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Tying up in horses

Muscle cramping, rhabdomyolysis, azoturia, Monday morning sickness, tying up, all refer to the same thing. If you’ve ever experienced a Charlie horse, you know how painful and uncomfortable it can be.

There are a number of potential things that can cause a horse to tie up. Electrolyte disturbances, dehydration, high grain feeding, high protein diet, imbalanced calcium, selenium deficiency, endocrine influences, not enough time warming up, sometimes stress or anxiety.

Physical signs that your horse may be tying up include a short, stiff gait, horse becomes reluctant to move, usually the gluteal and thigh muscles become very tight and painful to touch, excessive sweating, increased heart rate, dark brown/reddish urine.

If you suspect your horse is tying up, stop all activity. If you have a blanket or quarter sheet, put it on his rump and contact a vet. The vet will usually administer something for pain management and to get the muscles to relax. Replenishing electrolytes and keeping the horse hydrated are key. The vet may also do bloodwork to test for certain enzymes which can be released when muscles are damaged during a tie-up episode.

If it happens on trail, slow down immediately. If you have to walk, walk slowly and take breaks. If you have something to put on the hind end to keep the muscles warm, do that.

Tying up can be a sporadic one-off episode or it can be chronic (horses with genetic conditions such as PSSM are more prone to tying up). If an episode happens once, it is likely to happen again until you can nail down what the cause of it was. In addition to changing up feed or exercise programs, your vet may be able to offer muscle biopsies or genetic testing to see if genes or muscle are potentially the cause.

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