Saturday, April 29, 2017

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)

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