Revealed: the Common Equine Arthritis You Won’t Read About in Textbooks

elbow-header2

Sometimes, a person from outside a profession successfully identifies something that has been unnoticed, overlooked or wrongly assessed for a long, long time. Coming from another direction, they see something that has been hidden in plain sight, simply because nobody looked there before.

Take amateur astronomers. They’re particularly well known for rocking the scientific community. In 2009, Australian Anthony Wesley discovered a visible scar left by a comet or meteoroid that had slammed into Jupiter, and we’ve all heard about Mr and Mrs Shoemaker and their neighbor Mr Levy and the comet they discovered in 1993.

Unusually, the astronomy community is able to recognize that while professionals have more technical background to analyze data, amateurs still play an important role in collecting it.

You might think that there’s no new data to be collected about equine pathologies, because every condition that can affect a horse, certainly above the level of microbiology, must already have been charted, mapped, researched and thoroughly understood. But, in the words of the song, it ain’t necessarily so.

Sometimes, all it needs is for someone else to be looking. And if that someone is looking with a rather different set of eyes or from a slightly different direction to the conventional scientific community, some rather remarkable results can come about.

 © All text copyright of the author, Jane Clothier, www.thehorsesback.com. No reproduction of partial or entire text without permission. Sharing the link back to this page is fine. Please contact me for more information. Thank you!

One lady who’s working in the field

If you’re looking for a different set of eyes for equine musculoskeletal pathologies, they don’t come much sharper than those of Sharon May-Davis. Few people have the razor sharp eye she has for a hidden pathology or condition in the horse.

She’s held in high esteem by riders in the sporting fields, because as an equine therapist, she has managed elite equine athletes at State, National and Olympic levels in 7 different disciplines including the recognized FEI ones such as eventing, dressage, showjumping and endurance. This has been accompanied by her extensive experience in the Australian and Japanese racing industries.

Teaching biomechanics, Sept 2013

Sharon, seated, teaching biomechanics, Sept 2013

Sharon is also a biomechanics expert, a university lecturer in equine therapies and anatomy, and – significantly – a practical anatomist.

She has been conducting private equine autopsies for many years – it’s not for nothing that she’s been labeled The Bone Lady and Equine CSI. She also uses these 2-3 day dissection workshops to teach equine professionals and horse owners more about how their horses move and the damage their bodies can incur as a result of breeding, illness, injury or work.

She has been dissecting for personal research for over 20 years and professionally for 14 years. In fact, she now conducts up to 15 professional dissections per year – that’s a total of around 300 dissections so far.

Sharon is the first to state that she isn’t a vet and doesn’t hold a doctorate, but as a practicing equine scientist, researcher and practitioner, she is uniquely placed to provide a source of raw data that is all but unparalleled.

Evidence from the dissection table

Some years ago, Sharon noticed an unusual action in the elbow of horses. She mentioned this to qualified practitioners and was informed that this action was quite normal. Not convinced, she began videoing horses prior to dissection and, within a short period of time, was able to match this action to a change in the elbow.

Humerus, radius and ulna, showing damage to cartilage

Humerus, radius and ulna, showing damage to cartilage

Not to beat around the bush, it’s an unusual form of degeneration in the horse’s elbow joint that involves all three bones. It’s a form of osteoarthritis that strikes the humeroradial joint and the ulna, causing deep and dramatic gouges into the cartilage, and eventually eroding bone.

When the joint is opened up, blood is frequently found in the synovial fluid (haemarthrosis). The fluid also displays decreased viscosity.

This is more than a little bit odd, as arthritis of the elbow is supposed to be rare in the horse.

Yet Sharon has found it to be present in numerous horses that have been euthanized under veterinary supervision for completely unrelated reasons.

Note: that’s not just some horses, but many.

Do you know where the nuchal ligament attaches on the cervical vertebrae? You think so? Evidence from the dissection table might prove you wrong – read more about Sharon’s findings on the nuchal ligament’s lamellar attachments…

This equine arthritis is visible in the living horse

The vital connection from video to dissection has enabled Sharon to indicate the presence of the elbow osteoarthritis in the horses she had been treating as an equine therapist.

It’s easy to spot, being a noticeable jarring in the elbow as the horse moves downhill – a kind of double action – you can see it here. Significantly, it’s what can be termed a gait anomaly, rather than lameness.

(If you can’t see the above video, you can view it here.)

Does it look familiar? It’s very likely that you’ve seen it in horses before and wondered what it was. The fact is that it’s so common, many people think it’s a normal action. It’s not. It’s a form of equine arthritis.

Sharon tells us she has seen the elbow problem in all types, breeds, sizes and ages of horses. Some affected horses have been elite dressage and eventing competitors. Interestingly, the problem is only presenting in ridden and driven horses.

If never worked, horses appear to remain forever free of this particular joint change.

Why the fuss – isn’t this just regular arthritis?

No. Arthritis of the horse’s elbow is considered to be rare in equine veterinary medicine.

How it should look: healthy radius and ulna (unridden horse)

How it should look: healthy radius and ulna (unridden horse)

The key to why it doesn’t often get diagnosed and is considered rare could be the absence of visible lameness. The arthritis identified by Sharon does not cause a distinctive lameness in the horse, although it does bring on a notable gait change, with the double step in the joint’s motion on the downhill.

Riders of such horses often just feel that their horse is a bit ‘off’, feeling a hesitation in the movement, but without being able to define the point of origin.

There are a couple more reasons why it’s not very visible: first, the action of the elbow is highly integrated with the overall shoulder action, and second, the massive triceps muscle has a further stabilizing effect on the joint.

Radius and ulna of ridden horse, showing cartilage wear and blood in joint

Radius and ulna of ridden horse, showing cartilage wear and blood in joint

And even if the elbow is explored, the relatively tight joint space means that degenerative problems are rarely seen in diagnostic imaging, although inflammation can show up in thermographic images.

When, unusually, a problem has been recognized and vets have attempted a corticosteroid injection of the joint (which happens to be the most difficult joint to access), blood has been found to be present.

A closer look at Sharon’s findings

Sharon May-Davis first presented some of her findings into elbow arthritis at a conference in Australia in February 2013: the Bowker Lectures at the Australian College of Equine Podiatherapy. Presenting alongside Prof Robert Bowker and Dr Bruce Nock amongst others, she discussed the club foot in the horse, and noted how the elbow degeneration she observes on the dissection table is always worse in the forelimb with the more upright hoof.

 

If the condition is bilaterally present, it unfortunately appears worse on the side with the slightly upright or higher hoof. What’s more, and according to Sharon, this also applies to the limb where an inferior check ligament desmotomy (surgery undertaken with the aim of correcting an upright hoof) has taken place and the ligament has later reconnected.

She has, as already mentioned, since established that it can occur in any ridden or driven horse. Here, she describes the problem in her own words.

“The action looks like a slip and or clunk into the shoulder or a shudder or a sliding / slipping action. It depends upon your perspective. The actual change in the action begins when the foreleg is in the ‘Stance Phase’ during the stride as the limb goes into the posterior phase of the stride. It is more obvious going down a hill.

“So far, 100% of ridden horses exhibit this condition to a varying degree (under dissection). Horses not ridden and with no abnormalities do not exhibit this condition (under dissection). Horses in harness also exhibit this condition.

“What does the joint look like? There appears under dissection to be substantial degradation in the cartilage of the humerus, radius and ulna.

“Most horses appear to handle this condition and continue with a normal life if not pushed to extremes. Although this sounds career-ending, in fact it is not. Once the horse gets through the worst of the wear pattern they re-settle in the joint and continue on with work.

“High level competitors require joint support to help sustain the elbow and other joints that may compensate for the change in action.

“Horses that jump are more inclined to land with straighter forelimbs. Be mindful that jumping and downhill work could possibly make the condition worse.

“Riders often feel instability in the horse’s forelimbs when traveling downhill and some even question the horse’s proprioception.

“Bodyworkers massaging the triceps (particularly the lateral triceps) actually exacerbate the condition as the massage releases the cast-like formation that this muscle provides.”

 

More research is needed, but so is support

Humerus and radial bones of ex-racehorse, showing arthritic wear

Humerus and radial bones showing arthritic wear

Despite finding and documenting a huge number of dissection cases involving this particular issue, all unaided and unfunded by outside bodies, Sharon has consistently met with brick walls and skeptical responses when she has put the information forward to relevant authorities.

Why? It’s not as if she’s new to this. She has previously identified congenital malformations in the caudal cervical vertebrae of thoroughbreds, and in the atlas of Spanish Mustangs, as well as asymmetries in the femur structures of racehorses due to racing (published in the Australian Veterinary Journal).

She isn’t looking for funding (although she obviously wouldn’t say no), but would like to have this research taken up for the benefit of all ridden and driven horses. The sooner the problem is recognized and investigated, the sooner that episodic pain in the horse can be recognized, with appropriate joint support or rest given where appropriate.

And the sooner we can all learn more in our great drive towards improved equine health, the better. As Sharon says,

“In truth, we are still in the dark. Seeing it is one thing, analyzing it and providing a preventative program is something totally different.”

 


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Two more cases (added January 2014)

Case 1: Thoroughbred gelding

Raced, then showjumped to ‘B’ grade, before being ridden as a trail horse. Euthanized at 14 years due to ongoing colic issues. Here is a video of this TB, filmed in 2011:

 

Here are images from the dissection table:

TB gelding radius and ulna, showing wear and blood spot.

TB gelding radius and ulna, showing wear and blood spot.

 

TB distal humerus, showing significant wear to cartilage.

TB distal humerus, showing significant wear to cartilage.

 

Read more about ex-racehorses and their prevailing physical problems here.

 

Case 2: Warmblood gelding

Showjumped up to 10 years. Competed in dressage from 11 years. Retired from riding at around 20 years due to unresolved lameness.

Here is a video of this horse, showing severe elbow degeneration (as well as other pathologies):

 

 

And here are images from the dissection table. Note the bruised and bloody cartilage of the radius, ulna and humerus. Also, the droplets of synovial fluid are discolored, being a very unhealthy reddish brown.

 

WB: cartilage wear evident in the radius and ulna.

WB: cartilage wear evident in the radius and ulna.

 

WB humerus showing significant wear.

WB humerus showing significant wear.

 

WB humerus showing wear - note spots of synovial fluid showing brown discoloration.

WB humerus showing wear – note spots of synovial fluid showing brown discoloration.

More Information

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Sharon May-Davis, B. App. Sc. (Equine), M. App. Sc. (Ag and Rural), ACHM, EBW, EMR was the Equine Therapist for the Modern Pentathlon Horses and the Australian Reining Team at the Sydney 2000 Olympics. She has worked with the Australian Champion from seven differing disciplines and has a particular interest in researching the musculoskeletal system. She also conducts clinics and seminars in relation to her work and regularly presents in the Northern and Southern hemisphere.

You can learn about Sharon’s work and approach in this interview: Skeletons from the Bone Lady’s Closet.

Meanwhile, Sharon is answering questions in the comments section, below. Discussion is positively welcomed, so please feel free to ask questions or share experiences. Sharon will drop in to answer them if you do.

 

 © All text copyright of the author, Jane Clothier, www.thehorsesback.com. No reproduction of partial or entire text without permission. Sharing the link back to this page is fine. Please contact jane@thehorsesback.com for more information. Thank you!

 

 

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Bodywork for Horses, Australia

Comments

  1. Thanks Jane for sharing Sharon’s work!

    I participated in a dissection this past spring and saw the same thing in an elbow. There was also problems in the knee of this particular mare. I am much newer to the whole horse anatomy, so did not realize what I was seeing. Those of us working on the horse did notice the extreme pitting in the cartilage and bloody fluid.

    I did not see her while she was alive so cannot comment on the abnormal gait, but feel sure it was there.

    Thank you again for making me aware of the amazing work that Sharon is doing. It is very important!

    Paige Poss

    • No problem, Paige! The more we share, the more we all learn. Sharon’s work is so important, but while she’s devoted to teaching classes of equine professionals and horse owners, she finds herself too busy to do what others have done and build a promotional website for herself. But her findings need to be out there!

  2. I’ve not got a question . All I want to say is that this is brilliant Jane – thank you for the article and sharing. Interesting what is revealed on a different surface (i.e. a slope). Maybe vets could incorporate this into their lameness examinations? I have shared ‘cos it is so good & all credit to Sharon May-Davis . 🙂

  3. Carole Boegli says:

    Thank you for sharing all that knowledge , I used to ride in endurance rides with many km training and your post really shook me. What is there a rider can do to avoid this sort of injury beside not riding anymore? Would jump off downhill be enough? Thank you very much for your feedback, Carole

    • Sharon May-Davis says:

      Hi Carole – I will answer your question shortly…

      Once again Jane, thank you for this opportunity to post some of my findings and being so supportive. It takes a long time to publish scientific literature and in the mean time, people go unaware, horses suffer and then in most cases, riders, owners and trainers aren’t made aware of this condition because of where the research is published.

      On another note, I just want to supply a brief intro to some literature where it is believed by noted authors that these wear patterns are synovial fossas within the joint so to store a pocket of synovial fluid for joint hydraulics.

      Here is were one problem exists with that thought – this so called pocket does not exist in stillborn foals or horses not ridden or driven in harness. So cannot correlate that information. However, when a horse has just been started under saddle by 2-3 months, you can see under dissection these wear patterns at the very beginning of the cartilage change. Meaning that these are quite small in size and quite insignificant when compared to a horse that has been under saddle for a number of years >5 years.

      So this raises the question – why would this structure (synovial fossa) enlarge in size to not only obliterate the cartilage, but also create bony changes underneath the cartilage that leave a dramatic imprint on the bone whereby the bone has jagged edges?

      A second point – why then do these so called synovial fossas not exist in other joints? (Just by comparison of the forelimb joints, vets at my dissections are shocked by the comparative changes of the humerus, radius and ulna in relation to other joints.)

      Only just recently a vet blocked the elbow due to this work and noted a significant improvement in the horse’s forelimb action and to boot (pardon the pun) noted that the horse had blood in the synovial fluid!

      Ok, before I rattle on too much further (because I certainly can), I must answer Carole’s question;-

      Carole you are absolutely right to get off your horse when travelling down hill as this will help him/her stabilise this joint without your weight. Plus it is safer for you.

      Some people have noted that their horses feel unstable when riding down a hill and one endurance vet said to me that his horse grunted when going down a hill and yes, felt unstable. He certainly is viewing this a lot more seriously now.

      Unfortunately though Carole, this only helps and does not mean that the condition will not occur if only ridden on he flat. It appears in all types of performance horses and I just dissected a New Forest Pony (17 yr old) in Holland and her elbows had the same wear patterns and the cartilage was a chalky yellow that could be scraped off with a blunt instrument like a flakey cheese.

      So what can you do when a horse has this issue? Just this week a terrific farrier and myself biomechanically filmed (400 frames per second) a low heeled long toed Thoroughbred in varying hoof positions and shapes to explore how hoof angles might benefit the affected horse. Here are a few of the most positive aspects of that work:-
      1. The TB was worse with a long toe low heel.
      2. Worse with a reverse wedge that placed more strain on the deep digital flexor.
      3. Noted improvement when the toe was shortened.
      4. Significant improvement with a shortened toe and a raised heel (heel raised to place the pastern/hoof axis into a normal angle).

      I would hazard an educated guess that horses require a strong supportive heel with some depth (not upright) and a short toe to aid this condition and be trimmed every 2-3 weeks. However, this cannot be so for shod horses, so I would suggest boots or re-shoeing every 4-5 weeks.

      One 4yo dressage horse who recently displayed these elbow problems improved dramatically with heel angles (I am not promoting wedges as this is a short term solution) and shortened toes to the point where the dressage scores improved between 6-10%. However, we did at the same time implement joint products to counteract the cartilage already changing. So a joint (pardon another pun) venture in counteracting the problem.

      Carole of all the disciplines available to equestrians, you are in the one that has the longest hours in the saddle! Although, I must admit the best managed FEI discipline in relation to equine management, care and welfare, but trot outs are on the flat and you cannot see the change, hence I would suggest that between legs (this means vet checked at specific distances in endurance for non endurance riders reading this), you massage the lateral triceps and apply a cooling gel via massage techniques around the elbow.

      If in Australia, I have used Magaret Thomas’s Pink Goop from South Australia as my cooling massage gel. Awesome stuff!

      • Laura Masterton says:

        Hi Sharon. Can you please tell me which joint support products you have found to help? I’m assuming you mean a powdered joint supplement added to the feed?

        Thanks in advance,
        Laura.

        • Laura, just waiting to hear back from Sharon, who is currently on the road between workshops.

          • Sharon May-Davis says:

            At this point Laura, I would suggest products that offer Hyaluronic Acid, Chondroitin Sulphate 4 and Glucosamine. In particular, the Chondroitin must be what’s referred to as low molecular weight to obtain the efficacy into the joint – according to Prof. McIllwraith from Colorado Uni. Furthermore, MSM (Methyl Sulfonyl Methane) is a natural anti-inflammatory that could be of some assistance.

            Recommended S4’s come in the form of Pentosan, Cartrophen and Arthropen – all Intramuscular injections that are chondro-protective.

            But foremost, keep the toes short, the hoof-pastern axis in a normal range and don’t allow the heel to elongate as this places pressure on he Deep digital flexor and its origin attachment on the medial epicondyle of the humerus – right beside the elbow joint!

      • I’m confused by Sharon’s recommendation to Carole to massage the lateral triceps. Earlier in the article Sharon comments that massaging the lateral triceps actually exacerbates the condition because it releases the cast-like formation this muscle provides. Clarification please.

        • Sharon May-Davis says:

          Hi Sara,

          Sorry for the confusion. The reference to Carole is meant for in between endurance legs (every 40 klms or so) and should have read to gently massage the lateral triceps with a cooling gel.

          The idea is to not allow the affected area to overheat and this particular cooling gel I recommended has been used with substantial success in removing inflammation around joints and in muscles during endurance events.

          If we overheat the lateral tricep and it becomes painful during an event, the vet inspection every 40klms or so, may pick up a painful response when checking muscle tone (from memory there are about 12 parameters that must be met to satisfy the vet, so that he/she can deem the horse fit to continue).

          Only a couple of weeks ago a horse was very sensitive to palpation in this area and he was very defensive (he lives in a hill paddock). So I gently massaged this gel into the area to relieve his discomfort.

          Perhaps I could have explained this more clearly that you gently massage the gel into the area without deep techniques. I suppose it could even be likened to a gentle rubbing / application technique.

          Sorry for the confusion and I hope this clarifies your question.

          Cheers
          Sharon

      • Carole Boegli says:

        Thank you very much for your detailed answer 🙂
        One more question, if one waites till the horse is around 5 yrs old to get started under saddle and rides only lightly ( once or twice a week light work and good warm up) would that prevent the injury to happen?
        Thank you again 🙂

  4. Courtney Bolitho says:

    Thank you for this wonderful write up of what Sharon has shared at her clinics. Having this article on the internet allowed me to share it with my vet, who reported to me just this week that he believes he picked up on an elbow lameness recently. He admitted he probably wouldn’t have considered it had it not been for this article.

  5. Lisa Powell says:

    Hi, read this article with interest, I have a 14.2 gelding with hock spavin, however noticed what people would often refer to as a bridle lameness in trot on one diagonal, its rectified by a simple diagonal change regardless of what rein you are on and also happens when riding in a straight line. He doesn’t move as freely with his shoulder on the right foreleg, this being the leg we believe responsible for the head nod in trot,
    Back and saddle all checked multiple times, so we are at a loss at this stage, its a very mild lameness/gait abnormality which isn’t there 100% of the time. Therefore the reason for this post is to query if a shoulder issue as in this article can show a ‘bridle lameness’ as this only happens with a rider present on one trot diagonal whilst being worked correctly , I.e ‘on the bit’…
    Any ideas / help would be appreciated , thankyou in advance

    • Sharon May-Davis says:

      Hi Lisa,

      Just need to clarify a couple of points, if you don’t mind;

      When you refer to hock spavin do you mean a – bone or bog spavin and in which hock?
      Regarding diagonal lameness at the trot, which diagonal and direction, and is it there when you sit trot?
      How old is your gelding and when did you start riding him?
      Does he have a club or upright forefoot and if so which one?

      There are so many aspects of “bridle lameness” that we need to eliminate first, just in case there a some other possibilities that could be the causative factors. For example; one upright forefoot creates an imbalance in the knees, elbows and shoulders to name a few joints; a hock issue can create an extra load in its diagonal partner especially in trot and this will create a biomechanical imbalance.

      Plus when a horse is on the bit, he must be engaged correctly from behind with an even bilateral drive so that self carriage can be achieved. If the hock is an issue, then it is likely the diagonal forelimb could be compensating.

      I look forward to your answers.

      • Lisa Powell says:

        Hi Sharon,

        I lost the link to this website, so apologies for the very delayed reply..!

        Thanks for your reply, am very very despondent about it all.

        Bone spavin in his off side hock, the lameness occurs when I sit during trot when near fore/off side rear and stepping under, so the ‘right rein diagonal’.. Albeit this happens in a straight line, simple change of diagonal eliminates the head nod. The pony doesn’t back off when I’m riding on the ‘bad’ diagonal, trots as normal…
        I have tried sitting to the trot and it’s there every other stride in a straight line whilst on a hack, it’s the same degree of head nod on a hard surface when hacking and in a ménage.
        He’s on bute now twice daily, lameness still there, I believe it’s mechanical. A chiropractor believes there is a sternum issue as it had moved, but then there has been reference to suspendsory ligament issues by vet? We are trying the mctimony route to start, then will consider scans & X-rays. The pony is 18, and I’ve owned him 12 years, and part of this he looks marvellous, moves fantastically for a pony of his age apart from the headnod in trot on the one diagonal 🙁

        Thanks again

        Lisa

  6. Deborah Norris says:

    Thanks for posting this article, it’s really interesting. I’m sure I’ve seen that sort of action in the elbow, so really interesting to know what’s behind it.

    May I ask is this change seen in horses that have never been shod… frequently any ridden our driven horse has either been shod its entire working life, or through a high portion of that working life. Another way to ask the question may be is it seen in horses that are shod did but not ridden/driven? Unsure if people would shoe a horse not in work so that may be difficult to know… or is the absence of the condition in a horse never worked or driven because it wouldn’t have been shod. Wondering if there is a contributory action when the natural shock absorption of the hoof mechanism is removed through either shoeing or poor foot maintenance.

    Have you ever had a horse dissection that was started later (ie more skeletally mature, say at least 6 years old?). We tend to start a house working life when they are still immature within their frame, is this likely to contribute to this condition?

    Kindest regards
    Deborah

    • Deborah that last question is also one I would like to see an answer to.

    • Sharon May-Davis says:

      Hi Deborah,

      Hmmm…… good questions.

      I have seen the elbow condition twice in unbroken and unshod horses on the table.

      The first was in a severe 2 year old wobbler Thoroughbred colt with displaced growth plates in the humeri and scapular. In fact, he had severe joint changes systemically and avascular necrosis (dead bone) in the 4th cervical vertebra. His musculature indicated that anabolic steroids may have been in use due to the bilateral hypertrophy in multiple muscle groups that failed logic with this condition. However, in my honest opinion, the people involved would only be trying to strengthen him for stability when he moved, because he was so ataxic that it was virtually unbearable to watch the video.

      The second was a six year old Quarab mare that had 2 abnormal / deformed humeri and scapulars, and in fact, had one severe upright foot for no apparent reason from 6 weeks of age. In the forelimbs, all joints had abnormal wear patterns with some to the bone e.g. knee and shoulder joint. A radiologist at the dissection likened this mare’s shoulder bones to those in human’s with constant shoulder subluxation, referring to her abnormally flattened humeral heads and shallow glenoid cavities of the scapulars as being representational in humans. This particular mare moved with a strange shoulder action on the flat (separate to elbow instability) and this was acknowledged by the radiologist and veterinarian as abnormal.

      These are the only 2 horses in my research that I believe may meet the criteria in the question you ask.

      With this in mind, I also exclude those horses with severe abnormalities of the 6th and 7th cervical vertebrae as found in Thoroughbreds and Thoroughbred derivatives. This research is for another time.

      However, one 14 year old Morgan mare who was never shod or ridden and had one club foot due to a laminitic episode 2 years previously was fine in both elbows.

      The condition begins to appear within a few months of being ridden due to the youngsters (<3) I have had on the table, but in one case, the endurance horse was started later (5+) and he had the elbows worn to the bone as per his skeleton, he was not dissected, but the boney imprints of the wear patterns in both humeri, radii and ulnas, matched those I have I have dissected.

      So I am inclined to believe that it will occur in young and old, as long as they are ridden or driven.

      Cheers
      Sharon

  7. Antonio Palacio says:

    Dear Sharon, From all the horses you have seen with elbow arthritis, have you checked their teeth? Specially in the riden ones? I am not a vet, but fortuately I was able to learn Neural Therapy and in that technik, arthritis is a form of bacteria that enters through a damage tooth and goes to the joint. Treating the tooth sometimes reverse the problem. I have not had any horse case as I only treat my horses and some friends, but i had a case with my dog, a mare Rothweiller. To do it short look at Dr Robert Kidd from Canada and his book about Neural Therapy. He apply it in humans, but it can be done on animals.
    Kind regards,

    Antonio

    • Sharon May-Davis says:

      Hi Antonio,

      Interesting point.

      As I had not heard of this technique until you mentioned it, I read a simplistic overview so that I may understand your question.

      I understand Dr. Robert Kidd’s theory behind the body’s electrical system and disturbances of this system creating an interference, plus the discussion of tooth infections leading to numerous issues, but he referred to it as potentially leading to Rheumatoid arthritis and this is a autoimmune disease.

      I may have missed something in the readings and please correct me if I have made a mistake as it is not my field.

      However, when we talk about Rheumatoid arthritis in horses, it is a new field and I have dissected one mare we suspected with this condition. She had decent teeth, she was unbroken and unshod with clean elbows, but every synovium in the joints exhibited inflammation. Furthermore, she displayed a number of other relevant features related to this condition.

      So with regard to your question, I don’t believe that I can through any further light unto the subject.

      Thank you for your interest and all the best.

      Cheers
      Sharon

  8. Hi Sharon.
    First did you ever teach at Grafton Technical College,I have a strong feeling you may have been one of my teachers there. Anyway, hi thank you for sharing your expertise.
    This is a very interesting article I have started treating a horse that has been diagnosed with slight arthritis in the elbow, I have started doing equisssage and will also be doing some acupuncture also. Have you had much to do with equissage or acupuncture, they are both very helpful with arthritis.

    Kind Regards
    Jen

    • Sharon May-Davis says:

      Hi Jen,

      Wow – now that conjures up some old memories! Thanks for touching base.

      I taught upon request at Grafton Technical College from 1996 – 1999 and it’s great to see that you are still involved with horses.

      As for our question, I have had some experience with both Equissage and Acupuncture and found them both very useful in certain circumstances.

      At this point, I could not identify if a horse in the study has had this type of treatment except for one, who had his back Equissaged regularly.

      He is still alive and the vet aspirated blood from his elbow joint recently.

      I fear that once the cartilage degradation has begun, it never resolves. For the last 4 years I watched this eventer (above horse) progressively get worse, even though he was managed constantly with anything that would keep him sound, as he was extremely talented. In my opinion, his elbows were already damaged from his first race track preparation.

      There are people out there trying different products and techniques who are reporting back with anecdotal information, but at this point in time, we don’t have substantial numbers.

      Once again Jen, thanks for touching base and all the best.

      Cheers
      Sharon

      • Hi Sharon,
        It is great to touch base with you, you we’re a great inspiration for me, all those years ago, and gave me confidence to continue my study.
        Horses have always been part of my life, my passion is horses and dogs and to be able to treat as natural as possible. I have had some wonderful results using equissage and acupuncture and I am really enjoying being able to help and heal many ailments naturally. I am about to start treating a mare that has a slight arthritis in the elbow, so I will be doing equisssage, acupressure and acupuncture and I have ordered some pink goop from Margaret so I will give that a go. I will let you know how I get on. Thank you for all your amazing research and for sharing your knowledge.
        Hope you have had a lovely Christmas with family. Enjoy 2014 the year of the Horse.
        Thank you for getting in contact with me I was very excited when I read that it was you. Look forward to reading more of your articles.

        Cheers
        Jen

  9. Hi Sharon, So if one would stop riding a horse would the elbows start to heal and repair the damage caused from riding?

    • Sharon May-Davis says:

      Hi Joni,

      I have seen a number of horses on the table that were retired and the only change to the wear pattern was less inflammation.

      However, for some reason many of the horses still retained blood in the synovial fluid.

      For example; this year Jane hosted a dissection clinic and an 18 year old Thoroughbred mare was our teacher. She had one race preparation at about 3 years of age, and one race whereby she irrevocably damaged her hind Long digital extensor tendon.

      Both elbows exhibited the same wear pattern, but to a lesser degree, the cartilage degradation did not appear as deep, the synovial fluid was healthy in appearance, and no redness of cartilage was apparent. So in effect, she had not been ridden for 15 years, although she delivered a number of viable foals and lived a comfortable life until the hind limb became too much to bear.

      So in answer to your question, I don’t believe at his point in time the cartilage does repair, but that does not mean that it can’t if given the right materials and methods to work with.

      All this means Joni is that we need more research!

      Cheers
      Sharon

  10. Christine Sander says:

    Hi, so thankful for your research and report… even if discouraging… here we love our horses and seemingly without solution do damage them… Is there any advice you can give… in addition to short toes and stable heels… What about posture…? Would a more upright posture with an open poll (i.e. nose clearly before the vertical…) help…?

    • Sharon May-Davis says:

      Hi Christine,

      As we are still unaware of the causative factors, we are still in the dark on how to prevent it.

      I wish I had an answer/s for you, but the truth is I have seen this in a large number of saddle horses from western, racing, dressage, jumping and pleasure to the driven standardbred and hackney, and that is just on the table.

      My brain is agog as to what could be the causative factors – girths, saddles, the excessive pressure in the forelimb upon landing, forward vectors in motion, cavitation in synovial fluid ( a vet friend talked about this), shoes, hoof/pastern angles or have we weakened a supportive system through selective breeding post domestication?

      This week alone, 2 students have contacted me with worrying discussions and both were identical, this is what they had to say, ” their greatest concern is that now they are aware of it, they see it everywhere and have no answers for their clients”.

      And I am the same.

      However, this discussion thanks to Jane, puts it on the map and the more people become aware of the problem, the more chance we have a putting pressure in the right places to sort out the causative issues.

      In some ways all I am is the messenger.

      Cheers
      Sharon

  11. Christine Sander says:

    … would like to follow up on any further information here…

  12. Our next dissection clinic with Sharon in NSW is taking place in July 2014 in Glenreagh, between Coffs Harbour and Grafton. If you’d like further details, please email me to go onto the mailing list: jane@thehorsesback.com

  13. What about wild horses that do a lot of daily traveling, do they also get this problem even if they have never been ridden?

  14. Renee Mancino says:

    And the “story” surrounding the Standardbred mare from the video is inconsistent.

    The claim is she was 13 years old, but raced 8 times and was retired. The inference is she was raced and retired lame. However, that wouldn’t seem reasonable as Standardbred horses are not kept until they are 13 and raced. Typically they are broken as yearlings and race as 2 year olds. If that was her history I find it hard to believe that she shows that much damage after racing in eight races and almost 11 years later. So neither scenario is likely in my experience with this breed over 40 years.

    If she did injure that joint that badly it wasn’t from racing it was likely from some other kind of injury, say an impact injury at some point (kicked by another horse) or some other major catastrophic injury to that joint that was unrelated to training down and racing 8 times. A time span of 13 years (and likely 11 since having raced) is a long time period where a lot can and likely happened to her.

    You also reference an 18 year old thoroughbred in your replies above. Again, you relay that this mare raced and basically broke down at 3. After 15 years she shows wear to an extensive degree despite not having been ridden for 15 years? I can hardly believe that these horses are living in a vacuum and wouldn’t discount this as being a false-positive as-to being a direct result of racing.

    Without a clearer history over time this article lacks credibility. Have you considered following particular horses for years from being broke to racing to being retired and from there on? If someone can clear up what appears to be a gap in information that may change my mind. Until then I am not buying what is being sold here, particularly with Standardbreds. I have too much experience with Standardbred racehorses to buy that all have this extensive of a level of damage. I can say in Standardbred racehorses elbow (and shoulder) injuries are very rare.

    You will see them in our horses that trot, but usually you see them if their stride at race speed is such that they actually fold up far enough to physically hit their elbows. Hence, some trotters wear elbow boots, but it is rare. Pacers never wear elbow boots their gait is lower to the ground and they don’t fold up as far.

    I just don’t see a clear foundation for these claims without long-term study on single horses.

    • Hi Renee

      Thanks for your comments.

      I won’t speak on Sharon’s behalf, but as I put the video together and know the horse involved, I can explain more on that count.

      The point of the video is simply to provide a visual reference for the gait anomaly that is discussed in the article. Mentioning that she raced was simply to provide a little background. I definitely didn’t mean to infer that she was retired due to lameness, or that racing caused her arthritis, but I agree that I could have mentioned her ridden career in the captions too.

      As for the TB mare mentioned in the comments section, I can vouch for the accuracy of Sharon’s statements as to her history.

      It wasn’t the intent behind this article to state that racing is responsible for this issue. As Sharon mentions, she has found it in all breeds of horses and at all stages of their working lives. I am sure she will comment further on this, although she has already said so in earlier comments.

      At present, there aren’t clear findings, and the point of the article is to highlight the need for formal research into this problem. The article certainly isn’t aimed at pointing a finger at any discipline or area of equestrian activity. I think we’re in agreement that in-depth study is required.

      All the best

      Jane

    • Sharon May-Davis says:

      Hi Renee,

      The work I do is evidence based with no hidden agenda. When I write scientific literature, there is always an objective approach and certainly not one that is subjective. So I will address your concerns with the facts.

      Some of the literature I write takes years to surface because of data collection. For example; my recently submitted paper on C6 and C7 congenital malformation in Thoroughbred horses and their derivatives is now in its 15th year. (RESULTS: 39-40% of Thoroughbreds have a C6 malformation (basically 4 in 10) and one of those 4 has the anomaly transposed onto C7. It is heritable, hence the derivative component.)

      In those years, my findings have met with a lot of opposition. The following are just a few of the concerns raised by other equine / veterinary scientists, as well as messages from other concerned parties. Responses include (in their words):
      1. It is a “Blue Moon”.
      2. Don’t publish bloodlines, because it will result in a car accident.
      3. I don’t see how this makes a difference.

      So where is this research paper now, you may ask? Answer: with the Animal Health Trust in the UK, National Racing Museum UK, and publicly delivered in February 2013 as a paper at a conference in Australia.

      So why is this relevant to your queries here? Because of the similar processes in data collection, revealing that the macro-architectural skeletal variation has biomechanical ramifications that impact upon horse and rider.

      Now, because of this, a bright student I know is examining in a Master’s Degree the neural pathways associated with this cervical anomaly and the impact upon proprioception in the foot.

      The process is never an easy one, as on the dissection table I see non-reported variations in equine anatomy regularly. I also regularly meet this kind of discussion, mostly when a person does not want to see what is before their very eyes.

      So as for your concerns Renee, Jane has already explained the story behind the 13-year-old Standardbred mare and specified that the intention was to only display the elbow action as a visual example.

      Next you stated;
      “You also reference an 18 year old thoroughbred in your replies above. Again, you relay that this mare raced and basically broke down at 3. After 15 years she shows wear to an extensive degree despite not having been ridden for 15 years? I can hardly believe that these horses are living in a vacuum and wouldn’t discount this as being a false-positive as-to being a direct result of racing.”

      When in fact I wrote;
      “Both elbows exhibited the same wear pattern, but to a lesser degree, the cartilage degradation did not appear as deep, the synovial fluid was healthy in appearance, and no redness of cartilage was apparent. So in effect, she had not been ridden for 15 years, although she delivered a number of viable foals and lived a comfortable life until the hind limb became too much to bear.”

      In fact, the photo displaying the wear pattern to the distal humerus (the bone photo in the above article) is of that same 18-year-old Thoroughbred mare, which was unrideable due to having severed her long digital extensor tendon in her first race. Although she displayed a similar wear pattern to other horses I have dissected, I did state that this was to a LESSER degree. However, the bone is still damaged.

      Furthermore, the photo in the article of a severely blood red cartilage is that of a 6-year-old Thoroughbred who had just completed his racing career.

      As mentioned in one of my previous replies, I state that the condition begins to appear within a few months of being ridden, due to the youngsters (less than 3 years old) I have had on the dissection table. That is to say, horses that are green broke and learning the discipline for which they have been chosen, but which have not yet been galloped.

      Furthermore, I have seen it in a so called “slow” Standardbred filly at 3 years of age. This Standardbred filly was, incidentally, worse than the 3-year-old not yet galloped Thoroughbred filly.

      In response to your next comment, Renee, I must defend my integrity and credibility. You wrote:
      “Without a clearer history over time this article lacks credibility. Have you considered following particular horses for years from being broke to racing to being retired and from there on? If someone can clear up what appears to be a gap in information that may change my mind. Until then I am not buying what is being sold here, particularly with Standardbreds. I have too much experience with Standardbred racehorses to buy that all have this extensive of a level of damage. I can say in Standardbred racehorses elbow (and shoulder) injuries are very rare.”

      Of course I have considered following horses not yet broken in throughout their career, and with biomechanical referencing all the way with cameras and software programs (equipment that costs $40,000+) and vets aspirating the elbow until the day we see changes in the synovial fluid to prove that cartilage degradation has begun. Far from being incapable of coming up with a plan, I must state have been trying to gain support for many years. Thank goodness an Equine Podiotherapy College is now looking into the costs of such a venture – their interest is that they have the history of many of the horses that I have dissected in classes for their students over the last 6 years.

      This is not about any one breed or discipline!! It is about finding out why this happens. Because of this article and information, veterinarians and hoof specialists are now trying out a number of preventative and management options that are simply beyond my expertise. One vet nerve blocked the elbow and, in his words, the “clunking” stopped. Another is trialling an unusual approach with a gout drug, and both he and the therapist onboard are surprised by an apparently positive response in one patient. Another vet is formulating a new approach to flexion testing the joint, with the aim of giving a clearer indication than just using a gradient. (Furthermore, this particular vet has ridden horses from green broke to a decent age and noted the instability representational to the elbow over the years when riding down a hill.)

      It is going to take years before the information you seek is officially out there, but in the meantime we have a few helpful hints to at least assist and begin the process of change.

      Sharon

      PS. The 7-year-old Standardbred that I dissected earlier this year, that had raced just one week before he was euthanized, had the same wear pattern and blood in the Ulna portion of his cartilage, and his synovial fluid viscosity was poor in quality.

      • Erin O'Neill says:

        Hi,

        I would like to see some longitudinal studies on this kind of work, as I think that this is the kind of study that would best test this hypothesis. Given that you state it is so common, then recruiting animals for this work should be straightforward.

        You mentioned how long it takes for scientific publication. Could you please tell me what journal you intend to submit this to, so I can watch out for it after it has been through peer review?

        Also, do you have any other scientific papers you have written that I could peruse?

        Thanks!

        Erin.

  15. Thanks Jane really cool stuff!
    I am a student of the distal limb and natural hoof care practitioner. I study with Equine Science Academy and The Hoof squad. I actively help with research about hoof lameness issues. This will defiantly help and go along with our research.
    Rick

    • Hi Rick, thank you for the positive response. Sharon’s work does so much to inform those of us who work in bodywork, hoofcare, training and any concern that involves consideration of the horse’s physical well being. We may not understand the causes yet, but we should certainly be aware of the consequences, as this awareness will one day lead us to an understanding, no matter how unpalatable it may seem now. Take care and bon voyage on your journey with horses!

  16. Hi Sharon
    I attended a 3 day seminar with you along with my friend and colleague Georgina Pankhurst Nov 2012. Amongst so many other things I learnt about this elbow issue and how to look for it. As a holistic Hoofcare Professional I am always looking to broaden my awareness so that I can contribute to as many pieces of the puzzle as I can when a horse is lame.The knowledge you passed on has been invaluable and inspired me.
    Over the 10 years I have been trimming I have noticed that frequent light but correct trims(3-4 weekly maintenance) has worked very well for many horses, there is a great deal more to it than that of course. What we all are aiming for is to find causes and prevent problems for the well being of our much loved horses.Simple but complex. I feel there is a great community all working to share knowledge for horses wellbeing.
    Thanks for being an absolutely fabulous messenger.
    Penny Gifford

    • Sharon May-Davis says:

      Hi Penny,

      It’s amazing how much water has passed under the bridge since then and I definitely agree with your comment re a 3-4 weekly maintenance correct trim as a management process.

      I suspect that leaving toes too long could be a contributory factor as under dissection I see desmitis at the origin (in the tendon) of the Deep and Superficial flexor muscle.

      One aspect of the dissection classes in the last 3-4 years has been the number of veterinarians attending and confirming the findings, not at every dissection but most these days and as always, they agree that of the joints exposed in the dissection, and to their surprise, the elbow is the worst.

      That is why, I am working closely with folks like yourself and veterinarians to formulate ways to assess, assist and maintain horses to the best of our ability.

      Cheers
      Sharon

  17. Hi Sharon,

    Thank you so much for sharing, very interesting findings. The comments thread is pretty long, apologies in advance if this is these are duplicate questions.

    -Can it be diagnosed with a test?
    -Are there treatments available?

    Thank you,
    Heidi

    • Hello Heidi

      Forgive me for jumping in to reply to this, but rather than make this long comments section even longer by repeating information, I can direct you to the responses you need:

      Diagnosis with a test: see Sharon’s reply to comment 14, reply dated 28 Dec, and the paragraph about tests that some vets are experimenting with. This is near the end of the reply.
      Treatments: see Sharon’s reply to comment 3, dated 12 Dec. And again, her reply to comment 14, dated 28 Dec – same paragraph as before.

      Hope that helps,

      Jane

  18. What about wild horses that do a lot of daily traveling, do they also get this problem over time? Or does it seem to only happen to horses that people use for riding or pulling?

    • Sharon May-Davis says:

      Hi Joni,

      Unfortunately, the only Brumbies I have viewed in Australia had been broken in and due to unforeseen circumstances euthanized.

      They exhibited the elbow, but they had been ridden.

      I approached the Western Plains Zoo to view a Przewalski horse that had died and was denied access, as with another zoo here in Australia.

      I don’t see it in non-ridden or non-driven horses – nor in miniatures (unless in harness) and unbroke horses whether to saddle or harness (unless malformation is involved and then nearly all joints are involved in the affected limb).

      So I am hoping that someone, one day, may be able to run with the idea and view Brumby bones and report back with photos.

      Cheers
      Sharon

      • Hi Sharon – I have some brumbies that would be very useful reference points. Three came from the same truck from a station out far West – one was broken in and is ridden regularly, his two sisters from the same herd were not, both are carrying their first foals and were started but not finished. It would be interesting to compare them. Then finally, I have another, although older, is from the same station, although five years older, but she has never been broken in. They would be very useful subjects for study. I also have a two year old Kosziusko filly that has not been broken yet caught in utero, she could be another useful reference point before she is broken in in a couple of years. When you view the bones, is it possible to view them via Xray or does the horse have to be passed to do so?

  19. Thank you Jane/Sharon. Maybe I missed it in the comments you suggested, is there any other treatment aside from proper foot care (toe/heel angle management)? Is surgery an option or joint injections? Also, can you comment if this topic is getting air time with veterinarians across the country? Perhaps my vet is aware of it, but I suspect has not had experience with testing/treatment.

    Regards,
    Heidi

    • Hello Heidi, this article is my contribution to helping get Sharon’s dissection findings out there more. As the article says, awareness of this issue is currently low. Please feel free to pass the link on to others. Management and treatments are all covered above. Thanks for your support!

  20. What about the horse’s mouth, do you see much damage to it from bits? And do you see more damage to horse’s necks on dressage horses with so many of the riders always trying to pull their heads vertical?

  21. Good to see this getting out there a bit more, Sharon is a whizz kid for bones and biomechanics, having done workshops with her over the years, the information she has is huge and she is so willing to give spread it out for the benefit of the horse. Once seen the elbow movement sticks with you and you see it in more and more horses – but why has to be the question, – so many variables, early starts, over ridden, maybe just weight bearing/or pure miles is enough to cause this to happen, I am sure in time Sharon will have more ideas, but time is the issue isnt it? Keep up the good work, see you in 2014 in SA
    cheers Mary

  22. Thanks Jane, for putting this information in a place and format my clients can easily access. I believe Sharon has no peer in this country (in my humble opinion) in the field of equine dissection, therapy and Caring for horses, her information is extremely valuable.
    Last year, a vet I work with, prescribed human gout medication for two of the horses in my practice (I am an equine body worker), in both horses there has been no further Visible deterioration of the elbow and in one horse the elbow has improved slightly in function. One of these horses has now been changed to a product containing glucosamine and peptides, the vet is hopeful of this product as there has been documented improvement in the recovery of joints post surgery and in the function/pain level of joints with arthritis. One of these two horses is a mid level dressage horse, 7yo warmblood, who was already on Pentosan and Joint Guard plus prior to starting the gout medication, the elbow issue, to my eye was very mild.
    I am concerned over the speed of the deterioration of the function of the joint, one of the above horses is 9yo, was not in work, has good feet with good angles and has had regular bodywork for many yeas. She has only ever been lightly worked and at the time I first noted the problem she was not in work. I initially found the problem by palpation, there was no visible dysfunction, but within 3 months anyone could see the issue when the mare walked downhill. By this time the other elbow had begun to show problems. It was very concerning to see that speed of deterioration and I wonder if once the joint gets to a certain point of wear then it escalates considerably, or whether the arthritis was already deteriorating rapidly, before it was visible?
    Robyn

    • That’s really interesting, Robyn. I too have had horses where I’ve felt the problem coming on before it’s visible through the gait anomaly. Later developments, or should I say deterioration, have confirmed it. Your questions illustrate why research is desperately needed – with cases being so individual in their development, and so variable according to the horse’s work level and other pathological changes (not to mention many aspects of their care), large numbers and control cases would be needed in order to establish meaningful findings. I hope a PhD candidate takes it on soon!

      • Kate A. at Animal-Eze says:

        Hi Jane, I know this is coming over 12 months since the above posts, but what do you palpate and what are the indications of the developing problem that you mention above. I have an equine muscle therapy practice, and see anomalies but don’t always know the biomechanical causes. I have done one each of Sharons biomechanics and dissection clinics, and have seen the damage she talks of first hand.

  23. Thank you Jane and Sharon for this valuable information. Perhaps I missed something in the article, but I am curious if the action is caused by damage within the joint or if the action is caused by a dis-function in the soft tissue (perhaps loose ligaments or failure of whatever the apparatus is that stops the elbow from that clunking?) and if then the continual abnormal action causes the damage to the joint? What is the mechanism that stops a normal healthy elbow from having this double-action?
    My horse has this in both elbows. He is a 9 year old warmblood, who wasn’t broken in until he was 7, so quite possibly he was not fit/strong enough for the sudden bout of work he received when broken in. Does the comment ‘once the horse gets through the worst of the wear pattern they re-settle in the joint and continue with the work’ mean that if he is well supported that there is a change that the joint will settle and have a fairly normal function, or is it destined to deteriorate? Are there exercises I can perform to strengthen the surrounding soft tissue to see if that helps?
    Thank you.

    • Sharon May-Davis says:

      Hi Lee-Ann,

      I believe the problem is multifunctional and can only report on what I see in dissections.

      The collateral ligaments are medial and lateral, so their role is to stabilise the joint – with the extensors and flexors governing the action of the joint.

      In dissection, the flexor tendons are often inflammed and the extensor tendons are toughened and difficult to dissect apart.

      In the actual bones, the sagittal ridge is worn on the radius (mid -caudal), mirroring an articulating wear pattern in the humerus as if this is the point of direct contact. Once these 2 areas engage in the stance phase of the stride, it is then that the action begins to appear. After which, the humerus comes into contact with the ulna and appears to pulverize the ulna by the uncontrolled caudal action in the joint and the humerus.

      I have a number of thoughts in progress and have noted these during dissection and they revolve around the slight elliptical shape of the distal humerus, collateral ligament action and the action of the flexors and extensors pre and post stance phase during the stride. This has been without the important aspect of weightbearing or loading ie. with a rider.

      Once the change has begun, it is hard to control the degradation of the cartilage if the joint isn’t supported with beneficial products, but without a doubt, toes must be kept short and heels strong to help. It also depends on performance and workload to how quickly it degrades.

      In truth, I am working on having this sussed out this year and hope to have more answers by June

      Cheers
      Sharon

      • Is this condition related to toe first landing of the hoof? If so, it may not be so much related to being ridden, although the increased load probably aggrevates the situation. Also, are you considering making any DVD’s available for purchase on your findings like this or other lamenesses that are though to be so common as to be considered normal? I was really educated by the video posted here. Thanks so much for your efforts to educate us. Elly

  24. Is there anyone else that has a deep seeded fear of ever riding again?

    I have always been about ‘do no harm’ especially to the animals in my life and no matter how I look at this, the only conclusion I keep coming to is – do not ride, do no damage!

    One of the most talked about product on horse forums is, what joint formula is your horse on, does it work? This shows me that a lot of riders know ‘something’ is happening although they probably never dreamed that the above is what was/is going on!

    I don’t know if this is an extreme thought and feeling. I’ve shared this article on forums and my facebook page but no one and I do mean no one has commented about it, no one has any thoughts!

    Is it just me?

    • I’m having the same feelings and thoughts…having trouble figuring out how to train…doing mostly ground work, feeling very depressed for the damage I have caused and wondering what could possibly replace riding in my life.

    • You are not alone. I have been thinking for a while now (from reading different studies) that riding could be doing harm to horses. This article also seems to be saying that driving is also harming them. I currently don’t ride, mainly do to personal fears but also because I have always worried about harm that I might be doing because of riding. It does make me sad to think that maybe humans should not be riding or driving horses. And if people decide that they shouldn’t will they no longer want horses and what will happen to these horses then?

      • These thoughts are weighing on me too. Need more answers. Right now, I’m focusing my training on ground work and just a little riding at the end of the session. Adding joint supplements to my regimen. Making sure my horses are in very good balance. And trimming their toes regularly and building strong heels.

        • Sara, Joni, thank you for your replies, it is nice to know that I’m not alone in my thinking.

          I don’t understand how people can just put their heads in the sand about this, you can’t put a band-aid on it and it’ll heal up.

          A friend (non horse) expressed an opinion after reading the article, they weren’t surprised, their opinion is that horses aren’t made to have extra weight at all, they have enough of a burden carrying their own body weight.

          They also said that they would hate for any of the animal lib groups to get hold of this sort of information as it’s actual proof of humans causing direct harm to animals!

    • Rachel Turner says:

      I do also, it is a paradoxical question. The love you have of the horse and the love you have of the riding. Years of work to get to this point but years of learning what we are doing to the horse in the process. Horse shows? Racing? I have an internal struggle with this everyday.

  25. Terryanne ryan says:

    Hi Sharon and others
    I was just a viewer at the first Victorian brumby challenge at Victorian equestrian centre upper beaconsfield.
    We’ll how impressive we’re those guys and gals.
    Am extremely interested in this blog as I have my 19 yr old thoroughbreds front and back legs in my fridge at the moment.
    I lost him dec 15 2012″ anyway his head is in my cats cage at the first tier.
    So the legs will be next.iam a student of yours from Ian whartons equine dentistry academy 2009″
    We’ll anyway back to brumby challenge, they had yearlings there and we’re demonstrating their agility and ability and mobility?
    I was a bit worried that what I’ve read from your books and learnt from your dissections, that asking them to lay down ect and do all the look cute stuff for the trainers?
    Is this dangerous at such a green stage in bone growths and developments?
    Or am am I being the drama queen here.( it was cute though)
    This is an extremely interesting topic as Iam searching for a new partner and knowing what to look for is good knowledge.thanks for everyone’s input I read nearly all of them.
    Yeah so what can you do to eliminate this occurrence?
    Iam impressed with these yearlings they so easy to train?
    Would I be able to give a yearling amuch better chance of avoidance of this issue with better practiced methods in training and future riding schedules?
    What you think?
    An older horse is remnants of his her past and next owner left with the probs to try and figure the answers out to give better life expectancy.
    I think I’d like to know the correct way to train and educate a yearling and create a grouse partnership.
    Thanks again Sharon and friends always good to read up on your material.
    TA

    • Sharon May-Davis says:

      Hi Terryanne,

      Sorry for the delay in responding – I have had personal and professional mayhem for over a month and am now finally completing tasks and able to answer once again.

      Firstly, 2009 seems so long ago do you have any pictures from that dissection?

      However, in answer to your questions.

      Making horses lay down is a tricky process and if the youngster struggles then there may be some damage. Some concerning memories of simple paddock slips; a Thoroughbred weanling rearing in the paddock and slipping over fractured a growth plate in the pastern; a weanling Arab galloping haphazardly on uneven ground fractured a growth plate in the fetlock; a 3 year old Warmblood rearing and slipping over on her side in the paddock and jumped straight back up again fractured 3 growth plates of the thoracic dorsal spines in the wither.

      The leg fractures can be known to prematurely close the growth plate and in the case of the Thoroughbred weanling it did and that weanling had forever thereafter a shorter leg.

      So what you need to look for is swelling around or over the growth plate region of and leg and if inflamed (Physitis) be mindful that it could be an injury.

      As for eliminating the elbow issue – still in the dark, but definitely make sure the feet are well balanced; no upright or club feet; perfectly balanced and matched feet in the front (ha ha) are absolute; no long toes or low heels; don’t ride down hills – get off and walk your horse.

      I don’t know what at this point will help when it comes to training, but having just dissected a 3 year old racing Thoroughbred post hind end injury in Japan, the elbow was diabolical. The horse was videoed prior to euthanasia by the vet who could clearly see the elbow struggling to stabilize as the horse walked down the hill and was appalled at the blood in the cartilage of this horse. Still waiting on more information re how many races etc were in its history, but don’t fret folks, the other catastrophes waiting to happen in this baby had us all gobsmacked!

      Cheers
      Sharon

  26. Terryanne ryan says:

    Oh yea also is it just the front end this occurrence is diagnosed .?
    I have been told do train my horse as much as possible in hill work on a 22/45lines.no saddles or ridding.?
    Is this a concern for my horse.?

  27. Terryanne ryan says:

    Hey was just reading some quick pots,does this type of degeneration have anything to do with locomotion in travelling floats as such.?
    You possible discussed this,!

    • Sharon May-Davis says:

      I am reviewing the hock also as I am suspicious about the cartilage degrading to a lessor degree and in my opinion I think it is by far more manageable.

      I am concerned with too much hill work as it places to much weight into the forehand and the hindquarter tries to compensate. Small amounts of training is best and certainly hill work is a pleasant distraction.

      I have not considered floating horses as a least one horse with no elbow degeneration was an in hand show horse.

  28. Hi Sharon,

    This may be a difficult question, but is there any correlation between a rider’s weight and how bad the degeneration is? Would a heavier rider cause more/faster damage to the cartilage? And equally, would very light riders cause less cartilage wear?

    Also, is there a pattern to the shoulder conformation of the horse? ie: horses with long straighter scapulas, or horses with short sloping scapulas with longer humerus? Or are you seeing the damage in all sorts of shoulder and front limb (above the knee) conformation?

    • Sharon May-Davis says:

      Hi Lisa,

      Re rider’s weight, I don’t have a correlation because quite a few of these horses did have lightweight riders on board.

      A jockeys weight is still causing enormous damage in racehorses and no weight in harness horses still elicits damage.

      I see the damage in all types of horses and some with exceptional conformation.

      Of particular interest, I have just completed some slow motion work on a well trained and competitive horse; barefoot – front boots only – then all four feet booted – then wedges in the hind only.

      In all walk and trot runs it astounded the Professor I was with and myself to look at the concussive actions in the elbow especially at trot. It was like a shock wave passed through the joint on landing and you could see the directional impact of the horse placing its foot on the ground a good distance in front of the shoulder. This may be of consideration, in early training not to ask for the horse to lengthen its stride on every stride and this is what the in hand horse was like – striding just in front of the shoulder, but not too far in advance of the shoulder.

      Food for thought I think.

      Cheers
      Sharon

  29. Hi Sharon, have just read your articles on arthritic elbows. We have a 4 yr old TB mare we bought and raised from a weanling. Came home sore from being broken in by very reputable breaker. Rested, then went sore at pretrainers sent to Camden uni as Canberra vet couldn’t work it out. Given MRI as no X-rays ever showed anything. Inflammation (red spot) on MRI showed up at elbow. Vets did nerve blocks etc, her responses confused them. Often sore in mornings when led out of box. Never really limping, more short strides and stiff looking. When they wanted her lame so they could do another test, they lunged her and couldn’t get her to go sore! Came home, spelled. Then did 2 preps with top Canberra trainer, only raced 2nd prep and only 3times. Very willing, pleasure to teach and handle, everyone’s favourite. Trainer said he felt she just wasn’t giving 100%’ though doing very well. Galloped in blinkers by trainer himself at track work, said she finally really went for it but came back walking short. X rayed, nothing .showed up, said she might be ‘shinny’ at bottom of cannon bone. Rested 2 weeks, ok, raced 1700m hard track. Good run led most of way, then slowed rapidly went back to midfield. We took her home, incredibly sore for weeks, seemed very muscle sore as well as front leg . Spelled 3months, new trainer, rode her once, said she’s stiff in mornings, feels short strides and sore somewhere but can’t tell where. Shoulder? Fetlock? Both trainers feel she has unidentified prob without being lame. At home as from today, and then I see your articles! We don’t know what to do for her, she’s done everything asked of her so willingly and loves people. Well bred. We’ve had her since a weanling and our only venture into racing. Can I send u her M RI please? And maybe a video of her walking? At least the mystery may be solved. Kind regards Tanbon

    • Hi Tanbon
      Sounds like a very frustrating story for you, and sad for your horse. Did you ever have any bodywork or chiropractic, if so what did they find?
      Cheers
      Robyn

      • Hi,yes it is sad, she’s had a chiro recently who gave her the go ahead to go back into training. He’s also a qualified human chiro. I would like to get this mail yo Sharon. Do u have her address or can u please forward to her? Kind regards, tanya

    • Sharon May-Davis says:

      Hi Tanya,

      Just letting folks know that we talked about your “Maggie” privately and that from my perspective both shoulders were compromised.

  30. Morgan Griffith says:

    Fascinating article that I will be sharing with many people. I have rented a horse from a stable that does tours going, steeply, up and down the mountains in the area. I would hate to see what these horses elbows look like under dissection. I will be following this to see what research comes up with to mitigate this type of reaction. For now I’ll just be feeling bad for the horse the minute I see a saddle go on it.

    I don’t suppose you know if the weight of the rider/saddle combo makes any difference in the degree of damage.

    • Sharon May-Davis says:

      Hi Morgan,

      I have just answered this in response to Lisa’s question post 28.

      Cheers
      Sharon

  31. Jennifer Lowrey, DVM says:

    Is this condition possibly related to standard girths? I have several horses that are more comfortable and perform better in shaped girths.

    • Sharon May-Davis says:

      Hi Jennifer,

      I am really interested in these shaped girths, but because they are relatively new, it is hard to find a horse that hasn’t had a straight girth on previously.

      Unfortunately, at present the only young horses I see on the dissection table are racing Thoroughbreds or sometimes Standardbreds.

      Have a look at the Biomechanics in the UK on these girths – pretty inspiring stuff – try Centaur Biomechanics and Quintic.

      Cheers
      Sharon

  32. I am currently involved in a home study course about natural asymmetries in horses and how they can be very detrimental to ridden horses. The course is Straightness Training by Marijke de Jong. straightnesstraining.com As I have focused on this training I have run across numerous other websites, etc. that agree how detrimental this asymmetry issue is to horses. There is an excellent article by Dr. Kerry Ridgway found here https://forageplus.co.uk/manifestations-of-laterality-dr-kerry-ridgway/ He also talks at length on his website on high low heel syndrome. I feel strongly that perhaps that the horse’s natural asymmetries are the cause of the wear and tear particularly on the front legs of the ridden horse. It would be interesting to follow Marijke as she has started her young horses from the beginning in Straightness training to see if they develop the elbow problems. The horse needs to be taught how to carry a rider and it is our responsibility to teach ourselves how to teach them so they can remain sound long into their later years. I think you will see from the free info that Marijke shows on her website how the natural asymmetry of the horse having a favored leg that it weights more heavily as well as how their weight is more over the front legs.

    Very, very interesting stuff and wouldn’t it be WONDERFUL if we could help the horses out!!

    Karen

  33. Angela Cherrington says:

    This is really interesting, and alarming. I wonder if it is related to weight carrying and or girth action. I have done a lot of carriage driving. It has been stated that the driven horse doesn’t bear weight on it’s back but many people using a 2 wheeled vehicle do not balance it correctly, in which case almost the whole weight of carriage, shafts and occupants is transferred to the horses back via shafts, and the effect is increased going downhill. Also, if breeching is too loose, instead of the horse sitting into it as a braking mechanism downhill, the carriage runs forward, the tug stops hit the tugs on the saddle and the whole weight can then be pushing the saddle forward and the girth up behind the elbows. This can happen on 4 wheelers to but usually a footbrake is used to hold the carriage back. If a 2 wheeler is badly balanced in the opposite direction, pressure may be exerted behind the elbows as the carriage tries to tip back but is held down by the belly band.There are very many driving horses observed in badly fitted harness and badly balanced vehicles, add to this uneducated driving because anyone can pick up the reins, sit in abd click at,a,willing pony, and it adds up to a lot of horse discomfort all over the world.
    Anyone reading this who is thinking of taking up driving, please get expert help and advice- for your horses sake and fir your own, as it isalso very dangerous when mistakes are made.
    Angela UK

  34. Dawn Blackwell says:

    Hi,
    Thanks for this amazing insight. I am a trainer with nearly 30 years experience in the horse industry, mostly in Eventing and Dressage. My question is this.
    Should we be examining the practice of starting horses under saddle under 3 1/2 years of age? In the UK and Europe, its pretty much unheard of to break horses at 2 like they do here in Australia. I have turned down many clients who wanted me to start their 2 year olds as it just feels wrong! Too much strain on growing bodies and minds. It is usual to start horses much later in Europe, and I wonder if this later start would have any effect on your findings?

    Regards, Dawn Blackwell BHS II

    • Sharon May-Davis says:

      Hi Dawn,

      Unfortunately no. Only last week I viewed a warmblood mare who had been broken in at 6 years of age and by 7, her elbows were displaying the same issues as those viewed in the videos.

      I have seen the problem begin to appear within 3 months of riding and only this February just past I looked at 4 horses and 3 were very obvious and 1 not so. This one I was later told had only just been started and ironically, I had 2 very distinguished academics there at the time also observing. They acknowledged the elbow condition and we began discussing the long term ramifications.

      We still have no answers I’m sorry to say.

      Kind regards,
      Sharon

  35. Juanita says:

    Hi Sharon
    I have recently returned home to NZ from Australian College of Equine Podiotherapy, I have stumbled across this forum… Thank you for a great couple of days, very disappointed it was not longer!, you are one original amazing lady! 🙂 cheers Juanita

  36. Hi Sharon
    We have an almost 4 yr old who we have been advised has this elbow issue. He has mainly done ground work and has been ridden a handful of times at walk and a few times at trot. The rides lasting approximately 5-10 minutes. He would have been ridden less than an hour in his lifetime. What can we expect for him due to his age and that he really hasn’t done very much and this is showing? We have found an excellent farrier to keep his feet in trim and have provided him details of this page. He has been myofascially treated and is in the paddock maturing at the moment. I note that you suggested Pentosan etc as a joint supplement. With managing his feet and joint supplement should he still be able to manage a successful career as a adult riding club/pony club mount? Many thanks

    • Sharon May-Davis says:

      This is really unfortunate for the elbow to be obvious so early in his riding experience. As previously mentioned, I see it within 3 months of being broken in and ridden more frequently than you are describing and earlier this year we had 4 horses for the class and the only ridden horse not exhibiting the elbow issue was the one that was currently being broken in.

      I cannot guarantee riding longevity, even with joint supplements, but at least a preventative product such as Pentosan may help because of its chondro protective qualities. However, I usually see this in use once they are in a competitive situation and not before. So I can only hope that it will be of assistance.

      Plus I really must applaud you for allowing him more time to mature, it may help slow he process.

      We are still hoping to understand this condition further with research, but all being well this will begin quite seriously very soon.

  37. Heather Schneider says:

    Sharon,

    I have a question and sounds like you have a good eye for looking and investigating. I have a foal that was born on 5/16 and was kicked on 5/19. She a week later was diagnosed with radial nerve paralysis. We have gotten Her to the point of bearing a little weight on Her front right foot but need to build the triceps muscle because it is atrophied. I would appreciate any input and can have pictures and video emailed to you. We can block Her knee with our hand while She is eating and when She starts to move it forward push back to get Her to use it more. We can also stand Her leg under Her and support Her elbow and knee and get Her to use it while eating. Please any advice or ideas are appreciated!

    Heather =)

  38. Hi Sharon,
    I was so excited to finally find a site on line where someone has noticed and researched the same problem my 22 yr. old Tenn. WH had in his right elbow. I could never duplicate it for the vet being on level ground at his place and had great difficulty describing it. He was having difficulty getting up and his front legs would tremble and move very stiff and rigid until warmed up a bit with a walk. He would stop and paw lightly in protest when we would creep down an incline or walk too long on the flat. Long story short, my heart fell to my stomach just now reading your site because you said the horse with this condition is NOT in pain. My vet felt he was in pain and only going to get worse. He ruled out neurological condition. So, I made the most horrific, sickening decision of my life and am still sick about it to this day Jan. 2015 and struggling with the should of could of. I put him down convinced it was the right, compassionate decision. I am absolutely in tears now feeling I killed my best friend of 22 years who was my therapy horse when I had cancer and I shortened his life unnecessarily thinking he was suffering only to read they are not in pain. In all honesty, I can’t imagine a horse with this condition, looking at your dissection findings, that they aren’t in pain losing cartilage and bone at they do. Any new findings or opinions regarding your study of the elbow on the horse.
    Best Regards,
    Sandy

  39. Sharon May-Davis says:

    Sandy I just responded with a massive post and lost it all 🙁

    Do you live in Australia?

  40. I am wondering if the same degeneration happens when a horse has been ridden in self carriage all their lives. It fits (in my head anyway) that when a horse is in self carriage their movement is soft and smooth with all the limbs at the right angles to make things easier on the joints and when they do not have a naturally elevated back and all the other things that go with self carriage, they are landing harder on their front legs, with little to no spring to use as shock absorption.
    This would also fit with your observations Sharon, as so very few horses are ridden in real self carriage.
    But then horse and rider posture with both in self carriage is my passion! 🙂 What do you think of that possibility?

    My own personal experience with equine arthritis is that helping a horse to find a place of emotional and physical well-being (which inherently involves self carriage in both ground and ridden work) has alleviated the lamenesses of arthritis. I have never done a dissection, so I don’t know if any actual healing took place in the joint – just that the symptoms were gone.

    I am presently running an arthritis trial in humans involving good posture work – the human version of self carriage – dietary, feet (yes feet in humans too!), “right” exercise, inflammatory and anti-inflammatory foods and food herbs, emotional well being and a host of other stuff that some people are already finding significant reduction in their pain and we are only 19 days into the course, so most of their progress so far was obtained by the posture changes – we only just started talking about food and food herbs and we still have the detox and emotional and exercise and feet stuff to go.

    I have cleared my own symptoms of arthritis and can now walk/run/float in the human version of self carriage up to 4 kilometres a day.and I can kneel on my knees and open glass food jars again too! 🙂

    Because my passion is both horses and riders, I am constantly exploring what I find in one species with possibilities for another… It’s fascinating stuff!

  41. Hi Jane/Sharon,

    This is a really interesting discussion, thanks for sharing your findings. There are quite a few comments so these might be repetitive questions. What education has been done with the vet community? Has this information been shared with the large university equine hospitals and top vets? Have you been to the AAEP conference and shared hand-outs and white papers on the topic, a great place considering vets across the globe attend?

    I would like to see a focus on this issue with the vet community because there are likely a large number of horses who have this problem and have not been correctly diagnosed. With a correct diagnosis, they could be properly treated. Gosh, do keep us posted on what’s happening. There’s a new treatment in the states (it’s been used widely in Germany for over a decade) called GOLDIC by Arthrogen (you all will be hearing a lot more about it) and it is intended to regenerate tissue, especially at the advanced stages without side effects (though cannot when it gets to the point of bone-on-bone) and this would be the perfect application but it requires veterinary administration.

    Until then, I will be sure to ask questions and have discussions with local vets in my region on the topic. Thanks for your work here!

    • Sharon May-Davis says:

      Sorry for the delay in responding, I have been away.

      Regarding the vet community I am introducing these findings via clinics, workshops and conferences. Many are showing a distinct interest and clinically trying diagnostics and treatments.

      The information has not been shared with university equine hospitals, there is still a need to prove the condition in a peer reviewed publication before they will consider the current findings. I intend to begin this aspect later this year after I have looked and videoed wild untouched horses. The 15 year old feral donkey I did towards the end of last year was complete in the nuchal ligament lamellae and the elbow cartilage was healthy and intact. There is still disbelief amongst some veterinarians and blatant refusal to explore the condition, but after last weekend (I presented the findings at a large conference), this may change.

      In the last 2 weeks I have knocked back 2 seminars / conferences (1 in Australia and another in the States) because my schedule is so hectic and I am seriously time poor. I have not considered the AAEP due to being booked in advance in some cases up to 18 months and without sounding pretentious (I hate to sound as if I am bragging and I feel ill even thinking about it), but many of my clinics are booked before advertising due to waiting lists.

      We have a number of clinical (in the field) responses with 4cyte and anti-inflammatories (steroidal) that seem positive, but it does not stop the changes, just alleviates the pain.

      Rock tape applied in a mechanical format stops the elbow from “clunking” and the 3 horses involved showed relief from this taping application almost immediately. This is another area that has interested certain persons as one lady burst into tears when she stated, “it is the first time that she had seen her daughter’s horse go into self carriage”.

      Dr. Kerry Ridgway and I have been discussing the need for extensive ground work strengthening and stabilisation before riding – I genuinely think this ticks a very important box! Because horses broken in at 5 still had the problem – but there was no significant ground work beforehand in these horses.

      Hence, the need to look at those European horses who aren’t ridden till 6-7ish and have had years of good ground work.

      Aside from this, where is your local region?

      Cheers
      Sharon

      • It sounds like all of your efforts are starting to get noticed by the veterinary community, congratulations and thank you for all that you are doing to help the greater equine community.

        You asked where I’m located in your reply, I am in the greater Seattle area. I listed my business website above, feel free to reach out anytime, my number and email is listed on the ‘Contact Us’ page.

        Looking forward to hearing more.

        • Since Sharon replied to this message, we’ve taken a look at the Rocktape equine manual, and the approach suggested there is NOT the one recommended by Sharon… even though her name appears on the page.

  42. Gabi Wieke says:

    Dear Sharon,
    I’ve been reading this blog for quite a few months and am glad that answers are starting to be found. Thank you so much for putting energy into this issue. Vets do not want to hear about this, I know. But more and more proof from your side cannot be ignored!

    I’ve had my horse for 13 years. Criollo/polo pony gelding, now 17, imported from Argentina to Europe – sweetest horse ever 😉 The first time we went on a ride, I noticed the strange movement going downhill. I thought “oh no, I bought a horse with a serious (?) problem”. Through the years, I made several vets take a walk to the next hill with me and watch the clunking, none of the knew what it was, of course. They said it is obviously not painful, might be a tendon slipping over the elbow… and this and that.

    I noticed it getting better with short toes by now, have always noticed that the clunking gets better going downhill when you make him hold up his head, not downward. I never ride downhill. A really big step was when the chiropractor unblocked the last disc of the cervical spine (between the shoulders)!! Another block was removed on the ilio-sacral joint. Plus ground work helps. Still, there are better and worse days.

    My question is, how to attach the rock tape?? Can you add pictures/descriptions? Can you feed the 4cyte for longer periods of time? Could you show an examplary X-Ray with the change visible, and describe where to palpate?

    To Sandy I want to say that I was very sad, reading her story. But I am convinced he had more than “just” the elbow issue! My horse has had it for so long, and I don’t even want to know how he was “trained” before I got him, scared as he was of humans, but he can always get up without problems, no trembling or stiff front legs. To me it sounds like there was more wrong with him than this. Hope this helps.

    Thanks for any new information!

    Gabi

  43. Gabi Wieke says:

    ps: with ground work I mean both training to improve self-carriage (I try a little bit of fascia training – for my horse AND me), and partnership/horsemanship training (Parelli – I know there is a lot of criticism, but for us, it works!). Anything that keeps my horse from free movement, be it being held back by slowing down its natural gaits all the time or a rider who is not balanced, or be it insecurity due to lack of trust/comprehension make his movements and the elbow problem worse. On the other hand, he CAN walk down a hill without any clunking, and he CAN trot with elegant self-carriage, as if he were flying! The elbow issue was very obvious and at times it looked like the leg was almost disengaged – so does this mean that actual healing of the bone is not possible, but ‘correct’ movement can compensate it?
    Thanks, Gabi

  44. Nicola Bessell says:

    Hi Sharon, I’ve just read your article and all the comments! Wow it’s all so interesting! I’ve got a 13 year old ID x TB who was given to me as he was “dangerous”. I’m a Parelli instructor and so do a lot of ground work and I also do Straightness Training with all my horses on the ground to improve posture and strength. This horse has terrible trouble walking downhill and almost paces, he is incredibly stiff in the morning after being stabled overnight and really struggles to turn to come to the stable door. He also trembles quite badly down both front legs when eating his tea in the evening but seems fine when grazing. When he’s out in the field he runs around and plays but when he needs to get out the way quickly from another horse he sits on his hind end lifts his front end out the way. I would also point out that all my fields are on a pretty steep hill so he is permanently on a hill. I’m interested whether these other symptoms fit with your findings? Also do you feel he would be more comfortable living out rather than being stabled at night in the winter? I would also point out he is pigeon toed and grows very long, narrow upright feet on the front. He’s off to the vets in a fortnight for an investigation so it would be really helpful and interesting to have your take on it. Just for the record he’s currently on Cortaflex powder and T.E.N.S Senior Joint. Thank you so much in advance for your help.
    Nicola.

    • Hi Nicola,

      Before I copy your comment and pass it on to Sharon (she is too busy to monitor this page personally, so I help out there as her replies are so valuable), please can you tell us whether you see the gait anomaly – the elbow shudder – that is described in the article and shown in the videos?

      Thanks,

      Jane

    • Sharon May-Davis says:

      Hi Nicola.

      I find a number of issues can affect a horse with those symptoms you described.

      For example; trembling forelegs can be knees, downhill difficulty can be elbows, knees, sacro-iliac, stifles and hocks. As for getting out of the way of other horses quickly, that can also be knees if they are stiff, as is stabling overnight.

      I think this is going to require a vet to isolate those structures involved so that you can make the best call.

      I wish you both all the best.

      Cheers
      Sharon

  45. Kathy Adams says:

    Hi Sharon
    Thanks for another fascinating article.
    I’d be grateful if you could comment on a question I have. I’m almost qualified in the Masterson Method, a very gentle, intuitive massage therapy that focuses on the horses’ feedback, (in case you don’t know about it). I noted your comment about bodyworkers releasing tension in the triceps which are supporting this arthritic elbow condition, and how this is not helping the horse. How do we know when not to work on a horse, and release tension in the body?

    I worked on a 12yr old arab mare recently, who was retired from endurance a few years ago due to tearing suspensory ligaments in the RF, and for later behavioural issue when they tried to bring her back into work.
    I used her as a case study. She habitually rests the LH, and the flexor tendon has a wavy and lax texture when she does, you can wobble it from side to side. She was favouring the LH a little before the massage, and then to my dismay, she looked far worse when she walked off afterwards, not wanting to weight the LH and push off on it.

    So the massage was effective in releasing tension in the body, but is this a good thing if the horse is worse afterwards? Maybe the problem is in the joint higher up in the lef hind, and she needs that muscle tension, acting like a cast like your article said, to help her cope?
    If you have any advice I’d really appreciate it.

    Thanks
    Kathy
    Cape Town
    South Africa

    • Apologies for the delay in moderating this, Kathy – I’ve passed your comment on to Sharon.

    • Sharon May-Davis says:

      Hi Kathy,

      Hmmm …….. this is a genuine dilemma and there are several ways to approach this issue from my perspective.

      1. Not to release the muscle and allow it to continue its supportive role.
      2. Release the muscle, with only the view to help muscle integrity.
      3. Release the muscle to confirm that an issue exists in the limb.

      Your encounter with the third point confirmed that the condition in the LH is more serious than first thought.

      Back in 2001 when I was in the USA, veterinarians were utilising massage therapists to eliminate the supportive soft tissue structures that were behaving as a cast over an area and confused the diagnosis. Once the therapist had completed his / her treatment, the horse’s movement could be seen more clearly and the lameness in many cases could then be isolated to the specific limb and sometimes joint / s.

      So as a therapist your first aim and again from my perspective, is do not harm, but here is the dilemma – the owner needs to know that a problem exists so that the horse can be treated / managed. The owner may be grateful or resentful for the information and consequential lameness and this comes down to duty of care. Where does the duty of care lie?

      When I was practising, I was spoilt and my clients wanted to know. So perhaps check with your client first if you suspect that the horse may be a candidate and observe which muscles palpate / feel as if they are behaving in a cast like fashion. Always walk and trot the horse out before and after the massage and note any changes and record this information. This is how we know that certain upper body muscles hypertrophy when acting in a supportive role for limb issues. For example; the rhomboid and pectorals in hind end failure.

      I hope this helps Kathy, because it is a long and sometimes arduous journey.

      Cheers
      Sharon

  46. Great info here. I believe my old girl is affected. She has always disliked going downhill but never showed the pain reaction of the mare in the video. At some points in her life she has even had callouses on her elbows no one can explain. I’d like to follow this in her family but the stallion has a stifle injury that may complicate that. The implications of this are massive really.

    I’d like to say to all the girls now scared of riding their horses, our weight is only a small factor. It is our weight combined with the increase of athletic movements that has the greatest effect on our equine friends. Yes, we only ask them to do things they naturally would do, but at far greater intensity AND carrying extra weight. Its part of the reason I just cant ride my stallion, I recognise I may be shortening his.life by doing so. Still, its all about balance. It doesn’t mean never ride again. I really cant wait to hear more about this and so many others.

    • Thanks for the post. I agree, it’s about balance and managing the problem effectively.

      As I always say, “awareness is everything”, for once we recognise the problem, we can decide how to respond to it. That usually seems to involve a period of somewhat horrified shock as the news of the diagnosis/assessment sinks in, followed by a levelling off, then the adoption of a more positive and pragmatic approach, in which we decide what our horse can comfortably do, and for how long and how often.

      Sharon may reply to this later.

    • Sharon May-Davis says:

      Hi Kim,

      Thanks for your input and so many people have now come to me and mentioned that they also had experienced horses becoming resentful when asked to go downhill, even when led in hand.

      Recently, I had the honour of hearing Dr. Kerry Ridgway speaking on horses that where trained into self carriage, in hand, before riding. At the point when these horses were ridden, they were 6 years old and were still performing Grand Prix tests until they were 26. I feel there is some astute wisdom in these observations and began wondering if this was the key to maintain soundness.

      I hope to meet some of these horses at some point in the future and ascertain whether or not they are more stable in the elbow due to the differing training process.

      As for the balance between riding or not, I am still struggling with the age aspect and whether or not the elbow is sufficiently closed to sustain our weight and potential vector forces at 3 years of age.

      I will keep you in the loop.

      Cheers
      Sharon

  47. Jennifer says:

    We can’t reverse the damage done but will supplements like HA prevent further damage?

    • Sharon May-Davis says:

      Hi Jennifer,

      I am toying with the idea that if we can keep the viscosity of the Synovial fluid (SF) from deteriorating then it may help to limit the effect on the elbow cartilage.

      Also by limiting inflammation, which is part of that degenerative process in the joint, it may help sustain the health of the SF.

      Therefore, as Hyaluronic acid (HA) is known / believed to support the SF within the joint, then I would have to agree that it could play a supportive role in maintaining joint integrity.

      Cheers
      Sharon

  48. Suzanne Langdon says:

    Hello, this information is fascinating and alarming. The elbow joints of my very lightly worked 13yr old mare are currently my being investigated. X-rays have been taken yesterday and are being interpreted. She has a long history of trouble going down hill in her paddocks and under saddle. Awkward stiff front end. And since 2012, in trot, she periodically swings around to her left shoulder near the elbow, no matter what direction she is going. Also historically touchy in chest area. I can provide a photo of the action. I have had physio, chiro, massage and vet input with no clarity yet. X-rays may provide the clue. Is this action, pointing to shoulder, familiar to you? Thank you in advance, Suzanne

  49. I’ve read your article and responses with much interest. I have a Friesian who has had two episodes of lameness and has never felt confident going downhill. He does do what I call a judder occasionally when coming back into work on the flat. I think that on both occasions he has become lame after change of farrier, on both occasions his feet have been cut right back. First time this occurred we were referred to Rossdales and had various investigations with inconclusive results, there may have been a slight spur on the elbow joint but they thought this was insignificant. He was nerve blocked up to elbow, when he went sound and had cortisone injection and stayed sound for last three yrs.
    We have had a standin farrier again due to illness, and he has gone short and slightly unlevel. I’ve treated with bute for week and rest for three weeks. Some improvement but not totally sure, he feels short striding but level trotting up.
    I will prob need to find a new farrier as the one who shod him is struggling with extra work load but was unsure of what to advise with out sounding a nuisance. I have added SUPPLEAZE GOLD Horse Joint Supplement to his feed for the last four yrs and add turmeric too.
    I’m really interested in your views on shoeing and would appreciate any advice, especially as his feet have been cut back after being considered to be on the long side.
    Kind regards – Moni

    • Hi Monica

      I’ve sent your message on, but Sharon is away teaching in Europe at the moment, so a reply may take a little while.

      Have you read through the comments? She makes several observations about hoof balance there. Of course, it isn’t only bringing back over long toes, which tends to be the common issue here in Australia (low heels, long toes), but what’s happening with the heels. I’m English, and recall a lot of upright hooves with contracted heels on shod horses over there. I’m not saying this is the case with your horse, but when you’re forced to switch farriers from time to time, it’s possible that you’re getting somebody who does approach it that way, and it amounts to a dramatic change in the overall balance.

      From my perspective, based on bodywork experience and what I’ve learned from Sharon, the elbow issue is accentuated on horses that have other asymmetries in their body. This can include an issue in the hindquarters that subtly misaligns the entire body. It’s not necessarily something that would amount to a veterinary pathology, but it is a biomechanical consequence.

      Just some thoughts to be going on with there 🙂

      Jane

      • Thank you Jane, your points were clear and concise – my horse is def one sided and this has been increased by the time off he has had. This has also changed the way his saddle fits too which has also impacted on his way of going.
        Hopefully we will address each issue and get back to our previous fitness. I’ll watch out with interest for more updates on the site.

        Kind regards
        Monica

  50. Shona Kelsey says:

    Hi sharon my 12yr old gelding has a severe double action in both elbows. My question is if its arthritis would it only show going downhill as my horse does this all the time and is very noticable. The vets just dismissed it and the phisio said it could be due to ligaments what are your thoughts please. Also worried he could be in pain. Kind regards shona

    • Hi Shona, I hope you don’t mind if I answer instead, but I know Sharon is away working for some weeks. Yes, once the problem is more pronounced, you can see it on the flat as well. Often, ex-racehorses in particular present in a very obvious way like this. The worst one I’ve seen would also throw his head up and hesitate when led down a steep slope. This level of reluctance could indicate active inflammation, so current pain. I know owners who use anti inflammatory products on an ongoing basis – turmeric supplementation has yielded improvements in comfort level (anecdotal evidence), and who rest the horses when it’s clearly painful to work. Jumping can be an issue when horses experience this. Otherwise, all the management approaches listed in the comments are good, particularly getting hoof balance in order with short toes and level heel heights.

  51. My horse exhibits the moderate slipping action of the elbows (both!) on a slope, and I have seen a slight but inconsistent action on level ground. I knew something was wrong but hadn’t seen this page til yesterday. It explains alot, especially reluctance in moving downhill. Under saddle, I do pay attention to how many ‘clunks’ I feel. He had R. biceps bursa injection last year (bursitis), and the x rayed elbows had some bony remodelling but vet didn’t think the area to treat. He’s been “clunking” only on the left side since the injection.

    While ridden there are varying degrees of clunking – some feel so hard I imagine a joint “end feel” while others are like a subtle clunk. He’ll do 1-4 during a ride – usually level ground.
    My horse, a TB, has very free elbows, in other words they are not close in to the side of his body, which I notice many horses are conformed this way. And his stride/overtrack is huge. I’ve often wondered if there is a downside to having such conformity. Just like in a human, would it not be a form of hyper-mobility in a joint? Has there been any observation as to degree of soft/hard tissue damage and relevance of elbow position/movement?

    • I’m sorry for the slow reply, PJ. Sharon has just sent this in response:

      I am finding that Thoroughbreds have more degradation to the elbow cartilage if they have raced. This is possibly due to the workload prior to maturation or the cartilages inability to adapt quickly enough to the load.
      The only time that conformation has made a difference is if they paddle, the radial bone wear pattern has more of an oblique angle to it.

      Hypermobility often shows great flexible traits, but this trait is hard on ligaments and supportive soft tissue structures.

      The soft tissue structures to date that show issues are the Superficial and Deep digital flexor origins and Biceps brachii, so your B.brachii bursa issue is interesting because I have seen minimal to mild bursitis on those horses being ridden.

      At this point in time, I am interested in 4cyte’s ability to seem to deal with the inflammation and change to clunk (?).

      Early days yet and I will keep Jane posted as to what we are finding.

      Cheers

      Sharon

  52. Hi Sharon, Your knowledge seem like every horse owner’s dream!
    My 17 years old connemara had a terrible accident ; DX comminuted fractures of at least 4-5 withers. Diffused swollen accross both dorsale scaula edges, protruding more dorsally than the wither’s thorn tops. The withers are collapsed to below the shoulderbldes level. He has been on box- and small paddock for the past 6 weeks with water and hay in chest height since he couldn’t bend his neck to the ground. He can now bend his head to the ground and get slowfeedingnets on the ground. I hear so many different views on his rehabilitation and how to best manage it due to stress being on his own and not overeating and little movement etc. Is slowfeeding nets bad for his neck/fractures , where callus has started to form? Is handwalking him at this stage a good idea and for how long each day ? what would your recommendations be at what stage he can be ridden again and how to start him off and are there specific exercises on the ground that would strengthen his whole body after having no movement for so long in order to build up all his structures in a healthy way avoiding other injuries etc.? For me the most important is to keep him as sound as possible and to do the retraining the correct way in his best interest in order to be able to keep him healthy many years to come? I hope you can help or give some suggestions what is important and how to deal with this horrible accident. I appreciate your help very much. Thank you.

    • Hi Ingrid

      I’m sorry to hear about your horse’s accident.

      This question requires an answer that is more in line with a consultation… I’ll let Sharon know that it’s here, but must warn you that she’s a busy lady! This isn’t her site, so she just checks in from time to time.

      Are you in the UK? I know at least two highly skilled professionals there who might be able to help, depending on your location.

      Best wishes, Jane

  53. Pat Lee says:

    I am curious : does your horse exhibit momentary discomfort (ears flick back or visible other displays) when your horse’s gait clunks (in walk)? My horse will display a ‘clunk’ (to me its like taking a step and the ground is not level) several times each fore leg during our ride. He never flicks his ears back during the clunk. But when walking down a grade is very careful/hesitant…ears seem to be pointing towards the back sometimes.

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