Text: Charlotte Bastiaanse

Some of us more pedantic horse owners have considered putting our horses on a joint supplement with the hopes of prolonging their active lives and keeping them comfortable in their work. There are a vast number of products on the market that specialise in joint care and protection, but the key to knowing which one is right for your horse is understanding the main active ingredients and what they do.

When does my horse need to go on a supplement?

Firstly, when you make the decision to feed your horse a supplement, it’s important to stay committed to feeding it regularly. Supplements are ineffective if you do not feed the recommended dose or if you feed them some months and then skip others. Supplements can also be costly, so factor this into your budgeting and keep up to date with when they need to be replaced.

Secondly, not all horses need to be on a supplement. Competitive riders and professionals will no doubt have their horses on a few things to help maintain their joints and keep them comfortable, but what about the average horse owner or amateur competitor? If you can afford to feed a supplement and your vet has given you the okay, then your horse can only benefit in the long term. However, a horse only really needs to go on a supplement when he is starting to compete in the medium classes or if he is training intensively at home. To ball-park it, you should start feeding a joint supplement if you are competing in 1m showjumping and up, Elementary dressage and up, or any level of eventing or endurance riding. It does largely come down to how many hours you do with your horse on a weekly basis as well. Even if you’re not competing on a regular basis, if you ride almost every day or if you jump twice a week or more then you should also be considering a supplement. School ponies and horses can also benefit from being on a supplement, even if they’re only doing simple work, purely because they will probably work more than the individually owned horse.

Always consult with your vet about your horse’s current work and your future goals. If your horse has had a past injury or his conformation doesn’t work in your favour, your vet might tell you that no amount of supplements will help you reach the Open classes.

Ingredients to consider:

Glucosamine

Glucosamine is one of the most well-studied ingredients in equine joint supplements, and it is either present in a supplement as glucosamine sulphate or glucosamine hydrochloride. The ingredient is considered the ‘building block’ of all connective tissues, including cartilage. Glucosamine is often used in joint supplements as it aids in relieving pain, and it slows down the process of cartilage breakdown. It also encourages healing and can therefore be fed to horses recovering from an injury. Glucosamine is often seen in combination with chondroitin, as these ingredients tend to work better together than separately.

Chondroitin

Chondroitin sulphate is a structural component of cartilage, bone and tougher connective tissues. Chondroitin is used as a pain-relieving agent; however, the effects are not as obvious as those of glucosamine. Some horse owners have however reported that horses move more fluidly in general if they’re on a supplement with chondroitin. Studies have reported mixed results about the ingredient’s effectiveness, but the common agreement is that chondroitin prevents further cartilage breakdown and is therefore used in supplements that promote longevity.

Glucosamine and chondroitin combination

As previously mentioned, the majority of joint supplements will use glucosamine and chondroitin together. Recent research shows superior results when these ingredients are combined in comparison to when isolated. You may find that a product that features both ingredients will include them at a lower dose than what would be recommended for the ingredients in isolation. The combination of ingredients cares for existing cartilage and connective tissues, prevents breakdown and assists with relieving pain in joints.

Hyaluronic acid

Hyaluronic acid is an important component itself of both cartilage and joint fluid. The ingredient used to be administered as an injectable drug, but most recently has been available as a feed supplement. Hyaluronic acid is effective in controlling pain, heat and swelling. If your horse hasn’t responded as well as you had hoped to glucosamine and chondroitin, then hyaluronic acid is your next best bet.

Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM)

Methylsulfonylmethane is an effective anti-inflammatory ingredient that has far-reaching effects on the ability of muscle tissue to rebound from exercise stress. MSM is a source of dietary sulphur, a mineral involved in collagen, cartilage, hooves, hair, joint fluid, and important enzymes. MSM works to reduce swelling, improve muscle recovery after exercise, and protect and maintain connective tissues and cartilage in joints.

Collagen

Collagen is the name of a protein behind the structure of connective tissues, including bone and cartilage. The collagen ingredient in supplements is often in the form of hydrolysed collagen, meaning that it has been purified and broken down into smaller protein units for easier digestion and absorption. Collagen is used to promote wound and ulcer healing, and has most recently been used in arthritis treatments, as it has naturally occurring amounts of glucosamine, chondroitin and hyaluronic acid.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is essential for healthy cartilage and connective tissues; however, owners need to be extremely cautious and aware of dosage amounts. Too much vitamin C can actually damage the cartilage. Horses should already be receiving a healthy vitamin C intake through sufficient grazing, and therefore adding a supplement on top of that could be potentially dangerous.