Design Nutrition Supplements

To make the most of your supplementation dollar, we at Design Nutrition feel that it is of the utmost importance to make sure that you are feeding your horse a natural forage based diet. Many of the problems that horses encounter are the direct result of improper feeding and management. Be careful not to compound ingredients by adding different supplements to your horse’s ration. Consult with your veterinarian before using any equine supplements. Free ration help is available from the links tab provided by ADM Alliance nutrition. Please browse the article below, and see if you can meet your horse’s needs in an economical and natural manner before choosing supplements.

Equine SupplementsDesign Nutrition Equine Supplements

Joint Products
Which one should you choose for your horse?

In recent years the variety of products available claiming to keep our horses supple and sound seems to have exploded, with the shelves bulging in our local feed stores and magazines full of adverts claiming to be the latest or the best. So, does your horse really need a joint product, and, if he does what should you consider when choosing one? Due to the unnatural demands we tend to place on our horses – we want them to jump higher, collect more or extend further – a product to help support joints is a good idea for nearly any horse. When selecting a joint product, first ask yourself what it is you actually require of the product, considering your horse’s lifestyle, stage of life and joint health. What should the product contain?

Support the structure and function of active joints

If your horse is currently sound but you are considering giving nutritional support as an insurance measure then the right key ingredients are vital. The ingredients you need to look for here are known as “chondroprotective agents.” Chondroprotective agents are defined as compounds that:

  • Support or enhance production of synovial fluid
  • Inhibit degenerative processes in the joint
  • Remove or prevent growth of bony changes

The most important chondroprotective is recognised to be Glucosamine HCl (avoid using the weaker Glucosamine sulphate). Glucosamine supports cartilage health within the joint. As a building block of glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) the action of glucosamine allows the cartilage to hold water in the joint. Imagine the soft, smooth flexibility of a sponge soaked in water – this is the action of GAGs holding water in the cartilage. Now imagine the same sponge once it has dried out, it is rough to the touch and doesn’t easily flex or absorb. Without water, the cartilage is similarly rough and inflexible. Multiple studies show the effectiveness of glucosamine on joints in all classes of animals. Chondroitin sulphate is also well known for its role in supporting joints.

Chondroitin sulphate is one of the key structures within the cartilage itself, however, it’s large molecular size and lack of trial success has led people to question whether it is useful in feed supplements. On its own it is questionable, but research does suggest that we should feed chondroitin sulphate alongside glucosamine HCl as the two products work synergistically, that is, they improve each other’s performance.

Another synergistic pair for glucosamine is MSM. Indeed, trials show that feeding the two together has a better result than either one alone. MSM is a natural form of bio-available sulphur which, as the building block of protein, is key to any repair and regeneration. MSM is thought to be of particular use to the soft tissue surrounding the joints, such as the tendons. Scientific trials back up MSM’s traditional use, that is helping the body in its defence against painful situations.

The last of the key chondroprotective agents is l-glutamine. L-glutamine is an amino acid, which most nutrition books will tell you is “non-essential”, that is, the body produces sufficient amounts itself. However, this is a slight oversimplification of the situation. L-glutamine is “conditionally essential”, that is, the requirement dramatically increases under certain conditions. For example, a condition that would increase the body’s requirement for l-glutamine is the replacement of injured cells. Therefore, where the joints are regularly under stress, such as from athletic work, road work or growth, the requirement for L-glutamine will be higher than it is during general maintenance.

Recently there has been discussion around one of the other GAGs, that is, hyaluronic acid (HA). HA is undoubtedly a constituent part of cartilage and has been successfully used for many years as an injection in joint therapy. The advantage of the needle is that it bypasses the horse’s tricky digestive system and puts the nutrient right where it is needed in the joint. The problem with feeding HA is its size. It is a very large molecule to cross the complex gut wall and I am not aware of studies on HA absorption through the horse’s gut. So how can we get the benefit of HA and ensure it is absorbed? Simple. Half of the HA molecule is actually glucosamine, indeed, it is thought that if HA is absorbed it is done so by first breaking down to glucosamine. Therefore in order to feed any benefit of HA, without the large molecule absorption worries, we simply need to choose a product rich in its breakdown product, i.e. glucosamine.

Of the nutrients discussed I consider the two most important to be Glucosamine HCl and MSM, but equally, chondroitin sulphate and l-glutamine undoubtedly have roles to play. Therefore, if your choice of product is for insurance or for working joints showing stress then look for a formula that combines good levels of glucosamine and MSM, but also include stated levels of chondroitin sulphate and l-glutamine.

In addition, to the nutrients aimed specifically at the joint structure, it is also important to consider antioxidants. Antioxidants are nutrients that flush out the excess free radical toxins that build up in our system as the result of any stress. When the joint shows signs of stress, toxins will build up around the area. These will then exacerbate and accelerate cartilage wear, and slow the body’s repair systems. Just as we are told to eat our “five helpings of fruit and veg daily” to help ourselves against modern life, so the same applies to our horses. Although we increasingly see antioxidants added to feed they are not added at the required levels for stress and an open feed bag is not the best place to store antioxidants. Look for naturally sourced concentrated antioxidants which are clinically proven to help the system flush out undesirable toxins. For ease and effectiveness, these antioxidants should be included in your chosen joint product.

Help the Aged

Cartilage support is, of course, not the only reason for considering a joint product. Age eventually catches up with all of us! Arthritis is an ongoing condition and it is almost inevitable that eventually you will be looking for something to promote comfort rather than long-term joint integrity. Devil’s Claw products are a popular choice, and with good reason. Devil’s Claw has traditionally been used for painful conditions for many years. As with cartilage support products, it is often a combination that works best. Look for formulas that contain devil’s claw together with antioxidants and MSM, which will provide a combination of the benefits already discussed. Do keep in mind that devil’s claw is not likely to be the best choice for working joints as it could cover up situations that would be better supported with chondroprotective agents rather than hidden.

Which Product Should I Choose?

Once you have decided which of the two basic classes of products you require there is still an enormous choice, particularly in the chondroprotective category.


Firstly, and simplest of all is to check whether or not the supplements include all the nutrients you are looking for. Check the ingredients list on the back of the pack where manufacturers are legally obliged to list not only the ingredients but also the order, by weight, of which they occur in the product. Therefore, if the first ingredient listed is something like “dextrose” or “alfalfa” then ask yourself why you want supplements that are mainly sugar or filler? Many manufacturers will list the inclusion rate of the key nutrients (ie MSM 9220mg per dose etc.). Inclusion rates not only give you a chance to check the levels but also if they are in the correct ratio with each other.


Unfortunately, as with all things in life, appearances can be deceptive, and if a product looks too good to be true then it probably is! A study recently published in the Equine Veterinary Journal 2006 found that when equine joint products were tested for their stated inclusion rates of glucosamine, not all came up to scratch. Astoundingly, in this American study nearly 40% of the products tested were found to contain less glucosamine than declared on the label, with some containing less than 30% of the expected amount*. So if a product is claiming to have very high levels at a very cheap price then you have to question whether you trust their claims. I would advise choosing a company name you trust or asking friends for their recommendations – word of mouth is nearly always reliable. For further information contact the manufacturer, most have a Helpline available, and if they can’t answer your question satisfactorily then that product isn’t for your horse.

Liquid or Powder

Finally, you have to decide what form you’d prefer to feed the supplements. Many believe that a liquid is faster acting than a powdered product. However, I haven’t seen any evidence to support that claim, and logic will tell you that as soon as a powder is eaten and meets the saliva in the mouth it becomes a liquid. Therefore, the choice between liquid or powder comes down to simple personal preference. The one exception is when considering some herbs such as Devil’s Claw (a root) when they are extracted into a liquid tincture I do find they are more quickly taken up by the system than the natural form. Tinctures take around three weeks to prepare (steeping in liquid) therefore by the time they get into the bottle they have already had the “toughness” broken down. Once you’ve come to the decision to feed your horse joint supplements, or you might be looking to change brand, as I mentioned earlier when you get to the feed store you’ll be taken aback by the huge choice.

Here is a quick checklist I’d recommend you go through in your mind when making your choice:

  1. Do I want to support joints for an active life or keep him comfortable?
  2. What are the main ingredients?
  3. Does it contain the ingredients I’m looking for?
  4. Are the inclusion rates of the key ingredients listed?
  5. Do I know and trust the manufacturer?
  6. Would I prefer a liquid or powder?

Choose the wrong product and at best you’re wasting your money. At worst you could be covering a problem rather than helping it. However, choose the right product for your horse and you can actively help support his joint health and flexibility throughout life.

* Note: Trial results – 23 products tested, 9 (39.1%) were found to contain less glucosamine than stated, 4 (17.4%) contained less than 30% of the stated glucosamine.

For further information or advice on nutritional support for joint health, please call Kate of Helen on the NAF Freephone Advice Line 0800 373106 or email info@naf-uk.com