Daily aches and pains are something every horse (and their owner) experience at some point in their lifetime. However, even low-grade lameness could be indicative of a bigger problem such as Osteoarthritis (OA). OA is a complex, progressive disease that affects a large proportion of the horse population. In fact, studies have shown that more than 60% of equine lameness is attributed to OA. This isn’t very surprising since we ask our horses to perform specialised movements including jumping, spinning on a dime, pirouetting, sliding stops and one time changes… The list goes on. Even so, everyday activity and exercise contribute to normal wear and tear in the joints, leading to eventual degradation of joint cartilage.
Not just an old age problem….
A typical approach to equine joint care is to commence treatment once a problem (such as lameness) has arisen. While treatment can help to reduce joint pain, slow the progression of the disease and prolong the horse’s athletic career, this approach is flawed because you cannot cure or reverse OA. The adage prevention is better than cure could not be more applicable when discussing joint health. Joint disease in horses is an age-old problem, but it isn’t just an old age problem and young horses can also be affected.
The term osteoarthritis literally means inflammation of bone and joints. To understand the detrimental effects of OA, we need to take a closer at the structure of the joint itself.
A joint is where two bones meet. The ends of the bones are covered with articular cartilage, which is smooth and resilient, allowing for frictionless movement of the joint. The joint is contained within a fibrous capsule lined with a membrane that secretes fluid to lubricate and cushion the joint (i.e. shock absorption). The synovial fluid also nourishes the joint cartilage and contains glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) such as sodium hyaluronate, which is responsible for the viscosity (thickness) of the fluid and contributes to the structural integrity of the cartilage.
Damage to any part of the joint instigates inflammation. A common sign of arthritis is excessive accumulation of joint fluid (swelling). Inflammation destroys the GAGs, which in turn results in lower fluid viscosity and subsequent damage to the cartilage. The joint cartilage has no nerve or blood supply of its own and therefore has no ability to repair itself. On the other hand, bone is full of nerve endings and, as you can imagine, bone grinding against bone can be extremely uncomfortable.
Scaffolding for the joint – ligaments, tendons and bones
While the health of the joint itself is important, we can’t forget the other structures of the limb. Resilience of the ligaments, tendons and bones is essential for normal motion as well as shock absorption. Think of these structures as scaffolding for the joint. Firstly, a strong bone matrix is critical in providing a robust foundation for joint cartilage. The ligaments and tendons also need to be strong and pliable to withstand pressure during exercise. These structures contain collagen, which is a tough, fibrous material that cements cells together, providing strength and elasticity. The horse’s tendons can stretch up to three inches during exercise! To put it in perspective, imagine the fetlocks hyper-extending when landing a jump. Disruption of structures such as the suspensory ligament can lead to failure of support of the fetlock and disastrous injury.
How effective are joint injections?
In the equine industry, joint injections are often the first choice for treatment of OA and are usually administered alongside oral non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS). The most common injections contain corticosteroids, which are potent anti-inflammatory agents that help to alleviate pain, and hyaluronic acid (HA), which also has anti-inflammatory effects and helps to maintain the viscoelasticity of the joint fluid. However, studies have shown that the effects of corticosteroids aren’t long-lasting (less than three months) and a combination of corticosteroids with HA didn’t appear to add any benefit.
The overall goal of joint injections is to reduce inflammation and improve comfort, which they do provide. However, they do very little to change the situation. The joint will continue to deteriorate and the dependence on injections can increase with frequency. Remember, with joint health it is important to consider options to help reduce the risk of OA, rather than just trying to rectify the problem once it is present.
NutriFLEX can help
A combination of balanced nutrition, optimal body condition score, gradual increase in workload and an oral joint supplement, can help to reduce the risk of OA and prolong your horse’s athletic career. Kelato’s NutriFLEX is a high quality, broad spectrum joint supplement that provides the essential building blocks for strong and flexible tendons, ligaments, bones and joint cartilage. NutriFLEX contains a blend of amino acids, minerals and highly bioavailable glucosamine hydrochloride to aid in strengthening all leg structures.
Increasing your horse’s workload, competition season and travelling long distances generates a greater amount of stress on the delicate structures of the leg. During this time, the ligaments, tendons, muscles and connective tissue are at increased risk of strain or injury. Implementing a leg management programme involving rest and care will allow the legs to recuperate and reduce recovery time following exercise bouts.
As with joint injury, inflammation in the legs occurs when tissue signals cells to respond to damage. Even a small amount of tissue damage can trigger an inflammatory response, which is why exercise can result in inflammation characterised by swelling, pain, loss of function and redness. Exercise-induced tissue damage is part of the musculoskeletal healing and repair process as an individual adapts to exercise. While some inflammation is necessary for tissue repair, exaggerated inflammatory responses are likely associated with injury.
There are many options you can consider for the routine care and management of your horse’s legs. Ice is the preferable cold therapy, but it is not always a convenient option. In this situation, a clay poultice may be a good alternative. The cooling and drawing effect of a high-quality clay poultice can aid in reducing heat and inflammation, thereby relieving soreness and stiffness following a workout.
Kelato’s SwellDOWN is a special mixture of montmorillonite clay and unique ingredients has a cooling effect on injuries often caused by hard knocks or jarring. The clay, used as a poultice, draws out heat and reduces swelling commonly generated at damaged sites to aid a more rapid recovery. It is fast, effective and an excellent tightener around knees, ankles and tendons.
From the ground up
We ask an awful lot of an animal who walks on his middle toenails. Humans have recognised for centuries that the foundation of a horse’s soundness lies in his hooves. At the risk of sounding repetitive, “no hoof, no horse” is a basic, but effective statement on the importance of good quality hooves. Often, hoof care is an overlooked strategy for reducing the risk of arthritis and damage to other leg structures. Remember, injury or malfunction of any part of the locomotor apparatus will negatively impact performance. Not to mention the extreme forces exerted by a 500kg animal on four rather small and specialised bits of keratin.
It may seem obvious, but regular and correct farrier care is essential for the maintenance of healthy, balanced hooves. There are several other factors that can affect hoof quality including genetics, nutrition, environmental conditions, injury and illness. So, apart from regular visits from the farrier, what else can owners do to care for their horse’s hooves?
Feeding the feet
For optimal hoof health, the horse must have a positive energy balance (calories exceed those required for maintenance of body weight) and a well-balanced diet that provides nutrients required for health and well-being, which in turn will fuel sound hoof growth (i.e. high-quality protein, vitamins and minerals). However, despite receiving a nutritionally balanced diet some horses may still have dry, brittle hooves. In this situation, the horse may benefit from additional supplementation to improve hoof strength and integrity.
Biotin is a B vitamin essential for many functions in a horse’s body, including metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and proteins, cell proliferation, normal thyroid and adrenal gland function, reproductive tract health, and nervous system stability. Biotin contains sulphur, an element required for the formation of the reinforcing bonds between strands of collagen, and therefore plays a role in maintaining the health of the skin and hooves.
Kelato’s BiotinMAX CONCENTRATE is an ultra-concentrated biotin supplement to support horses with poor hoof quality. BiotinMAX CONCENTRATE supplies biotin at levels shown by scientific studies to improve hoof strength and integrity. Researchers have found normal blood levels of biotin in horses with poor quality hoof horn, so unhealthy hooves are not a result of deficiency. However, despite normal blood levels horses responded to megadoses of biotin given orally. Research has indicated that supplementation with 20mg of biotin per day for at least nine months decreased the incidence of hoof cracks, less crumbling of the hoof horn, and greater tensile strength. Remember, you can only try to encourage better growth from the coronary band down and BiotinMAX CONCENTRATE will help to improve the growth of the new hoof horn, not the existing hoof.
Dressing the feet
Since hoof quality can also be affected by environmental conditions, horses may also benefit from a topical hoof dressing. During the hot, dry conditions of summer, the hoof has the task of cushioning the impact of a moving 500kg horse. A combination of hard, unyielding surfaces and brittle hooves provides a recipe for hoof damage and potential lameness. Hooves that are not maintained properly can dry out and lose flexibility, as well as become prone to conditions such as contracted heels, navicular syndrome (continual impact of the toe on hard surfaces) and sand cracks. Autumn and Winter are arguably the harshest times of year for many reasons – temperature variations, wet weather, muddy conditions, less sunlight, no time. We all know the hassles of living in cold, wet weather. While we tend to focus on protecting our horses’ bodies with multiple layers of rugs, the hooves bear the brunt of harsh winter conditions. The hooves may absorb more water and become soft/pliable. This provides an opportunity for organisms to break through the protective barrier of the hoof wall and result in infection.
Kelato’s HoofPRIME is a dressing formulated to penetrate the hoof wall and provide nourishment to the inner and outer structures of the hoof wall, ensuring that strength and flexibility are maintained. HoofPRIME only needs to be applied every second day – cut your costs and time in half!