PSSM and your horse –balancing your work/exercise routines (good information for any horses with muscle issues)

PSSM and your horse –balancing your work/exercise routines (good information for any horses with muscle issues)

by Dr. Mike Guerini (www.dunmovinranch.com) 

Equine Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy (EPSM, PSSM, EPSSM) is an inheritable glycogen storage disease of horses that causes exertional rhabdomyolysis (breakdown of muscle tissue that leads to the release of muscle fiber contents into the blood). It is most commonly associated with heavy horse breeds and the American Quarter Horse. PSSM can be managed with appropriate diet and exercise.

Horses with PSSM show fewer clinical signs if their exercise is slowly increased over time (i.e. they are slowly conditioned). The University of Minnesota Equine Center shares the following information —–

“For chronic cases, prolonged rest after an episode appears to be counterproductive and predisposes PSSM horses to further episodes of muscle pain. With PSSM it is NOT advisable to only resume exercise when serum Creatine Kinase activity is normal. Rather, horses should begin small paddock turn out as soon as reluctance to move has abated. Providing daily turn out with compatible companions can be very beneficial as it enhances energy metabolism in PSSM horses.” The University continues with more generalized information on some possible exercise programs.

All of us equine trainers and coaches and enthusiasts will agree that there is not one fix-all, cure-all, best system to use when we are working with a horse. Add muscle issues into the mix and it further complicates the planning of our work sessions.

We need to approach exercises with horses that exhibit PSSM with an wide spectrum of activities. When I say spectrum, I mean something that has quite a bit of variability in between the two extremes. In this case we can think of the spectrum of exercise from zero exercise (horse left to its own in a stall or paddock) to working a horse for let us say 4 hours at a time. These would be considered as extremes (zero to 4 hours of work).

As I have spent some time reading on PSSM, reviewing veterinary research articles and reading work from exercise physiology people, I have put together some ideas on how people who have horses affected by PSSM might begin to structure the best possible exercise experience for the horse.

While each horse is unique — these exercises and ideas below are provided as thinking points to expand where you and your horse might be. In all things….do what is right for the horse. Also – it is important to do these correctly.

I will break down my suggestions for the exercise process into these categories:

Observations of the Horse:

Hands on touching of the Horse:

Warm-Up of the Horse:

Working through stretching and strength building:

Cool down and recovery time at the end:

 

Observations of the Horse:

One of the skills that all horse owners and trainers need to develop is the ability through visual observation to notice changes in the horse. We start with looking for big changes and then we move towards looking for small changes. This takes time … but it is critical that we can assess on any given day how the horse is feeling. Movement is dynamic….when a horse is not moving….it is not able to keep proper circulation working and this leads to multiple other complications.

Many people who deal with PSSM horses or other horses with injury find that it is difficult to see the improvements or changes for the better. I recommend that people use video and photography to document changes in the horse. Sometimes when we look for changes each day we might miss them…but if we compare the look on days 1, 14 and 24….we are more likely to see the changes. When we can see what is happening…it helps us to know that we are making progress.

Observation is also critical when working the horse. The handler/rider needs to be able to easily monitor heart rate and respiration. Chart the heart rate and respiration for the horse and work so that the increase in a week is no more than 10% to 15% of the maximal output from the week before.

Hands on touching of the Horse:

We need to be familiar with how the horse feels at any point in time. This includes how the horse feels before, during, and after exercise. My number one recommendation for horses that have muscle issues is for the handler to become familiar with the muscle or muscles that are affected. Become familiar by having your hands on these muscles and feel for tightness, looseness, heat, and changes in ability to stretch. Hands on compliments the observations.

Masterson Method and TTouch methods immediately come to mind for me as ways in which horse owners can learn how muscles feel and how to assess their current state.

Warm-Up of the Horse:

Warm up may be 3 to 5 minutes and it very much depends on the capability of the horse. For those that are not being ridden, this will be ground work. For those being ridden, it may include ground work and/or saddle time.

Let us begin with some ground work exercises and where this can help. I strongly advocate for mixing and matching groundwork over the days of the week.

Lunge work: For this we do not want speed. Walk and trot is just fine, canter can happen if the horse feels it is right and gives you signs (such as the horse decides to canter). With Walk and Trot we want to focus on consistent tempo…we do not want to be varying the beats per minute…we want consistent beats per minute. We do not want to work the same direction for any long period of time. Switch directions after every 60 seconds. Be very observant as to signs of stress and signs of muscle fluidity and motion. Work to keep the horse balanced and upright on the lunge.

In-hand (halter or bridle) groundwork:

This can include walk and whoa work. In hand trotting may be appropriate if the handler and horse have a similar tempo. Turn on forehand and Turn on haunches can be done but should be minimized in the early stages of work. As the horse develops more range of motion and functionality, these can be added in. Walking in shallow loop serpentines is a good plan, a few circles each direction is fine (50 to 60 foot diameter circles), and walking over ground poles all can be done. In hand stretch work to include walking in stretchy circles or lines is appropriate.

Riding Warm-up:

This can include walk and whoa work and some trotting. The key here is to have consistent tempo to the gait. Turn on forehand and Turn on haunches can be done but should be minimized in the early stages of work much like I suggested for the Ground work. As the horse develops more range of motion and functionality, these can be added in. Walking in shallow loop serpentines is a good plan, a few circles each direction is fine (50 to 60 foot diameter circles), and walking over ground poles all can be done. Lateral work can be added as the horse advances.

Working through stretching and strength building:

One of the keys in the work plan is to take a properly warmed up horse and focus on exercises that can help gymnasticize the horse.

Here are a series of movements and some guidance as to why you do them. Some of these may be appropriate…but I must urge you to remember that each horse is different and by your observation and touch and re-evaluation through the warm-up period you (and possibly your trainer/coach) will know what is best for the horse.

Stretch work exercises:

Leg yield

Shoulder-in

Stretchy circles or stretchy walk in straight lines

Balance exercises:

Transitions (from walk to trot – doing so every 10 strides (or a count of ten))

Shoulder In

Circles

Figures of 8

Adjustability of the horse range of motion: (this is for horses that are freely moving)

Lengthen and extend the gaits. Slow walk, normal walk, fast walk (speed is tempo = beats per minute)

Engagement and Strengthening of the hind end:

Walking pirouette

Walk over ground poles

Trot over ground poles

Turn on the forehand

Slow spirals

Increasing mobility and Strengthening of the shoulders:

Walk pirouette

Turn on haunches

Shallow loop serpentines (15 to 16’ difference between top and bottom of serpentine)

 

These are only examples and may not be right for you and your horse….

but hopefully they give you some food for thought.

 

Sample Exercise Plan for horse not being ridden

Day of the Week Warm Up   3 to 5 minutes Exercise 5 to 10 minutes Cool down   5 to 10 minutes
Sunday Day off with turnout Day off with turnout Day off with turnout
Monday Walk and Whoa and Trot Work over trot poles & change from walk to trot Walk in Figures of 8 to cool down
Tuesday Walk in stretchy circle and shallow serpentines Walk and trot with horse over ground poles & Lunge 3 to 5 minutes Shallow loop serpentines at the walk to cool down
Wednesday Day off with turnout Day off with turnout Day off with turnout
Thursday Lunge 3 to 5 min Turn on haunches & Slow spirals Walk in Figures of 8 to cool down
Friday Walk and Whoa and Trot in straight lines Go for a long walk down a straight road for 10 minutes. Shallow loop serpentines at the walk to cool down
Saturday Lunge 3 to 5 min Turn on forehand & Walk in stretchy circle and shallow serpentines Walk in Figures of 8 to cool down

 

 

 

Sample Exercise Plan for horse being ridden – low to moderate issues

Day of the Week Warm Up   3 to 5 minutes Exercise 5 to 10 minutes Cool down   5 to 10 minutes
Sunday Day off with turnout Day off with turnout Day off with turnout
Monday Ground work Lunge Walk pirouette & 10 stride transitions

 

Stretchy circles or stretchy walk in straight lines
Tuesday Shallow loop serpentines Lengthen and extend the gaits &

Turn on the forehand

Figures of 8 at walk and trot
Wednesday Day off with turnout Day off with turnout Day off with turnout
Thursday Walk to trot transitions Slow spirals &

Turn on haunches

Shallow loop serpentines at walk
Friday Ground work walk in stretchy circle and shallow serpentines Walk pirouette & Walk and trot over ground poles

 

Figures of 8 at walk and trot
Saturday Figures of 8 at walk and trot Stretchy circles or stretchy walk in straight lines &

10 stride trot to walk transitions

Shallow loop serpentines at walk

 

 

Cool down and recovery time at the end:

The cool down is very key. We need to take horses with PSSM and muscle issues through a process of cooling down that includes making sure all the muscles are loose and that the horse has a range of motion for all major muscle groups. Cool down and recovery time still needs (as you see from above) bending and turning and working to a full range of motion at the walk.

 

The above are just some examples and thoughts that I have put together after reading a great many sources of information.

 

The keys to this article: 1) Keep your work to a reasonable amount of time 15 to 45 minutes … and this depends on the needs and welfare and ability of your horse.

2) Change things up and use a variety of exercises so that you work multiple muscle groups.

3) Observe and touch your horse to better understand how he/she is feeling and where there might be tightness.

 

————————-

 

Dr. Mike Guerini is a national clinician, supporting member of the International Society of Equitation Science (www.equitationscience.com), author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in Performance based riding, Western Dressage and understanding your horse and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at www.dunmovinranch.com.  Dr. Mike is also part of Coach’s Corral (www.coachscorral.com), an online Horsemanship Coaching program.

 

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