Your horse doesn’t have to be a senior or have pre-existing problems to develop winter stiffness—although those things can certainly make it worse. While some horses may function quite well in the warmer months, they may have so much trouble with cold weather that they find themselves unable to get up from the ground without assistance.
Research has shown us the effects of cold on a variety of body tissues. Muscles reflexively become shorter and stiffer, to the point that forceful stretching may cause damage. Energy generation is compromised because hemoglobin does not give up its oxygen to the muscles as easily as it does in warm weather.
Cold weather also alters the properties of tendons and ligaments. Flexibility decreases and the force required to passively move these ‘frozen’ joints may increase by as much as 25% with cold exposure. The reduced flexibility is accompanied by considerable stiffness.
The changes in muscle and tendons contribute to difficulty with moving the joints, but there are changes in the joints themselves as well. Cold has been found to increase sensitivity to joint pain. Cold may also interfere with the normal flow characteristics of joint fluid, reducing lubrication. Cold weather can even increase the expression of genes coding for inflammation.
The first step in mitigating the effects of coldness on your horse is to keep him as warm as possible, which means shelter from winds and wet weather. If you have a horse that obviously struggles with stiffness, don’t hesitate to blanket. While some joints are inaccessible, you can use Neoprene wraps for the knees and hocks with lined shipping boots on the lower legs.
Exercise is a great way to loosen and improve muscle function; however, you need to be cautious. Stiffened tissues are prone to damage and the horse may not be moving normally if certain areas hurt more than others. Known problem areas will benefit from a few minutes of brisk massage with a warming liniment before exercise. Allow extra time for a long, slow warm up.
Joint support supplements can also be very helpful. In addition to the joint nutraceuticals glucosamine, chondroitin and hyaluronic acid, look for MSM, boswellia, turmeric, devil’s claw and other antioxidants.
There can be a big difference between surviving and thriving in cold weather. If your horse is struggling with cold-induced stiffness, take action.
Uckele Health & Nutrition, maker of CocoSoya®, offers supplements that provide support for winter stiffness:
Arthroxigen is Uckele’s most potent joint formula provides complex joint support to promote the functions of joint and connective tissue with over 30 active ingredients. Arthroxigen helps maintain joint mobility, strong bones, cartilage, and structural integrity and function.
Lubrigen is the go-to supplement for proactive joint support. Formulated for the young or heavily worked horse to maintain strong bones, joint mobility, synovial fluid, and structural integrity and function. Lubrigen starts with Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate, the most fundamental joint support ingredients, and provides 13 additional ingredients to help support the structural integrity of joints, connective tissue and healthy joint fluid viscosity.
Capsa-Cream is for horses with temporary muscular, joint, or soft tissue discomfort. 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. Not greasy, it smells fresh and minty. A little goes a long way, and there is no need to wrap.
*Please note that Capsaicin is a prohibited substance in many horse show jurisdictions.
Devil’s Claw Plus is a powerful herbal and antioxidant blend that supports free and easy movement for horses with joint or muscle injury or flare-ups. Devil’s Claw Plus promotes healthy joints and flexibility to ease joint stiffness associated with normal daily activity.
About Dr. Kellon
Dr. Eleanor Kellon, staff veterinary specialist for Uckele Health & Nutrition, is an established authority in the field of equine nutrition for over 30 years. She is a founding member and leader of the Equine Cushings and Insulin Resistance (ECIR) group, whose mission is to improve the welfare of horses with metabolic disorders via integration of research and real-life clinical experience. Prevention of laminitis is the ultimate goal. www.ecirhorse.org
Uckele Health & Nutrition is an innovation-driven health company committed to making people and their animals healthier. On the leading edge of nutritional science and technology for over 50 years, Uckele formulates and manufactures a full spectrum of quality nutritional supplements incorporating the latest nutritional advances. www.uckele.com
Dr. Eleanor Kellon, staff veterinary specialist for Uckele Health & Nutrition, is an established authority in the field of equine nutrition for over 30 years, and a founding member and leader of the Equine Cushings and Insulin Resistance (ECIR) group, whose mission is to improve the welfare of horses with metabolic disorders via integration of research and real-life clinical experience. Prevention of laminitis is the ultimate goal. www.drkellon.comMcMillanBros.HiBid.com