Although not usually life-threatening, arthritis causes your horse pain and can be career-ending. In fact, a research report from Michigan State University's McPhail Equine Performance Center calls degenerative joint disease the single most common cause of early retirement for sport horses.

Scientists are working hard on several studies that might eventually present realistic solutions for actually reversing the arthritis process–regenerating cartilage and synovial fluid through modern miracles such as gene therapy. While awaiting such exciting developments, you don't have to sit back and watch your horse suffer. Arthritis can be managed now. Using a multi-pronged approach, you can improve the affected joint's range of motion, reduce pain and inflammation, and significantly slow the degeneration process, resulting in a comfortable horse with a prolonged performance career.

Early, Accurate Diagnosis Is Key

"The most important thing is to get a diagnosis," says David Frisbie, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVS, a Colorado State University assistant professor and researcher with the school's Equine Orthopaedic Research Center (EORC). By doing so, you wil learn not only which joint is arthritic, but also how severe the damage is, which of course affects the treatment decisions.

It's important to achieve an accurate diagnosis as early as possible, since arthritis does irreparable damage if left to its own devices too long. Unfortunately, the signs of the disease are subtle, ranging from performance problems (resisting lead changes, refusing jumps, etc.) to minor heat or swelling of the joint. If you suspect trouble, call