The Best Glucosamine Supplements for Horses
Any system that has to support 1,000-1,500 of weight and pounding is bound to endure some wear and tear. Your horse’s joints are no different. The joints are responsible for the horse’s movement, for carrying him from eating place to resting place to workplace, whether you are a trail rider or a competitive equestrian. For bigger breeds of horses, such as warmbloods, and horses destined for a competitive career in a demanding sport such as reining, dressage, or jumping, vets and experts are starting to recommend putting horses on joint supplements very young. The theory is that this will prevent their joints from getting taxed from the rigors of growing too quickly. All the same, the prevalence of joint problems makes it relevant for us to examine the active ingredient in virtually all joint supplements: glucosamine.
What Is Glucosamine and What Does It Do?
While glucosamine is currently manufactured and put into supplements, it is also naturally occuring in the body. It is an integral part of cartilage, which is found in ears, the larynx, sternum, tendons, and in joints. Each joint is a system made up of bones, which are held in place by tendons and ligaments. The ends of these bones and the individual bones within the joints are cushioned by discs of cartilage, which provide shock absorption as well as providing a smooth surface for the bones to glide across during movement. Cartilage is a tough substance that is made up of webs of molecular chains. These molecular chains are made up of glucosamime, which forms chemical bonds with sulfate and hydrochloride. These molecules form webs of macromolecules to create cartilage.
As the joint functions, especially if it is exposed to repeated stress from high-impact activities, microscopic tears can form on the surface of the cartilage, weakening the overall structure of the tissue. While the body can manufacture its own glucosamine, if the high-impact activities are repeated often or the body does not get sufficient time to recover between the activities, the cartilage can wear down or tear completely. One way to prevent this is by feeding joint supplements to your horse that feature glucosamine.
Glucosamine is usually manufactured from natural sources, such as the shells of shellfish, or hydrolyzed from animal byproducts such as the tracheas, tendons, and ligaments from beef cattle.
According to SmartPak, glucosamine is one of the most common ingredients in horse joint supplements. Not only is it a precursor for chondroitin sulfate and other glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) found in articular cartilage, research suggests its protective role in joints goes beyond supplying the basic building blocks for the production of new, healthy tissue. Scientists now believe glucosamine has the ability to block enzymes and mediators that lead to cartilage breakdown. This would mean that preventatively feeding supplements that feature glucosamine can keep joints healthy for longer, allowing them to resist even passive wear and tear.
With that in mind, let’s examine the best joint supplements for horses. For a full treatment and in-depth analysis of the joint supplement market, check out our other article here.
What Should I Look For in a Joint Supplement Featuring Glucosamine?
Many studies show that the strength and efficacy of glucosamine is increased when it is put together with chondroitin sulfate or MSG. If your horse is already suffering from joint problems, consider checking the active ingredients to see if you can find a supplement with these additional ingredients.
Most joint supplements feature between 1,200 mg and 12,000 mg of glucosamine. The higher dosages are good for “loading” the body with a higher amount of the molecule to repair existing damage. Once existing damage has been repaired, the dosage can be dropped back down to a lower amount to have a maintenance level in the horse’s system.
While glucosamine HCl (hydrochloride) and glucosamine (SO4) are both molecular forms of glucosamine that the body can process and use, studies show that the HCl form is better utilized by the body. Another substance that is important for joint health is chondroitin. This molecule seems to amplify the pain-reducing effects of glucosamine as well as overall joint fluidity. When reading labels of supplements and deciding which to purchase, make sure that glucosamine, in one of its forms, and chondroitin are high on the list of active ingredients.
What Supplements Featuring Glucosamine Are the Best for Horses?
The most well-known brand in the U.S. for joint health is Cosequin which features MSM, glucosamine hydrochloride, and chondroitin sulfate. This joint supplement must be administered according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Another option, which also features Vitamin C and biotin for coat and hoof health, is Horse Health Care 3 in 1 Joint Combo supplement. The Manna Pro Rapid Flex supplement features glucosamine and chondroitin, as well as nine other herbs which support joint health. Additionally, Absorbine produces a supplement called Flex-Max, which features 1,200 mg of glucosamine in palatable pellets for picky eaters. For the pickiest eaters, try the Cox Veterinary Lab Acti Flex joint powder.
My personal horse has been on a joint supplement since before he was one year old. He is a warmblood, and as a foal he suffered from a freak infection that settled in his joints. To help support and repair them, the vet recommended a daily joint supplement as he grew. Since then, as he has shot up in height, my horse has gotten a supplement that supports joint, tendon, and bone health. Time will tell how it keeps his joints healthy, but I am hopeful that it will minimize his need for joint injections, surgery, and time off from work later in life.
If you have a large horse or have him in heavy work, consider adding a joint supplement to his feed to give his hard-working body the TLC it needs to carry him and you on to further adventures on the trails, over fields, or into the arena and show ring.
What joint supplements do you think your horse should take?