Effects of aquatic conditioning on cartilage and bone metabolism in young horses. Academic Article uri icon


  • While beneficial in rehabilitation, aquatic exercise effects on cartilage and bone metabolism in young, healthy horses has not been well described. Therefore, 30 Quarter Horse yearlings (343 28 kg; 496 12 d of age) were stratified by age, body weight (BW), and sex and randomly assigned to 1 of 3 treatments for 140-d to evaluate effects of aquatic, dry, or no exercise on bone and cartilage metabolism in young horses transitioning to an advanced workload. Treatments included nonexercise control (CON; n = 10), dry treadmill (DRY; n = 10), or aquatic treadmill exercise (H2O; n = 10; water: 60% wither height, WH). Horses were housed individually (3.6 3.6 m) from 0600 to 1800 hours, allowed turnout (74 70 m) from 1800 to 0600 hours, and fed to meet or exceed requirements. During phase I (days 0 to 112), DRY and H2O walked on treadmills 30 min/d, 5 d/wk. Phase II (days 113 to 140) transitioned to an advanced workload 5 d/wk. Every 14-d, WH, hip height (HH), and BW were recorded. Left third metacarpal radiographs on days 0, 112, and 140 were analyzed for radiographic bone aluminum equivalence (RBAE). Every 28-d, serum samples were analyzed for osteocalcin and C-telopeptide crosslaps of type I collagen (CTX-1), and synovial fluid samples were analyzed for prostaglandin E2, collagenase cleavage neopeptide (C2C), collagenase of type I and type II collagen, and carboxypeptide of type II collagen using ELISAs. All data were analyzed using PROC MIXED of SAS, including random effect of horse within treatment, and repeated effect of day. Baseline treatment differences were accounted for using a covariate. There were treatment day interactions (P < 0.01) where OC and CTX-1 remained consistent in both exercise groups while inconsistently increasing in CON. There were no treatment differences (P > 0.30) in RBAE, BW, or HH, but all increased over time (P < 0.01). There were no treatment day interactions of synovial inflammation or markers of cartilage metabolism; however, there was an effect of day for each marker (P<0.03). Changes in biomarkers of cartilage turnover in horses exercised at the walk, whether dry or aquatic, could not be distinguished from horses with access to turnout alone. This study indicates that early forced exercise supports consistent bone metabolism necessary for uniform growth and bone development, and that there are no negative effects of buoyancy on cartilage metabolism in yearlings transitioned from aquatic exercise to a 28-d advanced workload.

published proceedings

  • J Anim Sci

altmetric score

  • 0.5

author list (cited authors)

  • Silvers, B. L., Leatherwood, J. L., Arnold, C. E., Nielsen, B. D., Huseman, C. J., Dominguez, B. J., ... Bradbery, A. N.

citation count

  • 3

complete list of authors

  • Silvers, Brittany L||Leatherwood, Jessica L||Arnold, Carolyn E||Nielsen, Brian D||Huseman, Chelsie J||Dominguez, Brandon J||Glass, Kati G||Martinez, Rafael E||Much, Mattea L||Bradbery, Amanda N

publication date

  • August 2020