Bone problems can spell trouble for equine athletes. In fact, musculoskeletal injuries are the most common cause of poor performance and loss of training days. Severe injuries can force the retirement of competition horses altogether.
It’s not surprising, then, that bone health is a major topic of discussion for horse owners, vets, and researchers.
Proper bone development is critical for a horse’s health—and it doesn’t end once a horse reaches maturity. Exercise, diet, and activity type all impact the animal’s musculoskeletal health from day to day.
We won’t get too into the weeds on the science, but it helps to have a basic understanding of the different stages of bone development.
- Bone formation: In this earliest stage cartilage cells are transformed into hard bone cells through a process called ossification.
- Bone modeling: In this stage the young animal’s bones grow lengthwise and take shape. Modeling helps bones maintain their shape and proportion as they grow and adapt to physical demands.
- Bone remodeling: This is the natural bone repair process that occurs constantly throughout the animal’s life. Remodeling allows a horse’s bones to adjust to new stressors from physical activity, and it replaces bone injured from recurring microtraumas.
As with humans, exercise is essential for healthy bones since it stimulates remodeling. Here are a few ways to protect your horse’s bone health.
Use whole-body vibration therapy
A horse vibration plate is a powerful therapeutic tool for lowering your horse’s risk of muscle or tendon tears and bone fractures.
Research by the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) in Uppsala found that just 10 minutes of vibration therapy a day for 10 days can improve muscle power, blood circulation, and flexibility in horses. Vibration therapy has also been found to decrease levels of the stress hormone cortisol in horses, as well as increase bone density (human study), among other benefits. Vibration therapy has also been found to decrease levels of the stress hormone cortisol in horses, among other benefits.
Optimize their diet with the right nutrients.
Proper nutrition is vital for bone and muscle health. All horses require energy, protein, and the right balance of vitamins and minerals. But they can’t always get what they need from food alone. This is especially true for work horses and competition animals.
A supplement can help them get everything they need. Look for one with calcium (note: calcium to phosphorus ratio is critical—consult with an expert on equine nutrition to ensure the correct ratios), plus micronutrients like magnesium, zinc, copper, manganese, and vitamin D.
Keep in mind that overfeeding minerals can do as much harm as underfeeding—always consult with an equine nutrition expert to determine the right amounts and ratios.
Introduce changes gradually.
A horse’s bone growth and density respond to the animal’s job and activity level. While horses are physically resilient, sudden changes to their routine can lead to injuries and musculoskeletal problems. Whenever possible, introduce changes gradually.
If your horse has suffered an injury, consult your vet on the best course of action for recovery. Too much activity too soon won’t allow the horse’s bones and tissues to heal, while too much time in the stall can lead to bone loss that puts the animal at risk of fracture or injury when they return to work.
Keep Horses Healthy with the Right Equipment
Vitafloor pioneered the first horse vibration plate system to help horses recover faster from injuries and improve their performance. At Vitafloor USA, you’ll find top-of-the-line horse exercisers, horse vibration plates, saddle pads, and other equine exercise equipment and horse accessories designed to keep your horses competitive, fit, and healthy. Browse our online shop to see our complete line of quality products.