Stiffness in horses – a comprehensive approach

21st December 2012
Beryl Shuttleworth
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Many factors contribute to stiffness in our equine friends. They are, after all, athletes, and prone to the same aches and pain that human athletes suffer from.

The question is, how do we treat these problems, without resorting to expensive and potentially harmful drugs.Luckily for us cash-strapped horse owners, safe, effective inexpensive treatments do exist. The most important of theses are: Devil’s Claw, MSM and glucoseamine.

Devil’s Claw

Devil’s Claw is reputed to have two main effects – analgesic (painkilling) and anti-inflammatory. A laboratory in France has obtained results that show a 78% reduction in pain using Devil’s Claw.

The anti-inflammatory effect of Devil’s Claw is controversial. Some studies show a marked effect, while others report little effect at the same dose. The main difference between the two extremes is the way in which it is administered. When injected into the site of swelling, the effect is greatest. Also, when it was injected into the small intestine (and therefore bypasses the stomach), the effect was greater than when fed by mouth. Scientists put two and two together and suspected that the stomach acid partially broke down the active ingredients of the root. To prove this, they injected an extract of Devil’s Claw that they had previously mixed with acid in the lab. Confirming their suspicions, the acid hydrolysed root had a lesser effect than the same root which had not been mixed with acid. The main consequence of this is that, when fed by mouth, a higher dose is needed than when injected. This is true of a lot of drugs.


Although it is not known exactly how MSM works, it is assumed to be because it is a source of sulphur. Animals can’t use sulphur on its own, and MSM (which contains a sulphur molecule) can be easily used in the body. Sulphur is a very fragile element and, although it is present in big quantities in fresh foods, (eg. fresh hay), even minimal processing (eg. cutting and drying of hay) or storage causes the sulphur to be lost. With the result that most horses (and humans) are deficient in sulphur. MSM can correct this imbalance by supplying sulphur in a form which is easy to use.

Dr Herschler was the first person to experiment with MSM, together with his vet, Dr Metcalf.

He found that:

  • He suffered from respiratory allergies. When he dosed himself with MSM, the allergy disappeared. When he stopped taking it, the allergy returned.
  • Dr Metcalf’s Labrador was able to stop her daily dose of four bute tablets per day when given MSM.
  • Dr Metcalf’s daughter’s jumper became a different horse (no tail swishing, ears back or refusing) when put on MSM. He since had a lot of success with MSM in treating back pain in jumpers and race horses, especially with sacroiliac problems.
  • Fast-growing foals often develop epiphysitis, especially when their diet is too protein rich. This is a painful inflammatory condition when the foal’s body grows faster than his bones can develop to support the weight. A small amount of MSM fed daily can prevent this.
  • Further problems that were cured were: severe diarrhea in a valuable Arab stallion, gastric ulcers in foals, lameness, internal parasite (worm) infestations.

Glucoseamine sulphate

Glucosamine is a component of cartilage, the soft tissue which “cushions” joints. When cartilage breaks down, the two bones of the joint rub together when in use, causing friction and pain. Glucosamine provides the system with the raw materials it needs to prevent further cartilage degeneration and even rebuild damaged cartilage.

Feeding these three in combination on a daily basis makes good sense. The Herbal Horse product which combines all three of these is called Rejuven mix.

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Stiffness in horses - a comprehensive approach
Stiffness in horses - a comprehensive approach
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