Last week I was standing in the Smartpak store comparing joint supplements. I always visit the clearance section there and at Dover Saddlery, because you can buy products with damaged packaging for a good price. I can even convince myself that a mere $50 is a bargain for a container of juju powder that promises to make your horse feel years younger and nimble as a foal.
It struck me then that equine joint supplement are a lot like the products a lot women buy to combat wrinkles. Think about it: these are all products which have no scientific proof of efficacy, sell for obscene dollars per ounce, and have large and vocal followings by people who swear that they work. Because you want them to work!
After many years of feeding oral joint supplements, I finally started with injectables . . . and had my big horse’s hocks injected. That’s what really made a difference. For months I’d known he was not quite right. He felt heavy on his forehand and stumbled more frequently. 10 days after the hock injections, he really did feel years younger and I found that I could really enjoy riding cross country — not having to worry if he was going to trip. In truth, injecting him monthly (or even twice a month) is less expensive than buying miracle powders and I don’t have to worry about him leaving it in his feed dish.
I’m sure that many horses do show some response to the oral joint supplements. Certainly there are enough testimonials out there from satisfied customers and I was pretty sure that, at least when I started feeding them, my horse did feel less stiff. I spoke to the owner of one of the well-known supplement manufacturers at Equine Affaire in 2007. He told me that before he worked in the equine industry, he’d worked with hogs. With them, it was far easier to test the efficacy of a drug. You had a large population of genetically identical animals and after testing a drug on a population, you killed them and were able to study the results. Not a regime possible with horses! His theory is that people wouldn’t still keep buying the products if they didn’t work.
But I’m not so sure. There are still plenty of people (mostly women) who are dropping $125/ounce for Creme de la Mer Moisturizing cream and who believe wholeheartedly that it works better than Oil of Olay. Believe me, if I read any scientific proof that there was a cream out there that would make my 47-year old skin look like I was 20 again, I would pay $125 in a heart beat. Until then, I will stick with drug store varieties and save the “hope in a jar” for my horses.