When it comes to PSSM symptoms tightness is something talked about by PSSM1 & PSSM2 owners alike. But what exactly is tightness and why do PSSM horses experience this?

What Is Tightness?

Tightness is when a muscle is in a permanent state of contraction and is unable to relax.

What Causes Tightness In PSSM Horses?

-Unmanaged PSSM (when a horse is symptomatic)
Tying Up
-Exercise Intolerance
-Cold or wet weather

Where Do PSSM Horses Get Tight?

Simba- N/P4 warmblood gelding showing us the areas tightness can develop in a PSSM horse

PSSM horses can get tight in a number of areas but the most common ones include:

  • Neck
    More rare but some horses will develop tightness in the neck, and throat area making contact, and even breathing more difficult
  • Shoulder
    Some horses will develop tightness in the shoulders restricting forelimb movement and even making the horse look lame
  • Flank
    Some horses develop tightness in the flank, tightness in the flank will resemble a zig zag line where the horses obliques are contracting, this can only be seen while the horse is moving and should not to be confused with ulcers.
  • Hindquarters
    This is the most common place for PSSM horses to develop tightness, and it is usually over the top of hindquarters, however tightness can also develop through the top, sides and back of the hindquarters.

What Are The Symptoms Of Tightness?

-Firm hard muscles (firmness can vary dependent on severity of tightness)
-Twitching, flinching, aggression, or jumping away when touched in the area of tightness
-Prominent muscles/mean streaks
-Lameness
-Stilted gait or walking robotically behind
-Reluctance to move
Lethargy
-Tucked up, or muscles looking sucked up to body
-Breathing heavily and sweating profusely

How Can We Determine Tightness In A PSSM Horse?

By doing something we call the “Pat test” this is where you will pat, or feel the PSSM horses muscles in all areas where tightness could be present.

What Does Tightness Look Like In A PSSM Horse?

Once you know what to look for tightness can be really easy to spot in a PSSM horse, upon touch a horses muscles should be soft, and wobble like a jelly when doing the pat test, just like the below video:

But in a horse that’s tight the muscles will do the opposite, they will feel extremely firm, or rock hard to the touch with little, if any give in them at all as can be seen in the below video here:

The horse may also have prominent muscles/mean streaks, where the muscles are raised and clearly visible through tightness.

What Can We Do To Relieve Tightness In PSSM Horses?

It’s extremely important to try to relieve tightness in PSSM horses, because if left untreated tightness can eventually lead to a tying up episode.

But how exactly can we do this?

1. Feed Vitamin E

When muscles are tight then muscle damage could occur, especially if the tightness leads to a tying up episode. Vitamin E helps repair muscles by repairing muscle membrane tears and stopping them leaking their contents into the blood.

2. Suppling Exercises

If your horse is managed and no longer exercise intolerant, suppling exercises such as changes of flexion, lateral work, and serpentines, can aid in loosening muscles even further. Please note suppling exercises will only benefit a horse who’s not exercise intolerant, if the horse is still exercise intolerant any exercise will make them tighter and worse.

3. Get your management spot on

The best way to relieve tightness in a PSSM or MFM horse is to relieve PSSM symptoms by getting your management spot on. With PSSM & MFM there is guidelines to follow for both PSSM1 and PSSM2 but its not a one size fits all in regards to diet, exercise, and management, its about finding out what works for your horse, and really tailoring their management so it’s unique to them.