Equine, Horse & Rider, Injury and Rehab, Injury Management

Know you Therapist!

As an owner it can often be confusing as to what the difference between some professions are and who might be the right professional to come and treat your horse.

Quite often I see people ask for a recommendation for a particular type of therapist e.g. a chiropractor and they get a large number of recommendations that are not chiropractors but massage therapist, for instance. This can make things even more confusing and sometimes you don’t realise you are not actually getting what you asked for. Below are some defining features of each profession to allow you the owner to make an informed decision on who is best suited to treat your horse.

Chiropractor

  • May be know as a back specialists
  • Manipulates joints with gentle and quick movements
  • May do some soft tissue work if qualified to do so
  • Can only be called Animal Chiropractor if qualified as a human chiropractor, otherwise they should be called Practitioner of Animal Manipulation. They are generally qualified through McTimoney Chiropractic College
  • Degree level qualification
  • RAMP and MAA registered
  • You may use one when your horse is suffering pelvic and back issues. Or if soft tissue work alone is not working. Soft tissue and manipulations combined make a very effective treatment combination.

Vet Physiotherapist

  • In the last couple of years an vet physiotherapist does not need to be qualified in human physiotherapy as they did in the past
  • Uses soft tissue techniques, equipment such as electo therapy and exercises to treat musculoskeletal issues
  • Degree level qualification
  • RAMP, ACPAT, IRVAP, CSP are some of the possible associations for a Vet physio to be registered with
  • You tend to use a physio when your horse is injured and needs rehabbing, however they do also do maintenance work

Equine Sport Massage/Bodyworker

  • Works on soft tissue through massage
  • May have additional qualifications such as acupressure, k-taping, myofascial release
  • There are several different courses available some more robust than others and it is worth looking into the number of hours, case studies and examinations they had to undergo to qualify
  • Possibly registered with ICAT, IAAT, ESMA, or IEBWA
  • Generally used when your horse is stiff and sore. Can be used before or after competition, to help during rehab or general maintenance to reduce the occurrence of overuse injuries.

There are other types of equine therapist that I have not mentioned but the above are the most commonly used by owners. It must be noted that none of the above professions should be diagnosing. This can only be performed by a vet. Also if your horse is lame then it needs to be seen by a vet before any of the above professions commence treatment, with the vets permission. Recently the need for vet permission to treat maintenance cases is no longer required.

Biomechanics, Equine, Horse & Rider, Injury and Rehab, Injury Management

Part 2: Core Exercises for your horse

Carrot stretches

Most of you will have heard of carrot stretches but if not then they are a sequence of movements that dynamically mobilese and strengthen your horses core muscles. Narelle Stubbs and Hilary Clayton outline them in a book called ‘Activate your horse’s core’. This is a really good resource to have, and will show you how to get your horse to do the moves. It also shows you how to do other moves like belly lifts, tail pulls and weight shifts.

Belly Lifts

Belly lifts are a really good way to get your horse activating its core. It specifically works on the abdominal muscles but also brings the thoracic sling into play. To perform a belly lift you need to stand facing your horse’s side behind the elbow. Taking your hands apply pressure between the pectoral muscles on the sternum and gradually run your hands down towards the hind limb. Maintain the pressure as you do this. You should see that your horse lifts through its back. If not play around with the pressure until you find what works.

Backing up

Backing up causes the hind legs to get right underneath your horse this in turn engages the core muscles and helps strengthen them. It will also highlight whether one side is stronger than the other. You want your horse to move back in a straight line. To perform this move get your horse to stand square and then apply some pressure to their chest asking them to step back. Start with a few steps trying to keep as straight as possible and gradually increase the number of steps. This is also a really good way to get the hind limbs to loosen of before ridden work. This can also be performed when ridden.

Dock Rocks

These are similar to tail pulls but I prefer giving these to clients as they are not applying any unwanted pressure to the tail. Again dock rocks help strengthen the core muscles. They also help activate the quadricep muscles and the tensor fasciae latae which help to stabilise the hind legs. To perform this stand facing your horses side in line with the hindquarters. Hook your hand over the dock of your horses tail. Gently pull towards you in an arch so that your horses hindquarters gently come towards you. Relax and let your hand return back to the start. Perform this both sides. Start with 5 each side and then gradually increase the repetitions.

Pole work

Pole work is a great way to get your horse to activate its core and engage its hindquarters. It can be done in hand, ridden or on the lunge. Start off easy with one or two poles in a straight line. Gradually add poles over a number of weeks. Start in walk and then build to trot work. As your horse progresses you can start to raise the poles. Bring it back to one or two poles in walk and build the number of poles up gradually. Alter the distances between poles, create different patterns such as a circle or riding them over a triangle and getting them to bend. If you do this regularly to you start to notice a difference in your horses athleticism.

Long and low work

It is really important to give your horse a session where you have minimal collection. Allow your horse to stretch their necks down while working. A whole session be it schooling or out on a hack (if save to do so) would be beneficial. You can use it as a gentle active recovery session in their training plan. It will allow your horse to stretch and lift through its topline, activating its core muscles

Above are a number of exercises that will help any horse develop their core muscles even top competition horses. It will help develop suppleness, strength and resilience reducing the occurrence of injuries and allowing your horse to train and compete more efficiently and effectively.

If you have any queries please do contact Pollyanna

Anatomy, Biomechanics, Equine, Horse & Rider, Injury and Rehab, Injury Management

Part one: Core Muscles of the Horse

The core muscles is a term banded about quite a lot but what makes up the core muscles of a horse? Well quite a few in fact. The core muscles are the muscles that stabilise the back and pelvis. They include the abdominal muscle group, sub lumbar muscle group and the epaxial muscle group.

A strong core is important for horses as it is in humans. By developing a strong core a stable foundation can be developed to allow the horse to be balanced while moving. This reduces the chances of injuries as your horse will be able to cope physically with changes around them such as uneven surfaces or slipping. It also helps with posture and allows your horse to manage the weight of a rider by being able to lift through their back.

Below is a brief summary of the muscles that make up your horses core in part two core exercises will be described so that you can help strengthen your horses core.

Abdominal muscles

Rectus Abdominis

Origin: Sternum, xiphoid process, costal cartilage 4-9

Insertion: Prepubic tendon

Function: Aids in defacation, giving birth, and expiration. Supports the abdomen and flexes the back

Transversus Abdominis

Origin: Medial surface of asternal ribs thoracolumbar fascia, transverse processes of lumbar vertebrae

Insertion: Aponeurosis to linea alba, xiphoid cartilage

Function: Aids in defacation, giving birth and expiration. Supports the abdomen

Internal Obliques

Origin: Tuber coax and inguinal ligament

Insertion: Aponeurosis to linea alba, ribs 18, costal cartilage 14-18 and prepubic tendon

Function: Aids in defacation, giving birth and expiration. Supports the abdomen

External Obliques

Origin: Costal part lateral surface of ribs 4-18. Lumbar part thoracolumbar fascia

Insertion: Costal part linea alba and pubic tendon. Lumbar part inguinal ligament and tuber coxae

Function: Aids in defacation, giving birth and expiration. Supports the abdomen

The abdominal muscle group as you can see mainly supports the abdomen and are involved in bodily functions as in breathing and going to the toilet. The abdominals also help support the trunk when exercising. When engaged they help lift through the back giving the horse a top line that can deal with carrying a rider and complex movement patterns like jumping or dressage moves.

Sub lumbar muscles

Iliacus

Origin: Sacropelvic surface of ilium, pelvic surface of sacrum and tendon of psoas minor

Insertion: Lesser trochanter of the femur

Function: Flexes and rotates hip joint laterally, moves limb forward

Psoas Major

Origin: Ribs 17-18, ventral surface of bodies and transverse processes of lumbar vertebrae

Insertion: Lesser trochanter of femur

Function: Flexes hip joint, moves limb forward and laterally rotates limb

Fuses with iliacus to form iliopsoas complex

Psoas Minor

Origin: Bodies of Thoracic vertebrae 17-18 and lumbar vertebrae 1-5

Insertion: Ilium and tubercle of psoas minor

Function: With the vertebral column fixed it draws the pelvis forward. With the pelvis fixed it flexed the vertebral column

The sub lumbar muscle group connects the back and pelvis. It helps stabilise these two components allowing them to function at a higher capacity without sustaining an injury. There are other muscles like the gluteals that also help but these will be discussed another time. The sub lumbar muscle group are the deeper muscles that function as part of the core.

Epaxial muscles

Multifidus (thoracic and lumbar part)

Origin: Artucilar and maxillary processes of sacrum, lumbar and thoracic vertebra

Insertion: Spinous processes of thoracic and lumbar vertebrae, spinous process of cervical vertebrae 7

Function: Bilaterally extends back, unilaterally bends vertebral column laterally and rotetes

Longissimus (cervics and dorsi)

Origin: Cervics portion transverse processes of thoracic vertebrae 1-7 and thoracic part of longissumus dorsi. Longissumus dorsi wing of iliac bone, spinous processes of sacrum, lumbar and thoracic vertebrae

Insertion: Cervicis portion transverse processes of cervical vertebra 4-7. Longissimus dorsi transverse and maxillary processes of cervical vertebrae 4-7 and tubercles of ribs

Function: Extends back and neck, stabilises vertebral column

Iliocostalis

Origin: Transverse processes of lumbar vertebrae 1-5, cranial margins of ribs

Insertion: Cuadal margins of ribs 1-15, transverse process of cervical vertebrae 7

Function: Bilaterally extends and stabilises vertebral column. Unilaterally bends back

The epaxial muscle group are located along the back unlike the abdominal muscle group. They solely focus on stabilising and moving the back.

So this is a brief summary of the muscles that make up the deep core of the horse. Hopefully it will allow you to have a better understanding of their role and location to help you work with your horse. To further this understanding the second part will discuss exercises that will strengthen all the above muscles.

Biomechanics, Equine, Horse & Rider, Injury and Rehab, Injury Management

Overuse injuries in horses

Injuries are always a worry for horse owners, they can be expensive, time consuming and painful for your horses. Overuse injuries are something that owners can help reduce. Read on if you would like to know more about overuse injuries and how you as an owner can reduce them.

What is an overuse injury?

As in humans overuse injuries in horses occur due to a build up of micro trauma to tissues and the tissue is unable to repair quickly enough. When training to gain fitness and strength you want to overload your body but you need to give your body time to remodel and repair to be stronger. This is the same in horses. If they are not given the opportunity to recover after training then these micro traumas build up and can cause overuse injuries.

While humans can verbalise discomfort and pain horses often hide this making it really difficult for owners to know when there is something wrong. It is therefore important to know the potential causes of overuse injuries so that you can reduce there impact on your horse.

Causes of Overuse Injuries

Training & Fitness

Horses like humans can be unfit so it is imperative that training is planned to take the horses fitness level into consideration. The training load and frequency want to be increased gradually to allow the body to adjust. If the training load and frequency are increased suddenly and quickly then the horse is unable to make this adjustment and overuse injuries can occur.

Another important aspect of training is giving the horse enough rest time between training sessions. Giving your horse two or more days off a week is a good thing. It allows there bodies to repair and gives them some down time, however if stabled then an in hand walk would be of benefit to allow them to stretch muscles and joints out.

Training should also have different intensities, duration and activities (schooling, hacking, jumping) to create more physiological adaptation in your horse (increase their fitness). If you always keep everything the same then staleness and boredom can set in. By mixing it up you will get better fitness gains and a reduced risk of overuse injuries

Confirmation and Biomechanics

Horses come in so many different shapes and sizes. Some have been breed for specific traits that predispose them to be better suited to a job. As an owner we do need to look at our horses to see if their confirmation suits what we want to do with them. By doing this we can give the horse the best possible chance of not sustaining injuries due to their confirmation. Their confirmation will dictate how they biomechanically move and also show up as tightness in certain areas. For instance I have an ISH who has medial rotation on his lower front limb. This means that he gets tightness in his shoulder. To add to that he has a long neck so quite often he is tight through that shoulder and the base of neck. Regular bodywork in the form of massage, and mobilising stretches (carrot stretches) help reduce tightness and overuse injuries.

Equipment

Ill fitting tack can cause overuse injuries by placing undue stress on certain structures such as the shoulder and back. The pressure created can cause atrophy of muscle, a change in biomechanics, stress on other areas, and inflammation. Checking tack regularly by a good saddler will help reduce any overuse injuries from poorly fitting tack.

Foot balance

Foot balance is really important in horses. Having a long toes for example puts unwanted strain on structures above and will result in overuse injuries. A farrier should be able to maintain a balance that is suited to your horse. Regular visits should also occur (4-6weeks). Horses hoofs do grow at different rates through the year and so you may even need to change your trimming or shoeing schedule to fit in with this. It is also imperative to be feeding your horse a balanced diet that encourages good hoof growth.

Diet

The fuel you put into your horse is important on many levels. Firstly it helps a horse recover after exercise and gives them the energy requirements to perform that exercise without having to use alternative sources like muscle. Secondly a well balanced diet gives all the nutrients to develop strong hooves. If your horse has not got good hoof structure then this will create issues for the rest of the body.

It is also very important for young horses to be getting a good balanced diet so that they don’t develop any growth issues. It is particularly important to look at copper, zinc and magnesium levels as these are all involved with bone development.

Overuse injuries can be caused by many different factors but as owners if we make sure diet, training load, tack, trimming/shoeing and conformational issues are acknowledged and monitored than the prevalence of overuse injuries can be reduced.

Anatomy, Biomechanics, Human, Injury and Rehab, Injury Management

Happy Hamstrings

Do you ever experience hamstring pain during or after exercise? While you might experience hamstring pain or discomfort it may not be the primary source of your problem read on to find out what might be the cause and how to remedy it.

Hamstring Anatomy

The hamstrings are made up of three muscles, the bicep femoris, semitendinosus and semimembranosus. The adductor magnus can sometimes be referred to as a fourth hamstring as it shares one of its origins with the other hamstrings on the ischial tuberosity (seat bones).

Semitendinosus and semimembranosus only have one orgin but the bicep femoris has two heads. The long head originates from the ischial tuberosity and the short head from the lateral lip of the linea aspera of the femur. The two heads merge and insert onto the head of the fibula in the lower leg. The semimembranosus inserts onto the posterior aspect of the medial condyle of the tibia while the semitendinosus merges with gracilis and sartorius to form the pes anserinus tendon. This then inserts into the proximal, medial shaft of the tibia in the lower leg.

All the hamstrings flex the knee and extend the hip. The semimembranosus and semitendinosus medially rotate the knee and hip while the bicep femoris laterally rotates the knee and hip.

Potential Hamstring Issues

Hamstrings can become grumpy due to a number of reasons. Firstly they may actually experience a strain, tear or feel permanently tight. While the hamstring could be the primary cause it is often other soft tissue structures that are the instigator. So the 3 key things to look at if you experience hamstring issues are

  • Quadriceps to hamstring strength
  • Gluteal activation
  • Anterior tilt of the pelvis

Anterior Pelvic Tilt

Anterior pelvic tilt can come about due to tightness in the hip flexors (iliopsoas: psoas and iliacus) as well as tightness in the quadriceps. The pelvic tilt can stretch the hamstrings as a result you ask the hamstrings to take load in this position. The hamstrings feel tight so you try and stretch them further which probably doesn’t do a lot. If the hamstrings are loaded while being stretched then they have less elasticity are are more likely to injure. So by releasing or stretching the hip flexors and quadriceps you can reduce anterior tilt of the pelvis and allow the hamstrings to relax more. This should reduce the chances of straining them.

Gluteal Activation

Another consequence of anterior pelvic tilt can be the gluteal muscles not activating properly. Gluteal activation is not always dependant on anterior pelvic tilt being present. Sports than involve sitting on bending over and not full hip extension can also cause the glutes to not activate. As a result the hamstrings activate before the gluteal muscles do. This again puts extra strain on the hamstrings making them more vulnerable to injury. So to combat this getting the gluteals activating, strong and doing their job will take the load off the hamstrings.

Quadriceps to hamstring strength

Athletes often focus on strengthening the quadriceps and forget about their hamstring. Quadriceps should be stronger because of their job but one of the hamstrings job is to control and stabilise extension of the knee. If this didn’t happen then the strength of the quadriceps would cause the knee to over extend, and cause hamstring injuries. As a result it is really important to do specific hamstring exercises such as Nordic hamstring curls.

Below is a video on how to keep your hamstrings happy and reduce the possibility of sustaining and injury to them

Anatomy, Biomechanics, Equine, Horse & Rider, Injury and Rehab, Injury Management

Musculoskeletal pain: Potential causes in horses

Pain is something that most horse owners are aware off and as owners we do worry whether are equine friend is in pain. Horses are very stoic creatures, in that I mean they don’t always show us when they are in pain. As a result we need to get good at reading the signs which were discussed in a previous post (Equine Pain: Are we missing the signs)

Can we as owners help reduce the chance of our horses feeling pain? Well yes to a certain extent. Below is a dicussion on potential causes of musculoskeletal pain in horses, which in turn may help owners to reduce the likely hood of horses experiencing pain or at least chronic pain.

Tack

Tack is a big area that most owners know can cause discomfort and there is a lot of research being conducted into the amounts of pressure tack can produce. Centaur Biomechanics have been doing a lot of research into saddle , girth and bridle pressure. The results are fascinating and illuminating.

Noseband pressure can be immense and quite a bit greater than saddle pressure. So it is really important to make sure all your tack fits. It doesn’t need to be expensive tack as this isn’t a guarantee it will fit your horse. If in doubt then make sure you get a properly qualified saddle fitter to check. Make sure your tack is checked regularly especially if your horse loses or gains weight.

Soreness from Exercise

As humans you have all felt what we call delayed onset muscle soreness. Where we exercise and then 24-72 hours later our muscles feel sore and stiff. Well horses potentially experience the same thing from hard bouts of exercise. This is not long lasting and with time will go, but it is something to be aware of.

This is something that can easily be solved by introducing massage post competition or after heavy training sessions. It will promote recovery and well being in your horse allowing you to train harder with your horse and reduce the chances of injuries occurring.

Another point to consider is incorporating recovery time into your horses training. This can be full rest or a light ride on a lose rein (where it is safe to) or a combination of both. Recovery time is when your horses body heals itself from exercise by doing this your horse becomes fitter. If we work our horses hard all the time without rest then overuse injuries and illness can be more prevalent and affect their ability to train and get fitter.

Trauma

A fall or impact can cause contusions to muscles. This causes bleeding within the muscle resulting in bruising, however due to horses having fur it is not always possible to see if swelling is not present. If you know your horse has sustained an impact injury then massage is to be avoided in the first few days. Instead hose or ice the area. This reduces swelling and the cold helps relieve some pain. In some cases an impact can lead to myosotis ossificans, which is where bone forms inside the muscle.

Trauma can occur to joints, this can be from an impact which can cause joint disruption. As a result ligaments, tendons, bone fractures and cartilage damage can all occur. Joints can also become inflamed from less minor injuries and osteoarthritis can also occur in joints.

Bones can fractures or crack from impact or overuse. If the horse doesn’t get enough recovery time then micro cracks (stress fractures) can form. Bones heel much better than tendons and ligaments but this is dependant on where the fracture is.

Tendon and Muscle Strains

Tendons are less elastic than muscles so often when the muscle is tight the tendon takes up the load and as result is more likely to get injured. Unfortunately tendons also don’t have as good blood supply as muscle, so do take longer to heal. By allowing your horse recovery time and having regular body work sessions muscle and tendon strains can be reduced considerably.

Bone Disease

Bone disease can be due to nutrition or genetics. If it is genetics then this is harder to deal with but as an owner nutrition is something we can influence. Making sure your horse has a good balanced diet will help reduce bone disease. Making sure your horse is getting copper, zinc, magnesium and vitamin A and D. It can be difficult getting the right balance so if in doubt then seek advice from a nutritionalist. If bone disease is genetic then your horse needs veterinary guidance to develop a plan that will help reduce their pain and impact on their everyday life.

Past Injuries

Past injuries can leave scar tissue, which can create stiffness and be sore. Having regular body work can help reduce this. Joints that have previously been injured can develop osteoarthritis. Again veterinary advice may need to be taken to help develop a management plan.

Ulcers

Ulcers can be quite prevalent and often a result of stress. Removing the stress, altering diet and treating the ulcers will help to get rid of them. Quite often ulcers can form due to chronic pain. So it is worth looking at your whole horse when combating ulcers.

Myopathies (muscle disease)

Myopathies are often put under the umbrella term tying up. They are either genetic or acquired later in life. I am not going to go into much detail of what they are but this can cause horses muscle stiffness and soreness. If managed correctly with exercise, diet and body work then this can be hugely reduced.

As you can see there are a number of things that can affect musculoskeletal pain and the above is no way all of them. If your horse is in pain then do consult your vet as soon as you notice any change in behaviour. This will help reduce vet bills and your horses suffering. From there a plan can be put in place to manage your horses pain.

Anatomy, Human, Injury and Rehab, Injury Management

K-taping your knee for patella maltracking

Patella maltracking (or patella femoral pain) is a common occurrence in the sporting knee. It is an overuse injury where the patella is slightly pulled out of its normal position causing irritation and inflammation under the knee cap as it rubs against other structures.

Patella maltracking can be caused by tightness in soft tissue such as the tensor facea latae, rectus femoris, vastus lateralis and potentially bicep femoris. As a result the vastus medialis may also be weak and unable to counter act the tight muscles pulling the patella out or up. As a result the tight muscles need to be released of through soft tissue work and the vastus medialis strengthened. With the primary cause being dealt with taping the knee can help reduce pain and re-educate the movement patterns required.

Below is a video on how to tape your knee to reduce pain and allow you to exercise and strengthen your knee.

Human, Injury and Rehab, Injury Management

Injuries: Overuse

You may wonder sometimes how you sustained an injury when you didn’t have a noticeable traumatic event like a fall. Generally injuries that have no obvious event and build up over time are called overuse injuries. They are really common and can be caused by a number of things. Read on if you want to find out more.

What is an overuse injury

Overuse injuries are a build up of micro trauma to a certain area. The body goes through a process of remodelling to help adapt to stresses placed on it. Through this process we get fitter and stronger. However if this process is disrupted we can’t remodel correctly, as a result we sustain an injury if it continues. Often overuse injuries have inflammation along with the micro trauma.

Examples of overuse injuries

  • Tennis elbow
  • Golfers elbow
  • Runners knee
  • Achilles tendinopathy
  • Shin splints
  • Stress fractures
  • Patella tendon tendinopathy
  • Patella maltracking

Causes of overuse injuries

  • Increased load
  • Frequency of training
  • Not enough rest
  • Poor diet
  • Old or poorly fitting footwear
  • Incorrect equipment

If you want to reduce the risk of sustaining an overuse injury then making sure you increase your training load and frequency gradually with enough rest in between sessions will allow your body to react well to exercise, having regular massages can also help this process. Also making sure you eat a healthy balanced diet to give your body the building blocks to remodel and lastly making sure your equipment is up to the job I.e. fits you and is not worn otherwise this can change your biomechanics and loading of certain tissues.

If you find that you are suffering from an overuse injury then do consult a physio, sport therapist or doctor to help with management and rehabilitation.

Anatomy, Human, Injury and Rehab, Injury Management

Stress fractures and the female triad

You may be wondering what the female triad is and why stress fractures can be more common in women? The female athlete triad is an important area to discuss with female athletes and also something that male athletes and coaches should be aware of to help support women in sport.

The female athlete triad is defined in regards to energy availability, menstrual function and bone strength. This description is quite broad to encompass several different disorders that can lead to the female athlete triad being diagnosed. Energy availability refers to disordered eating this can be dieting at one end of the spectrum and anorexia nervous or Bulmeia at the other. This may come about where sports require specific weight requirements or appearance such as gymnastics, judo, dance and many others. As a result the diet impacts on the body in so many ways and can affect bone density.

Diet also affects menstrual function and hormone levels. This can be in the form of oligomenorrhea (irregular menstrual cycle) and amenorrhea (the absence of cycles). A female needs to be over a certain weight to have a menstrual cycle and to be able to sustain being pregnant. If the body doesn’t have this then menstrual cycles can become disrupted or cease.

As a result of not eating properly bone density can be affected. Normally the body recycles bone, which is called remodelling. Bone is reabsorbed and then new bone laid down. If an athlete is not getting the right nutrients or energy levels then the bone is reabsorbed and not laid down causing the bone density to decrease. This can make the prevalence of stress fracture more common in women and osteoporosis in older life if it is not caught and treated at a young age.

In sport there is pressure on young women to conform to certain ideals and body shapes, causing distorted body images and ideals. As a result the female athlete triad does come about. Young males can also experience distorted body images but it tends to be towards gaining muscle mass and the use of steroids which also can affect bone density and other health issues.

Sport as a whole needs to consider what psychological impact it can have on young people and that as adults we need to make sure that young people are accepted as they are and not made to conform to ideals that would harm their health. Openly talking about eating healthy balanced meals is key and not discussing diets in a restrictive manner. By educating young athletes and parents on what food is good for them and help performance will allow a much more positive mindset. I don’t think this is addressed enough in sport and is one reason why we see physical and psychological signs of restrictive eating in young adults.

Equine, Horse & Rider, Injury Management

Equine Joint Supplements

The area of supplements for horses is quite a minefield and its difficult to know what to give or not to give your horse. I know as a horse owner I have looked at many a product wondering whether it would actually benefit my horse. I have a 19 year old horse and have often looked into joint supplements but its hard to know which are beneficial or not. This post will hopefully help you as an owner to make a more informed decision on the matter

Horse joints

The main areas of focus would be the joints of the legs as they are predominantly weight bearing and therefore undergo a lot of wear and tear. Synovial joints are the most mobile so are often affected the most. Synovial joints are generally composed of a joint capsule with articular cartilage on the surfaces of the bones that meet. The synovial capsule allows fluid to be retained in the joint helping with lubrication and the articular cartilage is a smooth surface that allows the bony ends to glide over each other. These structures can become damaged over time through repetitive use and traumatic damage. Osteoarthritis (OA) can also develop which can cause painful and stiff joints.

Risk factors of joint damage and OA

  • High intensity activities
  • High volume of exercise
  • How many years training at a high level
  • Training surfaces- training on hard ground would have an impact on joints
  • Type of training- Jumping exercises would carry a much greater impact than leisure hacking
  • Conformation- how a horse is put together will affect stress placed on certain joints
  • Hoof balance- How a horse is shod and trimmed will also affect load on joints

From the above list it can be seen that as an owner you can reduce the risk to your horses joints by making decisions not to gallop, canter or jump your horse when the ground is to hard. Making sure you have a balanced training plan that allows recovery time. Allowing your horse to have regular bodywork sessions to reduce any muscle tension and to help with any conformational issues. Having a good farrier or foot specialist. Also a well balanced diet. All these can help reduce the impact to your horses joints without having to spend lots of money on specific joint supplements.

Joint Supplements

Above I mentioned what you can do to reduce the risk, which is the long run can be a cheaper way to maintain a healthy active horse into old age. However you may feel your horse needs a helping hand so what should you be looking for in a joint supplement. Below are some of the key ingredients that should probably be present for it to have any benefit.

Chondrotin Sulphate

Chondrotin sulphate is anti inflammatory, helps protect joints, controls water content in cartilage and reduces friction in a joint. There is some research to indicate that it can be absorbed allowing it to have some bioavailability to horses and helps with osteoarthritis. Combined with glucosamine it is thought to be more effective.

Glucosamine

Glucosamine helps with collagen synthesis, and reduces joint degradation. It has very good availability to be absorbed in the gut

MSM

MSM is available in the horses natural diet and provides sulphur which helps repair collagen, however through processing and drying this can be lost. It is anti inflammatory and has analgesic properties. As horses get older then their levels of MSM decrease so supplementing them may have some benefit.

Omega-3 and -6 fatty acids

Omega-6 fatty acids are considered pro inflammatory due to the fact that they are involved in vital body functions such as blood pressure, blood clotting and immune responses which are needed in the body.

Omega-3 fatty acids are deemed anti inflammatory because they decrease blood clotting and inflammatory responses as a result omega-3 can help to reduce inflammation in joints. Good sources of omega-3 are from linseed and fish oil.

So the above products in a supplement can potentially have a beneficial affect on joints but more research needs to be done. One thing you do need to look out for is the quantities of each ingredient in some products. If the product doesn’t have enough then it is pointless and you will be wasting money. Chondrotin sulphate glucosamine and MSM are not cheap ingredients so expect to pay a lot of money for a product that will be effective. Adding Omega oils to a well balanced diet and reducing the risk factors of joint damage will probably be a much more cost effective and simple way of keeping your horse fit and healthy into old age.