Your horse has been a little stiff lately, so off you trot to your local tack shop to pick up a joint supplement. You are immediately faced with dozens of liquids, powders, pellets, and pastes, each “promising” to support joint function and make your horse more comfortable. Which supplements are the best for your horse?

“Studies have shown that the potency of joint supplements varies tremendously and that commercially-available supplements may not contain the type or amount of ingredient listed on the label,” explained Mike Lennox, director of formulation and quality assurance at Kentucky Equine Research. “The ingredients used for joint products do not have a widely accepted standard for potency, source, and proven efficacy like vitamin and mineral ingredients do. Also, because the sources are so varied, verifying safety and purity of a particular ingredient becomes a challenge.”

Whether it is a joint, coat, metabolic, respiratory, or other type of supplement, consider the following to find the product that best suits your horse’s needs:

1.Do your research before purchasing a supplement. A well-known company that conducts research demonstrating the efficacy of their products is more likely to produce a quality product. If a product uses testimonials (instead of science) and sounds too good to be true, it probably is. A company should have a well-staffed customer support system.

2. Consult with your veterinarian or an equine nutritionist. Your horse may not need a supplement or there may be a reason that a particular supplement might not be safe.

3. Be honest with your vet! Be sure you tell your vet or nutritionist all drugs, supplements, and feeds your horses is receiving to avoid “double-dipping” (oversupplementing). There are important, deleterious nutrient-supplement-drug interactions that can occur, especially if multiple poor-quality supplements are being offered.

4. Follow the product’s directions and critically evaluate your horse’s progress. Many supplements have “loading” and “maintenance” doses. Some supplements can take time to be effective, and sometimes there might not be a perceivable response. Those cases warrant another discussion with your veterinarian or nutritionist to either choose another supplement or another approach to your horse’s condition.