Is Muscle Disease Contributing to a Horse’s Poor Performance?

Attention to certain details during exams and careful consideration of test results can help a veterinarian arrive at a diagnosis, making way for an appropriate management.
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muscle disease and poor performance
Muscle disease can cause a normally willing horse's performance level to drop. In such cases, owner should work with their veterinarians to determine what the problem is and how to best manage it. | Photo: Courtesy Dr. Stephanie Valberg
Lack of energy under saddle, a poor attitude during exercise, chronic back pain, hollowing over jumps. These are all possible signs of low-grade or chronic muscle disease, which can be difficult to diagnose. But one researcher reports that attention to certain details and careful consideration of test results can help a veterinarian arrive at a diagnosis, making way for an appropriate management.

At the 2018 American Association of Equine Practitioners Convention, held Dec. 2-5 in San Francisco, California, Stephanie Valberg, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM, ACVSMR, the Mary Anne McPhail Dressage Chair in Equine Sports Medicine at the Michigan State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, in East Lansing, reviewed how she determines whether muscle disease is behind a horse’s poor performance.

“Optimal function of skeletal muscle is essential for successful athletic performance,” she said. “Even minor derangements in locomotor muscle function will impact power output, coordination, stamina, and desire to work during exercise.”

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Erica Larson, former news editor for The Horse, holds a degree in journalism with an external specialty in equine science from Michigan State University in East Lansing. A Massachusetts native, she grew up in the saddle and has dabbled in a variety of disciplines including foxhunting, saddle seat, and mounted games. Currently, Erica competes in eventing with her OTTB, Dorado.

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