Prolonging the career of a working horse

A horse who spends a lot of time working is more susceptible to joint issues and injuries. Keep these factors in mind to help promote mobility as she ages, and prolong her career.

A working horse can be classified as any horse involved in labor or athletics. This includes horses that participate in the following activities:

  • Jumping
  • Racing
  • Pulling
  • Trail riding
  • Farm work
  • Long distance riding
  • Reining
  • Barrel racing
  • Driving
  • Eventing
  • Dressage
  • …and many other occupations

These athletic activities put extra strain on the muscles and joints of the horse. The horse’s joints will begin to wear as she continues to work and perform, often leading to discomfort, loss of mobility, and bone-on-bone movement. Unfortunately, the deterioration of the horse’s joints often leads to a shorter career.

Younger horses are physically strong but are immature and lack experience. Older horses are mature and well trained, but their bodies are no longer in peak condition. Although different for each discipline or workload, there is a short window of time where the horse is in peak physical and mental condition. For example, most Dressage horses perform between the ages of 8–10, whereas racing horses tend to start competing and retiring much earlier.

After investing so much time, money, and love into our working horses, it’s understandable that we want to see them stay at the top of their game for as long as possible. So, how do we extend their working lives?

Prevention = preservation

It is much easier to prevent a joint injury than to fix one. By taking the necessary steps to protect your working horse’s joints, you are protecting the investment you have made in that horse.

Below are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to extending your working horse’s career:

1. Balanced diet

A balanced diet is one of the most important factors in extending the career of your horse. Improper nutrition can lead to a range of hoof, joint, skin, and health related issues. For example: excess protein in a horse’s diet can cause inflammation in the joints.

Providing proper nutrition also supports the energy and strength needed to meet extra physical demands. This can make your horse more resilient to injury, help her recover faster after work, and provide essential nutrients for proper health.

2. Pregnancy and birth

Many aspects of your horse’s health can be influenced during pregnancy. This is particularly true in the case of joint and bone health. Fetal development is dependent of the nutrition and health of the mare, so ensuring that the mare is healthy and receiving proper nutrition can help the development of a newborn foal.

On the same note, the health and development of a young foal is a foundation for a healthy adult horse. Improper nutrition and care can negatively affect this development and lead to future problems.

3. Hoof care

A horse cannot perform at her full potential with unhealthy hooves. Horses inflicted with a hoof related issue can experience pain, discomfort, or become lame. Even a small hoof crack can lead to serious issues if left unchecked. Attempting to perform with unhealthy hooves can also lead to injury.

If your horse is inflicted with a hoof related issue that is causing pain, she may begin to distribute her weight to the other hooves for relief. This weight imbalance can weaken the other hooves and apply more pressure to the joints.

Unbalanced hooves can also create future hoof and joint problems for your horse. Balanced hooves evenly distribute the weight of your horse across all four feet. If the hooves become unbalanced, this distribution becomes uneven, and adds extra weight to certain joints. If this uneven distribution continues, joint and hoof problems may follow.

A regular farrier schedule along with daily hoof care, a balanced diet, and hoof supplementation can all help maintain healthy hooves.

4. Supplementation and remedies

Supplementation can be used to help ensure your horse is receiving the nutrients needed to maintain healthy joints, hooves and body condition. Providing a joint formula is especially important for the working horse. Feeding a quality joint formula regularly and early in the horse’s career can help protect the joints from injury as she ages.

When supplementing with a joint formula, it is also important to be mindful of which product you choose. This is especially true if you are feeding a separate hoof supplement. We recommend using a combination hoof and joint formula that not only helps lubricate and reduce inflammation in the joints, but also strengthens the ligaments that support the joints.

5. Proper training

It is important to know the limitations of your horse while training. Don’t push her too hard too fast, and always warm up before going to work. Start out slow and work your way up. Pushing your horse past her limitations can damage the joints and lead to injury. An injury early in your horse’s career can lead to future problems, and an injury late in your horse’s career can end it.

If your horse is injured or begins experiencing joint pain, consult with your veterinarian. Feel free to contact us if you have questions regarding equine health at