Dealing With PSSM

Hope for this painful disease is due to research and education made possible by the American Quarter Horse Foundation.

Hope for this painful disease – PSSM in horses –  is due to research and education made possible by the American Quarter Horse Foundation.

Pam Melville with An Invious Decision, aka “Jackson”
Pam Melville with An Invious Decision, aka “Jackson”

After 10 years away from the show pen, Pam Melville of Bridgton, Maine, decided it was time to get back in the saddle.

Because Pam was unable to afford a new horse of the quality she wanted, she decided to breed her mother’s 12-year-old mare, Decided To Rap, to Green With Invy. The stallion is a son of Invitation Only, whose bloodlines appealed to Pam. That is how she got An Invious Decision, aka “Jackson.” When Jackson was 2, Pam noticed something different about the gelding during his training sessions.

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“I’d start working him, and after about 10 or 15 minutes, he’d start pawing the ground, refusing to go forward, being totally obstinate,” Pam says. “At the time, I thought he was just being a naughty 2-year-old. It got to the point that I was going to give up on him.”

Amidst her frustrations Pam stumbled upon an American Quarter Horse Foundation article about Samantha Gonzalez. Samantha and her horse were directly affected by the Foundation’s programs. Samantha had received a scholarship from the Foundation, and her horse is challenged with polysaccharide storage myopathy, a glycogen storage disorder that causes the affected horse to store too much glycogen in the muscle. This causes the muscle to “tie up,” and the horse has stiff, painful muscles.

Despite the PSSM, Samantha has been able to show her horse successfully at the Youth World level, taking 10th in performance halter geldings, thanks to research and education made possible by the Foundation.

Samantha’s description of her and subsequent diagnosis lead Pam to believe that Jackson was dealing with the same issues.

The staff at the Foundation connected Pam with Samantha’s mother, Suzanne Gonzalez, and they talked through the similarities in their horses and shared advice. Pam researched PSSM and spoke with Dr. Beth Valentine at Oregon State University. Though she couldn’t afford to have him tested for PSSM, Pam’s vet recommended that Jackson be treated for PSSM. She has now found a way to manage Jackson’s problem. With an extremely regulated diet and lots of turnout, Jackson is doing much better.

Thanks to Sherrye Tafton, an AQHA Professional Horseman from Brunswick, Maine, Pam has even been able to show Jackson. They work Jackson very slowly with plenty of breaks.

“When I first started working with Jackson, he would not canter at all without behaving as if he was tying up. His muscles seemed to break down if pushed too hard for too long, and he would become resistant and unwilling,” Sherrye says. “Our approach with Jackson has been to avoid too much repetition and quit as soon as he performs an exercise correctly.”

Pam has learned many lessons from her experience with Jackson, especially that you can show a horse with PSSM. Pam also encourages horse owners to investigate if a horse is acting obstinate. Make sure there’s nothing wrong with him first, she says.

“There is still hope,” Pam says. “It is something that’s manageable. You just have to spend a little bit of extra time and upkeep and maintenance.”

The American Quarter Horse Foundation assists in funding ongoing research on PSSM and other equine disorders and illness. All it takes is “One Cure” to prolong a life, to protect a special bond, to improve the well-being of all horses.

Would you like a fun way to learn more about horse health? Purchase AQHA’s “Your Horse’s Health” DVD set, a three-disc set teaching all about how to keep your horse in great shape.

21 thoughts on “Dealing With PSSM”

  1. Thanks for using my article on here! It was a very pleasant surprise when I checked my e-mail first thing this morning! =)

  2. My Appendix, Moon Head, also has been diagnosed by different vets with PSSM. He now lives 100% outdoors with a run in shed. I work him regulary which REALLY seems to help him stay strong, and I feed ADMs Senior Glo (very low starch for my VERY hard keeper!) “Taz” occasionally still lifts his leg. We did have one really bad bout last summer when trail camping…the terrain was probably too rugged for him. I also provide him with equine massages every few months. By being more careful about where I ride him now at age 16 along with all of the other practices, I seem to have been able to keep him as comfortable as possible during the past 12 years.

  3. I have a beautiful gray quarter horse mare that was diagnosed with pssm when she was 2 and she is now 7. I have kept her very healthy and have shown her for the last 3 years by keeping her on a diet of Releve feed and hay with some alfalfa in it, plus constant turnout and exercising her at least 5 to 6 days a week. When I give her winter months off I start working her back into shape in small time increments and work her up a little bit at a time. She has the best personality and really gives me all shes got. I adore her with all my heart.

  4. I read your article and it gives me hope, my horse has been diagnosed with pssm and i feel overwhelmed

  5. My 4 yr old mare was just diagnosed with PSSM through the genetic testing available at Univ. of Minn. I am curious if AQHA has any kind of data on the bloodlines that have a genetic link to PSSM, or, if anybody doing research has any data. I’ve read a copious amount of material on PSSM and do have it under control with my mare. I understand that line breeding is an issue but am curious as to which bloodlines are dominant for the gene. My plan when I purchased her was to train her for barrels, compete, then breed her. Guess the breeding part of the plan has to be nixed.

  6. Hi,

    I have a 10 year old quarter horse mare that was diagnosed 2 years ago with Type 1 PSSM which they say is easier to manage. She is out of TNT Fluid Fred and a granddaughter of the Investor and I wondered if anyone else has had problems with these bloodlines? I bought her for my daughter and I thought at times that this mare was CRAZY! I would lounge her and ask her to lope off and she would go around a few times and them just blow up and run and run and start whinnying like a crazy horse now I realize that she was having major cramping. Here we are 2 years later and I know beyond any doubt that she has the biggest heart of any horse I have ever been around. She will pack my daighter(at age 8) around the showpen and I have to say is one of the safest and best kids Horse around. If I keep her off grass and follow the High fat diet and daily exercise with turnout as much as possible then she is great. I fear that there are alot of horses out there that get put down or abused because of diseases like this and just hope that people read these articles and get educated. You can test for PSSM now with a simple blood test.

  7. HELP….Hello again, it has not been a good summer. Just wondering if anyone who has a Horse with PSSM has had any problems with Uveitis and allergies. I noticed yesterday that her Uveitis was flared up and today the eye is completely yellow and I am just waiting on the vet to arrive. I also have had 2 mild flare ups with her PSSM in the last month. In her allergy testing she is allergic to hay, grass and everything else in a horses world. If you have anything similar please let me know as I am wondering if this stuff is not all related with the immune system.

    Thanks, Brenda

  8. My 7 yr old QH was just diagnosed with PSSM also. He had severe all over body cramping and was in horrible pain – I thought I was going to lose him. But the diet and exercise has done wonders and I hope we can keep him from ever having another bad episode. I’m still playing with different feeds trying to get the fat down him. Just when I think I have it dialed it he decides he no longer likes it. Cocoasoya oil over wet alfalfa cubes seems to work best for him. Would love to hear what works for others.

  9. Hi Jeaniene,

    I feed my mare Omegatin by Kent feeds. It is 20% fat and then I add 2 cups of Canola Oil per day to it. She is really fussy and I had a hard time to find something that she would eat but this seems to work. Does your QH have any issuses with allergies (diarrhea)or Uveitis? Thanks,


  10. Hi, I have a coming 2 year old paint gelding, Just purchased him as a yearling in July 10. Got him home all was well, went to the barn one morning and thought he had colic, more I watched him looked more like a tye up. He had four tye ups in 3 months. Talk about frustrating. I had a stallion about 15 years ago and never new what this problem was at the time but did find a high fat diet and Dynamite Easy boy worked well for him. So I put my new gelding on a high fat diet and does seem to be doing better. I am having problems with abcesses, first a hind foot now a bad sole abcess in a front foot, so makes turn out for him very difficult and our weather is very wet right now. Seems like after every tye up he has a foot problem. He has tested positive for PSSM at Minn State Labs.
    This is so frustrating. Help! any ideas, I did just purchase some hoof wrap for him for turnout. Thanks Jackie & Sunny

  11. My 6 yr old mare was just diagnosed with this, also. Brenda Lee, she has The Investor right off her papers via Investment Asset, and also has trouble with allergies in the summers.

    I feed orchard grass hay; bermuda grass is not available in my area. Is there another low-sugar grass hay option? She’s a fairly easy keeper – alfalfa is too much for her.

  12. My quater/cross mare tied up 1.5 yrs ago. She was 7, but had only been under saddle 8 months. She had been a quiet horse with a good swinging trot under saddle at the beginning, but rushed and seemed off balance when cantering on the lunge, so we took a few months to get to cantering under saddle. As spring came, she was on lush grass 24/7, plus alfalfa and COB grain (corn, oats, and barley) as a supplement. She got more tense and anxious, and her stride turned short and choppy. Her reluctance to canter turned into major anxiety, both under saddle and on the lunge. I thought it was all training issues until she finally tied up. The month before she tied up she was being kept in a box stall with a very small run, and also had oat hay added to her diet. Basically I was doing all the wrong things for a horse with PSSM.

    Since her diagnosis I’ve changed her diet and living situation, and she has become a completely different horse. She has not tied up since, and we’ve started competing in eventing. Our only set back was 2 months in a box stall due to flooded pens. This did NOT work for her- she became explosive and tense again. She is not an easy keeper despite the high fat diet, so I feed: Teff Hay- often the lowest in NSC, and alfalfa hay. If I have to supplement with another hay that has questionable levels of NSC (various grass hays- pasture grass in this case) then I soak the hay for an hour and drain the water. She gets 1 lb rice bran pellets at night, and also gets a “sloppy” every morning which is a mix of 1 lb rice bran pellets, 1 lb beet pulp (no molasses) soaked, two cups oil, and 1 lb of a complete feed pellet called Stable Mix (fairly low NSC so it gives extra calories and makes the oil more palatable), along with two vitamin supplements, one is a Vitamin E and Selenium mix, the other is designed for muscles and has additional vitamins/minerals like magnesium, copper, and zinc. Be careful not to over feed selenium by combining supplements!

    Things I never feed: corn, oats, or barley grains, hays with large seed heads or forage types like oat, barley, wheat, etc, and nothing with added sugar or molasses.

    So far it has worked, and I’ve learned just how important a large living space is- turnout or exercise alone doesn’t cut it. Next step will be to try her out on pastures with grass again.

  13. What ever became of Jackson? Does he still show? how are his improvements? Has he had any more set backs?
    Thank you

  14. Hi Dawn, Shamrock aka “Jackson” is now with me and my family after we unknowingly bought him by Strain Family Farm of CT back in April 2011. We were unaware of ANY of this until yesterday Oct.15, 2011 when we tried to re-sell him to a different family. Up until he was “sold” he was used in hunter jumper shows at the local fairs. He is an excellent lesson horse and a spectacular jumper but he never built muscle which we found was very odd but didn’t think there was much else we could do with all the supplements and grain he was getting already. I’d love to get ahold of Pam if I could I’d like more info on what to do or how to handle this? I’m jut very confused and upset that I didnt know about this and it could have been taking care of in the first place. Please if anyone has a phone # or email to reach Pam it would be much appreciated.
    Thank You,
    Stephentown, NY

  15. Is it just me or does this desease resemble the human desease Multiple Schlerosis ? Sounds an awful lot like a equine version of MS to me.
    @Brenda Lee, My Daddy owned The Investor prior to selling him to our former trainer Jack Bensson back in the 1970’s and as far as I can recall ‘Vestor’ as we called him never exhibited any signs of this affliction,nor was it reflected in the bloodline’s health history. After Benson was killed,The Investor gradually died a slow death from what I know was grief…Vestor and Jack were soulmates and then some…Jack’s wife Shirley sold The Investor after Jack died and from what I recall his last owners (can’t think of their name) contributed no desease such as PSSM to his death. I think Vestor died literally of a broken heart he was never the same emotionally or physically after losing Jack. The two were inseperable,and connected at the soul level…ask anybody who ever knew them and they will back me up on this one.

  16. Our mare was diagnosed with PSSM about 4 years ago when she was 5 years old and we put her on a high fat diet and she has done amazing ever since. Both of my children use her on the Oregon State High School Equestrian Team. We feed her 2 cups of Soybean oil a day, a pound of safe choice grain and orchard grass hay with Horseguard vitamins and she does great! We turn her out on our 5 acre pasture every day no matter the weather and if she has time off we make sure we build her back up slowly. She has an amazing mind and is very willing. We had problems with her before we knew about the PSSM and now that we control her diet and keep her in shape she rarely has a problems/flare up. Maybe the reason horses with PSSM are so sweet after you figure out what is wrong is because they understand that you are helping them feel better.

  17. Ive had a 3 yr old filly come back after showing huge ability at 2 before she had a operation on leg . and prolonged bute antibiotics. she went to trainer after that and went back into a 3 yr old racing campaign. she tied up 6 weeks when i went and saw her and trainer said she has been hard to move the bulk weight. she has always been a muscley horse always. But I new some-thing wasn’t right she looked a different horse. she wasn’t on salt and on lucerne, oats molasses etc.
    she went into her trial and came 2nd and 3rd from quick out of gates to settling and then sprinting home great turn of foot. then she went to race and tied up. I went to see her she did not look happy and i was told he hadn’t changed her diet. she had been in 5 mnths so she needed a spell. I have her back and she so calm as i was giving her a massage until i touched her gluteus lower thigh muscle which was spongy .. she kicked out and ears back. went to do the other side and she moved away.
    Ive put her on no starch/carb diet with fat to get the vitamins into her , toxin binder as she on good grass big paddock as she was yarded before. and Ive drenched her with a kidney herbal tonic and put rosemary tea in her trough Vitamin E & Selenium . she ate it all after coming off truck.. does anyone know if their muscles can be cured and end up being successful in racing and not doing any harm or will racing harm her with the condition she has which i think is PSSM.

  18. I have 4 yr old QH mare who we are about 99.999% sure she has PSSM with the symptoms.MY confusion is hay,WHAT IS OK? WE grow our own,4-5 different fields/types so testing may be a bit pricey.I read alfalfa is OK,then not OK.Timothy? orchard grass? She is getting baled pasture from this year and last yrs second cut grass.Help?!PS she is doing well by the way! thank goodness

  19. I have a 12 year old APHA gelding that was diagnosed with PSSM when he was 2-3 years old. Tying up is not typically an issue for him, he presents with hiking his right hind leg. We live in Florida, so he turns out at night in the summer and during the day in the winter. Until a torn tendon, 2 years ago, he was an accomplished pleasure competitor. He is Impressive, top & bottom, and HYPP N/N. T-Bone eats Releve, soaked beet pulp, ground flax seed and T & A hay. He is turned out on grass and does best when worked every day. He also gets a gram of bute every morning and evening. The past month he has been worked a little less than usual, and comes out of his stall a little stiff. If he warms up at the walk and canter, he seems to loosen up for the trot in about 10 minutes. I have not found any other feeding program that keeps him as healthy and fit as the Releve, and I have never seen a horse refuse to eat it.

  20. I have a 29+ Quarter horse/morgan gelding that is confirmed PSSM. I was wondering if anyone else has had a problem with diarrehea and excessive gas? He gets grass hay, all day turnout, carbguard grain(so he will eat the oil) and oil, with a vitamin E/Selenium supplement. Any suggestions of what to add or delete to help the bouts of diarrehea?

  21. My Appendix Quarter horse Shadow Story Man has EPSM /PSSM.

    A Thoroughbred named Top Deck my horse’s great-great grandfather on his sire’s side AND my horse also has Top Deck on his dam’s side as a great-great-great grandfather.

    I’ve heard of Jet Deck, out of of Moon Deck (Moon Head owner…any relation?) who is the grandbaby of Top Deck having PSSM links.

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