By: Darlene M. Cox
Now that warm weather has returned, we are all chomping at the bit to get our horses back into shape and ready to take on the many trail rides of the season. In our eagerness to return to the trails, we may skip a step or two in the conditioning process for our horses or perhaps speed up the process, working them a little longer and harder than what may be prudent.
Overworked horses may experience a condition called "tying up", which is also known by a host of other names, such as: azoturia, rhabdomyolysis, exertional myopathy, and Monday morning sickness. While the science of this condition is not fully understood, it basically boils down to the horse having an all-over-the-body muscle cramp caused by toxins that build up in the muscles.
Exercise is the predisposing factor to the onset of tying-up and muscle degeneration resultant from high levels of lactic acid and low oxygen in the muscle tissues. Feeding a high-carbohydrate diet during training down times (i.e., feeding the same amount to your horse at leisure as when working) will put your horse at risk of tying up. There are other mitigating factors that may figure into susceptibility, and these include: electrolyte balance, vitamins, and stress levels.
Most occurrences of tying up are fairly mild, but sometimes the condition can lead to severe kidney problems or death. It is important that veterinary intervention be obtained immediately to avoid resultant muscle/kidney damage. It is important that you be able to recognize the signs of tying-up, which may present similar to those of colic with the exception that tying-up will always occur after a horse has been worked.
The most common signs of your horse tying-up are:
- Notable discomfort - flared nostrils, anxiousness, pawing ground, sweating, pale gums
- Short-strides/muscle stiffness, particularly in the hind quarters
- Bunching up/cramping up of muscles across the croup and hindquarters
- Elevated pulse/respiration
- Dark colored urine, or straining to urinate several times
What you should do if you believe your horse is tying-up:
- Call your veterinarian immediately and provide him with a synopsis of vital signs: pulse, respiration, etc. Describe to him what your horse is experiencing.
- Blanket your horse to prevent chills, which will exacerbate the muscle cramping
- Offer your horse water and encourage him to drink. Water will flush his kidneys of the toxins built up in his muscles.
- Do not move your horse, as any movement will further damage his muscles
- Do not allow your horse to lie down
- Do not administer any pain or other meds to your horse without veterinarian approval
- Feed a low carbohydrate/high fat diet
- When not working your horse adjust the amount of grain fed.
- Warm-up your horse before exercise, and then cool him down afterwards. 10-15 minutes of walking before and after should adequately warm-up/cool down your horse.
- Do not over-exercise your horse.