EPM, equine protozoal myeloencephalitis is a neurological disease in horses caused by exposure to certain protozoal parasites. It infects and invades the central nervous system. Depending on the severity of the disease some horses are severely effected with gait abnormalities, weakness, asymmetric muscle atrophy, ataxia, and in-coordination. Such is the case of Olympia, owned my students, Amy & Brian. Olympia had his first bout with EPM several years ago and since has relapsed 2 times. He was left with some permanent neurological damage.
Olympia loves to be involved with his people and enjoys time working. I wanted to share an idea that seems to be a great way to add variety and difficulty to his program. After his initial recovery time we needed to help him regain strength through a gradually progressive exercise program. EPM horses with nerve damage should be exercised as soon as they are stable enough to do so. Too long of a wait can result in permanent damage of cells. This is an excellent article explaining in detail the re-generation of muscle damage
So, Olympia is starting out once again in his rehabilitation program. We started with some initial hand-walking and light lunging. In order not to bore him we decided to start long-lining. With long-lining we can work more effectively on bending, stimulate different muscles, begin some lateral movements, walk up and down hills, around obstacles, over poles, etc. He is also learning to trust Brian can take care of him, (due to his limited eyesight). This should carry over when he’s strong enough for carrying weight. We are seeing Olympia enjoys it and appears to be getting stronger which also helps him in controlling a wobbly hindquarter.
I feel it’s always important to listen to what the horse is telling you. Olympia was clearly not happy about being left behind during training sessions. Watching his expressions, his ears, his posture, his mouth, (we can’t see his eyes due to the protective fly mask), show us where he comfortable and where he is not. Brian is an amazing student of the horse. He often tells me, (his trainer), that I’m overly ambitious – and he’s right! I get so excited when a horse responds to a new task that I sometimes forget that is a very good place to stop! I have to continue to check myself from asking too much of my horses. If you treat horses well, work becomes play and they actually enjoy it. He loves his time with Brian. Happy horses do not turn and run when their riders come to get them.
Being creative, not treating horses like they are objects on an assembly line will allow you to find where the horse will shine. If he shines, you will too!
Hopefully, Brian will be back astride his beautiful horse someday, but, if not, he’ll enjoy whatever time he has with Olympia.