Inside the Joint: Protecting Your Horse's Cartilage
By Emily Dickson
Your joints carry the load. Truly.
From simply standing, walking, or intense exercise, our joints stabilize our bodies and allow us to move.
In other words, our joints are under constant loading stress. Not to say that stress is always a bad thing. Stress has become a taboo term because of what we now associate with the word, but a healthy amount of physical stress is a good thing.
Particularly in the joint, adequate stress stimulates healthy turnover and remodeling. Just like your muscles need some stress to grow stronger, the same goes for the structures in your joint, like cartilage.
As you’ve read in past posts, biomarkers are a way for us to measure the stress within a joint, as different changes are made, such as new exercise routines or special diets.
Researchers have identified specific markers that give us information about collagen synthesis and degradation within the cartilage, a major supportive component of the joint.
In terms of collagen degradation, there is a biomarker called Collagenase Cleavage Neoepitope of Type II Collagen. Yes, it's a mouthful, so we’ll call it by its abbreviation: C2C.
The Collagen Ratio
Like I said, some stress is beneficial; some collagen degradation is a good thing. It becomes potentially harmful when degradation is happening at a greater rate than collagen synthesis.
As it relates to cartilage, research has shown that in injured horses and horses with osteoarthritis, there are higher levels of C2C. With OA or injury, cartilage is compromised, in large part due to increased inflammation. Of course, this means that there will be higher levels of degradation products.
When the level of degradation is higher than synthesis and the ratio is out-of-whack...Houston, we have a problem.
As with so many things in life, it’s all about the balance. And in this case, how to optimize your horse’s joint balance.
Protecting Your Horse’s Cartilage
When I consider my horse’s legs, they seem so fragile. These thin legs with hardly any protection or covering (besides a thin layer of skin) support a 1,000+ pound body. That’s pretty incredible, especially considering all that we ask them to do—jump big jumps, cut cows, stop on a dime (and a slide!), run at fast speeds, etc.—and how much force is placed on these legs!
At some level, all of our performance horses’ joints are under stress. This goes for any horse in training, even our trusty lesson horses.
This is part of the reason why having a training plan or exercise schedule is so important. You want your horse’s joints to not only grow stronger, but to also maintain their integrity. You want to put the correct amount of stress on the joint, without overdoing it or progressing too quickly.
Research has shown different findings as it relates to biomarkers, joints, and exercise. With intense exercise training (high level performance horses), C2C levels generally increase.
It makes sense that as the exercise intensity and duration increase, the joint is under more stress and may not always have sufficient time to rest and recover. While we always do our best to give our horses a break, sometimes it’s not practical to take the “foot off the gas pedal” in our horses’ training program, so we need to take other extra precautions.
We want to do everything we can to help decrease inflammation that results in excess collagen degradation so that the horses’ joints maintain an ideal ratio of collagen synthesis to degradation.
You want your horse to perform at its best and enjoy a long, successful career. That means that every time you ride your horse, you must be thinking about how you can support their joint health!
Originally from Washington state, Emily’s love for horses took her first to Colorado State University and then to Texas A&M University where she earned her M.S. in Animal Science, concentrating on Equine Nutrition and Exercise Physiology. She is a certified health coach and lifelong equestrian, passionate about optimizing whole body health at the cellular level for both horses and humans. You can currently find her living outside of Boise, Idaho with her horse and dog. You can read more about her journey at www.primetimetherapies.com or email her at email@example.com.
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