For the head horse, it's firing from a standstill at the back of the box to a full run, stopping and turning a 450-pound steer, then pivoting to stop. The heel horse also leaves at a full run then, abruptly parks in the ground, taking the full jerk of not only a steer but his heading counterpart. The horses must do this all in less than 10 seconds (for the professional, under six depending on the set up). Barrel horses endure the same sort of stress where they must break down from top speed to turn the barrel, then accelerate as fast as possible, putting all the stress of those speed changes on their joints.
What's more, those horses run hundreds-if not thousands-of steers, or patterns in the barrel horse's case, to reach the ability level where this type of performance is possible. Then, in both the case of the professional and the amateur, the horses are hauled thousands of miles to competitions.
If the cumulative effect of this life doesn't affect the overall joint health of the horse involved, it's rare.
Fortunately, however, there are myriad options and treatments available on the market that can effectively increase joint health. While joint injections are increasingly popular and effective, for this article, the focus is daily joint-health supplements that can increase the overall health of every joint in the horse's body and do some preventative maintenance. Additionally, injections can produce great short-term benefits, but aren't cost-effective and will eventually become ineffective in the long term.
"Don't have the first option, when things don't look just right, to go inject his joints. There are better, more proven alternatives," said Dr. Steve Allday, a veterinarian and the owner and developer of Lubrisyn.
Many horse owners find that some supplements work better than others. There are over 75 different products on the market, but by looking for the key ingredients, and going with trusted, proven brands, probability for success increases. Check the labels of the products under consideration to make sure the ingredients are at or near the correct amounts.
Another consideration is the trustworthiness of the company. The animal supplement world is very loosely regulated, so look for a company that is associated with the NASC-National Animal Supplement Council.
RecoveryEQ contains Nutricol, a proprietary mix of proven ingredients purified from grapes and green tea (decaffeinated). Nutricol® decreases trauma-from chronic lameness, surgery, injury and over-training-by both increasing the cell's resistance to damage and improving its ability to repair damage.
When a cell is irritated or damaged, or when it begins to age, its membranes break down. As a result, inflammation is a horse's natural response to injury. When a joint becomes inflamed, your horse may experience any or all of these symptoms. This can prevent the joint from moving properly, leading to stiffness and loss of function.
According to the makers, the ingredients in RecoveryEQ work by stabilizing the membranes of the cells, promoting healing of existing damage and helping to prevent further damage. On a practical level, this means quality of life is improved, and you will see your horse experiencing the freedom to move.
Horse Journal, a sister publication to Spin To Win Rodeo, in a 2002/2003 clinical crossover field trial comparing the most effective products for lameness stated that RecoveryEQ is "The best performer overall… for the tough case not responding to other products… even helped with back pain."
John Ewing, the maker of the Formula 707 line, was part of the first company to put out an oral supplement for horses and is an audited member of the National Animal Supplement Council.
"There are several things that make us stand apart," said Melanie Luark, Operations Director for John Ewing Company. "We manufacture our own products-I'm literally less than 100 steps away from our manufacturing facility-which gives us great quality control. We have our own pellet mill, so anything that can be put in a pellet, we do that right here. When you put a pellet up against a powder or a liquid, the shelf life is better and they usually get 100% of it ingested. When you look at our guaranteed analysis, we put in our products what we know and what research indicates will be absorbed. We only buy high-quality raw materials."
While the company has many lines of horse supplements for other equine issues and several joint supplement products, Joint Essentials is their standout product.
"Joint Essentials is the Cadillac of our joint supplement products," Luark said. "The rest were precursors to Joint Essentials."
Reigning World Champion Tie-Down Roper Stran Smith uses the product for his wonder-mare Destiny.
"Everybody wants to know what I feed my horse," Smith said. "It's my own mixture of Formula 707 products that I call jet fuel. After I started getting a little older, I realized the aches and pains that come along with rodeo. Joint Essentials are probably the most important thing. If I could only feed one supplement, Joint Essentials would be it."
Dr. Steve Allday is a 25-year race horse veterinarian who spent his formative years vetting and managing horses with some of the most well-respected lameness experts of the racing world. Today, he continues to travel the country working with Thoroughbreds at races across the country, and when he's got time, is a hobby team roper.
He originally developed Lubrisyn 11 years ago after feeding high-molecular hyaluronic acid to two, self-diagnosed lost causes. Quickly, both horses became sound.
"I was convinced it wouldn't work, so I took those horses off it," Dr. Allday said. "Within four or five days they were lame again. I was going to use it with my practice and sell it around the racetrack. It's a good product and it's able to help a lot of horses. Now we sell it in 20 some-odd countries as well as the U.S."
Now, the product is a mainstay at the racetrack-several Kentucky Derby runners are on the product.
"The one thing I was seeing a difference with was HA," Dr. Allday said. "If I hadn't seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn't be producing it. I like Adequan, too, but it doesn't last as long and it's cost prohibitive. Give me a horse outfit that puts their horses on Lubrisyn and I can show you where it will be cost effective for you, increase the productivity of the individual horses, prolong your horse's career and do their job a lot more efficiently for a longer period of time."
Dr. Allday ropes with Tyler Magnus and understands what team roping horses go through to do their job. In his years as a practitioner, he's seen the kind of problems associated with the sport.
"A team roping horse is unique to other sports. I've done jumping horses, reining horse, pleasure horses and obviously a lot of race horses. Each one, because of the surface and their job, have unique problems that occur. The team roping horse has specific problems that are unique to their discipline. All speed horses suffer some of the same problems. Heading horses, because they have to make a quick start, have hock and stifle issues. I also see a fair amount of shoulders and knees, especially on the right front. Heading horses also show foot problems."
"I've got a heading horse that's on Lubrisyn and I've never injected him. Heeling horses don't have to show the speed, but they have to be a lot more maneuverable. So their hocks and stifles take a lot of wear and tear."
"If you inject a horse two or three times a year and expect a horse to last a decade, that's just not going to happen. If you do that, they're going to wear out, therefore, something like Lubrisyn is beneficial."
What's more, Dr. Allday and his development team went to great lengths to find the best ingredients for Lubrisyn.
"We went to a lot of trouble to get a hydrated, high-molecular compound because we knew that was the compound that could be absorbed the best and give you the best clinicial results," he said.
Another HA oral supplement, Conquer, was also developed by veterinarians, brothers Stuart and Scott Pierce. In 2000, they extracted HA and became the first oral hyaluronic acid joint supplement on the market.
"We reduce joint swelling and improve lameness. We've done studies where we can keep horses in training longer and we've got proof in peer-reviewed, double blind, statistically significant studies," Dr. Stuart Pierce said. "That separates us above and beyond other companies. We have the clinical research of other veterinarians backing up our products."
Dr. Pierce went on to explain that Kinetic Technologies pays particular attention to it's processes and ingredients-and is a member of the NASC-in a remarkably unregulated industry.
"We take pride in our quality and the sourcing of all of our HA and we know exactly the molecular weight and exactly the source of it."
Clint Robinson, a two-time Wrangler NFR tie-down roper, has completely stopped giving his horses injections.
"My dad [former NFR All-Around hand] is in the Thoroughbred racing business and they came to him and asked if he had any rodeo horses they could try it on. I had a good bulldogging horse that had real bad feet. We had no results on anything and were going to have to nerve him, but he put him on Conquer and we could totally tell a difference in him. I was able to sell him and make good money.
"Those Thoroughbred guys aren't real high on injections. Out here in the rodeo world, everybody injects every two or three months and that's why these horses don't last. You can only go in there so many times."
"There's an unreal difference in my horses. It's a daily deal and it just keeps those joints lubed. My horses are as good as they've ever been. Mine will always be on it."
Nutramax animal health
Nutramax Laboratories is the maker of Cosequin. Cosequin is unique because of its ingredients. It was the first company to introduce the glucosamine hydrochloride and sodium chondroitin sulfate.
"The company started in the early '90s," said Tara Cullen, Equine Products Manager for Nutramax Labs. "It was Dr. Robert Henderson who first put this particular combination together and patented it.
"Our ingredients are quality, low molecular weight, so they can be absorbed by the body. We have exclusivity on that material. We have research that shows our product is safe, effective and is absorbed by the body.
What's more, Cullen claims that Cosequin is the number one veterinarian-recommended oral joint health supplement brand and that research shows it is safe, bioavailable and effective in horses.
Complete Joint Formula
Platinum Performance's Complete Joint Formula is a comprehensive wellness and performance formula designed to support the total health of the horse. In addition, this formula also contains glucosamine, MSM, ASU, hyaluronic acid, Boswellia and cetyl myristoleate-nutrients that support healthy joint function by targeting the contributors to the development of joint health issues.
Trevor Brazile, the reigning and six-time World Champion All-Around Cowboy, uses Complete Joint Formula on all his horses.
"I used Platinum even before I started working with the company because I liked the way it made my horses look," he said. "They put all their supplements into one and it makes it a lot easier to feed and gives me the results I'm looking for.
"It's let me get my horses injected less, I don't inject hocks as much as I used to. It gives me peace of mind. If you drive from Decatur, Texas, to somewhere in Washington or Oregon for a rodeo, you want to know you've done all the preventative maintenance you can without having 10 different jugs every time you go to feed. Platinum's got it all in one and it gives you the benefits inside and out, from the appearance of your horse to the joint formula."
Silver Lining Herbs
The #18 Joint Support
Silver Lining Herbs joint support contains slippery elm and uva ursi for a well-maintained colon and urinary system; burdock and chaparral for a healthy circulatory system; butcher's broom to help maintain blood flow to the extremities, such as the ankles and hocks; and whitewillow and yucca to maintain the normal temperature in the joint, as well as other herbs for various support.
"What separates our products from most other products on the market is they are simply herbal products that are devised by nature itself," said Mickey Young, former NFR bareback rider and owner and founder of Silver Lining Herbs. "If you took the fences down, the horses would find what we're serving to them in packages. All of our products are designed to be recognized for support at the cellular level. When God made the horse, he made the feed for them. Then we came along and changed all that. In doing so, we caused a lot of the problems these horses are having-they're not getting access to the nutrients that their body is designed to assimilate. The entire plant is what does the job-rather than extractions-so take plants that do different things."
Walt Woodard's favorite horse, Little Gray, was in fact given a literal death sentence by a vet. The vet recommended putting the horse down due to his various old injuries. Instead, Woodard decided to retire him on his ranch. Jackie Dube, who was dating Woodard's son, Travis, at the time, began feeding the horse Silver Lining Herbs. Before long, Little Gray was bucking and playing in his run and Woodard took him back to the rodeos, nearly won the world on him in 2006 and the next year did win the world riding Little Gray and another horse.
"That stuff, I am absolutely sold on it," Woodard said. "I'm telling you, it's amazing. Every horse I've got is on it."