Osteoarthritis develops in a horse's hock when the cartilage in the joint breaks down. Normally, the cartilage keeps the two major bones of the horse's leg from rubbing against each other, but in an arthritic horse, the cartilage is replaced by new bone. This leads to stiffness, lameness and loss of flexibility. There are several exercises you can do with your horse to cope with its arthritis.
Before you exercise your horse, do some leg stretches for the animal. Take its leg in your hand and pull it forward until you feel the horse resist. Then push the leg up towards its belly as far as you can. Finally, pull the leg back as far as it will go. Hold the leg in each position for about 15 seconds. Gradually pull it slightly farther in the direction of the stretch as you hold it there. Try to do this every day. Just like humans, horses will better overcome their arthritis if they stretch consistently. Talk to your veterinarian about arthritis-relieving injections or supplements, like Legend or Cosequin, which can make these stretches more effective.
Turn your horse out to pasture instead of keeping it in a stall. This will allow it to walk and graze, rather than staying in one place for long periods. Movement -- even leisurely movement -- is much more beneficial for an arthritic horse than standing still. In fact, a lack of movement will actually worsen a case of arthritis. In a paddock or a pasture, the horse will have soft ground, which will take pressure off its joints, preventing further damage. In addition, it will be able to take slow steps, which compresses and releases the joint, keeping it healthy. Keep your horse inside only if the weather is very cold, as cold temperatures make arthritis worse.
Walk in Hand
Put a halter and lead rope on your horse and walk it around the barn or in an arena. Sometimes, when horses age, they get a little lazy, so they may need some encouragement to walk around. Walking is extremely beneficial for arthritis. It increases circulation, warms up the horse's body and encourages the release of joint lubrication. This prevents further stress on the joints and halts the advance of arthritis. It also helps the horse overcome existing damage by decreasing the pain of arthritis.
You may think that your horse will not be able to handle a ride if it has arthritis. It's true that it might not be able to race cross country or turn on a dime around a barrel, but it can still benefit from a ride with targeted exercises. Warm your horse up with a five-to-10 minute walk, then ask it to do some lateral movements, such as leg-yields. Increase the speed of your walk, then slow it down. Turn your horse in gradually smaller circles. Walk and trot over ground poles. These movements will encourage your horse to bend its legs in different directions, which will help loosen its joints and keep its arthritis in check.