How Hoof Health Affects Arthritis of the Joints


Do you have a horse with arthritis? (also known as Degenerative Joint Disease/DJD)

Do your horse's joints appear to hurt? Or does your horse have inflamed joints?

Did you know that the horse's hoof health can directly impact the health of the horse's joints throughout his body? 

If you answered yes to the first two questions but didn't realize that hoof health can affect the joints of the horse and cause unnecessary arthritis in the joints then listen up -- or, read up -- cause hoof health absolutely affects ALL the joints in the body - from head to hoof.

Balanced hooves that are strong and healthy tend to work synergistically with the joints in the legs, shoulders and the back of the horse. They even help support healthy and strong muscles and tendons and ligaments!

You see, all systems in the horse are designed for movement. All systems in the horse are designed to work TOGETHER to maximize the movement of the horse.

Simple, right?

So many times I see horses are shod because they have arthritis when the opposite should be done. Removing the shoes AND trimming and balancing the hooves correctly as a barefoot horse can work wonders for the arthritic horse!

Depending on how long the hooves have been out of balance will determine the extent of the damage caused by arthritis. With some horses the evidence of imbalanced hooves is minimal while with others might have knees the size of grapefruit. Or other joints in the body that are inflamed and painful for the horse.

What IS Arthritis?

Let's define that word:  "arthritis” is not a single disease; it is an informal way of referring to joint pain or joint disease. There are more than 100 different types of arthritis and related conditions. ... Common arthritis joint symptoms include swelling, pain, stiffness and decreased range of motion. Symptoms may come and go. They can be mild, moderate or severe. They may stay about the same for years but may progress or get worse over time. Severe arthritis can result in chronic pain, inability to do daily activities and make it difficult to walk or [trot/canter]. Arthritis can cause permanent joint changes. These changes may be visible, such as knobby [knee]  joints, but often the damage can only be seen on X-ray. Some types of arthritis also affect the heart, eyes, lungs, kidneys, and skin as well as the joints." --

Wow. There’s a lot to it!  And, with horses, it can start with the hooves. 

Barefoot hoof care is often overlooked within the scope of treatments for arthritis. Trimming and shoeing the hooves alter the horse’s limb biomechanics—for better or worse. Imbalanced hooves will cause the joints to move, sometimes, in ways they are not intended to move by nature. This is especially true when the ground is hard or frozen or otherwise harsh to the landing of the hooves. Arthritic horses try to minimize their joint pain by reducing the load on the affected limb(s) and shortening stride length. This, in turn, affects the musculoskeletal system of the horse which then, in turn, affects the state of mind of the horse which can then affect the willingness of the horse to go forward and even can affect the horse's appetite - which then affects the body condition overall. And so on and so forth. You can see that it is a vicious never-ending circle of issues that can all stem from the hooves. 

The proper care and trimming barefoot horses really is an all-important, maybe THE most important, of horse care and husbandry! An arthritic horse is not only an unhappy horse but can also be a difficult horse! One cannot blame the horse, though, for being uncooperative and grouchy when he's in pain. 

If you have a horse that is less than willing, has a shortened stride, seems not to be able to move as limberly as times before, is balky or plants his hooves for 'no reason', check for arthritis in the knees, hocks and the hips. Do not assume the horse is being uncooperative deliberately -- always check for pain first. Horses simply do not change their attitudes for no reason. Work with your hoof care provider and your vet to determine a plan for correcting possible imbalances of the hooves. You may find that it is all that is needed for your horse to be a pretty comfortable and agreeable critter again! 

Gwenyth Browning Jones Santagate is the world-renown author of "10 Secrets to Healthy Hooves" and "Natural Hoof Anthology" as well as a noted author for various international equine publications including The Horses Hoof, Equine Wellness, Natural Horse Planet as well as a contributing author for the 2001 United States Federal Mounted Border Patrol Training Manual. For the last 37+ years, she has maintained healthy hooves with natural trimming on thousands of horses and specialized in pathological rehabilitation hoofcare for the last 18 years. She and her husband John keep a small herd of their own equine in NE Connecticut and continue to offer consults for horses in need. For further information please click here:


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