Keeping a veteran active for longer
Horse & Hound|April 22, 2021
With advances in medicine, our horses are staying healthy well into their twilight years. Stephanie Bateman discovers how to keep our veterans sound and active for longer
Stephanie Bateman

LONG gone are the days when we’d retire our horses in their early teens. Nowadays, it’s not unheard of to see horses in their twenties still enjoying an active life.

“Keeping a horse sound into old age is a product of a huge number of factors, but most importantly, it’s about delaying the onset and severity of wear and tear,” says Newmarket Equine Hospital surgeon Matt Chesworth.

One of the main issues facing older horses who have lived an active life is osteoarthritis.

“Horses have a few common sites for developing osteoarthritis which become more significant as the horse ages,” explains Matt. “These include the lowest joints within the hocks, the coffin joints, and pastern joints, but arthritis can ultimately develop in any joint.”

Equine joints, like human joints, have fairly limited means of repairing damage.

“Damage to the surface of the joint, or joint capsule, and the resulting inflammation can lead to further damage and cartilage loss,” says Matt. “Enzymes produced when a joint is inflamed can affect normal cartilage as well as the injured area, so reducing inflammation minimises the speed of deterioration as well as providing pain relief.”

One method which may provide pain relief is joint injections, often involving a single or a combination of medications injected into the joints.

“Often corticosteroids are our treatment of choice due to fairly consistent results; however, other treatments are available which can be used in cases where either corticosteroids have shown a poor response or there is concern over laminitis risk,” says Matt. “Examples include hyaluronan, a normal substance found in joints, interleukin receptor antagonist protein [IRAP] derived from the horse’s own blood, or more recently a polyacrylamide hydrogel.”

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