Saturday, April 29, 2017

Friday Prep For a Stress-free Endurance Ride (PNER Convention Notes)

“For a Stress Free Ride: the Friday Pre-Game” presentation by Karen Leiman at the 2017 PNER Convention. Leiman showed the audience her step-by-step routine when setting up camp and prepping for the following morning. 

What follows is a rough bullet list of her step-by-step. The hope is that this will give those new to the sport some structure and possibly give old hats some other ideas!

Electrolyte the horse the night before (Thursday) – it helps get the thirst going early on. Include lots of water in the feed you give them at this point.

Give one more walk-around after loading horse into trailer before you set off!

Hauling to the ride:
  • 3-4 hours away, she won’t get horse out for a break. Going further than that, she gets the horse out for a rest break.
  • When you stop and get the horse out, let them pee and offer them some water.
  • This lets them now they are not going to be stuck in the trailer – they will be given a chance to get out and drink.
  • First thing when unloading, whenever you arrive – offer them water!
After arrival, Leiman does a warm-up ride. The purpose of this is to:
  • Confirm horse isn’t lame
  • Confirm has all equipment (like your sponge, bags, etc.)
  • Work up a tiny bit of sweat
  • She goes about 5 miles
After the pre-ride Leiman focuses on her saddle packs:
  • Include a whistle and extra boot
  • Electrical tape can fix everything!
  • She keeps her water bottles out at night handy on the side of the trailer – they will get cool at night and remain handy.
  • Mixes pro-biotics with the electrolytes after the pre-ride.
  • Adds additional lyte salt (which is additional potassium)
  • She use olive oil spray with her electrolyte syringes to keep them working smoothly (and so they last longer)
  • She also does one syringe of electrolytes every 10 miles or so during the ride (on a 50)
  • Electrolytes go in the saddle bags
Packing the vet-check box;
  • Towel for wiping itchy horse faces!
  • PNER Handbook – has contact information for everyone you could need!

For feed:

  • She takes a container of soaked oats to the vet checks.
  • Soaking her carrots in water as well (all cut up)
  • She does not feed beet pulp on ride day. Does not put electrolytes in the AM feed either – because it’s more likely the horse will eat it!
After everything is set up, sit back and relax or socialize with your fellow riders!

Chilling pony at the EDRA Grizzly Mountain ride this year.
Last time: Choosingthe Endurance Horse (PNER Convention Notes)
Next time: Ride report!

Choosing the Endurance Horse (PNER Convention Notes)

Meg Sleeper, DVM, DACVIM (cardiology) gave this presentation in conjunction to her talk on interpreting the results of blood machine analysis at the 2017 PNER convention. 

The Basics (what you should consider first):

Balance: the front and hind end should have weight evenly distributed throughout (endurance horse being slightly uphill is a minor flaw, but being built downhills is something to avoid). Bone substance should be appropriate to body build (8” of cannon for 1000lbs). A nice deep heart girth and chest is also extremely beneficial!

Straightness: Straightness of the legs is important because any significant deviation could result in a weak spot that is prone to injury. Minor flaws such as if a horse has mildly turned out or toe in or is over at the knees are generally less important flaws. One concern with a horse that is toe in/out is that they can interfere.

Feet: Concave soles with thick walls, good heel structure. A good farrier can significantly change foot anatomy! The balance of the foot depends on the sport. For endurance you want a shorter toe and a good low heel that is not under-run.

Body type: It’s better to select for long tapered muscles vs. short and bunchy. The reason being – heat dissipation!

Movement: Efficient, freely moving gait. Padding or winging is inefficient and can cause injury. When comparing between a “daisy clipper” (a very low mover) vs. animated mover – we want something in the middle who can move through bad footing without using excess energy.

Understanding the limitations when choosing a horse (i.e. there is no perfect horse):

There is no perfect horse and we often choose to compete the horse we have. Because of this, have realistic expectations for your horse. A heavier built horse is not going to cool out as easily as an arab or arab cross. Ride and care for your horse accordingly!

If it’s a horse that does not have great recoveries – slow down the last mile coming into the vet check. You can also learn to pace by maintaining a very steady efficient speed. Trotting is actually a more efficient gait than a walk and horses can learn to cool down in a slow trot.

Assess which speed/gaits are more efficient for your horse! Some horses may prefer to canter, for example. (She tries to condition her horse to develop a canter to avoid doing the huge extended trot. A relaxed easy canter is often less wear and tear than a big trot!). Its often a personal preference for the horses. (When she’s conditioning she tries to do 60-40 diagonals/leads on the weaker side.)

Spend time cooling and effective cooling on the trail. Sometimes we get caught up in going forward but it may be rare that you get off and cover your horse with water. It’s amazing how much cooler you make them by dousing all of them (belly and groin) with water. Carrying a scoop can make a huge difference on hot rides. This can be the difference between getting their heart rate down for big-bodied horses! There was no link between dumping ice water on horses and horses cramping up, but if they are continuing to work and move down the trail then cramping should not be an issue. Try riding in the shade whenever possible – and never walk when it’s hot and sunny because you want a breeze on the horse. Putting the same temperature water on the horse that is their body temperature is essentially useless (sometimes mixing alcohol with water will make it evaporate faster, or having ice water).

Monitor the effectiveness of the cooling at holds by checking the heart rate during holds. If they don’t have a normal pulse, continue to put water on them throughout the stop.

A horse that is not particularly well suited to endurance will be at increased risk of lameness and/or may require more preparation than a well-suited horse. Know when to admit a horse is not suitable for the sport – you may have tried your best.

Other considerations:

What about pre-examinations before a purchase? Consider evaluating heart size if you want to be really competitive (remember, meg Sleeper is a cardiologist!). However, soundness is even more important for the endurance horse! It’s reasonable to consider basic radiography. However, if the horse is already doing the sport and is successful, normal flexions can show you a lot too! $350-400 for a comprehensive examination is important.

A sound brain on a sound body is key!

Al Mara breeding is what Meg Sleeper does. DR Thunder Bask stallion. Sirocco Cadence Some stuff with the mind is genetic! A good mind is inheritable. Recoveries may also be genetic -- Meg Sleeper certainly believes this is the case!

Horses for a heavyweight? It’s most important that the rider is balanced and the tack is very good! Height does not matter. A 14.3-15hh horse can be fine for a heavyweight rider, especially with good bone. Bigger horses need more LSD than a smaller horse to get a good base before speed is added.

That's all for now!

Next time: "A Stress-free Friday: endurance ride prep." (PNER Convention Notes)

Blood Machine Testing – How to Interpret the Results (PNER Convention Notes)

Meg Sleeper, DVM, DACVIM (cardiology expert!) gave this presentation on how to interpret the information you can get from blood analysis.

Lovingly nicknamed Camilia, PNER’s Abaxis blood machine travels to endurance rides throughout the region. Riders can pay to get their horse’s blood drawn for analysis – this is helpful information for those curious! Beware... it's about to get technical!

Overview (what are these terms and what are we looking for?):

  • PCV/TP, CBC (complete blood count – looking at #s of white blood cells), chemistry (this is important and usually taken at rides)
  • Packed cell volume (PCV) – manual count (vs. Hematocrit which is done in a machine). Normal results vary by “breed” and “fitness”. Endurance horses tend to have a lower PCV. Red blood cells are important! They are the main oxygen carrying capacity in your blood. They also remove CO2. Anemia results from: blood loss (external or internal – which can be from something like a bleeding ulcer). If anemia is acute, it will take 12-24 hours until PCV accurately reflect that lost because it takes time for the body to compensate. If it’s chronic, however, it should show in the PCV.

Polycythemia means increased red cell count. This is usually seen in dehydration cases (and is usually coupled with high protein levels). Also, if a stressed horse or working horse their spleen will contract and release more red blood cells. The equine spleen has muscles in it that contract with cantering or excitement and dump those cells into the blood stream. An “absolute” change is when you have more RBC than you should (usually because of disease, such as chronic hypoxia, some forms of kidney or liver disease can also cause an increase).

Total protein (TP) in the blood is made up of 3 components: albumin, globulin & fibrinogen. This can be helpful measurement if you are looking at a low PCV horse because it will help you to determine what each means.

  • Albumin is a protein produced in the liver and helps prevent fluid from leaking out of the blood vessels. If you have a high albumin, it is consistent with dehydration. If it’s lower than normal, the common reason for that is diarrhea. Kidney disease, liver disease, and other reasons (all chronic disease) can also make this number low.
  • Globulins are produced in the liver and are important for immune function. Higher than normal globulins are a sign of inflammation (infection, cancer, etc.). When they are low there are other issues and those are not usually seen in endurance horses (often seen in foals when they haven’t received colostrum).
  • Fibrinogen produced by the liver in response to inflammation. A high number indicates active inflammation!

The main two we are interested in is dehydration and the spleen contraction (because the spleen’s contraction will indicate if the horse is truly dehydrated).

Chemistry tests:

Glutamyltransferase (GGT) – can show evidence of liver disease. Donkeys and mules normally have higher levels of GGT than horses. This number can also be elevated in horses in intense training programs.

Aspartate Aminotransferase (AST/SGOT) – the main reason we see this in endurance horses is when there is muscle damage. It peaks 48 hours after muscle damage and takes 3-4 days after the injury.

Creatine Kinase (CK) – Is another muscle enzyme that is not elevated with liver disease. This level is more associated with skeletal muscle or cardiac muscle damage. It can have mild increase with transport, rolling, and hard work. Significant increases to CK (up over 5000) consistent with muscle cell damage. The CK will go up very quickly after damage (peaks within hours of the insult to the muscles) while the AST will peak later and stick around much longer. A CK of 2-3000 after a hard vigorous work is not necessarily tying up!

Creatinine is a byproduct of muscle work and it’s excreted through the kidneys. It can indicate kidney damage and is a good test for accessing kidney function. Horses that tie up or have another muscle-stressed events are at risk for kidney disease.

Blood urea nitrogen (BUN) – the urea is the byproduct (and is also filtered through kidneys). BUN is increased by GI bleeding. Is the other main test to look at kidney function.

Glucose Measures the amount of sugar sitting in the blood. Hypoglycemia (the lack of sugar) can happen just because the blood sample sat before it was run – hours can make a difference. Hypoglycemia is also found in cases with endotoxic shock, or young horses that are not eating well. Elevated levels in the blood can be due to excitement, equine metabolic syndrome (pre-diabetes in horses), PPID, etc.


SodiumLow sodium is most common from loss of sodium in sweat. Equine sweat has a high amount of sodium – more so than their blood level. You can see low sodium because of diarrhea, etc. Increased sodium is often due to water deprivation – something rare in the horses we will be dealing with because we will always be offering them water! Salt poisoning can also occur for horse that eat too much salt. The horse kidney is very good at getting rid of excess electrolytes, at most it will show in an upset stomach (i.e. you might not see it on the blood work).

Potassium – Is indication of the free-P in the blood. However, the majority of potassium is located in the cells. Potassium measure meant because low P can lead to arrhythmias in horses. Low potassium can be caused by reflux, diarrhea, polyuria, & excessive sweat loss. Horses usually have diets high in potassium. You should test the fractional discretion and a blood sample, because horses that are trying to conserve potassium the blood sample may not be enough (if a horse is trying to conserve it, it will be under 16%). High potassium can be found in a blood sample if there are some burst cells in the sample; HYPP can also cause this.

CalciumThe most common cause for low calcium in our horses is when the albumin is too low. Cantharidin (toxin in blister beetles) can cause dramatic reductions in their calcium levels. Kidney disease and muscle exertion are also common for low calcium. Calcium that is too high is really unlikely in a healthy horse – kidney disease, cancer, or too much is given orally will make calcium levels elevated.

Phosphorus – This is not a common test, but low P indicates chronic kidney disease or starvation. High levels of P is often because abnormal ratios in the diet (compared to Ca); intense endurance exercise, and possibly even bone metabolism.

That's all for now!

Next time: Choosing the Endurance Horse (PNER Convention Notes)

Conditioning and Maintaining the Endurance Horse (PNER Convention Notes)

This presentation was given by Heather Wimer at the 2017 PNER Convention.

Building a strong athletic horse is not just about the miles.

Here is what Heather Wimer suggested to improve yourself and your horse (which will, in turn, improve your endurance experience):

Become a great horse-person – the better you are the better you will be able to draw out the full potential in your horse. Horses will come and go but your skills as a horse-person should always be improving. What you take with you matters! Take lessons – learn what diagonals and leads are and switch them; become aware of how you are riding at all times; learn how to ride well downhill; never think you know it all because you probably never will know it all!
  • This pursuit includes making your personal fitness a priority. Wimer suggest that you have a fitness program that includes cardio, strength, and flexibility training. Keep track of how you feel after rides to diagnose your own fitness level and work to diagnose and fix your “problem spots.”

 Become an expert on YOUR horse – you need to know that horse better than anyone else (including your vet). You need to be the one who will know when something isn’t right because the vet (at checks) only sees them for a short space of time. Your job is to be an advocate for your horse!

Ask questions! It’s a good idea to know something about the person who you are asking for advice. Find people who ride the way you ride or remember what it was like for them when they were at your stage.

You should not neglect training in favor of conditioning. Carefully building your horse means taking time the think about thing you want your horse to learn and then take the time to teach them what they need to know to succeed. For example, you need to improve strength between necessary muscle groups, work on specific biomechanics, etc. You can get a 15-40% edge on your competition for the ride itself and soundness over the years with this kind of approach.

You can change the way a horse moves for the better by doing dressage!

Dressage will help your horse move better, more balanced, and more flexible. Things to consider: 

Balance “A horse is balanced when it has developed the necessary muscles and physical posture (or self-carriage) to facilitate distributing and supporting its own weight.” – Endurance Riding and Competition by Donna Snyder-Smith. Horses by nature are good at figuring out the easiest way to propel themselves down the trail. When a horse lacks balance they will use more energy, be harder to steer and control because they will be heavy on their forehand, be less comfortable to ride, etc. They need learn to balance themselves and distribute the weight of themselves and the rider, making themselves lighter on the front end. When the hind end drags it hollows out the back. When a horse is reaching underneath himself it lifts the back and suspends the weight of the rider more easily.
Where do you start to build balance? Get them to raise that back by stretching DOWN. Once the back is stretched out then they can use their hind end.

One trick: use polo wraps one end on the bit, feed through armpits and tie up by their withers. To help stretch down and therefore lift their back!
I now use the polo-wrap trick with Deli for her rehab and it works well.

Straightness – “The ability to use both sides of their body with equal suppleness and strength.” – Donna Snyder-Smith. On a core level there horses are not using everything equally, so when they get pushed they will wear out the side they are using more and favoring. When they wear that side out they are going to have to rely on something they are not used to – and then the consequences start piling up. It’s our job to see where their strengths and weaknesses are. Horses are the master of compensation and they are often so willing to serve us to their detriment.

Observations on adding speed…


When you speed up, it often requires a new set of skills. If you train at a different speed, you are introducing different factors. When you introduce speed work it needs to not compromise the quality of your horse’s movement! Essentially, make sure they are not compensating when they speed up.

Conquering common issues:

To conquer inversion: work on relaxation, focus, and longitudinal flexion (getting them to flex through the body).

To  conquer speed or sluggish retardation: work on balance, rhythm, impulsion, and collection. Your horses may be using either of these as a cop-out when something is hard – often it depends on the horse’s personality which one they choose!

To conquer crookedness: teach them to be supple and engage that part of themselves they are trying to avoid.

 Maintaining your horse once you are on track with all of the above...

Observing – constantly evaluate how your horse moves. Horses are masters of compensation, but it comes at a cost! This can mean putting your horse on the lounge at least weekly to evaluate how the horse is moving regularly. Things to watch for: watch length of stride for each foot; the path each foot takes;  is the movement the same going each direction; watch all the way into the hips and shoulders (not just the feet); are they able to bend both directions? Training to make that possible means building lunging skills and the ability to bend, flex, and stretch.

Stretching – there are serious benefits to routine stretching. This can lead to increased flexibility and rage of motion, decreased possibility of injury, better bond with your horse, relaxation techniques you can use the morning of a ride, and it can also serve as a means to track the horse’s flexibility.
  • Hold your stretch for 10-15 seconds and release. Ideally you want them to relax into the stretch (otherwise they won’t get a good benefit from it).
  • Don’t do more than 3 repetitions with the stretches.

Other things to consider include: body work, massage, and chiropractic work to maintain your athletes.

Conditioning your horse at last:

One plan will not work when applied to every single horse! There is no one-size fits all plan.

Progressive loading – gradual increase in workload with each new level of training being maintained until the body adapts to the additional stress. This is the basic principle on which all conditioning is built on! We want to stress the body just enough to make the changes to make stronger.

The difference between aerobic (where the work still allows for oxygen to be supplied and replenished) and anaerobic (means without oxygen, working at a pace where the body cannot supply enough for the working muscles – this builds up more lactic acid eventually lading to fatigue.). Anaerobic conditioning is something you can use to tap into the next level of fitness (as with interval training). Generally most horses start to get into anaerobic around 150bpm

Remember there are cycles of work and rest. When the body gets stressed it needs that time to make changes. Your horse will get worn down if you don’t allow them to rest. A little amount of work only needs a little rest, and it scales up depending on how much effort is put forth.

There are baseline time frames for how long it takes to get structures to see changes (with serious work):
  • Cardiovascular training and fitness – about 3 months
  • Muscles 3-6 months
  • Support tissues 6-12 months
  • Bone – 3 year

Further recommendations from experienced endurance competitors

Jornaling/record-keeping. It’s helpful to have a journal to write down what you are doing – what worked, what didn’t, etc. Date, distance, time it took, electrolytes, where you rode, the weather, and recovery info (forming a routine by adding heart rates when you first hop of and 5 minutes after – it’s a great way to track their actual fitness. All the info from your actual rides (each loop, how long, etc.)

Wimer asked experienced endurance riders in the PNER group for their advice for a specific scenario. The hypothetical horse they were asked to plan for 100% sound, 6-7 years, well-trained, currently being trail ridden mostly at walk 1-2x a week.

  • Many folks said they would require a minimum of 3-4 months before an LD and 3-6 months before a 50 miler.
  • Karen Bumgarner said she wants to see a horse do at least 200 miles before doing a 50-miler.
  • When checking their heart rate monitor – needs to get down to 60bpm within 10 minutes after a 10 miles ride of almost all trotting.
  • Some folks do walk a mile trot a mile starting out; some folks use one of their rides for long slow distance (same speed, but extend distance), one fast day, one day for arena work. Many of these folks only do 3 days of riding in a week!
  • Consider your personal safety! Wear a helmet, carry a phone on your person, carry an ID and pertinent information.
  • The golden rule is: never increase speed and distance (OR difficult terrain) at the same time.

 Once your horse has a good LSD miles – once you’ve got them going – how many miles should you be riding on a weekly basis?
  • 15-20 miles if you are going LD
  •  20-40 miles for 50s per week
  •  Do a couple conditioning rides that are at least as long as the longest loop on your first 50!

How do you decide how to pace a horse on your first ride?
  • Never faster than you trained!
  • Use their efficient working pace (which will change as your horse gets more fit).
  • Watch heart rate and recoveries.
  • Take the terrain into account.
  • Practice negative splits – concept that you start the ride slower than what you finish it at. Gives your horse time to warm up, gives you time to analyze whether you were right about your horse’s level of conditioning and ability. If you start conservatively, then you still have time to adjust and adapt and still finish the ride well.
  • Don’t use what you haven’t conditioned with (tack, speed, etc.).
  • If your horse is having issues in the brain department at a ride – stop and think!

Describe average week of conditioning for a horse in their first season of 50s?
  • 2-4 days a week
  • One long ride up to 25 miles (LSD 8-9 mph may be average, but adjust for your horse) – some folks do one longer ride each week.
  • Shorter rides on hills (8-10 miles at 9-10mph or 8-10 hard but slow hill work)
  • Not forgetting arena work (at least 1 day of arena work)
  • One or two days that are two hours of walking – try and get as big and marchy of a walk as possible!
  • Some folks do hill repeats – walking up, then trotting up, then cantering up and leading them back down the hill.

And good luck on the trail!