Calm Healthy Horses 
Musculo-skeletal Disorders

Tight muscles, stiff gait
relaxed after diet changes

Meet Persil Beaucoup.
(You can read more about his story here)
Although he had been on the Premium Minerals for some weeks and his body condition had improved vastly, he is still ‘not right’ – he exhibits the ‘hollow posture’, is tight behind, his back is stiff, there is no tracking up, his neck looks short and braced so his head is up and he is not relaxed...

Persil was seen by various 'experts' from vets to farriers to chiropractors but nothing made any difference UNTIL he was moved off the short green grass he was on and onto rough grass and we added GrazeEzy to his feed.

What a difference! (See the pic below).






If your horse has had some kind of an accident or is working pretty hard as an athlete then he may have an actual physical problem. But often these issues arise for no apparent reason, even when the horse has been turned out and doing no work whatsoever.

It is imperative to include diet as a possible cause otherwise you can spend a lot of money on treatments which only provide temporary relief rather than complete recovery.

The Influence of Nutrition on 'Bio-mechanics'.














Axel's list of ‘issues’ are clearly evident in the photographs and short video clips. His muscles were very 'tight' which meant relaxing his top-line was virtually impossible and resulted in his 'default' hollow posture when lunging.

Related to this is his 'crookedness' and looking to the outside on circles His trot-canter transitions were 'explosive', his co-ordination was malfunctioning and he struggled to pick up the right canter lead.

No matter what Divia fed him he failed to gain any weight. He had front shoes on due to having tender feet on hard surfaces.

We did no 'work' on him apart from lunge him every few days in order to observe his progress.
The pictures and video clips show the differences which come entirely from altering his diet to improve nerve and muscle function.
This was the purpose of the exercise.

You can clearly identify the ‘before’ pictures where Axel simply couldn’t release his top-line muscles.
In order to move normally (let alone 'round up'), the horse needs to contract his abdominal and ilio-psoas** muscles (located under the spine). This cannot happen when the long muscles of the entire top-line (located above the spine) are tight and therefore restrictive. Both sets of muscles cannot be 'on' simultaneously.

In Axel's case his tight top-line and hind-quarter muscles are preventing him travelling in a relaxed outline and having any length of stride. In our experience until this is addressed, it will be difficult to properly fit the saddle, for the horse to gain weight, he won't be a pleasure to ride and progress with 'training' will be a struggle.

Even the most basic suppling exercises are much more difficult for the horse when his bio-chemistry is in disarray. This is the reason nutrition is fundamental to achieving ‘straightness’.

We, like many people, used to be under the impression that, in order to develop topline, these muscles must be ‘worked correctly’. Understanding that it is in the release/relax phase that the nutrients flow into the muscles it becomes obvious you simply cannot 'correctly work' any muscles until they are first able to release/relax.

Equipment such as side reins, draw reins or pessoas are not appropriate when the horses muscles are compromised and cannot comply. The unintended consequence can be a resentful, uncomfortable horse who does not enjoy training and may eventually break down if you continue that route.

We sincerely hope that this example emphasizes the importance of diet changes when it comes to addressing issues involving the horse's neuro-muscular system.
If you look up causes of sacro-iliac dysfunction or courses on bio-mechanics it is like the bio-chemistry aspects do not exist.
So many horses are misread, misjudged and therefore misdiagnosed and mistreated (meaning inappropriately treated).

The horse's entire diet from his forage to the minerals and co-factor nutrients needs to be considered as an integral part of the horse's therapy and given high priority when assessing whether the horse is ready for further training. Using equipment/gadgets to try and achieve results is not only counter-productive, it is discouraging and frustrating for the horse and can in some cases be the first step on 'the road to kissing spines'.


Axel was fed the following...

1 heaped scoop bran
1 scoop  Coolfuel Muesli
2 scoops meadow chaff
1 cup Flaxseed oil
1 Brand X Minerals scoop
Selenium - one dose per month
1/3 bale of hay per day
Grass very green and short

His teeth were done, sheath cleaned, he'd had chiro and hair tests. We did not use the hair test information.


Axel's Diet Changes

Oat chaff
Crushed linseed
Crushed Barley

To this we added the following minerals...
Salt and MVA as his daily maintenance nutrients
ShapeUp (2 1/2 scoops) to provide the amino acids necessary to help him put on muscle
AlleviateC/SOS per feed (3 X per day) to balance the calcium to phosphorus ration in the copra and crushed barley.
The other purpose for feeding AlleviateC/SOS was to help address the tight muscles along with
Alleviate Gold (in high dose half a scoop per feed 3x per day) , which also helps with coordination (especially the explosive trot to canter transitions) and nerve and muscle function.


**“The Iliopsoas muscle group connects the trunk to the hindquarters, enabling hindlimb muscle engagement whilst maintaining correct posture. As is easily determined by noting the function of the Iliopsoas, correct and healthy function is required for efficient hindlimb protraction.”



Before and After Canter left...


Before and After canter right....

Muscle Twitching

One of the signs of being ‘grass-affected’ is the horse’s skin being ‘twitchy’ as demonstrated in the video clip below.

This lovely little horse is EXTREMELY twitchy. Most aren’t as bad as this.
When you are checking your horse out make sure you have a halter on and keep the horse’s head towards you – then touch the horse on his side, flank or wither area. You will soon see if he twitches or quivers. (Note this is not how you would normally touch your horse)

Sometimes the horse will shy away and not want to be touched at all let alone be brushed or girthed up.
Being twitchy or hyper-sensitive means some diet adjustments are advisable to make your horse more comfortable.

Some people might ‘get to work’ to ‘desensitise’ the horse but it is not behavioural, it is a chemistry problem.

Hypersensitivity in horses can also be seen (and felt) with swishing tails, general irritability, inability to tolerate leg aids, a feeling of general resistance, inability to bend on a circle and wanting to run off with their head in the air.
(Go to your local A&P show and take a look at the Hack ring – you’ll see plenty of these horses).

People try to ‘ride their horses through it’ which is a mistake.
If you are encountering any of these issues with your horse it is best to first look to his diet.
The new spring grass growth is the major culprit, compounded by high potassium feeds such as Lucerne, protein meals (soya bean meal), molassed feeds and kelp.
Make sure the horse is getting enough salt in his feed.


tight muscle, stiff movement

About Musculo-skeletal Disorders

  • Muscle Soreness

  • Girthy, cold-backed

  • Tight ham-strings, can’t track up, choppy and short-stepping

  • Sacro-iliac problems, trouble with the canter, bunny-hopping, swapping leads

  • Hollow posture

  • Trouble with saddle fitting

  • Locking Stifles

These are often mis-diagnosed. They seem like physical problems but more often than not, turn out to be physiological ( chemistry) problems.
When the horse is subjected to chronic mineral imbalances from consuming too much vegetative grass, the functioning of the nervous system is compromised. You will see nervous disorders and since the nerves tell the muscles what to do there is an adverse effect on muscle function as well.



First thoughts may be that this horse has injured himself in some way, or had some kind of musculo-skeletal malfunction affecting the sacro-iliac area! However, this is actually a very good example of what 'bio-chemistry' problems can look like.


This horse has kept been on a dry lot for most of the year as he has been a head-flicker. He had been moving perfectly UNTIL we saw him consuming all the little green shoots (seen in video) that had suddenly sprouted after a deluge of rain a week or so ago. You can see the improvement he made within three days. It is hard to believe how such a small amount of new clover shoots could have such a dramatic effect but with horses like Lochy, who are very sensitive this is exactly what can happen.

Bad hands or 'Grass-Affected'?


Looking at this picture, most people would blame the rider and say she has bad hands but this is also the typical posture of the ‘grass-affected’ horse.

The head flies up and they hollow out. This causes the rider to pull on the reins in an attempt to stop the horse from running off.

So there are two problems going on here and both need to be addressed to help the  horse.

More Details

How on earth could these be diet related issues?

Very, very easily! The delicate internal balances of the electrolytes (minerals dissolved in the blood and body fluid that carry an electrical charge ie calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium and chloride) are responsible for generating nerve impulses and telling the muscles what to do.

When the electrolytes are out of balance the muscles cannot work properly and they can become inflamed and/or swollen, the horse will naturally be agitated, unable to move properly let alone perform, and even the best fitting saddle will cause major discomfort.

In the instances when blood tests have been run, they show high potassium, sometimes low sodium and high muscle enzymes.

Creatine kinase, or CK, is a type of enzyme found in your muscles which aids in the production of energy. CK is normally found inside your muscle cells, but inflammation of these muscle cells can cause CK to leak into the bloodstream and cause the CK (or CPK) reading to be high.

Thermograph or heat sensitive pictures show inflammation of the muscles (myositis). If it does turn out that these conditions are caused by the horse’s diet then they can be relatively easily remedied.

Take the Recommended Steps to drop the potassium content of your horse’s diet and ensure adequate levels of the other electrolytes. Depending on the grass, you may or may not have to remove the horse from it but it will be absolutely necessary for now, to eliminate lucerne, clover, molassesed grains, kelp and protein meals.

Hollowing out
Axel being 'Explosive'...
After Axels Diet Changes...
More examples of disuniting at the canter...

Below are examples of the canter disuniting, the back legs running together and the horse hollowing out because he is unable to be supple...

typical hind legs together
hind legs sacro-iliac problems
The Road to ‘Kissing Spines’

Kissing Spines is the polar opposite to a relaxed top-line. It is considered an ‘acquired’ condition - from UC Davis:
“Genetic factors are possible, but none have been identified to date”. Hence being aware of contributing factors is key to not inadvertently starting down the road! Mineral imbalances in the diet are an over-looked cause!

“Grass-affected” horses often manifest these imbalances in their diet in how they carry themselves– their ‘default posture’. (The llama impersonation look!).
This becomes persistently ‘incorrect’ both on the lunge and under saddle, despite meticulous care with saddle-fit, body-work, quality riding and hours of ‘correct work’.

Performing even simple exercises is more difficult and takes more time than would be expected of a ‘green’ horse and causes many a horse owner to wonder what is going on because this same horse was perfectly capable a few months ago.

Lunging (without any influencing gear) is a good way to check your horse’s ‘default’ posture. When there are no problems he will soon settle (if fresh) and offer to extend his neck out and look where he is going. Strides will be fluid and long, transitions up and down will be smooth. 

An undesirable ‘hollow’ posture can also develop in older horses, either as the end result of years of mineral imbalances or in response to changes in their environment/forage/grass when bought or sold.

When the long top-line muscles repeatedly hold the ‘hollow’ posture over time, the tips of dorsal processes of the spinal vertebrae come closer together and even impinge on each other – “Kissing Spines”.

Because the chemistry aspect of nerve and muscle function is not recognised, advice is to use the pessoa, draw reins, leverage bits or martingales, trotting poles and cavaletti.

But if you look at the problem through a different lens you would address the horse’s diet FIRST.

This is because use of any physical apparatus to encourage the horse to engage the muscles located below the spine (abdominal & ileo-psoas, ie his core muscles) WHILE the muscles located above the spine (top-line) are ALREADY, albeit involuntarily, engaged, puts the horse in an impossible situation. The horse simply CANNOT volunteer to release his top-line muscles.

You are far better to correct the diet, give him TIME to recover so he is ABLE to offer a relaxed posture on the lunge, a really good indication that you have the diet right and can proceed. Time frames vary from 1-3 months.

It is especially critical to address diet BEFORE you go down the road of corticosteroid injections into the spaces between the vertebrae or into the SIJ. In the vast majority of cases, they turn out to be completely unnecessary and meanwhile they do put the horse at risk of laminitis.

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