We ask our horses to participate in a variety of athletic endeavors, from reining and dressage, to racing and jumping. All of these activities put stress and strain on their joints.

To understand how joint supplementation may help you horse, you need to know a bit about the makeup of the equine joint.

The equine joint is made up of the articular cartilage, the synovial fluid (joint fluid) and the soft tissue structures that hold the joint together (capsule and ligaments). The articular cartilage and the synovial fluid are very important:

The articular cartilage is made up of chondrocytes (cartilage cells) that reside with a matrix. The matrix is made up of proteoglycans, collagen, and elastin. The proteoglycans are made up of a core strand of hyaluronic acid with branches of glycosaminoglycans (GAGs). Water sticks to the GAGs and gives the cartilage resistance to pressure.

The synovial fluid contains two main components. The first is the fluid part. It is produced from filtered blood plasma. The second component is hyaluronic acid. It is produced by cells of the synovial lining of the joint capsule. The joint fluid acts as a shock absorber, decreases friction, supplies oxygen and nutrients to the chondrocytes, and removes waste.

When there is stress or wear and tear on these structures, inflammation develops. The inflammatory factors degrade the structures and quality of the cartilage and joint fluid. Normally, the joint is able to respond by producing new joint fluid and cartilage cells. If this process is overwhelmed, then permanent damage can occur, thus producing an unhealthy and sometimes painful joint.

What can a horse owner do?

As horse owners, we would like to be able to decrease the stress and inflammation in our horses’ joints and help make them healthier. There are several oral supplements that can be used to do just that. These supplements contain ingredients that are part of the makeup of either the articular cartilage or the synovial fluid. There are also supplements that act as anti-inflammatories. For more advanced disease, there are prescription only treatments available from your veterinarian.

Does Joint Supplementation Really Work?

The research in both humans and horses has been varied in its findings. Some reports have shown improvements while others have shown no effect. Fortunately none have shown any harm. Many horse owners report anecdotal evidence that supplementation works. Some horse owners are concerned about feeding their insulin resistant horses products containing glucosamine, a type of sugar. There is little to no risk in giving glucosamine to a horse with insulin resistance. In fact, it may help by making him more comfortable to be exercised, thus helping him to lose weight.

What Ingredients should I look for in a Joint Supplement?

Here are the ingredients to look for and some products that contain them:

Chondroitin Sulfate has been shown to decrease swelling in joints. It acts by decreasing the amount of destructive enzymes in the joints. It can also decrease certain biomarkers of inflammation in synovial fluid. As a component of proteoglycans, it is a building block of cartilage. It works synergistically with glucosamine.

Equicare Maxflex Chondroitin Pellets
Vita Flex Free

Glucosamine is a natural compound found in healthy cartilage. It is a precursor in the production of proteoglycans in the cartilage matrix and synovial fluid. Glucosamine is believed to strengthen cartilage. It is constantly broken down and resynthesized in normal joints. It works synergistically with Chondroitin Sulfate.

Equicare MaxRelief Glucosamine Pellets

Hyaluronic Acid (HA) is a main part of the makeup of synovial fluid and articular cartilage. It increases the lubrication of the soft tissue structures in the joint and increases the viscosity of joint fluid, while decreasing inflammation in the joint by scavenging free radicals. Supplementation may induce the body to product more of its own HA.

Select Best Hylarx Liquid
Finish Line Fluid Action HA
Farnam VitaFlex Hylamotion Gel

Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) contains sulfur in a form that the body can use. Sulfur is necessary for the formation of collagen, glucosamine, and chondroitin, all components of cartilage. It may also decrease pain and inflammation.

Select MSM
Finish Line MSM
Finish Line Fluid Action

Many products use combinations of Chondroitin, Glucosamine, HA, and MSM to provide all the necessary building blocks:

Nu-Flex Maximizer
Legacy Pellets
ExtraFlex HA®
Cosequin® ASU
Farnam MaxFlex XR
Joint Armor

Other products are made with Green Lipped Mussels (Perna Canaliculus) that provide GAGs; Vitamin C, an antioxidant that scavenges free radicals; Manganese, needed to make joint fluid and cartilage; and anti-inflammatories such as Yucca.

Registered 2011 by Equestrian Collections
Author: Sallie S. Hyman, VMD, DACVIM, CVA

Information in this article is for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for evaluation by an equine professional. In particular, all horse owners should seek advice and treatment from a licensed veterinarian, such as TEVA, for their horses' medical care.

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