The joint is a complex organ consisting of a number of connecting tissues such as bone, cartilage, synovial membrane and fluid and ligamentous tissue, all structures must remain healthy in order to produce flexible sound movement. A healthy joint has a slow continuous turnover of extra cellular matrix and degradation does not exceed natural reconstruction and renewal. Bone formation also modifies and resorbs according to the stresses placed upon it and there is a constant release of metabolites. One of the most important parts of the joint is the cartilage which is made up of collagen and proteoglycans this part of the joint is responsible for loading the joint in an even way to avoid injury. An essential component of normal joint function and health is continued lubrication of the joint, which reduces the damaging effects of friction. If the fluid is removed, becomes thinned or poor quality, the joint will begin to grind itself away, in the same way, as a car engine without oil will quickly seize up. A horse’s joints come under stress every day during competition, exercise, galloping around the field and even lying around in the box and eventually these stresses cause joint problems, likely to show as lethargy, slight stiffness, temperament changes, muscle changes and difficulty in getting up and down. The horse may change its way of normal movement as other structures become involved.
There is a current trend for feeding daily joint supplements containing glucosamine, chondroitin and MSM that are beneficial to joint health. Especially those in competition horses involved in high level activities. Many horses receive them daily along with HA but according to the American Veterinary Journal this popular combination may not be sufficient to support joint health in dressage, jumping horses and those involved in intense exercise and training such as race horses and endurance horses and a more comprehensive regime of support to maintain suppleness and achieve high performance is required. An effective supplement for an elite sport/race horse should benefit both the joints and the surrounding structures such as tendons and musculotendinous junctions.
Diet plays a huge part in maintenance of joint health for three main reasons.
In the wild horses would be continually on the move and would forage for nutrients from a wide variety of plants containing hundreds of complex phytochemicals, these chemicals are designed to interact with the body systems to support and benefit optimum health. Horses are by nature foragers and trickle feeders, they actively and constantly seek out plants to benefit and support health, the steady continuous walking (and eating) conditions and strengthens the body whilst providing nutrients from the rich phyto-tonics nature provides. There has been a serious decline in the range and variety of plants containing anti-oxidants available to grazing horses and most pasture now contains too few species to provide for the needs of elite sport horses. Bagged feeds contain added vitamin and minerals but the levels of anti- oxidants are estimates based on calculations of requirements rather than exact knowledge. Some bagged feeds contain too high levels of anti -oxidants which can cause problems and imbalances.
Modern horses are now stabled for long periods, meaning they spend less time walking with less access to the wide variety of plants and anti- oxidants required to build and maintain strong tissue, at the same time today’s Sport horses are exposed to greater levels of training, travel and competition.
The diet of horses have changed radically over the last 20 years, most horses are fed from a formulated blend of feeds with added extras which hopefully covers the entire nutritional needs of the competition horse. As an example the diagram below shows how there is an imbalance in the amount of omega 3 in the diet due to a lack of ‘green’ plants in the diet and an over reliance on carbohydrates from grain, which are high in omega 6. There are similar comparisons with the amount of plant anti-oxidants and phytochemicals, horses involved in intense exercise including galloping and jumping require higher levels of these compounds including proanthocyanadins and anthocyanadins, flavonoids and triterpenes.
The third reason why modern sport horses (or those stabled for long periods) need extra nutritional support is because of a wider exposure to free radicals and oxidative stress a basic understanding of oxidative stress is very important. Oxidative stress is a general term used to describe the steady state of oxidative impairment in a cell, tissue or organ in the body. This disturbance can be caused by a molecule called a “reactive oxygen species”. Reactive oxygen species include particles called free radicals which are extremely tiny and can only be seen with very powerful microscopes.
A free radical is a molecule with one or more unpaired electrons in its outer orbital. In essence, a free radical is like a raging bull in a china closet…causing an imbalance and decline in normal health. Horses are continuously exposed to free radicals from external sources such as sunlight, radiation, pollution and toxins, stabled horses lack the access to foraged nutrients to rectify the changes oxidative stress does to the body.
To combat these detrimental changes from free radicals, it is important to understand antioxidants and their role in the body. An antioxidant is a compound that PREVENTS oxidative damage. Their purpose is to facilitate a process known as free radical scavenging. They do this by transferring electrons to the unpaired electrons of the free radicals and rendering them harmless. Antioxidants are obtained via nutrients and essential elements in your diet. Some of them are simple molecules like vitamins E and C, selenium, zinc, while others are enzymes like superoxide dismutase, catalase and most importantly, glutathione. Glutathione, also known as the master antioxidant, is made from a combination of three simple amino acids —cysteine, glycine and glutamine.
The most written about free radical is glutathione, which strongly supports healthy body function and protection from oxidative stress. It is the most important molecule that your horse needs to stay healthy.
Glutathione recycles antioxidants, keeping them working in the body. It is also critical for the detoxification systems. Glutathione is a compound that contains sulfur chemical groups precursor of MSM and glucosamine sulphate. Sulfur is a sticky molecule that is able to adhere to toxins and free radicals so that they can be neutralized and excreted. When horses are exposed to excessive oxidative stress or toxins, (stabling, travelling, competitions and physical workouts) glutathione levels can become depleted, no longer protecting the horse from the free radicals. Some horses are unable to create the enzymes necessary to recycle glutathione leading to an overall lack of energy.
There are several ways to boost glutathione levels including dietary choices and nutritional supplements. Green leafy plants, herbs and indigenous grass species are rich in sulphur. Supplementing with the amino acids N-Acetyl-Cysteine, glycine, and methionine are also beneficial.
Proactive healthcare is the key to continuing equine vitality and wellness…
It is better to avoid problems than resolve them, better to close the door before the horse has bolted….
Joints are quoted as the highest reason for horses failing to reach their potential in competitions and training….