Healthy joints rely on the health of nearby structures. The tendons, ligaments and muscles around a joint help to support it as the horse moves. If these structures are weak, the joint may become unstable, leading to arthritis over time. An outof-shape horse may not be lame or seem otherwise biomechanically compromised, but his lack of fitness is silently stressing his joints. Movement also helps keep joints lubricated by pushing synovial fluid through their spaces. Consider how stiff your own knees may feel after a long period of sitting.
Of course, a few weeks of relative rest between competition seasons won’t cause a horse to lose enough condition to threaten joint health. But prolonged periods of inactivity can. And it’s not just the lack of movement during these periods that’s problematic, but also the risk of stress and injury when your horse’s work resumes. The older a horse is, the harder it is to bring him back to fitness. Add a touch of normal, agerelated arthritis to that equation and an older horse may have an especially hard time coming
back from a long period of inactivity.
So do all you can do keep your horse active and fit yearround. Keep him on a regular exercise schedule and turn him out with an active herd as much as possible. Try to maintain this schedule as he ages, even (and especially) if he does develop arthritis.
Although your first instinct may be to leave a stiff horse in his stall, physical activity is critical to keeping the condition in check, both by encouraging movement of fluid within the joint and keeping the structures around it healthy and strong. Regular turnout in a large space with a friendly herd is an important part of managing arthritis, as is sensible riding.