Tuesday, February 3, 2015

What do you pack in your vet bag?

For newbies to endurance like me or people who have no clue that endurance rides are like, the “vet bag” (also called a crew bag, though not all of us have "crew") is the thing a rider puts together that is hauled to vet checks that are out of main camp. Since you won't have access to your trailer during these checks, what goes in the vet bag is very important but over-packing is also a concern. In short: it should include whatever horse and rider will need during a brief hold time (usually around 45 minutes, which includes the time spent vetting in) to get them back on the trail when the time comes healthy and ready for the next stretch.

Green Bean Team - you can get a crew bag from them!

This discussion was given at the PNER conference, 2015, and we got to see what various riders actually packed in their bags (or boxes) for this need. I am very inspired by the idea of putting things in a box that could also serve as a mounting block, since I don’t mount from the ground on my meat-tube pony (plus, it’s healthier for them anyway to use a block).  Quite a bit of other general horse-and-rider care advice was peppered into the discussion, which I took notes on as well.

Other endurance riders have written on this topic. I particularly like Karen Chaton's overview (with pictures!) on her blog.
Karen ChatonK

To start, here are some of the things people included in their bags/boxes:

  • A change of underwear.
  • A wool or fleece cooler – for your horse. Many people just had a wool or fleece blanket that could just as easily be tossed over a horse as it could a person.
  •  Any medications you or your horse might require – though riders made a point to say you should carry these things on you as well.
  • Boot replacements if you boot your horse (always carry at least one extra boot with you, even if your horse is shod).
  •  Baby butt wipes – I use these as part of normal horse grooming at the barn already (the kind without soap that have just water and aloe, as both my horse and I have sensitive skin).
  •  Travel size insect repellent (also carry on you).
  • Gall salve, especially if your horse has sensitive skin.
  • A waterproof container – something that you can toss around without it leaking to prepare mash in ahead of time for ease of feeding.
  • Dental floss (for repairs) – this is also easy to carry on you (just take the little roll, not the plastic case).
  • Duct tape on toilet paper rolls so it can be squashed flat.
  • Sunscreen and chapstick with sunscreen.
  • Pack food for both your horse and you. Some people had hay in the bottom of their box/bag so the horse could eat directly out of it and not make a mess. Haystack Special Blend – a pelleted non-grain feed we have in the PNW – seems especially popular. I actually feed it to Deli right now since it turns into a nice mash almost instantly and she likes it despite it not having tons of sugar (not even molasses) and is a higher fat feed.
  •  Collapsible bucket – to wet your mashes and water your horse if the tanks are crowded.
  • Probiotic paste – if your horse has the beginning feeling of being “funky” you can give them a dose to head it off and make their tummy feel better proactively.
  • Electrolytes for both human and horse – some people spoke of having prepared electrolytes that they used to give at the check and also to replace whatever they used on the trail.
  • “Extra” bandana, because those things have a million uses.
  • If you have a very LONG hold, pack a camp stool so you can sit.
  • Someplace clean to set your saddle and pad – the best example I saw was a reflective blanket, which also is of great use in an emergency of any kind (and can be used to keep humans and horses warm in iffy conditions).
  • Bodyglide, anti monkey butt, and related products (which can sometimes double as gall salve for the horse too).
  •  Some room for things that you might want to shed/take off – like your warmer clothing you had at the start of the ride.
  • Vet wrap, because it’s handy for both human and horse injuries.
  •  Pellet towels – add a little water and they puff up into something you can scrub you or your horse with.
  •   Snack foods to replenish your saddle bags with – carrots cut into small pieces in particular were discussed because they are naturally high in electrolytes.

 As this discussion was going on, I was thinking about what I would personally add to this list. Given my propensity to get heat stroke even on a cool day, I’d probably pack water bottles to replace those in my saddle. If it’s a hot day I’d hopefully have frozen those bottles beforehand, which would allow them to double as “ice packs” for whatever mash I’m making up for my horse. I’d also include sanitary pads for the obvious reason and because they make very good sanitary and non-stick absorbent bandages for bleeding wounds in horses, humans and dogs (coupled with some vet wrap). Ask me about the time I sliced my thigh open on a trail ride and used a sanitary pad duct taped over the cut UNDER my riding tights to soak up the blood and continue my ride without the cut being further irritated by rubbing against my pants. They are useful things and easy to cram down in any kind of pack.

Another thing I would personally include: a spare pair of sunglasses for my extremely light sensitive eyes, and an extra pair of contacts and eye solution. I now have daily disposable contacts that I only really use when doing outdoor activities (glasses work better for my hours spent in front of a computer) and sometimes a fresh pair is a huge relief if a trail is very dusty or my eyes are bothering me. And the sunglasses thing? I don’t tend to misplace many things on a regular basis, but I have a habit of breaking sunglasses. This is a problem regardless of whether they are cheap or expensive, so I usually go for the cheap ones. Given the unusual genetics/mutation I have that means I have no melanin in the second layer of my iris, in bright sun I can be almost blind. I’m sure having better low light vision than the average person is an advantage sometimes in endurance, but the sun thing is always going to be an issue!  So having contacts and sunglasses is a kind of necessity for outdoor daytime sports.

One consideration discussed in this panel is how heavy your vet bag is, since volunteers will be loading and unloading them. To keep weight down, quite a few of the above items could be omitted or simply carried with you at all times. I think my top needs would be a replacement boot (since my horse is booted and future horses will probably be booted), blanket, and food/water for both me and my horse. Electrolytes would really depend on the distance we are going!

By Kristian Peters -- Fabelfroh 08:52, 20 September 2005 (UTC) (photographed by myself) [<a href="http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html">GFDL</a> or <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/">CC-BY-SA-3.0</a>], <a href="http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ADactylis_glomerata_bluete1.jpeg">via Wikimedia Commons</a>Other items that could go in the vet bag OR your saddle bags (or both) that don’t take up a lot of space or weight were on my mind. Benadryl, in particular, was mentioned in this panel. Experienced riders said that you should always carry this (or similar medication) on you in case you get a bite or sting, even if you are not allergic to things normally.

As far as food for the horse is concerned, most people brought some sort of mash or concentrated feed (like soaked oats or the aforementioned Haystack) with them to out-checks, and the feed pans required to serve the horse. Several included a flake of the horse's favorite hay in the bottom of their bags or boxes. Still, the experienced riders made a point to say that grass is the best thing for an endurance horse as it contains natural electrolytes, sugars, fiber, and water. Grass is horse fuel. I expect you can ask people if the out-check will have grass for hand-grazing in lieu of bringing hay.

What things do you put in your vet bag for out checks? What things would you include that aren’t already on the list? What, of the above things, would you just carry on you but not necessarily in a vet bag?

I'll see you on the trails!

Next time: the physiology of exercise and warm-up.


  1. Great list above! I love that you listed off the functional purpose for things in addition. I am ALL ABOUT functionality of things; after my backcountry pack course I am a firm believer in bringing items along that have multiple purposes. There is only so much you can carry, may as well make the most of it, right?

    Fortunately, the rides I go to in the east that have away checks allow you to either drive your stuff out the day before and set it all up or the checks provide human and equine food at the away point! Without the concern of another carrying it, or having food, I tend to have nearly all of the above in some fashion be it in my saddle bag or at the check. Q can be very particular about hay/grain I learned last year, so I now make sure her grain and hay make it to away checks no matter what!

  2. I had the pleasure of having my first endurance ride ever not only be 50 miles in length but also one with away checks. Thank God for a husband that is open to last-minute changes of plan and who has a sense of adventure! Our away checks would have been very different without him!

    Our Old Dominion series is so well-organized. The No Frills and Fort Valley rides just have us ride back into camp for the checks, but the Old Dominion ride itself has a 100-miler so all of the checks are away checks. Of course my first ride was the OD. For our first and third away checks, we were allowed our own crews, so Liz and I had my husband and her bf bring all of our stuff in my car: we had a pop-up tent (this ride is in June and is usually hot), pre-made electrolyte syringes, grain mashes for our mares pre-mixed, some of our own hay and alfalfa, buckets for water, snacks to replenish what we were carrying in our saddle bags, food for us (I failed at this first ride in that I didn't provide myself adequate protein. I crave real protein, like chicken, during vet checks), a spare set of glasses (I ride in glasses), spare boots, extra socks and shoes, toilet paper and a first aid kit. Ride management provided water and porta-johns. Crews were not allowed at the second away check so we simply made sure we had enough snacks in our saddle bags beforehand so we wouldn't need to replenish and only sent mash ingredients and hay for our horses. Ride management provided snacks, sandwiches, water and Gatorade for the riders, as well as water, beet pulp, grain and hay for the horses as well as what riders sent ahead. I didn't want to spend the money on a crew bag as they can get lost, but ride management provided trash bags for us to put our stuff in for this check. We labeled the crap out of the bags, sealed them shut, and they were magically waiting for us when we arrived at this check. It was awesome. Plus ride management provided a slew of volunteers to help us cool down horses and hold them for us while we used the restroom. Of course all Lily wanted was to eat grass and alfalfa: no interest in her mash or regular hay at this check.

    1. I pack so much in my saddle bags that I ended up riding in a lighter saddle for my second ride (the Fort Valley 50) but it has served me well so far. Hoof protection is required at these rides so I boot all the way around. My mare's feet are not perfect so hoof boot retention can be a challenge. I end up carrying a full set of spares in my cantle bags and have been known to go through all of them during the course of a ride. I also carry Chamois Butt'r (ummm we have been known to apply while riding...), mueller tape to help with boot retention, a roll of Vetrap, a roll of Elastikon (it will stay on horse hair through water and is elastic. Way better than duct tape! You can buy it online or find it at most feed stores. http://www.amazon.com/ELASTIKON-Elastic-Tape-One-Roll/dp/B000GJVMLG), bandage scissors and hemostats, a small pill bottle with Benadryl, ibuprofen and a couple of tablets of Robaxin (a muscle relaxer. I did end up taking one during the OD 50), a bag of elyte capsules (ideally you want to take one every hour. I fail at this), a bottle of plain water, a bottle of water + Gatorade or straight coconut water, and a third bottle for pouring over Lily if it's hot, a tube of Benadryl ointment, a bandanna, and I have this awesome emergency kit for controlling a massive bleed scored from an Army veterinarian. :) So yes: I have a large set of cantle bags and the pommel bags from Stowaway for rides.

      The people at the rides have been lovely: always willing to share what they have or provide a helping hand, and we pay it forward. At that one away check, there were two girls whose horses didn't want the provided hay and grain so we gave them ours and their horses chowed down. My favorite thing about this sport is that it is one of those situations that brings out the very best and most human of the people participating in it. We all help one another out in the name of our horses. It's *awesome*. :)

    2. *Edit: there are away checks at No Frills too.

    3. That IS pretty great. Most of the rides I've volunteered at in the PNW have all the checks in camp, which can get a bit crazy sometimes if it's a large ride.

      Can I ask what elyte tabs you use? I need to start experimenting for myself (and researching whether hydration packs will work for me) since I am so prone to dehydration and heat stroke. I do like coconut water, but Gatorade and similar drinks have never sat well with me.

      I love Elastikon too... for human and horsey wound patching.

    4. I use Endurolytes capsules (http://www.hammernutrition.com/products/endurolytes-reg-.elt.html), which Melinda from http://bootsandsaddles4mel.com/blog/ uses (she has done Tevis twice!). I do great on them as long as I remember to take 1 capsule every hour, which can be challenging on a 50 mile ride. I also like their tablets (http://www.hammernutrition.com/products/endurolytes-fizz-reg-.elf.html) which can be dropped into a bottle of water where they dissolve and make the water carbonated, kind of like Alka-seltzer. I like the mango flavor; it's not too sweet. You can find both at REI if you have one close to you, or you can purchase directly from Hammer Nutrition. You can also find them on Amazon with Prime shipping.

      Gatorade works better for me if I mix it 50/50 with water. Straight Gatorade just makes me feel even more dehydrated.

      Yes, Elastikon is da bomb!