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How to Manage and Prevent Tying-Up

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As spring slowly fades to summer and the scorching sun reaches its hottest point, paying particular attention to your horse’s health becomes more important than ever. Tying-up is a common complication many horse owners face, especially during the warmer months. We’ll help you understand what’s really going on and how you can prevent and manage tying-up in your horse.

The medical term for tying-up is known as “Exertional Rhabdomyolysis syndrome” or ER for short. A horse experiencing ER could fall under 2 different cases: Sporadic or chronic. Sporadic ER occurs when a horse isn’t conditioned properly and pushes beyond their fitness level. Most horses love to run, especially after a long winter. Don’t mistake their eagerness for fitness. Horses will often push themselves too far and end up quite sore in 2 or 3 days.

While chronic ER shares some similar characteristics to sporadic ER, there’s some key differences that are important to understand. Chronic ER can be divided into recurrent exertional rhabdomyolysis (RER) and polysaccharide storage myopathy (PSSM). RER is a heritable trait resulting in muscle necrosis during exercise, mainly in Thoroughbreds (though it can affect Standardbreds and Arabians). PSSM differs in that it’s caused by increased glycogen storage and abnormal polysaccharides in skeletal muscle. PSSM predominantly affects Quarter horses but has also been seen in a variety of other breeds including Paints, Warmbloods, Appaloosas, Morgan horses and draft breeds.

Despite their differences, both RER and PSSM can be managed in a similar way. Both conditions respond well to decreasing sugars and starches and increasing fats in a horse’s diet.

Both sporadic and chronic tying-up share similar symptoms: Muscle stiffness and pain, sweating, blowing, trembling, reluctance to move and often brown urine that's triggered by exercise. While muscular aches and pains are not something you can easily "see", they tend to manifest themselves as back and gait stiffness, sluggishness, a poor attitude towards work, and even the development of vices and refusals.

There are a number of steps you can take to avoid tying-up. Keep a consistent, gradual exercise schedule and avoid pushing your horse beyond what is healthy (especially if you’ve missed a couple days of training). Increased exercise on random, hot, humid days may also cause tying-up because of high body temperatures, loss of fluid and electrolytes and depletion of muscle energy stores. Horses should not be exercised if they have a fever, cough, nasal discharge, or other signs of respiratory compromise.

Diet can also help manage and prevent tying up. Appropriate caloric intake levels and adequate vitamins and minerals are the core elements of treating sporadic tying-up. It’s also vital to make sure your horse has plenty of access to clean, fresh water.

Horses suffering from chronic tying-up can also be managed specifically to decrease the adverse effects of the disease. They should be fed a minimum of 1.5% of their bodyweight in grass or legumes daily. Avoid hay and grass that has increased carbohydrate concentration.  Grains and molasses should also be removed from their diet.

For these horses, a diet high in fiber and fat that’s also low in grain (sugar and starch) is therapeutic. Standlee Premium Western Forage recommends Alfalfa Bales, Cubes or Pellets as well as Chopped Alfalfa or Beet Pulp. Use the buttons below to learn more about these products and find a Standlee store near you!

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