This week’s Question for Jenny…
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.