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Osteoarthritis in horses

Marie-Hélène Cloutier

Osteoarthritis affects more and more horses, which raises several questions from the owner of the latter. How can I help my horse, can it still be ridden, how do I know if my horse is suffering from it, etc.?


Eden shares some important information with you here.

What is osteoarthritis?

Before getting to the heart of the matter, it is important to review how a joint works. A joint is the junction between two bone ends that allows mobility (movement) of a limb.

A joint and made up of cartilage, a tissue that covers the end of the bone. The latter absorbs shocks and reduces friction between the bones.

There are also the ligaments that bind the joint. The ligaments are flexible while providing some resistance, which helps keep the joint in place.

Then, the synovial membrane helps lubricate the joint with the synovial fluid it contains.

Everything is held in a joint capsule.

Thus, osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease that affects the joints and more specifically their cartilage. The cartilage is slowly destroyed, which creates friction on the bone surfaces. Thus, the movement of the joint becomes painful.


Osteoarthritis can be caused by various factors, such as overwork, on the contrary a lack of activity, overweight, an abnormality in the position of the joint, aging, genetic (hereditary) or traumatic (old) factors. injury like fracture).

It is therefore not uncommon to see osteoarthritis in older horses. But how do you know if your horse is suffering from it??


The main symptoms are stiffness and cold lameness (therefore more pronounced at the start of the session and which usually improves during training). Crunches when walking or exercising can also be a sign.

There may also be inflammation in the affected joint, hence heat.

There may be a gradual loss of mobility in the joint. For example, your horse which engages less well or which has difficulty giving its feet.

The appearance of small bumps in the joint is also possible.

To validate an osteoarthritis agnostic you will need x-rays of the joint and an examination by your veterinarian.

Horse life condition with osteoarthritis

First of all, we must remember that the two worst enemies of osteoarthritis are immobility and humidity !!!

So, get your horse out as much as possible because it needs movement! However, beware of very humid days. When the humidity is high, it will prefer a drier and warmer place. So pay attention to the temperature and the sign your horse is giving you.

It is often mistakenly heard that a horse with osteoarthritis needs to be put to rest or retirement, which is not the case. This last needs movement, and sometimes when leaving in the fields it will not move enough either. Stillness can even make her condition worse. So a suitable training is even beneficial!

It is therefore necessary to limit, to see eliminating the jump and to avoid the short turns. It is also necessary to limit the sessions of lunge and to privilege the work in a straight line and the very wide circles. Harder ground will also limit stress on the joints.

You will also need to warm up your mount, that is, take the time to walk (at least 20 minutes) before going to a trot or a gallop. Keep in mind that the trot puts more stress on the joints than the canter, so it is best to limit this pace and to canter. Finally, walks are particularly interesting for the daily maintenance of your horse!

Do not forget the temperature and humidity factor during your training !!! Thus, it is wise to increase the walking time to 30-40 minutes in wet weather before galloping too much. Again, listen to your horse!

Can osteoarthritis be treated?

Unfortunately, osteoarthritis cannot be cured, but it is possible to bring relief to the latter.

It is therefore possible to give anti-inflammatory drugs to your mount, but beware, these can cause stomach problems, such as ulcers..

You can also give a glucosamine / chondroitin supplement which can help slow the progression of cartilage breakdown.

In addition to glucosamine, methyl-sulfonyl-methane (MSM) helps maintain joint elasticity, as well as the condition of the cartilage. The latter also reduces inflammation and stiffness in the joints.

Several products are offered in equestrian shops. You can also consult a food specialist, or an agronomist who will advise you. Some products are more natural than others and contain ingredients with anti-inflammatory properties like turmeric, harpagophytum, black currant flower and meadowsweet. One of our favorite products is L’ÉquiFlex by Belsile.


Regular trimming will also help your horse, as will osteopathy or massage therapy sessions.

If none of the products provide relief to your horse, you may need to go for an infiltration performed by your veterinarian.

Hope this article helps with the care of horses with osteoarthritis. Please feel free to comment on any impressions or experiences that may help other people.


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