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.

Saddle Fitting, getting it right for you and your horse

Saddle Fitting, getting it right for you and your horse

If you’re the owner of a horse, and you intend to ride it, then you’ll need to select a saddle that’s a good fit. Next to your horse’s diet, saddle fitting is among the biggest determiners of your horse’s ultimate performance. Select the right one, and you’ll be able to enjoy the greatest possible range of movement, and the best possible posture as a rider. Read more

Equine Genetics

Equine Genetics

Since horses were first domesticated, thousands of years ago, we humans have been sculpting their genome through artificial selection. Where we notice qualities that we find desirable, like a cool temperament or great strength, we’ve bred in favour of those qualities – and in doing so produced a variety of animals, which have variously carried knights into battle, pulled enormous carts through city centres, and won prestigious racing events. Read more

Horse Breed Series: Andalusian

Horse Breed Series: Andalusian

Horses have been working in close-cooperation with humans for many thousands of years. They’re an animal that’s capable of tremendous diversity, coming in a variety of shapes, sizes, colours and temperaments. Over the years, breeders have developed many different sorts of horse to cater for the needs of their owners and riders. Some of these breeds have been developed only very recently, while others have been around since before history could make any note of them.

The Andalusian is an example of the latter sort – it’s an ancient breed that has stood the test of time, and though it’s considered a rare breed, it remains popular with breeders across the world. In this article, we’ll examine the origins of this breed, and see what role it might play as part of your stable. Read more

Supplements to Maintain Healthy Skin – Part 1

Supplements to Maintain Healthy Skin – Part 1

As is the case with many mammals, the largest organ in a horse’s body is the skin. The skin forms a vital part of the immune system – it’s the initial brute-force barrier which prevents the overwhelming majority of harmful pathogens from finding their way into the horse’s body. Keeping it in good shape is therefore essential if a horse is to avoid contracting a whole range of harmful conditions.

Like all of the organs in the body, a horse’s skin requires a number of different nutrients in order to maintain itself. Since many of these nutrients are used elsewhere in the body, the quality of the horse’s coat can give an excellent indication of its underlying health. Shiny, glossy coats can be found on healthy horses; dull, matted ones can be found on sick horses. Read more

Horse Breeds Series: Shetland Pony

Horse Breeds Series: Shetland Pony

If you were to ask most people to name a breed of miniature horse, the first to spring to mind would probably be the Shetland Pony. This diminutive animal has achieved widespread fame thanks to its famously stumpy frame, and for its intelligence and friendliness – particularly with children.


Like the overwhelming majority of animal breeds, the Shetland pony takes its name from its birthplace: the Shetland Isles, off the coast of Scotland. Being set in such a remote backdrop, the details of the Shetland’s origin story are scarce. What we do know from archaeological discoveries is that small horses were present on the islands since the Bronze Age. Since then, the islands have seen plenty of action (at least, relatively speaking). Norse invaders brought with them their own horses, and these were cross-bred with the natives, and so too did Celts centuries prior. Read more

Horse Breeds Series: Clydesdale

Horse Breeds Series: Clydesdale

When most people think of a draught horse, the mental image they most often conjure is that of a Clydesdale. With its enormous, powerful body and distinctive white markings around the legs, it’s a breed that’s found particular fame in the United States selling Budweiser beer – though it first came to be, as its name would suggest, on this side of the Atlantic.

Let’s examine this most distinctive of breeds in closer detail, and see how it might fit into your stable! Read more