Long gone are the days when one joint nutraceutical - such as feeding just glucosamine or just chondroitin - was your only option for helping your arthritic horse. Even combining glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate is old hat, as new joint-helper ingredients tout amazing successes.
Indeed, most products on the market now seem to include at least one joint-specific ingredient and one joint-supportive ingredient. Arthritic horses never had it so good.
Since our May 2002 article on the top guns in joint support - Legend, Adequan and hyaluronic acid (HA) - many new over-the-counter products have challenged their reign. Our 2002 article also included a field trial with the first oral over-the-counter HA paste, Conquer from Kinetic Technologies. The results were impressive. Not surprisingly, a year later several companies now make oral HA in a variety of forms. This current field trial compares the multitude of new-generation joint-combination products.
This trial was not designed to oust the basics of glucosamine, perna and chondroitin sulfate. If your horse is doing well on his current supplement, there’s no reason to change it. In fact, your best bet remains to try the simplest, most cost-effective product first. That may well be Corta-Flx, a plain glucosamine, or one with supportive ingredients like Grand Flex, or any combination of basic joint ingredients. If that’s not enough, you’re going to want to go further. That’s where our information will help you.
This trial was interesting, to say the least. We used horses with a wide range of ages and activity levels, comparing responses to those seen with prior supplements, as well as several of the trial supplements in the same horse. Each product was used on three to 14 horses for a duration of one to six weeks. Problems included arthritis, acute and chronic synovitis, OCD, and other joint problems.
We used the AAEP’s Lameness Grading Scale to assess the degree of improvement (see the sidebar below). We then assessed the results by considering expected/unexpected improvements, the horses’ overall environments and histories.
All the oral HA products consistently performed well. The gels and liquids gave faster results than the powders and, in some cases, the results were also stronger. The response to the gels was somewhat better than to the liquids. However, it’s not clear if this was because there was less chance of the supplement being spit out, or running out, with the thicker gels than with the liquids.
Many horses also responded extremely well to combination products without HA. We saw solid improvements with Absorbine Flex+, In Motion, Lubron Plus and Matrix 4 that were extremely close to that obtained with straight oral HA.
We also found that when we added HA to any of the glucosamine/chondroitin/perna combinations, we got an even better response. In fact, the greatest improvement in lameness grades was clearly with Chondrogen EQ, a product that combines glucosamine, chondroitin, HA and manganese, although we're not sure the manganese is a factor in its success.
To evaluate the effect of adding HA to your present supplement plan, try purchasing a small supply of an HA gel and use it at 1/4 to 1/2 of the recommended dose for one to two weeks to see if you get further improvement. If so, consider adding HA.
There were no ’bad choices’ in this trial, and several of the non-HA products performed well, especially Absorbine Flex+, In Motion, Lubron Plus and Matrix 4.
Still, there’s definitely something up with oral HA. It consistently resulted in solid improvements and gave quite a boost when we added it to joint-product combinations.
If your horse is on a non-HA supplement but shows room for improvement, we’d add a low dose of hyaluronic acid - Hyla Rx liquid and Hylarin B powder are the most economical - as described above, or switch to Chondrogen EQ.
Frankly, despite its relatively small dose of hyaluronic-acid powder, Chondrogen EQ made a significant difference in our trials. Plus, it costs less than some of the combination products that don’t contain the hyaluronic acid and is a considerable saving over high-dose hyaluronic acid alone. For these reasons, Chondrogen EQ is our top pick here.