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Is Your Horse Prone To Osteoarthritis?

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shutterstock_142818163.jpgJoint problems in horses can be debilitating and unfortunately, affects many horses as they age. When you think of Osteoarthritis, you may think of a human ailment: our knees aching in the morning, tightness getting out of bed, stiffness in our ankles.  Well, horses suffer from this as well, and it can be painful and debilitating to a horse’s over all well-being and career, if he is a performance horse. 

Osteoarthritis is the disease of the joint that can have multiple causes, which eventually cause this degeneration.  The good news for horse owners is there are preventative measures you can take to lessen the effects of wear and tear on your horse’s joints. 

Before we dive into that, let’s make sure we understand the anatomy of joints. 

What and where are Equine joints?  Joints are where two bones come together to absorb shock. To name a few:


Simply put, a joint is made of the following: two bones, cartilage, and synovial fluid.  The cartilage acts as a cushion between the two bones to absorb “shock”.  Cartilage is the cushion between the two bones that is made of collagen fibers which are designed to contract and expand with motion.  The synovial fluid acts as a lubricant, which is super important.  A good metaphor for this is a door hinge. When a door hinge is squeaky and gets stuck, it needs lubricant (like WD-40) to make it move freely.  A key ingredient to assist in lubrication of the joint is Hyaluronic Acid, which assists in keeping the cartilage around the joint spongy and lubrivated. 

 In addition to the joint, there is also a need for support around it with ligaments and tendons.

What happens when a horse has arthritis?

Horse’s joints are designed to bend, flex, move and absorb the shock.  Horses have a lot of joints; so unfortunately, there is a lot of opportunity for injury.  With each step, wear and tear takes place on the cartilage.  Wear and tear can happen from a single injury or repetitive use overtime.  The inflammation can break down the synovial fluid and degenerate the cartilage which in turn loses its ability to cushion the joint. The result is inflammation, pain, pressure, and stiffness.   If you have ever injured your knee or had a relative who injured their hip, the doctor will sometimes read the scan and say, “no wonder you are in pain, you have bone on bone.” Meaning, the cushioning of the cartilage is gone. Horses can experience similar degeneration.   

Will my horse get joint disease?

Unfortunately, joint disease does not discriminate; it affects all breeds and disciplines.    “Joint health is critical to the performance of your horse, no matter the age,” says Dr. Mark Cassels, veterinarian at Homestead Veterinary Hospital.

How to identify Osteoarthritis?

Telltale signs of osteoarthritis:

  • Pay attention if your horse has a change in gait
  • Notice if your horse is slow to warm up under saddle
  • Give daily leg checks to your horse while tacking up and untacking to look for swelling and heat
  • Your horse has a short stride or lameness, but he usually works out of it
  • Range of motion in the joint is restricted

Consult with your veterinarian, as some of the above symptoms can be a result of other injuries to tendons or ligaments.   If a ligament is injured, the swelling would be much more extensive.   Inflammation can be treated with cold water hosing or application to the joint with ice boots.  Anti-inflammatory drugs can also help which are prescribed by a veterinarian.

While most joint deterioration is caused by age, a few other factors can contribute.  Every now and again, a foal will be born with joints that are underdeveloped or with angular limb deformities.  A knee can angle outward or inward depending on the deformity.  This can cause uneven pressure on joints.  This can usually be controlled and corrected with proper hoof trimming and limited exercise,  or in some extreme cases corrective surgery.  Chip fractures in the knees can also cause trauma to the joint.  According to the Horse.com, 15% of young horses are thought to have chips from frolicking and playing.

Aside from osteoarthritis, a horse can have a joint sprain which would result in soreness, swelling, lameness and heat in the area around the joint.  This could simply happen from the joint being twisted (taking a funny step).  This would result in inflammation of the synovial membrane and joint capsule. 

Needless to say, it is crucial your horse’s joints are healthy!

What can you do to treat and prevent further injury and damage?

“Using a joint supplement will support mobility of your horse’s joints and maintain the connective tissue. Also, sufficient amounts of Glucosime, Chondrioton Sulfate and MSM are key ingredients owners should look for in joint supplements” – Dr Mark Cassells, DVM

Unfortunately, there is no cure for OA, but there are ways to help.

  • Feed a preventative supplement like Sho-Flex or Rapid Flex. Both are excellent options.  
  • In addition to a supplement, if you see signs of osteoarthritis, be sure to give your horse rest and manage your horse’s weight. If your horse is overweight, that is more stress on his joints.
  • If severe enough, IV anti-inflammatory, platelet rich plasma, and injections may be recommended and given by a veterinarian.


But, Joint supplements are a simple addition to your regimen that you can give your horse to help prevent and treat OA.

Sho Flex:

If you are showing your horse, this is a great supplement option for you! The ingredients in Sho.Flex are not restricted by the USEF or FEI (however ingredient banned lists are update frequently so it is best to check before starting your horse on any supplement regimen).  Sho.Flex also holds the NASC quality seal.  

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Here is a breakdown of the ingredients. (For more even information click here!)

Glucosamine:  10,000 mg

Supports normal inflammatory response and maintenance of cartilage.

MSM: 5,000 mg

Short for Methylsulfonylmethane.  MSM provides active sulfur which helps support flexibility and mobility.

Chondroitin sulfate: 1,200 mg

This is actually a structural component of cartilage.  It is believed to help draw water and nutrients back into the cartilage to keep it healthy (and spongy!)

Vitamin C: 100 mg

An antioxidant that helps produce collagen. Remember, the cartilage is made of collagen fibers.


Rapid Flex:
If you are not planning to show, Rapid Flex is a great option because it is clinically proven to help relieve symptoms and improve joint mobility quickly.  Rapid Flex includes a powerful, natural blend of 9 herbs that support  further joint protection, in addition to  Glucosamine and MSM. Again, some of the herbs in Rapid Flex ar enot approved for showing by the USEF or FEI, so this is a good option if you are not competing.  (For even more information on Rapid Flex,click here!)

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Glucosamine: 5,000 mg

Supports normal inflammatory response and maintenance of cartilage.

MSM: 1,025 mg

Short for Methylsulfonylmethane.  MSM provides active sulfur which helps support flexibility and mobility.

Chondroitin sulfate + Hyaluronic acid: 1,025 mg

This is actually a structural component of cartilage.  It is believed to help draw water and nutrients back into the cartilage to keep it healthy and lubricated (and spongy!)

Yucca Root: 500 mg

This plant, native to Mexico, supports normal inflammatory response.

Devils Claw: 100 mg

Grown in southern Africa, and has anti-inflammatory properties.

Nettle Leaf: 100 mg

This is helps soothe muscle tissue. 

Tumeric Root: 50 mg

Found in India and Indonesia. This helps maintain normal movement and mobility and contains anti-oxidants.

Celery Seed: 25 mg

Contains anti-oxidants that inhibit enzymes that start the inflammatory process in the body.

Black Cohosh Root: 25 mg

A flowery plant found in North America. Supports normally inflammatory response.

Ginger Root: 25 mg

Supports  normal inflammatory response contains antioxidants.

Cayenne Pepper:  5mg

Capsaicin is the active ingredient that supports blood flow and circulation.  


To save $4 on Rapid Flex click here!

To save $4 on Sho.Flex, click here!




Oke, Stacey. 2010.  Osteoarthritis; Not just an Old Horse Disease. http://www.thehorse.com/articles/25423/osteoarthritis-not-just-an-old-horse-disease

Rossdale, Peter .Veterinary Notes For Horse Owners.  New York, NY. 172-205.


Jennifer Serot

Jennifer Serot

Jennifer is the newest member of the Manna Pro Equine Team. She has been riding and showing dressage for 20 years and enjoys spending time with her Connemara pony. Jennifer graduated with her BSBA and MBA in Marketing from Washington University in St. Louis.


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