Arthritis is a general term referring to inflammation of the joint and can range from inflammation of the synovial membrane and fibrous joint capsule, to intra-articular fractures and ligament injuries, to osteoarthritis, which is the progressive loss of articular cartilage.
It can be caused by acute trauma such as articular fracture or damage to articular cartilage, or it can result from years of wear and tear. Athletic performance horses can be susceptible to both causes, but arthritis is also found in young and senior horses. Conditions that predispose horses to arthritis are as diverse as genetics, conformation, training, trimming or shoeing, joint infections, fractures and the horse’s environment.
Signs of arthritis can be a sudden lameness, or it can begin gradually with a progression from less expressive gaits to an unwillingness to perform as usual, from stiffness that goes away after warming up to increasing lameness. Diagnosis is best left up to veterinary evaluation, but an old saying that too often proves true is, “If your horse lives long enough, he will eventually get arthritis.”
If your horse is lucky enough to be the exception, count it as a blessing. But if your horse is one of so many who suffer from arthritis, now there’s something you can do to complement medical treatment. The best kept secret for helping horses with arthritis is a secret no longer.