I have a mare that I absolutely adore and I want her to last and be comfortable as long as possible. She is just nine now and had a slow easy start in life, that knowledge plus her very clean vetting when I got her 2 years ago make me feel confident that her joints are in good shape now. She is currently my 3' adult hunter/ eq horse, ridden 5-6 days per week, jumps 1-2 times per week, occasionally 3 times if showing over multi days. We show fairly minimally, maybe 10 times/ year. She is turned out about 8-10 hours per day. My goal is 3'6" A/o hunters.
However, I'd like to do whatever I can to prevent joint/ arthritis issues over her life time. I had a wonderful horse as a teenager that I feel would have been much more comfortable and had a longer career with today's therapies and preventive options. As of now, my mare doesn't get anything for joints, but I do my best to keep her fit, feed her well, etc.
So, what do folks do for their younger, healthy horses to optimize their chances of a long healthy career? Wondering about everything from exercise programs, avoiding certain things (like say excessive lunging), feed supplements, injectables, and so on, and would be very interested to hear progressive programs for those who have had their horses a long time.
I skip the drugs and focus on training, conditioning. Arthritis is a multifactoral disease that folks seem to think that drugs can fix or prevent. No. If you really want to increase the longevity of your horse, a well considered program encompassing YEARS of development and management is key.
On young horses, lots of LONG hacks on MULTIPLE surfaces (hard, soft) with varied times is the basis (studies on race horses as well as humans bear this out). The shock loading of walking on pavement etc. will stimulate cartilage development in the younger animal. I will do roadwork at least once a week (e.g. 45+ minutes on a hard pack dirt road or asphalt). This increases the tendon, ligament and bone volume and response. The SUPPORT STRUCTURES OF THE LEG ARE AS IMPORTANT AS CARTILAGE when preventing arthritis.
Never try to go longer on the same surface multiple times. Vary times and distances. GIVE TIME OFF. It allows the micro-damage to repair and the physiology to develop the repair mechanisms to handle competitions. I never have multiple hard days outside of competition. Hard days always have easy days. Days off are integrated into the schedule.
This is based on years as a bone/joint researcher and having high level horses go for more than 10+ years. Yes, as they hit the end of their career I did injections but never more than once a year. My horses retired sound.
RAyers, when you say road work do you primarily walk or mix in walking and other gates? The information you provided makes a lot of sense and was along the lines I was thinking. I try to mix up ring riding with hacking out on hilly areas or sloping ground to change things up, and I can add in some road work (assuming of course I work on getting my horse more accustomed to traffic, bicycles, etc than she is now ).
I'd say add flax to her diet. The Omega 3s are excellent for joint health along with immunity health. My trainer got a horse in this winter with clicking hocks and the clicking went away after 2 weeks on 2 cups of flax seed a day (whole seed). From my reading, the jury is out about using supplements such as cosequin as a preventive. Lots of turn out, regular balanced correct trims, regular exercise, don't let her get too overweight, things like that would be the way to go.
Yes, primarily walking. I sometimes trot but for only very short distances and based on how secure the horse feels. "Road work" does not have to be on roads. A good bike path, or jogging trail, etc., any place that has a firm to hard surface is sufficient. I use the barn driveway sometimes (but, yes, it can be insanely boring).
I agree with turnout, good trimming, and diet are all paramount as well. However, clicking in a joint has no connection to arthritis. Clicking is a result of distention in the bursa resulting in cavitation of the synovial fluid.
Long Slow Distance really works to help horses maintain long time soundness. Many event riders years ago progressed up the levels in an almost yearly progress. That way they got to do many courses a Novice Level one year, many at Training a Second year. So not only were their bodies being trained, their minds learned to deal with all sorts of obstacles. Now, it's lets see how fast we can get them up the levels.
RE: Clicking. Years ago, a friend went to an orthopedist. His knees were clicking. Dr. said "Sorry, we don't treat noises" Now 51 years later, friend's knees are still the soundest part.
Some riders change their horse, they change their saddle, they change their teacher; they never change themselves.
Remember the horse does all the work, we just sit there and look pretty.
My horse was on an oral supplement, but right now she needs a little extra support so she gets IV PolyG once a month. It is supposed to be great. She said only about 25% of horses actually absorb oral supplements into their blood stream.
I wasn't trying to compare clicking to arthritis, but it indicated (to me) that maybe the flax was doing something. Not just going through the intestines. In my reading, the omega 3s are very helpful for immunity and joint issues.