We focus a lot of attention on our horse’s moving parts, the bones and joints which bear weight and absorb impact, the muscles which generate movement. Equally important are tendons and ligaments.
Tendons originate in muscles and terminate on bone. When muscles contract they shorten and pull on their attached tendons, focusing the force of the muscle action. Ligaments on the other hand are the major stabilizers. They attach bone to bone, within or across joints. Ligaments serve to keep bones in the correct alignment for bearing weight and restrict excessive movement.
Sensible conditioning schedules, meticulous hoof balancing and careful attention to nutritional needs are the most important things we can do to maintain tendon and ligament health. This is especially important because their are several common deficiencies which can impact it.
Both muscles and tendons/ligaments are made of protein but with a very different structure. Tendons and ligaments are connective tissues where the major protein is collagen. Collagen protein has a unique amino acid composition.
The most abundant amino acid in collagen is glycine, which is nonessential meaning the body is able to manufacture it. However, glycine synthesis is not always adequate to support connective tissue needs. The most common essential amino acid in collagen is lysine; essential meaning it must come from the diet. Lysine is also the most commonly deficient amino acid in equine diets. Hydroxylysine, which is found only in connective tissue, is also made from lysine.
The amino acid supply is only the start of the process for healthy tendons and ligaments. The trace mineral copper is required for the production of hydroxylysine and also the creation of reinforcing cross-links between collagen strands. Like lysine, copper is another nutrient which is often deficient in our horses’ diets.
Also commonly deficient is zinc, which is important to the integrity of the insertion sites of tendons and ligaments on bone, as well as for the antioxidant enzyme superoxide dismutase.
As with all tissues, the horse’s body must deal with inevitable exercise-related wear and tear to tendons and ligaments. Research has shown that nitric oxide is a key element in tendon and ligament maintenance. The herb Gynostemma pentaphyllum, aka Jiaogulan, provides powerful support of nitric oxide generation from the healthful eNOS enzyme system while assisting the horse in the homeostatic regulation of the inflammatory iNOS enzyme.
Tendon and ligament health is critical to keeping your horse moving freely. Stress is largely beyond our control, but nutrition is not. Targeted supplementation can offer powerful support.
Eleanor Kellon, VMD