Jenny Pearce

EMS Why the standard treatment doesn’t fix it

This week’s Question for Jenny…

Fuego after edema and hives 10.15

Ca Fuego – his EMS has improved after some Bowen treatment, homeopathic medicine and acupuncture treatment – but to stimulate long term healing, he will need to release his old emotional stresses that were caused before Susan bought him.



This week’s question comes from Susan and Fuego and is about Equine Metabolic Syndrome.

Susan’s question is about what else she can do to help her little grey Arab Ca Feugo, now a 9 year old. He has been diagnosed with Equine Metabolic Syndrome in the last 4 months, after a nasty bout of oedema and hives.

What is EMS?

Equine Metabolic Syndrome (commonly called EMS) is a veterinary term used to describe horses presenting with obesity and/or large fat deposits, insulin resistance and recurring laminitis.

The veterinary texts say that the insulin resistance is caused by too much, too rich food and being over weight because of it.    Some parts of the medical profession are still saying that about human insulin resistance too.

What lies behind?

By looking behind the problem of EMS, we can see a bigger picture than just obesity and get a different perspective.

More recent research in obesity in people (validated by the new approach of diet leaders like Jon Gabriel) has revealed that it is actually deprivation – physical deprivation caused by dieting or emotional deprivation (usually a combination of both) that is behind excessive weight/insulin resistance and the inability to heal that easily.  Physical deprivation can also be triggered by chronic vitamin, mineral or trace element deficiencies or problems with digestion that can cause nutritional deficiencies.

We alternative therapists already knew that, but it’s nice when science catches up.  🙂

This emotional deprivation fits with Fuego, who before Susan bought him, had been a very troubled riding school horse and didn’t do well in the herd he was in. Then he developed oedema and while being treated for that, had an outbreak of hives that seems to have been the trigger for the EMS.

Whatever the original cause of the EMS, treating the symptoms (just like it does in humans) of insulin resistance and overweight horses by forcibly dieting them, triggers brain chemicals that actually lays in fat cells, that will – anytime you let up on the dieting or exercise for even just a bit – that will fill those fat cells up with fat and the horse’s weight will actually increase. This has you feeling like you are constantly waging a losing battle trying to keep the weight off your horse.

Sound familiar anyone?

Note here that most vets recommend treatment of Equine Metabolic Syndrome by seriously restricting the horse’s diet (they recommend feeding only low sugar hay and no grass at all) and exercise exercise exercise – and drugs of course.

The personality type of the EMS horse

Understanding the personality type of the typical EMS horse is important in understanding how best to help them recover.

Just like in Cushings disease, I have noticed that every case of Equine Metabolic Syndrome that I have come across has been a Caretaker type of horse. They’ve all been horses who tend to slow down or even freeze when they are afraid or confused, who tend to go inside themselves when they are stressed, rather than express it by running away, etc.

NOTE: If you’ve never heard of Caretaker Horses before, I talk about them in my free online program The 9 Keys to Happiness with Your Horse.

Fuego in the worst stage of his Oedema

Fuego in the worst stage of his Oedema

Caretaker horses are the easiest horses to misunderstand and the easiest to traumatize when we don’t understand how they think and react. Because they tend to freeze or slow down when they are afraid or confused, they tend to carry even more emotional stress as tension in their bodies and experience even more ill health that comes from that stress and tension than other types of horses.

The good news is that no matter what kind of horse personality you have, when the emotional stress is released, the tension disappears and the ill health can start to heal. That’s exactly what we do around here with our online programs – teach people how to help their horse to RELEASE old stress, resistance and tension, RE-LEARN whatever it is in the right way for them and RE-PROGRAM that into their muscle memory really quickly.

How can you help an EMS horse?


I am sorry that a lot of people are not going to like the way that I express the following, but bear with me for a bit and read the whole lot, because I am sure that it will make sense in the end.

Fuego is one of the lucky horses who has an owner who already knows how to work with kindness and sensitivity. I was very happy to learn that she had worked with Paulette from Ribbleton Warmbloods and with Frederic Pignon in France, so I know she is going to be on the right track.

Exercise for any horse, but particularly the EMS horse, needs to be in some kind of way that brings them enjoyment. It needs to be done with true “feel”, with sensitivity, with connection and exercise can be done in such a way as to release old stresses caused by old experiences – more about that in a minute.

If a horse is exercised without consideration for their enjoyment, then they are experiencing  just another form of the same kind of stress that planted the seeds of the EMS problem way back at the beginning – another form of drudgery, another form of the emotional deprivation that we talked about at the beginning of this article. Even liberty work can be described as drudgery if it’s the “cause them to want to do it” variety.

Even if emotional deprivation was not the original cause of the insulin resistance – adding ANY kind of stress or emotional resistance absolutely will NOT contribute to the healing of any horse. I guess that’s why vets talk about “managing” EMS rather than “fixing” it and why we alternative therapists who deal with the emotional causes of things as well as other big picture issues, are more likely to talk about fixing things.

Peacefulness, happiness and joy are not just airy fairy words – they can be a practical outcome of certain ways of working with your horse – for you and for them. Whatever exercise is done with any horse riding or on the ground –  should be of the variety that they enjoy doing.

We don’t need to be advanced riders or handlers either, to bring out those kind of yummy feelings for our horse and ourselves.

I live my life by looking for the big picture behind every problem (similar to everything happens for a reason) and what I have noticed is that issues like EMS when attended to in the way that I am describing, instead of being a “problem” can turn out to be a blessing that increases the beautiful bond with our horse.

Releasing old stress is 100 % do-able even for beginners with horses

And the healing that takes place from releasing that stress is achievable by even beginners as well.

Regular readers are by now familiar with the fact that emotional stress causes muscular tension that will eventually build up and pull bones out of place.

Emotional stress also causes elevated levels of hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol which when they are chronically out of balance, are a foundation of just about all ILL-health, at the very least making it more difficult to heal.

The 7th Key to Happiness with Your Horse is a simple technique that people of any level of ability can use to help their horse to release old stress and even trauma. It takes a little time, especially at the beginning as your horse gains confidence in you, but eventually the emotional and stress release comes better and faster until in the end, your horse is actively seeking the healing. THAT folks, is a beautiful thing to be a part of.

Feeding an EMS horse

The veterinary recommended treatment of EMS is to heavily restrict the available food, to restrict the calory intake – to take them off grass altogether and feed them on a restricted amount of low sugar hay with mineral supplements.

The problem with this approach is that Kentucky Equine Research Centre discovered that stomach ulcers in the stabled horses started forming 4 hours after a horse finished the last of their hay – only 4 hours later!

Poor little Fuego with hives.

Poor little Fuego with his drug induced hives – by this time Susan says she was sleepless.

Running out of hay and having empty stomachs is why at one time, 97% of stabled horses tested were suffering from some level of stomach ulcers. Those statistics will have reduced now, because many more people are aware of that problem and feed ad lib hay to stabled horses to prevent stomach ulcers.

So when managing EMS, (while you are helping them to release their old emotional stresses and on the way to a healthy horse :)) make sure that they never run out of hay or some other roughage.   Most chaffs that we use in hard feeds are cut too short to be considered roughage for this purpose, although I did see some chaff in New Zealand that was kind of shredded into longer pieces, that would do the trick.

Just like exercise, food too is a matter for enjoyment and different horses in different circumstances will have different requirements to achieve the objective of them finding the right nutrition and enjoyment from their food.

So how do we know what to do with their feed for the best outcome?

You can strengthen your connection to your horse and pay attention to your own horse around the issue of food with The 9 Keys to Happiness with Your Horse, especially practicing the 1st and 4th Keys.

The 9 Keys don’t specifically talk about the kind of feeding issues that cause insulin resistance, but they ARE talking about developing your Inner Guidance System which, with practice, you can then apply to best feeding your insulin resistance horse – remembering to always apply that inner guidance and calm logical common sense to other people’s suggestions and success stories – knowing that all horses are different and circumstances are rarely exactly the same.

You can also add some pendulum testing to help figure out the best course of action. A pendulum is only as good as the questions that you ask and is no substitute for common sense, but it can help us sort through a heap of options to find the best one. I have 3 resources about the use of a pendulum:

1.   The first video is an introduction to the pendulum.

2.  The second video is about figuring out dosages of things for our online arthritis program. Even though it was done for people, this video will still give you some idea of the practical ways in which you can use the pendulum to help your horse.

3.  I have also written a book called Talk to Your Soul with a Pendulum.

Fuego in good spirits before the EMS.  I am sure that Susan looks forward to this again!

Fuego in good spirits before the EMS. I am sure that Susan (and Fuego) looks forward to this again!

Feeding options for an EMS horse

You can slow the feeding down with grazing muzzles provided that you can do that without destroying their quality of life and making them feel emotionally or physically deprived – and yes that will work for some horses and not work for others.

You can slow the feeding down by putting hay in those slow feeder hay nets.

You can graze them  under trees, where the trees have taken a lot of the richness out of the grass.

You can graze them on long dry grass (which is what I do as much as possible) which is better for all shapes and sizes of horses not just those with EMS.

As I said before though, my answers won’t be your answers because each case is unique and needs to be managed the best for that horse’s individual circumstances.

I’m sure there are many more feeding options and I look forward to hearing about them in the comments section below.

In summary

The ONE single and very simple thing that is going to make the biggest difference and stimulate real and long term healing in an insulin resistant horse is to help them find enjoyment again – enjoyment of their food, enjoyment of their exercise, enjoyment of their living circumstances, enjoyment of their friends, of their relationship with their human – enjoyment of everything.

On a practical level, you can help them find that enjoyment – and for you too – by:

–  connecting deeper with your horse,

–  understanding and helping them to live the routine of their lives without nerves and anxiety,

–  learning how to use your own Inner Guidance System like world class horsemen and women do,

–  understanding how to motivate a horse without force,

–  and above all, understanding how to release old stress and tension so that your horse can heal.

You’ll find a basic understanding of all of these things in my free online program The 9 Keys to Happiness with Your Horse, and then you can check out our other online programs that will lead you into a deeper experience of all these things.




  1. Sue Edebohls 01/10/2016, 6:36 am Reply

    So pleased you feel my suggestion could be of some use, as you are participating in the 21 days series it will be easy to incorporate the breathing into your daily sessions. You may find if the 1N is beneficial that Fuego could continue to maintain correct breathing by using a paddock breather when you are not with him. Again just a thought…..

  2. Susan Guy 01/09/2016, 11:44 pm Reply

    Kathy I was interested in your comments about your reactive and sensitive horse. I thought I might share one of my experiences with the lick and chew method. Ca Fuego, seems to be allergic to arena work or any form of structured training. I can put a halter on him and lead him into a yard or to the float or a gate. But when there is any hint of a formal or structured session, particularly if I take him into a yard or an arena then things can go pear shaped very quickly. He can shutdown just like that and the shutdown can be big. He can stare blankly ahead or when it’s really bad, nod off. I usually have to put a fair bit of energy into asking him to move by perhaps waving my stick or tapping him lightly on the rump.
    My theory here is that he spent a lot of time as a riding school horse at a young age in arenas and round yards and he was trained using dominance methods which have left him bereft.

    Having recently read the Nine keys to Happiness with Your Horse, I decided to try waiting for the lick and chew and to do this with a fairly simple task – leading off with me asking him to follow on a 3 foot lead. In a first session, I got the usual resistance and reluctance and I could see that shut down coming on . I stopped, waited and waited and finally got that lick and chew. I stood there, breathing and focussed and voila, after about a minute following the release, I got three steps! Hurray!! I praised him, stayed with him for a while and then took the halter off and ended the session. The next day, second session, I repeated the exercise. Again I was met with refusal, and again I waited for the lick and chew. I was given three or four steps. I praised him , waited for about a minute and then asked him to lead again. We needed another lot of licking and chewing which was a long time coming BUT I was rewarded with a few more steps. I praised him and ended the session.

    The third session ( the third morning in a row), I was amazed to find I immediately got a walk and not only that but at a reasonable pace. This was without a doubt a breakthrough. With energy, Fuego followed me and also walked beside me. I asked him to turn, to follow on a circle and to lead between two drums. He was alert and interested. I probably could have ended the session there but (excited as I was) I asked him to lead down the fence line. He stayed with me for a good 10 metres and then he stopped. There was that refusal again. I waited. There was a huge release..licking ,chewing, head up and yawning, blinking. But despite this he did not move. I stayed with the view that there had to be something on the other side!! I admit to having my doubts but told myself not to look at my watch. And there was something on the other side. There were more steps and more releases. ( I noticed that when he was being that obstinate rock he was at the same time alert with ears moving in the direction of various sounds etc). Then suddenly and finally he gave me a lot more. There was energy and there were lots of steps and all that reluctance and resistance had just melted away. The cat who had joined us for the 45 minutes celebrated with a frisky romp through the arena. It was time we all had breakfast and celebrated. While it seemed gruelling, what has been so encouraging is that there has not been a session since where he has failed to lead. When I was reading about the Nine Keys I had not signed up to Fast track to Brilliant Riding and I was thinking what if I did and it became the slow track? What if my horse is so emotionally broken that it is all beyond hope? What if everything takes this long ?!! But now I think differently. Now I look at this work as Jenny teaches us – as a gift of healing I am giving to my horse and it’s a gift for me too – to share with my horse a precious time in which we are building new understandings and new ways of being together. So thank you Jenny so much for helping us on our journey.

    • jennya 01/10/2016, 5:09 am Reply

      Susan this made my day/week/month/year even! Results like this are the reason that teachers like me put their heart and soul into the work. You took a step into faith in your commitment to your horse that has paid off and now you’re on a journey of health and well being and joyfulness together. Caretakers like Fuego are so often misunderstood and ot’s so lovely to hear about him getting his “mojo” back. Well done and congratulations!

  3. Susan Guy 01/09/2016, 11:30 pm Reply

    Hi Kathy , thanks for the lead re the Riva Remedies. I will very much keep this in mind. As per my comments re Sues N1 suggestions, he is currently on a course of Chinese herbs which is for the lymphatics. I am also lucky enough to have a homeopathic practitioner recommend a homeopathic detox. I started that but went over to the Chinese herbs to support his system following an acupuncture session. So its just a case of trying different remedies and of course not throwing everything at him at once. its always good tho when someone is able to report success with a product. Are you in Oz? If so where do you get your hay tested?

  4. Susan Guy 01/09/2016, 11:20 pm Reply

    Thank you Sue for your thoughts and energy. I am doing the 21 days and I have just got to Day 7 . I was not familiar with the Buteyko method but today given your comments and the meditation I have got myself up to speed on the 1N. Wow this is pranayama for horses! I will give this a go. AND I watched that vid ( on the Equine breathing site) about the horse Cury who snorted and had hay fever and was a headshaker. Fuego does snort a lot, and just recently has been doing it frequently with the hay roll he shares with his paddock mate. I thought it may have just been the way he buries his head into the hay ie hay gets up his nose. On top of that he constantly rubs his nose on his legs ( like Cury) ! I always wondered what was causing this. He has been doing it forever. Plus his lymphatics remain whacked out and despite acupuncture and Chinese herbs he continues to have significant swelling around and under his jaw. So this 7th day of the 21and your insights/comments have given me a lot to reflect on. Thanks again

  5. Sue Edebohls 01/09/2016, 9:54 am Reply

    Hi Susan,
    Not sure if you are participating in the 21 days to a quiet mind series? I was using the meditation from day 7 when it came to me very clearly that Fuego could be over breathing and may well benefit from some 1N .I have had some success with overweight and Cushing’s horses using the Buteyko method? Just a thought………..

    • jennya 01/09/2016, 10:06 am Reply

      Ahh the breathing exercises in that can be a physical way to bypass or release old stress and tension that is behind the problem – excellent idea Sue – thanks! Better explain what 1N is…

  6. Kathy 12/24/2015, 11:50 am Reply

    Interesting article as I have an EMS horse. I used Riva’s Remedies when he had laminitis 2 years ago and now I feed only tested low sugar hay, in hay nets. I loved to hear about the horses personality having a hand in this condition as well…describes him perfectly. I need to learn more about caregiver horses as for a long time, I saw him as overly sensitive and reactive, occasionally aggressive and often a bully. That was before I found Jenny 🙂 Now we have a wonderful relationship on the ground. He is still very reactive and sensitive so I don’t ride. We are having fun – but I feel now that I need to do more with him.
    Many thanks Jenny for this article.

  7. Susan Guy 12/23/2015, 11:38 am Reply

    Hi Joanna
    You comments are very timely. My head was full of this issue about consistency and routine this morning. I struggle with this. They get their hard feed at approximately the same time in any given day but I am not great with the consistency in terms of when I spend time with them, what I ask of them when working at liberty and where I work with them. ( I qualify that by saying I totally agree re nap time or too hot time etc. Just no point at all and not fair at all.) With liberty I can become inspired by reading my old notes from clinics, looking at Internet vids, visiting various websites, talking to friends about methods and so on. So I tend to “experiment” . This technique one day and something else the next. Or I just don’t spend time with them at all for a day or so due to other commitments. It makes things very patchy and then I get disheartened by the slow progress! Plus the uncertainty I bring to my horses is probably more stressful than I realise They must often us themselves…”so what is she going to do with us today?” I am grateful for whatever my horses offer me when I spend time with them but I know they deserve much more consistent behaviour from me. Your comments have helped me reflect on this issue.

    • jennya 12/23/2015, 3:59 pm Reply

      I wouldn’t be getting too worried about consistency Susan. I suspect Joanna had a different set of circumstances, actually I am sure of that! Connection is waayyyy more important than consistency. The connection then BECOMES the thing that is consistent. What I’m looking for is where both parties are listening to each other and confident in that and then there is consistency WITHIN that connection. Focus on connection more than techniques too, except where they give you ideas that just pop up to try in the moment. I suspect that this upcoming 21 days to a Quiet Mind is going to take you into a Mind place where this will all feel a lot easier – that’s what we planned with the program! And this would make a great blog topic! You’re right at this part of the journey Susan, already making enormous strides – reflect on that!

  8. Joanna 12/21/2015, 4:08 am Reply

    thankyou jenny, this is a great article covering so many areas that comprise quality of life for horses. discovering how important routine is to my mare was really beneficial to her connecting, calming down, trusting and enjoying liberty work or going out for a ride. trying to do liberty work at late morning nap time is totally illogical to her but in winter, late afternoon, she’s galloping down the field to do it. I think we can underestimate how difficult it can be for some horses to adjust to the often chaotic and unpredictable human world.

    • jennya 12/21/2015, 5:46 am Reply

      That’s a great image of a simple change Joanna. I know someone else who is going to love that – thanks for sharing!

  9. Rachael Mcleod 12/20/2015, 7:46 pm Reply

    Great informative post covering so much on many different levels – thank you!

    • jennya 12/20/2015, 10:32 pm Reply

      I’m glad that you liked it Rachael. Makes us think a bit more about emotional stresses hey?

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