No need to panic if your older horse’s joints click, crack, or crunch. The noises are simply a result of aging horse joints, and can be alleviated with some simple holistic horsekeeping methods.
Older performance horses may have joints that make clicking or crunching noises for several reasons. First, horse joints are areas of the body that do not have much circulation, which in turn prevents the body from healing or removing toxins from those areas. Second, years of hard training and performance can take their toll on joints, wearing down and thinning the cartilage in the joints, or causing arthritic changes.
Luckily, there are three simple steps you can take to help your older performance horse have healthier joints, and better perform his job.
STEP #1: APPLY HERBAL LINIMENT
Because horse joints naturally have low circulation, one way to increase joint health is to increase the level of circulation to those areas. Applying an herbal liniment topically to your horse’s joints before you ride him can help.
Look for ingredients that include white oak bark, black walnut hull, marshmallow root, mullein leaf, scullcap, indian tobacco, knitbone, cayenne, and gravelroot.
STEP #2: LONG SLOW WARM UP
Older performance horses need more time to warm up before their joints, muscles, and bodies are ready to go at top speed. Giving your older horse a long, slow, bilateral warm-up will help him perform at his highest level. For instance, start out by walking your horse in large slow circles while allowing him to stretch his neck down and out; this will not only increase circulation to his topline muscles, but will also increase blood flow throughout his body.
While your horse may have been able to go from zero to hand gallop with just five minutes worth of warm-up a few years ago, he may now need 30-45 minutes to warm up, most of it at slower speeds. Plan accordingly to arrive at performance events earlier so you can give him the warm-up he needs. Regular slow work at the walk and the trot, in addition to lateral exercises, will keep your older horse's joints in good working order.
STEP #3: JOINT SUPPLEMENTS
For horse joints that click or crunch, Adequan is an excellent joint supplement. This is an injectable solution containing PSGAGs (a component of joint cartilage). The normal dosage of Adequan is a course of 5-7 intra-muscular injections, 5 days apart, followed by once-a-month injections for maintenance.
If you don’t feel comfortable with the idea of injections, an alternative to Adequan is Cosequin ASU in the professional strength. This oral supplement combines glucosamine with chondroitin sulphate, minerals, and antioxidants. Most horses enjoy the taste of this supplement, and a single bottle will last almost 3 months on the maintenance dose.
Many performance horses are like fine wines: they improve with age in terms of skill and ability. The key is to keep these older horses active by keeping their bodies healthy and sound. As always with holistic horse care, a solid nutritional foundation provides the basis for general health, while specific supplements offer additional joint support.
Madalyn Ward, DVM, owns Bear Creek Veterinary Clinic in Austin, Texas. She is certified in Veterinary Homeopathy and Equine Osteopathy. Memberships include American Veterinary Medical Association, American Association of Equine Practitioners, American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association, Texas Veterinary Medical Association and the Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy. She has authored several books and publishes the monthly newsletter, “Holistic Horsekeeping.”