Your horse’s joints are under stress, even if you can’t see the impact yet. Joint injuries and degenerative conditions like osteoarthritis can cause serious soundness problems. Sometimes they’re even career-ending. But fortunately, along with the right veterinary care and smart horsemanship, supplements may help your horse cope with the stress of exercise and maintain healthy joints.
Osteoarthritis, also known as Degenerative Joint Disease, is one of the most common health conditions affecting performance horses. It causes progressive and permanent deterioration of articular cartilage, the vital tissue that lines the bones within a horse’s major joints. Arthritis is most common in the hock, but other joints frequently affected include the knee, fetlock, coffin bone, and pastern.
Arthritis is caused by the wear and tear of daily exercise, aging, poor conformation, and joint trauma. Healthy articular cartilage provides shock absorption and allows free movement. Damaged articular cartilage that hinders joint movement and shock absorption often leads to lameness.
Signs Of Joint Disease
A horse with arthritis may show a variety of signs depending on the joint affected, the severity of the condition, and his workload. Horse owners usually notice problems like stiffness, shortness of stride, and uneven gait, as well as reluctance to pick up, keep, or change a lead in the canter or lope. Horses that work at speed such as jumpers, reiners, and barrel horses, may become unwilling to stop or turn.
How Supplements Can Help
If you have specific concerns about your horse’s joint health or have noticed the signs of joint disease mentioned above, 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 regular veterinary care and smart management, joint supplements are an invaluable investment in helping keep your horse comfortable and performing at his best. That’s because while your horse’s body has the ability to repair and rebuild after moderate “wear and tear” from light activity, 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 support your horse by providing a steady supply of the ingredients he needs to cope with the demands of his workload.
Ingredients To Look For
Joint Health And Function
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. In fact, an eight-year study demonstrated that consistent use of an oral glucosamine/chondroitin supplement helped maintain soundness in a group of show hunters/jumpers.
Hyaluronic Acid: An integral component of joint cartilage and joint fluid, hyaluronic acid provides both lubrication and shock absorption. One study provides objective evidence that oral HA reduces joint swelling after surgery to remove an OCD in the hock.
Collagen: There’s a growing body of evidence that 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!
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.
Comfort And A Normal Inflammatory Response
MSM: This source of organic sulfur helps support a normal inflammatory response. A group of researchers in Europe showed that MSM exerts a protective effect on oxidative and inflammatory exercise-induced injury in the horse. In layman’s terms, that means that MSM has been shown to help reduce the wear and tear of joint tissues caused by exercise.
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.
Turmeric: This antioxidant has been growing in popularity. The active ingredient in turmeric, curcumin, has been shown by research to have anti-inflammatory properties.6
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.
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.
Choosing The Right Joint Supplement For Your Horse
The number of joint supplements available can make choosing the right one a challenge. Luckily, when you combine your knowledge of how the key ingredients in joint supplements work with an understanding of how your horse’s age and workload impact the amount of support he needs, finding the right supplement is easy.
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 that includes targeted ingredients 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, choose a joint supplement that has a few key ingredients at low to moderate levels. For horses who have a heavy workload, select a formula with a more comprehensive panel of ingredients at higher levels. Finally, keep in mind that some ingredients, such as devil’s claw, are prohibited by many competitive organizations.
Courtesy of SmartPak