I’m not too sure how to start this, so I’ll just jump right in. Yesterday we took Freddie up to Leahurst Equine Hospital. Like the true gent he is he loaded well and traveled perfectly fine, despite being alone in a strange box. We were met by 8 (yes, 8!) vets, 4 qualified and 4 students due to graduate and qualify this year. The students asked lots of questions, presumably for their research, while one of the qualified vets spoke to me about Fred’s dietary requirements (I just stressed the low-calorie and non-heating importance of his food.)
While we were still there, they did trot ups, flexion tests, lunging on soft & hard and then I bobbed on – pooing myself at having to ride in front of 8 strangers – and rode him for them. He had his bone scan today and we got the first initial results tonight, though it is just a case of a very basic idea of what may be going on. We are using these tests to get to the bottom of what is going on in his bones.
My boy is only 8 years old, and he has arthritis.
To cut a long story (that we don’t completely have answers to) short, he has some level (we don’t yet know how severe) of arthritis in both hocks, as well as things going on in a small area of his back and stifle (not necessarily arthritis!) We will find out in more depth as to what is going on this Friday, as he is staying in for X-Rays.
Now, I could so easily get very, very heated about this. Arthritis in horses is something I know a lot about and have experienced more than once before.
(Osteo) Arthritis is the degeneration of joint cartilage and the underlying bone. This is caused by simply wear and tear and is usually seen in older horses (late teens & 20’s) and occasionally ever so slightly younger in horses that do high levels of strenuous work (like Eventers, Show Jumpers, Grand Prix Dressage Horses and so on so forth)
Young horses get arthritis because they have done too much too soon in their so far short lives, (unless they have a gene abnormality that leaves them more susceptible to arthritic changes, which is unusual but not unheard of.)
A (very) young horse that is backed and ridden away, then put into full work will be damaged. Before anyone contradicts, I understand there is some research (done by a man called Wolff) to show that doing a small amount of what you intend to do with the horse long term while it is young will actually strengthen the bones, helping them to adapt to the strain their job will consist of. That said, this is not always the case and you have to be incredibly careful when bringing on a young horse. I personally despise seeing youngsters doing too much, having already had a brilliant horse break down aged 10 from being hammered doing BSJA as a youngster.
This issue of backing young horses, what age to back them and what to do once they are backed is one of the most controversial topics within the equine world. I will never, no matter what is said to me, agree with beginning a horses ridden career before it is at least 3. Call me old fashioned, but I’m a believer in backing, turning away to grow, bringing back in and producing slowly, without major jumping before the age of 7. Yet how many showjumpers do we see in the biggest classes who are barely older than that? There are classes for 4 year olds, jumping tracks of around a meter and justifying it by using Wolff’s Law of Bone Formation and Adaption, which in some cases makes sense! To an extent, yes I understand. A horse must learn it’s job, but in a sad number of cases it is simply the greed of people pushing too hard too soon.
Freddie is 8.
He was backed at around 2 and a half, and hunting by 3. He has done around 4 seasons, before I bought him aged 6.
Now he is 8, and has arthritis.
Bella was an affiliated show jumper before she turned 9.
She was retired from proper work aged 10.
She was treated for chronic arthritis in both hocks for two years.
She died aged 12, unable to move without pain.
Do you see the pattern?
Please, for the love of horses, can’t we educate ourselves to be more patient with them as babies? Let babies be babies, let them grow and mature and learn. There is absolutely nothing to say an older horse will not be able to do the job as well as a younger one. If anything, they can be better! They will – usually – last longer at the end of the day.
We are of course not giving up on this bit of bad news, as it could’ve been much worse. When we get the results on Friday we will form a plan and go from there.
I apologise to those who will inevitably disagree with me, but you won’t change my opinion. I do not blame hunting as a sport for Freddie’s current problems, he just did too much far too young. Hammering a young horse will lead to problems, it’s a fact. If I weren’t slightly gutted currently, I’d do a proper write up on Arthritis and give you all the facts so it doesn’t just seem like I’m an irritated person with an opinion I cannot prove. However, I’m not going to as Masterchef is on and I think I deserve to unwind.
Again, Keep your fingers crossed for Fred please!
Tatty Bye x