20 Feb 2020

Elite Equine and Inflamed Joints in Sport Horses


FEI-certified veterinarian, Duncan Peters, DVM, MS, heads the Sport Horse Program at Hagyard Equine Medical Center in Lexington, Kentucky. Here he explains the role joint inflammation plays in your horse’s injury, how it’s treated and how it may affect your horse’s career:

“Acute synovitis is inflammation that appears suddenly in a joint, often the ankle, coffin or hock. These joints are enclosed in a capsule of soft tissue; the capsule lining (synovial membrane) produces a thick fluid that lubricates the joint. Stress on the joint can trigger inflammation in the lining and the capsule, causing fluid to turn watery and build up. Over time, repeated joint stress can set off a destructive chain of events that lead to osteoarthritis.

Most at risk

Inflamed joints occur across the board, typically when there’s a sudden change in work level or intensity a dressage horse is asked to move up a level too quickly, say, or a hunter does more at a show than he’s used to. Actions such as jumping, work at collected gaits, tight turns and small circles are especially hard on the joints. Unfamiliar footing is another risk factor.


Your horse will be sore or stiff, especially at the start of work. In a mild case he may just seem less fluid or less forward in his gaits. You may find heat, pain and swelling caused by the inflammation in the joint.

Your veterinarian can identify the problem with a physical exam. X-rays can rule out damage to the bones and cartilage, and synovial fluid can be collected and analyzed to rule out infection.


Reducing the inflammation will ease the pain and risk of joint degeneration.

Give him some time off. Depending on the case, this may be stall rest, hand-walking or controlled turnout in a small paddock, for as little as seven to 10 days to as long as a month.

Cold therapy can help in the early stages when there’s heat in the joint.

Your vet may prescribe a short course of anti-inflammatory medication. Topical treatments, poultices, DMSO or Surpass (diclofenac sodium) may help reduce inflammation.

Joint injections can help horses with severe or recurrent synovitis. The injections deliver anti-inflammatory agents usually a corticosteroid alone or in combination with hyaluronic acid, which is a natural component of cartilage and joint fluid directly into the joint.

IRAP therapy is a new approach in which the joint is injected with interleukin-1 receptor antagonist protein, a substance derived from the horse’s own blood. It targets a specific inflammatory pathway involved in joint degeneration.


Most horses with acute synovitis respond well to rest and steps to reduce inflammation. It’s important to prevent repeat episodes that could lead to osteoarthritis, so increase your horse’s work level gradually, be sure he’s in shape for what you ask and space out demanding work sessions and shows to give him time to recover.” [1]

Elite Equine 100% organic rosehip supplement is a powerful anti-inflammatory that could be used as a fighting agent once daily over their food, or made up into a poultice to address both inflammation and infection directly and effectively.

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Image by Ainslie Gilles-Patel from Pixabay