Promoting Lifelong Equine Joint Health
Balanced nutrition, sensible exercise, and prompt treatment can help a horse’s joints function comfortable past their prime.
Horse owners are painfully aware that the predominant factor limiting a horse’s athletic longevity is musculoskeletal injury–particularly joint problems. A common assumption is that these injuries result from wear-and-tear and age. Consequently, owners further assume there’s not much to be done about it. But think again: Using sensible strategies we can promote healthy equine joints capable of withstanding athletic demands.
Nutrition From the Start
The journey to long-term joint health starts with the initial decision to breed a specific mare to a stallion. Earl Gaughan, DVM, Dipl. ACVS, previously a clinical professor of large animal surgery at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine and now a technical services veterinarian at Merck Animal Health, says, “Selection of both stallion and mare for strong conformational attributes may improve known structural deficits in either individual.” He also recommends researching siblings’ and offspring’s history to better understand a potential cross outcome. “(The parents’) performance history is relevant as well,” says Gaughan. “Despite many notable imperfections in structure, many equine athletes perform successfully.”
From conception to foaling, broodmare nutrition affects the fetus’ joint health and might impact his chances of having developmental orthopedic disease (DOD, musculoskeletal problems) as a youngster. A mare’s feed intake and mineral ratios (zinc, copper, calcium, phosphorus) contribute to proper cartilage maturation, particularly in the last trimester. Because mare’s milk is a poor source of trace minerals, a foal depends on his liver mineral stores, such as copper, for several months after birth. Copper helps mineralize (strengthen) the cartilage matrix and aids bone development. While a foal’s liver store of copper does not reduce DOD incidence, it does help improve and repair lesions that
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