Here are some nutrients found in food and sometimes supplemented that have an affect on joints:

Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are shown to have an anti-inflammatory effect while omega-6 fatty acids have been linked to cartilage lesions and are ‘pro-inflammatory,’ Cetyl-myristoleate is a break down of an omega-5 fatty acid and has been shown to be effective in reducing arthritis pain and improving mobility in rats, mice and humans. That’s good news for horses. Flax and pasture are good places to find omega-3’s; stay away from corn oil as it’s high in omega-6’s.

Glucosamine is an amino sugar, which means it’s a building block for cartilage. Long –term studies in humans show that glucosamine supplementation slows osteoarthritis. Horse studies have shown that glucosamine reduces the destructive effects of some enzymes and metabolites that are breaking down tissues and causing inflammation. Currently, Glucosamine 2KCl is the only form of glucosamine shown to be small enough in molecular size to be effective in the equine body – so read the ingredients carefully. Not all ‘glucosamines’ are created equal.

MSM (Methylsulfonylmethane)
MSM is said to have anti-inflammatory effects and is often considered a good form of sulfur for the body. Cartilage with arthritis has 1/3 the level of sulfur that healthy cartilage has so MSM may help keep sulfur in the cartilage. Recently there have been some antioxidant properties shown with MSM as well.

Hyaluronic Acid
Hyaluronic acid is a main part of the synovial fluid that nourishes and lubricates the synovial joint. It is effective in reducing joint inflammation.

ASU (Avocado/Soy Unsaponifiables)
Studies show that horses eating ASU supplements create more cartilage builders and have less breakdown of cartilage.

In the previous post we talked a bit about oxidative damage and antioxidants. Antioxidants such as vitamin C and E are crucial for the development of cartilage but may also protect against breakdown of cartilage associated with oxidants.

Put it all together and some good advice is to reduce feeds that have an imbalance of omega-3 and omega-6 acids such as grains and corn oil. Provide more omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants by increasing your horse’s intake of forage and pasture grazing. Supplement with omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, antioxidants and trace minerals daily to protect the joint against inflammation and oxidative stress. Most horse's current environments are a lot different then what their body's were designed for.
     If your horse has existing joint problems or works very hard, consider adding nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, glucosamine, hyaluronic acid, MSM and ASU to his diet through supplmements. In Alaska, where our horses can’t be out on pasture for much of the year, they’re not getting enough antioxidants in their diet. We also live in a selenium deficient soil area (selenium is another antioxidant and required for life). And if you’re near horsetail…better consider the benefits of adding B1 and other B vitamins..but that’s another story.
Bottom line: aren't you glad we learned about the digestive system so all this talk about joints and bones makes a little more sense?
1.     Chronic Inflammation

Inflammation is a response of the immune system trying to protect part of the body and generally trying to remove something unwanted. Sometimes an injury or overworking a joint can lead to inflammation (swelling, heat) but chronic inflammation means a joint is often swelled up. You may or may not be able to see the swelling because it may be inside the joint capsule. Arthritis and unhealed injuries generally cause this.

2.     Injury or overuse

Joints can be strained during exercise (riding or playing in the paddock). Some activities are more stressful than others on joints; think jumping, cutting cows, tight turns, etc. Too much of these things can be very rough on the joints. So can being overweight – another reason to keep an eye on your horse’s body condition score.

3.     Natural aging process

Degeneration naturally occurs with age. We see this in all animals and people. Our bodies break down with time and normal use even though they’re pretty amazing at rebuilding themselves. Healthy nutrition, physical fitness, and overall care certainly make us all age better.

4.     Free radical damage

Free radicals are formed when weak bonds split. They are ‘loose’ parts of molecules. In terms of the body, think of an oxygen molecule being used in a muscle cell. It breaks down and suddenly you have part of that molecule running around, without supervision, trying to cause problems. Enter in antioxidants, who give up one of their electrons to the free radical, essentially taming it. If you have more of a background in this stuff, you’re probably chuckling at this overly simplified and dramatic example of free radicals, but it’s a quick example for someone not well versed in chemistry and biology. These free radicals cause a degenerative effect on the joint, especially the synovial fluid.

5.     Degradative enzyme activity

Cartilage degredation can be caused by certain enzymes in the joint. That is to say, some enzymes can get in there and eat away at the cartilage.

Okay, so now we know the top 5 things that cause problems in the joints. How do we prevent or treat these things? We’ll look at that next…

This 3-part series will introduce to you what joints are, a common cause of joint disorders and the most common components of nutritional or supplemental joint care.

We can all agree that our horses are amazing. But prepared to learn even more about your equine friend that will surprise you! The equine skeleton is made up of more than 200 bones that are all connected with tissues such as tendons, ligaments and cartilage. Where two bones meet is a called a joint.

The most common type of joint in the horse’s body is the synovial joint. A synovial joint has a capsule that surrounds it and has a lubricating synovial fluid inside.  They are freely moveable. Examples of synovial joints are ball and socket joints (like the hip), hinge joints (like the elbow), and gliding joints (like the knee and hock).
The highly specialized tissues, including cartilage, of these joints perform two main functions: enable movement and transfer load from one bone to another.

Did you know that joint problems are the leading cause of lameness and loss of function in athletic horses? Joints may become damaged by abnormal forces acting on the cartilage (or normal forces acting on abnormal cartilage). Horses can also get infections in various parts of the joint. We can help keep our horse's sound and comfortable by providing good nutrition, exercise, and proper care when 'things happen.'

Next post we’ll cover some of the contributors to joint disorders like injury, natural aging, inflammation & more…

4-Fun Facts 4-Hers:
• Horses have more than 200 bones
• Where two bones meet is called a joint
• Synovial joints are the most common joint in the horse's body
• Joint problems occur with damage and infection


    Lindsey Blaine is the leader of the Phantom Riders 4-H Club and has a master's degree in education and a bachelor's degree in biological science with emphasis in equine science. She trains horses and instructs riders in all-around disciplines and volunteers with multiple organizations. Her goal is to share years of knowledge and experience with others. Have a question about your project, from a meeting or in general? Ask!


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