Introduction: Equine Exertional Rhabdomyolysis Series
Friday evening. Mid-June. Consolation has enjoyed a two-week holiday following her 60-mile, top-ten finish at Owyhee Fandango. I’m excited to get back to riding. But, I’ve had a long day at work. I decide to loosen her up with a few minutes of liberty work in the round corral, then saddle up the following morning.
We start at the walk. Mosey along, do a few circles. Her behavior is typical. No cause for concern. I move her up to a slow trot, to continue warming up. A few rounds of the corral go by.
Wait a minute. Is she off? I squint at her hindquarters, her back, her head. Listen to her hoofbeats. Isn’t she a touch short-strided behind? If so, it’s subtle.
I ask for a faster trot, the better to judge possible lameness. She responds, but sluggishly. It’s hard to tell whether this is her signature energy-conserving attitude, or something more. At least, it’s hard to tell for another thirty seconds.
Then it becomes obvious. Something is very wrong.
Consolation’s spine hunches with discomfort. Her head rises, ears cocked back, alarmed. She tucks her tail between bunched hindquarters. And refuses to move.
Now I know what I’m dealing with. I’ve never seen it before, except from a distance when another horse is being treated at a vet check, but I’ve read enough to be sure.
Myositis. Exertional Rhabdomyolysis. Whatever you want to call it, Consolation is tying up.
Like many conscientious horse owners, I knew the basics of ER, including the fact that it remains a rather mysterious and poorly understood syndrome. All the same, as Consolation recovered, first at the veterinary hospital and then during a month’s layoff, I set about investigating what had happened, and why.
Over the next couple weeks, I’ll provide a series of posts detailing the questions I asked and the answers I complied from various resources both online and in print. Here are the questions we’ll explore:
- What is ER and how does it affect a horse’s body in the short and long term?
- What factors appear to predispose a horse to ER?
- How should a horse owner identify and respond to an episode of ER?
- How is ER diagnosed and treated by a veterinarian?
- How should a horse owner return a horse to work after an episode of ER, and what precautions can be taken to prevent initial or recurrent episodes?
Please remember that I’m neither vet nor expert. I’m just a bookish nerd who loves my horse and doesn’t want to sit out any more race seasons. Feel free to comment throughout the series with your own experiences or additional resources. I look forward to your insight. After all, ER is not uncommon in equine athletes. It pays to be informed.