This is a very important topic to me, as everyone who knows me knows that my mare Ditsy was diagnosed with this in June 2017 so I want to share her story and how we successfully got her managed from strict diet and routine. I feel it needs to be spoken about more and people to be aware of how to recognise it, how to manage it and most importantly breeders doing their part to prevent it spreading further and just to help people have a basic knowledge of what it is.
Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy (PSSM), also called Equine Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy (EPSM or EPSSM), is likely an inherited condition.
It was a few days after Ditsy's 7th birthday, ( ironically the word is that some only present with PSSM after the 7th birthday and the theory is that is when they stop maturing. so it allows the glycogen to build up more) There was no warning when ditsy had her first tie up, nothing prior leading up to it. We went competing one weekend, she had Sunday off to rest and Monday after warming up and starting in to start suddenly she felt lazy and began dragging her back legs. I immediately dismounted.
She was trembling all over and seemed unsteady, I had never seen this before and my instant thought was that she was having a heart attack or seizure.
She was unable to walk properly and it took a good hour to get her into her stable that was only a few steps away. She began vigorously pouring the ground, wanting to role but couldn't. It looked like she had colic but I could see all her muscles twitching and cramping almost like worms were under her skin.
The vets came out with in the hour, by these point she had settled and was tired. They diagnosed her with suspected laminitis and took blood tests. They made me trot her up, which now I know was the wrong thing to do and the vets should of never made me do this. She was on box rest for 6 weeks. She still wasn't getting better, following vets instructions it got to the point where I took it upon my self to dig deeper. Muscle and weight was falling off her by the day and she looked like a bag of bones. It was clear that the vets had no clue on what was wrong with her. After nights of spending hours researching I found PSSM, I was almost adement this is what she had it all made sense. I had to write I formal complaint to the vets to demand they test for it, they had no clue what it was and said it was unlikely.
They came to take bloods, later that week she was diagnosed with PSSM. Then the hardwork started, vets couldn't advise me on how to manage her as it wasnt somthing they had come across before. The vet dealing with her case hadn't long been qualified so I asked head vet to deal with Ditsy in future as he had some knowledge on the condition but still had only seen one case in all his years being a vet.
He came every two weeks in the beginning to take Ditsy's bloods, they would test the CK levels to see if they were raised. They were for a long time but gradually came down. When CK levels are raised muscle damage can occurring and we thing because Ditsy's were so high for so long it resulted in muscle wastage. Dark urine in a PSSM horse can be a something to watch out for. Once Ditsy's bloods were at normal level work began, it's been a very rocky road with lots of ups and downs, we didn't know if she would ever be able to work again but we was determined as she wasn't a horse that would be able to retire and her condition made her unable to manage grass/Haylage.
Firstly we found the correct diet for her, not all are the same in terms of what they can manage but after lots of trial and testing we found she couldn't manage balancers. Feeds should be ideally under 12% sugar and starch all together. Ditsy has fast fibre, micronised linseed (energy source), selenavite ( selenium deficiency) vitamin e, magnesium, amino acids ( improve muscle wastage) salt. The vitamin e must not be synthetic as they dont utilise it as well. I found the biggest improvement was after adding vitamin e magnesium and micronised linseed. Her hay is weighed 10 - 12kg per day in the winter months she gets a little more. If she gets much more than this she becomes symptomatic.
Symptomatic can be anything from lameness, stiffness, snatch on the leg, muscle twitches, stiff muscles, laziness, appearing tired and being reluctant to work choppy in stride and disuniting. These are Ditsy's symptoms but all have their own which you begin to notice over time.
We brought ditsy into work gradually, starting with in-hand walking up to ground work, we found pole work really helped a lot with helping engaging through her back. She is worked 6 days a week but her day off is loose schooling. It's important to warm up and cool down for atleast 10/15 minutes and during winter months add an exercise sheet if it's cold. Cold weather is your worse enemy and can make it hard to keep muscles supple. In summer months avoid alot of sweating, if it cant be helped you can use electrolytes or salt. We use a table spoon of salt per day. Your PSSM horse is likley to need extra rugging than your normal horse, my gelding is currently toasty at night but ditsy is still needing a fleece in 10-15 c in june. Holding the ear for feeling your horses warmth isnt allways accurate, it can be better holding your palm on the whither area.
Ditsy is now in full work and as close to the old Ditsy as we can get her, she's as fit as an eventer in a cobs body. There are still days where she struggles in terms of ridden work maintaining an outline has been a struggle on and off since diagnosis but we take each day as it comes. It hasn't been easy but seeing her pain free makes the struggle worth it. It has been very hard coming to terms with the condition and in the beginning I felt I had her stolen from me in the blink of an eye but even if they cant do what they used to they can still have quality of life and you can enjoy your horse. It is possible even if its not entirely the same as before.
Both ditsy and her sister have PSSM, both of the same mare. This is why I feel if you are a breeder it's so important to do a testing and it's as little as £30 through hair strand test or blood test. There is many different types of PSSM type 1 and 2 seems to be most common. Testing before breeding can save alot of heart ache for owners and give horses a better future. There is many out there that go undiagnosed and suffer the pain daily.
Thankyou for reading, i think I have just about covered most areas of my experience with pssm. if anyone has anymore questions/ needs help regarding pssm please feel free to contact me via facebook / Instagram.