Managing arthritis in the older horse – Moo’s Story

As horses age it seems that time can catch up with them, they may be slower on hacks or find being ridden up or down hills more difficult, for me, it was realising that my old mare, Moo, was only comfortable being ridden on warm days.  On cooler days she would seem to struggle to carry me.  She had bone spavin in both her hind legs that had made her increasingly stiff, and it seemed she had increased soreness through her back, possibly from arthritis in her spine, but on warm days she was perfectly happy to trundle about in walk, she was around 21 at this point.

I did the obvious thing and spoke to the vet about giving her bute to make her comfortable enough to be ridden more regularly, keeping weight off her was difficult and I didn’t want to retire her just yet in order to manage both her weight.

As the colder weather hit she started to move around the field less and needed to be rugged to keep warm, something that had never happen before, increasing the bute had no effect on her physically, in fact she became withdrawn, her gums were pale and she seemed “spaced out”.  She wasn’t interacting with the group as much and didn’t seem to lay down that much. It was clear it was all getting too much, but I wasn’t ready to make ‘that’ decision just yet.

So here I was with an overweight elderly mare whose quality of life seemed to be decreasing, she had breathing issues (COPD/ RAO), arthritis and insulin resistance.  I couldn’t find any answers from talking to my vet, I felt the bute may have been having an adverse effect on her stomach and wanted to take her off it.

People who know me, know that I use herbs for myself and my animals a lot to help with certain conditions, where medicine is not appropriate.

So I started her on frankincense, cinnamon, MSM and a mineral balancer.  Her weight had started to get out of control despite only being fed a handful of chopped straw and alfalfa chop, so I switched her to unmolassed oat straw to fill her up and started to use a muzzle for grazing over the summer.  Older horses with insulin resistance often suffer from a lack of protein in their diet as owners try to cut calories. In order to combat this I added a couple of tablespoons of linseed, high in omega 3 for joint and skin health, also great for improving metabolism and helps soothe inflammation in the airways, great for those with breathing issues. It is also high in protein, vital for health protein also helps to curb the appitite. This was a few years ago, I would recommend feeding spirinula, high in protein and minerals it was difficult to get hold of, now it is more readily available.

I started a massage and mobilisation routine that included gentle polework.  In 2 weeks she started to lay down again and got some proper rest, at 6 weeks she was trotting round the field with the young horses, the video below was taken at 10 weeks, cantering and playing with the young horses like she used to! (she’s the mainly white piebald!).

What’s more is that her breathing was much better too, she’s still overweight in the video, but at least she could be exercised now to help with that.

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