UK free shipping above €100, orders before 14:00 are shipped same day

Osteoarthritis in horses: a “happy athlete” still possible?

Many horses experience stiffness and start-up problems over the course of their life. “It’s a diesel” is often said. If a horse is a bit older, these complaints can be caused by osteoarthritis, but that is not always the case. What can you do to keep your horse supple for as long as possible? And how do you ensure that your horse remains a happy athlete even with mild arthrosis?

Often (older) horses that are a bit stiff are assumed to have osteoarthritis. This does not have to be the case, stiffness can also be caused by acidification of the muscles, for example. If you want to be sure, your vet can find out if osteoarthritis is present, using X-rays and possibly ultrasound. The good news is that even horses with mild arthrosis, for example due to age, can still often move well. There are, however, a number of things that you should pay attention to as a horse owner.

Management of stiffer horses

When managing a horse that is (a little) stiff, or has start-up complaints, the following is important:

  • Lots of free movement
  • Training on good soil
  • Varied training with an emphasis on balance
  • The right amount of training
  • Good hoof care (and possibly appropriate horseshoe)
  • The right nutrition
  • Bringing and keeping the right weight for both horse and rider
  • Supplements to support the joints

Free movement

To prevent osteoarthritis and stiffness, its important that your horse gets a lot of free movement. If a horse is stiff on a regular basis, try to leave it out in the paddock or pasture for a little longer, preferably with one or more other horses. A paddock paradise or a track with hay and water at different points invites to exercise more than a small paddock. A horse also moves more in a pasture, but for çold blooded breeds or horses that quickly become overweight, this may not be the best solution.

Training on good soil

The soil you train on is very important in preventing stiffness and joint wear. Many stables nowadays have fantastic bases, but not everyone has this luxury. If you train a lot and hard, it is important that you take into account the soil you use. An old, hard base that provides little cushioning puts a greater burden on the joints. A very loose bottom is actually heavier for the tendons. In itself it is good for your horse’s tendons and dexterity to handle many different soils, but build this up! A non-damping soil is more likely to cause arthrosis-like complaints than a new, good-quality soil.

Make changes in your training

Make sure you don’t do the exact same thing in your workout every day. One-sided training of certain exercises or, for example, riding much more on the left than on the right hand, gives one-sided load and this can lead to overload. Overloading can cause irritation in the joints, which can lead to osteoarthritis in the long run. Variety is also important to prevent muscle stiffness. It also keeps your horse fresh in his head and motivated. Above all, let the horse walk on its own feet and work on its balance. If you have to “keep your horse upright” with your reins, or if you force him into a position, this also leads to unnatural movements and accelerated wear. Also think of variety in the way of training. Groundwork is also a great way to exercise.

Right amount of training

The duration and intensity of your training is also important. Alternate tough days with light exercise, groundwork or a walk outside. A day off in the pasture can also be perfect for the physical and mental recovery of your horse. Train your horse to what he can handle in terms of age and experience. Be careful with young horses and don’t ask too much of them at a young age. This can lead to accelerated wear and osteoarthritis complaints as they get older.

Good hoof care and appropriate horseshoes

Many joint complaints in the legs arise from leg stands that are not completely perfect. A horse that is not standing upright on its legs, but is, for example, showing an abnormal stand, will load its joints crookedly. Over the years, this can cause additional wear. It is therefore important to provide good hoof care to a horse from foal onwards. You can only really do something about things like grazing feet and incorrect leg positions with a young horse (under three). In a horse that already has osteoarthritis, it is of course also very important to keep track of the hooves. Sometimes a special shoe can help to get more cushioning, but often a horse with bare feet is fine, as long as the hooves are well maintained.

Proper nutrition

Too many sugars in your horse’s diet can cause an accumulation of waste products. This can also make your horse stiff. Provide sufficient good quality roughage and give your horse tailor-made concentrate. Breeds such as Frisians, Haflingers and Tinkers often require less concentrate or even just a vitamin and mineral pellet in addition to their hay. Horses that work a lot can sometimes use some biks.

In addition, it is important to give a horse sufficient vitamin E during training. During training, the muscles of horses produce waste products. To break down these waste products, the body uses vitamin E, because this is an anti-oxidant. It neutralizes the waste products and makes them harmless to the muscles. Because horses get vitamin E from fresh grass, it is wise to feed this in the winter. But horses that perform heavier work in the summer also need extra vitamin E.

Keep the horse on weight

Many horses are overweight and not all amazons and riders are slim. Due to a too high weight of the horse and its rider, the load on your horse’s joints also increases. This can cause stiffness. As an owner it is often difficult to estimate whether your horse has a healthy weight. Also because many horses are too fat and so we are a bit used to that image. Grab a so-called “body condition” score card or let your vet check it out.

Supplements osteoarthritis of the horse

There are many nutritional supplements on the market that can support the joints. For example, the mineral silicon, which is the building material of joint fluid, cartilage and bone and stimulates the production of the body’s own glucosamine. Supplements are of course not the same as medication, but research in humans and horses shows that the mineral silicon has a protective effect against the development of osteoarthritis. In addition, there are herbal supplements that counteract the formation of uric acid crystals in the joints. These crystals form when there is too high a uric acid level in the blood. Research has shown that horses have this during stress and intensive work. This uric acid can then crystallize, which accumulates between the joints. When the crystals disappear, the stiffness often disappears too. Finally, you can think of cannabinoids, which are extracted from cloves (doping-free). This supplement has an analgesic and anti-inflammatory effect. It can improve existing stiffness, especially if you give it in combination with the mineral silicon.


In advanced cases, a vet will prescribe medication that often aims to reduce inflammation, swelling and pain. Phenylbutazone (buut) is an example of this, but unfortunately not enough as it can damage the wall of the gastrointestinal tract in the long term. That is why most veterinarians opt for injections of corticosteroids and / or hyaluronic acid. This is injected directly into the synovial fluid and is anti-inflammatory and analgesic. These injections should be repeated every 6 to 12 months.

Conclusion: Stiffness is not always osteoarthritis and often something can be done about it!

Stiffness does not only have to come from osteoarthritis, not even in a horse that is a little older. It can also be caused by too many sugars in the diet, acidification of the muscles, muscle damage due to, for example, overtraining or a lack of vitamin E. The vet can help you determine whether your horse does indeed have osteoarthritis. With better management, good exercise and nutrition you can ensure that a horse can remain active longer as a “happy athlete” and get a better quality of life.

Close menu