’ you can feel on your horse’s spine. Normally, these protrusions are several millimetres apart. In kissing spines, the protrusions touch, which can cause bone damage, irritation and pain. This can have a genetic cause, but incorrect body use and training can also cause kissing spines. Kissing spines can be shown using X-rays. You cannot cure kissing spines, but you can reduce the irritation and prevent it from getting worse. In addition, appropriate training is important, teaching the horse to walk properly on its back. By tightening the abdominal muscles, the back bulges and the protrusions get further apart in the movement.
Crystal formation in joints
With heavy or prolonged exercise, crystals of uric acid (crystallisation) often form in the joints of sport horses; stress can also cause this. These crystals can cause painful inflammation in the joints, but also between the muscle layers and tendon plates. Uric acid is released during protein metabolism and if a lot of it is released at the same time, it forms sharp crystals. In humans, this joint disorder is called ‘gout’. The body often has trouble getting rid of the uric acid and crystals quickly. This leads to stiffness and reduced ability of your horse to work. Herbs can help against this crystal formation. A better-tuned training schedule can also bring relief.
Supporting horses with joint problems
Once your horse has joint problems, there are several ways to help him. What you do naturally depends on what exactly is wrong with your horse. A horse with an injury or overexertion should of course first get (active) rest, in consultation with your vet. In addition, you should look critically at a build-up and training schedule. Because the mineral silicon plays an enormously important role in building cartilage, synovial fluid, bones, collagen, muscles, tendons and ligaments, this is the first thing you could supplement if your horse has joint problems. Hydrolysed, liquid silicon is easily absorbed by horses, but it does take some time before you see the effect of this supplement. When a horse has osteoarthritis or other joint inflammation, cannabinoids are a nice supplement. These plant substances have anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects. To combat uric acid in the joints, you can give a course of plant extracts. The herbs suppress crystal formation and stimulate the production of cartilage fluid, the lubricant for the joints. Herbs suitable for this purpose include turmeric, Boswelia, blackcurrant, horsetail and bamboo. An herbal extract also works preventively.