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Impact of Ageing on the Musculoskeletal System of HorsesBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · August 1, 2017

Are you planning on helping your horse age gracefully? Then you need to know about some important changes that a horse’s musculoskeletal system undergoes during its golden years.

Because of these changes, owners of older horses often need to alter management strategies, modifying their horse’s nutrition and training protocols. Here are five noteworthy considerations:

1. Like many other species, horses have reduced flexibility of ligaments and tendons. Considering that soft-tissue injuries are notoriously challenging to manage, even in young horses, owners of older horses must be cognizant to protect these delicate structures.

2. Osteoarthritis becomes increasingly prevalent as horses age. Arthritis can affect the joints of the neck and spinal cord, not just the limbs. Reduced neck flexion, for example, commonly occurs in older horses. Considering neck motion plays an important role in motion and balance, this decreased ability to flex should be considered.

3. An age-related decrease in muscle growth occurs, making it harder for older horses to build muscle during training.

4. Recovery from exercise also slows with age, requiring more attention to this phase of athletic training.

5. Even fit, older horses have altered muscle use and flexibility compared to their younger counterparts. Specifically, more effort by extensor muscles in the limbs is required to effectively counteract gravity.

“Offering nutritional supplements containing glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, omega-3 fatty acids, and others can help support the equine musculoskeletal system in addition to any pharmaceutical medications recommended by your veterinarian,” suggested Catherine Whitehouse, M.S., a nutrition advisor for Kentucky Equine Research (KER).

She added, “Owners need not wait to use these products once they see evidence of an ageing musculoskeletal system. Studies show that these supplements can actually help prevent injury when used in young, healthy horses.”

When looking for quality musculoskeletal supplements, consider KER•Flex, with chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine hydrochloride; Synovate HA with high-molecular weight hyaluronic acid; and EO•3, a marine-derived source of both DHA and EPA. Australian horse owners should also look for Glucos-A-Flex.

Zsoldos, R.R., B. Krüger, T.F. Licka. 2014. From maturity to old age: tasks of daily life require a different muscle use in horses. Comparative Exercise Physiology. 10(2):75-88.