Equine Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy (EPSM) and Thomas Equinas

This blog serves to chronicle my day to day struggles dealing with this metabolic disorder and how it effects my soon-to-be 13 year old dressage horse.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Day 25: Leaning and Careening

Today was challenging. I don't know if the clip job left him cold and cranky, or if he was just having a bad day, but when I brought Thomas out this afternoon it was pretty tough. I walked him for 10 minutes and did some walk/halt/walk transitions. When I asked him to trot ( going left) he shut down. He hasn't done this in quite awhile and it's a sure sign that he's feeling bad. When I ask for the trot he pushes his body against me; puts his head down and just sort of locks his body, with his feet planted. Three years ago when he first started doing this he would shut down like this then rear- straight up. Now I know what to do. I keep my hands low, bend him and drive him with everything I've got- voice, seat, legs and whip- and he goes. Today he popped right into trot. It was stiff and uncomfortable-feeling, but it was trotting.

We had about 30 minutes of stickiness. Just not very willing to go forward. He shut down once more (again going to the left) and then I talked myself through the situation. What he was doing was sucking me into holding up every ounce of his 17.3 hh body! He leans sideways- falling in or falling out- and he leans lengthwise- pulling his head down and all of his weight onto his forehand. All of a sudden I just made the decision not to allow the leaning! When he pulled I used my core strength to put a wall up so he couldn't pull on it. Like a very strong half halt. I read somewhere about how half halts are like holding a child's hand. When they start to go astray you grasp more firmly, just enough to redirect them, then you soften and just "hold" their hand. Well, my "child" was running full steam ahead with his shoe laces untied into Mack truck highway traffic, so my "redirecting half halt" was a little strong, but the important part was the softening after; going back to hand-holding. He must have run into that traffic at least 50 times today and in every direction possible! But each time I corrected him he got a little better, and it lasted a little longer. When I first started him today and he shut down in that first trot transition, I thought there was no way we would try cantering . But with my "no leaning" policy in place we did manage to work on canters, both ways, with NO TROUBLE!

Getting back to the EPSM. was the bad start caused by EPSM? Or was he just being cranky, or was I having a bad day? I don't know. What I do know is that I was able to work through it and have a nice horse to ride for the last 15 minutes. When I was done, I cooled him out with a walk down the road again. On the way home, the other 3 horses in our gang decided to run along the fence line. Thomas hollowed and threatened to lean (by this I mean that he pushes all of himself against me, all at once) but I caught him, redirected him and said, "Don't you dare!" and he settled back down and walked almost-quietly while the rest of them egged him on. Good Boy, Thomas!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Day 24: Racing Stripes

I wrapped things up earlier this afternoon and headed over at 2:30. I put Tom on the cross ties, taped him up 'til he looked pretty, then went to work with my trusty clippers. There are times when Tom drives me crazy with his spooky, jumpy behavior, but then there are times when he shines, like today. He stood like a rock. (Maybe I had so much tape on him that he couldn't move.) Even in the ticklish areas. He didn't move a hoof. What a good boy!

It still took me almost two hours, and when I declared him "finished" I looked outside and the sun had gone down and the ring was starting to freeze. Drat! So I tacked him up quick and stuck him on the lunge for 20 minutes. He looked great. His new racing stripes camouflage his newly-added flubber and he looked sleek and elegant. He was even moving really well. I hope he doesn't freeze without his woolies. Poor guy. I always feel mean doing this to him. But he does sweat an awful lot and cooling him out can be very tedious.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Days 20,21,22,23: Giving Thanks and Making Lemonade

On Thursday (Thanksgiving) we drove 2 hours away for a family dinner, so I didn't have time to ride Tom. I turned him out in my ring with lots of hay and water and my neighbor kept an eye on him and brought him in and fed him supper. Our other 3 horses stayed in for the day. They don't care, as long as they have hay and we promise to let them out the next day! I worried about Tom's lack of exercise, but on Friday I rode him and he was pretty good. After watching him in the video, careening around on his forehand, I decided it was time he tried a little "real" work and I encouraged more self-carriage. He was a little unhappy with that, but gave it some effort and by the end of our 45 minute ride he was pretty good.

Yesterday I was busy working all morning. Tom was out trudging around in his pasture, and I had planned to reward myself for my day's work with a ride in the afternoon. At 2:00 a blizzard hit! Literally, within 15 minutes we went from a cool, sunny day to a white out! The horses started running around so we brought them all in. They don't have snow shoes on, and I worry about them slipping with the skis they are wearing now. Tom doesn't have hind shoes on, so he was a little better off. Still, I didn't feel safe riding him as the snow was balling up in his feet and putting him up on slippery stilts. So much for my ride...

I considered calling Penny this morning to see if I could take Thomas over to her stable where I will be boarding him for the winter. I'd really like to keep him here at home as long as possible, as I feel it's easier to monitor him and saves me some time not traveling to ride. It was 19° this morning. My ring was frozen and snow-covered. The forecast for the week is for warmer weather- in the 40s during the days, so I decided to hold out. By noon today it had barely climbed up over freezing!

At 3:00 I went over and checked my ring. It was OK in the bottom half, so I tacked Tom up and took him out. It's lots of fun riding in the cold, and being confined to a 20m circle! When God gives you lemons- make lemonade, right? I did our usual slow warm up with ten minutes of walking, then added walk/halt/walk transitions. He wanted to dive onto his forehand in these, but after 5 or 10 of them, he got better so we moved on to trot. He was reluctant on the slightly frozen footing, again worse to the right, but loosened up and was pretty good after 25 minutes. Staying on that circle we worked umpteen transitions, shoulder in/ haunches in, shoulder in to canter, counter bend, etc. It's amazing how much you can do in a small space on a big horse! I worked him a full hour and rewarded him with a cool-out walk down our road, which was melted and soft.

It's supposed to go down to 23° tonight and up to 42° tomorrow with sun so maybe I'll have more ring to use then. I have got to get the poor boy clipped. I have had so much work to do that I've been late getting over to ride and then I don't have time to clip him first. Maybe tomorrow!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Day 20: Moving Proof!

Here's Tom at work today. Except for the tongue problem (always on the left...) he looks OK!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Day 19: A Change in Schedule

The forecast wasn't sounding good for this afternoon, so I found some time this morning to ride. Thomas usually goes out all day and I ride him in the late afternoon after he's had the whole day to move around and get limbered up. Today I rode him before he had been out. It was OK. I walked him a little longer than I have been, and didn't push him too much in the first trot. Again, he was fussy with his head at first, but after 30 minutes he was steady, forward and trotting and cantering nicely. He did seem overly crooked today though. He felt permanently bent to the left. I could bend him right, but as soon as I released the aid, he'd pop back to the left. Lauren was riding Twist at the same time and we took them both for a 1 mile cool-out walk down the road then up the hill by our house. Lauren remarked at how much more Tom was tracking up with his left hind than his right. That makes sense with the left bend. That right hind just gets sort of left out behind. He was pretty quiet on the road, though. Maybe the magnesium supplement is helping with that.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Day 18: Back to Work!

Thomas after 45 minutes of work today.
The trade show is over. My daughter lunged Tom on Friday and Sunday and chased him around in the ring for awhile on Saturday, so he didn't sit around doing "nothing" all weekend. He was out all day each day too.

Today when I tacked him up he seemed a little mellower than he has been lately. Maybe the change to Carb Safe and Quiessence has helped. It was cold and damp out and the riding without lunging has been going OK, so I chose not to lunge him first today. I walked him for 10 minutes and kept encouraging him to reach long and low. If I don't tell him to reach down, he pops his head up and walks pretty hollow. Lots of 3-loop serpentines and changes of direction in a very forward walk really seems to help loosen him up.

The first trot was to the left and he was pretty good. He was a little fussy with his head, but not bad, and fairly forward. When I switched to the right he sucked back and got hollow. He seems to tip his body to the left, making it very hard to bend to the right. I was making an effort to really stomp on my right stirrup to try to push his right side down. Eventually, he started bending right, flexing his right hind and losing the "tipping" feeling. We did the 10 trot/walk/trot transitions each way and again they got better and better. One thing I have been noticing is that he seems to be moving better. I can't hear his footfalls nearly as much. He used to tromp down the long side like a herd of elephants! His trot is also much easier to sit to.

After a short walk break we did a little canter work, first to the left. Again, fussy with his head, and when we went straight down the long side he swapped leads to the right then broke to trot. Ugh! I had him do several canter/trot/canter transitions and it got much better, so I switched to the other direction. To the right was better (I think because he'd worked through his fussiness to the right). After a few transitions I gave him a pat and cooled him out.

Back in the barn when I took his saddle off he was acting ticklish. He'd jiggle his shoulder like there was a fly on it and swish his tail when I unbuckled the girth and again when I pulled the saddle off. I still feel like he's got some kind of nerve condition in his shoulder and under the saddle. Could this be EPSM related?

Soon I'll have to move him to the indoor arena facility down the road. The ring has been freezing overnight for several days now, but fortunately it thaws out by the afternoon. Now I just have to remember how fast it gets dark out there. I got on at 4:00 and it was nearly pitch dark by 4:45. I have flood lights in my ring, but they cast weird shadows and make me feel all off balance, so I prefer riding in the dark. Maybe I should try wearing my headlamp!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Day 14: Preparing for Away Days

I got myself wrangled into exhibiting last-minute at a trade show this weekend. The show will be good for me, business-wise, but my first worry when I was asked to do this was, "What about Thomas?" My daughter, Lauren, will be coming home tomorrow, so I'm hoping she can keep him entertained and manage all the weird changes in feed, supplements and routine. I hope she can lunge him for at least 1/2 an hour each day, but I guess there have to be ways of dealing with this, and now is a good time to learn.

In getting ready for the show, I was very busy all day, but made sure I had time to ride. The footing had improved greatly, and Tom was better. He was reluctant still, especially to the right. I have to keep reminding him that when we go to the right it would be best if his body was ever so slightly bent that way! He was a little cranky today, and would grab the bit and pull out and up (charming, I know!) in resistance to bending. I decided to try one of the exercises I do with my baby, Willy. We go on a 20m circle and do repetitions of trot/walk transitions. I count and make it be 10 each way. It's so repetitious, they seem to settle into it. It worked with Tom. He relaxed and started giving to me more and was much less resistant. Then he had one of his "light switch moments" when all of a sudden he's easy. Forward, happy and swinging. This has been persistent for the last couple of years, throughout most of his difficulties. On good days it happens quickly; on bad days it takes forever and I often have to quit even though he is better because over an hour has passed and other things need to be done!

So once I had him in his "happy place" I was able to ask for canter. There was no resistance. No falling out of it into trot, and to the right he was loose in his back and BOUNDING along! It felt so good I couldn't resist asking for a flying change. Tried right to left (his easier way) first and that was perfect. Tried left to right and it was clean as a whistle! I gave him huge pats , hugs and kisses and put him away. While I was walking him out, he was so tickled with himself he was jigging and wanting to do more. This horse doesn't jig. He usually quits when you give him a long rein and I have to push to keep him walking!

I'm looking forward to Monday when I can get back to this. I hope the break will be good and not act as a setback. Look for my next post then. Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Days 12 & 13: A Good Day and a Rainy Day

Yesterday Tom was very good. I got on without lunging and walked him for 10 minutes before trotting. During this walk time I make promises to myself that I will not use my lower leg except when specifically needed and then I will remove it! Bad habits are really hard to break! After a bunch of trot work we did quite a bit of canter work and actually managed to work on walk/canter/walk transitions- from my seat- not from my lower leg! he was good and actually got kind of jazzed. I cooled him out with a long walk. I really need to get those clippers out!

Today it poured SO hard in the morning, I thought I wasn't even going to be able to turn out. Then the sun finally broke through and everyone went out to their respective pastures. It rained hard again in the afternoon, but the horses didn't seem to mind so I left them out. When I rode Tom at 4:00, the ring was flooded. A puddle stretched all the way down the far long side. I kept Tom out of that, but it meant no 20m circles. 15m was about the maximum. He had a hard time. I could tell that the not-great footing was bothering him, and the smaller turns weren't helping. We just trotted on a long rein for 20 minutes. Then I took him out down the road and trotted the 1/2 mile to the end and back and then up the hill to the neighbor's house. He seemed to like that. Definitely better footing made him happier. We walked back down the hill and he seemed to manage that OK. Some days (prior to knowing about the EPSM) he has a very hard time walking down that hill. He does a Hitler walk- flicking his front feet way out and "missing" the ground. Occasionally he'll shy to avoid the work and then all hell breaks loose as careens down the hill, unbalanced, uncomfortable, and slightly out of control! Today was good. None of that silliness.

I Picked up 2 bags of Poulin's Carb Safe and have started the transition from Blue Seal Demand. I also had Quiessence (a Magnesium supplement)  delivered today and started him on that. Now I just have to get my hay tested.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Day 11: Fixed Shoe and a Good Day

The farrier came today and reset Tom's left front shoe. Lauren noticed on Saturday that he had bent that shoe. It wasn't at all loose, but somehow he mangaed to pull the heel of the inside shoe about 3/4" away from his hoof! I chose to keep working him. Our ring has good footing, and I thought if nothing else maybe he'd bend it back.

Anyway, that got fixed and while John was doing that I took a picture of Tom's very round butt to compare with a photo I took 2.5 years ago:
Tom's butt today 11/15/10
June 26, 2008
Apparently, this is what 1 cup of oil a day for 5 weeks has done! His grain has been REDUCED by 5 qts. a day to just 3 qts. In June of '08 he was grazing all day on fairly lush green grass. for the last 2 months, he has had little grass in his pasture to nibble on. I dare say he was even hippier than this  last winter, although I didn't take a picture of it. I remember commenting to my farrier that he was looking like a cow, with those jutting hip bones. Not today! This is all so weird to me. Why has he put on so much weight when I have reduced his grain so much? Is it all coming from the oil? I figure he gets about 2000 calories from oil- that doesn't seem like that much, considering his size. And he's working now. he had a week off while his stitches healed from the biospy, but I have been pretty religious about exercising him for the past 2 weeks.

Today I rode him without lunging first. I was cold from standing around with the farrier, and it had started to rain, so I didn't want to get my saddle wet lunging him. I walked him for 10 minutes before asking for trot. The first 3 to 5 minutes of trot were cranky, but then he got going and we had a really good ride. He hates it when I push with my lower leg. If I make a really conscious effort to keep my lower leg from nagging, he's much more forward. Is this an EPSM symptom? He hates being groomed; hates having a blanket put on. Is he just super-sensitive on his sides? So many questions...

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Day 10: Ups and Downs?

Holy cow! Is that a draft horse? See what I mean by the oil putting   lard on him?
OK, so yesterday was a good day; today not so good. Maybe I overdid it? Today Tom was less than eager to go forward. Even on the lunge he was sticky and unenthusiastic. When I got on he seemed sound enough, but just not "willing". Some of the old cranky behaviors started to show through. Barb, my vet, said, "Exercise is the most important part of the treatment of EPSM" so I kept him going. And, as was the case all summer, he got better as I worked him. I kept him going for 45 minutes (including 15 minutes on the lunge). Little was asked of him- basically just trotting around the ring and 20m circles. We did canter a little, but he was resistant and sticky until he got to the long side and then he seemed to lighten up a little and move out a bit.
    This photo shocks me. He's generally not so "drafty". The oil is really making him big and round. I guess once his body learns how to utilize the fat in the oil, that will go away- I hope!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Day 9: Looking Good!

Tom at 5. This is what we do when we're upset!
Tom was great today! I lunged him for 15 minutes and noticed that he's moving really well; much better than he was prior to the layoff for the biopsy. My daughter Lauren hadn't seen him go since mid October and she commented on how much better he looked too.

When I got on I did about 10 minutes of walking with some shoulder in and a little bit of walk half pass here and there. Moved on to trot and it took a few minutes for him to readjust to me being up there, but then he settled into a really nice, forward, swinging trot. To the right is harder- he wants to lock in his neck, but once he relaxes it gets much better. Maybe he's anticipating pain?

It was unusually warm today (60s) and I haven't clipped him yet, so I had to keep interspersing walk breaks to keep him from getting too sweaty. After 20 minutes on him I asked for canter and he was VERY good. Forward, willing and he didn't drop out of it to trot. I really think a lot of this is going to be that he has to regain confidence that his body will be OK. After the canter I cooled him out with a nice walk down the road with Lauren on her horse, Twist. Thomas has always been difficult on the road and I have rarely taken him on trails. He has been nervous and timid and out of the blue he will stop and refuse to go forward, sometimes backing into ditches or traffic or other unpleasant places. Back in October I had one day where it took a long time to get him at all loosened up in the ring, but I thought I'd reward him by walking him out down the road. On the way back he bucked and bolted for no apparent reason. When I got him back under control he was tight and VERY anxious the whole way home with another bolting incident right before we got to the barn. Could it be that the nervous behavior was pain-related? It would be so nice to be rid of that!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Day 8: Back Under Saddle!

Wednesday I had to make a business (and play...) trip to Boston so I lunged Tom for about 15 minutes before I turned him out. He was a little stiff and slightly off in that left front especially to the right. Yesterday I went to the Equine Affaire in Springfield, Mass. on my way back from Boston. I spoke to several people about EPSM. The general consensus seems to be:
1. Cut his grain (low sugar/starch grain only) as much as I dare without his losing weight.
2. Get our hay analyzed and if it is OK sugar-wise feed as much as he needs to maintain a good weight.
3. Use oil but in moderation. The cup a day is fine for now.
4. Exercise. Exercise. Exercise.
I was late getting home so my husband kindly chased Tom around in the ring for awhile after he had been out all day.

Today I took him out on the lunge, but this time with the saddle on so I could ride him if he looked OK. I lunged him for about 15 minutes and he looked good so I got on. I hadn't ridden him since October 17th- almost 4 weeks ago! When I first got on he seemed to drop his back and be uncomfortable at the walk. But it didn't take very long (maybe 2 or 3 minutes) before he relaxed and started to swing through his back a little. I walked him for about 5 minutes and then trotted. First trot steps were tentative and ouchy, but again, he loosened up fairly quickly. After 5 minutes he had become nice and forward. I didn't have to push to keep him going. I think I have been pushing him for about 5 years! If I had taken my leg off he would just stop. Today I was using very little leg. What a concept! I let him walk for a bit and then I asked for a left lead canter. He picked it right up and fell into trot after about a half a circle. I let him trot a little then asked for the canter again and he got it and kept it for a whole circle, so I brought him back to trot then walk. To the right (his harder canter side) he picked it right up and maintained it better, but was tending to fall out on the circle. I didn't push it- just made a big fuss and told him he was wonderful and put him away.

He really did feel happier tonight. He's definitely frisky. I've had to use the lip chain bringing him in from the pasture several times. Without it he spins and leaps and generally makes my life less than pleasant. With it he's a quiet puppy.

So I cut his feed down to 1.5 qts of Demand twice a day with a cup of oil and 1 qt. of dry beet pulp (then soaked). I think I'll start switching him to Poulin's Equipro Carb-Safe as soon as I can get to the grain store to pick it up. Poulin's people will come analyze my hay next week.

All for now!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Types of Feed for EPSM

This puzzle of what to feed is going to be tricky! Barb gave me some brand name feeds to look into and a Google search for "Feeds for EPSM horses" brought me to a few choices. I printed out spec sheets for Blue Seal Carb-Guard, Purina Ultium, and Nutrena Empower. They all came up with 12% protein, but they vary in the fat content from Carb-Guard's 8% to Empower's 22%, and the fiber goes from Empower's 6% to Carb Guard's 25%.

So I am confused. I got on the phone and called Paul, the dealer at The Community Feed Store  in Westminster, Vermont. Paul used to bring my grain right to my door, but his store stopped carrying Demand a few years ago, so I hadn't called him in awhile. I was impressed that he remembered me and said that he would be happy to come back to us and deliver whenever we need grain! I told him about Thomas' EPSM and he was a little confused about what that is. He said, "Is it like Cushings?" and I had to respond that it's similar, but not the same and more of a muscle metabollic issue. Even though he didn't seem to know the name "EPSM" he did seem to be suggesting the same feed changes as I've been hearing elsewhere. He recommended Poulin Grain's Carb Safe and he told me a representative will be at the Equine Affaire and gave me his name and told me to tell him he had sent me. Now if I can just find their booth at the EA! I'm hoping to gather other information there as well. Who knows, maybe there will be an EPSM Booth!

Thomas was lunged for 20 minutes today and except for the slightly explosive behavior (once each way) he looked good. Still a little off in the left front in trot to the right at the beginning. Hmmm.
 He did the trotting poles 10 times each way today with no problem.

Tomorrow Kat is coming to look after the gang while I'm away in Boston for the day. Thursday I'll be at the Equine Affair and I'll try to post about that as I learn all kinds of new stuff (I hope.)

Monday, November 8, 2010

Day 4: Sitting Down with the Vet

I woke up this morning to darkness and a cold house. The wind was howling outside and rain was pounding on the windows. The power had gone off at 5 a.m. In this neck of the woods the power can be off for days at a time. At least right now we don't have snow to deal with (yet). I went over to the barn and stumbled around in the dark feeding the gang. I gave them extra hay because I knew they wouldn't want to be out in that weather. I told Tom to walk laps in his stall. He's so big we removed a partition and he has a double stall "suite", so he can walk around if he wants to. He usually just stands and sleeps if he's not eating.

At 10 a.m. I put him out with my youngster, Willy, hoping they'd move around a bit while I did their stalls. Other than practically rolling on top of each other, they stood with their backs to the wind looking miserable. I brought them back in and gave them some more hay.

I had an appointment to talk with Barb, my vet, today about Tom's diet. At 2 I called her because our power still wasn't on, the house was freezing and I couldn't get any work done (I'm an artist) without any good light. I asked her if I could come to her clinic to talk with her (and maybe get warmed up!)

So we sat down and I took some notes and asked some questions. When we first thought about the possibility of EPSM, I changed Tom's diet from 4 qts. Blue Seal Demand, 2 qts. Trotter and a qt. of plain crimped oats with 1 scoop of MVP Senior Flex to 4 qts. Demand, a cup of corn oil and 3/4 of a quart (dry) beet pulp soaked. That was 4 weeks ago and he has gotten quite plump and he's high as a kite! I asked Barb what was up with that and she thinks it's mostly the lack of exercise. I stopped working him as much because he was very stiff and sometimes off in the left front. Then when we did the biopsy he had to take it is easy so he wouldn't pop any stitches. Today he got out twice for about a half hour each time, but with very little exercise. I hope the weather will be better tomorrow.

Barb wants me to switch him to one of the feeds specifically for horses with EPSM. I will call around to see what is available locally. She suggested I keep with the cup of oil but no more right now. There's some speculation that too much oil can lead to insulin resistance, so we''ll keep that down. She wants him to have 2000 IUs of Vitamin E daily. She suggested getting capsules at WalMart as the cheapest way to go. I asked about Magnesium and she agreed that Quiessence would be good, so I'll order that. Tom also gets about a bale a day of really good quality mixed grass hay. I will get that analyzed for content. He also has a big salt block in his stall which he loves to devour. I actually realized a couple of weeks ago that I had let his old salt block disappear about mid August, and I wonder if that contributed to his soreness this fall.

Tomorrow I will try to do my homework and find out about grain that is available to me here. By the way, the power finally did come back on at 5p.m. and the house is almost warming up!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Day 3 Pretty Tame

Tom went out again for the day and when I called him in he came barreling down the hill, popped a flying change from left to right (his hard way) and let out a big buck as if to say, "Look at me! I can do it!" Of course I was more worried about what else he was going to "pop" as he gullumphed down that steep hill.

Croup high, much?
I lunged him for 15 minutes today. Did 7 reps of the three trotting poles each way. There were no kids in pink snowsuits today, so he was pretty mellow. I had him do a couple of canters each way and he was so nice and quiet I decided to step it up a notch and ask for a walk to canter transition. he got them both directions, but fell out of canter into trot after about a circle. That's where his weakness shows. Canter is definitely hard. He tends to get croup high and will break to trot when I do things to try to make him sit more.

As I try to take note of everything that might be an indication of his comfort level, today he was very mouthy when I tightened the girth on the surcingle. This sensitivity definitely comes and goes. Some days he couldn't care less that I'm tightening things; other days he nearly bites my arm off!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Day 2 Well, we got lofty!

Thomas was out all day today enjoying the sun in the morning and nibbling on the little bit of grass that's out there now. When I brought him in he was a handful, anxiously jigging along beside me to the barn. I tacked him up with a roller and side reins, snaffle bridle and lunging cavesson. I looked at my watch on the way out and decided we'd do 10 minutes.

He started to the left and was looking pretty good, so we slid down the ring and I had him trot over 3 trotting poles. Did that 5 times. I will build that and raise the poles until he can easily trot 10 reps over 5 raised poles each direction. I did that 2 summers ago and it really helped his back. He likes it too. He actually got so that I could just free lunge him over the raised poles! We went down to the other end of the ring and I had him canter a couple of circles.

When we changed to go the other direction, he looked stiff. Usually the left is harder, so that was a little strange. But after a couple of circles he looked better and I took him down to the poles. he was doing those fine. Did 4 reps and then a German Shepherd appeared in the barn yard. Tom was completely distracted and crashed through the poles then bolted away. Then the dog was followed by a couple with their little girl in a pink snow suit. When they propped the little girl up on the fence, Tom completely lost it! But in between bolting and stopping and staring at the strangers with his head 15 feet in the air, he had the MOST AMAZING trot! The annoying people said, "Wow! How do you teach him to do that?"

So he did get his 10 minutes, but it was a little more stressful than I had intended. He looked great though, and he settled right back down again when I got the people to leave.

Looking good today!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Day 1 On the Road to EPSM Recovery

Thomas at 5 years old
If today is Day 1, I guess yesterday was Day Zero. It sure felt that way. I had waited a week and a half for the biopsy results to come in and two weeks prior to that for the genetic test results. I had been telling myself that I wanted the result to be "positive", but when Barb, my vet, called and told me it indeed was positive for Moderate Type 2 PSSM (also known as EPSM), I can't say that I jumped for joy.

Let me go back and give you a little history. Thomas, who's show name is "Thomas Equinas" is a 12 year old 1/2 Oldenburg, 1/4 Percheron, 1/4 Heinz 57 nearly black gelding. He's big. Really big. With shoes on he rings in at 17.3 3/4". I refuse to call him 18hh. I bought him in February of 2002 as a not-quite-four year old and I had big dreams of the wonderful things we would do together. And we did. He was a good student, and although we had our trying times together we moved up the dressage levels fairly easily. I had never had a horse with so much natural ability. His gaits are big and lofty. As a youngster, he was a bit of a Baby Huey. His size and constant growth for nearly four more years tended to make him always slightly off balance, but he tried and he always improved. Steadily, we climbed up the training scale and I was trying to clean up the loose ends on the required Fourth Level movements in the Spring of 2007 when things started to come undone. We went to Dressage at Saratoga in May and had one of our best Third Level tests in front of the Grand Stands. I remember thinking, "Wow, Fourth Level is within reach." Later that weekend we had a couple of uncharacteristic incidents of shying during tests, but otherwise, he was pretty good. After we got home and Tom had a day off from work, I got on and he suddenly reared in the middle of a warm-up trot circle. I reprimanded him, sent him forward and didn't think too much of it. In the days following the rearing became more and more problematic. He would shut down and refuse to go forward. When almost 18 hands goes straight up in the air, it's not a happy place. I'd get off and lunge him in side reins and he was fine. Not lame, not lacking energy or forwardness. Nothing.

I keep Tom at home and I work him primarily on my own. I trailer to my trainer's when I can; at least twice a month, or  have my trainer come to me. Within a couple of days I had my vet give him a chiropractic adjustment and a shot of Legend. The rearing continued. I trailered 45 minutes to my trainer and he reared. Wouldn't go forward at all.

I tried a different trainer. I tried a different vet. I tried a different saddle, schedule and bridle. We'd have some days that were better than others, but generally things were not good. By mid Summer we discovered he had Lyme's Disease and treated him for that. Still rearing. By Fall he was diagnosed with a slight suspensory ligament injury. We treated that and had him on stall rest with hand walking. In the Spring of 2008 I thought we'd be starting all over with a nice new suspensory and a clean slate. The rearing continued. Had he learned this behavior to get out of work? I called in my friend Kat, who is a Natural Horsemanship graduate. She was able to get him going forward, and she recommended semi-weekly massage therapy with her friend, Cheryl. Kat and Cheryl helped Tom (and me) enormously. Cheryl made Tom feel better and was able to give me really good, regular feedback as to how he was doing. Kat showed me how important it was to make my aids super clear and then "go away" as soon he responded. She helped me to regain my confidence and start trusting my horse again.

But things still weren't right, and my vet decided nuclear scintigraphy (bone scan) might help locate his discomfort. He ended up with an injection in his sacroiliac which put him on the road to recovery for awhile. It made him comfortable enough to lunge over trotting poles and then raised trotting poles, working slowly and diligently to build his back strength back up. By the Fall of 2008 I was ready to get back on. Kat continued to help and Cheryl was very pleased with his new musculature.

In 2009 we were able to attend a couple of local dressage shows. We trotted down the centerline at Third Level, and got comments like "horse needs more engagement". I didn't mind. At least he wasn't standing on his hind legs! At that time I was completing the USDF 'L' Judges Program, so I had little time to focus on Tom's training. I just kept him going and continued to try to build his strength, and we still had good days and bad days.

In March of 2010 Tom became very foot sore, with bruising on all four feet. That was a new symptom and his sore feet definitely led to a very sore body. Rest, padded egg-bar shoes and yet another careful re-introduction to work and we were actually able to compete a little bit more successfully this summer. But still, not the old Thomas with his big, floaty gaits.

Thomas at Vt. Dressage Days 2010
Then this Fall when I was scratching my head again about why his performance was less than stellar, Thomas came in from the pasture hobbling on his left front foot. Vet said it was an abscess and I should soak, poultice and wait. I did and nothing happened. Thomas stayed head-bobbing-lame-at-the walk for three weeks! Finally, when I was finishing up the soaking for another day, a 2 inch stick popped out of his frog. So, no abscess. Just a stick jabbed into his foot! Ouch! After that he was very muscle sore. He'd look OK on the lunge, but as soon as I'd get on he was hollow and very uncomfortable. Checked his Lyme titer- normal. Checked his blood-normal. Finally, we decided to test for EPSM.

So there it is. Today the stitches in his biopsy incision were removed. It has stopped raining so I will go lunge him off the halter for a few minutes. The goal is to start slow and build daily, adding  a few minutes of work each day. I have a consultation with Barb, my vet, on Monday to discuss feeding changes, and exercise. I called my friend Penny today to set up boarding at her indoor arena just down the road as soon as the snow flies. It should be a good situation because the horses at Penny's can go in and out of the barn at will. That's the best thing for EPSMers, so I hear. I will try to keep you posted here about what's happening with Tom. We'll see if there's any improvement. Words of advice and/or encouragement are always welcomed!