DSLD/ESPA in 2022

Good morning,

I hope it’s ok to start a whole new topic on DSLD.

I am in a struggle with this disease (in 2 imported young horses) and ended up on COTH last night looking for others’ experiences and I wanted to add this recent study from University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine
published July 2022:

Notes from one of the researchers:

When diagnosing DSLD, visually, it’s possible for DSLD to be developed in all four limbs. It usually presents bilaterally, meaning both front, both hind, or all four legs are affected. However, both the dropping and swelling of the fetlocks can be a sign of other suspensory problems other than DSLD. Therefore, the only way to confirm whether or not a horse has developed DSLD is through ultrasounds performed by a large animal veterinarian. In case you are curious, I have attached the instructions that we send to veterinarians.

In regards to the expansion of testing, we are now looking into other high-risk breeds breeds with particularly high risk of DSLD including the Paso Fino, Warmbloods, and Akhal-Teke breeds amongst others. We hope to use our knowledge from the research of Peruvian horses to help us.

Ultrasound examination instructions of the suspensory ligament-2022 FINAL.pdf (928.5 KB)

As you can see, the biopsy of the nuchal ligament is no longer considered reliable. The definitive test is still upon necropsy. I have two horses stricken by this disease by the age of 6 (the first was diagnosed after three year struggle with symptoms that didn’t add up, the 2nd was apparent to the vet within a couple months (he is 6). One is a Trakehner from Canada, the other is a GRP (German Riding Pony) from The Netherlands.

I look for studies accepting hair bulb (or other nonlethal) samples so that I may at least contribute something to the research of this disease as it relates to breeds and inheritability. I am looking forward to the day when they have a genetic test for other breeds as they already have for the Peruvian Paso Finos. I am paralyzed when it comes to horse shopping! I want to buy young because I can’t afford a made horse. But the symptoms don’t show up until you put them in real work.


Thank you for sharing. A friend’s young horse has also been diagnosed within the last year. I reached out to the UW to see if they will be doing more testing on other breeds, but it’s on hold due to funding issues right now.

I did write to my breed’s foundation to suggest pushing some funds towards this research. Perhaps others can write their breeds or sport organizations, especially if they have a research fund, to suggest supporting this research.

The Peruvian Paso folks did donate money towards this research and I hope they are utilizing this information finally available to them.


My TB developed the classic dropped fetlocks at 23, after he suffered prolonged stress and resulting ulcers.
The hind legs are the first thing I look at on any horse.

OP I’m sorry about your horses situation.


I’m sorry you and your horses are dealing with this horrible disease. Thank-you for the link provided.

Interesting that that study didn’t include any warmbloods, although they aren’t really a genetically distinct breed in the way the others are so that’s probably why. I know they have at least one Hanoverian sample because I sent them my DSLD horse’s, along with all his records.

I donated my terminally lame 5-year-old (ugh) to NC State in 2018 for their study that helped reveal that the nuchal ligament biopsy was not reliable in young horses. Last year the vet told me that Dr. Halper of UGA was working on genetic testing. Hopefully between UGA and Wisconsin somebody comes up with a non-invasive test… it’s a horrible disease and I’m sorry you’re struggling with it too, OP.


A friend had to retire a horse in his teens due to this disease and I currently have a 28 year old who is managing fairly well considering. My senior is a Morgan, which I believe is one of the breeds that is pre-disposed?

I’ve got two horses in my barn with it. One, an elderly Paso that we are looking at euthanizing before winter, and the second a middle-aged QH that is doing well but I have worries. I just put him on jiagoulan and I’m hoping to get aminos soon (they were backordered).

I’m super shocked that it has become so common. Is it because we’re breeding “oily” movers? Or horses are just living longer? Or we actually have the diagnoses now?

DSLD sucks. I’m with you on hoping to find a definitive dx and it would be even better to find a cure.


My TB cross mare was put down from it last year. My friend’s arabian also looks like he has it started. I have not said anything because she doesn’t ride him very much. He probably does have it, but there isn’t much you can do to prevent it from advancing. Really it is a terrible and heartbreaking disease and I wish they had a test for it.

1 Like

My 14 yr old gelding has struggled with this for four yrs in both hind legs. He is Saddlebred x Percheron. His hind legs have straightened considerably and his hocks are quite knobby. He seems happy enough but has gotten progressively creakier and Ive begun asking myself if it might be better to let him go sooner rather than later.


I kept my horse comfortable for six years, and he had to be put down due to GD colic.
Honestly, I wish I’d done it before he was in distress like he was.


My vet believes that the insurance companies may step in with funding as they will pay more and more morality claims as this gets diagnosed earlier and earlier… with my first one I got frustrated with all the things that kept going wrong and I dropped insurance, stopped riding her and bred her (!!!). And THEN her fetlocks dropped and it became apparent what was really wrong with her.

With this 2nd one (actually one of my boarders), the disease has been spotted right away. While still insured but less rideable every day.

Now that my vet has seen cases present in several different ways, he has been able to get them diagnosed sooner - which means mortality insurance payout. Hopefully they will fund a test if only to refuse coverage for horses that carry it. It makes sense to me that a separate but affected party like insurance has to lead the charge.


What does the term “oily” mean? I’ve not heard it before. I’ve do, unfortunately, have experience w horses w DSLD. Thank you.

This is nice to hear.

In saddlebreds, at least, it means sort of “loose jointed”. They’ve bred for that flexibility in the joints and ligaments that makes the movement “bigger” because they can throw that shoulder, fetlock or hock. This is what helps them trot above level, and have big hock movement as well.

I would imagine that as they breed warmbloods for greater flexibility of the joints, the same thing will happen.

1 Like

Ah! Got it!!! I’d not heard the term before. Thank you!

Technically it’s referring to hypermobility. In all connected tissue

1 Like

DSLD is, but not the term “oily” :slight_smile:


This is my senior earlier this year. He is getting along comfortably with an equioxx a day but I noticed that one of his fetlocks is getting to be perpetually swollen. He isn’t any lamer on it than he was, so it’s just a watch and wait situation.


Our 16 year-old arab gelding. He was tentatively diagnosed two summers ago via a series of ultrasounds and follow up ultrasounds. Equioxx helps a bit but I suspect this will be his final winter.
He was always built straight back there and ridden lightly, but the swelling and degeneration came on suddenly. It’s an awful disease and seems more common than I remember it being even ten years ago.

so i have a stupid question - my 25 year old tb mare just got a proximal suspensory desmitis in her left hind … does this necessarily mean she has DSLD or could this be a one time thing?