Sunday, November 04, 2007

EPSM/PSSM and a Quarter Horse Named Doc

Since I wrote this three years ago, there has been an increased awareness of equine neuro-muscular disorders by horse owners and their veterinarians. Draft-crosses are becoming popular - spurred by PMU mare/foal rescues many are being ridden by new or first-time horse owners - and their susceptibility to "traditional" draft horse neuro-muscular issues often forces their owners into a sharp learning curve. (See The Bigger They Are...)
The EPSM group - a group of owners of horses with EPSM/PSSM which includes not only draft horses but warm bloods - many trained at high levels of dressage - and some light horse breeds has become more active. Eleanor Kellon, VMD has been working with group members helping them develop and fine tune treatment protocols and her course on Neuro and Muscular Disorders expands on the information from the earlier Nutrition as Therapy program. While feed companies scramble to develop new ways to market "magic feed", Dr. Kellon's approach begins with sound nutritional foundations based on NRC guidelines and a basic understanding of how the parts of the equine body works - no gimmicks or magic bullets.

Claire's story about their Quarter Horse Doc is a must read if you have a horse that is displaying any of the signs of Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy (PSSM).

In 2001, Doc displayed many of the symptoms commonly associated with PSSM, including
  • cranky when asked to canter both under saddle and on a line.
  • when he was young he would buck, as he matured he would swish his tail angrily
  • extremely hard muscles even when out of shape
  • backs up very slowly and reluctantly
  • seems uncomfortable when asked to pick up his back legs
  • difficulty picking up his right lead
  • unexplained episodes of back soreness
  • stiff, choppy gaits, he was never relaxed and rhythmical
  • tripping, which we attributed entirely to his Navicular Disease/Syndrome
  • quivering chest muscles, especially when waiting for his feed
  • at times Doc did not want to be groomed, acting as if he was going to bite
  • a history of tying-up

Finally getting a correct diagnosis, Claire was able to place Doc on a simple targeted nutrition plan with the help of equine nutrition specialist, Eleanor Kellon, VMD, which has alleviated his symptoms.

Read Claire's article to see how applying research and science can provide a straight forward approach to sorting out this often baffling condition.

And check out the EPSM/PSSM group at for support and see how the latest updates on diet and using ALCAR (Acetyl L-Carnitine) or L-carnitine protocols are working.

Other EPSM/PSSM resources -

University of Minnesota Equine Center
Tests available at the U of Mn Veterinary Diagnostic Lab

Source for Acetyl L-Carnitine (ALCAR)
NutraBio bulk products


  1. I have recently been sold a horse with PSSM. I have no idea what kind of future I can expect with this horse. He is incredibly talented and sweet, but currently unridable. Am I doomed to a life of test, tribulations and frustrations in trying to get this horse healthy and keep him that way?

  2. The basic first step is to get him on a low sugar/low starch mineral balanced diet, similar to what we would do for an Insulin Resistant horse - preferably a grass hay that you send for analysis to Equi-Analytical. This might not be enough to contain symptoms but should be the starting point. On the brighter side, none of the nutritional support approaches is expensive - i.e. no high priced "magic bullets".
    Have you confirmed the PSSM with DNA testing?

  3. Yes, I have a confirmed PSSM test, blood. . and muscle biopsy. I have had him on low starch grass hay and high fat supplements (which are expensive) mainly because he needs to keep more weight on than the hay alone allows, and he's still tying up with minimal work. Any further advice?

  4. These symptoms sound like the symptoms my mare is beginning to show. Right down to difficulty with the right lead! I am now reseaching PSSM for my QH mare. What are Docs bloodlines? My mares are :

    I am thinking of doing the hair sample DNA testing.

  5. I have a mare that was given to me as a great childs horse. We took a chance on her thinking she may have just needed chiropractic work. After a year of trying to figure it out I finally heard anout pssm. I have had her on the low starch diet for about 2 months now and she is out of pain as far as I can see. She is walking without a hitch and is starting to be able to trot, although it's still a little painful. How long will it take for a full recovery? [ assuming she will make a full recovery.] She does have a small amount of muscle damage.

    I will be documenting her on my blog



  6. are signs of PSSM shown from a early age?

  7. Hello ~
    I don't believe young horses will show obvious signs of PSSM but this is something I couldn't answer for certain. I would suggest having the DNA test done - see the U of Minnesota's Neuromuscular Diagnostic Lab site at
    A mineral balanced low sugar/low starch diet - i.e. one that provides adequate protein and energy but avoids glycemic spikes - is good for any growing horse and, if properly managed, you may never see actual symptoms or signs in a PSSM positive horse.

  8. I apologize that several of the above comments were unanswered as I didn't get the notifications (settings have since been fixed).
    There is a Yahoo group dedicated to EPSM/PSSM at
    which has a wealth of information and experience working with affected horses. Dr. Eleanor Kellon is veterinary advisor to this group and has helped many members with affordable options.
    I recommend this group as an excellent resource if your horse has or you suspect PSSM/EPSM.