Pole work for horses with Osetoarthritis
Updated: Nov 16, 2019
Pole work is a great remedial exercise that has multiple benefits. Today I am going to talk about the use of pole work as a remedial exercise for horses with osteoarthritis and how to carry out a few simple pole work exercises.
As maintaining joint range of motion (ROM) and muscle mass is crucial for managing osteoarthritis, pole work is a great remedial exercise to carry out for this disease. Although there is a lack of research into the effects of pole work, findings from Brown et al’s study prove that trotting over ground poles and raised poles significantly increases limb flexion and ROM in all joints in the forelimb and hindlimb, and that the horse clears the poles due to increases in joint flexion rather than by raising the body higher. Moreover, studies on humans have shown that controlled exercise does not harm articular cartilage (the cartilage that cushions each end of the bone in a joint) in people with knee OA and in fact has beneficial effects on OA by improving clinical symptoms and joint function, while reducing rates of re-occurrence.
When it comes to the distance between the poles, it will vary depending on the size of the horse or pony as well as the activity. A good starting point for exercises at walk is to have around 90cm between each pole. With trot poles the distance should be around 1.5m.
When introducing a horse to pole work, always begin with walking over one single pole in a straight line. Once they are happy walking over the pole in both directions increase it to three poles in a straight line. It is also important to note that you should never use just two poles as the horse might try and jump over them instead of stepping over them. To progress this exercise, increase the number of poles. Once they are used to walking over poles in hand, they can be long reined in trot or ridden at walk or trot.
Each pole work exercise should be carried out in both directions with the same number of repetitions on each rein. To start with, 3-5 repetitions should be carried out on each rein, this can then be increased overtime to progress the exercise. These exercises should be carried out on a forgiving surface that is not too hard, and carried out daily for the best results. To easily fit this exercise into a daily routine, poles can be laid out so that the horse is walked over them when being brought in/out of their field.
Once the horse is carrying out these exercises well, increase the difficulty by increasing the height of the poles. Begin by raising them on alternate ends and then later progress to having them raised on both end. For both of these exercises, introduce them by having two poles on the ground and the last one raised. Once the horse is comfortably walking over this exercise, raise the last two poles and walk over them again. Finally you can raise all 3 poles. Once the horse is comfortably completing this exercise, add more poles to the exercise to further increase the difficulty.
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Bricca, A., Struglics, A., Larsson, S., Steultjens, M., Juhl, C.B. and Roos, E.M. 2018. Impact of exercise therapy on molecular biomarkers related to articular cartilage and inflammation in people at risk of, or with established, knee osteoarthritis: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Osteoarthritis and Cartilage, 26, pp. S314 - S315.
Brown, S., Stubbs, N.C., Kaiser, L.J., Lavagnino, M. and Clayton, H.M. 2014. Swing phase kinematics of horses trotting over poles. Equine Veterinary Journal, 47 (1), pp. 107 – 112.
Contino, E.K. 2018. Management and rehabilitation of joint disease in sport horses. Veterinary Clinics of North America: Equine Practice, 34 (2), pp. 345 – 358.
Wang, H., Ma, Y., Guo, Y. and Pan, Y. 2018. Effects of exercise therapy for knee osteoarthritis. International Journal of Clinical Experimental Medicine, 11 (9), pp. 10009 – 10014.