How to Shop for Joint Supplements
When it comes to joint supplements, there are many of options to choose from. While this can seem overwhelming, it also means that there’s a perfect supplement out there to fit your horse’s exact situation! This article will walk you through the different categories of joint supplement, factors to consider when selecting a formula, and ingredients to look out for depending on your horse’s needs.
How they work:
There are three main categories of joint supplement. The first is simply joint support, which, as the name implies, provides ingredients for joint health. The other two categories include joint health ingredients along with other areas of focus. Senior support includes ingredients to help address discomfort and recovery support has an emphasis on helping the normal rehabilitation process.
Joint supplements in this category offer ingredients to help maintain joint health and, at higher levels of support, often include ingredients for bone, tendon and ligament health as well. These products are generally ideal for horses in work where the goal is to help keep them healthy and going strong for years to come. When considering what product to provide for your horse, it will be helpful to know what workload he is in.
Per the National Research Council, horses fall into workloads based on the following descriptions:
|Workload||Hours per Week||Type of Work||Goal of Supplementing|
|Light||1-3||40% walk, 50% trot, 10% canter||Help maintain healthy joint tissue|
|Moderate||3-5||30% walk, 55% trot, 10% canter, 5% low jumping, other skill work||Support joints in day to day stress|
|Heavy||4-5||20% walk, 50% trot, 15% canter, 15% gallop, jumping, other skill work||Provide comprehensive support for joint, tendon/ligament health, and maintain comfort|
|Very Heavy||7 -13||1 hour/week of speed work and 6-12 hours of slower work. Includes elite performance horses in intense, strenuous work||Provide comprehensive support for joint, tendon and ligament health, address excess discomfort and stiffness caused by intense training and competition|
While we will discuss common ingredients based on your horse’s workload, as we walk through these different categories and levels of support, keep in mind that you can slide your horse up and down these levels based on a variety of additional factors including their age or health history or your budget.
Key ingredients to look for:
Glucosamine is the building block of chondroitin sulfate, a specific type of polysulfated glycosaminoglycan (GAG). Current research suggests glucosamine plays several roles within joints. Not only does it help support the production of new GAGs and therefore new cartilage, glucosamine has also been shown to inhibit the free radicals and enzymes that break down cartilage. For horses in light to moderate work, 2,000 to 7,500 mg is generally considered an appropriate amount of glucosamine to provide, while this may increase to up to 12,000 mg for horses in very heavy work.
Chondroitin is not only the building block of the much larger molecules hyaluronic acid (HA) and proteoglycan (PG), but it also inhibits the effects of various enzymes that degrade cartilage, similarly to glucosamine. Research suggests that chondroitin sulfate is bioavailable in the horse and that it appears to work synergistically with glucosamine to support new cartilage and inhibition of cartilage breakdown. You’ll most often see 1,000 - 2,000 mg of chondroitin in joint supplements regardless of the support being provided as research has shown that, while providing chondroitin may be helpful for joint health, providing higher levels of it may not mean providing additional support.
Hyaluronic Acid or HA, is an integral component of joint cartilage and joint fluid, providing both lubrication and shock absorption. Hyaluronic acid is what makes joint fluid "sticky." Because it has been shown through research to maintain cells in the joint, providing HA orally may be particularly useful during times of joint stress. Joint supplements that offer support to horses in moderate work and above generally offer HA, with the amount ranging from 25 mg for horses in moderate work to around 150 mg for horses that may benefit from more support.
MSM (Methylsulfonylmethane) is a source of organic sulfur which is required for a number of functions in the body. MSM has been shown to help support a normal response to inflammation as well as healthy joints; a strong immune system; and resilient skin, coat, and hooves. MSM is an economical way to offer joint support. You can purchase it on its own for horses in light to no work, or you can find it as a component of more comprehensive joint support supplements for horses in moderate to very heavy work. Typically, you’ll see it in amounts ranging from around 5,000 mg to 12,000 mg, depending on how much support the supplement is designed to provide.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a plant in the ginger family that has been used to flavor food, add color, and provide health benefits for thousands of years. Its main active substance, curcumin, has been found to exert beneficial effects on many areas of the body, such as joints, the respiratory system, immunity, and the GI tract, but it is perhaps most valued for supporting a normal response to inflammation. Researchers are seeking to understand its antioxidant properties and other activities on cells and pathways in the body. It can be purchased on its own for antioxidant support, or it can be found in certain joint support formulas designed for horses in moderate to very heavy work. You’ll generally find 5,000 – 10,000 mg of turmeric powder in joint supplements that include this ingredient.
Resveratrol is the potent antioxidant found in the skin of red grapes. A type of natural phenol, it is part of a plant’s defense system against disease. Resveratrol research is in the early stages, but results are promising not only for protection against free radical damage, but also for its effects on the cardiovascular system, blood sugar levels, brain cells, and musculoskeletal health. About 300 – 1,000 mg of resveratrol is common for joint support.
Collagen is the primary structural protein that makes up connective tissue throughout your horse’s body. You may see this listed on a supplement label as “hydrolyzed” collagen, or gelatin which means it has been broken down into smaller pieces that are more readily available for absorption. In addition to aiding joints, tendons, ligaments, and bones, collagen is great for supporting the health of muscles, the gastrointestinal tract, hooves, haircoat, and even the mane and tail! 1,000 mg of collagen offers basic support while higher levels, from 4,000 – 15,000mg may be a better choice if your horse is dealing with particular issues.
Silica is the second-most plentiful element on earth, yet horses may not receive adequate levels from their diets because not all forms of silica are bioavailable and it is easily destroyed in processing. Research over the last 30 years has shown that silica supports normal bone growth and density, maintains the strength of connective tissue such as tendons and ligaments, has a positive effect on wound healing, is required in cartilage formation and maintains the quality and appearance of skin, hair and hooves. You’ll generally find between 250 -300 mg of silica in joint and tendon and ligament products.
While this category implies that it is only for senior horses, this type of support may be ideal for adult horses of any age that are dealing with discomfort from exercise or aging. In addition to frequently providing the ingredients mentioned in the Joint Support category to maintain healthy joints, these supplements will focus on ingredients to maintain comfort and support a normal response to inflammation, such as:
Boswellia is a type of tree or shrub that grows in tropical regions of Asia and Africa. It produces a gum or sap-like substance that contains many biologically active agents known to have therapeutic value in the body. Some of these naturally-occurring compounds are said to interfere with the enzymes that contribute to inflammation and discomfort. Keep an eye out for 100mg – 1,000mg of boswellia if your horse may benefit from this ingredient’s support.
Devil’s Claw is a South African herb (Harpagophytum procumbens) that is used to help maintain comfort in bone, joints, and other tissues. Data from 14 clinical trials in people conducted over the last 40 years suggest devil’s claw has beneficial properties in the musculoskeletal system. Because it contains “bitters” as an active ingredient, which encourages appetite but also stimulates the secretion of stomach acids, it should be used with caution in horses at risk for gastric (stomach) issues. It is also listed on the US Equestrian Prohibited Substance list, so we do not recommend selecting a supplement with this ingredient if you plan to show your horse at rated shows. You’ll generally find 1,000mg - 2,500mg of devil’s claw in senior support products.
Turmeric and resveratrol, which are mentioned in detail above, may also be particularly helpful for horses dealing with discomfort from aging or exercise.
For horses who are rehabbing from injury, there are particular ingredients to keep an eye out for to help support the normal recovery process. Products in this category tend to provide a lower level of joint support since these horses are most often not in work, and instead will be chock-full of antioxidants and tendon and ligament support
! If your horse is actively recovering from an injury, it’s important to work closely with your veterinarian to determine the ideal supplement program. Therefore, we’d recommend that you talk to your vet about what you learn here before choosing a supplement for your recovering horse.
Ingredients to look for:
Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in the body, especially in muscle tissue. Although it is not an essential amino acid, there is such great demand for its use in the body that production may not be able to keep up with consumption, so supplementing may be necessary. Glutamine plays an important role in the recovery and repair of many types of tissues, and supplementing 1,000 mg -2,000mg of glutamine can be a good choice for supporting this normal recovery process.
Tendon and ligament support can also be important in this category if your horse is dealing with issues in this area. As mentioned in more detail above, collagen and silica can be ideal ingredients to keep an eye out for to help maintain soft tissue health.
Antioxidants like turmeric, resveratrol and MSM mentioned above, can also play a vital role in supporting a healthy recovery as they help to address cell stress and support normal cell health.
Herbs like devil’s claw and boswellia are also very common in this category, as they can help support a normal response to inflammation and address excess discomfort.
Looking for recovery support? Take a look at our SmartFlex Rehab® Pellets.
What to Expect from Joint Support Supplements:
While you can’t see inside your horse’s joints, providing an appropriate joint supplement is a great way to ensure he’s getting a steady supply of the ingredients his body needs to help keep up with the demands of his workload. If your horse generally looks and feels good, supplementing with key joint ingredients can help you feel confident that you’ve got one of the cornerstones of long-term joint health and comfort covered! If you are looking for more comprehensive joint and comfort support you may notice your horse acting and moving like his usual self within the first few months of supplementing. It’s always important to work with your veterinarian for horses that are persistently not moving freely, more so when your horse is in the recovery process.
Need help choosing the right joint supplement for your horse? We’re here to help!
If you’re still not sure which supplement would be ideal for your horse, don’t fret - our Horse Health Experts are here for you! Just give us a call at 1-800-461-8898, text us at 26756, or live chat with us at SmartPak.com, and we’d be happy to help you choose the perfect supplement program for your horse.
If you’re managing active joint health issues, we also recommend working with your veterinarian to help come up with the best treatment and management plan for your horse, which may include prescription medication in addition to support from a supplement.