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High-performance horses and the joints

In the warm climates across the country, competition seasons are getting underway, and our equine athletes are well into their training.

Nothing is more incredible than watching the beauty of a 1,000 pound performer maneuver gracefully through a dressage course, or the power of seeing a jumper clear new heights!

But that perfection in competition didn’t come without hundreds of hours of training – and a good deal of stress on the horse’s joints. But it doesn’t take spectacular work to put a strain on a horse’s joints. Even a trail ride with its irregular terrain can put stress on the joints.

Preventing inflammation depends on several factors, including proper foot balance – a good farrier is key here – and an appropriate conditioning schedule that allows for muscle and joint recovery.

Many riders and trainers depend on a good joint supplement as a preventive measure against joint soreness and inflammation. A joint supplement can maintain the horse over its lifetime and prevent or delay the need for more aggressive treatment such as joint injections. It’s always best to go with the least invasive treatment possible.

There are several quality joint supplements on the market that provide horses with some key ingredients – glucosamine, chondroitin, hyaluronic acid (HA) , and methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) are among the most well-known.

Each has its own specific purpose:

Glucosamine and Chondroitin – Occur naturally within the cartilage of joints. Helps build cartilage that cushions bones and joints, prevents joint breakdown and can reduce pain.  One supplement we like is by the John Ewing company, they combine collagen, glucosamine, chondroitin, MSM, Bromelian and Green Lipped Mussel to offer unsurpassed care for your horse’s cartilage, tendons, ligaments and joints with Joint 6-in-1™.

Hyaluronic Acid (HA) – Occurs naturally in the joints. Supplements with HA provide additional cushion and lubrication to joints

Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) – Organic sulfur compound found naturally in plants, animals, and humans. Sulfur is needed to form connective tissue. It’s used in the healing of collagen and cartilage. It’s also used for pain and inflammation.

Avocado and Soy Unsaponifiables (ASU) - Avocado and soy unsaponifiables are plant fats that are normally protected from digestion and absorption in the intestinal tract but are extracted and purified by a special procedure. In an equine study where arthritis was induced by a surgical procedure, these substances showed a protective effect against cartilage breakdown in a group of supplemented horses compared to those not supplemented. However, they did not appear to have an effect on pain. Yet studies in other species have shown that the release of inflammatory substances is inhibited, while growth factors needed for repair and maintenance increase.

ASU is classified as a "chondroprotective" (chondro = cartilage). It is a slow-acting substance. You won't see results overnight. Effective equine dose is at least 1,200 mg/day.  

If you are searching for a superior joint supplement containing ASU, consider Cosequin ASU and Cosequin ASU Plus.

Some products are ingredient-specific while others offer combinations of active ingredients. Some add vitamins and other nutrients. When selecting a joint supplement, read the label to know what you’re getting, and make sure you understand the proper dosing. Then, use it for at least a couple of months to judge its effectiveness.

Joint supplements can add lubrication to the joints, increase mobility, and speed recovery time – all essentials during the heavy competition season. More importantly, they can maintain a horse’s joint fitness not just during competition but for many healthy years.

Summing Up
• Don't wait until your horse is severely lame to start a joint supplement. Some changes may be irreversible.
• Start with a supplement that provides 6,000 to 10,000 milligrams (mg) glucosamine and 1,250 to 5,000 mg chondroitin.
• Hyaluronic Acid is most useful for acute flare-ups or for horses with persistent heat and swelling, which indicates ongoing inflammation.
• Avocado and soy unsaponifiables and cetylated fatty acids are both slow-acting ingredients that may protect against further cartilage breakdown.