Naturally Supporting Joints and Cartilage In The Horse
One of the top questions I get asked as an equine bodyworker is what types of things can caretakers do from a natural standpoint in supporting joints and cartilage in the horse – particularly for the working or geriatric horse. Our horse’s comfort is our top priority. We just want to do all we can to keep them performing at peak efficiency. We are very Blessed in this day and age with all the advances in equine health and nutrition. There are multitudes of alternative therapies and nutritional supplements available to us to help improve the health and well-being of our beloved four-legged friends. But with all the choices available, how do you know which to choose for your situation and, at the same time, not break the bank.
No surprise, my top recommendation to help maintain and improve joint mobility for horses at any activity level is bodywork. Whether you choose acupuncture, chiropractic, massage or just good old fashioned basic stretching, you can’t go wrong. The benefits of equine bodywork are well documented – from helping to improve circulation, range of motion and as an aid to relief sore muscles and joints1. Ask any athlete if they would be willing to give up their sports massage therapist! Don’t take my word for it. Read through this in-depth look at the benefits of equine massage therapy – http://www.kineticx.com/pdf%20files/Evidence%20for%20Equine%20Massage%20Therapy.pdf.
Keep them moving! Horse’s that are cooped up in a stall or small pen for hours on end will invariably tend to become stiff. Horse’s evolved to travel over long distances each day in as they forage for choice grazing and watering holes. Movement is an integral part of a horse’s physical and emotional well-being. It is especially important for geriatric horses to keep those rusty joints active and moving. The old adage “use it or lose it” is quite applicable here.
Magnets and red light (photonic) therapy are additional forms of alternative physical therapy that may be beneficial in maintaining and supporting healthy joints and soft tissue. Both are thought to help improve circulation and reduce inflammation at application sties and promote the body’s natural healing ability. The use of cold-laser therapy in mainstream veterinary clinics as a means to help improve recovery time after surgical procedures is becoming more widely accepted as well.
With all the advances in equine nutrition we’ve come to understand the importance of ensuring the differing systems of the body have the right building blocks to function properly. There are many different herbs and supplements that are thought to support proper joint function – too many to name here. Below is a list of my top picks for joint support supplementation for horses. I’ve used most all of these at one time or another for my own horses and gotten good results.
- Apple Cider Vinegar – Recommended by my own veterinarian, apple cider vinegar is thought to help reduce inflammation and eliminate uric acid crystal buildup in the joint2 – one of the main enemies of healthy joint function. It can be fed out as a top dress on feed or add it to a 5-gallon bucket of water.
- Devil’s Claw – An African herb traditionally used as a joint supplement. Constituents in Devil’s Claw called iridoid glycosides are thought to be the main active component for this claim. It is available in dried, fresh, extract, powdered and topical forms and can be given easily with feed3.
- Yucca – Yucca has a long-standing use in the Native American culture for joint stiffness and discomfort. It contains a number of constituents thought to be beneficial to the support of healthy joints, such as saponins and polyphenols4. It can be obtained in powdered or extract form and used as a top dress on feed.
- Omega 3 Fatty Acids – The beneficial fatty acids have a long-standing history for their health benefits, in particular in supporting proper joint function5. Good sources of omega 3 fatty acids for horses would be flaxseed oil, soybean oil and fish oil. It is important to maintain a proper ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6 fatty acids though. Some good surces of omega 6 are rice bran oil, sunflower oil, grapeseed oil, and soybean oil. Finding a supplement that contains a proper ratio of both is key. My horses get 3D Oil from ADM as a daily supplement on their feed.
- MSM – Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) is one of the top recommended supplements to supporting proper joint function. It can be found in almost every joint supplement on the market today, including BLM & Sulfurzyme from Young Living. MSM contains a beneficial source of sulfur which the body needs to form connective tissue and cartilage. It is also needed for the body to produce collagen, chondroitin and glucosamine – the building blocks of cartilage6.
There are numerous topical liniments available usually containing various combinations of beneficial essential oils and plant extracts, My favorite pre-formulated topical liniments and massage oils are Young Living’s OrthoEase Massage Oil and Sore No-More Liniment. But most of the time, I just make my own using essential oils.
These are my favorite oils to use to help with the relief of minor joint soreness and discomfort on my own horses and my equine massage clients. Mix them in with your favorite carrier oil like V-6 or coconut oil to make your own custom blend.
- Idaho Balsam Fir
So as you can see, there are a number of options available to horse caretakers that can help in supporting joints and cartilage in the horse. These options range in cost from nothing but your time to a few hundred dollars, and ALL are completely natural alternatives that you can feel good about. Just make sure that you consult your veterinarian to discuss possible drug interactions on any supplements that you might choose and to make sure your horse doesn’t have any condition that might be aggravated by a specific therapy.
I’d love to hear what alternative therapies or natural herbal supplements have worked for your horse. Please feel free to share your experiences below in the comment section, or join the conversation on our Facebook page – http://www.facebook.com/HeavenlyGaitsEquineMassage.
The information in this article is not meant to diagnose, treat or cure any condition or illness. Nor is it meant replace proper veterinary care. It is meant for educational purposes only. Always consult your chosen veterinary professional before starting your horse or other animal on any therapy.
- Evaluating The Benefits Of Equine Massage Therapy: A Review Of The Evidence And Current Practice – http://www.kineticx.com/pdf%20files/Evidence%20for%20Equine%20Massage%20Therapy.pdf. Accessed 11/7/14
- 10 Reasons To Drink More Apple Cider Vinegar – http://dailyhealthpost.com/10-reasons-to-drink-more-apple-cider-vinegar/. Accessed on 11/6/14.
- Devil’s Claw, University of Maryland Medical Center – http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/devils-claw. Accessed on 11/6/14.
- Anti-inflammatory and anti-arthritic effects of yucca schidigera: A review – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1440857/. Accessed 11/7/14.
- Omega-3 fatty acids in inflammation and autoimmune diseases – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12480795. Accessed 11/7/14.
- Joint Supplements: Benefits of MSM – http://www.drsfostersmith.com/pic/article.cfm?aid=1570. Accessed 11/7/14.
Lisa Carter is a Certified Equine Massage Therapist (CEMT), with multiple certifications from several different equine bodywork schools. She incorporates her knowledge and experience with Parelli Natural Horsemanship, equine bodywork, using essential oils for animals and as a veterinary technician to provide her clients with the resources they need to make informed decisions for their horses. She encourages and facilitates network building between equine health care professionals, working together to find the best combination of therapies to meet the needs of the “whole horse”.
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