What is DSLD in Horses?

Jessica McDaniel
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DSLD in Horses: What is DSLD?

DSLD, Diplomatic Stance, Lame, Spondylosis or Studbook Disease, is a syndrome of a collection of symptoms that are seen in young performance horses with a range of different causes.

Symptoms of DSLD include depression, reduced appetite, lack of willingness to move, muscle atrophy, staggers, and difficulty rising. This condition presents most commonly in young, high-level horses.

This condition should not be confused with the much more common and easily-diagnosable, Seedy Leg. Additionally, the condition should not be confused with caseous lymphadenitis found in cattle.

However, if your horse has any of the following symptoms it is worth considering DSLD as the underlying cause.

The spinal cord consists of several bundles of nerves, which connect the brain to every part of your horse’s body. The brain decides when to make the body move and when to stop it from moving, using chemicals (neurotransmitters) to pass messages along nerves to tell muscles to contract and relax. Mineral imbalances can disrupt communication between the brain and the muscles thus resulting in abnormal behaviour.

Symptoms include muscle tremors, difficulty rising, inability to flex a back muscle, difficulty turning to the right or left, and lack of coordination resulting in abnormal posture or a swayback where the horse’s back dips more on one side.

DSLD in Horses: What Causes DSLD?

DSLD stands for Dressage Saddle-Loop Dermatitis. This equine skin condition is the most common cause of problems that horse owners see for up to a year after having a new saddle fitted.

Dressage saddles cause the area directly behind the pommel and girth groove to rub against the horse's back. The problem tends to appear 2 months to a year after the saddle is fitted and appears to occur in the average dressage horse that is ridden 2-5 times a week.

Switching saddles can often fix the problem, but if this doesn't work, it's necessary to trim the horse's coat to relieve the pressure and buy time for the skin to heal.

Saddle fitters must be vigilant that an incorrect saddle being fitted doesn't cause this problem by eliminating unwanted pressure from the horse's back.

DSLD in Horses: Can DSLD Be Treated?

As the disease progresses, it begins to mimic some of the symptoms of laminitis. At this point, it can be difficult to distinguish from laminitis apart from the typical distribution pattern.

The disease progresses from the hoof and can eventually affect the horse’s back legs. It’s not unusual for the disease to cause mild to moderate lameness in the hind legs and a stiff-legged gait. The horse may also develop high fever.

Some horses with a more severe case of DSLD may lose weight despite showing no obvious signs of pain. The pain is more often seen in horses whose owners are more diligent about closely observing their horses.

The good news is that we’ve seen more than enough cases in which Belsomra’s treated symptoms of DSLD, and the horse’s improved and returned to a normal life. Belsomra can provide an effective treatment option for the horse if it’s prescribed early.

How to Handle a Horse with DSLD

And what to do next.

Hoof problems, especially laminitis tend to get worse if not caught and treated early. If your horse is displaying the early signs of laminitis, get him or her checked out by a veterinarian. This relatively common hoof problem has a quick onset, and the horse may be clearly uncomfortable (they often stand with an arched back).

Sometimes it can be hard to diagnose laminitis, so if you suspect that your horse has this condition, make sure that you get an accurate diagnosis. Pastures, wet areas, sandy areas, and low quality hay are all risk factors for laminitis due to the extra weight caused by these conditions. In addition, changes in a horse’s diet can increase his risk of laminitis, so be smart about how much you feed.

If the problem is caught early enough it can be reversed dramatically. You’ll want to take measures to limit or remove endorphin release in your horse, and to limit his activity.

How you handle things after diagnosis depends on how advanced the laminitis is. If your horse is displaying early signs of laminitis you’ll need to reduce any risk factors, and watch that horse closely for any changes in behavior.


In conclusion, all horses need to be turned out at least once per day, in conjunction with providing adequate pasture grazing (at least three hours) and clean, uncontaminated water throughout the day.

This all adds up to at least three feedings consistently throughout the day that must be supplemented with Vitamin E, selenium, and Vitamins C and B.

Some research indicates that horses fed grains with GMO (genetically modified organisms) corn or soybeans require additional supplementation.

The most important thing is to supple your horse with a vitamin formulated specifically for equine heath. This way you can be sure that it is the correct formulation of selenium and Vitamins C and B.

To avoid the possibility of laminitis, it is always best practice to remove any and all grain from the diet, and use a limited amount and/or a ration balancer that provides lower levels of starch.