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, December 28, 2010

Day 53: Thomas doesn't like Dave Matthews!

I know. It's been  a while. Christmas set in and ran me over. I have been working Tom daily (except Christmas Day) and he's been generally high as a kite and very difficult. Lots of shying, bolting and leaping. Not exactly what I was hoping for as a way to unwind from the stresses of the holidays! Of course the snowstorm we had Sunday night and Monday didn't help. Yesterday when I went to the barn I thought I had arrived at the North Pole. The wind was blowing the snow totally sideways. Doors were banging. There was snow in the hall at Penny's barn. Tom walked quietly to the arena and I let him go; just free-lunging. He bucked and dashed and enjoyed the freedom in soft footing. I was happy that I had chosen not to attempt riding him!

Today was milder. The sun got things up to the mid twenties. I packed up my Christmas gift to Penny- a sound system and iPod for the arena- and got there before the sun set. I set up the music and put it on one of my favorite Dave Matthews albums and went and got Tom tacked up. I brought him to the arena in saddle, bridle and lunging gear. I figured a few minutes on the lunge might take the "edge" off. 45 minutes later, I felt like it might be safe to get on him! He doesn't like Dave Matthews! The stereo is set up right next to the big arena doors. They were blowing in the wind, banging and clunking. Tom couldn't tolerate it. He was bucking, rearing, kicking out- you name it, he did it. I couldn't get him close enough to the stereo to turn the music down! I thought the music would help drown out the other arena noises, but every time there was a change in the music, he'd take off again. Fun. Anyway, I did get on him eventually, and just walked him around to cool out.

Tomorrow Danielle from Poulin Grain is coming to test the hay. When she gets the results back we can look at his diet and see if there's something making him so high. Can't be soon enough, I say!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Day 44: Better!

Today the weather was almost exactly like yesterday, but when I brought Tom in he was half asleep. No problems tacking him up and he sauntered into the arena like an old pro. Richard was outside working with a circular saw and that didn't even bother him. He warmed up well and we worked on some shoulder ins and haunches in and simple changes, even on a circle. Got one super-good change left to right and generally good stuff.

As I was cooling him out, Penny came in with her mare and told me that yesterday afternoon she set out to ride her big draft cross, Sobe. He is normally very mellow, but she said yesterday he was high as a kite. She didn't dare get on him because he was so "up". She said there have been some bear sightings around their place, so maybe that's what had these guys going yesterday. So, while I was thinking about plugging Tom's ears, maybe I should have been thinking about stuffing Vicks up his nose! Who knows?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Day 43: The Sky is Falling!

Finally, it's a little bit warmer today and when the thermometer got up over 32 the little bit of snow on the arena roof started to slide off. Penny's ring is one of the domed, plastic covered ones. When the snow comes off, not only does it make a weird zipping noise, but you can see the shadow of it as it lets go from inside the ring. Thomas has always been a complete chicken about snow on roofs, so I knew this was going to be a problem.

Today when I tacked him up he was already uptight because the snow had been coming off the barn roof too. He almost broke the cross ties twice, when he heard strange noises. So I chose to tack him up to be lunged first. There were two other horses in the ring when we went in there (both being very mature and reasonable). Thomas scooted around on the lunge for 5 minutes or so before he settled down a little. The snow wasn't actually coming off the roof while we were in there, but any sudden noise would send him off. He did settle and looked pretty good and then he spooked and tripped himself and was off (lame) for a circle or so. He worked out of that and settled back down, but kept spooking and then tightening everything up again.

So here's my question: does EPSM make their muscles hurt when they are nervous? Can the added adrenaline cause cramping? Today he looked fine, even relaxed and loose, until he got spooked and then he'd seize up and look very stiff and uncomfortable. It was a battle of opposites. I did get on him for a brief spell but he was so tight and uncomfortable I didn't pursue that for long. I put him back on the lunge so I could see what was happening. I was pleased to see that he was using his body quite well- really stretching over his back and swinging through his shoulder- until he spooked and then it would all fall apart for awhile, until he took a deep breath and released the tension, and was able to stretch again.

I found this today on Beth Valentine's Rural Heritage (EPSM) site (http://www.ruralheritage.com):
"The aspect of nervousness is an
interesting one. If you look at the topic of
whole body glucose (sugar) metabolism
you find that gender, epinephrine
(adrenaline - which is increased in
excited or nervous horses), exercise, and
a whole slew of other factors come into
play. We still have so much to learn!"

So much to learn indeed!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Day 40: Riding with Layers

It's still way too cold. The thermometer didn't get above 19° today (-7° C for you Canucks). I know a lot of people draw the line at 20 and say it's not good for the horse to ride when it's so cold. With this EPSM diagnosis I figure I'd better tough up and get out there- even if I just trot Tom around for a few minutes, that will be better than letting him stand all day.

Today I got to the barn at 4:15 p.m. I had layered on so many clothes I could barely move. When I zipped up my boots over my heavy socks and long johns my circulation was nearly cut off. Half way to the barn my legs were throbbing and I decided that might not be a good thing, so I pulled over and unzipped my boots, rearranged my socks (thank goodness for skinny ankles!) and proceeded.

When I started to ride I had double layers of mittens and gloves and I could barely feel the reins. Tom had on his wool quarter sheet and seemed pretty happy. I shed a layer of mittens about 15 minutes into the ride. By the end of 45 minutes I was able to work on canter transitions, trot shoulder in and a little bit of collection.

When I put him away and fed him his beet pulp and supplements, Thomas was happily eating a bite, then walking over to his open door and looking out to the paddock to see what his buddies were up to. He's really happy there. Very relaxed and content. Now if the weather would cooperate a little we'd be all set!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Day 38: Lots to do (and not enough time to do it)

Sorry I've been absent from here for a few days. Busy times! I have ridden Tom every day except yesterday when it was pouring so hard, he was soaked and I was really tired. Yes. I whimped out. He has been good and I have been working hard on keeping his frame long and low; not using my nagging ankles and heels to push and sitting up tall to engage my abs as much as possible. It's working. Tom is going quite well and relaxing into some good basic work more quickly each day.

Today I wondered how he'd be since he got soaked from standing outside yesterday and then he chose to stand inside today. Since he wasn't worked yesterday I was afraid his muscles would be bad. The one thing I had going in my favor today is that it was 45° this morning and it had only dropped to 40° when I rode at noon. I think if it had been colder he might have been quite a bit less comfortable.

He still really wants to be heavy on the right rein and too light on the left. Jutta really wants me to work on balancing that out. Lots of counterflexion now and then to try to get him responsive on both sides of his mouth. Also, he sticks his tongue out on the left when he has relaxed into a nice frame. There does seem to be more "stuff" going on on the right side of his body. I have always said that he would do well with a wheel for a right hind foot, as he likes to drag that one along. Add the heaviness on the right rein, the tongue out on the left, and the lack of reactivity to the right leg and you've got a pretty lopsided horse!

When I was untacking him today I had undone the girth on the left side and I walked around to the right to undo it from the billets on the right. That little unbuckling movement brought on a cow-kick from his right hind which was clearly directed at ME! He always seems to be extremely sensitive to the touch after he's been worked. Go figure. Needless to say, he got a spanking for that, but I really wonder if it's a physical reaction to something as he's generally not one to kick at his mother!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Day 33: The First Lesson in a Loooong While

I had a lesson today at Penny's with my trainer, Jutta Lee. The last lesson I had was just before Vermont Dressage Days in August. Things had started to deteriorate with Thomas then, and right after the show he got the stick in his foot and things got really bad. The high point of my day was that Jutta agreed that Tom is moving better than he was over the summer. He's not very strong right now (due to the nearly 4 months off), but he's happy, moving forward and willing. Yay!

We spent most of the session trying to get me NOT to use my calves so much. "Abs! Use your abs!" Guess I better start doing some crunches... Tom is such a good teacher. Every time I'd stop pushing with my legs and just concentrate on my middle, he'd zoom ahead. By the end he was trotting along , really swinging, and very stretched over his topline. We cantered a couple of times and to the left he broke into trot several times. It's strange. He doesn't lose his balance and run into trot; he just sort of breaks the canter rhythm and then we're trotting. I can pop him right back into the canter, no problem. Jutta says it's just a strength thing and that it's better to not make a fuss about the breaking. He's staying forward and he's willing to go right back into canter, so it should get better as he gets stronger. He's fine in canter to the right.

It's supposed to go down to 8° tonight. I think I'll wait for high noon tomorrow to ride. Feels more like January than December right now!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Day 32: BRRRRR.........

I guess it's to be expected. It IS December, afterall. Yesterday I stood in our barn for over an hour while my farrier made and installed new winter shoes for my daughter's horse, Twist. The thermometer in our barn read 28°. John finished with Twist and he followed me over to Penny's to do Tom. The car said it was 24 °. Standing in Penny's barn for another hour while the wind whipped down the hall made it feel like 0°. I was too frozen to ride. I chased Tom around in the indoor for about 15 minutes then I came home and thawed myself out.

Today the wind wasn't whipping around so much but the thermometer never got above 30°. When I went to Penny's Tom was standing outside with one of his new buddies. He was so busy socializing I had to go out and catch him. I decided to get on him without lunging and do a long, slow walk warm up. It's hard for me to lunge him when it's this cold- I end up frozen before I get on. He walked well and when I asked him for trot he willingly went forward. And he kept going! Suddenly I realized a huge difference. He was trotting under his own steam. I didn't have to push every stride or tap him with the whip to keep him going. He was just "trotting along"! What a concept! I suspect the change in routine with the ability to go out at will and possibly the change in hay (I WILL get both my hay and Penny's tested, SOON) has made him feel much better. His back end almost seems over active (is that possible?) and he doesn't quite know what to do with it. He tends to drift in and out on circles and I find I spend most of my time feeling as if I'm steering the Queen Mary around the ring.

He got better and better today and I finished off with some skip-transitions i.e. walk to canter, trot to halt and we even got a couple of really nice halt to canter transitions with very little driving aid!

I'm scheduled for a lesson tomorrow with Jutta Lee, my trainer, but it's not supposed to get much over 20° so she might cancel. She's one tough German cookie though; I haven't heard of her canceling for something as silly as cold weather! I'll have to wait and see.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Day 30: Brunch and a Pretty Good Ride

My trainer, Jutta Lee, held a wonderful potluck brunch today and Penny (the manager at Tom's new barn) and I went. Jutta is wonderful. I had been taking weekly lessons from her up until the middle of August, when Tom got the stick in his foot. I haven't had a lesson since then. It occurred to me the other day that the sequence of events is interesting, and if it hadn't happened that way, I probably wouldn't know now that he has EPSM. You see, he got the stick in his foot on August 17. He was nearly 3-legged -lame for a week. We assumed it was an abscess and I put him on stall rest (he didn't want to move anyway). After a week of that and no resolution to the abscess presumption, I started turning him out, but he didn't move much because his foot hurt. Three weeks later- thank goodness I was soaking and poulticing  that foot like a crazy woman- the 2" long stick worked its way out of his frog. He was sound again. However, when I tried to put him back into work he was very uncomfortable. He'd lunge OK, but when I'd get on him he'd seize up. I felt like I was pushing a wheel barrow with a flat tire. Barb, my vet, came out and watched him on the lunge. I could tell she thought I was crazy- he looked fine- but then I got on him, and there it was- flat tire syndrome. That was when Barb decided we should check him for EPSM. In hindsight, the 2-3 weeks of minimal turnout was the worst thing for his EPSM. Now I know that his poor recovery from the stick had nothing to do with the stick itself. His muscles were all messed up. So, if he hadn't gotten the stick in his foot, I might have continued along wondering why everything was so difficult with him.

So today's brunch was full of "How's Tom?" questions from other students of Jutta's, who had seen me trailering in for my lessons, or knew Jutta was driving out to teach me at home. They didn't know about the EPSM. The first reaction when I tell people is always a sad, "ohhh...", but I always say, "Well at least I know why he acts the way he does. Maybe now I can get him feeling better and get him back to his level of training (or somewhere close)."

Now that I understand it more, I wonder about so many horses. It's such a vague disease, and it seems like we're just starting to be able to diagnose it and treat it with some hope of success.

Today I added 2000 IUs of Vitamin E (daily) to his diet. He wasn't very happy about those gel caps in his beet pulp, but I think he'll eat them. I worked him in the indoor today for 55 minutes. He was tough to get going on the lunge, but progressed nicely when I got on him. By the end we were doing walk/canter/walk transitions and trot shoulder ins quite nicely. Jutta is coming to Penny's on Wednesday and I'll have a lesson. I can't believe it's been 4 months since my last one! Check back on Wednesday for a full recap!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

First Day In the New Digs

I went to the barn late this morning to see how Thomas was doing. When I got there he was standing in the Paddock. He looked up and whinnied at me. I think he's feeling pretty much at home. He looked very happy. I brought him in and I tacked him up and took him to the arena and lunged him. He thought it was pretty strange. Domestic geese were outside running around and making lots of noise and there was a tractor making noise and a chain saw too! He handled it okay. I have a movie of him lunging and I will try to put that up on YouTube but here's a picture of him out in his paddock. All in all a good day and he's looking pretty happy in his new digs!
(I know this sounds weird. That's because I dictated it to my iPhone. Sorry!)

Friday, December 3, 2010

Day 28: Moving Day

Well, I looked at the forecast for the weekend and it doesn't look good. Cold at night and not much warmer during the day. It sounds like my ring will freeze and stay that way for awhile. I gave Penny a call and asked if Tom could come over this afternoon. She said, "Sure!', so off we went.

Penny's barn is set up so each stall has a paddock chute out a back door. In Tom's stall (Penny was very generous to move her 17+ hander to the end of the hall so Tom could have the biggest stall) has a long paddock runway to a big pine tree and a small opening where she puts the hay. I walked Tom out there to show him around, brought him back in the stall and let him go. He took off and galloped down to the pine tree to find the hay. Penny started measuring out afternoon feed and the others started coming in. Tom came barreling back and galloped into his stall. Yikes! He was so excited! "Look, Mom! I'm in... and then... I'm out! And then I'm in again!!!" He'd grab a bite of grain, run out to his pine tree and then run back in for another bite. I wasn't sure if I should worry more about colic or a broken leg. When I left he was quietly eating hay. Outside. In the dark. I hope he can find his way back in tonight and not take down all of Penny's electric fence in the process. He hasn't been out overnight since he was three. When I turn him out at home he begs to come in promptly at 4:00. This will be interesting! If it works, it's probably the best thing for his EPSM. More reason to move around. Not galloping into the barn full tilt would be nice.

I'll attempt lunging him in the arena tomorrow.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Day 27: A Good Day!

Yesterday it poured pretty much all day. I put Tom out in the ring with Willy, my youngster, and hoped they would play a little. They didn't. They stood there and looked sad all day. Me too. It was pretty miserable out there.

My view from up there...
Today the sun was shining and my ring cleared up (and it was thawed too!) Tom went out in his pasture for the day and when I called him to come in he came galloping over the knoll and slid to a stop at the gate. He warmed up well; not nearly as contrary as he was on Tuesday. I stuck to my "no leaning" rule and he got better and better. By the end he was even allowing me to ask for a little collection in canter- something that has been extremely difficult for quite some time now. He felt so balanced and happy that I asked for the right to left change. He got a little croup high, but it felt clean and he allowed me to regroup him and go ahead and ask for the left to right change (his harder one). It was beautiful! I stopped, told him he was wonderful (really wonderful!) and put him away.

I've been having a few discussions with people who are following this EPSM epistle . It's really interesting to see where symptoms cross over. I suspect people who focus on dressage notice a whole different set of problems than people in other riding disciplines. The people I've been talking with are primarily focusing on dressage and we tend to notice hind end (engine) problems. Tom has been about 2 months on the changed diet with added oil. Barb, my vet, said to allow 4 months for complete adaptation to the new diet. So far I'm pretty happy. Tom definitely has more "engine" and is much more able to move correctly. Yes, there have been good days and bad, just as I was told would happen, but in general there definitely is an improvement.

I've written to Dr. Eleanor Kellon, DVM, Equine Nutrition Specialist, and asked her some basic questions about how and when  EPSM develops. She sent me a study (a PDF file) that's quite interesting and I'll share it if you email me and ask. I'm still trying to find time to really study this. There's a lot of science in there, but I think it has some of the answers I was looking for about the onset of the disease. I hope this might help some others too.