Signs of Arthritis in Horses

Updated July 20, 2017

Equine arthritis is a degenerative joint disease that commonly accompanies ageing but is oftentimes slow to reveal itself, appearing only after the case is somewhat developed. Equine arthritis is a treatable, manageable condition if detected early enough, so it is important to know what signs to look for in your horse. The quicker you identify arthritis in your horse, the better your chances are of taking the necessary steps towards preventing it from escalating.


Puffiness around the joints is oftentimes the first sign of arthritis in horses. You can miss this sign as it is often difficult to detect visually. Running your hands over your horse’s body is usually the only way to feel joint puffiness or swelling. Perform a full body check regularly and ideally after moderate exercise. If a horse has been immobile, he may have retained misleading pockets of fluid in his legs simply from standing. Areas particularly susceptible to arthritic infection are the hock and knee joints. This is partially because a horse’s legs consistently bear the brunt of his full weight and are rarely given a rest.


Stiffness is a fairly common symptom of equine arthritis. It may appear as a shortness of step in one or several legs, a generally choppy gate or a hollowed-out back. Oftentimes, stiffness will be most apparent as the horse first starts to exercise and will dissipate as his joints warm up. Stiffness of this sort is a common indication of subtle, less developed cases of arthritis.


Reluctance to work at a pace or level that is otherwise easy for him is oftentimes a sign of a more elevated case of arthritis in your horse. Rather than bending his body, extending his gaits or accepting contact with the bit, your horse may instead resist rein and leg pressure. When he does so, it is an indication that he is sore and uncomfortable performing manoeuvres he was formerly able to execute.


Lameness can be a symptom of a myriad of ailments in your horse, but is generally a key indicator of arthritis. If your horse is lame, and arthritis is the culprit, it means that the joint is infected or has been irritated enough to cause significant pain. This points to a relatively advanced case of arthritis that may necessitate injections, stall rest or, at the very least, dietary supplements. You can tell your horse is lame if he is obviously favouring one leg or side of his body, so much so that his gait becomes stilted and uncomfortable. Regardless of the cause, a lame horse necessitates a call to the vet.

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About the Author

Allie Rowbottom began writing in 1999 and has been published in "Crossings Magazine,"and on, and the "Black Clock Literary Magazine" blog. She received her Bachelors of Arts degree in creative writing and women's studies from New York University and is in the MFA writing program at California Institute of the Arts.