27 01 2007

I received the following message on an equine YahooGroups list I subscribe to; the authors asked that we crosspost and disseminate it any way we can.

We would like to request your (and your group members’) help in disseminating the information below regarding DSLD – ESPA (Degenerative Suspensory Ligament Desmitis / Equine Systemic Proteoglycan Accumulation) to your group members. We realize this is an unusual request; however, our goal is to aid and further the current research by reaching as many horse owners as possible to familiarize them with DSLD – ESPA.

We are sincerely grateful for your time, help and cooperation.


Dear Horse Owner:

We would like to familiarize you with DSLD – ESPA (Degenerative Suspensory Ligament Desmitis / Equine Systemic Proteoglycan Accumulation). DSLD, more recently renamed as ESPA, is a systemic connective tissue disease that was once thought to affect only the legs. The current research, which is focused on the biochemical and genetic aspects of this disease, has found ESPA not only in the leg tendons and ligaments, but also in the nuchal ligament, patella, eyes, aorta, and other organs. ESPA has been found in many breeds including Arabians, Thoroughbreds, Quarter Horses, Morgans, Peruvian Pasos, Paso Finos, Saddlebreds, Warmbloods, Appaloosas, Friesians, Missouri Foxtrotter, Tennessee Walker, Paints, National Show Horses, Mustangs, crossbreds, mules and more.

Many horse owners and veterinarians are not acquainted with ESPA or the current research by Dr. J. Halper (UGA) and Dr. Gus Cothran (TX A&M). Further complicating recognition/diagnosis of ESPA is the fact that some horses are misdiagnosed as having EPM, WNV, or other neurological diseases. This is due in part because ESPA is systemic and mimics various diseases and/or conditions. Also, ESPA is sometimes recognized/diagnosed with different names in various breeds; for example, in TBs it may be called “broodmare syndrome,” and in QH’s it may be called “down in fetlocks” disease, in Pasos it may be called DSLD. Thanks to recently published diagnostic protocols, ESPA is beginning to be correctly identified and diagnosed in various breeds.

Below is a list of some of the more common ESPA symptoms owners have noted in their horses (ESPA diagnosed horses typically have more than one symptom):

  • enlarged suspensories
  • pain upon palpation of suspensories
  • dropped fetlocks
  • unexplained lameness, stumbling or tripping
  • frequently lying down and trouble getting up or dog sitting before standing
  • reluctance to move once up or stiff robot-like movement
  • back pain/soreness or soreness/stiffness in hips
  • digging holes to stand in with toes pointing toward hole
  • sitting on fences/buckets/rocks
  • change in attitude
  • broken crest
  • sudden onset of severe allergies to fly spray, bug bites, body hives
  • sensitivity to touch
  • false colics
  • walking wide in rear legs is often seen when rear legs are affected first
  • shifting weight from foot to foot with toe stabbed into ground
  • sudden weight loss and premature aging
  • very loose skin along with premature aging
  • refusal to walk downhill
  • change in horses’ normal gait: short striding, an unusual hopping gait, refusal to canter, landing toe first when moving, stabbing toe into ground while moving, fetlocks knuckling over (forward)
  • extreme rope walking/braiding,
  • refusal or difficult to pick up feet for farrier
  • pulling away, falling over when farrier picks up feet
  • falling over or falling into stall walls, leaning on walls or fences for support
  • change in conformation to coon-footed post-legged stance

We ask that if your horse (or a friend’s horse) has any/some of these symptoms, that you please visit the DSLD – ESPA website at http://dsldequine.info/ and/or http://groups.yahoo.com/group/DSLD-equine/ for further information regarding diagnosis and treatment.


Update (March 1): More from a vet’s perspective.




12 responses

31 01 2007
Terry B

I am so grateful to see this very important information passed along. DSLD/ESPA is a terrible disease that has caused enormous suffering for horses and their owners. Until the recent advances, it was terribly difficult to get a diagnosis – and many vets remain very unaware of recent research. Thanks for posting!

14 02 2007

Thank you for posting this. I own two horses diagnosed with DSLD. It is a terrible disease that leaves horses helpless and the owners hopeless. I’ve seen many people with horses that look like they have DSLD and they try to ride them. People really need to get a clue.

28 03 2008
wm hart

With the current awareness of Borrelia burgdorferi (Bb) it should not be overlooked as a possible cause for DSLD/ESPA!!!!

Contact for further info is possible!!

w. hart

17 12 2013
Alexandra Poitevin

Hi, I’m yet another horse owner watching the losing the battle with this disease and coming to the understanding that I’m losing my horse very soon. Could you please give me information on the possible cause from Borrelia? I really would like to know all I can about this disease. Thank you

21 03 2010
N. Powers

I see that this post is over two years old. I would hope that anyone who is reading this and has a DSLD horse would do lots of reading about it. And, there are many articles on the internet. One, I found is fairly recent and was published in the Journal of Equine Veterinary Science in October 2009 entitled: Systemic Proteoglycan Deposition is Not a Characteristic of Equine Degenerative suspensory Ligament Desmitis (DSLD). You can read the abstract or the full article on the research that was done in which the PG deposition in connective tissues, organs and ligaments was not unique to the DSLD horses.
In conclusion it states “We found no evidence that DSLD is a systemic PG deposition disease.”

Food for thought?

8 09 2010
d bech

Thank you so much N. Powers

I read the study by Dr. Halper on DSLD/ESPA. When reviewing Table 1, Table 2, and Table 3, I see you are indreed correct. PG’s occured equally in both DSLD/ESPA diagnosed horses and horses diagnosed as not having DSLD/ESPA. The conclusion drawn from that study by Dr. Halper baffles me. Very odd research indeed.

3 03 2011

I had a 14 year old mare euthanized 5 years ago. She had cushings and DSLD.She had suffered from nearly every type of sore foot or leg. Abscesses did her in. At the end the coffin bone was coming through her sole.

Five years later my other soon to be 14 mare has a bad case of laminitis in January. I believe it was brought on by a bad trimmer that cut off her walls so that her soles became badly bruised. He also left her heels too high and her toes too long. she then developed swollen stifle joints. She never leaves her stall. She is on antibiotics. Tomorrow the vet is nerve blocking all four feet and will do a joint tap. It doesn’t look good but quality of life is important not just an existence.

3 03 2011

Both mares were registered Peruvian Pasos

30 09 2011

I have an arabian horse that is 28 years old, has cushings disease and cataracs in both eyes. Just in the last two years he was having trouble with the circulation in his back legs which resulted in him having DSLS. His fetlocks hace dropped down to 2 inches to the ground, he swells in the ankle area to about an orange in size. He is not lame but rests his feet and lately I have seen him on his toes. The right back leg is the worst coming forwards to a 45 degree coon’s footed stance. I have him on bute twice a day and wonder if I should keep him going. He cramps up in the hip area such like a dog wanting to pee, but not all the time. He never lies down to rest, his body has no muscle content for winter, however he eats everything in site. Any advice would be totally appreciated. Should i put him down.

Thank you

8 08 2012
Mary Modderman

Dear Robin – sure hope by now that you’ve eased that poor old Arab to greener pastures due to the misery he was living in. Some times if we really love an animal that loving has to be deep enough to let them go beyond pain even if it hurts our hearts. Existing is not living. MaryM

17 08 2012

Dear Mary,

Thank you for your kind words, and yes I did put Shay down Oct of 2011. I really wanted to see what was going on with him at night in his stall and so I sat on a bucket in the corner of his stall and watched him.
He would weave occassionally be up on his toes, cramp up then almost fall from exhaustion of standing. I believe he never slept because if he would rest deeply he would fall forwards to where he would loose his balance. I don’t know why he wouldn’t lie down but he didn’t.
Then my answer was elevent. I could not let him go on at this stage of the game. It was so hard but you are right sometimes you love something so much you over look what is really happening. I just wanted the time to be the right one.
So to all those who have a horse that has this disease, I would advise you see what is happening to your horse at night and if he is almost falling in his stall. If they do go down and break a leg or a hip, how would you get them out ? The situation would be worse then. An you know as well as I do, something always happens when your not home.
Thank you again Mary you are a wonderful caregiver to your animals and I hope that your endevers with your horses keeps on for many years.


17 12 2013
Alexandra Poitevin

I know this post is old but I’m facing the same situation you were in October of 2011. Unfortunately my boy is only 18, and I’ve only been blessed with 2 years with him in my life. I took him from someone who got him from an endurance ride for free, and I’m sure this is why. He was working on being healthy and trying really hard to hang in there for me. But the last few months have been really hard for him. His fetlocks dropped recently very low and walking now has become hard. A week ago he was giving up. I got him medicated to keep him comfortable, and he’s been in and out of being himself. He can’t carry his own weight very well in the hind end anymore and shifts weight constantly. He eats but I think it’s the only thing that gives him comfort. He normally won’t lay down, and yesterday he didn’t want to get up. He can’t stretch and bend well anymore, and he used to be the most flexible Arabian I’ve ever seen. It’s terrible that he’s so young, but his body and this disease are taking over. I just want you to know that you’re not alone in making the choice to help your furry friend into a better place and you were right in doing so. That’s truly love.

Thank you for sharing your story,
Alexandra Poitevin

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