Feeding Horses for Joint Health

Proper nutrition can literally make or break joint health. Here’s what you should know.

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Feeding Horses for Joint Health
The first year of a horse's life is our main window of opportunity to affect his future skeletal health. | Photo: iStock

Take a proactive approach using your horse’s diet

Let me guess: You read the title of this article and assumed it was just another piece about joint supplements. Surprise, it’s not! Rather, this discussion about joint health will center around how certain nutrients support these structures and their development.

But first things first: What makes up a healthy joint? Every joint comprises two bone ends covered by articular cartilage and encased within a joint capsule, a thin, saclike structure. The capsule’s inner layer, called the synovial lining, secretes synovial fluid that prevents friction between the joint structures. The outside layer of the capsule is fibrous, and that, along with the surrounding collateral ligament, helps stabilize the joint. The articular cartilage contains a matrix of collagen, proteoglycans, and water. -Proteoglycans are molecules that help organize connective tissue so that it is elastic, yet strong, and are made up of chains of glycosaminoglycans. These are a type of carbohydrate, attached to a protein, that give cartilage its stiff structure. Synovial fluid contains two key ingredients that give it its lubricating qualities: hyaluronic acid, another glycosaminoglycan type that’s also present in cartilage, and a protein known as lubricin.

Proper nutrition can literally make or break joint health. Although a foal’s diet as it grows influences skeletal health most, its nutrition throughout adulthood also plays a role. We typically think of minerals such as calcium and phosphorus when talking about bone integrity, but vitamins, amino acids (the building blocks of protein), and energy also have their place when feeding for joint health. Let’s dive into joints and what a horse’s nutrition should look like over its life

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Written by:

Kristen M. Janicki, a lifelong horsewoman, was born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in Animal Sciences from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and later attended graduate school at the University of Kentucky, studying under Dr. Laurie Lawrence in the area of Equine Nutrition. Kristen has been a performance horse nutritionist for an industry feed manufacturer for more than a decade. Her job entails evaluating and improving the performance of the sport horse through proper nutrition.

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