June 13, 2023

Neuromuscular Condition: Kentucky Trust

If you’ve ever had a love for horses, you know it’s something you never outgrow. No matter how busy life may get, the love of riding never completely fades away. It’s not just the privilege of riding that we fall in love with, but the bond that we get to build with the horse.

This theory held true for Tracey Hogan who spent years watching her daughter take riding lessons at Chastain Horse Park. Deep down, Tracey just couldn’t shake the feeling that she too would love to climb back in the saddle. So, the riding lessons began and Tracey fell in love with the “horse life” all over again.

Meet Kentucky Trust aka Tucker

This seasoned 16 year old thoroughbred has spent his years teaching lessons and even competing in IEA shows.

Tucker quickly became Tracey’s favorite lesson horse. She states, “I would show up at the barn and see other people riding him, and think - hey, that’s my horse!” In the summer of 2017, the team at Chastain Horse Park felt Tucker had put in his time in the riding program. It was time for this special horse to build a bond with one special rider.

Lucky for Tucker, there was already one particular rider who was ready to make that claim. Tracey jumped at the opportunity to have Tucker as her very own - she was tired of seeing other people riding her horse!

Tracey had Dr. Carter vet Tucker before her purchase, but Tracey said, “I wouldn’t call it a pre-purchase, because regardless of what I was told, I was getting this horse!” Tucker checked out great and you guessed it; Tracey made her purchase!

Tracey and Tucker continued their lessons, and Tucker seemed to really be enjoying his lightened work load. Over the winter months, Tracey and her trainer began to notice that Tucker seemed uncomfortable and aggitated. Tracey said, “We also noticed muscle spasms and a decrease in his energy level.” Tucker just didn’t seem right and they didn’t quite know why.

Dr. Carter was called out and after examining Tucker’s diet and body condition, the decision was made to place Tucker on Vitamin E. Without completing any further testing, his muscle stiffness and change in energy level could be contributed to mild symptoms of PSSM (Polysaccharide storage myopathy). A watchful eye would be placed on Tucker to wait and see if he had a positive response to his diet change.

For a while, this seemed to do the trick for Tucker. His energy level still seemed a little off and so did his weight, but Tracey felt it may just be Tucker getting older.

In February 2018 came the definitive answer and turning point for Tucker. He started to go down during a ride and in an effort to catch his balance, he bolted up. His sharp and unexpected movement sent Tracey tumbling. Tracey and her trainer immediately knew this was not Tucker - he was hurting; something was really wrong. Tracey states, “The silver lining of my fall, is that it opened our eyes to the need for further investigation as to what was going on with Tucker.”

Dr. Carter was called to come out, and he decided to perform a muscle biopsy. Dr. Carter revealed, “When you know a horse’s diet, and see the fast onset muscle atrophy that Tucker was experiencing, further testing is critical.”

Testing revealed Myofibrillar myopathy, which is a form of exercise intolerance similar to PSSM. Dr. Carter explains, “When horse owners think of neuromuscular, they automatically think of PSSM, however there are many other conditions out there and they can be managed with proper diet and exercise.” He also explains, “Often, horses with neuromuscular diseases deal with them their whole life - it goes unnoticed until they hit a breaking point. Tucker finally reached this breaking point.”

Now, Tracey, who was dealing with her own injuries from the fall, would have to nurse herself and Tucker back to health. Tracey states: “Word of advice, do not trust Dr. Google - don’t even go down that dark path and start reading.” She was so upset and scared after reading things that may not even apply to her horse!

Dr. Carter assessed Tucker’s situation and developed a plan specific for his needs and diagnosis. He assured Tracey that this was manageable.

Dr. Carter states, “I credit Tracey and the trainers at Chastain Horse Park for Tucker’s remarkable improvement. They listened to this horse when he was giving them signs that something was not right, rather then just crediting it to misbehavior.

These horses give us so much more than we ever truly realize. Like Tracey says, “It’s not always about what a horse can do for us, but we what can do for them.”

Concerned Your Horse Has A Neuromuscular Condition? Signs To Look For:

  • Non descriptive poor performance. As Dr. Carter states, “Your horse is just not right, but you don’t know why.”
  • Loss in muscle tone or topline. This can occur over months or even weeks.
  • Weak or loss of energy, but diet and workload is the same.

Take Away:

  • Listen to your horse. They give us hints when something is wrong - don’t just attribute it to misbehavior.
  • Dr. Google is not your friend.
  • Diagnostics and testing are your best friend. When we know exactly what is wrong, we can formulate the best plan for a successful treatment.