Do any of the following describe your horse? Young horse, horse in light work, horse in heavy work, performance horse, horse in recovery, or senior horse? If so, your horse may be at risk for painful joint problems, because arthritic changes have been found in all these types of horses. In fact, a 1999 study in the Equine Veterinary Journal identified joint changes in a herd of wild mustangs who hadn’t been ridden a day in their lives.
Too often, joint health is “out of sight, out of mind,” and horse owners don’t start thinking about it until their horse is showing signs of discomfort. This is unfortunate because not only is it painful for your horse, but arthritic changes (degradation in the health of a horse’s joints) are permanent and progressive, meaning that once arthritis starts, it will continue to get worse. That’s why the best time to support healthy joints is right now, whether your horse is maintaining his regular workload, taking a break, or hitting the show circuit this winter.
How You Can Help
If you have specific concerns about your horse’s joint health, the first thing you should do is talk to your veterinarian. Your vet knows your horse best, and he or she will be able to diagnose your horse and help you develop the right treatment plan, which may include prescription medication and management changes. Along with regularly veterinary care and smart management, joint supplements are an invaluable investment in helping keep your horse comfortable and performing at his best. Your horse’s body is designed to repair and rebuild the normal “wear and tear” to joints that comes with being a horse in its natural state of roaming and grazing, but research has shown that even wild mustangs can develop joint degeneration.
When you add in the increased demands of riding and training, it’s easy to see how your horse’s joints may be experiencing more damage than his body can keep up with. Joint supplements can help by providing a steady supply of the ingredients he needs to cope with the stress of his workload.
With supplements, consistency is key. If your horse has the same exercise routine all year, then your joint supplement routine shouldn’t change, either. However, if your horse’s training program changes in the winter, reflecting that in the level of joint support he receives may be a wise choice. A horse stepping up his game to compete on the winter show circuit may benefit from having his joint support stepped up, too. On the other hand, if your horse spends his winter on vacation, consider switching him to a supplement that provides a lower level of joint support. You’ll save some money while still giving your horse the help he needs to spring into action when the weather warms up. To learn more about how to choose the right joint supplement for your horse this season, keep reading.
Know Your Ingredients
If you’ve looked for a joint supplement before, you know that there are many ingredients available. Below, we’ll dig deeper into some of the common ingredients to get a better understanding of how they can help your horse.
Mother Nature’s Big Three
Three of the main ingredients you’ll find in joint supplements are glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, and hyaluronic acid. These are what we like to call “Mother Nature’s Big Three” because they are forms of the nutrients your horse’s body already produces.
Glucosamine: This building block of chondroitin sulfate is one of the most fundamental joint health ingredients. In fact, research suggests that glucosamine supports the production of new cartilage and inhibits cartilage breakdown.
Chondroitin Sulfate: The building block of hyaluronic acid and proteoglycans, both of which are essential to healthy joint structures. Chondroitin sulfate appears to work synergistically with glucosamine to stimulate new cartilage production and inhibit cartilage breakdown.
Hyaluronic Acid: An integral component of joint cartilage and joint fluid, providing both lubrication and shock absorption.
Other Major Ingredients
MSM: A source of organic sulfur which is required for a number of functions in the body. Sulfur plays critical roles in the formation of connective tissue, including the bones, tendons, and ligaments that make up your horse’s joints. MSM also helps support a normal inflammatory response.
Devil’s Claw, Yucca, And Boswellia: These herbs are commonly used to fight discomfort in joints and other tissues, along with supporting a normal inflammatory response. If you compete, keep in mind that certain herbs may not be permitted by many competitive organizations.
Avocado/Soybean Unsaponifiables (ASU): A vegetable extract made from avocado and soybean oils that helps protect cartilage and works synergistically with both glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate to provide additional joint support.
Vitamin C: A water soluble vitamin and critical antioxidant. Not only does vitamin C protect tissues throughout the body, it’s vital in the production of all connective tissue. Aging horses and those in training often need additional vitamin C in their diet.
Green Tea Extract: This antioxidant helps protect the horse’s body from the damaging effects of free radicals, which may be released during times of stress, injury, or activity.
Collagen: Collagen supports joint health in a variety of ways, including addressing cartilage deterioration, supporting a normal response to inflammation, and managing discomfort associated with exercise. It’s also excellent for supporting resilient tendons and ligaments!
Resveratrol: A potent antioxidant that has been demonstrated to support joint integrity. It’s known for its ability to protect cartilage from the damaging effects of free radicals and to help address joint inflammation associated with heavy work.
Turmeric: This antioxidant has been growing in popularity. Its key benefits include supporting a normal response to inflammation and helping address the discomfort that can come with exercise.
Consider Your Horse’s Workload And Age
Your horse’s age can play a key role in your selection of a joint supplement. If your horse is showing signs of stiffness and discomfort as he gets older, you may want to look for a senior-specific supplement to help keep him comfortable.
Similarly, your horse’s workload can help determine how much joint support he needs. More work equals more stress, which in turn requires more support. If your horse is in light to moderate work this fall and winter, choose a joint supplement that has a few key ingredients at low to moderate levels. For horses who are maintaining or stepping up to a heavy workload, select a formula with a more comprehensive panel of ingredients at higher levels.
Courtesy of SmartPak