EQUUS - - Contents -

#old comforts

One of the best ways you can help an older horse cope with arthri­tis in the win­ter months is to have a plan to keep him mov­ing. Reg­u­lar ex­er­cise not only en­cour­ages nat­u­ral lu­bri­ca­tion of joints but helps pre­serve the mus­cle tone that holds joints sta­ble. In­ac­tiv­ity, even for a few days at a time, can dra­mat­i­cally ac­cel­er­ate the de­cline of an older, arthritic horse.

If you live in a milder cli­mate, keep­ing an older horse mov­ing may just be a mat­ter of main­tain­ing a reg­u­lar riding sched­ule. You don’t need to ride an arthritic horse long or fast; a brisk walk is plenty of ex­er­cise if that’s all he feels up for on a given day. Re­mem­ber that even if an arthritic horse feels very stiff when you first mount up, he will loosen up within a few min­utes. If he doesn’t, he may have an­other is­sue be­yond his arthri­tis and you’ll want to con­sult with your ve­teri­nar­ian. Riding just three times a week can make a big dif­fer­ence to an older horse, but only when done reg­u­larly. If your sched­ule doesn’t al­low con­sis­tency, con­sider en­list­ing the help of a friend.

If you are un­able to ride reg­u­larly, daily turnout with a sta­ble but ac­tive herd can still pro­vide enough ex­er­cise to main­tain a horse’s joints, but only if the weather and foot­ing co­op­er­ate. Many older horses turned out in slick, sloppy or very cold con­di­tions will not move any more than if they were in a stall. In those cases, you may need to get cre­ative to en­cour­age ac­tiv­ity.

Cre­at­ing a smaller, more pro­tected pas­ture in an area with bet­ter foot­ing is one pos­si­ble so­lu­tion. Look for an area where a build­ing or stand of trees might act as a wind­break and the el­e­va­tion and con­tours are such that pud­dles don’t form to freeze into ice patches. Putting an older horse in such a space with a friendly com­pan­ion might be enough to help him stay ac­tive, and plac­ing piles of hay at dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions in the space will also help keep him mov­ing.

When good turnout isn’t avail­able, ei­ther in the long or short term, hand­walk­ing is an op­tion. Even if you’re just walk­ing an older horse around the arena or up and down the drive­way, it’s bet­ter than him stand­ing still all day. Three daily walks of 20 min­utes each is a good goal.

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