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Horse Inspiration

The low down on joint supplement ingredients

By August 15, 2023 August 16th, 2023 No Comments
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The ingredients in joint supplements all do different things, have different efficacy research and may have different requirements for interactions and processing by the horse’s body to actually be effective.

Supplements are expensive and many on the market have varying ingredients, with many containing the essential vitamins and minerals because having these basics is imperative to joint health.

Step 1 – Understand your horses diet profile 

Understanding your horse’s diet is the first step in choosing what ingredients you include in a good supplement, because if you already feed a balanced diet for their workload…. Truth is you may not need to add more, and you could just be doubling up!

Read more about how to choose the right supplement for your horses here!

Step 2 – Know the ingredients and what they do

The second step is to understand the ingredients used in supplements, uses and efficacy.

Read on and hopefully things will be clearer by the end!

Many supplements on the market contain some key vitamins and minerals and these are important for joint health. If you understand your horses diet and their nutrient profile, you may find you are already feeding adequate amounts of the below and may decide to choose an alternative supplement that suits your needs better.

  • Calcium and phosphorus are the major minerals in bones and joints
  • Zinc is essential for hydrolysis and cross-linking needed for collagen formation and supports the synthesis of chondroitin sulphate, which is necessary for cartilage formation
  • Copper is a coenzyme required for the formation of the disulphide bonds in collagen, which are needed for strength and elasticity. Copper is also vital for several enzymatic processes that are involved in maintaining elasticity in connective tissue
  • Manganese is essential for the formation of chondroitin and aids in the formation of connective tissue and bones
  • Boron uses include the ability to prevent bone loss by facilitating calcium, the main mineral involved in bone mineralisation, directly into the bones
  • Vitamin E an antioxidant offering protection against free radical damage
  • Vitamin C essential for the health of cartilage and connective tissues

MSM – Methylsulfonylmethane

MSM, is a naturally occurring form of sulfur that is found in plants such as Lucerne and some grains. MSM is used to relieve joint pain in aging horses and performance horses. It helps maintain healthy connective tissue, cartilage, bones, and hooves. It also supports a healthy skin and coat in horses.

How it works

  • Decreases levels of pro-inflammatory compounds interleukin-6 (IL-6) and tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-a) which can help lessen swelling of the joint
  • Acts as an antioxidant by neutralizing free radicals that cause damage to cells
  • By inhibiting the enzyme cholinesterase, MSM can help decrease muscle spasms and reduce pain in the joint


The use of MSM for joint health in horses still requires more research, but initial studies report positive results.

The minimum sulphur intake for a horse is 0.15% of dry matter intake, theNational Research Council documents that good quality hay and forages are likely to meet the minimum requirement for maintenance and leisure horses. However, older horse, horses/ponies on restricted diets and those in high work could benefit from more.

The take home  – Check your horse’s diet first as you may be feeding enough to not need this ingredient.

Collagen Hydrolysate

Collagen is the fundamental protein of cartilage, bone, tendons and ligaments – with a central role in the synthesis, repair and maintenance of joint cartilage. Collagen is not only responsible of tensile strength and elasticity, but also preservation of skin, connective tissues, tendons and bones.

There is evidence that reports the efficacy in humans but not yet equine, you can read some of the research here.


Chondroitin sulphate is a chain of various sugar molecules found in cartilage and is commonly paired with glucosamine in supplements. Basically, it inhibits the enzymes associated with cartilage degeneration.

How it works

  • May prevent cartilage degradation by inhibiting glycosaminoglycans (GAG)-degrading enzymes and stimulating cartilage synthesis by chondrocytes
  • Improves hyaluronic acid concentrations which could aid in maintaining synovial fluid of the joint and may act to reduce inflammation


Studies using isolated cells show promising results for chondroitin sulphates and alleviation of inflammation. However,  studies in animals using chondroitin sulphate are inconclusive.  You can read an article here that reports some improvements but nothing statistical, however what we do know is it needs to be paired with glucosamine.

Take home message – If you choose a supplement with Chondroitin, make sure its paired with glucosamine as suggested by the research.

Glucosamine Sulphate

Glucosamine is the basic building block of all connective tissues.

Glucosamine is required by the body for the synthesis of an important family of macromolecules called glycosaminoglycans (GAGs). These long chains of modified sugars (mucopolysaccharides) make up many body tissues including tendons, ligaments and cartilage.

How it works

The main action of glucosamine on joints is to stimulate the manufacture of substances necessary for joint synthesis.

  • Slows the progression of cartilage deterioration by providing sulphur which helps build strong cartilage
  • Increases the sulphur content in synovial fluid, improving its overall composition
  • Increases production of proteins called proteoglycans and prevents their degradation. This can improve joint function and prevent cartilage degradation


Glucosamine has been heavily studied for its potential as a joint health supplement in many species. When combined with Chondroitin there is more efficacy reported in this study.

  • In cell culture studies, cartilage taken from horse joints was improved when treated with glucosamine. It appears to exert beneficial effects for preventing degradation of cartilage and delaying onset of symptoms of osteoarthritis.
  • However, these studies use high doses that are unlikely to be achieved in animal feeding programs. When it is added to the horse’s diet, the evidence is much less conclusive.
  • In a review that evaluated all scientific studies in animals, it has been consistently shown that the efficacy of glucosamine for supporting joint health is low.

Take home – Knowing what we know about MSM above, if your feeding glucosamine make sure your diet is also adequate in sulphur/MSM

Green Lipped Mussel Powder

Freeze dried extracts of the New Zealand green lipped mussel, Perna canaliculus, contain the protein pernin, and have a high omega-3, glucosamine, and chondroitin sulfate content. Green lipped mussel provides a source of glucosamine, chondroitin, omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA , Vitamins C and E, minerals such as zinc, copper, iodine and manganese and a variety of enzymes.

This makes them a supplement of interest for reducing inflammation and supporting joint health.

How it works

  • Through its anti-inflammatory effects, green lipped mussels may aid in pain management


Interest in green lipped mussel extracts began in the 1970s and research into its use as a supplement has been ongoing. Dr Marlin reported here that if it is effective, it’s in much higher doses than the average supplements and at least 1250mg is needed.

  • A clinical trial in horses with lamenessresulting from osteoarthritis evaluated the effects of a green lipped mussel extract supplement on pain, inflammation, and lameness.
  • Green lipped mussel was supplemented to horses at 25 mg per kg body weightfor 56 days compared to a control group. It was shown to have benefits for pain management, reducing inflammation, and lowering the severity of lameness in horses

Green lipped mussel provides a source of glucosamine, chondroitin, omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, Vitamins C and E, minerals such as zinc, copper, iodine and manganese and a variety of enzymes.

 Take home message – Looks promising if your horse will eat it!

Hyaluronic Acid

Hyaluronic acid is an important component of many tissues, including the joints, cartilage, and connective tissues. It is known to be effective for promoting joint health when injected directly into the joint as reported by KER here. Dietary supplements for oral administration of hyaluronic acid are increasing on the market but there are no studies to report their benefit orally.

How they work?

  • Improve the integrity of cartilage and elasticity of connective tissue by contributing hyaluronic acid content
  • Might reduce pain associated with deterioration of joints


When injected directly into a horses’ joint that is affected by osteoarthritis, hyaluronic acid improves joint health and reduces lameness. If it is fed orally, it may have similar efficacy for supporting joint health in horses.

  • When hyaluronic acid was supplemented at 250 mg per day for 60 days, young horses tended to have increases in hyaluronic acid levels and improved synovial fluid composition demonstrating a benefit to joint health.


Omega-3 fatty acids

Found in marine oils and plants such as flaxseed have been making headlines for a variety of beneficial effects in humans, companion animals, and horses.

How they work

  • Anti-inflammatory effects by reducing production of pro-inflammatory eicosanoids, cytokines, and arachidonic acid
  • Acts as an antioxidant


In humans, there is strong evidence for omega-3 fatty acid supplementation for arthritis prevention and protection. Using equine derived cells in cell culture, omega-3 fatty acids are suggested to be important nutrients for minimizing osteoarthritis.

Take home message  – Your horse diet may already contain sound levels of Omega -3 fatty acids so check this before considering a supplement with this included as it could save you money.

Amino Acids

Methionine – is a sulphur-bearing essential amino acid that cannot be synthesised by the body and therefore must be provided in the horse’s diet. Methionine aids in the metabolism of glucosamine to GAGs and the sulphur supplied by methionine is used in the synthesis of collagen, which gives strength to connective tissue and cartilage.

Cereal grains, beet pulp, rice bran, flaxseed meal and legumes such as lucerne or soybean meal contain higher amounts of methionine so you may not need to supplement depending on your horses diet.

Take home – Methionine is affordable and easy to add yourself if your diet is lacking and its required.

Lysine- An amino acid that again cannot be synthesised by the body, it supports collagen and elastin formation which are key proteins in skin and connective tissue.

Grains and grasses are typically low in lysine, however legumes like soybeans and soybean meal are high in lysine so you may not need to supplement depending on your horses diet.

Take home – Lysine is affordable and easy to add yourself if your diet is lacking and its required.

 If you are time poor, this one article is fabulous with 35 scientific references if you want to read in more detail!

I have eventers and feed a balanced diet, so when it comes to what I supplement with it’s only the basics. I work with my Vet for routine exams to check in on my horse’s joint health and soundness, and like I said above, I consult with a qualified nutritionist.

This, along with understanding the ingredients and uses in supplements has considerably reduced the ongoing cost of my horse’s joint care – while knowing I’m still doing everything I can for their longevity.

That’s how ‘Joint Sense’ came about – It’s a supplement for the horses that don’t require the extras included in many of the products on the market. It is basic, no frills or extras, meets recommended dosage from research and because I don’t have any fancy packaging and expensive marketing its more affordable.

I am all about the horse, so this might not meet your horses needs either, but you can read here about choosing the right supplement in another blog!

And… You can compare supplements on the market here in this easy to read table if your curious to see how they weigh up against each other.

Happy riding

Jem, Den and Rum!

Jem and Den

Author Jem and Den

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