Saturday, 3 May 2014

Tying-up; how Charlie horse is managed

Keep an eye on the horse every day

In previous posts and on  Charlie's Facebook page, we have spoken about Charlie tying-up. At his worst he has cramp in his muscles so bad as to make him not want to move at all. At his best, he has aches in both flanks and hind quarters easily remedied by a gentle massage.

Charlie had one attack after another in 2013 but with better knowledge and management, he is doing really very well.

We have developed a system of management. Diet of course is vitally important to get right. Low starch low NSC feed. We feed Coolstance Copra, soaked then some dried grass added for texture.


The importance of massage cannot be overstated. Most horses love a massage but horses prone to muscle problems really benefit from having regular workouts.

Several months ago, during a tying-up attack Charlie had a massage which we videoed. In the video (linked below) you can see how he reacts and how much the massage helped him.


Regular, daily exercise for a minimum of 10 minutes helps the horse maintain fitness and this in turn helps with muscle health. Charlie has a long warm up phase and a cooling down phase. 

If Charlie shows any signs of tying-up as he works we slow him down or stop and wait. Signs include, tail swishing, his head reaching down and stretching to relieve pain, haunches tightening and development of a disunited gait.


Charlie's surroundings need to be calm and quiet. At home he is on a small yard with limited comings and goings.
Ideally horses need to have access to gallops near home too. Pain or discomfort can make the horse want to move his feet and run. Being able to allow the horse to stretch his legs reduces stress and helps relieve muscle tension. Luckily, during dry weather, Charlie is able to canter in the fields.


Muscle stiffness

Observing the muscles for signs of stiffness is a daily job. Checking them for softness. During an episode of tying-up Charlie's muscles will feel solid and tense. They may even cause his skin to pucker up on his flanks.

Charlie himself will  offer clues as to how he is feeling by trying to nibble at the affected part.


If Charlie is feeling well he is very friendly and has a soft eye. When he is preoccupied with discomfort he is grumpy and irritable and may threaten to kick or bite.

Urine colour

When there is excessive breakdown of muscle tissue, this can reveal itself in the urine. The urine becomes darker. A brownish or dark brown colour may be noticed.

Knowing what is normal for your own horse is a good thing to be aware of.

Charlie knows the drill. When he comes in every evening he produces a sample of urine in a bucket. The urine is taken at the same time of day. Because Charlie has been so unwell previously we chart the colour of urine against his diet, symptoms and level of exercise and note anything else that might have happened, such as, being wormed or going into a new field.

To train your horse to urinate into a bucket all you need to do is wait until your horse needs to pass urine then when he does, do something at the same time such as whistle softly. After just a few times you will find your horse associates the whistle with passing urine. He will then start to assume the position when you signal for him to do so.

If Charlie does not position himself when asked he is not pushed to try to urinate. It is likely he has recently been and to try again may force him to strain.

The photo to the right shows how Charlie's urine changed over a period of six weeks or so. The darker images occurred when Charlie was symptomatic.

A good team

Charlie has a team of people who understand him.
Vet - having a vet who understands his issues makes it easier to manage Charlie. He has medication if he needs it and consideration is given when he has other needs such as vaccinations.

Podiatrist - Charlie's podiatrist is acquainted with his problems and uses natural horsemanship techniques to manage Charlie with consideration and care. Horses with muscle problems, especially PSSM can find it hard to lift and hold their feet for long, to enable them to be trimmed or shod. They also tend to paw the ground a lot at times and develop characteristic wear on their feet.

Feed and feed supplier - developing a relationship with the feed merchant is vital. Charlie's feed is not in common supply. Good communication is needed to ensure constant availability. Stance Equine, who manufacture Charlie's feed, are happy to answer questions and suggest solutions.

Other liveries - everyone on the yard is aware of Charlie's problems. They know how he moves and what he looks like on good and bad days therefore, they know whether or not to be concerned.

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