24 Feb 2022

Tales of joint supplements and a horse with Arthritis

Joint supplements for horses with arthritis are often a hot topic of conversation across social media, with owners making claims that their horses are ‘cured’, and companies making similar statements about their products.  On this week’s blog we’ve handed the reins over to a member of our team who’s experienced arthritic horses first hand…

“There is no cure for arthritis and it’s degenerative.  That’s the first thing to remember when managing horses with it.  But that doesn’t mean to say it can’t be managed and that we can’t support our horses to continue a normal way of going.

My experience started over 3-years-ago with my dressage horse who was qualified for the British Dressage National Championships and was in the form of his life.  A few weeks ahead of the Championships we felt him be a little ‘off’ so had the Vet Chiro in for a little MOT, where he had his shoulder freed up a little.  A few days later I hopped back on, only to find that he’d developed a bunny hop in front when in a contact.  Fast forward a lot of trot ups, nerve blocks and a very significant amount of money and we find ourselves at the end of a full body bone scan, that revealed he had significant arthritis at the base of his neck.

The shoulder issue we believe was due to the way he’d adapted his movement to cope with the discomfort and restriction he was facing in the neck.  On the advice of the vets, we injected the affected areas and gave him some time to rest.

Rehab has been on and off for 3 years and finally I can say, at the grand old age of 17, he’s sound enough to work happily at home and potentially resume some low-level competition.

During this period, like many, I was keen to try any supplement that may ‘fix him’.  Before I spent even more money, I did my own research into the make up of horse’s joints to try and get a better understanding of what I was looking for in a supplement.

Horse’s joints are made up of articular cartilage, joint fluid (synovial fluid), and soft tissue such as ligaments and the joint capsule.  The articular cartilage and the synovial fluid are very important.

In a very brief science lesson:

The articular cartilage is made up of chondrocytes (cartilage cells) that sit within a matrix.  This matrix is formed of proteoglycans, collagen, and elastin.  The proteoglycans have a core strand of hyaluronic acid with branches of glycosaminoglycans.  Water sticks to the glycosaminoglycans and gives the cartilage resistance to pressure.

The synovial fluid is firstly the fluid part that is produced from filtrated blood plasma.  The second element is hyaluronic acid that is produced by cells of the synovial lining of the joint capsule.  The joint fluid is essentially the shock absorber and reduces friction – like grease on a hinge.

It is these structures that are affected by wear and tear and are the seat of inflammation.  The inflammation caused further degradation of the structures and reduced the quality of the cartilage and joint fluid.  In a healthy joint the normal response would be to produce more joint fluid and cartilage cells.  However, when the joint is affected by injury or disease, it cannot act in this way, which is when pain and discomfort occurs.

I therefore looked for supplements that would support the production of joint fluid and cartilage cells.  Having tried everything from 50p per day to £5.46 per day, nothing seemed to help.  I then looked at anti-inflammatory supplements, and drugs, and again nothing gave me the result I was looking for.  We did see some improvement with a Boswellia based supplement, but at £1.85 per day it wasn’t justifiable.  So, it was a case of more time off and a bit of ‘end of the buckle’ hacking.

I realised there was no cure, there was no supplement that was going to fix him.  Bute, or other equine painkillers, couldn’t fix him and the steroid injections didn’t seem to help either.

What did help was time.  It wasn’t an overnight fix.  Time was a healer, along with rest in the field where he kept the joints mobile.  Short sessions of hacking and light work where he gradually re-built his strength and kept the joints moving.

When I became aware of Elite Equine I tried the rosehip, with zero expectation, because it offered a low cost, all-round supplement.  It was worth the £42 a month.  After 3-weeks he seemed different, looser, happier in his movement, an extra shine to the coat, and more like his former self.  There was no change to the work level up to this point.  We did then start to increase the work, and he remained happy!

I was aware that rosehip had properties that supported the horse’s own anti-inflammatory process, but what I wasn’t aware of was that the galactolipid present in rosehips, supports the synthesis and restoration of collagen, and that it is collagen that assists in the natural formation of connective tissue and cartilage.

I’d found that extra little support – in supporting him as whole, and not just a targeted area.  Not a cure (there isn’t one) but an affordable option to offer some extra support, without filling him full of chemicals.”

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