Over the past five years, vet Stephen Ashdown has written many articles, spoken on equine matters and contributed widely to horse magazines.

Here he reproduces in the form of questions and answers about 100 topics, all of them common problems which afflict horses.

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Q Can you help me with my arthritic mare, Betty, a 20-year old, 14.2hh Welsh Cob? A couple of months ago she went slightly lame on her near fore and X-rays confirmed arthritis at the top of her knee joint.

She was given bute and I was told that I could ride her, but only quietly. However, I have a number of worries about Betty. Is it really fair to continue riding her (at present I am sticking to gentle walks, which she seems to enjoy)? Should I retire her and get another horse to hack - if so, will Betty need some walking in-hand as well as the exercise she gives herself at grass? Finally, is it really safe to continue giving her bute? She has a sachet every day but I understand that it can be harmful in the long-term, so I am also giving her devil's claw and yucca. Are there any other herbal or homoeopathic supplements that I could use to replace the bute?

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A My answer to your query depends to some extent on what type of arthritis your mare has. Arthritis is a general term for any inflammation (soreness) in the joints.

In many cases of such disease a little exercise is useful to help joints work normally ( based on the premise of 'use it, or lose it!') and you will have to rely on the advice given by your own vet who has seen her X-rays. Phenyllbutazone, commonly known as 'bute', is a frequently used drug in the aspirin family: it reduces joint inflammation and pain. Bute is useful in the short term but it can have side effects, such as an increase on joint wear and tear over time, as well as irritating the lining of the bowels.

My usual approach to treating non-specific arthritis is to use supplements that will help to strengthen bone and cartilage (eg. comfrey and specific formulas), a joint lubricant formula, a glucosamine-type product - and perhaps ginger or frankincense, both of which, I find, have a better soothing effect than devil's claw or yucca.

More Information on Arthritis

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