Massage is the manipulation, planned pressure, friction and kneading of the muscles. It’s a non-invasive technique used to enhance equine performance and reduce the risk of injury. It stimulates the nervous system and muscle tone, increases flexibility, improves blood flow to help eliminate lactic acid and toxins, encourages balance and relaxes muscles to promote body ease and emotional well-being.

If you horse has shown signs like kicking, bucking, resisting leads, attitude problems, head tossing, difficult lateral bending or a lack of enthusiasm he may benefit from massage. Many riding disciplines and everyday life can create tension in the muscles. Weakness, excessive use, poor conformation, injury, muscle compensation, putting horses up before they’re properly cooled and placing too many demands on the body before a sufficient warm up can lead to strain and injury.

At today’s meeting I will be demonstrating and then helping 4-Hers practice some basic stretches with horses that help maintain flexibility in muscles, ligaments and tendons. I will also introduce them to some basic massage techniques that they can do with their own horses to help promote well-being and improve their bond. Deep body work and therapeutic massage should only be done by trained professionals and under the guidance of a veterinarian and thus will not be covered today.

I learned sports massage therapy and pressure point therapy by attending a certification school in Colorado and then apprenticed in a top hunter/jumper barn.  While in Australia I worked extensively on race thoroughbreds and our schooling horses while working on my equine science degree. One of my favorite clients was the 1999 Australian horse of the year. As a jumper he often exhibited soreness in his neck and shoulders and would often enjoy his massage so much he'd fall asleep (and nearly over!).

Here are some nutrients found in food and sometimes supplemented that have an affect on joints:

Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are shown to have an anti-inflammatory effect while omega-6 fatty acids have been linked to cartilage lesions and are ‘pro-inflammatory,’ Cetyl-myristoleate is a break down of an omega-5 fatty acid and has been shown to be effective in reducing arthritis pain and improving mobility in rats, mice and humans. That’s good news for horses. Flax and pasture are good places to find omega-3’s; stay away from corn oil as it’s high in omega-6’s.

Glucosamine is an amino sugar, which means it’s a building block for cartilage. Long –term studies in humans show that glucosamine supplementation slows osteoarthritis. Horse studies have shown that glucosamine reduces the destructive effects of some enzymes and metabolites that are breaking down tissues and causing inflammation. Currently, Glucosamine 2KCl is the only form of glucosamine shown to be small enough in molecular size to be effective in the equine body – so read the ingredients carefully. Not all ‘glucosamines’ are created equal.

MSM (Methylsulfonylmethane)
MSM is said to have anti-inflammatory effects and is often considered a good form of sulfur for the body. Cartilage with arthritis has 1/3 the level of sulfur that healthy cartilage has so MSM may help keep sulfur in the cartilage. Recently there have been some antioxidant properties shown with MSM as well.

Hyaluronic Acid
Hyaluronic acid is a main part of the synovial fluid that nourishes and lubricates the synovial joint. It is effective in reducing joint inflammation.

ASU (Avocado/Soy Unsaponifiables)
Studies show that horses eating ASU supplements create more cartilage builders and have less breakdown of cartilage.

In the previous post we talked a bit about oxidative damage and antioxidants. Antioxidants such as vitamin C and E are crucial for the development of cartilage but may also protect against breakdown of cartilage associated with oxidants.

Put it all together and some good advice is to reduce feeds that have an imbalance of omega-3 and omega-6 acids such as grains and corn oil. Provide more omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants by increasing your horse’s intake of forage and pasture grazing. Supplement with omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, antioxidants and trace minerals daily to protect the joint against inflammation and oxidative stress. Most horse's current environments are a lot different then what their body's were designed for.
     If your horse has existing joint problems or works very hard, consider adding nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, glucosamine, hyaluronic acid, MSM and ASU to his diet through supplmements. In Alaska, where our horses can’t be out on pasture for much of the year, they’re not getting enough antioxidants in their diet. We also live in a selenium deficient soil area (selenium is another antioxidant and required for life). And if you’re near horsetail…better consider the benefits of adding B1 and other B vitamins..but that’s another story.
Bottom line: aren't you glad we learned about the digestive system so all this talk about joints and bones makes a little more sense?
1.     Chronic Inflammation

Inflammation is a response of the immune system trying to protect part of the body and generally trying to remove something unwanted. Sometimes an injury or overworking a joint can lead to inflammation (swelling, heat) but chronic inflammation means a joint is often swelled up. You may or may not be able to see the swelling because it may be inside the joint capsule. Arthritis and unhealed injuries generally cause this.

2.     Injury or overuse

Joints can be strained during exercise (riding or playing in the paddock). Some activities are more stressful than others on joints; think jumping, cutting cows, tight turns, etc. Too much of these things can be very rough on the joints. So can being overweight – another reason to keep an eye on your horse’s body condition score.

3.     Natural aging process

Degeneration naturally occurs with age. We see this in all animals and people. Our bodies break down with time and normal use even though they’re pretty amazing at rebuilding themselves. Healthy nutrition, physical fitness, and overall care certainly make us all age better.

4.     Free radical damage

Free radicals are formed when weak bonds split. They are ‘loose’ parts of molecules. In terms of the body, think of an oxygen molecule being used in a muscle cell. It breaks down and suddenly you have part of that molecule running around, without supervision, trying to cause problems. Enter in antioxidants, who give up one of their electrons to the free radical, essentially taming it. If you have more of a background in this stuff, you’re probably chuckling at this overly simplified and dramatic example of free radicals, but it’s a quick example for someone not well versed in chemistry and biology. These free radicals cause a degenerative effect on the joint, especially the synovial fluid.

5.     Degradative enzyme activity

Cartilage degredation can be caused by certain enzymes in the joint. That is to say, some enzymes can get in there and eat away at the cartilage.

Okay, so now we know the top 5 things that cause problems in the joints. How do we prevent or treat these things? We’ll look at that next…

This 3-part series will introduce to you what joints are, a common cause of joint disorders and the most common components of nutritional or supplemental joint care.

We can all agree that our horses are amazing. But prepared to learn even more about your equine friend that will surprise you! The equine skeleton is made up of more than 200 bones that are all connected with tissues such as tendons, ligaments and cartilage. Where two bones meet is a called a joint.

The most common type of joint in the horse’s body is the synovial joint. A synovial joint has a capsule that surrounds it and has a lubricating synovial fluid inside.  They are freely moveable. Examples of synovial joints are ball and socket joints (like the hip), hinge joints (like the elbow), and gliding joints (like the knee and hock).
The highly specialized tissues, including cartilage, of these joints perform two main functions: enable movement and transfer load from one bone to another.

Did you know that joint problems are the leading cause of lameness and loss of function in athletic horses? Joints may become damaged by abnormal forces acting on the cartilage (or normal forces acting on abnormal cartilage). Horses can also get infections in various parts of the joint. We can help keep our horse's sound and comfortable by providing good nutrition, exercise, and proper care when 'things happen.'

Next post we’ll cover some of the contributors to joint disorders like injury, natural aging, inflammation & more…

4-Fun Facts 4-Hers:
• Horses have more than 200 bones
• Where two bones meet is called a joint
• Synovial joints are the most common joint in the horse's body
• Joint problems occur with damage and infection
The Best Hay Is Clean Hay
"Without a doubt the best hay for horses is clean hay. Hay
that is moldy or dusty should not be fed to horses, even when
the amount of mold or dust appears to be minor. Any hay (alfalfa,
timothy, clover, fescue) that contains dust or mold can
inflame the respiratory tract and impair breathing ability. Many
horses develop permanent lung damage after consuming moldy
or dusty hay. This chronic lung damage, commonly referred to
as heaves, affects the horse’s ability to breathe normally during
exercise. In severe cases heaves impairs the horse’s ability to
breathe normally at rest. Once a horse has been sensitized to
hay dust, mold, or pollen, it may react even when clean hay is
fed. Mold can have other detrimental effects on the horse as
well, such as causing digestive upsets". ---University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service 
Download the full 4 page article to learn about nutrients in hay, choosing hay, feeding round bales and more.

File Size: 327 kb
File Type: pdf
Download File

At our meeting yesterday we learned about the digestive system and nutrition. One of the stations we studied was the ideal body condition score for your horse. I challenged 4-Hers (and parents) to go home and see how your horse(s) fairs on the body condition score chart. If you're horse is a little light going into winter, here are some general tips for helping him/her to gain weight.

Before increasing calories (the only way to add weight), do a health check.
How are your horse's teeth? We will learn more about teeth in January, but until then, you should have an experienced horse person (preferably your vet or an equine dentist) check to see that the horse's teeth don't have any hooks and that they're wearing flat. If the teeth aren't wearing correctly your horse can't chew their food well, which is the first step of digestion! If you ever see balls of hay built up on the sides of their mouth or they drop a lot of their food they really need to be checked. Remember that the better they digest, the more they get from that expensive feed you give them...
Do they have parasites? All horses do, but if they get out of control, the worms can eat more than their share and cause health problems. Check into a dewormer program or send in a sample to be tested.
Are they deficient in any vitamins/minerals? If you're noticing something like long hair or odd behavior in combination with being thin, talk to your vet and have them test your horse's blood to ensure they aren't missing any vital nutrients.
If all systems are a go, here are some recommendations for adding weight:
1) Add another meal of hay to your horse's ration or feed it free choice.
Start with the basics and add hay first rather than concentrates. We learned about their small stomachs, so feeding small amounts more frequently can help. Another option is adding in a meal of beet pulp (or adding it to your current grain ration). Adding in a complete feed (a feed that has hay built in) as an additional meal can add quite a few calories. Senior feeds are generally safe to feed to horses that are 4 years or older and they're often created to be easily chewed and digested.
2) Switch to a higher calorie feed.
Try to find a feed that will provide the most calories. COB doesn't have near as much fat (and isn't as balanced nutritionally) as a commercial grain ration or complete feed. Feeds that provide calories from fat are safer than those that have calories from sugars, so be sure to read those labels!
3) Add oil or a fat supplement to the existing ration.
Corn and other vegetables add calories from fat to your horse's diet. Pelleted fat supplements are also available.

Make sure that you always adjust your horse's feed slowly, over 7-10 days, gradually increasing the amounts.

It can be a challenge to maintain a horse's weight, let alone help them gain. Take pictures or use a weight tape to help you determine if they're gaining weight because they can often hide those extra pounds on their big bodies. If you have questions, you can post them here or email me at

Nice to see so many 4Hers from around the Peninsula at the fair this weekend. Hope you guys are getting good ideas for next year! It was fun to visit with Tisha and Myah during the rodeo.
Congratulations to our new leadership superstars! Tisha, Jazzy, Claire, Katrina and Brittney will be a fantastic board of officers for the phantom riders!
QUESTION relating to our July meeting about parts of the horse & conformation:
Why do the first 2 cervical vertebrae on a horse have a different name? Do they move differently?

Lindsey's answer: The first two cervical vertebrae, the atlas (also C-1) is the very top and sits on the axis (also C-2), work together to allow movement. Then the others are labeled or named C-3 through 7. They're larger to help with the size of the head and allow nodding type movement. When a horse is 'flexing at the poll' they're actually using these two vertebrae. So if there's a misalignment it can be painful for the horse.

Works the same in people and the same in dogs, etc. Same names, too. In fact, the two vertebrae are the same for all mammals (I think all, same for all I'm familiar with). There are seven cervical vertebrae in all mammals except manatees who have 6 and sloths who have an extra. The only thing that changes is the size of the vertebrae - think cat versus horse, same number but huge size difference!


    Lindsey Blaine is the leader of the Phantom Riders 4-H Club and has a master's degree in education and a bachelor's degree in biological science with emphasis in equine science. She trains horses and instructs riders in all-around disciplines and volunteers with multiple organizations. Her goal is to share years of knowledge and experience with others. Have a question about your project, from a meeting or in general? Ask!


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