Exercise/arthritis – farriery – feed regimes

Is exercise giving your horse arthritis?

DressageWe know that, generally, exercise is good for joints and that some kinds of lameness seem to benefit from regular work. However, veterinarians have long suspected that arthritis in the hocks occurs more often in horses that work hard. Now there’s proof that this might be true. A group of research vets have studied the joint surfaces of hocks in 30 horses that had been euthanized for reasons other than hind limb lameness. They split the horses into three groups; high-level sports horses, leisure horses and broodmares and assessed the level of wear and tear on the hock. Upon pathological examination of the joint surfaces – the cartilage and bone of the joints – they discovered significant differences between the groups. Although horses in three categories had evidence of bone and cartilage damage, the incidence of damage was much lower in the unridden group (the broodmares) compared with the others. In addition, the severity of joint damage was higher in the ridden horses, with the hard-working elite sport horses showing the most extensive damage. None of the horses were lame in the hocks when they were euthanized but what’s interesting about this research is that it clearly indicates that hard work increases the likelihood of hock lameness developing.

Does ambidextrousness make a perfect farrier?

FarrierPart of farrier training is gaining the skills to assess – and if necessary correct – hoof balance. Neuroscientists in human medicine know that the ability to judge symmetry is related to the dominance of one half of the brain to one hand over the other. This means that when a farrier looks at the sole to assess medio-lateral balance, they may inadvertently be slightly wrong. Add to this the fact that right-handed and left-handed people are more comfortable using a rasp in different ways and you might wonder whether farriers trim horses differently according to their dominant hand. Researchers at the University of London researched this by measuring the hoof wall angles and forefoot balance in 91 Army horses. The horses were all shod by right-handed and left-handed apprentice farriers. The research team found that over 70% of right forefeet trimmed by left-handed apprentices were unbalanced, while only 41% of left forefeet trimmed by the same people were unbalanced. Right-handed apprentices caused similar imbalances by over trimming the inside wall of the left forefoot and over trimming the outside wall of the right forefoot (and vice-versa in left-handers). Although this was quite alarming, the subjects studied were apprentices in training and it’s important to remember that the extensive training process aims to eliminate asymmetrical tendencies.

Is your horse a happy eater?

Horse-eatingWe’ve been told anecdotally that giving our horses the same feed at the same time each day is the way to keep them healthy and happy. In the wild though, horses have a very different approach to feeding. Without our influence, horses will pick and choose as they graze, wandering from one patch of ground to another; taking in grass, moving to a succulent plant, chewing on a twig, a few leaves and then back to grass again. Researchers in the UK have tested what stabled horses would do when given a choice of feed and place to eat it. Horses were released into a passageway which had a stable on one side which contained a single feed station (hay only) and a stable on the opposite side containing multiple feed stations (a choice of six different feeds). Of the 12 horses tested, most preferred the stable with variety. The researchers then tested the horses’ favoured feed by putting it in the single station and moved the hay to the multiple station (with the six alternative feeds). Most horses still preferred to be in the multi-station stable but a significant number moved between stables, picked food from each source, then swapped over. Given the freedom to choose, domestic horses appear to have retained the motivation for ‘patch foraging’, so it looks like the recipe to success is to offer your horse lots of different kinds of forage.