So with all this athletic horse research I’ve been doing lately, it was inevitable that I would have to check out the Olympic team horses. I have to say they have a pretty good gig. If it weren’t for all the fitness stuff, I would try out. I look good in red, white, and blue and I like to travel so I think I could get a spot on a team. I suppose I would need to pick a sport but since it’s too late for this Olympic cycle, I will look to something for 4 years from now. Plenty of time for that later.
Just a warning, I went hard core social network stalker for this week’s blog. I started at the USEF and USEF Eventing High Performance Facebook pages, then checked out the Chronicle of the Horse, and finally went to the social media pages for the humans involved in this endeavor. Apparently getting to the Olympics is a very long process. It may take more patience than this cat can muster. It starts with a list of potential horse/rider combinations. These combinations are watched by a coach so special they need a French name: Chef d’equipe. Around the beginning of the year this coach narrows the list down to 7-10 possibles (the long list). And then the real fun begins.
Being a Team horse is kind of like being an NFL player. There are lots of perks, but there are lots of people who want to know all about how fit and healthy you are. It starts with a VERY complete examination by the Team veterinarian. They look at everything from tendons, to bone, to muscles, to eyeballs, to fitness. Next that special coach looks at competition results, how the horse works at home, and the rider’s history in high stress situations. Finally, there are some “test events.” These are set horse shows or three-day events that Team horses have to go to. Based on all of these factors the Chef d’equipe gets to pick a team. The check-ups continue after that. The coach is constantly checking in to see how training is going, the vet is checking to see how healthy the horses are, and the behind the scenes people are checking to be sure all the organizational stuff is ready.
Now the horses have to get to Brazil. No matter what discipline (Dressage, Eventing, or Show Jumping) if you made that long list you had to have a complete list of everything you wanted to bring for feed, supplements, and hay ready to go in January. This Olympics thing is looking a bit too complicated for this cat. All of the things on that list had to pass through the government of Brazil for approval and were shipped down well ahead of the Olympics. Next the grooms have to pack everything they could ever want to have in two tack trunks (OK they are big ones, but still). I mean this is the Olympics and you get a maximum amount of stuff you can pack. I don’t have a lot of experience at this sort of thing but I think I would want to take everything just in case. Meanwhile, the horses have to get special blood tests, vaccines at designated times, and make sure their passports are ready because they are getting on a plane. I think it would be really fun to get on a plane! Luckily by this point in their careers most of these horses are pros at the international travel thing.
Once the horses arrive at the Olympics they have an entire staff of people making sure their every whim is catered to. The vets are checking for soreness, stiffness, or any sign of even a slight sniffle. The physiotherapists are stretching, massaging, and FESing away to keep everyone in tip-top shape. The grooms are taking care of all the details like fluffing the bedding just the way these superstars like it, providing their favorite snack, and scratching that particularly itchy spot. Like I said earlier, there are perks to this Olympic horse thing.
And at the end of it, no matter the outcome, every one of those people will be honored to have taken care of these amazing horses. And with that I’m off to watch Eventing Show Jumping. I’m rooting for Boyd Martin and Blackfoot Mystery. Mostly because I have black feet so I’m sure it’s a sign but also because who doesn’t love an off the track Thoroughbred.
I’m going to start with an easy one this week: Vaccinate your horse for Eastern Encephalitis (EEE). Florida has hit 12 cases of EEE in horses this year. Eleven of those horses are dead. One had a current vaccination status and is recovering. Did you get that? All eleven that had not been vaccinated had to be euthanized. The one that was is going to be OK. Call, text, e-mail, facebook message, heck send a carrier pigeon, however you want to get in touch with the humans here, but make sure your vaccines are up to date.
Whew now that that’s done, I would like to move on to my favorite topic: food. OK, one of my favorite topics, the other being naps. I had to research this week’s food topic since it is about the equine athlete and we all know I am not an athlete. Luckily, we had some very nice folks from Nutrena and Purina in recently that know all about feed and I got to pick their brains. It’s nice when all my sources agree. Here’s the problem in a nutshell: for the average horse sugar is bad (also true for humans and cats) but athletes need some to fuel muscles. Where is the line? Oh and it’s summertime and it’s hot. I promise that last bit is important, not whining. Cats don’t whine.
Nutrition for horses has come a long way in the past 20 years. Those bags of feed are no longer “grain” but are now a perfectly blended mixture designed for your horse’s metabolism, level of activity, and their weird GI tract. A large part of this change has been a decrease in simple sugars. Instead calories now come from complex sugars, fats, and protein along with a bit of simple sugar. For the average horse this is great. They spend a lot of time eating, lounging, and discussing the meaning of life with their closest cat. Sometimes the humans make them work but it usually isn’t for very long or very hard. Calories aren’t so important in this scenario. I resemble this scenario, though I am always trying to convince my minions to share their food with me since I’m starving.
Horses who work for a living are different. I’m not sure why you would want to work but I understand that horses do this and some even enjoy it. Weird. Anyway, at a certain point the equine muscle requires simple sugars to work well. Fat and protein are great long term energy sources but for those bursts of energy, sugar is the way to go. I’m not saying turn them loose in the sugar cube bin, but it is important to have sugars available in the diet. How much sugar you ask? That is an excellent question. How does your horse feel when riding? Do you find you are hitting a wall? Is there less zing when you need zing? Is the hot weather zapping them of energy? These can be indications it may be time to up the sugar content of the diet. That wall and that lack of zing happen when the muscle has used up all its energy stores. The fats and proteins can be used for energy, but the process takes longer. Processing fats and proteins also creates heat. Told you I wasn’t whining about the heat. Summertime in Florida is not when we want to make more heat.
You have decided your horse could potentially benefit from an increase in sugars in the diet. Now what? First check with the Docs. Horses with certain medical conditions such as metabolic syndrome, laminitis, or a muscle disorder called PSSM have to be very carefully monitored. Often the Docs will work with a nutritionist to come up with the best diet for these guys, and monitor them with bloodwork. If you get the OK from our Docs, then it is simply a matter of picking a diet with a higher NSC than the one you use now. I say simply but in reality it is simple but not easy. I’m going to recommend you talk with our in- house expert, Beth, before you just go with a bag of feed. There are million different ways to increase sugars in the diet and not all of them are good. Seriously, check with Beth. Beth has more years than she will allow me to say of experience in the equine feed industry. Beth will help you come up with the perfect program for your horse!
And now I am off to consume my low sugar diet which has been specially designed for diabetic cats. At least it means I don’t have to get insulin shots anymore!
While clicking through the internet over this long holiday weekend I came upon this picture of yours truly:
It got me thinking about boots. I make these boots look darn good. This got myself, Teannie, and our weekend guest, a charming horse name Goose, talking about boots in general. We marveled at all the colors, textures, patterns, and types of boots that humans have for their feet. Teannie and I remarked that as the perfect creatures we are, we never have to wear such things. OK, so that one time I had to wear a cast for a long time after Teannie broke my foot when I made, what she considers a disparaging, remark about her ears, but other than that, no foot wear. Goose informed us we just didn’t know all the fun we were missing. He gets to wear boots all the time when he works, and he finds them stylish and comfortable. I wasn’t going to be the one to tell him we don’t work. However, Goose’s statement did make me head off for some research about boots and horses.
My first question to you humans is REALLY??!!??!? Do you really need all of the 8,482 different types of boots I found? There are open front boots, support boots, cross country, splint, ankle, bell, and galloping just to name a few. And the colors and patterns. Don’t get me started on all that. Let’s just say I am never wearing anything in tie dye. Especially not on my feet. Looking in to the why so many freakin’ kinds of boots did inform me that many different kinds are needed for all the crazy things you guys do with horses. Lots of people like the all around support kind. If you jump over things, you like the kind open in front. If your horse hits his ankles you like the ankle kind. You get the gist. Anyway I will give you all the different kinds.
My next question was can they seriously do all the things they say they can? Here’s where life gets a little fuzzy. Let’s start with support. When it comes to the equine limb that is a tricky statement at best. Support what? If you support the fetlock, then more concussion goes up the limb and that can be damaging to the shoulder. With all the weight horses bring to the game, it turns out “support” can’t be done without compromising range of motion, which means no more daring moves of athletic prowess. So how about concussion? This one does turn out to have some validity. When you ask horses to turn quickly around trash cans, jump over sticks, and prance sideways they have a tendency to tangle up those long legs at some point in the process. Those tangles can have some serious forces behind them. A good boot will absorb some of the concussion and prevent lacerations from hooves.
Goose pointed out that sometimes his legs get hot in those boots. Seems reasonable in this ridiculous Florida weather; also important for the health of your horse’s tendons and ligaments. Tendons and ligaments can take normal heat but researchers have found temperatures of up to 145F following exercise! Newer boot manufacturing techniques are looking at the heat build-up problem and working on solutions. I would certainly put boots on just before exercise and take them off just after work to keep those legs happy.
In case you need a good reason to make your horse wear boots, watch this video at around 18 minutes in. Words of warning it is a bit graphic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QsvS6gEBJuE
And on that note, I’m off to ponder my new line of feline footwear.
Continuing on my athlete theme from last week….Let’s talk fitness! I will admit to having to research this Tuesday’s edition. This cat is not in to fitness, working out, sweating, or any activity which threatens to burn more calories than I consume. You people seem to want to do stuff with horses and that means a certain level of fitness.
Got a new horse or starting one over? The most important thing to remember is slow, slow, and more slow. This is a concept I can really get behind. I do slow very well. Step one: check your horse’s vital signs before you even get on. Especially in the heat of summer, add work in very small increments. Use those smart phones for something smart and set up timers for yourself. Begin with lots of walking. I’m talking 20-30 minutes of walking. Walking builds a base level of fitness while not stressing joints and tendons. It also lets everyone get used to the ridiculously hot weather we have during summer. At the end of your 30 minute walk, check your horse’s vital signs. Heart rate and respiratory rate should return to normal in 5-7 minutes. Since you are only walking this may happen faster and that’s ok. It means you are ready to add more! Add 3-5 minutes of trot or canter work every 7-10 days until you are doing the work you want to do. If in doubt, check those vital signs!
Shiny thing distraction: These two companies are coming out with FitBits for horses!
You can also check this app out to help guide your horse’s fitness routines.
On the horse that is already in work, it is important to remember that high temps can change how much work they are capable of safely doing. Vital signs are, again, key to how much is enough. Work your horse at their normal level, then stop and evaluate respiration. You may notice that in this ridiculously hot weather, your normally really fit horse will take longer to come back to normal respirations. That is because horses don’t just exchange oxygen, they also blow off a lot of heat with each breath. I always say horses are full of hot air and I see this as proof.
From a fitness standpoint your goal for most arena sports (dressage, hunter/jumper, barrel racing, western pleasure, etc.) your horse should be fit enough to twice what you need for the event. So if you are a barrel racer 30-40 seconds of very intense work with very rapid return to normal vitals will tell you your horse is fit enough to do the job. A dressage horse will need to be able to hold that canter for 5-6 minutes at a time to do all that is necessary in one stretch of training level. Really sit down and look at the athletic endeavor you want to do and then determine what is necessary in terms of fitness. Need help? Call our Docs. They both love this stuff.
Meanwhile, I’m off to train. I’m working up to 4 straight hours of napping. It’s hard work but someone has to do it.
I know my adoring fans are used to hearing me talk about blood, manure, urine, and infections. But today I am going to discuss one of the lesser blogged about bodily fluids of horses: sweat. I often see horses come through the clinic that are as sweaty as Steven Avery in Ken Kratz’s fake murder narrative (yes, I watched a lot of Netflix over Memorial Day Weekend). Sometimes I hear owners complain about their sweaty equid, questioning whether he could perhaps be sweating too much? The answer is a resounding NO! Remember folks, if you are a horse, sweating is definitely a good thing!
Horses need to sweat to cool off (another bad design in my estimation). We cats, being superior and well, clean, never sweat. We simply pant if we get overheated, or preferably just lay in the air conditioning all day. Where horses run into trouble is when their sweating mechanisms fail. This usually occurs due to chronic over-stimulation of sweat glands in warmer climates (i.e. Florida). Stress is also thought to play a role, but the source of stress can be as simple as hot weather! Ironic, right? Hot weather causes horses to stress out which makes them stop sweating which makes them even hotter. NOT the smartest species, obviously.
If you have a horse with anhidrosis, the technical term for non-sweating, you probably already know it. Look for signs like dry skin after a hard ride, sweating in patches instead of all over, increased breathing rate, and acting slow or lethargic in hot weather. If you suspect your horse may be a non-sweater, give our docs a call so they can check him out. Anhidrosis can lead to overheating. A temperature over 102.5 is always abnormal, and once it gets much higher horses are at risk of heatstroke and thermal damage. Yikes!
So, what can you do if your horse becomes a non-sweater or partial non-sweater? Most importantly, cool them off! This should go without saying, but if your horse is unable to sweat, you probably shouldn’t ride him for an hour outside at 2pm in July in Florida. Even a cat knows that. Try to ride in the early mornings or late evenings during the summer months, and if your horse begins to get overheated, cool him off as soon as possible with a bath, fans, shade, and cool water to drink.
There are several supplements available to treat anhidrosis as well, such as One AC, Platinum Refresh, and beer (yes, the alcoholic kind). Talk to the docs for their recommendation on what would be best for your horse. Hopefully horses will someday see the wisdom in my ways and learn to pant to cool off. Until then remember, sweat may be gross but it is more crucial than evidence in the Making A Murderer trial! Sorry, the Netflix…
Until next week!
This past weekend was my opportunity to thank a select group of my fans: Our Wellness Plan Participants. Every year, on the first Saturday in May, we gather around a shrine called a TV to watch some horses run around in a large circle to the left. There is much fanfare, wearing of some very strange hats, good food, good times, and adoration of Tony. After all the partying died down, I hit the computer on our new faster internet connection and researched this crazy thing called Thoroughbred racing.
As someone who is not very fond of exercise, I found this running thing a bit much. When I found out these horses are only three years old, I thought that seemed like a bad plan. Then a rare thing happened: I was wrong. It doesn’t happen often in the cat world, but if you felt a shudder of the earth, or a sudden chill on Saturday evening around 10pm, that was a cat being wrong. I found numerous well-designed research papers on the influence of early exercise in thoroughbred racehorses. Training as a two year old was directly correlated with a longer career as a racehorse. The horses didn’t necessarily have to race, just being in race training was enough to cause a positive effect. Based on my research, this effect is due to remodeling of lots of structures in the leg due to exercise. The cannon bone, tendons, and ligaments were all found to be stronger when exercise was started at 2 years as opposed to 3 years. In fact, there are studies which show that exercise started as early as 21 days of age didn’t cause developmental issues. I will say that these horses were exercised under very exacting schedules designed to allow the tendons, ligaments, and bone to adapt. Another aspect I found interesting was that the comparison group of foals were allowed free range pasture access. This wasn’t standing in a stall compared to exercising. This was turnout compared to exercising. Made this cat think….
While researching the young horse exercise thing, I found a lot of discussions about racehorses breaking those ridiculously-designed legs they run on. I mean, who designed the “run fast on four sticks” system? Just by its very nature it is bound to break sometimes. I did find out that there are some very interesting reasons racehorses break their legs the way they do and learned about research by veterinarians to try to prevent these fractures. One of the biggest issues trainers, riders, and veterinarians face is the horse’s love of the job. Unlike cats, especially black ones named Tony, horses love to run and do a very bad job recognizing pain when running around a racetrack with eight to ten friends. This means that if the leg starts to fail while the horse is running they are unlikely to demonstrate a lameness or give the jockey any indication of a problem until the leg actually fails. So, veterinarians are working to use standing MRI, CT scans, bone density scanning, x-rays to assess joint geometry, and ultrasound to try to identify early changes in bone and tendon that indicate a problem is coming. There are also programs in many States that perform in-depth post mortem exams on any horse who suffers from one of these serious injuries. As a difficult-to-impress cat, I was impressed by the level of dedication the racing industry has to keeping the horses safe!
Coolest fact I learned while playing on the internet: During each stride a racehorse takes the heart beats once and they take one breath. Here’s how it goes down: front leg of the lead they are on hits the ground, intestines push forward on the diaphragm, this pressure collapses the lungs causing a breath out, and compresses the heart. As the weight is transferred back to the hind end, the intestines slide back, opening the lungs, and allowing the heart to expand and fill with blood. How amazing is that?!?!!?
It may be difficult to admit but I have a little more respect for the athleticism of horses. I have lost a bit of respect for my staff around here after all those funny hats, but since they provide food I will keep them around. Until next week, may your litter box be clean and your food bowl overflowing.