Dealing With PSSM

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

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.

If you’re confused about vaccinations, equine nutrition, first aid or anything else relating to horse health, then you need the “Your Horse’s Health” DVD collection. Experts guide viewers through the basics of keeping your horse in great health.

“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.