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2017 Year in Review – PSSM Horse Rehab Ups and Downs, and the major effects of hooves on muscles

PSSM Horse Hoof Issues and Abscesses

Originally posted 2/5/18

Wow!  The difference one year can make in a PSSM horse rehab case!  My boy started out 2017 in terrible shape.  He needed oral banamine at least 1-2 times per month in cold weather, and spasms were common.  He had no exercise tolerance.  Trot was rarely an option, canter was nonexistent.  As we start 2018, he’s in amazing shape!  He’s cantering, his trot is smooth (for the first time ever!), no episodes since mid-summer!  He’s also going down the trails barefoot – this is also a first!

Winter 2016-2017 – Not a good season:

  • PSSM1 Diagnosis September, 2016
  • Hoof health up to this point:  after almost a year of not-so-good-farriery and my horse’s feet really beginning to suffer, I took over his trimming in May of 2016.  He had flat soles that were so thin I could push with my thumbs and they’d give.  He had extreme forward foot syndrome with stretched toes and crushed under heels.  He had always been tender on rocks, and needed hoof boots for anything more extreme than grass (including the sand arena during wet spring/summer months). One thing was clear – this PSSM horse rehab had to start with hoof rehab.
  • Feeding alfalfa and alcar based diet.  Started on trails – he was slow, tripping a lot, and didn’t have much stamina.  Arena work consisted of walking with lots of poles, bending around cones, and other suppling work (no speed work was possible at this time).  He seemed to do well until cold weather hit. See my PSSM horse rehab exercises.
  • Blanketing with 300g blanket in cold weather, no neck cover, no infrared blanket (sometimes had BOT liner tied in) – cold weather was a major problem, and he had spasms often due to cold (even though I thought I was taking proper precautions with blankets).
  • I let his hoof care slip over winter.  I started looking into a method that lets the heel grow out a bit, and his soles and bars went crazy.  He started short-striding in the front, and I was beginning to believe that navicular was part of our problem.  It’s extremely obvious here that his hooves are too long, but you’ll see in the sole pics below that I was rasping down to sole with each trim.  Since I was basically still following “less is more” protocol, I wasn’t touching sole at all, and barely touching the bars.

  • Jax’s right hind is his weakest area – an area that’s often weak in PSSM horses.  He had developed a strange gait and right lumbar soreness (he was also sore on the left, but not to the same extent).  Here’s a sole pic taken a couple of weeks after the side profile pics above – as you can see, the sole is touching the ground.  In the lateral bar, a huge lump has been forming for months, and not going away!  I didn’t touch it as it was drilled into my head that the sole is sacred.
  • Beginning of February, 2017 – purchased Trekker Luxus (used) treeless saddle.  Couldn’t handle it on his back yet, so continued with the Barefoot Physio pad.
  • In March, I finally became horrified enough with his hooves that I started studying more hoof methods.  The ABC Method caught my eye, but I’d heard some negative things, so I followed it a little but made no real attempts to mess with the soles – except for that lump!  I finally trimmed it out, just to find a large abscess area that never burst (unfortunately I didn’t get a pic). Interestingly, he started to move better, and didn’t seem as weak on that right hind! Remember my comment above? This PSSM horse rehab had to start with hoof rehab, and I was so new to trimming that this would be a BIG learning curve.

Spring 2017 – His worst episode to date:

  • I started suspecting that alfalfa was causing trouble, so I started feeding him before working him.  I found that within 15-20 minutes of eating he was having mild spasms.  So, we began a couple of months of searching out new feeds, most of them failing miserably.
  • About 2 days before the UM trip (see next paragraph), he had to stay in due to weather – I’ve only kept him in a couple of times, but this day he seemed particularly miserable.  He banged his right hind fetlock on something and it swelled up, but didn’t seem to bother him too much.
  • March 20, 2017 – 8 hour round trip trailer ride to University of Missouri to remove an eyelid tumor. A long trailer ride is hard on any PSSM horse, but this guy is especially sensitive to trailering.  This is the second time, last time was about 3 years ago.  He lost a bit of blood, and they took more this time than last time.  He made the trailer ride up there in pretty good shape, but after 2 hours of stall and procedure he started having spasms. We rested outside and ate some grass, he refused water, and after about 30 minutes (and time for the IV Banamine to kick in) he seemed okay.   So we loaded into the trailer, with hay for him to eat, and took off.  I stopped 10-15 minutes later for gas and he was in full sweat and spasm, so I filled up the tank and took him to a less congested area to get out and eat a bit more.   After another 45 minutes we left again, and I just kept us moving as quick but cautiously as possible.  About another 2 hours in, I stopped and checked him – mild spasms.  We rested a bit (couldn’t let him out) and I tried to get him to eat more hay – he did.  Another 2 hours, and finally he’s home.  He’s still spasming (the IV Banamine didn’t stop this episode at all), but after 45 minutes of resting, eating, and finally drinking, he’s feeling much better and can go out for the night (it was almost 11pm by this time).
Jax – PSSM horse spasms
  • A couple of weeks after the trip, this crack started growing from the banged up fetlock:

Summer and Fall 2017 of our PSSM Horse Rehab – things are finally starting to going well:

  • Hoof trimming – I’d been following the ABC Method from a distance, and things were starting to click.  I decided I’d start slow, take small bits, and see what happened.  I started removing impacted bar along the frog in July, and found that his hooves were completely locked with impacted bar!  Before starting this trim he couldn’t do rocky trails, even with boots on, without stumbling like his feet hurt. Always remember that a big part of PSSM horse rehab is hoof health! I know I sound like a broken record, but OMG is this a huge part of getting these guys feeling better!

Jax PSSM horse – muscles letting loose after hoof trim
  • I’m upping his mileage and adding trot work, both in the arena and on the trail.  I’ve read that endurance horses are more efficient at utilizing glycogen, and my research has lead me to believe that raising his endurance/stamina will make his muscles more efficient – it seems to be working! We’re averaging 2-3 miles per day, and getting about a 5 mile ride in each week. Can a PSSM horse follow these same rules of building efficiency in utilizing glycogen?? Click here for a more in-depth look at my PSSM horse rehab regime.
  • Feed changes – started Renew Gold around this time, and started raising fat – up to 1 cup of canola oil
  • Baking soda – 1.5 tbsp per day – haven’t needed any banamine since starting (except for one very long but mild episode caused by abscesses in August).
  • Our PSSM horse rehab plan is beginning to work! His muscles are finally beginning to loosen up!  I found a nice trick to help loosen muscles (click for full details) – I mixed epsom salt in a large bucket of warm water, then soaked a large towel in it.  I draped it over his lumbar and hindquarters, and let him hang out in the sun and eat some grass (he’s not overly-intolerant of grass, he just can’t be on it full-time).  After about 15 minutes, I resoaked the towel and draped it over his back and withers.  After another 15 minutes, I resoaked and draped over his lumbar and hindquarters again.  This was the result!
Jax – PSSM horse – loose muscles
  • Myofascial Release – August 2017 – I found a method to release the fascia, and had major results in only 2-3 days! Another important thing to remember is that a big part of PSSM horse rehab is myofascial release! Since the muscles are encased in fascia, that fascia better be healthy to help rather than impede these compromised muscles.
  • The canter is back, and while it could use some balance and finesse, it’s there!  During a trail ride we left the group, then cantered over 1/2 mile straight on our way home! 
  • In July we participated in a “play day” with some friends, with lots of games, gymkhana, and other fun stuff.  Then in October we did another Halloween ride with 5 obstacles to “spook” the horses.  At the obstacle in the pic below, another horse had just freaked out and bucked it’s rider off about 10 feet from us!  Jax stood and watched, then walked up to the canoe, I grabbed some candy, and he calmly walked back up to the trail.  Such a good boy!
Left: My PSSM horse Jax, 10 months after diagnosis and proper management, at our first “play day” with some friends. Right: Jax, 14 months after diagnosis and proper management started, still riding in bareback pad, Oct. 2017, Photography by Karin
  • I feel it’s important to make a note on “spookiness” here.  I’ve come off of Jax at least 30 times in the 6 years I’ve owned him due to spookiness.  The worst of it was when he was going symptomatic (this was before I knew he was a PSSM horse).  Jax has always been a nervous sort, but once I found the proper management for him, he really calmed and became the steady horse I knew was in there.

Winter 2017-2018 – It’s Official, This PSSM Horse Won’t Be Retired Anytime Soon:

  • We’re finally starting to use our treeless Trekker Luxus saddle!  We had used it here-and-there, but he wasn’t real comfortable with it.  As his diet, hooves, athleticism, and overall health keep improving, his back and shoulders are more comfortable, and the structure of the saddle is no longer an issue for him!  Our current winter setup (pic below) is a Back On Track liner velcroed to the blue Hilason gel western pad, with Trekker saddle, and small rump warmer.  The BOT liner is integral to keeping his back nice and loose during our rides (see more about infrareds and how helpful they are here).  On really cold days, I’ll throw a bareback pad over his blankets so I don’t have to uncover him (though I do reach under and brush him to make sure nothing’s under there).
PSSM horse rehab – an exhausted but happy pony after a rigorous indoor ride.
  • Our mileage is going up!  We’re averaging 3-4 miles per day, with longer rides of 5-6 miles at least twice a week (weather permitting).  Our shorter rides usually consist of quite a bit of trot work.  Our arena rides usually consist of pole and canter work now, with some lateral work included. See my PSSM Horse Rehab post to see a more detailed explanation of my rehab process with Jax. See my PSSM Horse Rehab exercises to get some ideas on things that helped to supple my horse!
  • Hoof trimming – starting to remove retained sole and smeared bar:
7/6/17 – Right front – all 4 feet had developed a “toe callus”, and I perceived it as a good thing – it wasn’t!

9/20/17 – Left front – lateral bar crack that had abscessed 2 months previous (see medial bar crack on 11/20)

11/13/17 – Left front – massive bruising under the “toe callus” that I removed

11/20/17 – Left front – abscess crack in impacted medial bar – lots of bruising under where this “pinched”.

  • PSSM Horse Rehab vs. Hoof Rehab – are they the same thing? Well, probably not – but the saying “No hoof, no horse” goes double for a PSSM horse.
  • After the very first major sole/bar trim on 11/26/17, I no longer needed boots for trail rides.  The gravel driveway that he hated to cross was no problem (very little gravel – it should never have been a problem!).  The rocky creek beds that he started balking at while wearing boots – he was crossing it without boots with no issues!  And those thin soles?  They thickened – I’ve been taking bar material religiously, tiny slivers about every other day, and I can’t push his soles with my thumbs.  Trails that he’s never been able to do barefoot (and recently he couldn’t even do booted) are no trouble for him now – I can’t believe the difference this trim is making for him!  While he gimped around his pasture last winter, this winter he stomps along wherever he pleases, without a single care to where his feet are going to land – it makes sense that his muscles would do so much better, I just never believed there was still so much pathology in his hooves, or that this would be the way to fix it! He still can’t go down gravel roads, but that’s literally the only place that’s still iffy for him.
  • Blanketing with 380g over an infrared blanket (ceramic coated thread to hold in body heat and loosen muscles), with a 200g neck cover when lows get down into the teens.  I added a 300g under the 380g if it was going to get to 0*F or below.  He’s only had one mild episode this winter, and it’s when I unblanketed in the indoor thinking it was warm enough in there to work without tack/blankets, and he started tucking up.  I immediately put his blankets back on and he was instantly better.  Update February 2021 – it’s so fun to come back and see the beginnings of certain things. Jax is now 100% in winter – but in anything under 20*F he’s now in 900g (!) of blankets plus an infrared and neck cover! # PSSM Horse Problems lol.
PSSM horse rehab – a warm, happy boy in his heavy blankets with infrared underneath.
  • He hasn’t stayed in a single night/day this winter.  He also doesn’t sweat under the enormous amounts of blankets he’s sometimes in, so I think we’ve finally found what he needs to stay out and keep moving.
  • Feed is still the same as above, with a few tweaks for winter such as B vitamins, copper, zinc, and the addition of chia seeds!  Chia seeds have lots of antioxidants and other good things, they help sooth the stomach, and he’s been doing really well with them! Update 2021: A lot of people on the forums are using chia seeds for their PSSM horses with good results, so this is one I’d put on the short list if you’re looking for more feed ideas!

Moving Forward:

11/29/17 – Last full body shot for this PSSM horse for a few months, as I’m not removing and leaving blankets off for any length of time in this cold weather.  His hindquarters are still a bit weak, but his back and shoulders are beginning to muscle up (and loosen up).

I’m still working on Jax’s feet, and he continues to get better by the day.  He no longer has major reactions to the trims, such as “pinging” muscles or propping his head on the bar, so I assume his comfort level is overall higher now.  As winter falls away and we get warmer weather again, I’ll be upping his mileage back to where we left off, and I’m hoping to get him to 10 mile rides by this summer [sadly as of 2021 this hasn’t happened yet. We got up to 5-6 miles but after moving a few times and no close trails, our distances lowered drastically. This year we’re back up to 6 miles, so again I’m looking forward to that 10 mile goal!].  We’re working on lead changes currently, and I hope to get him to some local trails this year.  I’m hoping we’ll bypass the yearly “tender hooves” that happens every June, and that he’ll continue crunching rocks as he’s doing now.    Update: in 2020 we finally had a year with no laminitis! I believe it’s due to calcium supplementation.

More links and research for (PSSM horses and) non-PSSM horses, focusing on hooves:

Dr. Kerry Ridgeway: Feet or Hooves, the Fascial Connection

The Long Toes in Horses: A Pain in the Butt?

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