Eating healthy is not just for humans, fighting the equine flab

Eating healthy is not just for humans, fighting the equine flab

Horses can be just as prone to putting on weight as people can and it can be equally hard to get it off again.

It is natural for horses and ponies to put on weight over summer when food is plentiful and this is supposed to sustain them throughout the cold winter months when, in the wild, they would naturally lose any extra weight due to food scarcity. However we rug, shelter and continue to feed our domestic equines which is great for poor doers but which means that some go into the next season carrying too much weight.

So even though it can be difficult to assess how much weight a horse has gained when you see him every day you must nevertheless pay careful attention to how much he eats, particularly when it comes to fresh, lush grass, to ensure he doesn’t become obese and develop problems like laminitis.

A special note for owners of donkeys or mules

Experts at the Blue Cross have pointed out that although donkeys and mules are affected by obesity in the same way as horses and ponies they are more sensitive to problems caused by over-dieting. They advise therefore that owners should consult a specialist vet for advice before putting their animal on any kind of weight loss programme.

Horses are designed to eat constantly

The horse’s digestive system is designed to function on a constant supply of fibrous material which works to push out gas bubbles that form during the process of digestion and fermentation. If a horse is given less food to eat the accumulated gas can cause painful distension of the gut and colic. Withholding feed can also lead to hyperlipidaemia (high cholesterol). Another unwanted consequence of reducing the food supply could be the development of stereotypical behaviour like crib-biting, weaving or wind-sucking, all of which could be a by-product of excessive acidity in the gut due to reduced chewing. If a horse is not chewing he is not producing the saliva needed to neutralise any acidity. Ulcers and general discomfort can result from excess acidity; just one of the reasons to ensure your horse has a constant supply of chewable fibre.

Develop a regular weight reduction strategy

If your horse is a good doer you will definitely have something of a challenge on your hands when it comes to formulating a weight reduction and maintenance plan. Unlike humans, who can lose weight by simply not eating for a while, a horse should never be starved but should be given a constant supply, at least every few hours, of gut-healthy fibre and essential nutrients which can be provided by feeding pelleted vitamin and mineral supplements. For weight loss you should not give below 1.5% of the fibre ration or for weight maintenance aim for no less than 2-2.5%.

Restrict grazing

When a horse is on grass it is almost impossible to monitor his intake so you should consider alternatives like strip grazing or using a grazing muzzle to significantly reduce intake. If using a grazing muzzle for the first time start him off with short periods and gradually increase the time the horse wears it. Don’t leave it on all the time though and supervise him until you’re sure he accepts the muzzle without problems.

Forage as an alternative source of fibre

If you’re restricting access to grass you will need to give fibre in other ways. Hay is a good alternative source of fibre but it has fewer nutrients so it is advisable to also feed a pelleted balancer. These are a good way of providing the right nutritional balance of protein, essential amino acids, vitamins and minerals but without excess calories and are designed to be given in small quantities, either on their own or with a low calorie chaff. The amino acids in these are essential for the building and maintenance of good bone, muscle and hair plus a decent quality balancer will contain ‘digestive enhancers’ such as yeast culture and prebiotic. As these are meant to be fed in small quantities, typically around 100g per 100kg of bodyweight, their starch content is nothing to worry about. And if you are worrying whether or not you should feed your horse a handful of mix or cubes you should consider that these provide too few vitamins and minerals with too many calories.

If you favour hay forage as an alternative fibre source it is advised that you have it analysed to determine the levels of water-soluble carbohydrate (WSC) and starch, to assess its suitability for your horse. Ideally this should show a WSC level of less than 10%. You could use courser hay which is naturally lower in WSC but soaking it for 12-16 hours should reduce the content. However be aware that this can reduce the palatability and in warm weather can increase fermentation or bacterial growth.

Keep tabs on weight loss progress

As any vet will tell you it’s important to know a horse’s exact weight in order to measure accurate dosages of worming drugs. It’s difficult to measure weight-loss progress by sight alone so you should ideally have a weigh-tape handy if you don’t have access to a weighbridge. Use this at the same time every day, ideally weekly, and try to take a reading as the horse exhales for accuracy. If the horse is on grass part-time make sure you take a measurement reading before he goes out to graze.

Another way of assessing his weight is by actually feeling for fat deposits, a more effective method than simply looking at him. The easiest way to assess fat levels is by dividing the horse into three parts to determine his fat score – the neck and shoulders, the middle and the hindquarters. You can then work out an average score. If you are not sure how to do this then take a look at the Blue Cross and World Horse Welfare websites where you can find excellent instructions.

The importance of exercise

As any human dieter knows, the best way to lose weight and keep it off is by eating less and exercising more. And by putting your horse through an exercise programme you are sure to benefit just as much as he will. However it is advised that you build up any exercise routine carefully and gradually and work within the limits of the horse’s fitness level to avoid injury to him. If the horse is unable to be ridden you can always devise a series of in-hand exercises, either walking out on a long rein at a fairly brisk pace – if he can take it – or do some lunge work.

Whatever you decide to do, take advice from your vet before working the animal especially if he is very overweight or otherwise unfit and particularly if he has had laminitis or is under veterinary supervision for any reason. Remember that slow and steady consistency will bring the best results for you and your horse.

Equine Sarcoids and Fly Control

Equine Sarcoids and Fly Control

Sarcoids are tumours which appear most often on the horse’s head, around the groin and the axilla areas and sometimes within wounds or anywhere on the skin. According to the Royal Veterinary College, sarcoids can account for around 40% of all equine cancers.

They are estimated to be more prevalent in the UK than in Europe and vets believe that one of the reasons for this may be associated with biting flies. Although a link between fly infestation and sarcoids has not been proven most experts point to the fact of the virus DNA and protein, although not the whole virus, appearing on flies. Another point of view comes from Dr Derek Knottenbelt, an equine vet and one of the world’s leading authorities on sarcoids. He believes that sarcoids are caused by the bovine papilloma virus (BPV) however many horses which become infected with this virus do not go on to develop sarcoids. It is also true that where there are several horses together one horse may develop sarcoids but the others don’t. Experts are also looking into whether there could be a genetic susceptibility or resistance to sarcoids and it is thought that genetically susceptible horses can develop sarcoids following exposure to BPV.

Problem is worse in Summer

There’s no doubting that there are more cases of sarcoids during the summer months when the fly populations are at their highest and for this reason, Dr Knottenbelt believes that this, together with the known distribution of sarcoid cases, would indicate a strong link between flies and sarcoids. He also acknowledges that there is still little understanding of the disease and specifically the complex issue of horse to horse transmission but is confident in the assumption that flies are indeed responsible.

Are Sarcoids Contagious?

This is obviously of great concern to horse owners but as yet there is no proof or evidence that sarcoids can transmit contagiously between horses either directly or indirectly, or between horses and cattle. Sarcoids can affect horses of all ages and breeds, and both males and females, and they are usually not painful or itchy. If your horse is showing signs of pain or itching then the likelihood is that any lesions or lumps are due to allergies or infection and not sarcoids. An affected horse will often develop multiple sarcoids simultaneously or else repeatedly.

What do sarcoids Look Like?

They can vary in appearance and in aggression levels, needing different treatments according to the type. There are three kinds:

  • Verrucose are flat and scaly and resemble scars or ringworm. These are the least aggressive.
  • Nodular are spherical in appearance with a wide, flat base and may be ulcerated or covered in normal skin.
  • Fibroblastic are the most aggressive ones and often have an irregular appearance, clustering together with variable sizes and shapes.
  • There can sometimes be a mix of all the above types of sarcoid on one horse.

Treatments For Sarcoids

Sarcoids do not ‘self-cure’ and the wrong treatment, or no treatment at all, can make things worse. There have been worrying tales of owners failing to see the seriousness of sarcoids and trawling the internet for suggestions. These can often be useless at best, harmful at worst. One such suggestion – that applying toothpaste to a sarcoid will cure it – is dangerous nonsense as this could cause the sarcoid to flare up and become worse. At the very least, toothpaste will not help! When you consider that, depending on the type of sarcoid, treatments can include chemotherapy or laser surgery, it’s clear that relying on random internet searches or friends’ ‘advice’ may not be beneficial.

Other treatments can include radiotherapy, cryosurgery and complex medicinal treatments. The whole issue of sarcoids is complex due to their behaviour, appearance and position on the horse which means that there is often no single or universal treatment. For this reason, it is always best to seek veterinary advice to obtain the correct assessment and treatment options. Your vet can also advise on whether a sarcoid can be left alone and simply monitored to look for changes or irritation by rugs or tack.

How You Can Lessen The Odds

Be vigilant in ensuring that there is as little opportunity for contact between flies and your horse as possible. A good fly rug is the first line of defence for horses and ponies and for a horse with sarcoids it is absolutely essential.

When choosing a fly rug it’s important to distinguish its purpose, whether it will be for guarding against flies generally or whether you want something to guard against sweet itch specifically. If you are combating sweet itch you’ll need a close-fitting rug that has a very close-weave construction to keep out the tiny Culicoides midge whose saliva is the cause of sweet itch.

Black flies (Simuliidae) can plague the horse’s face, eyes and ears. Anywhere on a horse that is moist will be attractive to flies and the eyes are especially vulnerable to irritation so a properly fitted fly mask or hood can prevent this.

Stable flies (Stomoxys) are attracted to soiled and moist bedding and apart from causing infection can carry stomach worms (Habronema) and eye worms (Thelazia). Keeping stable areas and yards as clean and dry as possible will help greatly in preventing fly infestations.

Ticks will look for areas on a horse like inside the ears, around the muzzle and nostrils, under the forelock and mane and around the fetlocks and dock. Aside from the irritation caused, a tick can carry Lyme disease which in horses can have serious consequences including dermatitis, lameness and arthritis not to mention a general feeling of ill-health. Incidentall,y Lyme disease can also affect humans and can have long-term consequences here too. Never attempt to remove ticks by burning them or coating them with petroleum jelly or ice cubes. These ‘old wives tales’ will not remove them fully. The mouth parts could be left in and the ticks may in the process regurgitate their stomach contents; this could lead to infection. Remove them with a specialist tick removal tool as soon as possible. If you’re unsure how to do this your vet or veterinary nurse will be only too happy to show you.

Repellents and Insecticides

Make these useful sprays a vital part of your armoury against flies but be sure you understand the purpose of each.

A repellent is designed to make the horse a less attractive target for flies. Citronella is said to be an effective insect repellent as are eucalyptus, tea tree and lavender.

Insecticides are designed to kill flies and insects on or soon after contact. Because some of these can contain strong, toxic chemicals they are often meant to be diluted and used around stable areas. There are some available that can be used directly onto an animal’s skin. It is important that you obtain advice first before deciding which repellents and insecticides to buy as various ingredients may be suitable for some instances and not others. Pay special attention to the ingredients of those that you use.

Above all, by far the most effective way to fight flies and prevent serious conditions like sarcoids from occurring is to ensure that your horse, his stable and bedding and all tack and rugs are kept as clean as possible at all times. Be vigilant, check your horse regularly and call your vet for advice if you see anything that could cause a problem.

Understanding Sacro-Iliac Disease

Understanding Sacro-Iliac Disease

There can be a variety of reasons for why a horse can go lame. One of the more serious ones is sacro-iliac disease. Here we discuss everything you need to know about this condition.

What is it?

The part of the horse’s rump commonly referred to as the sacro-iliac joint is actually made up of two major parts – the sacrum, which is part of the spinal column sitting within the ilium, and the ilium itself which is the upper part of the pelvis – and is bonded together by connective tissue. This is called the sacro-iliac region and has to take the force of weight and transfer of movement between the spine and the hind legs. The whole area covers the two sides of the pelvis in perfect symmetry having flat surfaces to the parts of the joint involved in the movement of the rear quarters which are supported by three major sets of ligaments and powerful muscles.

When the bond between the two areas of the sacro-iliac joint become weak or loose this can allow movement between the sacrum and the ilium with accompanying pain and inflammation. There may also be loss or wastage of the gluteal muscle and a consequence of this is the appearance of what is known as a ‘hunter’s bump’, essentially a bony protuberance and a lop-sided, or asymmetrical appearance at the top of the pelvis. This can be clearly seen when standing behind the horse’s tail. And when new bone forms on the bony surfaces of the joint along with a build-up of scar tissue, the union of the two sides of the joint become ever weaker.

Injuries Which Can Cause Sacro-Iliac Disease

Any horse can injure the sacro-iliac joint and it is said that frequent jumpers can be especially vulnerable. The most common injuries can occur either through direct trauma to the sacro-iliac region for instance from a fall which results in a sprain or fracture of the bone, or as an indirect injury and pain resulting from lameness in the hind leg.

What Are The Signs of Sacro-Iliac Disease?

In the initial stages, there can be few obvious signs. One of the first and most prominent is the ‘hunter’s bump’ as mentioned earlier, where there is obvious asymmetry in the hind quarters due to a bony protuberance at the top of the pelvis or an imbalance in the size of the gluteal muscles. One of the ways you can check for the condition if you are unable to see any obvious signs is by pressing on the back or pelvis and feeling for any tension in the horse’s muscles, a sure sign of pain.

The most obvious signs will show when you ride the horse. There may be a feeling of disconnection of the stride; it may feel like the horse is powering mostly from the front legs rather than the hind legs. This is commonly due to the shortening of the rear leg stride and often results in a sort of ‘bunny hop’ gait. This may often be the only sign other than a lameness in one leg resulting from a trauma of some kind. Lameness can become worse following flexion of one or both hind legs.

Diagnosis of Sacro-Iliac Disease

This can be complicated because of the need to investigate other possible causes of lameness or altered gait in order to narrow down the options and formulate a treatment plan. Your vet will probably want to carry out a visual evaluation of the horse’s motion as well as a physical examination. Sometimes it is possible to administer a nerve-blocker to the sacro-iliac area to see if there is any improvement in the gait. Howev,er this can be problematic because of the proximity of the sciatic nerve. When this nerve is affected by a blocker the result can be an inability to bear weight on one or both legs at least until the nerve blocker has worn off.

Because of the structure of the musculature of the region, x-rays are ineffective but ultrasound examination could be useful to examine the ligaments and joint contour. This can be performed either externally or internally through the rectum. Ultrasound is not always effective in getting an accurate diagnosis though. By far the most effective way is through nuclear scintigraphy, or bone scanning. This is the most reliable method of identifying asymmetry and inflammation of the sacro-iliac joint structures and will highlight any hot spots which could indicate injury to the ligaments.

What Are The Treatment Options?

It has to be said from the start that there is no quick fix for the problem. Treatment which allows the re-bonding of the two parts of the sacro-iliac joint can take many months and will involve a multi-agency effort. Where there is additional secondary pain, from lameness in the lower leg, hock arthritis or suspensory ligament injury, for instance, this must be treated and managed also. Damage and instability of the sacro-iliac joint may initially benefit from a period of rest, perhaps in the region of 30-60 days in order to reduce the pain of ligament damage.

Obviously, during the treatment and recovery period, it is essential that the horse is not ridden but gentle exercise involving lunging, possibly using stretch bands, long-reining and in-hand work is important for the horse’s mental well-being as much as for the physical benefit. You should still aim to turn out the horse where possible to allow him to move around freely but your vet will advise on whether this is right for your horse. Further exercise will come through working with a suitably qualified equine physiotherapist who can devise a series of stretches, reversing movements and pole work. Hydrotherapy exercises or the use of leg weights to encourage the correct picking up of the feet can be useful aids to muscle building. These are vital to maintaining flexibility and strength in the core muscles during the healing period. The point of exercise therapy is to re-establish the symmetrical muscle development of the back alongside the healing of the sacro-iliac joint region. At all stages of the recovery, it is important to work within the parameters of the horse’s pain tolerance.

Veterinary treatment can include cortico-steroid injections into the sacro-iliac joint to provide pain relief along with anti-inflammatory medications which can be given with food; both are designed to help reduce inflammation as well as help relieve pain. This can be of particular help to horses which struggle to use the hind quarters sufficiently to build up muscle development. Shockwave therapy can also help with pain relief and the promotion of new blood vessels into the damaged areas. All medication and other veterinary treatments must be used in cooperation with strengthening exercises to have the best chance of long-term recovery.

What is The Prognosis?

The chance of a full recovery depends on whether there is an underlying cause for the disease such as injury. If there is only a mild form of the disease the horse should recover well but severe cases will limit the outlook for a full recovery. There is no guarantee of a full recovery from sacro-iliac disease and even if there is no underlying cause only around 50% of horses will be lucky. In general, if the horse responds well to treatment he should have a better prognosis than one which doesn’t.

Maintaining Your Donkey’s Health

Maintaining Your Donkey’s Health

Experienced donkey owners know that the way to keep their animal fit and healthy is simple. Give lots of TLC in the form of good shelter, a high fibre diet with restricted grazing, regular health checks and above all lots of love and mental stimulation.

Read on for our tips and advice on all matters relating to donkey health.

Routine Health Care

Horses, ponies and donkeys are all subject to the same kind of health and welfare problems including tetanus and equine influenza so it’s essential to vaccinate against these. Another thing they have in common is the susceptibility towards picking up intestinal parasites and if your donkey shares a field with horses it is advisable to speak to your vet about a worming routine. Donkeys can be carriers of the lungworm Dictyocaulus Arnfieldi without exhibiting signs and this parasite can cause respiratory disease in horses.

Choosing a wormer for your donkey can be a complicated matter especially as different rules apply to pregnant and lactating mares and donkeys that are ill. It may be necessary to conduct a faecal egg count to accurately monitor the donkey’s worm level so that your vet can advise on whether a wormer is necessary and if so which one is best.

Daily handling and grooming are not only essential for your donkey’s psychological well-being it can also give you the chance to check on his coat condition and check for any external parasites or skin conditions. At the same time, you can check the condition of his teeth and feet. Donkeys are famously very stoical creatures and give little away so these daily checks are a great way to spot any health issues before they become problematic.

Dental Care

Donkeys evolved to graze on sparse, coarse grasses and fibrous plants and as a result, they developed teeth that are designed to wear down constantly. In addition, if a donkey has not shed all his milk teeth by the age of five this could cause infection and pain. For these reasons alone it is important that regular professional checks are carried out on a donkey’s teeth from soon after birth and then twice a year.

Foot Care

Because of the donkey’s evolution in dry, arid lands, their hooves are very different in structure to those of horses in that a donkey’s more upright feet are very good at absorbing water. Problems arise when a donkey is kept on wet pasture as their feet can become soft and prone to disease so it is advisable to give your donkey access to the dry ground. An adult donkey’s feet must be trimmed every 6-10 weeks to avoid becoming overgrown, preferably by a farrier who has specific knowledge and experience of working with donkey’s feet. The most common donkey foot problems are:

  • Seedy Toe. Otherwise known as white line disease where the white line area becomes weak and crumbly. This can be painful if stones and dirt enter under the horny part of the hoof. It can be treated by cutting out the affected part of the hoof wall and this should only be done by a vet and/or experienced farrier.
  • Thrush can appear as a result of keeping a donkey in wet conditions.
  • Laminitis is a very painful condition which always requires immediate veterinary attention.
  • Foot abscess. Another painful condition requiring veterinary treatment, a foot abscess can lead to tetanus if left untreated for too long.

How to Spot When Your Donkey is Ill

Because donkeys rarely give any obvious signs that they aren’t feeling well or they are in pain you have to be able to monitor and take note of any changes in their behaviour. Sometimes the only sign of illness is a loss of appetite and a general air of depression although he can exhibit these symptoms if he is separated from a companion. Donkeys are extremely sociable and will not be entirely happy on their own. If you are in any doubt at all about the state of your donkeys’ health it is always best to let your vet take a look.

Common Illnesses That Affect Donkeys


This is a condition which can initially present simply as a dull or depressed appearance in your donkey but which can ultimately lead to organ failure. The condition occurs through a negative energy balance which means the donkey is expending more energy than it can take in. The body will send fat molecules to the liver where they are converted to glucose. If this continues after the initial problem has receded the result can be an excess of fat molecules in the blood leading to potentially fatal kidney and liver damage. If you see any signs of the aforementioned dull, depressed demeanour in your animal then waste no time in calling the vet and have him examine blood samples.

There are certain risk factors which could mean your donkey is susceptible to Hyperlipaemia and these include:

  • Increased fat reserves have been linked to an increased risk of Hyperlipaemia
  • Age and gender means that older females have the highest risk
  • Pregnancy and lactation, where a negative energy balance can result from increased energy requirements
  • Stress or illness such as problems with the teeth, worms, colic or emotional stress all bring increased the risk

A donkey with Hyperlipaemia will have to undergo some intensive treatment of underlying causes and added nutritional support and even then the outlook can be less than promising.


Most people think of colic as being a standalone disease however it is actually a symptom, usually presenting as abdominal pain, of several different issues some of which are listed here:

  • Gas colic
  • Blockages of undigested food or obstructions in the gut
  • Muscle cramps
  • Twisted gut known as a torsion
  • Abdominal tumours particularly in older donkeys
  • Worms
  • Pancreatitis

Some of these are more painful than others but any instance of abdominal pain should be checked by a vet immediately. Once again the stoic nature of the donkey can make a colic difficult to spot initially because unlike a horse he will not be rolling around or pawing at the ground; he may just be exhibiting those dull, depressed signs. He will still be in pain however so if you see other signs such as a refusal to eat, fast breathing, excessive sweating, reduced or no droppings or a very red colour inside the eyelids or gums – call the vet immediately to start treatment.

The donkey’s heart rate may be elevated above the normal range of 31-53 beats per minute and his breathing rate may be above the normal 13-31 breaths per minute; this will be what the vet checks initially. He/she will also listen to the abdomen and will ask you about the animal’s diet. If colic is diagnosed it can be treated with pain relief and fluid therapy, possibly intravenously.

One of the causes of a colic can be related to a sudden change of diet, too much grass or poor quality feed. If you change his diet do so gradually over 4-6 weeks. Always soak sugar beet and avoid feeding anything that looks at all mouldy. Avoid access to rich feeds like grain and rich spring grass and feed your donkey little and often for the best way to avoid colic. Above all, make sure he has access to plenty of water at all times.

Donkeys can live into their 40s so if you keep donkeys or are thinking of acquiring a donkey remember to gain as much knowledge about these wonderful creatures as you can so as to ensure a long, healthy and happy life for him or her. Contact your vet for help and advice whenever it is needed.

Equine Joint Health

Equine Joint Health

Keeping a horse’s joints healthy and strong ideally starts soon after a foal is born and continues all the way through the growing period and beyond. In horses that are working or competing, knowledge of how to feed properly, what supplements to give and how to manage activity is essential for every horse owner. Here we discuss how to optimise and maintain good joint health.

The Horse’s Leg

The horse’s lower limb is made up of bone, muscle, tendon, ligament and the joints which bear most of the stress when a horse stands and when it moves. Joints are comprised of two bones the ends of which are protected by tough cartilage and the whole thing is protected within a capsule structure which produces synovial fluid to lubricate and further protect the joint. The joints have to contend with the stresses and strains put on them when moving over different kinds of terrain and as such, they are the parts of the horse most vulnerable to damage.

It is true that the muscles and joints of the legs do benefit from a certain amount of stress as this helps to build strength and promote healing following minor damage however as the horse matures this benefit can reverse through over-stressing and over-working the joints. So although a steady form of exercise is essential for horses which are re-building fitness after time out of work, you have to be aware that a maturing horse needs a different approach. It is thought that as a horse matures they are subject to higher levels of inflammation due to raised cytokine activity (the proteins within cells which affect the immune system response). In obese animals, this response can be heightened still further which is why attention must be paid to the horse’s diet and weight.

Chronic inflammation due to joint stress when the synovial fluid no longer protects the joint, or injury has damaged the cartilage which protects the bone, can lead to arthritis, a condition no horse owner wants to see. Not only can this be expensive to treat, but it can also only ever be managed and a horse with severe arthritis will be unable to continue working. In some cases, it can, unfortunately, lead to euthanasia.

The key elements of managing joint health are good feeds and correct exercise although many owners are finding that feeding a good quality joint supplement can be of enormous benefit. However, the quality levels of joint supplements can vary widely so here you will find advice on what to look for.

Ingredients in Joint Supplements

The best joint supplements generally contain varying amounts of the same ingredients:


Anyone who takes a joint supplement themselves will be familiar with this ingredient. Glucosamine is one of the main building blocks of joint tissue including cartilage and is often derived from shellfish or other organic materials. It is usually either in sulphate or hydrochloride form and experts agree that the sulphate form is best for horses. It can be effective as a pain reliever but it is mainly of benefit in the slowing down of cartilage breakdown.

Chondroitin Sulphate and Hyaluronic Acid

Hyaluronic acid is frequently found in skin products for humans due to its cell renewal and moisture-retentive properties so it’s not surprising that when combined with chondroitin sulphate it is effective in protecting cartilage and joint tissue.


This is a natural organic, sulphur-rich product which is found in low levels in plants and which, in combination with glucosamine and chondroitin has been shown to help relieve pain and inflammation. Some studies have shown that it can be useful in helping sore muscles to relax after exercise. MSM levels can deteriorate in processed or stored feed so it is advisable to add it to a horse’s winter feed when there is limited opportunity to access fresh forage.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

The benefits of Omega 3 fatty acids to humans have long been acknowledged and now the benefits to horses have also been widely accepted. Omega 3 essential fatty acids cannot be made by the body so have to be added to the diet. They are proven to be especially helpful as an anti-inflammatory aid to joint health. Omega 3 fatty acids are also said to lift the mood and provide energy and focus. They have traditionally been derived from fish oil however as more people become aware of the need for greater environmental sustainability, and because fat is not a traditional or natural part of a horse’s diet, it is better to consider those derived from plant sources like marine algae or chia seeds.


The benefits of herbal medicine have been known for centuries and even today many swear by using herbs for all kinds of reasons. Herbs can be used in conjunction with other supplements to support joint health and sometimes as a general aid to health and well-being. The ones most often used for joint health, particularly in older or retired horses are devil’s claw, turmeric and ginger. However, they are less effective in young, active and working horses because they will not provide long-term help in building healthy joints. Devil’s claw is a plant which originated in the south and south-east Africa and has been subjected to many scientific trials for many decades. It’s efficacy as an anti-inflammatory painkiller is said to be fairly effective albeit slow. It is recommended that it should not be given to pregnant mares but, as with all supplements, it is always advisable to consult your vet about whether they are right for your horse. The Federation for Equestrian Sports added devil’s claw to its list of prohibited substances in 2016 on the basis that the active constituent, harpagoside, is a natural anti-inflammatory which is also said to have sedative and diuretic properties. It is listed as a controlled medication as it has the potential to affect performance or be a welfare risk to the horse. For this reason, it’s advisable to keep devil’s claw supplements well away from feed given to performance and competition horses.

How to Give Supplements

When it comes to glucosamine sulphate the general advice is to feed approximately 5,000-10,000mg per day but variables to consider are the weight, age and activity level of the horse as well as the horse’s regular diet. When combined with MSM, antioxidants and chondroitin it can be of great benefit to competition horses however different combinations of all or just some of them will affect how much you can feed and what benefits they will have in terms of pain relief and/or anti-inflammatory properties. Before you give any supplement, natural or otherwise to your horse it is always wise to learn as much about it as you can; if possible get the advice of a vet or other suitably qualified person.

Read The Label

This simple act will tell you everything you need to know about the supplement you’re about to feed. For example, it will tell you not only what the main ingredients are but also what else is in there which may affect the health and condition of your horse such as whether it contains cereal as a base component. Check what ingredient is listed first as that will be the majority ingredient in higher levels than the one you want to be the main aid to health. In short, a product which lists alfalfa as the main (first on the list) ingredient may not provide either the benefit you’re expecting or value for money.

Above all make sure the label contains the BETA NOPS logo. This is the standard which means that the product has been tested and controlled to reduce the risk of any naturally occurring prohibited substances that could be harmful or otherwise disadvantageous to competing horses.


In conclusion, the overall way to protect the health of your horse’s joints can be summed up thus:

  • Always buy any supplements from a reputable source and follow advice where necessary.
  • Feed good quality nutrition at all times.
  • Try not to overwork or over-train your horse.
  • Allow plenty of time for reconditioning and recuperation after time out of work.
  • After work or other activity allow plenty of cool-down time to reduce the risk of post-exercise injury.

By following these simple rules you will be doing everything you can to avoid the risk of injury and early deterioration of your horse’s joints.

Top tips for successful horse training

Top tips for successful horse training

Taking a young novice horse and turning it into top class show jumper is no mean feat. It takes hard work, dedication and a strict regime. Although every horse has its own personality and will respond in a slightly different way to your training plan, there are some general rules you can follow to get the best out of your equine charges. Instilling good habits at an early age will ensure a smooth transition from trainee, to career horse. It isn’t a one man job however. The success of a horse depends on a whole team of people including owners, sponsors, trainers and riders. Read more

Weight limitations in horse riding

Weight limitations in horse riding

Horse Riding, rider to horse weight ratio typically depends on the size and strength of the horse, and the type of work that the horse is expected to do. However, from a vet’s point of view how much weight is too much weight for a horse to bear? Are we exposing horses to orthopaedic problems or even pain by asking them to carry more weight than they can reasonably bear? Read more

Understanding your Horse and Equine Tapeworm

Understanding your Horse and Equine Tapeworm

Of all the parasites which affect a horse, gastrointestinal worms are among the most common. Such worms come in many different forms, each of which acts in different ways and produces subtly different symptoms. Tapeworms are especially widespread and dangerous, and so it’s vital that horse owners and breeders take steps to control their numbers. In this article, let’s consider exactly how this might be achieved. Read more

16 Things you Should Never Feed your Horse

16 Things you Should Never Feed your Horse

Giving your horse treats can be fine especially if we are rewarding good behaviour, just because we love them, and yes even when they are looking at us with those big pleading eyes when we are eating a snack around them.

However as horse owners and lovers, there are a certain amount of things that you shouldn’t feed them, so its important to know what you can and what you can’t give to your horse as a treat, read this fabulous  infographic to find out what is and what isn’t safe. Read more