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Twitchy Mare - Vet is Stumped

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  • Twitchy Mare - Vet is Stumped

    Hi All,

    I have a very frustrating problem with my 8yr. Morgan mare. Suddenly, about a two months ago, she became very hypersensitive to a light touch on her wither area and back. Initially her response was extremely severe: my normally placid mare that generally sleeps while I tack up suddenly panicked in the cross ties, started twitching her muscles like she was trying to get rid of a fly, biting at her back and trying to flee the scene. I had ridden her the day before and experienced no issues.

    She was not, and has never been, sensitive to a firm touch -- I can groom her, rub her all over and even palpate her back. It is only when something rests lightly on her that she freaks out. Now, I gave her time off (2 weeks) and had the vet out. With nothing else physically wrong with her (back palpated normally) all she could do was suggest that we try a course of steroids just in case it was allergic in nature. So we did. I also had the chiropractor out (just in case) and he confirmed that there was no significant soreness in her back, did one tiny adjustment in her left hip, and that was that.

    After the steroids and the chiropractic work, I was left to assume that this was somehow behavioral, so I've been working to desensitize her to the saddle pads. I can now saddle and ride her (even though it takes a bit of time to get the saddle on), and once she's saddled up she is lovely as always to ride. Not grumpy at all, or twitchy -- unless my hands or the reins rest lightly on her withers.

    While she can now be ridden, the saddling problem persists and does not seem to be improving -- any light touch by any other object, my hand, a brush, the lead rope, all causes the same reaction.

    Has anyone ever encountered anything like this before? I would really like to solve the problem as this horse is now for sale and is otherwise absolutely lovely. I am worried someone won't want her because of this and I'd like to get her back to sleeping away while I saddle her.

    Any thoughts are much appreciated!

  • #2
    Lyme disease can make them super sensitive...


    • #3
      Originally posted by jetsmom View Post
      Lyme disease can make them super sensitive...

      Erlichea (sp) too can do this!

      If she is Lyme positive don't bother with Doxy if she is this bad. Use tetracycline.

      Been there done that more times than I care to think about.


      • Original Poster

        Good thoughts

        Do you think it could be lyme disease if she has NO other symptoms? That's why I haven't thought about all the possible diseases and disorders that often include muscle twitching amongst other symptoms. The vet gave her a clean bill of health in all other regards...and she doesn't twitch at all if left alone.

        I think the pinched nerve makes a lot of sense. Is there any way to diagnose that? I'd like to see what my vet thinks but I know she won't agree to a steroid injection unless she agrees that it's a reasonable thing to try.

        Thanks for your collective help!


        • #5
          There are diagnostics to check for pinched nerves, but they are all fairly expensive. A lyme disease/erlichea test is cheap.


          • #6
            Yes, Lyme. In my horse's case, it is the initial symptom (and also when she is relapsing).
            www.littlebullrun@aol.com See Little Bull Run's stallions at:
            "Argosy" - YouTube and "Boleem" - YouTube
            Boleem @ 1993 National Dressage Symposium - YouTube


            • #7
              Lyme or another tick born disease sounds like it's probable, depending on your location, but if you're looking for zebras, Blush did this with neurological wind up syndrome. Treated her with gabapentin for several months and it went away.


              • #8
                My morgan gelding went through similar to what you describe, though he was much more violent. I too got vets and chiros, acupuncture and massage therapy too, and turned up nothing. Never sore to palpation or grooming or brushing, etc. Just tack and sometimes very slightly to the rider dismounting. Everyone was stumped including me.

                My horse would have his biggest "reaction" when the saddle was clumsily put on or taken off (ie sliding it off the side over his withers), but then you could turn around and palpate his withers all you wanted, as hard as you wanted and no reaction, it was just when the saddle moved around in certain spots.

                My horse would become furious, not ouchy, furious if you touched his withers or grabbed mane while mounted. On the ground, no problem you could grab all you want.

                I finally had his wither area xrayed and it turned out he has broken withers. Would have saved me quite a pretty penny had I just trusted my gut and had him xrayed to begin with.

                Of course all outward signs pointed to behavior, thats why it took me a long long time to finally work up the nerve to request xrays on what appeared to be a very sound horse.

                Very possible saddle fit, especially if you've been riding more and the mare is changing shape. Some horses "know" that the saddle hurts and react when its put on their back/girth tightened but are so good natured they resume being wellbehaved with a rider and just tolerate the pain. I've known many school horses who *hate* being tacked up passionately, the saddles being an obvious poor and likely painful fit, but then are sweet little angles undersaddle. Just really good natured souls.

                Have you tried a different saddle? What does she do bareback? If she has any back pain it often is exasperated by a bareback rider.

                Thankfully Morgans are a great breed for driving as thats mine's new job.
                Being terrible at something is the first step to being truly great at it. Struggle is the evidence of progress.


                • #9
                  Had a similar experience. Chiro and vet ruled out injury. However, he had saddle fit issues about a year prior, and the Chiro said it was most likely "remembered" pain, even thought there was no current injury.

                  So, we desensitized him using the method below, and it really did work.

                  Stimulate the area manually to evoke the twitch.
                  Immediately ask the horse to lower it's head, to the ground if you can.
                  Then rub the center of the horses forehead (releases endorphins).
                  Repeat. May take several days.

                  My horse has not twitched since. This also worked with an issue with his hind leg that he would snap up into a turtle position if you touched below the hock. Did the sequence above, no more issues.

                  It is good to rule out any current injuries or illness first.
                  There are friends and faces that may be forgotten, but there are horses that never will be. - Andy Adams


                  • #10
                    What color is she? Has she developed small white spots anywhere on her coat? Could be hyperesthetic leukotrichia.


                    • #11
                      Read this http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fasciculation and try magnesium supplementation, such as Quiessence. If it improves the condition, there is your (cheap) diagnosis. If that does not help, then further diagnostics are in order, for sure.

                      By the way, in post number 9, the ' If she has any back pain it often is exasperated by a bareback rider.' presumably was supposed to say 'exacerbated by'.
                      RIP Sasha, best dog ever, pictured shortly before she died, Death either by euthanasia or natural causes is only the end of the animal inhabiting its body; I believe the spirit lives on.


                      • #12
                        Wow, thank you sldbredfan for pointing out my grammar for me. Honestly, that's not a snark. I've been making that mistake for years and not realizing it. Thank you very much.
                        Being terrible at something is the first step to being truly great at it. Struggle is the evidence of progress.


                        • #13
                          You are most welcome, and thanks for taking it in the helpful spirit in which it was offered.

                          I hope this horse's strange affliction will be diagnosed and cured.
                          RIP Sasha, best dog ever, pictured shortly before she died, Death either by euthanasia or natural causes is only the end of the animal inhabiting its body; I believe the spirit lives on.


                          • #14
                            My gelding could not stand to be brushed or blanketed but had no other symptoms when we discovered his very high Lyme titre. It's certainly worth checking out.
                            You can take a line and say it isn't straight- but that won't change its shape. Jets to Brazil


                            • #15
                              Lyme disease is a possibility and another is Se deficiency. A friend went thru a bizarre Se thing with a horse that she had raised. As a 4 yr old he became hyper sensitive and she was trying to start him under saddle. He suddenly couldn't bear brushes, saddles, blankets, girths or rider weight. When she discussed it with a KER equine nutritionist they recommended she try a KER supplement that contained Se/E and a few other ingredients. All the weird symptoms went away and the horse was fine under saddle.



                              • #16
                                My thoughts - Lyme, selenium or magnesium deficiency. Fractured withers also a possibility as well as kissing spines?

                                If you want to try magnesium, I use MagRestore from Performance Equine. Go to the website and it will have a questionairre you can take to see if your horse could be deficient. They offer a 1 lb. bag of MagRestore for $15.99 and it will take you through the loading phase and the a few weeks after.

                                IMO - if you're gonna try magnesium, it may as well be a heavy hitting form of it and that is what MagRestore is. One of the most bio-available forms and human grade.


                                Good Luck, I hope it is something simple like magnesium or selenium and not a fracture or Lymes.


                                • #17
                                  My horse starting becoming very sensitive around his withers and it turned out he has something very simple- a sunburn. He is a paint with pink skin. Thought I would add this.
                                  Pro Slaughter
                                  Anti Parelli


                                  • #18
                                    Hi there- I realize this post is 5 yrs old but I'm wondering if you were ever able to figure out what was going on with your mare. I'm experiencing something similar with my gelding with one major addition. When he's under saddle, he will shake his head when the contact is picked up- he does with with a saddle or a bareback pad. Any info you could offer would be greatly appreciated. It's been a struggle for about a year now.