The importance of caring for your horse’s joints

21st December 2012
Beryl Shuttleworth
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We have all heard the saying: “No foot, no horse.” But exactly the same thing applies to your horse’s legs. If his joints are sore, it is going to seriously shorten his working life. In this article I want to show a few easy steps  to increase your chances of having a sound horse for a good long time.

To boot/bandage or not to boot/bandage

That is the question.

Why riders boot/bandage their horses’ legs:

  • to provide protection against concussion and/or penetration
  • to support the tendons
  • to protect the horse from injury in the paddock

Why they (possibly) shouldn’t boot/bandage:

  • a badly applied boot/bandage can do more damage than good by twisting the tendon or applying uneven pressure
  • they can contribute to a build-up of heat in the horses legs, leading to possibly very serious consequences
  • they contribute to extra weight on the leg, requiring more effort and producing more strain on the joints
  • in a lot of cases, the protection and support provided is negligible. High price, sturdy-looking construction, space-age materials – no external factor has emerged as a reliable predictor of good protection, Marlin (a PHD researching equine physiology) says. “We have taken boots that look good, and then been surprised at how poorly they have performed in tests.”

You decide. ;-) Personally, I don’t use boots, unless I am doing something which puts the legs at risk – jumping or outrides through dense bush. If I do use boots, I always cool the legs immediately after work with a hosepipe.

cold as ice

Cold therapy (ice, cold water or one of the cooling liniments on the market)after exercise is essential for good leg and joint care. The temperature in a horse’s legs can reach 45 degrees C during exercise, even without boots on.  At this temperature, tissue damage can and does occur. To minimise the damage, cool the legs as soon as possible after exercise. I prefer a good old hosepipe in most cases. And an ice pack, if necessary.


This is another controversial subject. Some people think they are useless.  But you all know whose side I am on in this argument. ;-)

Joints are made up of:

  1. two bones forming a hinge-like structure
  2. cartilage protecting the two ends of the bones from rubbing together
  3. synovial fluid in between the two bones, forming a ‘cushion’ and preventing damage by friction

Joint damage happens when the synovial fluid becomes less viscous and the is worn down and the bones are able to  rub against each other.

The idea of feeding joint supplements (glucoseamine, chondroitin, sodium hyaluronate, MSM) is to provide the ‘raw materials’ of cartilage and synovial fluid, hopefully topping them up when they run low. And then providing the nutrients involved as well (copper, manganese, zinc and vitamin C). And sometimes even (like me) including herbs like Devil’s claw and Fenugreek.

But, as usual, nothing is as simple as it looks. And the big questions where oral supplements are concerned are:

  • Are they absorbed?
  • Are they transported to where they are needed?
  • Does the body use them as intended?

I use some of these ingredients in my supplements. Some of them I don’t bother with. This is because, in my opinion, they do not satisfy the three questions asked above. But that is a subject for another whole article.

Generally speaking, nothing beats a good caring owner who knows his horse’s legs and will quickly spot anything out of the ordinary. This is probably the most important point of all.



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