Q: My mare has osteoarthritis in her hocks, which can make some schooling difficult for her. I want to maintain her fitness, without stressing her joints or making her arthritis flare. Do you have any advice for how best to achieve this?

A: Osteoarthitis is a condition that commonly affects older horses, but it doesn’t have to mark the end of their career. Just chat to your vet and see if they feel that you are doing all you can to keep her joints healthy, and check if they have any advice on the kind of exercise she will benefit from before you begin. There are lots of general ways that you can protect your mare and keep her fit enough to manage her workload, but make sure you get specific advice from your vet for your mare’s particular situation. Osteoarthritis does not present in the same way in all horses, or affect them all similarly. Bear this in mind, but general principles for schooling a horse with osteoarthritis are as follows:

  1. Tailor your schooling sessions accordingly. Allowing for a longer warm-up that focuses on stretching is important. Avoid too much work on small circles, tight turns and frequent jumping, and make sure that you keep an eye on how your mare is coping with the different exercises.
  2. Be flexible. Be flexible in your planning of her sessions. If you start a schooling session and she doesn’t feel great, then take her out for a hack instead. Be guided by how she is feeling – she knows how her body is coping.
  3. Work on good ground surfaces. Too much work on hard, deep, slippery or uneven surfaces can damage even the strongest and healthiest of joints, never mind the tendons! Work your mare on a good quality arena surface and you shouldn’t have too many problems.