CASE STUDY: KEEP­ING A STAR FOXHUNTER BUSY

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Emma James bought Mag­gie Mae as a 4-yearold in 2006 specif­i­cally for fox­hunt­ing. The Paint with Quar­ter Horse rac­ing blood­lines proved to be a star in the hunt field—brave and for­ward, but well-man­nered.

“She was great and easy to man­age in the field,” says James. “I had hunted her for three sea­sons when the horse I was us­ing for three-day event­ing passed away.”

Think­ing the mare would ex­cel at a new sport, James started pre­par­ing Mag­gie for train­ing-level events. “She was su­per fit al­ready and only got fit­ter,” says James. “I had to feed her more and more to keep weight on her. And that’s when she started to have funky episodes.”

These “funky episodes” oc­curred only dur­ing train­ing ses­sions. “She’d get tight in her back while be­ing rid­den and not want to go for­ward,” says James. “She’d be can­ter­ing and then just slow to a walk. I’d put my leg on but she’d just stop. For a while, I thought she was be­ing re­sis­tant. It hap­pened most of­ten when we were do­ing arena work, so I thought maybe she was be­ing barn sour. It was also the first year I’d asked her to do dres­sage work, so I thought maybe she re­ally didn’t like it. Why would she sud­denly de­velop an at­ti­tude af­ter be­ing so great for years? It didn’t make sense.”

When the episodes in­creased from once ev­ery few weeks to two or three times a week, James started look­ing for a phys­i­cal cause. “We did lame­ness ex­ams, check­ing her feet and back,” she says. “We did find she was sore in her back, but that could have been from the episodes she was hav­ing. She was get­ting mas­sages and ad­just­ments. I was stretch­ing her legs out be­fore I tacked her up. Just when we’d think we had it fig­ured out, she’d have an­other episode.”

The tim­ing of one of these episodes, how­ever, turned out to be lucky. “We were fox­hunt­ing,” says James. “We’d just pulled up at a check and Mag­gie started to feel tense and tight. She was tak­ing small steps. It wasn’t the same as what I’d felt in the arena. It was worse.” As fate would have it, Stephanie Val­berg, DVM, PhD, one of the world’s lead­ing author­i­ties on equine mus­cle dis­or­ders, was nearby, mounted on her own horse.

“[Val­berg] im­me­di­ately said it looked like Mag­gie was ty­ing up,” says James. “We took Mag­gie home and called Stephanie the next day, and that’s when things started to come to­gether.”

Mag­gie was trail­ered to the Uni­ver­sity of Min­nesota

for a full di­ag­nos­tic workup, in­clud­ing a mus­cle biopsy. The re­sults ar­rived a few days later, show­ing the mare had PSSM type 1. “Stephanie sent us the re­sults, along with a bunch of in­for­ma­tion about the con­di­tion so we could read up on it.”

Un­der Val­berg’s guid­ance, James took Mag­gie off con­cen­trated feed, giv­ing the mare only a min­eral bal­ancer

pel­let. She also put her on a dry lot, with no ac­cess to pas­ture. “We were go­ing into fall at that point and the grass was very rich,” she says. “In the sum­mer, the horses spend half the day on dry lot and half on pas­ture so they don’t over­graze the fields, but that fall the pas­ture was re­ally thick and the horses hadn’t eaten it down, so they were turned out more. I hadn’t re­al­ized that in the fall the grass was still so full of su­gar.”

The sec­ond part of Mag­gie’s new reg­i­men was reg­u­lar ex­er­cise. “We had blood­work done that in­di­cated a high level of mus­cle dam­age. We knew Mag­gie needed ex­er­cise, but we pro­ceeded care­fully be­cause she was still re­cov­er­ing from the dam­age she had sus­tained. We started out hand-walk­ing just three min­utes a day. It wasn’t much but it was enough to burn off the ex­cess glyco­gen.”

The hand-walk­ing rou­tine con­tin­ued through Christ­mas and then Mag­gie was started un­der sad­dle. That spring, how­ever, Mag­gie had a set­back.“I was walk­ing her with the hounds, just to get her fit,” says James, “when a few hounds broke off to chase a deer. I took off af­ter them with­out think­ing. She had only been do­ing walk and trot work un­til that point, and that one lit­tle sprint set her off. She was stiff the next day and didn’t want to go for­ward, and I knew enough by then to un­der­stand what had hap­pened. I lost most of that hunt sea­son be­cause I was so ner­vous about it hap­pen­ing again.”

James kept Mag­gie in reg­u­lar, light work through­out the re­main­der of the year and gave fox­hunt­ing an­other try the fol­low­ing sum­mer. “It took a while to fig­ure out how to keep weight on her. We ended up putting her on a 25 per­cent rice bran meal and even then it was a strug­gle. We couldn’t put her on pas­ture, or give her beet pulp or sweet feed, but she had to work all the time to keep the glyco­gen from build­ing up. Hunt­ing was a good bal­ance; she worked hard a few days a week, then the rest of the week she walked with the hounds. That wasn’t mak­ing her drop a bunch of weight, but it let her burn off the glyco­gen.”

The di­etary changes com­bined with reg­u­lar, mod­er­ate ex­er­cise seemed to be work­ing. “I hunted her the whole sea­son in the field with­out a sin­gle episode. I think we hit the right bal­ance of diet and ex­er­cise.”

Mag­gie, James learned, needed at least 15 min­utes of hand-walk­ing or a short trot­ting hack ev­ery sin­gle day, even if she spent time turned out. Once James started col­lege, how­ever, she couldn’t main­tain that sched­ule. “Af­ter my sopho­more year, we gave Mag­gie to a friend in Aiken, South Carolina,” she says. “That friend whipped in for Aiken hounds and two other pri­vate hunts in the area with Mag­gie.”

The change of lo­ca­tion made a world of dif­fer­ence to the mare. “As soon as she went to Aiken, she stopped hav­ing episodes,” says James. “The soil there is very sandy and the grass and hay are a lot less rich. Diet is a huge part of man­ag­ing her and the for­ages in South Carolina are just nat­u­rally bet­ter for her.” Mag­gie’s tal­ent didn’t go un­no­ticed in her new home, and she has since been passed on to an­other avid foxhunter who en­joys her ath­leti­cism and sen­si­bil­ity in the field.

James says that deal­ing with PSSM can be stress­ful but she wouldn’t con­sider the con­di­tion a deal breaker when eval­u­at­ing a new horse. “I wouldn’t shy away from buy­ing a great horse just be­cause he had [PSSM],” she says. “It does take a bit of work to man­age, but for the right horse, it’s worth it.”

RE­LO­CA­TION: Mag­gie’s mus­cle prob­lems dis­si­pated when she was moved to South Carolina, where grasses and hay are less rich than in the North.

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