Arthritis and Your Senior Horse

The trusty lesson horse gets pulled out of the pasture, tacked up, and strolls into the arena for his weekly ride where his little girl mounts up, and he stands there patiently until she tells him to “walk on.” He’s slow, stiff, and it takes him a while to loosen up. Not only is his age against him, but that old, now flea-beaten gray with the sway back also suffers from arthritis. It’s a common term that many of us also experience in our knees, hips, hands, or fingers, but what exactly is that nagging ache?

What is Arthritis?

Osteoarthritis, or commonly termed “arthritis,” is the degeneration of articular cartilage that is housed where two bones meet to form the joint. This cartilage provides a supportive cushion to help protect and absorb the shock which comes from the horse’s movement. When the cartilage is permanently damaged, it cannot grow back – leaving the horse vulnerable to painful bone-to-bone contact. This can cause discomfort, swelling, and even lameness. While arthritis can happen in any age of horse, senior horses are the most common victims.

What Are the Symptoms?

  • Stiffness that commonly subsides after being warmed up properly
  • Swelling around the joint sockets, especially the hocks, knees and fetlocks
  • Lameness

What Can I Do to Help?

Arthritis cannot be reversed once the process begins; however, there are measures you can take to prevent it from occurring and manage the horse’s comfort once it is here. Here’s what we recommend:

Proper Weight Management

Keeping your horse at an appropriate weight will allow for less stress on its joints. This one is pretty self-explanatory – the less weight, the less strain there is on the body and that articular cartilage.

Keep them moving

Just like humans, horses can get stiff and uncomfortable when in one place for too long. This is common when horses are housed in stalls with limited turnout. If you have a senior horse with arthritis, be sure he or she gets plenty of turnout throughout the day, or consider letting them live on pasture 24/7, if their disposition allows. Also, a consistent riding schedule can go a long way in keeping a horse feeling limber in its old age.


Allow for appropriate warm-up and cool-down times. This will help your horse loosen up and relieve some discomfort before getting to work.

Preventative Maintenance

This includes preserving your horse’s hard workdays. For example, if you jump your horse twice a week, make sure the other days you are only flatting. The amount of wear-and-tear you put on your horse’s joints directly correlates to its risk for arthritis.

Supplement an Effective Joint Supplement

There are many joint products on the market, so it’s important to know whether the one you are feeding is effective in helping your horse’s joint problems. Be sure the product you choose is bio-available and proven to be effective.

Although senior horses are often plagued with arthritis, making these efforts early on will help reduce their risk of developing the condition as well as help maintain their comfort in their old age. To learn more about how to preserve your horse’s joint health, visit

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