Older Horses and Stiff Joints in Winter

Retired seniors that are holding weight and getting around comfortably in the warmer months can experience greatly reduced strength and mobility in the cold, to the point they may have difficulty getting up. The explanation for this involves many factors.

Reduced exercise:  Use it or lose it is very true. Horses may be stalled more in winter and if outside, seek shelter and stay there. Very hard frozen ground or slippery conditions also restrict movement and play.

Reduced strength:  It’s well known that even healthy racehorses run slower in the cold. Blood flow to muscles is reduced. The body also makes energy generation less efficient so that more of the calories burned are going to heat, a process known as nonshivering thermogenesis.  Human studies have shown even dexterity is affected by cold, although it is unclear whether this is a muscular or neurological issue (or both). Shivering is also a drain on muscular energy, so shivering horses have even less strength.

Tissue Stiffness: The flexibility and elasticity of connective tissue, tendon and ligament decreases with age. Cold doesn’t help. Studies have shown greatly increased muscular and tendon stiffness with cold exposure.

Arthritis and Bone Health: Not every older horse is arthritic although the majority probably have at least one easily identified arthritic joint that gives them problems from time to time. As the condition progresses, pain, soft tissue scarring, loss of cartilage and bone changes restrict the movement of the joint. Although the mechanism is still unexplained, weather conditions have been confirmed to influence arthritic pain. Musculotendinous stiffness in cold also restricts the mobility of joints, “locking” them into smaller ranges of motion.

Finally, the hormonal changes of aging and of PPID lead to weakening of bones. This predisposes the horse to fractures in the event of a fall. Fractures in areas such as the pelvis or hip can be difficult to identify but significantly influence the horse’s mobility.

General Health: Cold is a significant stressor and cold exposure can lead to all the consequences of severe stress including immune system compromise, hormonal imbalance, poor appetite and depression to name a few. Young animals can deal with this much better through homeostatic mechanisms that keep them in a balanced state, but seniors typically do not have those reserves.

How to help:

  • Relocating to Florida would be nice, but barring this, keep the horse as warm as possible. This means shelter from wind and precipitation, blanketing, wrap the lower legs or use lined shipping boots, neoprene wraps for knees and hocks overnight.
  • Make sure the horse has an area to lie down that has ground insulation, good footing, and is easily accessed by a small tractor or front-end loader in the worst case scenario of the horse needing help to get up.
  • Expand your joint regimen from the usual glucosamine, chondroitin and hyaluronate to supplements that include proven antioxidant activity and herbals which can interact with gene activity to enhance normal homeostatic repair and balancing functions in joints.

These useful substances include Yucca, Devil’s Claw, Turmeric, Boswellia, Golden Rod, Astragalus, White Willow, Perna Mussel, Cat’s Claw, Golden Rod, Phellodendron, Fever Few, Egg Shell Membrane, Hydrolyzed Collagen, fatty acids, Silica, Boron, Vitamin C, essential amino acids, B vitamins, copper, zinc, Bioactive Whey, MSM, Resveratrol and other flavonoids abundant in brightly colored fruits.

  •  The above nutrients also support bone health in the older horse
  • Consider a mild adaptogen to support the horse’s hormonal system in dealing with the stress of cold weather. Jiaogulan is an excellent choice.

My personal favorite cold weather comforting measure is to pack the feet with a warmed poultice or pine tar packing, wrap in a few layers of heavy plastic wrap and boot them. Ahh.

The benefits go beyond pampering. The goal here is to minimize the effects of aging and cold weather on your senior so he can enjoy yet another Spring.

Uckele Health & Nutrition, maker of CocoSoya®, offers formulas to promote healthy joints for senior horses.

Arthroxigen is Uckele’s most potent joint formula, providing complex joint support to enhance the functions of joint and connective tissues with over 30 active ingredients. Arthroxigen pellets help maintain equine joint mobility, strong bones, cartilage, and structural integrity and function.

With maximum potency Glucosamine, Chondroitin Sulfate, MSM, and Hyaluronic Acid, plus added support from Devil’s Claw and Vitamin C.  A rich array of plant polyphenols and flavonoids Resveratrol, Quercetin, Astragalus, Boswellia, and Yucca promote a healthy inflammatory response.

Devil's Claw Plus is a powerful herbal and antioxidant blend supporting free and easy movement for horses with joint or muscle injury or flare-ups.  Devil's Claw Plus promotes healthy joints and flexibility to ease joint stiffness associated with normal daily activity.

Promotes joint strength and mobility with Boswellia, Resveratrol, and Yucca to support joint and muscle discomfort following intense exercise.

Ortho CD provides broad spectrum support for the skeletal system for the pregnant mare and growing horse.  Palatable protein, vitamin, and mineral supplement supports bones, joints, and connective tissue to promote healthy development and strength.

Jiaogulan supports circulation in the feet, and helps maintain clear airways. Also supports healthy immune responses, muscular function, circulation, and respiratory function.  Jiaogulan has potent antioxidant potential via increased levels of the enzyme Superoxide Dismutase (SOD), which also supports immune system cells. Jiaogulan supports homeostasis, normal cellular function and interaction between organ systems, and normal organ functioning when horses are under stress.

Permission to reprint this article is granted, provided credit is given to Uckele Health & Nutrition, who appreciates being notified of publication.

 About Dr. Kellon
Dr. Eleanor Kellon, staff veterinary specialist for Uckele Health & Nutrition, is an established authority in the field of equine nutrition for over 30 years, and a founding member and leader of the Equine Cushings and Insulin Resistance (ECIR) group, whose mission is to improve the welfare of horses with metabolic disorders via integration of research and real-life clinical experience.  Prevention of laminitis is the ultimate goal.  www.ecirhorse.org

Uckele Health & Nutrition, maker of CocoSoya, is an innovation-driven health company committed to making people and their animals healthier.  On the leading edge of nutritional science and technology for over 50 years, Uckele formulates and manufactures a full spectrum of quality nutritional supplements incorporating the latest nutritional advances.  www.uckele.com.

Contact: Susan Libby, susan@uckele.com

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