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Effect of Joint Supplementation and Exercise on Older HorsesBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · November 6, 2014

Older horses, like older humans, often have stiff joints and move less freely than their younger counterparts. Whether the joint dysfunction is due to arthritis, injury, or some other cause, pain and inflammation are common in these senior equines. Various joint supplements are available, and product labels claim that supplementing these horses with chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine will ease joint pain and stiffness.

Effects of this type of supplementation in humans have been varied. Some people claim to find great relief, while others report no significant difference after taking the joint supplements. Laboratory tests have indicated that glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate may have an anti-inflammatory effect on joint tissue, but it is not known whether this effect can be documented in live animals. A number of orthopedic surgeons express the belief that the supplements are effective in some individuals, but aren’t helpful to others. This may be the case with horses as well.

Research was carried out at Utrecht University in The Netherlands to test the effect of three months of oral supplementation on ease of motion in older equines. The research was designed as a randomized, blinded, placebo-controlled study using 24 horses between the ages of 25 and 33. All horses in the study were exercised on a treadmill and stride length, flexion, extension, and range of motion were noted at a walk and trot at the beginning of the study and again at its conclusion. Half the horses were given an oral joint supplement containing glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, and methyl sulfonyl methane (MSM). Horses in the control group were given a placebo.  

Observation of gait characteristics at the end of the trial showed that stride length did not change in treated horses, though control horses showed better limb flexion and extension after three months. The researchers concluded that gait characteristics in the senior horses in this trial were not improved as a result of oral supplementation with a joint product. However, regular exercise could help to alleviate stiffness and produce an improved gait change in some older horses. This trial did not evaluate the use of a joint supplement to maintain joint health and function in active younger horses.

Read more on this study and joint supplement research.