TACK & GEAR
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.