Early Age Exercise in Horses

This study showed that there is a net benefit to joints with early exercise.

Research showed that there is a net benefit to joints with early exercise. iStock/KentWeakley

Many horse owners tend to coddle their young horses to keep them safe and uninjured. However, this is likely counterproductive to proper bone and joint development. 

The Colorado State Orthopaedic Research Center’s Chris Kawcak, DVM, PhD, DACVS, and Wayne McIlwraith, BVSc, PhD, Dipl. ACVS, ACVSMR, collaborated with Elwyn Firth, BVSc, MSc, PhD, DACVS, DSc, at Massey University in New Zealand to examine the effects of exercise on young bone and joints [Kawcak, C.E.; McIwraith, C.W.; Firth, E. Effects of early exercise on metacarpophalangeal joints in horses. Am Vet J Res 2010; 71: 405-411].

The study looked at six youngsters that were conditioned from birth until 18 months of age and compared them to six youngsters only given pasture turnout. Using computed tomography and histology of the metacarpophalangeal joints, the researchers discovered that the foals “exercised since near birth had fewer gross lesions in the joints, greater bone fraction in the dorsolateral aspect of the condyle, and higher bone formation rate compared to non-exercised horses.” 

However, they also point out that the cartilage matrix stained less in the dorsal condyles of exercised youngsters compared to the controls. The reason for that is unspecified; however, the conclusion is that there is a net benefit to joints with early exercise.

While this study is not recent, it is important information for practitioners to have on hand to help educate clients about the benefits of promoting exercise in young, growing foals as one method of developing strong joints.

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