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Senior horse health management: The legs have it

June 15, 2018

As more horses now live well into their twenties and even their thirties, more horse owners find themselves looking for ways to deal with the issues that accompany increasing longevity in their equine partners.

If you are part of this growing trend – as an owner, rider, trainer or stable manager – there’s good news and information about excellent senior horse health management.

A leg up for senior horses

Who hasn’t heard the ancient adage, “no hoof, no horse” … but you need to look deeper to find the heart of the hoof. That would be the frog: that triangular piece of amazing equine engineering you can see on the underside of the hoof. The frog extends from the heel of the horse to a point approximately two-thirds of the distance to the toe. Deep grooves line both sides of the frog, an ideal place to trap mud, manure and more; a shallower groove or depression lies in the center of the frog. 


Why call it the heart of the hoof? Think about this: the horse’s heart pumps blood throughout the horse’s body to supply oxygen and nutrients to organs and muscles. When the circulatory system delivers blood down into the horse’s hooves, the frog helps overcome gravity and “pumps” the blood back up the leg.

Inside the horse’s leg, just above the frog that you can see on the underside of the horse’s hoof, is a structure you can’t see, called the digital cushion, which is made up of fibrous tissue permeated with an interconnected system of blood vessels. Think of it as a sponge. With each step the horse takes, when the frog is pushed into the ground, the pressure from the frog onto the digital cushion pushes blood back up the horse’s leg.

While the frog is not actually a heart, it performs a similar function, and the “heart of the hoof” comparison is a memorable way to emphasize how important the frog is to healthy legs. That’s not the frog’s only function, however. It also acts as a shock absorber, and in some cases provides traction especially for barefoot horses.

When good legs go bad

What can go wrong with horses’ legs? The simple and cynical answer is everything, and the truth of the matter is more nebulous: It all depends, and every horse is a unique individual.

From conformation to exercise, nutrition, shoeing (or not), footing, conditioning and a host of other factors, there’s no end to the number of actions, inactions and reactions that can cause good legs to go bad.

As horses age, they inevitable become less active at some point. That may be due to arthritis, also called degenerative joint disease (DJD), or a myriad of other causes. With age comes degeneration of bone, cartilage and fibrous tissue, less elastic tendons and ligaments, and the cumulative effects of a lifetime of physical activity.

Whatever the reason, when any horse stands around instead of constantly being on the move as horses behave in nature, consequences occur. Legs “stock up” with edema, or swelling. Arthritis escalates. Joints become more painful, reducing the horse’s desire for activity even further. Tendons and ligaments lose elasticity because they aren’t being used.

Ideally, every senior horse would have a pasture large enough to walk around all day eating enough grass for good nutrition but not enough to cause colic, metabolic syndrome or founder. Realistically, many senior horses necessarily live in stables or smaller paddocks, where their exercise may be limited to occasional hand-walking or turnout.

Now, however, even senior horses confined to a stall or paddock with a shelter can have the same benefit underfoot as horses roaming the ideal pasture described earlier.

Orthopedic flooring … yes, flooring

ComfortStall® is the orthopedic sealed flooring system that strikes the ideal balance between softness and support with its Precision FoamTM padding overlaid with IronCladTM TopCover.

With ComfortStall underfoot, horse’s hooves sink down far enough to massage the frogs with every step and create the circulation needed to send blood back up the legs, which eliminates stocking up (edema) and makes stable bandages a thing of the past.

Horse owners and barn managers alike report that hock sores disappear, and horses are seen sleeping on bare ComfortStall flooring for hours at a time getting their all-important REM sleep. When they lie down, they experience recumbent whole-body support thanks to the needed “give” under hip, shoulder and pastern bones. When they get up, they don’t scramble or slip, because their hooves sink into the flooring just enough to provide the stability to lie down and rise with ease. That’s a major advantage for older, arthritic joints.

Best of all, ComfortStall doesn’t cost you an arm and a leg in the long run. Cost savings from using less shavings, less labor and less muck heap disposal pay back the purchase price in 6-12 months, after which the savings are all yours.

When it comes to senior horse health management, the legs have it with ComfortStall.

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