Q: Carole, I recently rescued a 15-year-old horse who was just diagnosed with arthritis. Can you help me understand what is happening to him? And what tips do you have to help horses avoid the pain I see him experiencing? I want to make sure my younger horses avoid this, if possible.
Cavallo (https://www.cavallo-inc.com) President Carole Herder shares her thoughts….
A: Some say that once a horse has arthritis, it can’t be cured. I don’t believe this is the case. But it’s best to catch it in its earliest stages before too much damage occurs. All horse owners should pay close attention to a horse’s bumps, swellings, and quirks and alleviate any “dis-ease” before it can progress to arthritis. Even if your horse can’t be healed, he can live comfortably for years if you understand hoof function and treatment.
Arthritis means inflammation, pain, or stiffness of the joints. Horses’ joints are supported by collateral ligaments (which keep bones in place) and synovial fluid, which fills the space between the bones and provides lubrication to the cartilage. The cartilage is a matrix of tissue that gives strength to the joint structure. As the joint flexes, the cartilage compresses and expands. It forces minerals and water throughout the spaces to provide a shock-absorbing effect. The joint capsule stabilizes the joint, and the synovial membranes and the articular cartilage cushions the bones.
This expansion and contraction can be seen in a healthy, functioning hoof. There, the movement is like a plunger. Nutrients, synovial fluid, and oxygen plunge throughout the tissue and absorb shock to keep joints healthy.
However, if the hooves are held rigid with metal shoes, they don’t function well to absorb the horse’s weight. That pressure is not absorbed, so it moves up farther to damage the horse’s joints, tendons, and cartilage. This can lead to arthritis.
The hoof is perfectly engineered to function as support for a horse’s weight during movement. When a horse’s full weight descends, the hoof is sandwiched between the horse’s body mass and the ground. The hoof spreads apart to allow the coffin bone to drop like a trampoline. This is the hoof’s natural shock-absorbing feature. The walls spread (up to 6mm from side to side), and the sole draws flat. At the same time, the frog works to spread the heels apart. It pulls the sole flat and invites the leg’s bone structure to descend into the hoof. The hoof capsule absorbs the shock and the horse’s joints function without extraordinary strain. If the frog cannot make ground contact and function as it should, then shock can’t be correctly absorbed. Plus, the horse’s blood cannot freely flow.
Circulation is imperative to the distribution of oxygen and nutrients throughout the horse’s body system. Healthy blood flow aids in arthritis prevention and facilitates healing. Limited blood flow leads to degeneration.
Nailing metal onto horses’ hooves restricts the frogs’ ground contact, which in turn limits blood circulation. All metal shoes are nailed on when the hoof is in the air, at its smallest, most contracted shape. The hoof is not expanded with weight-bearing. It is then held firm in this smallest state.
Manage Arthritis Naturally
Here’s my list to help you keep your horse feeling his best. With care and planning, you can help reduce arthritis inflammation or help other horses avoid the problem.
- The first line of defense against arthritic conditions is to stop clamping and nailing. An unrestricted hoof will encourage blood to circulate through the proper channels. The hoof can flex and expand by carrying a host of functional nutrients to allow shock absorption and relieve the strain to extensor tendon, joints, and cartilage. Oxygen and nutrients help encourage healthy new growth.
- Hooves require proper trimming, hydration, and adequate movement on appropriate terrain. Work with a qualified trimmer to ensure that your horse’s hooves will flex and absorb weight properly. Your goal is to have your horse’s hooves function with unrestrained movement, flexion, and pumping action.
- Horses move around more when kept in a herd where social interaction motivates movement. Their hooves function when they are moving over varying terrain. Horses are happier emotionally, too, when kept with a group. Keep your horse with at least one other.
- Vary the terrain. Keep your horses on varied terrain —and include some hard terrain— to encourage hoof growth and circulation. Cavallo Hoof Boots are an integral part of the rehabilitation process. They provide comfort, protection, and traction. Cavallo Hoof Boots will assist in promoting movement on all terrain.
- Adequately hydrated hooves include elasticity, which promotes the all-important hoof mechanism. Suppleness also allows for a more effortless trimming procedure, especially in dry weather. Consider your horse’s environment and add water or a mud pool in an area your horse must move in. Water is preferred over commercial products as many moisturizers available on the market contain alcohol, solvents, and other agents that draw moisture out. As with many authentic solutions, there are often no quick fix shortcuts. You may have to stand with your horse while soaking. Or you can use your Cavallo Hoof Boots. Cover the built-in drainage holes with duct tape and fill the boots with water. Your horse can freely rumble around hydrating his own feet.
Tack store shelves are lined with NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory) and topical cream pain killers. Currently, there are more than 80 oral nutraceutical supplements on the market. Glucosamine may play a role in forming and cartilage repair, chondroitin sulfate helps cartilage elasticity, and hyaluronan may help lubricate joints.
Corticosteroid can be injected directly into the synovial fluid has been documented to suppress inflammation within a joint.
Hyaluronic acid can be injected directly into the arthritic joints. It may stimulate the body to produce more HA, condensing the synovial fluid, and increasing its cushioning ability within the joint.
Extracorporeal shock wave therapy (ESWT) directs a beam of energy waves at the site, can show some improvement.
In severe cases, where there is no other way to alleviate pain, a surgeon may opt to fuse the joint. Either by chemical, laser, or physical surgery, destroying cartilage to facilitate bone ends growing together into one, immobile structure. When friction is gone, the pain lessens.
You have now read through many options for preventing or alleviating the results of arthritis conditions. It may be a learning process and a challenging circumstance, but it need not be confusing. Whatever you and your veterinarian choose in the right direction, you can always provide your horse with the comfort, protection, and support benefits of Cavallo Hoof Boots! It’s that simple.
Sign up here for Cavallo’s free newsletter and special community discounts: https://www.cavallo-inc.com/CavalloNews
Cavallo President Carole Herder is the author of the #1 International Bestseller, There Are No Horseshoes in Heaven, and the newly released Hoofprints on The Journey. She has been involved in horse health since 1993. Her company, Cavallo Horse & Rider Inc., develops, manufactures, and distributes horse products in 26 countries. Herder designed and developed Cavallo Hoof Boots and Total Comfort System Saddle Pads. She presents training sessions around the world to teach the benefits of keeping horses in a natural state. Herder is an honored recipient of the Royal Bank of Canada Woman Entrepreneur of the Year Award. She is a member of the Women’s Presidents Organization, supporting female entrepreneurs in every industry.
Visit https://www.cavallo-inc.com to learn about the full line of Cavallo Hoof Boots. Call (877) 818-0037 from the USA or Canada or call direct, (604) 740-0037.
Cavallo Horse & Rider