The area of supplements for horses is quite a minefield and its difficult to know what to give or not to give your horse. I know as a horse owner I have looked at many a product wondering whether it would actually benefit my horse. I have a 19 year old horse and have often looked into joint supplements but its hard to know which are beneficial or not. This post will hopefully help you as an owner to make a more informed decision on the matter
The main areas of focus would be the joints of the legs as they are predominantly weight bearing and therefore undergo a lot of wear and tear. Synovial joints are the most mobile so are often affected the most. Synovial joints are generally composed of a joint capsule with articular cartilage on the surfaces of the bones that meet. The synovial capsule allows fluid to be retained in the joint helping with lubrication and the articular cartilage is a smooth surface that allows the bony ends to glide over each other. These structures can become damaged over time through repetitive use and traumatic damage. Osteoarthritis (OA) can also develop which can cause painful and stiff joints.
Risk factors of joint damage and OA
- High intensity activities
- High volume of exercise
- How many years training at a high level
- Training surfaces- training on hard ground would have an impact on joints
- Type of training- Jumping exercises would carry a much greater impact than leisure hacking
- Conformation- how a horse is put together will affect stress placed on certain joints
- Hoof balance- How a horse is shod and trimmed will also affect load on joints
From the above list it can be seen that as an owner you can reduce the risk to your horses joints by making decisions not to gallop, canter or jump your horse when the ground is to hard. Making sure you have a balanced training plan that allows recovery time. Allowing your horse to have regular bodywork sessions to reduce any muscle tension and to help with any conformational issues. Having a good farrier or foot specialist. Also a well balanced diet. All these can help reduce the impact to your horses joints without having to spend lots of money on specific joint supplements.
Above I mentioned what you can do to reduce the risk, which is the long run can be a cheaper way to maintain a healthy active horse into old age. However you may feel your horse needs a helping hand so what should you be looking for in a joint supplement. Below are some of the key ingredients that should probably be present for it to have any benefit.
Chondrotin sulphate is anti inflammatory, helps protect joints, controls water content in cartilage and reduces friction in a joint. There is some research to indicate that it can be absorbed allowing it to have some bioavailability to horses and helps with osteoarthritis. Combined with glucosamine it is thought to be more effective.
Glucosamine helps with collagen synthesis, and reduces joint degradation. It has very good availability to be absorbed in the gut
MSM is available in the horses natural diet and provides sulphur which helps repair collagen, however through processing and drying this can be lost. It is anti inflammatory and has analgesic properties. As horses get older then their levels of MSM decrease so supplementing them may have some benefit.
Omega-3 and -6 fatty acids
Omega-6 fatty acids are considered pro inflammatory due to the fact that they are involved in vital body functions such as blood pressure, blood clotting and immune responses which are needed in the body.
Omega-3 fatty acids are deemed anti inflammatory because they decrease blood clotting and inflammatory responses as a result omega-3 can help to reduce inflammation in joints. Good sources of omega-3 are from linseed and fish oil.
So the above products in a supplement can potentially have a beneficial affect on joints but more research needs to be done. One thing you do need to look out for is the quantities of each ingredient in some products. If the product doesn’t have enough then it is pointless and you will be wasting money. Chondrotin sulphate glucosamine and MSM are not cheap ingredients so expect to pay a lot of money for a product that will be effective. Adding Omega oils to a well balanced diet and reducing the risk factors of joint damage will probably be a much more cost effective and simple way of keeping your horse fit and healthy into old age.