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.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Dressage Days 2011

At the GMHA June Dressage Show I earned one of two required 60% scores at Third Level Test 3, putting me half way to a trip to our Regional Dressage Championships in September. With Tom's steady improvement this summer, I've been hoping we could make this happen. The weather has been making things a little tricky lately. Very hot and humid days have forced me to ride early in the day. That's fine for Tom and me, but not so great for my studio work. I usually use riding as a reward after a full day of studio work. When I ride first, there's no incentive to slave away at the drawing table!

I changed Tom's diet and added more grain and alfalfa pellets back in mid June and it has been paying off. He's muscled back up and has quite a bit more stamina. He has barely had a blade of grass since last Fall, and that seems to really help him too. Yesterday I loaded him up and headed off to GMHA for Third 3 at 1:30 in the afternoon. It was nearing 90 degrees when we got there. As I warmed Tom up he immediately started breathing very heavily. I wasn't sure what the best plan for warm up would be, but I just did short sessions and gave him lots of walk breaks. We had a lovely test with clean flying changes and only one break into trot at the end of the test, in a corner, where it didn't really count much. The judge wasn't as happy with it as I was, but we did manage a second place but the 59.48% was just a little shy of what I needed. I was very happy with his attitude and willingness, though, and came home happy.

Today it was cooler (high 70s/ low 80s) and I rode a little earlier. In the warm up he was as he was in June, not as interested in the work for the second show day. He seemed negative, but did manage to work through everything. He reared once when I pushed him in canter half pass- the first time he's threatened me with that in a very long time. I'm thinking (hoping) that he was just a little cranky and thought that might be way to get out of work. When I smacked him and sent him forward he seemed to give it up pretty quickly.

We went in the ring and I rode more quietly today; going for a more organized test. It paid off. The judge (a different one from yesterday) liked it and we got a 63.59%! That got us second place, Reserve Champion for Third Level AND a ticket to the Championships!!!

My goal now is to continue to try to strengthen him so that the canter work can get better and better. I've been to the Championships for Third Level once before- in 2006- and the inability to carry a whip (for championships) cost me a lot of points. We'll work on that "GO" button now, and fitness, and connection and general well-being, AND I'm keeping my fingers very tightly crossed!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Back to writing...

After a little hiatus (actually caused by severe feelings of apprehension and doubt about the "progress" of Thomas' condition), I'm back to continue with this discourse about EPSM. Don't get me wrong, Thomas is doing quite well, I have just been feeling anxious about talking about it. Maybe I've been worried about jinxing the situation, or maybe I just didn't want people holding their breath, hoping for good results at an upcoming show or whatever. Anyway, I'm back, and here goes:

I spent the months of May and June working Thomas here at home. First, we rigged up our barn so that he can go freely in and out to our sand ring and back to his stall. He LOVES this change! Bugs have always bothered him, so the ability to just bail and go back to his stall appeals to him greatly. He's moving around more and that definitely seems to help his muscles. We did, however, have to resort to running a hot wire along the top of the fence (Thank you Bart!) because he was leaning over it for the grass and snapping boards daily. Not having grass (poor horse) has helped him too.

By mid-June I was noticing that his rotund shape he had blossomed into upon starting the oil regimen last fall, was starting to waste away. His hip bones were protruding again and his rump muscles were looking weak. I had my vet take a look and she suggested feeding more calories (from oil) and added protein (from alfalfa pellets). Now he's getting the following to eat:

morning: 1 qt Poulin CarbSafe
               1 qt. 15% alfalfa pellets
               1.5 cups canola oil
                3 flakes hay, soaked

noon:     1 qt Poulin CarbSafe
               1 qt. 15% alfalfa pellets
                3 flakes hay, soaked

supper:   1 qt Poulin CarbSafe
               1 qt. 15% alfalfa pellets
               1.5 cups canola oil
                1 scoop Quiessence (Magnesium)
                1 scoop Senior Flex
                2000 IUs Vitamin E
                1.5 lbs (dry) beet pulp pellets, soaked

late night:  3 flakes hay, soaked

It's a lot of stuff. My feed room looks like an apothecary. But he seems to be doing pretty well. I started soaking the hay just recently because we got a new load of first cut hay in, and he suddenly started to feel like he had bricks tied to his feet when I rode him. Soaking the hay is supposed to take some of the sugars out, so I hope that helps.

Work-wise he's been going very well. I remember last winter wishing that I could just get on him and work him in a nice low frame to warm him up and not have to deal with all of his fussiness at the beginning of every ride. Well now he comes out, takes about 5 minutes of walk warm up and then proceeds to a lovely, bouncy long trot and will even happily pop into canter. I work him pretty forward with all of this. His instinct is to suck back and get behind my leg, but it's getting better.

From there he gets a walk break and then usually I do canter work. We've been able to work on lengthening and shortening the frame as well as counter canters and shoulder-fore to half pass steps. Now that's what I call progress! The left to right change is still very troublesome. But if I can get him to let go of his right side, the change will usually come clean.

Walk break, then trot work. This is where he starts to poop out some times. Generally his trot work is better than the canter work, so I work the harder one first, in case he just can't go any more, and then the trot work is sacrificed a bit. He lets me know. Everything gets much harder to do. His stride will start to get shuffling instead of swinging and he will stick his tongue out. Some days he can go a full 45 minutes and get a good dose of trot work in and never really tire noticeably.

On the 18th and 19th I took Tom to the June Dressage Show at GMHA. He was SO happy to get braided and go to the show! On Saturday I warmed him up for 3rd 3 in the Dust Bowl and he acted like an old pro. He strutted around like, "This is the way it's done!". He surprised me with his willingness, and in so doing, I think I warmed him up a little too long. We went to the White Ring to do our test and he was all business, and seemed genuinely excited to be back out there! The trot work was really consistent and pleasant. We got a lot of 7s (even on half passes which used to be our bugaboo). When we got to the canter work, suddenly he ran out of steam. Lauren video'd it and I can see where his hind end got further and further out behind him, until he just couldn't maintain the canter. He broke 3 times and we got a '1' for the right to left change which didn't really exist. I got comments like "Rider needs to be more diligent about keeping the horse in front of her leg."Hah! If she only knew! We came away with our qualifying score, despite the poor canter work, because the trot was SO good! I was very happy with him and most of all I was pleased that he was so willing and excited to be there.

I took him back on Sunday and the thrill had worn off. I suspect he was still a little tired. I kept my warm up short and sweet, but the test was lack-luster and we ended up with the same score even though I kept him from breaking out of the canter.

So our first post-EPSM-diagnosis-show is under our belt and we are entered in Dressage Days in July. I'm hoping that the alfalfa will help him to have more stamina and strength. I will try to be more consistent with my postings on here. Feedback is welcomed!

Friday, April 1, 2011

A Good Report

My vet called yesterday with the results of the blood work done a couple of weeks ago. Thomas' Vitamin E levels were a little high, but that's OK. She says you worry when they're low; not high. He is showing no signs of insulin resistance and his blood glucose levels are normal. Hurray! The Rx is to keep doing what I'm doing.

My husband and I are taking a well-deserved vacation next week. It's not easy to get away when your big babies need so much attention. I am very lucky to have a friend who knows Tom very well and is willing to work him for me for the week. Kat is trained in Natural Horsemanship and is also an accomplished dressage rider. She helped me with Tom 3 years ago when he was rearing (the first signs of what we now know is EPSM). I have called on her when we've gone away before, knowing that she can ride Tom and deal with his idiosyncrasies. This time I had to load her down with oil, beet pulp, Vitamin E, Magnesium and Tums! Although Penny (the barn manager) takes good care of Tom's feed, hay and general needs, someone else needs to oversee his supplements and work schedule. Kat will go there every day while we are gone to give him his supps and to work him. When we get home in a week, I hope that the snow will be gone and I can bring Thomas home and continue with his work here. Then I get to figure out how the new spring grass will fit into his lifestyle. It's all part of the learning curve, I guess!

Monday, March 28, 2011

A Quick Update

Still waiting on the blood test results from last week. I've been giving Tom 6 to 8 Tums tablets when I tack him up. He loves them and really likes having treats back in his world. I don't know if the Tums have anything to do with it, but he's been much happier to work. More consistent and less obstinate.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Post Vaccination Report

Yesterday I tacked Tom up, thinking that I'd just loosen him up a bit and expect extra stiffness from 2 days off and a neck-ful of shots. I'm happy to report that he wasn't that bad. Yes, he was stiff and reluctant to move at first, but after 10 minutes of walking then trotting, he loosened up quite nicely and worked well. I didn't push the issue. My goal was just to get him comfortable. The only cranky session came with left canter. He was reluctant to bend and didn't seem to want to push from behind at all. To the right was good and we really got rolling along and had some fun. To the left got better, but never as loose as the right. We played with some trot work and I put him away with lots of pats.

I've been feeding Thomas 6 to 8 wintergreen Tums before I ride. He LOVES them! The vets at New England Equine suggested I try giving him those before work. They felt that even though he doesn't have ulcers he may have a sour tummy, and the Tums might help with that. They are low in carbs, so a good treat for EPSM horses. The extra calcium can't hurt either. It was bothering me that I couldn't give him ANY treats. A handful of hay just doesn't seem to cut it!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A change of pace

Yesterday the snow was still coming off the arena roof so I decided to do something different- I thought a distraction might work to keep his mind off the weird noises and shadows.

I've free-jumped Tom a couple of times but he's never really seemed to enjoy it. Yesterday I set up a little cross-rail with a pole for a wing in and one out. There really wasn't much holding him in, but I decided to give it a try. He loved it! He joyfully cantered back and forth over it. I put it up a couple of times and it ended up at about 2'9". He was really into it by then! I'm the only one out there in the ring and I've got one hand on the lunge whip, the other on my iPhone (hence the rather rough shots, sorry).

video

Maybe if this dressage gig doesn't work out we'll take up Grand Prix jumping!

Today Tom had vaccinations and blood drawn for a Coggin's test and to check his glucose, insulin, Vitamin E and Selenium levels. I asked my vet if I should worry about the IM injections of the vaccines, and she didn't think I should be concerned since he has never had an adverse reaction to them before.

Tomorrow I'll plan to work him lightly and see how he feels.

Monday, March 21, 2011

This is interesting. I'm posting 2 videos for comparison. The first was last August, struggling through Third level, test 3. It's painful for me to watch. Notice how disconnected everything behind the saddle is. He seems to be dragging his hindquarters along. I'm surprised the judge didn't mention the uneveness. Also notice how he halts with his hind legs way out, then steps even further back with the right hind. Ouch!




video

This second one is SO much better. This was filmed on Saturday (3/19/11). He hadn't been diagnosed with EPSM in August. He's been on the new diet since November and the change in his movement is pretty evident. He's much more connected. His hind legs look like they might belong to him and not to some horse following him! I will try to continue to videotape his progress. I haven't been able to see it either. Small mirrors only give you a little snapshot of what's happening at any given moment, and when he comes home in a couple of weeks we won't have a mirror at all! I've seen it on the lunge, but this helps to confirm for me REAL improvement.

video

Friday, March 18, 2011

Feeling Hopeful!

The snow is melting; the horses are shedding; it's staying light well past 6:30. Winter may actually be on its way out. And along with the yearning for all things green, warmer weather and weekends full of horse-related activities, I'm feeling like Thomas might actually be feeling good enough to join me in enjoying spring.

We've had several days this week in the high 40s and low 50s, and each of those days Thomas improved from the day before. Today the wind was clocking in with gusts of over 50 mph (!), so the plastic-covered arena was an interesting place, to say the least. One of the gusts at the beginning of our ride, made it feel like we were inside a balloon- the pressure changed and then the doors at the end banged and creeked. Thomas was incredibly brave. He only spooked one big one at the beginning, and to tell the truth, I spooked at that one too. It really felt like we might be carried up and out to the stratosphere! When he's brave I know he's feeling OK. His confidence is the first thing to go when he's feeling bad.

Today we worked on transitions trot to walk, walk to trot, over and over, until he relaxed and reached out to the contact through the transitions. Then I moved on to canter work. By the end we were doing a few collected strides to several lengthened strides on the circle. To the left was pretty good all along; to the right he was still reluctant to soften in his jaw. The tongue came out and he seemed to "tip" to the left- chucking his right rib cage out at my right leg. But it got much better and when he gave me a light, soft collected canter and happily lengthened the frame to a bigger stride I called it a day, gave him big pats and hugs and put him away treating him to his beet pulp, 2 cups of oil, Vitamin E and Magnesium.

I am very hesitant to say that the effects of EPSM are worse in cold weather, but so far it appears that might be true, at least for Tom, at least for this week...

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Spring is definitely in the air!

After discovering the lack of ulcers, I've changed my tactics with Thomas a bit. Basically, I'm cutting him very little slack. He's been pretty good. A couple of minor shutdowns daily and then much improved work towards the end of a 45 minute session. Today I was riding with the big arena doors open, and no bulky parka! Hurray! I cooled Tom out with a brief hack down the road. He was fine until a pick up truck came up behind us and he kind of blew. But that's what he does and that's why I rarely go out for hacks alone.

My latest quandry is that I've been reading that people with EPSM horses have had trouble with their horses reacting poorly to vaccinations. Tom has never shown any adverse signs, but it does make me wonder. I'll be running that by my vet when she comes out next week to do his shots. I'll also have her check his insulin  and Vitamin E/ Selenium levels, just to keep tabs on them.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Better weather makes better rides.

I got thinking the other day about Tom's reaction to the snow coming off the roof. He's been terrified of all the noises in that arena since we got there, and adding the view of the sheets of snow sliding down the roof put him right over the edge. In the video I posted he looks pretty calm, but actually he was too scared to move. His security blanket is the mirror in the end corner. He runs right back there for comfort from that other big, black horse. What I got thinking about is that when he shuts down he tends to be near the mirror. Not always, but enough that now I'm thinking that he's looking for help from that "other horse". The more I think about this, the more I think this might be a big part of the issue. So, I still don't know why he's shutting down and/or needing reassurance. Is he hurting, worried or something else? He tends to do it more when he's not completely warmed up. He rarely does it at the walk and is much more likely to do it on the left rein than the right.

Yesterday and today I focused on working him really low and deep (LDR- low, deep and round) in the warm up. It seems to help to loosen him up and prevents him from getting distracted and silly. I think when I first started working him after the EPSM diagnosis I sort of backed off and didn't really insist on doing things MY way ALL the time. Thomas is the type who takes advantage of any tiny crack left open, blasting through and creating a gaping hole, which is very hard to close up again. In sealing up the "cracks" he seems to settle into work much better. He shut down once today. It was to the right and away from the mirrors, but I was able to shove him right back into a marching walk, overbending right, and demanding forward! He didn't do it again, and the work became really good after 40 minutes or so.

My question now is, "Is he playing me?" I'm quick to back off if I think he's hurting and maybe he's figured that out. Now my job is to figure out if his anxiety is for real, and caused by a physical problem, or is he just checking my sympathy barometer for the day? He's moving SO much better than he had been prior to the diet change, and his musculature is much improved too. To me that must mean that his body is working correctly. Now if I could just get his head to cooperate too, I'll be all set!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

I'm Back!

Sorry about my absence. I have to admit, I got pretty discouraged and started wondering about the whole "why am I doing this?" thing. Thomas has been consistently inconsistent. Even though that's exactly why I started writing this blog in the first place, it's also why I stopped for a while there. I thought writing here would help me to figure out why bad days with him happen, or at least vent some of my frustrations. But then I let little demons in that make it hard to write about things not going as well as I'd like.

We've had some really good days where he has been happy to work on a little bit of collection, counter canters and even the rare flying change or two. We've also had some really bad days where he is reluctant to move- literally stopping and refusing to move forward at all. Then, when I can finally get him to move he's balky and stiff.

One day a couple of weeks ago I took him out for a hack with Penny and her big horse, Sobe. It was an unusually warm February day. The dirt road was soft and there was a hint of spring in the air. About 15 minutes into a nice ride, we were happily (I thought) trotting up a gradual incline, Sobe was ahead of us by a bit, when Thomas all of a sudden put on the brakes. He just stopped in his tracks and started to go backwards. I had my dressage whip and I tapped and clucked, encouraging him forward, but he "didn't wanna!" Penny said that his tummy was all tucked up and his eyes were way back in his head, like he was in a lot of pain. I got him going and just a little ways up the road he did it again. I let him walk and he seemed to relax eventually and we did manage a decent trot on the way home. Penny and I got thinking.

Could this be ulcers? I had come to the barn earlier than usual and Penny and I had decided on the hack on short notice. Tom hadn't had his grain (1 little quart of Carb Safe) yet. Were stomach acids causing this behavior? He does this in the ring too, but not quite as adamantly as this episode. And it does seem to be more likely to happen if he's working on an empty stomach. So I started feeding him handfuls of hay prior to putting the bridle on. That seemed to help. I called my vet and asked about ulcers. She said it certainly could be and suggested I have him scoped because the GastroGuard is so expensive for a horse Tom's size, she didn' t think it was a good risk to just treat him and hope that he'd come around.

Thomas had a camera stuck down his throat on Tuesday. It showed a beautiful, pink tummy, with no signs of ulcers at all. I couldn't help but think that ulcers would have been a nice, easy fix. I could medicate him for a month and he'd be happy and good to go onto wonderful things. It wasn't to be. His stomach is fine. Something else is definitely bothering him. So onward and upward.

I worked him yesterday and he was pretty good, considering that he had 2 days off and 5 hours standing on the trailer on Tuesday. Today I went over, fully intending to work him. It had snowed lightly all day and had changed to rain as I was driving there. The snow was sliding slowly off the roof, casting weird shadows and making awful noises. Thomas didn't even want to walk to the arena; let alone go inside! I just let him loose and chased him around for awhile. He really is terrified of arena snow. I'll attach a video clip here. He looks pretty mellow, but really he's petrified! Check out the sliding snow shots at the end.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Cranky Boy

I had a lesson today with Jutta. I was hoping we could move on to some good stuff because he's been pretty good lately (since the snow came off the arena roof and things quieted down in there). He warmed up well and then she had me work on his walk to the right a little with a little haunches in on the circle. Then out of the blue (to Tom!) she said, "Ok, now canter." I just looked at her and explained that he was about as far from cantering as he could get. He does this thing where he puffs his sides out at me and feels like a brick wall against me. I can do just about anything I want up there with my seat, thighs, legs, etc and NOTHING will happen. If I add voice and/or whip when he's in this state, I can almost guarantee that he'll shut down. Stop dead. Curl up and threaten to rear. So I tried to ask for that canter and she kept telling me to get him on my left rein. Put my right leg forward. Play with the right rein. And he continued to get crankier and crankier. I asked her if she'd like to get on him, and she said, "sure!" Well, he was cranky alright. Kicked out, bucked (never reared) and generally said "NO!". She did, however, manage to get him forward and eventually he cantered. Here's a little clip:
I got back on and he was getting tired by then. She got me to figure out that I need to play on the right rein and actually almost think counter flexion to the left to get him on that left rein a little. When I had him there, I could get the right canter then gradually ask for right bend. Yikes! My head hurts.

Still waiting on that hay and feed analysis. I'll keep this posted!