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Supporting Joints in Horses with Exercise

Posted by Manna Pro Products, LLC, Fri, Apr 13, 2018

Senior horses require special attention to keep them comfortable and enable productive work under saddle in their vintage years.

The benefits of keeping your senior horse working are many. Not only will regular light exercise help to engage their mind and keep them mentally active, but it will also help keep their stress down and their body healthy.

A trained horse that is left to their own devices may become depressed, develop stable vices and genuinely miss the interaction with humans that was part of their daily life under saddle.

How much should you work your horse, and what accommodations should you make to help them reach their present potential?

As their rider, you want to ensure that you are not asking too much of your elderly horse or adding to their stress or discomfort.

Here are some tips on how to help your horse trot along:

Be Kind and Diligent

Your horse may know their job under saddle well, but they may also believe they are expected to operate at the same pace as they did in his younger years. Modify the pace and length of each riding session, and reward your horse often for their efforts to convince them that their new, lesser pace is appreciated and acceptable. Healthy rewards are always a great idea, and we all know that the best way to a horse’s heart is through their stomach. Senior Snax are a neat way to give your older horse a special treat that contains a natural source of glucosamine, Omega-3 fatty acids and biotin (plus they are nice and easy to chew!).

Your job is to relieve your horse’s stress, both mental and physical. Older horses stress more easily. Once your horse understands that they don’t need to operate at full throttle, they will settle down into a calmer and less stressful mount.

Time is Your Friend

Allow more time in your riding schedule to set your horse up for success. Their joints may benefit from a pre-ride leg and back massage, an application of topical salves and horse liniments, and some light and careful leg stretches after they have been warmed up.

Allow for longer warm-up and cool-down times at the start and end of your riding sessions. Hand-walk your horse before mounting to allow them time to warm up without your weight, and if you are performing any stretching exercises on your horse then doing them once their soft tissue has warmed up a bit is much kinder than trying to do it when you’ve just brought them out of standing in a stall.

Consider having a rider with less exacting requirements work the horse. For example, if a barrel racing horse is used to their rider then they may become exceedingly excited as soon as the regular rider mounts. If you replace the rider with someone else and ask them to trail ride in a relaxed manner, the horse may be happier and less stressed. When you ride your horse, remember to allow them time to answer your aids. Just as when a horse is young and takes time to process our requests, a senior horse will also need time for their mind to translate your requests and for their body to answer their own mental instructions.

Tack Check

Boot up your horse for additional support. Boots provide protection, support and warmth. Be certain you keep boots or wraps clean and apply them properly so they do not constrict or become loose during work, which can pose a hazard.

Check your saddle fit, as senior horses exhibit a less muscled topline as they age.

Where to Ride

Ride your horse on the flat on good footing to minimize stress on their joints through jarring on hard surfaces. By avoiding excessive work on hills, you will also lessen the action the horse’s joints need to provide for traction and not add undue stress to the soft tissues that serve as the support network for those joints.

How You Ride

It is important that you ride your horse well at any age, but particularly during their senior years. Poor riding is necessarily harder on a horse than good riding. For example, a poorly made transition may hurt the horse’s joints, while a well-balanced transition will help them adjust to the change in pace with less stress on the body. The more the rider stays in balance with their horse, the easier the under-saddle work is for them. So, always strive to do a great job in the saddle.

Minimize small circles and sharp turns when riding, and avoid long work on small circles. Give your horse time to make transitions and avoid abrupt stops and starts.

Avoid Long Lay-Offs

It is much better to keep a horse ticking along under saddle than to give them extended lay-offs and then have to bring them back to work and develop muscle tone. Hand-walking is a great method for helping to bring a horse back to work!

Routines Help

If you stick to a routine the older horse will become less stressed, as they know what to expect. It also helps keep us on track!

Remember: Older horses have so much to teach us and certainly should not be discarded due to the infirmities of old age. A horse that is 15 years old or more may be considered in their later years, but there are many high-level competition horses that have competed successfully well past that age. Age is a state of mind as well as a state of physical condition.

Additional Tips to Help Manage Joints in Horses:

  • The more your horse can move around, the better their joints will handle the stress of aging. So, keeping them at pasture or turned out can help. For the same reason, if you can keep your senior horse doing light work it will also help slow down any damage to their joints.
  • If possible, keep your horse warm and snug during the winter months with a toasty blanket and provide shelter. When stabling, use soft, deep bedding to protect their joints from cold or damp ground.
  • There are myriad options for aiding your horse in handling senior joint care. Treatments include administration of oral or injectable joint acid preparations, alternative organic treatments such as turmeric and yucca, and many more.We recommend Rapid Flex® Joint Supplement. We also offer comprehensive equine joint supplements such as Corta-Flx®, SHO-Flex and Cetyl-M® if you are looking for a more specific ingredient approach to joint support.
  • Today, many top equestrian athletes provide joint support therapies and medications to their equine partners throughout their horse’s careers. This preventive care aids greatly in the longevity of the horse’s riding life.
  • Be smart, and keep your senior horse properly trimmed and/or shod. If the hooves are well-balanced and kept at the right angles and length, the breakover on the horse’s stride will be optimized, in turn minimizing additional joint strain.
  • Contact your veterinarian to see if your horse would benefit from NSAIDs or other vet-recommended products to keep your horse happy in their work and attitude.
  • Just as when we age our bodies have trouble processing certain foods and uptaking the vitamins and nutrients we need, horses require additional support to keep their bodies functioning optimally. Not only will the right diet provide for the daily needs of your horse in a balanced manner, it will also help prevent colic or azoturia and reduce stress on your horse’s systems.

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