Dr. Lydia Gray Answers Your Health Questions: Should I Keep My Horse on Joint Supplements for Stifles?

November 9th, 2013 7:00 AM | No Comments

First published in our October issue of Show Horse Today

DrLydiaGray_SmartPak-cropped-225Q: I have a 3 year old gelding that started showing signs of stifle problems as a yearling.  From a yearling to 2 year old it progressively got worse and his legs, one or the other, were locking up. I had his stifles injected a few times and the muscles above the stifle injected one time. As a 2 year old I started giving him Equinyl Combo last October and started turning him out in pasture more, and he is now being ridden daily or exercised. His legs are doing well but I am not sure if it is the Equinyl Combo or he just grew out of it. One time when I ran out of the Equinyl Combo and gave him Grand Flex for 2 weeks he had a morning where his leg locked up when he walked out of the stall. Do you think I should keep him on the Equinyl Combo forever or try to get him off of it? It was hard to believe that the Equinyl Combo helped a loose ligament but I think that is what helped him. Thanks! – BW

A: Dear BW,

Just so that everyone’s clear, let me quickly explain what’s going on here, then move on to your question. It sounds like this horse has what is known as “upward fixation of the patella.” The patella is the small, bony plate (the kneecap) that protects the knee joint in people, where the femur and tibia meet. In horses, this joint is known as the stifle. A unique hooking of the patellar ligaments over a notch on the femur allows the horse to lock its hind legs in the standing position. Unfortunately, if one of these ligaments remains in the hooked position, the horse is unable to bend its hind legs. Of the three ligaments that support the patella, it is generally the medial, or inside, patellar ligament that is longer and weaker or “loose.” This problem can range from a slight delay in a leg’s forward motion to completely locking that freezes a leg for long periods of time and may be easier to see when a horse first moves off, is turned, or walks downhill.

Experts aren’t sure what causes this condition, but here are some things that have been suggested:

  • Poor muscle condition
  • Excessively straight hind limb conformation
  • Trauma to the stifle
  • Debilitation (undernourishment or ill health)
  • Upward fixation of the patella is more common in young horses and ponies, and is also seen when a horse is taken abruptly out of training and confined to a stall, losing weight and muscle condition.

Now to your question: did he grow out of it or did the Equinyl Combo help?

Personally, I think a combination of things have improved your horse’s condition. First, he is getting older, and as he gains height and weight the problem may be self-correcting. Two, you added a supplement with ingredients to help manage pain and inflammation which have been associated with this condition. Third, and this may be the most important thing, you have begun exercising him daily and providing more pasture turnout. There are some things that may lead to upward fixation of the patella that you can’t change (like conformation), but there are other things that you can change (like muscle tone), and it sounds like you’re doing a great job with that.

I encourage you to continue the exercise and turnout, explore corrective trimming and shoeing with your farrier, and keep him in the best overall health possible by working with your veterinarian to develop a good vaccination, deworming and dental care schedule. Feed him to be at an ideal body condition score (5 on a scale of 1 to 9). And if you feel that the Equinyl Combo is helping, by all means continue it. I don’t believe it’s doing any harm and might encourage him to keep moving through some mild stiffness and soreness.

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