Keeping Your Horse Loose and Limber in the Winter

Winter is a stress on any horse, even more so for seniors. Supportive measures don't have to be complicated if you understand the physiology and the tissues you need to target.

Research has proven that exposure to cold causes increased stiffness in both muscle and connective tissue, including tendons and ligaments.  A recent human study also confirmed that dampness, or relative humidity, is correlated with increased joint pain and this effect is worse when the weather is also cold.

The effects are magnified in older horses.  "Sarcopenia of aging" is age related loss of muscle mass which gets worse if the horse is not regularly exercised.  Age also causes increased tendon and ligament stiffness, loss of flexibility, and lesions developed in the core of flexor tendons.  To top it all off, muscle is less strong in the cold because energy generation becomes less efficient, allowing more energy to escape into the cells as heat.

The end result of all this in its mildest form is horses that have a wooden, stiff movement. In the worst-case scenario, they are so severely affected that getting up from a down position becomes very difficult or even impossible.  Fortunately, this scenario isn't inevitable.

All horses require an adequate place to shelter from precipitation and winds in the cold. For the horse prone to cold related stiffness it's critical. Blanketing to preserve body heat and support muscle energy generation and soft tissue flexibility is also desirable. For horses prone to stiffness, don't wait until they are shivering.  If the hocks or knees are known to be an issue, consider Neoprene or lined boots to keep the joint warm when the horse is confined and/or overnight.

Wraps can also be used for the lower legs to protect those joints and the tendons and ligaments. Lined shipping boots with Velcro closures are often a good option because they cover from below the knee to coronary band, are very warm and can't cause problems related to slipping and too much pressure.  Hoof boots with a liner between the bare rubber and the sole are also helpful.

Horses with obvious areas of discrete muscle/tendon/ligament involvement rather than a stiff all over picture can benefit from use of a topical containing capsaicin.  Mint in the formulation will increase the warming effect.

Supplements to support homeostatic defenses against cold-related oxidative stress can be very helpful. Look for ingredients like Devil's Claw, Cat's Claw, Turmeric, Boswellia and Yucca. On the nutrient end, look for MSM, berries, Resveratrol, Quercetin and Grape Seed Extract.

Finally, support joint cartilage with the big three of Glucosamine, Chondroitin and Hyaluronate plus connective tissue support in the form of Green-Lipped Mussel and hydrolyzed collagen.

Capsa-Cream goes on cool, then starts to warm, and is perfect for a rubdown of the legs after a long ride or a strenuous day of showing, especially in cold weather. With Capsaicin, Peppermint Oil and Aloe Vera Extract.

Arthroxigen provides over 30 active ingredients to promote joint mobility, strong bones, cartilage, and structural integrity. Maximum potency Glucosamine, Chondroitin Sulfate, MSM, and Hyaluronic Acid, plus added support from Devil’s Claw and Vitamin C.  A rich array of plant polyphenols and flavonoids Resveratrol, Quercetin, Astragalus, Boswellia, and Yucca promote healthy inflammation response.

Devil's Claw Plus is a powerful herbal and antioxidant blend that supports free and easy movement for horses with ongoing joint or muscle injury and occasional flare-ups.  With Boswellia, Resveratrol, and Yucca to support joint and muscle discomfort.