A ‘Problem Horse’: Coping with EPSM, an Update

Jody Webb assumed her horse was colicking. Her vet assumed he was colicking. But horses have a way of surprising us all.

From Jody:

Never Assume!

You may recall my post from last year about Gideon, a “Problem Horse” who has EPSM (Equine Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy). Well since that time Gideon has remained fairly stable, though we did wade our way through a couple of bouts of colic which is pretty common for him when the cold weather hits. So when the call came that he was rolling in his stall and acting grumpy, here I am thinking it’s yet another case of gas colic.

As a person who owns the perpetually broken horse, I am very much in sympathy with Holly Mooney who wrote “Oh My God, My Horse is Broken” (Horse Nation, March 3, 2014). However, this case of “colic” turned out to be like no other.

When I arrived at the barn, my friend and barn help Michelle was walking Gideon in the arena but I could see something was very different this time. About every 10 steps Gideon would stumble and lift his feet very high in the air. My first thought was “Oh no, either he has twisted or ruptured something– this is not the normal kind of colic.”

One of the things I have learned to do with a colicking horse is a water enema. This is not for the squeamish but when you have a horse that you could set the winter clock by his colics, this is something that is as essential as a bulk box of pain relievers, tummy herbs, and an expensive blanket that wraps clear around the torso. However, none of my normal “tricks” were working this time around.

After an aggravating four hour wait (busy day at the vet’s!), which of course meant four hours of walking, the vet strolls in. My regular vet was out for the day so someone who had never seen Gideon was sent to help us out.

She checked gut sounds, did that lovely deep arm probe up the backside and told me she can’t find any blockages. This was of course after a mainline injection of Banamine and a pony-sized dose of something that made my very wimpy 16 hand horse nearly fall on his backside.

Now I’m no beginner where colicking horses are concerned. Gideon’s stomach rumbles can normally be heard across the barn and when they can’t be heard, everyone worries. My AQHA mare Senti (short for Sentimental) had colic surgery before I owned her and has cold colicked on me a couple of times. This in every way seemed like a colic episode, even to the vet though she couldn’t pinpoint a blockage.

And then it happened…

After the vet left with a pocket full of my money, a blood and a stool sample, and an assertion that because I use natural dewormers and not chemicals that the only option was my very healthy looking horse MUST be full of parasites…I walked a very dopey Gideon back to his stall. Now you’ve got to understand that Gideon WILL NOT and I do mean WILL NOT pee anywhere but his stall. So immediately upon re-entering his stall, Niagra Falls came forth! AND…IT…WAS…BROWN.

Anyone with a vet degree, a vet tech, or anyone who knows anything about EPSM knows brown pee is a VERY bad thing. This huge episode that looked like a colic, acted like a colic, SMELLED like a colic, was actually not a colic. It was a very severe tie-up episode like I have never seen before. After a year and a half of being extremely stable (tie-up wise) and after two mild colic episodes already this winter, who wouldn’t make that assumption? For those of you who missed the class on “Tying up,” imagine severe muscle cramps over your entire body. (For more information on tying-up, EPSM and other metabolic related diseases, read this.)

This is a perfect example of my motto in life, “NEVER ASSUME.” Even the vet assumed it was some type of colic, though her assumption was it was triggered by a massive parasitic infestation. I assumed it was a colic episode as it was showing all the same symptoms. If I hadn’t seen the brown urine, I would not have known until days later what had happened.

You see, after a tie-up episode, a horse will not only be very sore, weak in the hind end, grouchy, and unwilling to move at more than a snail’s pace but a post tie-up episode will cause a horse to lose weight. As it attempts to shed glycogen out of the muscles, the body will shed actual muscle tissue.


A ribby Gideon after his first tie-up in 2010.


Gideon six months later with weight regained thanks to a stabilized diet.

This is usually seen first in the rump area and then followed by loss of weight in the topline. By knowing what the issue actually was, I was able to give Gideon detox herbs and extra salt to get him drinking plenty of water.

This in turn caused him to flush the toxins out of his body quickly enough so that there was no noticeable weight loss…this time.

The moral to this story is of course NEVER ASSUME. Whether you are a lay person who knows your animal really well, or a vet brought onto the scene, things are not always as they seem. As to the rest of the story, the blood worked confirmed it was a tying-up episode. And the stool sample?

ZERO and let me reiterate, ZERO signs of parasites! After four years of using only natural deworming treatments as well as prevention protocols, I am happy to report that I have successfully kept parasitic infestations under control.

Gideon is fully recovered and back to being his normal sassy self.

Jody Webb is the “Solepreneur” of AverageJo Equine, with a line of all natural supplements for horses and dogs. Her Wild Horse and Wild Dog line of products is the focus of years of research with the goal of taking your pets away from chemical laden feeds and supplements and taking them back to as close to nature as is possible in a tamed environment. With her three horses, two dogs, two cats, various rescue horses and their individual issues, there are plenty of willing volunteers with which to perfect each product. This desire came upon finding her then new horse Gideon was suffering from a metabolic disorder called EPSM. Though this disorder can never be cured and there will always be lifelong health issues for Gideon, he has gone from a cranky, underweight and severely in pain train wreck to a sassy and healthy looking beast! Jody is now taking her knowledge learned from owning such a difficult animal to moving on and helping other horse and dog owners have healthier, happier pets. Her writing comes out of the joys and pains of owning such a challenging animal. Learn more about all-natural horse products at Jody Webb’s blog, WildHorseProducts.coms.


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