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SyncThermology Blog

Performance Horse Joint Management

Sunday, October 09, 2016  ‹ Back To Latest News List

This week our blog is written by our Sync South Branch Manager Lucy. Lucy has a great deal of experience managing performance horses and has been eventing professionally up to advanced level for the last 25yrs.  Here's how she manages her equine athletes....

It is vitally important as a rider or carer of a competition horse that you know your horses legs well in order to easily recognise even the slightest signs of inflammation which could be an early warning to back off his work. DJD (degenerative joint disease) tends to worsen over time and it can limit a horse’s career. So far no one has found a way to reverse its effects, but the box of tools for fighting it is growing. Your horse will have the best chance of continuing his career if you pick up on changes early enough. Prevention is always better than cure.  Your farrier plays a very important part in keeping your horse sound, and foot balance is critical in preventing injuries. Knowledgeable farriers and advanced shoeing techniques can reduce risks. 

When preparing your horse for competition it is crucial to make sure your horse is conditioned for the demands he will face in competition. If he is not properly prepared he will tire quickly, and fatigue increases the risk of injuries. While getting your horse fit for competition increase his work levels gradually. Space out demanding training sessions and competitions to give him time to recover in between. Listen to your horse, so you can recognise subtle, early signs of physical problems. Is he moving with shorter strides or beginning to have trouble with lead changes in one direction or the other? Perhaps he is favouring landing on one fore leg more than the other. Is he consistently grumpy and resistant in training sessions.    

When competing, if ground conditions are not ideal for your horse, the rider needs to decide if it’s prudent to go fast cross country. Do you take the risk or not? Winning in Eventing requires speed, but it’s not always necessary to win, and many top riders hold back at one day events, saving their horses for the big competitions that count. It is simply not worth risking your horse at a one day event. If he goes lame and you have to withdraw from the planned three day event later. It is better to withdraw and have him for another day. Care of your horse after cross country, either schooling or a competition, or after a session at the gallops, is extremely important. The use of ice boots provides targeted cold ice therapy for tendons & joints and can be used either as regular maintenance and management or as part of injury recovery & rehabilitation. It is also important to be used on tired legs immediately after the cross country phase. After the legs have been cooled with ice therapy, professionals often apply clay poultices after cross country and across all disciplines. A 24 hour poultice has an astringent to assist with 'tightening' ligaments and can take the place of tubbing, icing, or hosing.

Trotting your horse up the morning after fast work or a competition will tell you if there are any soundness problems, and you can then act accordingly. Athletic horses that suffer from arthritis usually need joint injections to return them to the level of work they were at, or to resolve lameness. Depending on the amount of work the horse is doing and the severity of arthritis, the joint injections usually only have to be done once or twice a year. Oral joint supplements (chondroitin sulphate and glucosamine) help prolong the duration of the joint injections. Squaring the toes of the hind hooves and setting the shoes a little back from the toe eases breakover and allows the toe to roll over faster, and therefore reduces the stress on the joints.  Many performance horses are given oral joint supplements, and injections such as Cartrophen  as preventative care in an effort to stop or minimize joint damage created by the demands of high-impact sports. This regimen also helps keep the performance horse as comfortable as possible. By keeping arthritis pain in check and keeping the horse moving as much as possible, we also help prevent secondary injuries, such as joint sprains, tendon injuries and sore backs. Shock wave therapy is a treatment that has proven to work very well for equine arthritis. It has been around for a decade, but over the last few years has been clinically proven to resolve lameness due to arthritis.