Monday, October 2, 2017

Exercise and Rehab Plan for a PSSM Horse

Is it possible to bring them back once symptoms have started?

Just after a colic episode, during his most severely symptomatic months.
Note the wasted and tense muscles around his flanks, lumbar, and stifles.

Before answering this question, let's look at everything I've done to help bring Jax back to his former glory.  Keep in mind that he went severely symptomatic, and due to misdiagnosis was laid off for 6 months which made things much worse.  If you're seeing subtle signs and have time to work with your horse daily (or at least 4-5 days/week) then you may not have a journey as difficult as we've had.


Note: injury, illness, and time off can set your horse back.  In these cases, lower the mileage and intensity of workouts for a few days to keep from setting off an episode.

The first few months of rehab (before diagnosis and moving Jax to a new barn) I worked on fixing his feet and lunging about 4-5 days/week.  This helped him to build up strength, but wasn't quite enough to get him rideable.  After diagnosis (about 4 months into rehab) I moved him to a place with trails and an indoor arena.  I started riding him for about 10-15 minutes at a walk doing suppling exercises:  walking over poles, bending around cones, backing, etc.  We started venturing out onto the trail for slow, one mile rides just before winter. 
For the really cold months (and while he was on alfalfa) his muscles were very stiff so we rode inside most of the time.  We started adding short trot sessions (maybe 2 minutes total) and worked up to 25-30 minutes total ride time, again using lots of suppling exercises.  Just before spring, I was able to add some canter (1-2 very short bursts per session) and we were up to 2 miles on the trail, walk only.  We kept building through spring and into summer, and by mid-summer we actually had enough canter to do a playday with a few friends (some barrels, pole bending, and a few games).  As the summer progressed, we made it up to 6 miles on the trail with lots of trot and canter.

At the time of writing this, we're at almost 18 months of rehab.  He's not 100% yet, but he's probably about 95%.  He's got his canter back, though it's still rough some days and he's much better cantering straight than he is in circles (the trot started out the same, and I think we'll get a more collected and refined canter in a couple more months so that we can add circles).  On his bad days, we do a maintenance day (see below) with either a lunging session for exercise or a short arena day with suppling exercises.  Sometimes a light day may be about 2.5 miles of walking on the trail.  It's been a long, slow process but he is getting stronger and is almost back to the horse he was at his pique (around the middle of his 7th year, about 3 years ago).

Here are a few ridden exercises that I use to work both his mind and his body.


Occasionally, (about twice per month, more if needed) Jax will start to get a little slower, a little more tender in his muscles, and over all just a little "down" compared to his normal self.   There are also times that he's been working hard for a week or so and I feel like he should get an easier day to help keep him going well.  These are times that I'll throw a "maintenance day" into our rehab plan.  Maintenance days usually look something like this:
  • (everyday) Check his back for soreness after assessing how he walks in from the pasture
  • (everyday) Feed 1/2 of his "grain" mix
  • Full trim on all four hooves if needed (usually do touch-ups in between these days)
  • Myofascial grooming work about 1-2 hours over his whole body, focusing on major muscle groups and sore spots (I groom him this way everyday, but usually for only about 10-15 minutes before tacking up)
  • Percussive massage (see below) - about 1-2 hours, focusing on major muscle groups of the neck, back, hindquarters, and sore spots
  • Light lunging with walk/trot/canter, some walking or backing over poles/up hills, and other light groundwork to loosen his muscles
  • (everyday) Feed other 1/2 of his "grain" mix
  • (everyday) Put him back out to pasture
These days are necessary to keep him going.  The next day is usually an easy walk trail ride (maybe 3-4 miles) to loosen him up more without asking for too much work, then we can start back where we left off the next day.

A sleek, loose-muscled Jax after a maintenance day,
during a leisurely hand walk.

  • Starting out light - Masterson method - This method is wonderful for when Jax can't handle other types of muscle work.  Many owners on the PSSM Forum (Facebook) use it as well.  Look up his book on Amazon and his videos on YouTube for more information.
  • Stress Points - "Beating Muscle Injuries for Horses" by Jack Meagher - this book is amazing and can show you where your horse is really hurting and how to fix it.  The Masterson method was a great start when Jax was really bad, and this was a great complimentary method once we got to a point that he could handle it.  You can find it on Amazon.
  • Percussive Massager and Myofascial Release - Jax gets percussive massage (from a $30 hand-held massager I bought on Amazon) as often as needed, but at least once every 2-3 weeks.  The first couple of months of rehab he was getting daily massage due to severe muscle tightness.  He now gets daily grooming with a jelly groomer to loosen his fascia (see Myofascial Release for PSSM Horses), which has reduced his need for daily massage dramatically. 
  • Stretching - many PSSM horses are helped by stretching.  Jax can handle that some days, but not very often.  I usually just rely on a slow, walking warmup and a Back On Track blanket (in cooler weather) rather than stretching him.  On days that he's really bad and we can only do groundwork, I might stretch him as much as he can tolerate since he won't get a lot of exercise on those days.


One of the most important things to remember about PSSM horses - their muscles can't compensate for foot pain.  So, if anything - and I mean ANYTHING - is wrong with their feet, you will find problems in their muscles.  Anything from a bad trim, to Low Grade Laminitis (which seems to be a problem for some PSSM horses, including Jax), can be detrimental to your rehab plan.  Before you can fix the muscles, you have to fix the feet (or at least start the hoof rehab process, and rehab the hooves as you rehab the body like I did with Jax).  Jax had issues with "long toe low heel" and it's taking a while for his feet to get back in shape (especially since he is prone to low grade laminitis every spring), but I can feel that as his feet get better his muscles get better.

If you are rehabbing feet, you may have trouble with abscesses.  Jax never had an abscess until he went symptomatic and his feet fell apart.  The longest episode he's had to date was a two week span with mild shoulder spasms caused by abscess pain.  Here's a pic of the culprit:

As soon as this blew, he started to do really well (even though he'd been off work for two weeks).  Don't underestimate how important healthy hooves are, especially to a PSSM horse.


One of the things that really helped me figure out what my horse needs is a daily journal.  Every day I put notes on what tack I used, what feed/supplements I gave, the type of work we did, when his feet were trimmed, pics of feet after trim, who did the trim, notes on sore muscles, days he was massaged, and anything else I could think to put down.  I included pics and videos to monitor changes in specific muscles and posture.


Cold, wet weather sets Jax back for days.  If it's going to be cool and wet (70*F and below) or  just cold (40*F and below) he gets blanketed.  Before symptoms, he grew a coat like a bear and stayed warm all year.  Since symptoms, his muscles can't handle the stress of shivering to stay warm - it leads to spasms every time.


If you've looked through my tack reviews, you've seen that everything I review is either treeless, bitless, or barefoot.  Believe it or not, I'm not a hippy :) However, my boy has specific needs, and these are the types of tack that he does best with.  When he's back sore but needs exercise, a bareback pad works best.  Even on his good days, the rigidity of a tree is too much but a well-fitting treeless works great.  Since he rope walks when his shoulders are sore, he can't have metal shoes or he'll give himself splints (he got 6 splints in the 6 months he wore shoes!).  His jaw used to get very sore with a bit, even though I have fairly light hands - he does great bitless.

Back on Track blankets and pads are also very helpful.  I use one under his saddle every day that's below 80*F (some people won't use them over 70*F, but Jax has a harder time warming up than cooling down so he has no problem with it in slightly warmer temps).

This doesn't mean that every PSSM horse needs exactly what Jax gets, they're all different so you'll need to find what works for yours.

So, can a horse come back after major symptoms set in?

My answer to this question is a hopeful YES.  It's a lot of stress and hard work from both horse and owner, and not everyone is in a position to do everything that I've listed above (fortunately, not every horse needs this much help).  These horses have a lot of heart, give them a chance and they may surprise you!

About the Artist:

horse artist, equine artist, PSSM horse
Since starting my art business in 2004, I have been on a roller coaster ride that's taken me from art, to house flipping, to legal assistant, to horse trainer, and a full 180* back to my artworks.

I'm thankful to get back to my art, and also for the life experiences I've gained.

Things in life that matter the most!  Jen, husband Jared, and Jax

Thanks for reading, I hope you've enjoyed my website!  Feel free to comment, like, or subscribe!

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Myofascial Release for PSSM Horses

I wrote this for a forum I'm on early August, 2017:

So, I've been watching YouTube to find massage, stretch, myofascial, and any other techniques to try and loosen up my horse's muscles - he's been doing really well and staying loose, but about two weeks ago he went lame from a constant shoulder spasm in both shoulders. The spasm finally subsided and he's now on Bute-less for a bit, which I think is really helping. His muscles have been much better on a higher fat diet - I got him up to 2 cups of oil for a couple of days, but he's starting to leave food in his bowl so we're back down to 12 oz (1.5 cups), which isn't bad as he was doing well on this amount. A few days ago I found this playlist for the Posture Prep Cross Fiber Groomer and it looked very interesting.

I've been doing it for about 3 days now with a grooming mitt that I already have, and the difference in my boy's muscles and skin pain and tightness is pretty drastic. After 3 days he's no longer sensitive to touch, his back pain is less, and he just looks looser. He's still slightly lame in his shoulder from the spasms last week, but even the stress lines there have improved quite a bit and he's now rideable (for short distances) again. The first day I worked on him for over 2 hours, the 2nd day over an hour, and today about another hour focusing on hindquarters and shoulders. I've been doing it everywhere, not just on the areas shown. I think this works by releasing the fascia and also through mild massage of the muscles.

The first pic is from about a month or so ago, 2nd pic is after the 2nd day of trying this (yesterday), and 3rd pic is from today and really working on his hindquarters. 4th pic is the grooming mitt that I used. He didn't love it the first day as he's been really skin sensitive, but today he did and I got a really good stretch out of him after he was done. If you try this and your horse is sensitive, be careful as they can be reactive. My boy usually just steps away when I hit something that is too sensitive, and that first day I hit many sensitive spots.

Edit to add: My horse's tail always curls to the left when he lifts it and is very stiff and hard to pick up (like he's clamping it but he's not). After the 2nd day he was lifting it straight most of the time and I could lift it easily - that's never happened in the 6 years I've owned him!



Today was the first test for how well my boy would do after the fascia work. The 2nd and 3rd pics above were taken about a week into little-to-no work due to muscle spasms in his shoulders. It turns out he had an abscess brewing in both front feet, which finally popped yesterday and the spasms stopped. I gave him yesterday off and worked him with the jelly groomer again, and even with a total of almost 2 weeks with no work, he stayed nice and loose (with only one day of massage, which he really enjoyed again after doing fascia work). I worked him lightly with the groomer today before work, and found a sore spot in his hindquarters (the muscles around his hip joint) - this is where most of his problems are, so I massaged/groomed that area which caused his back muscles to flinch (I think I now know where the sore back is coming from), then put liniment on those areas to heat/loosen them up.

After all that, he looked great and acted happy and comfortable, so I decided to take him for a short trail ride. We were just going to walk for a little way, see how he was feeling, and turn back early. He felt so good from the second I got on him - no 20 minute warmup as usual - and continued to feel good through a 2.5 mile ride. He was still feeling great when we got home and acting normal, but there was a slight shoulder spasm that went away quickly (I'm assuming that muscle was still a little compromised from the last couple weeks).

I have not been able to give my horse more than 1 day off in the 2 years since he became symptomatic - it usually stiffens him up too bad. I really expected him to be a complete wreck today. He did get a little handwalking during this time off, but it wasn't enough for his usual exercise needs. The only thing different other than the fascia work is that I put him on Buteless - which I'm sure helped immensely.

So here's the list of things that this type of fascia work has definitely helped with: loosened his muscles, kept them loose through no/little work, completely got rid of his skin sensitivity, less back pain coming in from the pasture, hip/hindquarters are moving looser, and no exercise intolerance after being off work. I also uncovered a couple of divots in his shoulders and neck once his skin was loosened up, and was able to find spots to work on that I couldn't find before as the tight skin was hiding it.



My boy spent the next 1.5-2 weeks outdoing his normal self - we went 7 days with up to and over 5 mile trail rides, some very technical and about 1/2 of those days included a lot of trot and canter work. One day I even got him to canter for about 1/2 mile! That hasn't happened in over 2 years. Also, this last year of rehab he's not been able to work hard for more than 3 days without crashing after - there has been no crash this past month.

I also took my first mini vacation right after that, and left him for 5 days in the pasture with no exercise and only hay and grass (no grain). The day I came back I hand walked him and he seemed perfectly fine. I then started building up mileage the next day, starting at about 2.5 miles (we normally start back at 1-1.5 miles) - he did amazing. He still has unlimited canter, and his body stayed nice and loose while I was gone (he normally can't do even 1 full day off work).

I've switched his food around a bit during the spasm episodes mentioned in my original post. He's now on 1 lb Renew Gold, 1 tbsp Mag Ox, 1.5 cups canola oil, 1/3 scoop Health E, and 1 tbsp baking soda - all mixed with water to make a nice mash. On some days I add 1 oz CoMega Supreme just to give him a couple extra vitamins. He's doing so well right now. Here's a pic of his muscles from yesterday. He's starting to gain muscle along his topline and really fill in his neck and shoulders (sorry you can't really see it cause he's eating lol), there's still a dip just before his lumbar that needs to fill in - I've found that working that hip joint (circled) really helps some days to get his back bone so it won't stick up like it is in the photo, but those muscles are so tight that it will be a work in progress for a little while.

The lines radiating from the circles show tight muscles coming from the tight joint, and I think that's what is causing his back soreness

About the Artist:

horse artist, equine artist, PSSM horse
Since starting my art business in 2004, I have been on a roller coaster ride that's taken me from art, to house flipping, to legal assistant, to horse trainer, and a full 180* back to my artworks.

I'm thankful to get back to my art, and also for the life experiences I've gained.

Things in life that matter the most!  Jen, husband Jared, and Jax

Thanks for reading, I hope you've enjoyed my website!  Feel free to comment, like, or subscribe!

MSM for PSSM and sore-muscled horses

I wrote this for a forum I'm on back in April, 2017:

So, this is an older article about the benefits of MSM for sore-muscled horses. I found it quite interesting, as I've had my horse on MSM for about 2 weeks now and he's doing wonderful - he's going on long trail rides daily and his muscles are softer than they've been in years. Here's one of the most interesting bits I found in the article:

"The results showed that all of the horses receiving MSM had dramatic improvement in three ways. Thermography showed less inflammation and soreness, particularly through the back and hind end. **emphasis mine**  (The change was faster and more dramatic for the horses on the higher dose.) Additionally, their serum chemistry demonstrated significant drops in two crucial parameters: AST (aspartate aminotransferase) and CK (creatine kinase), tests that indicate metabolites from muscle damage. Finally, all treated horses improved their average training time--group two (the lower dose) by two seconds, and group three by 2.62 seconds."

I had my boy on plain MSM when he was around 5 (before major symptoms) and he did well on it, but later on I tried a joint supplement with MSM and other things, including glucosamine, and he didn't do well on it at all so I removed that supplement and didn't add back the MSM - lesson learned lol. I know that some horses can't handle MSM, but the article discusses how the main reason it helps could be that it's high in sulfur - perhaps a supplement with sulfur could potentially help horses with muscle issues that can't handle MSM?

One other thing to think about - some PSSM horses don't show elevated AST and CK, could at least some of these horses be on MSM during the time of testing? Or possibly some other source of sulfur?

MSM Helps Sore Muscles on



I took Jax off of all of his supplements for a few weeks, then added them back slowly to test/reaffirm the need for each in early September.  He did really well for a couple of weeks, but started having back pain again.  I went back through my notes and decided to add MSM back, and after a few days his back pain is much better.  So, twice after adding MSM I noticed a major difference in muscle pain/stiffness, so he'll be staying on MSM from now on.

About the Artist:

horse artist, equine artist, PSSM horse
Since starting my art business in 2004, I have been on a roller coaster ride that's taken me from art, to house flipping, to legal assistant, to horse trainer, and a full 180* back to my artworks.

I'm thankful to get back to my art, and also for the life experiences I've gained.

Things in life that matter the most!  Jen, husband Jared, and Jax

Thanks for reading, I hope you've enjoyed my website!  Feel free to comment, like, or subscribe!

Friday, July 28, 2017

Glycemic Index and the PSSM Horse - Rice Bran and Copra

It seems the first year after PSSM diagnosis is a maze of tweaking and reconfiguring your horse's diet and exercise routines.  It's been almost a full year now since diagnosis, and I think I've worked out a great diet for Jax.  Total diet for a PSSM horse should be 10-12% NSC (starch+sugar) - the bulk of the feed will be hay/forage, but the concentrates fed need to be as close to these numbers (or lower) as you can get.  Because you are removing a lot of starch (energy) from the diet, you may need to supplement with fat for energy.  Here's what my boy is currently on and some research that's helped me to feel confident in this feed program:

So, a few months ago I switched Jax to Renew Gold - he is n/P1, so starch/sugar sensitive. He was on it for a couple of months, then the feed was back ordered so I had to switch to something else for almost a month - it didn't work, and he's now back on Renew Gold. The NSC is just under 17% (!!) which terrified me, but after doing some research, I'm not nearly as nervous about it now (plus he does amazing on this feed). So, this post is not intended as a "this is what you need for your horse!" type of post, this is informational, and may help you with your feed decisions
I've been reading about the Glycemic Index, here's a quick quote for you guys:


"Glycemic index is a number. It gives you an idea about how fast your body converts the carbs in a food into glucose. Two foods with the same amount of carbohydrates can have different glycemic index numbers.

The smaller the number, the less impact the food has on your blood sugar.

55 or less = Low (good)
56- 69 = Medium
70 or higher = High (bad)"

Source: Web MD

Jax has always seemed to be hypoglycemic since becoming symptomatic - like his blood sugar levels were always too low (no energy, would become shaky with work which would turn into spasms if he didn't eat), and it would quickly be fixed with a nibble of grass (especially on the trails). Higher fat in his diet helped, but he still needed several quick blood sugar boosts on longer rides.  He's now on a higher fat diet with this feed (about 1 lb) + 1/2 cup of canola oil. The Renew Gold has 17% NSC and that high number comes mainly from the sugar in rice bran. Now here's where it gets interesting - rice bran, while high in sugar, has a very low glycemic index, so it doesn't cause major blood sugar spikes like other carb sources. If glucose isn't being dumped into the blood stream, then it's not being converted into glycogen. This may be why there are so many anecdotal references to rice bran being good for PSSM1 (even though we are taught the high NSC is bad). Here's some stats from an interesting article on the Glycemic Index regarding horse feeds from

High Glycemic Index:
Sweet Feed: 123
Corn: 99
Beet Pulp + Molasses: 95
Oats: 94
Barley: 85

Low Glycemic Index:
Beet Pulp Dry: 46
Alfalfa Hay/Cubes: 23
Bermuda Grass Hay: 23
Rice Bran: 16
Rice bran actually has a lower NSC than hays, beet pulp, and alfalfa pellets. I'm starting to understand why he's been doing so well lately, and why he again started to do worse on the other feed. So just remember, while NSC percentages are EXTREMELY important, and we definitely should not ignore them, there is always more to the story. With more time on this feed, I may find that it doesn't work long term. But for now, he's doing great, and I'm not changing again until I have to!


More information that I've found while looking up hindgut issues, as my boy's stomach seems off from being on the other feed: Renew Gold's main ingredients are rice bran, coolstance copra, and flax. Here's some info I just found on copra and glucose:

"... unlike grain based feeds, CoolStance does not cause a spike in insulin or glucose after it is eaten. This means CoolStance is the ideal feed that can be fed twice a day to suit our busy lifestyles, and does not cause metabolic upset in your horse caused by spikes in insulin and glucose."

So apparently the two main ingredients do not cause insulin spikes, therefore reducing glycogen spikes as well (copra is only 11% NSC). Here's the page with this information for Coolstance Copra


My current feed plan for my boy:

Free choice grass hay, not soaked

1 lb Renew Gold
*1 lb ADM Metabolic Pellets (11% NSC)
1/2 cup canola oil
**1,400 IU natural Vit E
2 tbsp Mag Ox
1 tbsp MSM
2 tbsp salt
54g pea protein

The feeds and supplements are soaked into a nice mash and split into two feedings - half before tacking up and working, and half after work.

* Renew Gold is not a fortified vitamin/mineral, it is a fat/protein/amino acid supplement.  I use ADM Metabolic Pellets with it as it has a great vitamin/mineral analysis and adds bulk to his feed.

** The Vitamin E numbers look low, but there is 500 IU of natural Vitamin E in the ADM feed, and rice bran has Vitamin E but I'm unsure of the amount, so my boy is getting at least 2,000 IU of Vitamin E (with minimal grass included in his diet).  Any amount over 4,500 IU makes him extremely spooky, and as of now this amount has him nice and calm, and feeling good.  As winter approaches and the little grass that he gets is no longer available, I may have to up the amount of Vitamin E.

I also have about 2,600 mg of L-Glutamine (an amino acid) in his diet which seems to help keep his hindgut happy (I'm surprised he had issues on the other feed while still on L-Glutamine).  Now that he's on the Renew Gold again, he'll stay on this until he starts to run low, and then I may wean him off it.

BTW, I swear I'm not a rep for any of these companies...


Other noteworthy comments:

Jax is on a full work schedule of 6-7 (mostly 7) days of exercise a week.  Horses on lower work schedules may not need the same kind of energy sources.

Comparisons between Jax on Renew Gold, and off:
  • Before Renew Gold (and while on the other rice bran-based feed), he had very little canter, and not much trot. 
    • On Renew Gold, not only can he canter but his canter is nice and smooth, he can carry it for any length of time, and he even competed in a fun show (just a bunch of friends getting together and running our horses around for about 4 hours playing silly games - the day after he went out for a long trail ride and easily stayed up with the other horses so he was not sore from this endeavor.
  • Before Renew Gold (and while on the other rice bran-based feed), he had stamina, but without stopping to eat something during longer rides he would get shaky.  He also had a hard time keeping up with other horses on any length of trail rides (he used to be the one in the front at all times because he's faster than the other horses).
    • On Renew Gold,  I still let him stop and nibble grass, but not nearly as much, and it's more as a treat now than something he "needs" to get through the ride.  He easily keeps up with other horses, through all terrains, and sometimes leaves them behind with his big walk, trot, and canter.
  • Before Renew Gold (and while on the other rice bran-based feed), he couldn't handle being cold or rained on (even in warmer weather) - it would cause him to have muscle spasms.
    • On Renew Gold,  he's not been in cold weather since starting this feed, but he has been in rains and storms with no spasm issues.
  • Jax has had very tight muscles in his back, shoulders, neck, and hindquarters for the 6 years I've had him.  Here are his back muscles now:

About the Artist:

horse artist, equine artist, PSSM horse
Since starting my art business in 2004, I have been on a roller coaster ride that's taken me from art, to house flipping, to legal assistant, to horse trainer, and a full 180* back to my artworks.

I'm thankful to get back to my art, and also for the life experiences I've gained.

Things in life that matter the most!  Jen, husband Jared, and Jax

Thanks for reading, I hope you've enjoyed my website!  Feel free to comment, like, or subscribe!

Friday, January 27, 2017

Well, It's PSSM 1 (Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy)

**This is actually part 5 of my Horse Health series.  I’m going to leave up parts 1-4 as they contain important information and show a typical progression of how the horse’s health can start to fall apart with this disease. Keep in mind that for the previous posts, I had no idea it was PSSM, and not knowing the problem may have contributed to my “panicked” thought processes in those posts ;) **

Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy 1 (PSSM1) is a disorder where the horse stores too much glycogen in their muscles. When they store this excess glycogen, it’s usually in a strange shape, making the process of breaking it down slower. Thus, while the horse has too much glycogen/energy stored in their muscles (in the form of physical, enlarged granules inside their muscle tissues), they actually suffer from too little stored glycogen/energy available for the muscles to use, creating an energy crisis.

PSSM horse, n/P1, horse tying up
Before diagnosis, while on pasture - notice the extremely tight hindquarter/flank muscles

This disorder is genetic. Jax is n/P1, meaning he is heterozygous (only one copy) for the P1 gene (PSSM1 is the disease state, P1 is the mutated gene), so he either inherited it from his dam or his sire (unknown at this time). P1 is a semi-dominant gene, it only takes one for the disease to affect the horse. Some PSSM1 horses seem to be unaffected, others are affected, and the cause for this is currently unknown.

There is ongoing research for another genetic disease known as PSSM2, which may turn out to be a muscle wasting disease rather than a polysaccharide storage myopathy, with more than one genetic variant - this is all still very new and very technical, and is yet to be peer reviewed. However, indications are that these PSSM2 variants can be present with the P1 variant, causing worse symptoms than the P1 variant alone (P1/P1 are usually more symptomatic than n/P1 horses also). At this time, it's unknown if Jax has any other variants.

Well, that’s enough of the brain-jarring scientific info for now. Here’s a recap of progressive issues that Jax has had since July 2015 (see Horse Health parts one, two, three, and four for more).  Keep in mind I was taking him back and forth to the vet trying to get them to see what I was seeing, but Jax is the stoic type and wouldn't show lameness - makes sense, it's painful muscles and not injury, so when he's feeling good or doesn't want to show pain he can still use himself like nothing is wrong.

  • Sticky stifles, (his stifles stick when he’s not in work, but it was becoming debilitating)
  • Sore back and hindquarters
  • Tight muscles everywhere
  • Behavior changes
  • Possible feed/gut complications (ulcers, low grade laminitis - undiagnosed)
  • Atrophied right shoulder
  • Obvious twist in right hind leg at a walk, catching/hitching every step at a trot
  • Can no longer canter
  • Hindquarters stiff and beginning to look atrophied
  • Slight roach back and pelvis tilted with posty/straight appearance to hind legs (overextending stifles and aggravating them even more)
  • Difficulty lifting hinds for farrier
  • Can no longer trot, barely walks around in pasture
  • SI swelling
  • Early 2016 - Colic; switched from sweet feed to Strategy Healthy Edge and started on supplements, including Vitamin E
  • Won't fully weight right front foot - now won't lift fronts for farrier
  • Body soreness everywhere, chiro helps but short-lived
  • Glutes/croup sore - light touch makes him drop his back
  • May 2016 - Long toe / low heel syndrome now apparent (been there for about a year, I just didn't know enough to see it) - apparently all four of his feet had been sore for a while, but since it was bilateral (left and right) in nature there was no head bobbing or hip hiking

Since making the list above, I’ve studied PSSM1 in great detail, and realized he’s been showing symptoms since the day I got him (as an unbroke four year old, August 2011):

  • Tight-rope walking (gives himself splints, especially with metal shoes on)
  • Forging, stepping on his front feet with his hind feet
  • Tight muscles, especially in hindquarters, neck, and shoulders
  • Tripping while ridden and out in pasture
  • During training as a four year old, preferred canter to trotting (the trot is a symmetrical gait, and is difficult for horses whose muscles are damaged/assymetrical)
  • After one intense workout as a four year old, front left leg started trembling 
    • Session was intense because he ran, strung out, through the arena, and I was working on having him slow down and balance himself.  Turns out, it's hard to get a slower, balanced canter for PSSM horses.  This was the only time I saw spasms until it is mentioned below, but several times he was "shaky" which I attributed to nerves (usually while riding on the trailer).  The shakiness is more likely a pre-spasm, his muscles aren't completely in crisis mode, but close.
  • Spooky and anxious, especially in the Spring with new grass growth (sugar).  Would get so scared he'd shake... so many things make more sense now.
  • Walked in a bent “c” shape on trail/road rides, took over a year to get straightness 
  • "Soft feet" - many PSSM horses tend to get Low Grade Laminitis (which is also a metabolic/sugar issue)
PSSM horse, n/P1, riding PSSM horse
Four year old Jax in training

Most of these things could be explained away as a young horse trying to find his feet, which is exactly what happened. As he got older and fitter, all of these things fixed (with regular exercise) and I assumed wouldn’t come back.

Fast forward to mid-2016 (Jax is now 9, has been showing symptoms for about a year).  Just before the diagnosis and after getting his feet back in good shape, I began hand-walking and free lunging Jax to try to get him to build up some strength. In May I took him off grain completely, but left him on his supplements with soaked alfalfa cubes. He started doing much better, stifles got stronger with minimal catching, SI looked normal again, and he was able to trot and canter again. However, his back was still hurting and right hind was still twisting. There was muscle wasting in his flanks and lumbar area (a combination of being out of work for months and avoiding those muscles/compensating for pain).

He also went on pasture full-time for the first time since I had bought him (he's boarded, he had to be moved to a new area so other horses could benefit from a low-grass pasture).  This is probably why he was still having problems - grass can be too high in sugar for a PSSM1 horse. At the end of August, I decided to rip out 40 mane hairs and mail them to Animal Genetics, a company in Florida that does 5 panel testing (HYPP, PSSM1, MH, GBED, HERDA). I opted for the 5 panel as HYPP and MH can be similar in appearance to PSSM. Before I could get the results of his test back (it only took 6 days), he got under an apple tree and ate a few apples (again, sugar). The next day he was having spasms (see video below), and I knew what he had 2 days before the results came back. At this point, I knew I needed to change some things:

  • No pasture
  • Exercise 7 days/week, even in winter
  • Trails needed onsite, as trailering him triggers episodes 

Very mild muscle spasm in August, 2016, days
before his n/P1 diagnosis was received

I had a place where we'd trailer frequently to ride the trails, and it was also a boarding facility. I was able to move him there the next day. The next couple weeks were extremely difficult, as the excitement of a move made him worse for a bit. Finally, he settled and we were able to begin working towards getting him as healthy as possible. First hurdle - abscesses. He was still having abscesses from his feet being mis-shaped. The worst abscess he’s ever had came a couple weeks after moving him - it blew out the entire lateral (outside) bar from the sole of his hoof. He was lame a couple weeks prior to it blowing and until a few days after (by the end of September 2016 he was fine). It’s now been 4 months on a PSSM1 diet with 7 days/week exercise, and he’s not had another abscess - in fact, his feet are better than they’ve ever been, and for the first time since I’ve had him, barefoot trail rides haven’t been a problem.

PSSM horse, n/P1, horse tying up
Coming back into work, Summer of 2016, before the move.  Notice the tight, rigid
muscles still in the hindquarters, and the left leg stretched back (this is before diagnosis)

One of the most important things I can stress about PSSM1, is that it's not all about tying up.  I resisted testing him, even though I suspected, for a long time because 'tying up' is the main symptom - but with more research I'm learning that many horses don't fully tie up.  I believe the colic he had in January 2016 was the closest he's come to a full-blown tie up.  I didn't like the way he was moving his feet, or the 3-legged gallop he took when he got too nervous to stand still - I mentioned it to the vet and said I thought he was tying up, but was pretty much ignored because Jax was still moving around.   He was given mineral oil and 10cc of Banamine  (which helps tying up), and within a few minutes he was better.  Since switching his grain (which I started the process of switching him the day after the colic), he's never had another episode this bad, hopefully he never will.

About the Artist:

horse artist, equine artist, PSSM horse
Since starting my art business in 2004, I have been on a roller coaster ride that's taken me from art, to house flipping, to legal assistant, to horse trainer, and a full 180* back to my artworks.

I'm thankful to get back to my art, and also for the life experiences I've gained.

Things in life that matter the most!  Jen, husband Jared, and Jax

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