Feed supplements and medications are important in the management of horses with arthritis, but there's more you can do to keep them comfortable and sound. Decisions you make about a horse's environment and day-to-day care can also have an impact on the health of his joints. Here are three ways to manage your horse to protect his joints:
• Tend to his footing. Deep, slick, wet or uneven surfaces can take a toll on joints, in the short and long term. Be vigilant about maintaining your arena footing and replace it entirely if it’s gone “dead.” When riding on trails, pay attention to what’s underfoot, avoiding mucky and excessively deep footing and going slowly over rocky or uneven ground. Also consider the surfaces your horse encounters when you aren’t riding: Make sure stall floors are level and cover them with thick stall mats if you can. Minimize mud in turnout spaces. Adding gravel or bluestone to high-traffic areas---around gates and water troughs, for example---can go a long way toward controlling mud.
• Be consistent with hoof care. Set and keep regular farrier appointments. Hooves that grow too long can stress the joints above them, contributing to or accelerating arthritic changes. You may also want to consider using radiographs to guide trimming and shoeing. Just two images---one taken from the side and one from the front---can provide a farrier with invaluable insight about the alignment of bones in your horse’s lower leg, informing decisions about trimming. You’ll need to coordinate this radiographic effort with your veterinarian and farrier, but the benefits will make it worth the effort.
• Keep him moving. Slow, regular exercise is the best thing for horses with arthritic joints. Turn your horse out every day, even if the weather is bad. If he’s not inclined to move much on his own, encourage him to walk by spreading out resources---putting the water trough at one end of the paddock and his hay at the other. Ideally, you’d also ride him sensibly every day. The worst thing for an arthritic horse is to be a “weekend warrior,” where he is idle all week then ridden for several hours on the weekend.
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