An introduction into sore muscles!
We are well versed in all sorts of injuries and diseases that horses may have, yet not much attention is paid to the muscles of a horse. Just like humans, horses can have issues and situations that involve muscles, it’s up to you and your Veterinarian to figure things out.
Muscle issues in horses arise from four scenarios:
Secondary to an illness or sickness, such as neurological or metabolic disorders. For example, Cushing’s disease is a metabolic disorder that can reduce weight and muscle mass. Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis (EPM) is a microbe infection that affects the nervous system and muscles.
Tying up. This is commonly a metabolic condition that creates pain, excessive sweating, and the inability to move all at the same time. Conditions such as polysaccharide storage myopathy (PSSM) create tying up. Additionally, there are cases in which a horse is dehydrated and has lost electrolytes which leads to tying up. This is common for the unfit horse that is asked to work beyond his means.
Exercise and stress related exertions. Over work, repetitive motions, and smaller muscles strains that happen repeatedly all take their toll on your horse’s muscles. This can also be secondary to skeletal issues, such as the horse with the sore hind joints that compensates with a stiff and strained back. You could also put poor saddle fit into this category.
Trauma. Just as bones and ligaments can be injured, muscles can as well. A deep laceration, a night spent cast in the stall, a fall, a kick from a herd mate can all damage the muscle.
So how do you know?
Look for signs of soreness when you groom your horse. Flinching, tail wringing, pinning ears as you press and tack up is one sign. You might also find a reluctance to move forward to perform certain gaits. You might find a decrease in range of motion, lameness, tender skin, swelling, a dent in your horse or overall discomfort somewhere in his body. Of course there are many other signs, and all of these things could also be something else. Get the Vet on board and start doing some investigating.
Use your fingers and hands to check for muscle flinching as you groom!
What can you do?
Once you and your Vet narrow things down, the care plan might include rest, medications, a diet change, and even some therapeutic treatments like massage and cold or hot therapy. You might need to change saddles, create a new exercise routine, or give your horse some supplements. The most important part is noticing something is off in the first place.