Your horse’s body is an impressive machine. It’s designed to manage the normal wear and tear that’s associated with being a horse — an animal designed to be on the move! However, research has shown that joint problems are a normal part of the aging process in horses, and other factors such as poor conformation and the stress of training may increase a horse’s risk even further.
Along with proper veterinary care, which may include the use of prescription medications, joint supplements are designed to provide a consistent daily supply of ingredients like glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, and hyaluronic acid — which are all key components of healthy joint tissues.
Finding the right joint supplement for your horse’s age and workload is a smart choice for maintaining his joint health. Let’s take a look inside your horse’s joints to see how things work and why problems arise, and dispel some common myths.
Who is at risk for arthritis?
A 1999 study in the Equine Veterinary Journal identified arthritic changes in a herd of wild mustangs. The researchers concluded that the osteoarthritic process was naturally present in horses, and further suggested that the stresses associated with training may accelerate that process. That means that any horse is at risk for developing arthritis and future lameness, including:
- Trail horses
- Wild mustangs
- Performance horses
- Lesson horses
How joints work
Healthy articular cartilage provides a smooth, slippery surface that allows free movement and contributes to the shock-absorbing properties of the joint. Synovial fluid lubricates the joint capsule and contains components such as hyaluronic acid, which support and nourish the articular cartilage.
What goes wrong
When subjected to the stress associated with exercise and aging, your horse’s joints undergo a normal inflammatory response.
If left unchecked, excessive inflammation may lead to longterm damage to the joint structures. Over time, joint tissues may develop scarring, synovial fluid may lose its critical viscosity, and articular cartilage may become thin. Eventually, the sensitive subchondral bone under the articular cartilage may be affected.
How you can help
If your horse has been diagnosed with arthritis, your veterinarian may recommend prescription medications like Adequan® I.M. or Legend® Injectable Solution. Research has shown that use of oral joint supplements may help keep joint structures healthy enough that horses may require fewer joint injections. An eight-year study demonstrated that consistent use of an oral glucosamine/chondroitin sulfate supplement resulted in a decreased need for hock joint injections to maintain soundness in a group of show hunters/jumpers.