As any horse owner who has dealt with them can attest to, stifle issues can be tough to diagnose, treat, and manage. In the blog below, I’ll share my top tips for what has helped my horse Luna stay comfortable and healthy over the years. As with any health issue, I highly recommend working closely with your veterinarian to develop a program tailored for your individual horse.
My mare Luna was diagnosed with upward fixation of the patella (UFP) or “sticky stifles” about 4 years ago. UFP is a mechanical issue in which the patellar ligaments can get caught on the notch of the stifle, causing the leg to “lock” in position. While UFP is considered an incurable condition, there are several management techniques that may help to minimize locking up.
- As much turnout as possible
For Luna, constant movement is critically important to helping her stay comfortable (and happy). She does best on 24/7 turnout, where the constant, gentle movement helps keep her from stiffening up. Even if 24/7 turnout is not possible, increasing your horse’s time outside as much as possible may be beneficial.
- Balanced hoof care
Luna has benefited from adding hind shoes, and while not all horses will require this, making sure the hind hooves are well-balanced is important to ensure proper breakover. Working closely with your hoof care professional to find the right shoeing or trimming techniques can result in significant improvement.
- Consistent work schedule
Horses with UFP tend to do well on a very consistent work schedule that emphasizes fitness and keeps them moving. I’ve found that Luna thrives on an every-other-day work schedule and gets stiff if she is not worked for 3 or more days. Developing and maintaining a baseline fitness level has helped her UFP to improve significantly, and I can’t stress the importance of this enough. Unfortunately horses with this condition don’t seem to do well when given long breaks or time off, so try to avoid this if possible.
- Specific exercises
There are several exercises that can be done to help strengthen the muscles around the stifle joint, which can help take the stress off those ligaments and result in decreased fixation of the stifle. The most common one is backing up, which is often recommended to include daily. Another common recommendation is to include hill work, if possible. Going up and down hills regularly is especially beneficial for strengthening stifles. If hills aren’t accessible in your area, you can also use cavaletti or raised poles to encourage your horse to lift and strengthen the stifles.
- Joint supplement
While UFP is primarily a mechanical issue, it can cause additional stress on the hocks and stifle joints. For this reason, I support Luna with SmartFlex III Resilience Pellets to help keep her joints, tendons and ligaments healthy. She loves the testy pellets and I have peace of mind knowing I’m providing key ingredients to support joint health.
I hope you found these tips helpful! Please share your favorite tips for managing stifle issues in the comments below, and have a great ride!