Horse Owner’s Guide to Joint Supplements
Answering the what, when, how, and why of feeding your horse joint supplements.
Updated April 24, 2023
Picture this: you just bought a new horse and the shopping list for your favorite four-legged friend is already a mile long. It includes everything from blankets and brushes to salt licks and stall plates. But there is something more important that you may not have thought to add to the list: a joint supplement.
What are Joint Supplements for Horses?
Joint supplements are daily formulas designed to help ensure that horses have a steady supply of the key ingredients they need to maintain healthy joints. Some of the fundamental ingredients to look for in horse joint supplements include collagen, glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, hyaluronic acid, and MSM.
Does My Horse Need a Joint Supplement?
You may be thinking, but you don’t even know my horse. How do you know he needs a joint supplement? In return, we’ve got a question for you: do any of the following phrases describe your horse? Young horse, horse in light work, horse in heavy work, performance horse, horse in recovery, or a senior horse? If so, your horse may be at risk for osteoarthritis, because arthritic changes have been found in all these types of horses.
That’s right, osteoarthritis can happen in any horse! Healthy joints are key to your horse’s success (and happiness)! A 1999 study in the Equine Veterinary Journal found arthritic changes in a herd of wild mustangs
, which led the researchers to conclude that osteoarthritis (also known as Degenerative Joint Disease [DJD] or simply “arthritis”) is a natural part of the aging process for horses, even if they don’t spend their lives in heavy work.
Since all horses are at risk for developing arthritis, providing proactive support is a smart choice for riders who have horses of any age and workload.
Are Horse Joint Supplements Effective?
When it comes to the question of whether joint supplements work, there are several studies that show benefits to joint health from the oral supplementation of key ingredients.
In a 28-day study at Texas A&M University, SmartPak’s joint supplement SmartStride Ultra was shown to significantly increase the range of motion in the hock at the walk and tended to increase range of motion in the hock at the trot. This comprehensive formula includes turmeric and resveratrol to support a normal response to inflammation; glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, and hyaluronic acid (HA) for joint health; collagen and silica for resilient tendons and ligaments.
One study supported the use of oral HA to reduce joint swelling after surgery to remove an OCD in the hock
. In the study, 48 young horses underwent arthroscopic surgery to correct OCD lesions in the hock with half receiving an oral HA gel and half serving as controls. The horses that were supplemented orally with HA had less swelling of the hock joint after surgery than those that didn’t.
An eight-year study demonstrated that consistent use of an oral glucosamine and chondroitin supplement resulted in a decreased need for hock joint injections to maintain soundness in a group of show hunters/jumpers
. Or, in non-vet speak, the supplement helped keep the joint structures healthy enough that the horses required fewer joint injections.
Finally, a group of researchers in Europe showed that MSM exerts a protective effect on oxidative and inflammatory exercise induced injury in the horse
. In layman’s terms, that means that MSM has been shown to help reduce the wear and tear of joint tissues caused by exercise.
Video - Do Feed-Through Joint Supplements Work?
This video answers a question about feeding joint supplements, their efficacy, bioavailability (if your horse can absorb the ingredients), and safety. SmartPaker Sarah and Dr. Gray discuss a number of equine clinical studies focused on feeding joint supplements and their results.
When is the Best Time to Start My Horse on a Joint Supplement?
Now! Joint supplements contain ingredients such as glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, and hyaluronic acid and are used to help keep joints healthy and avoid future problems. This means that the best time to start a joint supplement is actually before your horse starts to show signs of joint pain and discomfort.
For your senior horse, it’s not too late for him to benefit from a joint supplement! If your older horse is showing signs of discomfort, giving a joint supplement will be a smart choice as it can help ensure your golden oldie has a steady supply of the ingredients he needs to cope with the stress on his aging joints.
Video on When to Start Your Horse on Joint Supplements
In this Ask the Vet video, Dr. Gray gives her recommendation on which horses may need a joint supplement and when to start giving them to your horse.
How to Shop for Horse Joint Supplements
When it comes to shopping for a joint supplement, there are many 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! Next, let’s walk through the different categories of joint supplements, factors to consider when selecting a formula, and ingredients to look out for depending on your horse’s needs.
Types of Joint Supplements for Horses
There are three main categories of joint supplements:
- General - provides ingredients to support overall joint and cartilage health.
- Senior - includes ingredients to help address discomfort associated with aging.
- Rehabilitation - has an emphasis on supporting the normal rehabilitation process.
How to Choose a Joint Supplement for Your Horse
When considering what joint supplement to give your horse, it will be helpful to know what level of workload he is in and the goal of supplementing.
|Workload||Hours per Week||Type of Work||Goal of Supplementing||Types of Events||SmartPak’s Top Joint Supplement Picks|
|Light||1-3||40% walk, 50% trot, 10% canter||Help maintain healthy joint tissue, avoid future joint problems||Recreational, pleasure or short trail riding. Beginning of training programs. Occasional showing.|| |
|Moderate||3-5||30% walk, 55% trot, 10% canter, 5% low jumping, other skill work||Support joints in day-to-day stress||Regular work in a school/lesson program. Recreational, pleasure or long trail rides. Beginning of breaking/training. Low level hunter/jumper, basic dressage work. Frequent showing.|| |
|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||Mid-level hunter/jumper, low-medium level eventing, 2nd through 4th level dressage. Frequent showing in strenuous events. Seasoned all around western horse, barrel racers.|| |
|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||Upper-level jumpers, FEI level dressage, elite 3-day eventers. Rigorous competition schedule. Futurity reiners.|| |
While we will discuss common ingredients and amounts given in supplements based on your horse’s workload, keep in mind that you can slide your horse up or down these above levels based on a variety of factors including their age, health history, or your budget.
Amounts of Key Ingredients to Shop For
- Glucosamine - For horses in light to moderate work 2,000 - 7,500 mg is generally considered appropriate, while this may increase to up to 12,000 mg for horses in very heavy work.
- Chondroitin – Joint supplements most often contain between 1,000 - 2,000 mg of chondroitin. Research has shown that, while providing chondroitin may be helpful for joint health, providing higher levels of it may not mean additional support.
- Hyaluronic Acid (HA) - Joint supplements generally offer HA with amounts ranging from 25 mg for horses in moderate work to around 150 mg for those who may benefit from additional support.
- MSM - Ranges from 5,000 - 12,000 mg depending on how much support the supplement is designed to provide.
- Turmeric - It can be purchased on its own for antioxidant support, or turmeric 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.
- Resveratrol - About 300 – 1,000 mg of resveratrol is common for joint support.
- Collagen - 1,000 mg of collagen offers basic support while higher levels from 4,000 – 15,000 mg may be a better choice if your horse is dealing with particular issues.
- Silica - You’ll generally find between 250 -300 mg of silica in joint and tendon and ligament products.
To learn more about each of these elements in joint formulas, read our article on understanding joint supplement ingredients. Click on the link if you’re ready to start shopping for a joint supplement.
How to Shop for Senior Horse Joint Supplements
While the name may imply they’re only for senior horses, these supplements may be ideal for adult horses of any age that are dealing with discomfort from exercise or aging. Senior joint supplements for horses focus on ingredients that maintain comfort and support a normal response to inflammation. Look for these ingredient amounts in products for your older horse:
- Boswellia - Keep an eye out for 100 – 1,000 mg of boswellia if your horse may benefit from this ingredient’s support.
- Devil’s Claw - Generally, 1,000 - 2,500 mg of devil’s claw is in senior support products.
- Turmeric and Resveratrol - May also be particularly helpful for horses dealing with discomfort from aging or exercise.
Top Picks for Senior Horses
- SmartStride Senior Pellets
- SmartFlex Senior Pellets
- SmartFlex Senior Herb-Free Pellets
How to Shop for Recovery Joint Supplements
For horses who are rehabbing from injury, specific ingredients may help support the normal recovery process. Rehabilitation supplements provide joint support with tried-and-true ingredients, like MSM, while also being chock-full of antioxidants and herbs, such as yucca and vitamin C, to support the recovery process.
These formulas help minimize inflammation associated with normal healing while better managing discomfort. 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 the below-listed ingredients and amounts before choosing a supplement for your recovering horse.
- Tendon and ligament support is important if your horse is dealing with issues in this area. 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, can play a vital role in supporting a healthy recovery as they help to address cell stress and support normal cell health.
- Herbs, like yucca, devil’s claw and boswellia, may help support a normal response to inflammation and address excess discomfort.
Top Picks for Horses in Recovery
- Absorbine Bute-Less® Performance Pellets
- SmartFlex Rehab® Pellets
What to Expect When Feeding Your Horse Joint Supplements
While you can’t see inside your horse’s joints, you can rest assured knowing that he’s getting a steady supply of the ingredients his body needs to help support his joints as he works.
If your horse generally looked and felt good when you started him on his joint supplement, you can sleep well knowing you’re providing proactive support for his long-term comfort and joint health. If your horse occasionally showed signs of stiffness or discomfort, we recommend providing the supplement for 4-8 weeks to determine if it provides the support you were hoping for/the support he needs. It’s always important to work with your veterinarian to determine which supplement is best for your horse’s unique needs.
Help Finding the Right Joint Supplement
Shopping for a joint supplement might feel overwhelming, but we’ve got three ways to make the process easier:
- Get a FREE supplement consultation. Our hand-picked Horse Health Experts are real riders with college degrees who receive hours of equine health training each month. Sign up for a free consultation, give them a call 1-888-752-5171, or shoot them an email at CustomerCare@SmartPak.com.
- Browse our Top 10 Joint Supplements. There’s a reason why so many customers are raving about these products.
- Try our SmartFlex Finder. With just a few clicks, you can get a customized SmartFlex joint supplement recommendation for your horse.
More Joint Resources
- Equine joint supplement comparison chart
- Check out other joint health articles in our Horse Health Library
- Cantley CE, Firth EC, Delahunt JW, Pfeiffer DU, Thompson KG. Naturally occurring osteoarthritis in the metacarpophalangeal joints of wild horses. Equine Vet J. 1999 Jan;31(1):73-81.
- Bergin BJ, Pierce SW, Bramlage LR, Stromberg A. Oral hyaluronan gel reduces post operative tarsocrural effusion in the yearling Thoroughbred. Equine Vet J. 2006 Jul;38(4):375-8.
- Rodgers, MR. Effects of Oral Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfates Supplementation on Frequency of Intra-articular Therapy of the Horse Tarsus. Intern. J. appl. Res. vet. Med. 2006 Vol. 4, No. 2.
- Marañón G, Muñoz-Escassi B, Manley W, García C, Cayado P, de la Muela MS, Olábarri B, León R, Vara E. The effect of methyl sulphonyl methane supplementation on biomarkers of oxidative stress in sport horses following jumping exercise. Acta Vet Scand. 2008 Nov 7;50(1):45.