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Sunday, July 28, 2013

Tevis - Details III (Heat Conditioning)

A short post since I’m currently trying to finish two papers before a July 31st deadline! The papers are worth money beyond the $5/month this blog earns me, so I fear that you - My Dear Reader - get the short end of the stick.

Heat Conditioning
The Heat conditioning regime worked like a charm and I think it was THE key factor why Farley looked good all day.  As a recap, 21 days before Tevis I started working Farley in the middle of the day at freedom, gradually increasing the time. Initially I worked her “naked” because we were in the middle of a heat wave and I thought it unfair to make it any harder, but eventually our free lunging sessions were done in my biggest heaviest saddle with a rump rug. The longest session was around 30 min.  Once I rode, but the rest were all ground sessions.

From my research, the cardio changes in response to heat conditioning are completed in the first week, and most of the other physiological changes are completed by day 14. The “rate of decay” (ie how long until the heat conditioning goes away) is a couple of weeks in humans - we don’t really know for horses.  Because of “real life” I was able to regularly do sessions on Farley for the first 14 days of the 21 day period, but didn’t do anything in the last week.  However because of my research, I knew that I had done it long enough to get most of the benefit, and I wasn’t going to lose that benefit because of the week off.

I have to be completely honest, I didn’t even notice the heat during the day.  Not on my horse, not on me.  Not when I was running, not when I was getting off and running on foot.  My horse didn’t have trouble pulsing down, wasn’t heat stressed, and I never had to do any intense cooling. I didn’t get around to taking regular rectal temps throughout the ride but the two times I did (Redstar and Foresthill) the temps were under 101, indicating that my horse was successfully dissipating the heat load.

As most of you know, I’m experimenting with doing endurance at a very very low number of conditioning miles. Riding less mileage means that I’m always looking for something that will give me more bang for my buck for the miles I am conditioning for. I think that dedicating my last 3 weeks into Tevis to heat training was an example of doing exactly that - it something that helped my horse immensely at a very low risk - less risk than if I was doing distance or speed in the saddle, putting stress on the horses’ musculoskeletal structures.

I did notice the heat after dark. It’s like, both me and the horse expected it to be hot during the day, so we didn’t wrinkle our nose at it, and just did our job. But when I left Foresthill at 8:30, and it started to get dark, I wondered where all the dust came from that made it hard for me to see the trail. But then I realized it was STEAM.  And then I got mad. How DARE it not cool down for me and my horse after riding in the summer heat all day?  I don’t think Farley actually cared, but I was indignant on her behalf. Instead of feeling the magic of riding after dark by the glow bars I was thinking “OMG I’m not suppose to have sweat running down my shirt after dark.”

Friday, July 26, 2013

Tevis - Details II (things gone wrong)

Just in case you think everything went well and my Dear Reader is under the impression that I have this sport figured out....I’ve dedicated this post to things that did NOT go well. 

But first, as always - an update!

I stopped into the VMTH barns on my way to work and spoke to one of the vets I knew from classes.  Based on what I had told him about what I thought happened and the time frame in which she looked normal again, he suspects a soft tissue tweak in that RH.  I had originally gone in to see if I could convince a clinician to see Farley and do radiographs without a full lameness workup, and while he agreed that  she didn’t need a full lameness workup, didn’t feel like she needed any additional diagnostics like radiographs either.  His advice was to give her the next 8 weeks off/hand walk/light work as if it was a minor soft tissue bruise or strain, and then return her back to work over a couple of months.  I had specifically told him that I was thinking about doing Tevis on this mare the next year, and was worried that there was some sort of structural issue with the old injury on the RH, especially now that I actually had a lameness....but he wasn’t worried and thought my plan to do some 50’s next spring and try again was a good one.  So that’s that.  He saved me some money and taking it easy until winter/spring was the plan anyways, so I guess we can move on :).

I think I tend to freak out about these sort of things because my first injury experiences with horses were NEVER inconsequential lamenesses.  I got injuries injuries that were subtle but bad and required intensive rehab and finger crossing that I’d ever get to do endurance again.  But that last 3 lamenesses I’ve had over the past 2 years (ie since I started doing a lot less miles) have been the sort of knocks and bumps that happen, but don’t have long lasting effects - thrush in one foot, splints (from kicking a pipe corral panel I think), and now this.  I’m getting better and better at taking a deep breath, evaluating, and not spending money I don’t have to if it’s likely minor and will resolve.  I’m grateful I had some bad lamenesses up front, since I think I’m less likely to miss something that is major.  Even when I saw RH issue for the first time at Fransico’s, and then the morning after, I just had a feeling it wasn’t something serious enough to make a vet appointment right away.  Looks like that gut feeling might continue to be true!!!!!!! 

Can you tell I’m cautiously optimistic?  I don’t want to celebrate yet.....but I think everything is going to be ok :). So, unless something exciting happens, this should be the last “how is Farley and Mel doing post-Tevis?” update.  No news is good news.

And now on to our scheduled programing - the ways in which Mel was a complete failure during Tevis.

I am a complete failure at visualizing the finish of a ride before I actually finish.  It’s like I’m afraid to take it more than one step at a time.  I can’t prep my crew bags or saddle bags before I’ve vetted in.  I can’t start planning for exactly what should go where at the finish until I’ve actually done my final vet in. 

This is not good. 

My poor crew did their best.  I had a specific list of things that I wanted done - my reluctance to jump too far ahead in in equipment prep only, not in the making of lists and plans, but of course I didn’t actually have my finish stuff ORGANIZED for them.

Again I reiterate - my poor crew.

I have a duffel full of my leg care stuff.  I was pretty kinda sure had no idea whether both my ice boots were in there, but didn’t check.  .  Apparently there was only one.  So I made the decision to only ice the fronts, which is my normal MO when I don’t have a crew.  Of course, as we all know the injury was in the HIND so wouldn’t it have been nice to ice the hinds? 

But with one boot, and no one on the crew who knew how to wrap (I can sometimes improvise with a polo wrap to create an ice boot, but it takes some knowledge of wrapping and horse legs) and my request that icing be done for 20 min per leg......40 min for both fronts seemed reasonable, keeping my crew up for 80 min didn’t. 

And then there was the issue of ice.  I provided neither ice, ziplocks or packs.  What I SHOULD have done was buy some cheap “insta-cold” packs.  Well worth the money for the few rides I do a year, don’t have to mess with trying to keep ice frozen on a hot day until the end of a 100. 

I also didn’t make sure I had a full, accessible tube of desitin and other miscellaneous supplies.  In the future I will organize things into a plastic tubs or totes that are labeled by vet check and one for “finish”.  And I will buy duplicates of stuff that is needed at more than one time during the ride so that my crew never needs to go looking through various containers for different check points.  Since I won’t be overwhelmed by the complicated logistics of what needs to go where, and what needs to be transferred to the next check but what doesn’t - I will be more likely to actually organize it and less likely to throw all my gear in a wheelbarrow and say “most of this needs to go to most of the checks”.

No joke.  This is how awful I am to my crew.  I don’t even know why my friends were crewed for me are still on speaking terms......oh yeah - at least for one of them, she intends to torture me at her next 100 :).  And it will be totally fair payback, I assure you. 

Of course, actually organizing will make sure that important equipment isn’t left behind.  Like, oh say, the GIRTH to my backup saddle.  I had the option of switching to the Aussie after dark, and by Robinson Flat I knew I was going to make that switch.  My knees really hurt and I made it into Foresthill knowing I didn’t have to ride another mile in the Wintec.

As I told my crew at Robinson I definitely wanted to switch saddles at Foreshill, I had a little niggling thought in my brain that the girth hadn’t made it with the crew stuff and was back in the trailer at the fairgrounds.  But, not wanting yet another thing for my crew to stress about decided I would figure out something if that ended up being true.  Of course the only thing to “figure out” was that I would be continuing in the wintec, but it’s one of those things you don’t actually admit to yourself because that reality is far to painful to face until it actually happens.

Ah yes.  Pain. I really really really wanted the Wintec to work for me.  Irish Horse kindly lent me hers to see if it would.  I can actually afford a used wintec, it was very secure,  put me in a decent position and works well with Farley’s back. I had knee pain (like IT band stuff) at Wild West in it.  But wasn’t sure if it was due to something else (like what I’m not sure.....) and decided that it would be fine for Tevis.

It was not fine.  Starting at mile 3 I had severe, teeth gritting pain that never really let up  until I stopped at mile 85.  When I would hop off and run my knees were 100% OK.  Something about the shape of the flap and twist put my leg in such a position that it irritated my IT bands and nothing - not half chaps, shortening or lengthening stirrups or anything else I could devise eliminated.

I would come into a vet check 100% sure I couldn’t ride another mile, dismount and vet through and the pain would become a memory.  So I would mount up again and off we would go. 

When I think back on all the possible reasons why I would be so exhausted even before midnight, I think the most likely possibility was the pain.  It’s really unusual for me to start having issues with my mental game so early (started around mile 60) and not be able to snap out of it. 

Part of me thinks that with some exercises and training I would be fine in the Wintec.  Don’t ask me what kind of exercises and training....I don’t have a clue, other than it’s another excuse for really really really wanting this cheap saddle to work for me. Another part of me says “don’t be silly!”.  The last year or so has been the best ever for my IT band issues, so it’s not likely a training issue.  And I remind myself that my Solstice saddle, which I did all my previous 100’s in, including 2 Tevis attempts (with 1 completion) never ever bothered my knees, even when everything else did. 

So, I’m going to try and stay strong and not succumb to the lure and affordability of the Wintec, and accept that the shape of my hips/lower body is just not compatible. 

Oh, and while we are on the subject of unworthy equipment, apparently my cheap $5 Walmart chair that I bought for my first endurance ride in April 2007 broke.  Geez.  :)

On to my next failure!  Farley’s skin.  Farley has really thin, sensitive skin with a very thin hair coat.  I chalk this characteristic up to the reason she can cool SO FAST.  She’s absolutely freakin’ amazing and efficient at dissipating heat.  Unfortunately......having thin sensitive skin isn’t all good news.  Farley is really susceptible to friction rubs.  I don’t know how else to explain it, because they aren’t really “rubs”.  Ie there isn’t any hair loss, or oozing or anything like that.  However, starting about 36-48 post ride like Tevis (Tevis is by far the worst, it’s minor or not noticeable at other hot rides) chunks of her pigmented skin layer and hair come off, exposing pink non-oozing bare patches of skin.  That then pigment and grow hair back good as new.  In addition to that, she will also get “scurff” which is more like dandruff and flaky skin than chunks of hair/skin pulling off in areas under the tack. 

Over the years I’ve figured out how to control the scurff - adding a crupper to the saddle to minimize the shifting of the tack back and forth, applying showsheen liberally in her armpits and making sure her mohair string girth is meticulously clean throughout the ride and in that sweet spot between too tight and too loose. NOT bathing her the week before the ride, but making sure her coat is curried and brushed free of any loose hair, dirt, and sweat. NOT brushing or currying her during or after a ride (only sponging), and then a full hosing the day after the ride with no soap. 

Voila!  Follow the above procedure and there is no scurff on Farley post Tevis!  (and you still think arabs are the only breed perfectly suited to this sport?  It might be harder to get that non arab through the ride on ride day, but I swear I never had to even consider skin maintenance on my standardbred.....)

But this post is focusing on areas I dropped the what about the other skin issue I have - those “friction” rubs? If I can predict where they are going to show up, I can put a high percentage zinc oxide cream on those areas during the ride and minimize them.  I also chose my tack and equipment really carefully and try not to ride with anything I don’t absolutely need - which is why I rode without a crupper for so long. Unfortunately, I don’t see “friction rubs” except at Tevis, and since I haven’t done Tevis in a while I ended up with more of these rubbed areas than I should have. 

- On the sides of her neck where the reins touched (about half way).  I ride with round smooth rope reins and did a lot of one handed riding, so the reins touched her neck as we trotted and moved across her skin, even though the reins were loose.  I’m not losing hair, but the black skin is coming off.

- On the sides of her fetlock/pastern where the velcro and captivator meet on my strap on boots.  Mostly on the fronts.  I had the straps tighter than usual for this ride and so I should have used zinc oxide around this area to eliminate this possibility.  But, I’ve never had ANY sort of rubbing or irritation from the boots so it didn’t cross my mind.  (interestingly, the back of her pasterns, even though they are still a little scurfy, looked better than previous years than when I was in steel, or in glueons.  I think the captivator provided protection from the dust and rocks.). Again, it wasn’t a rub that you could see on ride day, but starting yesterday I’m noticing the skin and hair coming off in these areas.

- On the bottom of her chin where the curb chain was.  Even though it was adjusted correctly AND she rode on a loose rein 99% of the ride.  Grrrrrr........

- In front of the girth area, on her chest between her legs.  Wrinkles of skin that got dirty and sweaty and rubbed together as she moved? 

So, now my horse looks like a scrawny pinto because white desitin smeared all over her. 

Moving on to the next screw up.

I should have ridden the CA loop again in the daylight before this ride.  The only part of the ride I felt Farley was unsure about was the section.  She’s seen it twice - once in the daylight 4 years ago, and once in the dark 3 years ago.  I didn’t remember it at all - just small sections here and there.  She knew where Fransico’s was and the major parts of the trail, but had trouble navigating the trail where it crossed creeks and did weird things, so I think she didn’t remember the details of it any better than I did.

It didn’t help that I led 98% of that trail and most of the day as well so we were both a bit brain fatigued from not having a chance to draft off anyone all day. Before I knew she was lame, but after the vet told me he was NOT going to let me RO because she looked great (pre trot out....) I decided that I was going to draft off someone all the way to the finish. And if they went too fast, I was going to sit on the side of the trail until someone else came along. I was DONE riding by myself (never thought I would be complaining about that during Tevis), I was DONE leading other riders, I was DONE trying to decide the best pace for the trail in front of me I couldn’t see and couldn’t remember.  I wanted to tuck myself behind someone and not have to *think* for just a few minutes.

Of course, my Dear Reader knows that instead I got to take a 2 hour nap (interrupted by Farley yanking me over to the water trough between eating and power napping) before being trailered out as a pull. 

And yet another screwup....

I toyed with the idea of putting a rump rug on the saddle after foresthill, since I had decided not to carry a myler blanket in my saddle bags.  On the new100milers yahoo list (a wonderful list if you are trying to do your first 100!!!!!) someone had asked what you should have in your saddle bags for the Big Horn 100.  The Big Horn is a much different ride from Tevis - much more out-in-the-middle-of-no-where-wilderness - which is why I didn’t stuff my saddle bags with emergency-I-might-have-to-spend-the-night-in-a-blizzard-by-myself-overnight stuff, but did get some useful tips and added a few items to my Tevis saddle bags that I don’t usually carry.  I had a feeling when I got to Fransico’s, especially dealing with so much equipment that previously tested on Tevis, I might need to do some “improvising” to address rubs and bruises.  One comment about the rump rug was that you should bring one, because even if your horse doesn’t need it, you might. 

But I didn’t bring it.  And I wish I had.  Because when I was curled up in a ball on the ground at Fransico’s completely exhausted and trying to sleep, it FINALLY cooled down at 1am enough that I was shivery on the ground.  I was arranging my undone half chaps over my legs to try and get some extra insulation so I could sleep.  I would have been really really really happy to have that rump rug.  And if something had happened on the trail and I was non ambulatory and I had to lay on that cold uninsulated ground for a couple hours, I would have really really really liked a rump rug.  So I’ll be putting a rump rug on my saddle for my after-dark loops, along with the rest of my “darkness” equipment like a headlamp and glowsticks.

One more mistake - a relatively harmless one in the scope of things

I missed a boot issue vetting in at Robinson.  The right hind boot side wall was folded underneath the sole of the foot on one side.  When I trotted out at Robinson, the vet gave me a B for gaits and said that it wasn’t consistent and not bad enough for a recheck, but she thought there might be something brewing on that LF. 

mmmm......??????  Considering the history with the LF I was not happy (but also not freaked out).  I pulled the LF boot and the boot and foot looked PERFECT.  Nothing reactive in the tendon. 

I didn’t even notice the RH boot until almost all the way through the check.  When I saw it, it totally made sense and I knew I had probably solved the mystery.  Especially in slight, inconsistent lameness it can be really hard to tell whether it’s a front or hind on a certain diagonal on an endurance trot out, which is very short and only on a straight line.    A RH can look like a LF and vice versa because they are on the same diagonal. I fixed the boot, told the vets at the next check what I had found, and sure enough, I was back to A’s for gaits.  I was able to trot out for the same vet I had at Robinson later in the day at Chicken Hawk and she confirmed that what she saw was gone. 

I’m glad it ended up as a relatively “harmless” mistake, but it would have been better if I had done a good visual boot check before heading over to the vets.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Tevis - Details I (and an update)

If you wanted the nitty gritty of Tevis, these posts that are going to have it.  I read a lot of blogs of people doing endurance as I prepared for my first Tevis and loved the details, so if that’s you, that’s why I’m writing this post!!!!!!

But first an update!  
- Farley looks really good.  Last night almost all of the filling went down from the RH (the other 3 legs are totally normal with no filling).  I didn't trot her yesterday, but this morning she was sound, at least headed away from me on a straight line.  She's totally weight bearing, I find her resting on the RH and LH equally.  I've said it over and over but it's worth saying again that Farley is NOT a tough horse and does not hide pain, so I'm confident in saying that she is definately on the mend.  If the leg looks normal by the weekend and she's sound on the circle, I probably won't see a vet.  Still can't see or feel anything abnormal and I'm really hoping it was just an unlucky tweak.  That LF SDF tendon is the weakest structure in her legs because of repeated injury, so if I was going to get an injury because of a tired horse, I would have expected it to be that one.  I really wish I had been able to get to the fairgrounds Thursday morning and participate in the radiograph hoof balance study - the injury is in the hind foot with the wire injury scar and it would be really interesting to see how the internal structures look.  Once I start school I may talk to a clinician at the VMTH and see if they would take a couple of radiographs of that hoof for me without it costing a fortune. At this point I want to try Tevis again next year and it would be good information to have before I make that decision.
- My left quad is still sore, but other than that I back to normal.  I won't start training (running, weights etc.) until all the soreness is gone to try and prevent any sort of injuries from doing too much too soon.
- I've decided to blow up both pictures :).  11x14 of the shot going up cougar rock (side angle), 8x10 of the one that's more from the front, based on the advice of a photographer friend.  As many of you said, these really are the pictures of a life time and I've dreamed about getting these shots since junior high. Why just chose one?
- No my trailer/truck/suitcase is not unpacked yet.  LOL.  There are more important things to do like write blog posts!

Alrighty!  Let's talk about Tevis!

If you want me to get to a subject you are particularly curious about sooner rather than later, post your question in the comments.  I’ll try to accurately describe the subsections so you can skip around to topics that interest you :).

How much did I run?  (I also cover tailing, sticking to a plan or not)
A lot more than any previous Tevis attempt.  The first year Farley came up slightly lame at Deadwood, so I ran down the second canyon in an attempt to keep her sound enough to make it to Foresthill before we pulled.  The second year I had a knee injury that kept me on the horse the entire ride. 

This year, I was planning on getting off and running the two major canyons, and any long stretches of downhill road. 

In the first 1/3 of the ride (High Country), I got off for the downhill into Redstar, and for downhill sections of the road into Robinson. 

In the second 1/3 of the ride (Canyons), I modified my plan a bit.  I’m all for making a plan and sticking to it, but also staying flexible as long as it fits into the overall goal of the ride.  My goal for this Tevis was to finish with a horse that had something left at the end. 

Example of a STUPID deviation from the plan: being impatient and giving in to the temptation to trot up the hills into Robinson because road is SO BORING and Farley wanted to trot. (which is why we jigged and walked and only came into Robinson 5 min early instead of 20)

Example of a SMART deviation from the plan: deciding to stay mounted on Farley down the first canyon because she was moving so well at a good speed.

Why was this good? Because once we got to the bottom and I started climbing up the other side, I looked at my panting and sweaty horse and realized that I was NOT going to finish the ride if I didn’t get off and walk up that canyon.  I couldn’t have both walked down and up.

Lessons Learned: don't get too attached to your plan, but evaluate why I am deviating - will it help me accomplish the overall goal of the ride better?

I didn’t realize how hot it was at that point (thank you heat conditioning!) but I did think it strange that no one was catching up to me and I was actually gaining on the people in front of me, even though I was going up slower than past years.  However, after hearing how hot it was, and knowing how many people got pulled at Deadwood (a lot) it makes sense to me now.  I think that my decision to tail up that canyon was one of those split second decisions that probably saved my ride and is why I had so much horse left later in the ride. 

I didn’t start off tailing.  I started off in front of the horse, leading.  As I looked at the canyon (which I have never climbed up - I’ve always run down and rode up) I thought to myself “you can do this!!! this isn’t any steeper or longer than some of the backpacking trails you’ve been on with a 35 pound pack!!!!!”

Conveniently forgetting that I don’t usually ride 50 miles before tackling a hill like this in a 35 pound pack.

A couple of switch backs later I was tailing. 

I’ve probably tailed on Farley a couple of times in the 6 years I’ve had her.  I just can’t remember when, so obviously not often and not recently.  However, she knows how to follow trail in general, knows this trail specifically, and is voice trained.  Ah, the pleasures of having a sensible, trustworthy, 14 year old horse.

I ride in reins that are *just* long enough to tail, but I found myself really wanting a longer tailing line for this type of terrain.  I also tailed up the hill to Chicken Hawk and dropped my rein a couple of times because I was tired and it’s not quite long enough unless I keep my left hand fully extended towards her head.

Lesson learned: make a tailing line and carry it on hilly rides.

As Farley (bless her heart) dragged me up the canyon I found myself pleasantly surprised that even though I was breathing hard I wasn’t out of breath, I wasn't too hot, and my thighs weren’t burning.  Don’t get me wrong - the thought of having to go up and down all the canyons without the helpful tail of my dear little horse, (such as if I was *thinking* about doing the western states run.....) was enough to put me into hysterics. However, it really wasn’t that bad for this sea-level flatlander.  At my fitness level right now I could probably tail up both major canyons and not compromise my ride later on because of fatigue. 

I didn’t get off at all after Foresthill (last 1/3).  I sort of knew that would happen, even though there are some wide downhills that I could easily dismount for between Foresthill and Fransico’s. If I had ridden past Fransico’s there are some sections that I probably would have dismounted for (at least I would like to think so). 

Pre race jitters and the start
I was predictably nauseous and irritable Friday morning as we headed up to Robie.  Miraculously, after I arrived at Robie all my pre race jitters were GONE.  And stayed gone.  It was glorious.  I ate, I chatted, and I didn’t stress. I even went to bed before dark and slept until it was time to get up, only waking and getting up once to make sure Farley wasn’t getting chilly.  I’m not sure exactly what changed, but feeling like a normal human being the day and night before was GLORIOUS.

I started like I always do, not in a pen - but in the back.  I did start earlier this year which meant that I was riding with people almost from the beginning, although I wasn’t trapped and could always get ahead or drop back as I need to.

Tevis has something to offer for every phobia. Some people fear cliffs. Some people fear riding in the dark.  Tevis hits 2 of my phobias - riding in large groups of people, and slippery-unstable-horse-falling-on-me footing.  The fear of large groups has kept me from starting with the pack every year, but this year I bravely went out of camp and headed to the starting line at 5:05 instead of waiting in camp until the last possible moment. 

If you normally start at the back behind the pack, don’t be afraid to do the same thing at Tevis.  Don’t get sucked into starting with pen 2 if you don’t want to start with lots of people.  Pen 1 gets released to walk down to the start line, and pen 2 gets released right behind them.  The pens are more to organize the almost 200 riders and if you want to start at the back, then head down to the start line after they release pen 2.  They announce when the pens get released at the ride meeting so I always have a good idea of when I need to walk out of my camp so I can go straight to the start line without encountering a large mass of people. 

By starting at 5:05 from camp I saved about 10 minutes from previous attempts and I still didn’t get caught up in the pens, or locked into a big group on the trail. 

Hydration - Horse (also discuss creating a new “normal”)

Dipping their nose into a water trough to acknowledge the presence of water, even if they don’t want to drink, is something I’ve done with all my horses. Once they do it, we can move down the trail. I’ve thought of it as a mental “half halt”.  They have to interrupt their concentration of go go GO long enough to perform a “trick” that let me know that they knew the water was there, and they hadn’t completely lost their brains. 

The issue, as Funder so logically pointed out at Robie, is that part of the thirst receptor mechanism is in the horses mouth. 

I’ve discussed it here on the blog before - that receptor is why it’s not recommended that you rinse or squirt water into your horse’s mouth during a ride - if the horse is thirty, water hitting that receptor turns the “I’m thirsty” signal in the brain off for a while, even if the horse didn’t actually consume a significant amount of water.  It’s why you should wait to let your horse drink at a crowded water trough until you can snag a spot where you won’t push another horse out before it’s finished drinking, and someone else won’t do the same to yours.  A horse that is interrupted mid drink drinks less. 

So, if my horse is only kinda thirsty and too excited to drink and dips their mouth in the water so we can go on, potentially I am reseting that receptor and the brain thirst drive is dampened. 

So, I stopped the nose dipping game, starting Friday afternoon, after realizing the wisdom of what Funder was saying. 

Keep in mind I’m not teaching a green horse new to 100’s to drink and take care of itself. and of course I would have stood at a water trough as long as necessary if I thought my horse was in trouble.

Time and repetition will tell but....I think it worked! It makes sense to use every physiological mechanism at my disposal to stay ahead of my horse’s hydration curve.  It what makes biological sense not getting her mouth wet until she is thirsty and ready to actually drink.

During the ride unless she pulled towards the trough on her own to drink, I would stop her a horse length or two from the trough.  If after 30 seconds she didn’t move towards the trough we continued down the trail on without going up to the trough.

Sometimes she needs to “come down” from being on the trail before drinking and the difference between spending those 30 seconds at the trough or standing away from the trough is this: in the past she would use this 30 seconds to dip her nose in the trough without really drinking to try and convince me to go on.  And then maybe she would drink or maybe not.

Using the strategy of standing away from the trough for those 30 seconds, only once did we move on past a trough without taking a drink. (and everytime we drank it was a really long, deep drink!)

I was really really pleased.  She’s never been in trouble because of hydration at a ride, but I’ve never felt like I was on top of or ahead of the hydration curve early in a ride.  I can remember getting B’s and C’s for hydration in previous Tevis attempts and this year, at a hotter ride I was consistently getting A’s, even on an older horse.

It was also more courteous to my fellow riders.  If I was standing at the trough, my mare was drinking - not playing in the water, not saying hello to other horses, etc. 

Not dinking around at the water troughs probably saved me 10 minutes.  Combined with the 10 minutes saved at the start is probably why I was 20 min ahead of schedule coming into Robinson Flat.  Considering that in the afternoon someone on schedule to finish midpack could be running 30 min or so before cutoffs, 20 minutes is HUGE.

I also have a new “normal” for hydration parameters.  I was accepting B’s and C’s in the past when with some small changes  (eliminating the nose dipping game, effective heat conditioning) I could have been getting consistent A’s.

Let’s take a moment and discuss “normal”. I used to think that A-/B’s for muscle tone was “normal” until I discovered the selenium deficiency.  Now that I supplement, I never get anything but A’s. Now, the same thing for gaits.  A-/B normal?  Now with less miles, my new “normal” is an A.  This is a reminder for me to always be on the look out for areas that I could improve and what I think is “normal” for my horse may not be with just some small changes. 

Electrolytes - Horse

I’ll make it simple. 

I gave 1/2 a dose at Robinson

I gave 1/2 a dose at Foresthill.

That was it. 

I think that proper heat conditioning before the ride (heat conditioning will result in less sodium in the sweat, and the horse will lose less sweat overall), not sabatoging the thirst mechanism in the horse’s mouth, and letting her pig out on 2 different hays, 3 different kinds of mash, watermelon, carrots did far more to keep her electrolytes in balance than anything I could have done in a syringe. 

Another reason I was super conservative in electrolyting was my concern about potentially screwing up her acid base balance.  Especially coming up the canyons, the horse is working HARD and respiration is elevated because of two reasons: the heat (respiration is the second biggest way horses dissipate heat), and because of the demands of the cardio system (demanding more oxygen).  The problem is that respiration has another function beyond delivering more oxygen to the blood or reducing also is intimately connected with the CO2/bicarb buffer system that controls how acidic or basic your blood is. 

I don’t have a simple way to explain this, especially after 10pm when I’m writing this post (let me know if you WANT a post on acid/base.....) so for now, I’m going to skip a bunch of details and just say this as simply as possible. 

There are times that your acid/base balance gets screwed up because of disease (or other).  Screwing up your acid/base is BAD and kills things.

The good news is that by increasing or decreasing your respiration you can actually compensate really fast and get kinda normal (kidneys are also involved in acid base balance but take much longer to catch up).

The bad news is that the body has to compensate for that acid base shift when the respiration is elevated for other reasons - and increasing and dropping that respiration changes things really really fast....

(Wanted to drop a quick note in here that I'm simplifying - there is more than just respiration and kidneys involved in the buffer system and when a horse is exercising than there are other tricks that the body has to make sure acid base is remaining stable - BUT, thinking about respiration gives a glimpse into how fast and dynamic everything is and it's visible reminder that one little thing - increasing or decreasing ventilation is far more involved than we might think to maintain homeostasis). 

So imagine a situation where the respiration is going from really high (climbing out of the canyon) to relatively normal (at the deadwood check at the top of the canyon), and then really high again as you move down the trail, and then really low as you cool in the river.....and then really high as you charge up the next canyon.......and then back to below 60 at the next check.  The changes in respiration is changing the CO2 portion of the buffer system, which is affecting the other parts of the buffer, which is making other body systems try and compensate to keep the buffer system/pH within normal limits, AND you have a bunch of waste products being dumped into the blood that is further messing with the pH and everything is changing minute to minute, second to second, AND you have sweat pouring out of the horse that is another source of elyte loss which also affects the buffer system......and you have lots of other things working quickly and frantically to keep everything stable.

And I’m just not brave enough to mess with that situation. Body pH has to be kept within a very very very narrow range to be compatible with life. It just seems like a very very delicate situation. The body is responding to the dropping and increasing respiration in a very specific way on a second by second basis to keep that pH correct, and by administering enough elytes am I helping or hurting that mechanism?  I don’t think we know enough to even hazard a guess. I gave both my elyte doses at the end of a 1 hour check after respiration had been stabilized for a while. I could have probably given a full dose. But either way (1/2 or full dose) the total amount is so low, it probably didn’t make a difference. She got far more electrolytes in her food during the ride than out of a syringe and I don't think that's a bad thing.

I’ve probably frustrated a lot of you by my flip flopping over the years on elytes.  Give them or don’t?  I don’t know.  But based on the biology and physiology I know, I’ll probably continue to depend on heat conditioning, food, and water to manage my electrolytes, at least for now.

(Edit: added some stuff in the elyte section to try and clarify - by reader request I'll do a more detailed post on acid-base and how elytes might possibly affect the system during endurance riding and exercise - there's some additional information in my comments below too :)

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Tevis 2013 - First look

 I don't know where to even start.  Everytime I start my Tevis story, I end up only 1/3 through the ride, at 3500 words and complete chaos.

So, today I'm posting some pretty pictures and I'll tell you the end before the beginning, and hopefully reassure those of you that saw that I got pulled lame at Fransisco's (~85 miles).

Pictures are either from the fabulous Tevis webcast team (thank you Crysta and Lucy - I totally stole the pics of me off Facebook) or from the wonderful Gore and Baylor photography team.

 Above is me and Farley before vetting in.  Farely is demonstrating her typical behavior before and during a ride - totally focused on her job and ignoring whatever silliness I've decided to engage in.

 As you can see, my dreams came true and I got to go over cougar rock *and* get photos.  Although it was a near thing.  The pictures that is.  Some of my pics didn't get printed and the wonderful Bill Gore, who took the shot below looked through his files and managed to find me some wonderful shots of the "right" side.

Reader question - which shot should I get an 8x10 of?  The one above or the one below?  The one above is certainly a more pleasing shot of a horse and rider is sorta harmony, but the one below is totally fun and adventerous :)!


I got to ride the first 1/3 of the ride with a couple of really really great gals.  This is me talking to one of them.  LOL.  (and yes, the first cougar rock shot, and the 2 below are pics of a pic that Baylor and Gore the quality is not great here - but they are BEAUTIFUL in real life).
 And lets face it - when your ankle gotta itch it.  Let's here it for flexibility in the saddle!!!!!
 I had a very very VERY fresh horse coming into Robinson Flat.  I realized that I was going to come in like 20 minutes too early. Oops  Every time that I've been disappointed with the amount of horse I had later in this ride, it's because I rode a section too fast. 

Coming into Robinson I had a LOT of horse. 

A horse that knew EXACTLY where she was going and EXACTLY where the vet checks were. 

But I also had a plan. And that plan was to come into Robinson at 11:30.

We had a discussion on what was a walk, what was a trot, and what was a jig....ANNNNDDDDD.......when I said “walk” what EXACTLY that meant. 

We had this discussion for 1 1/2 miles. 

I came into Robinson at 11:25ish.  On a jiggy horse.  On a horse that I was getting compliments on all the way into the pulse area. 

Below I'm coming into Chicken Hawk.  This was a really low point in the ride for me.  Every year I feel totally dejected and tired and feel the impossiblity of finishing this ride.  It's only 6pm and it's impossible for me to contemplate being in the saddle another 10 hours. The difference this year was the low point started about half way down canyon #2 instead of at the vet check.  And I was never really able to shake it.  Farley was fine.  Totally sound.  Totally hydrated.  Vet's were giving me A's for gut sounds after telling me that they weren't giving any A's for gut sounds.  

 Farley got her bit caught in a bin of carrots and managed to dump the entire bucket over.  I was not amused.  Everyone at the check seemed amused and thought the orange carrots against the orange renegades was a "fabulous" picture.  Sorta of like when I was curled on the ground in front of my horse at fransisco's sleeping because I I can vaguely remember flashing cameras since I suppose that too was a "fabulous" picture.

So what happened?

The simple answer is I don't know.

I know that I had more horse throughout this ride than I have ever had at previous years

I know that my horse vetted through better - gaits, hydration, gut sounds, muscle tone - than she has EVER vetted through any significant ride in her history. It would be so easy to blame my pull on the total lack of conditioning miles in the last year, but at no point did Farley give any indication she was not prepared for the work being asked of her. So I have to conclude that my conditioning plan (or rather "rest" plan) was appropriate.  And considering that from Chicken Hawk onward I was pleading with the vets to give me an excuse to pull and they just laughed and ignored wasn't like I was giving a false picture at the vet check of how my ride was going....

I know that she trotted out totally sound at Foresthill and the vet ignored my feeble attempts to convince him to let me rider option.  He forced me to watch her trot out - which in retrospect was a good thing since I know he didn't just miss something.  She looked totally sound.  Not even stiff.

I know she was totally lame on her Right Hind when I got into Fransico's.  Not a reinjury of anything previous in her history.

I know we had a bad fall in the bogs in the first 1/3 of the ride.  But to stay totally sound for the next 75 miles and then just suddenly be lame without warning?

I know that if she hadn't been lame at Fransico's I would have probably sobbed and cried until the vet relented and let me rider option.  When the vet at Fransisco's (who knew me) refused and convinced me to go on to Lower Quarry, someone would have handed me some caffeine pills and Tylenol and I would have finally found someone to actually draft off of for the first time in the entire ride and I wouldn't have had to lead on a trail I saw once in the daylight 5 years ago and that I didn't remember at ALL and could have finally given my brain a break. 

I know that I was in pain every single mile of the ride I was in the saddle from mile 3 onward because of my knees which didn't like the saddle.  And perhaps that is to blame for my extreme fatigue that had me wondering whether falling to my death off the cliffs was really going to be THAT bad?  Because at least I could close my eyes and go to sleep? 

I know that it would be easy to blame the heat this year.  People from freakin' AZ heat stroked in the canyons!!!!!! (or so I was told - I'm having to go back and make some corrections because, as usual, it's easy to only get half the story or a rumor!) The completion rate was really really low this year - even with extending the cutoffs 15 minutes.  Last I saw, no non-arabs finished, and only 2 half arabs did (correction: 2 non arabs finished - Garlinghouse and Ribley - and 2 half arabs finished).  [ANOTHER EDIT:  Just ignore this whole previous sentence.  There were probably additional half arabs that finished beyond just 2. We were looking at unofficial results that morning and brain dead, so bottom line - go look at the ride results for yourself! :)] I think it's safe to say that the heat was definiately a factor in a lot of people's rides. But I can't blame the heat for my pull.  It never even registered to me that it was hot. I tailed Farley up the first canyon and while it wasn't easy, it never is.  I only noticed the heat when the sun fell because I realized I was STILL dripping in sweat and I couldn't see the trail because of all the damn dust....and then realized it was steam/fog whatever and it dawned on me that it was really really hot.  And then riders around me started talking about how their horses' pulses were running 10 beats higher than normal at the vet checks and I realized that I was damn lucky I live in the hot central valley, and I was damn SMART that I heat conditioned the way I did because me and Farley? We didn't even noticed the heat.  So no, I can't blame the heat for a pull at midnight, for a lame horse that still looked good in every single other parameter and breezed through the vet checks all day.  As for the rider, I didn't have one headache, didn't feel nauseous once.  So no, it wasn't the heat.

I know that for the next 2 days after Tevis the muscles hurt in my body so bad it even hurt to sleep.  My calves and feet didn't hurt (my feet are conditioned and no elyte cramps!).  My abs and arms and shoulders didn't hurt (rode Farley in a curb so that she couldn't pull against me).  But my back, butt, hamstrings, quads HURT.  Symmetrically and evenly and in a way that tells me that while my cardio may be just fine (no problems tailing up that canyon) I am WOEFULLY out of shape in the strength department for this sort of thing.  

So I ask again.  What happened? Why did my sound, looked-above-average horse that left FH come into Fransisco's lame? 

Based on everything above -  I know this:  that I did not under prepare my horse for this ride, but that I probably under prepared myself.

I wonder whether I just had some bad luck in the dark and hit a rock or a hole and she tweaked a RH that had already been tweaked in the bogs earlier in the day?

Or whether that's a story I'm weaving for myself and I'm missing something?  That's what I'm most afraid of - that I'll tell a story about this year about what happened that absolves me of blame, when it was something I could have prevented, because I've learned that very few things occur just because of "luck".

But on the other hand, Tevis seems to be more based in luck than any other ride I've ever seen.

A horse in front of me in the bogs put a hind foot wrong, and got trapped. Thirty seconds later after flailing around and dumping it's rider it jerked it's foot out of the rocks that had trapped it and limped off bloody and three legged.  Luck.

I heard a horse that was behind me somwhere on the trail attempted Cougar Rock and flipped over backwards on the rock, fell, and died.  I also heard it was a good rider on a good horse. Luck. (So.....apparently I heard wrong and the the horse did not actually flip off the rock!!!!!  Horse had gone over rock successfully and was on the trail above the rock doing a tack adjustment and fell off the steep trail there.  :)  Thank you Crysta)

I'll talk in future posts about how I "made my own luck" this year in a couple of places because I know the trail, but overall it seem that sh*t happens on this trail.

And so, today, after a day of napping and a second day of sitting on the couch eating ice cream and watching movies and replaying the day over and over in my head and in emails to crew and friends, I'm still left with the following:

I had an awesome horse and incredible ride all day.  I was probably under prepared and under conditioned, but my horse was just fine.  When I left Foresthill there wasn't any indication that I wouldn't finish with a lot of horse left at Auburn.  Something happened on the trail between Foresthill (mile 65 or 68?) and Fransisco's (mile 85 or so?) that left Farley's RH filled and ouchy.  And maybe I'll figure it out, and maybe I wont', and maybe it was just luck, and maybe this was our last Tevis and maybe it wasn't.  But I'm still glad I rode, and I have no regrets, and I did good by my horse.

And the last is the most important.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Last thoughts on Tevis and the Gremlins

First the important things....

My rider number is 161 and my stall at the Fairgrounds is in Barn 4, stall 16 (on the end of barn 4 by barn 3).

If all goes well you won't see me at the stall until after 4a sometime on Sunday :).

It's predicted to be a balmy 100*F on ride day, an improvement from the 104* I saw posted when I plugged in after my Disneyland trip. Glad I got my heat training in!

Speaking of Disneyland.....I had a WONDERFUL 4 day vacation.  We flew in early and spent a day wondering around Long Beach and I didn't think of Tevis except a few times when we were standing in line for tickets for various things.  The second day we spent at the LA zoo and I spent even LESS time thinking about Tevis.  Maybe once or twice.  The third day, in Disneyland, I didn't think about Tevis at ALL.  It was wonderful.  Disneyland is the PERFECT thing to do the weekend before Tevis.  I walked all day for 3 days and so kept my feet and legs in shape for the race without doing something strenuous that might cause injury, I spent each night basking in the spa, and was completely occupied by traveling for the first time with "yelp", finding Matt and I the perfect place to eat three times a day. 

Day 4 we flew back home in the early afternoon.  I consented to plugging back in late in the afternoon and discovered 2 dismaying facts.

1.  It was going to be 104* on ride day
2. The horse boots that had been shipped to me for Tevis were the wrong size.  Or rather, they were the right size, but were missing a modification that I needed.

Number 1 is an unchangeable fact of life.  The sort of fact that makes me glad I live in the hot central valley and had spent the last 2 weeks heat conditioning myself and Farley.

Number 2 sort of freaked me out.  Like verge of tears, pacing through the house wringing my hands with my boyfriend frantically texting me "remember the mouse" and "reclaim the magic" and " the tikki tikki tikki tikki tikki room...." and giving up while I watched a movie until midnight until I could catch my breath again.

Of course, in the morning cooler (and more rested) mind prevailed and I realized that I *could* do the modifications myself with a little effort and reminded myself that the year I finished Tevis the gremlins hit me in FULL force before the ride, and the fact that the gremlins were satisfying themselves with equipment and weren't bothering me or the horse was to be commended.

Of course, that was BEFORE I got to the Auburn fairgrounds on Wednesday night and realized that they had double booked my stall and that the other person had already checked in.

Thank goodness I decided to go up on Wednesday and not leave the stall prep and check in 'til Thursday night or Friday morning like the original plan.......

The ladies in charge of stalls were quite happy I had showed up early as well, since there are a VERY limited number of stalls, and the fact that they scrambled and managed to find one that was not assigned was a bloody miracle. 


Now all that remains, besides the grocery shopping and food prep and horse packing (leave for Robie early in the morning) is to not to do something stupid.

Such as.....

Last week when I decided to do a ride instead of free lunge for the heat training session, I hopped in my aussie saddle in moccasins, jeans, and with stirrup leathers that were fully 3 holes too long.  If I pointed my toes prettily I could barely rest the balls of my feet on the stirrup.  So, my feet dangled and jangled inside of the heavy huge stirrups, and gave me a rub just above my ankle bone on the inside that also left what little tissue there is, and the bone underneath really really sore.  In fact, yesterday was the first day the area wasn't sensitive.  REALLY DUMB!!!!!  I'm sure I'm going to be rubbed and sore enough during Tevis I don't need to start off with something like that.

And the next day, when I was looking at Farley I noticed on her off side some hair rubbed off at the girth, at the level of the elbow.  Being hot and sweaty, using a synthetic fuzzy girth, on a 30 minute ride was enough to make her just a wee bit sensitive and give her little hairless spots.  STUPID. 

See you folks on the other side!  (and come by and say hi if you are at Tevis :)

Friday, July 12, 2013

For my Tevis Crew

I do not believe I have properly introduced my 2013 Tevis crew. 

Funder - a blogger in her own right, she is the endurance person of my crew, and an aspiring 100 mile rider who almost bagged her first one 4 weeks ago.  Delightful, funny, and less than tolerant of my whining (but Funder, it’s so HARD and I hurt so BAD and I don’t WANT to eat)

Next let’s give a round of applause to Amanda!!!!

Amanda I met through Funder at Sunriver and she is hereby designated as the “sane” one, not being an endurance rider, although she has horse experience. In response to the rider saying “food is nasty and I never want to see that again” will calmly and without drama whip up something on a camp stove that is incredibly delicious.  I’m STILL savoring a particularly delightful cup of almond milk based hot chocolate she made at like midnight at Sunriver. 

And of course, my brother Tristan will be there for documentation purposes. He’s the ONLY person that is allowed to ask me open ended questions (how are you doing?) during the ride, and will be putting together a video similar to what he did in 2009 and 2010 (search You tube for “boots and saddles mel tevis” and they should pop up). Not being a horse person I think dramatically improves the editing of the videos since if you or I put something together on Tevis is would be unwatchable and tedious.

Last but not least.........we welcome Loreleigh, my sister to the team!!!!  Author of the ever popular “Bear Story”  it’s about time she came along for another adventure that is hopefully worthy enough for another guest post.  Although she’s an experienced horse person, it’s her first time crewing for me or attending an endurance ride. 

And now, I present a warning open letter to my crew, based on the words of another experienced Tevis crewmember, Ashely of Go Pony.

I shamelessly stole today’s post for Ashley over at Go Pony. Or rather, I stole “significant excerpts”. So pretty pretty please go to her blog and at least leave a comment for her so she doesn’t get too mad and read the her post in it’s entirety!......

“I've not been in the position (yet) to have to write crew instructions, but this is coming from the perspective of one who has been the crew, and what is helpful and useful and what riders can potentially do ahead of time to make for a very happy crew.”

Ah good!!!!!!  I want my crew to be happy!  Happy crew makes for happy rider.  Or at least, happy crews won’t eat the last of my oh-so-good-I’m-in-heaven-pork-rinds-that-had-to-be-imported-from-the-bay-area out of pure spite while I’m on the trail. 

“ I've been very fortunate to crew for friends and fun people. I've not had the experience of grumpy riders, or demanding riders, but instead riders who have been conscientious about things like providing water/snacks for their crew, and being gracious, grateful, and generous in how they've treated me before, during, and after the ride. (This is why I like crewing: It's been a positive experience for me.)”

mmm......So.....where I do I start?  If Gracious/grateful/generous = [you can eat any of my food but don’t eat the last thing of anything, and I provide water in gallon jugs (bring your own water bottles)] is a true statement we are doing OK. 

Before the ride I’ll be stressed and close to hysterics and nauseous.  During the ride I’ll be grim, hurting, focused, and nauseous.  After the ride I’ll be dehydrated, tired, actively dry heaving, and feeling slightly guilty that I don’t deserve a crew as good as you. 

In fact, I probably don’t deserve a crew at all.

“Crew instructions are good. Cherish the rider who hands you a multi-page stack of instructions that spell out their routine and expectations of what they would like to see happen. Whether all of this actually happens is another story. Ask questions. Don't be afraid to clarify what something means.”

I have a whole binder of crew instructions for Tevis.  Whether or not the crew reads it is entirely besides the point because I’m pretty sure the point of the binder is to keep me busy in the weeks leading up to Tevis so I don’t mess with my horse and shoot myself in the foot.  Because this year I’ve been able to spend my time obsessing over heat training, I’ve spent less time on the binder.

My crew: be honest - do you even READ the binder and pages I put online of information prior to the ride? I thought not......

“Take care of yourself! Know how it's important to take care of yourself while riding? Same goes for crewing. Blessed be the rider who provides for their crew with extra water/snacks, but don't assume that will always be the case. Check with them ahead of time on whether you need to provide for yourself or not. Making sure you as the crew stays hydrated and fed means you won't pass out partway through the day, thus being completely useless. (People electrolytes are good, too.)”

Ummm...does it count that in my crew instructions I actually specifiy that I, as the rider, will be very angry if I come into a check and have to go looking for a drunk or hungover crew? 

“Crewing is so glamorous. If you're lucky enough to be assigned position of "food intake monitor," be prepared to get slopped on. Degree of mess will depend on exactly what your rider chooses to feed their Muggins, and what Muggins deigns to consume at any given point. Rule of thumb: The more rice bran, the messier the slop. Some horses are, in theory, delicate and neat eaters. I've yet to come across one. Roo, in 2009, was probably the neatest eater, and even he managed to dribble on my shoes. You will also, at various points, be sneezed on, used as an itching post, and guaranteed to come home with electrolytes in your hair. And the dirt just goes without saying.”

So....In Mel’s world you much more likely to get slobbered on as the “human food intake” person than the horse.  Let’s just say that if I demand something be taken out of my presence because it’s making me so quickly. 

“Cooling gear is not just for riders. Those cooling vests and neck scarf things feel really good in the late afternoon hanging around Foresthill.”

If you put water on me, especially cold water, or suggest that I might want cold water/clothing on my skin I will kill you.  Don’t touch me with that wet stuff. 

“Be a Learning Sponge. I have learned so much about Tevis, and endurance in general, by crewing. I spend a lot of time at this ride just quietly taking in everything around me and watching the very experienced riders.”

I want you to watch the other horses and riders coming in around me and whether you are a sponge or brick matters naught to me.......but I want to know the following facts: 1. how does Farley look compared to the other horses - above, at, or below average? 2. What drama happened at the check that missed that will entertain for an hour and give me a break from obsessing over every step my horse is taking.

“Hurry up and wait. The modes of Tevis: frantic, anxious, impatient, relieved, ecstatic. Frantic comes in when you're racing the morning clock and traffic, trying to get the rig from Robie Park to Foresthill, then the crew packed up and to Robinson Flat before your rider comes in. Anxious is after you've set everything up and the waiting starts. "Is that them?" "What number were they?" "Is the pull list updated?" "When are they going to get in?" "What's the time cutoff?" Impatient is sitting around Foresthill in the middle of the afternoon, feeling utterly useless for several hours. Relieved is when the familiar bay/grey/chestnut/whatever comes into sight, decked out in their color scheme du jour. And finally, ecstatic is when you get to see your beaming rider cross the finish line under the bright lights of the stadium. (That's the late hour making your vision blurry, not happy tears, really...)”

Meeting me at the entrance of the check with “where WERE you” is not on the list of bueno things to say.  In fact, I may have to add that to the list of “things not to ask or say to me during the ride”.  

Also, I do not want an honest assessment of how I look.  I feel like $hit, I look like $hit, and at any moment I want to throw up.  That is the reality of me doing 100’s to date.  There’s always hope that THIS time I will magically have my food and elytes under control, but until such a time, I will assume that you are either lying to me (“you look great!”) or telling me something I already know (“wow.  You are really dirty an look like $hit”).

“8 days and counting!”

Thanks Ashley.....I had *almost* managed to push the fact to the back of my brain that we are in single digits and even had myself looking at the moon last night saying “it’s no where near full!  Tevis isn’t *that* close....” but I may have just had a full on anxiety attack from this little innocent comment.  

As well as realizing that once my crew reads this little post of yours, I may not have a crew come next Saturday.  Now that they realize that there are greener pastures and such......

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The case of the growing (and shrinking) horse and other observations

We are going to take a break from biology and talk about more lighthearted things! 

Which doesn’t mean *I* am taking a break from the biology.  I’m currently working on a muscle post since I became curious about the optimal time for muscle “development” post work when both me and Funder noticed increased muscle on our horses 2-3 weeks post significant ride (80 miles for her, 105 miles over 2 days for me)......So wondering if the visible changes corresponded to some biological mechanism.  And it turns out that muscle is immensely more complicated than I was taught and there are WAY more questions than answers......and I’m convinced at this point that I really should abandon this whole “food safety” career direction and dive into an equine exercise physiology, reproduction, and epidemiology career.....but I don’t even know what that LOOKS like except I could happily spent my entire life researching and writing about those subjects and live in relative poverty doing so and have zero regrets. 

ANYWAYS.  We are NOT going to talk about biology or physiology and upon further reflection, the above paragraph should be cut entirely from this post for the sake of “general interest”, but fortunately this blog has no “editing process” and so the Writer of this blog has decided to keep it in, and the Reader of the blog can skip merrily through it, toe touching down to sample for their interest, moving on to some other well-written-well-thought-out blog that exists at someother URL. 

Right.  Where were we?

I leave for Disneyland Saturday morning and me and the boyfriend have decided to unplug as much as possible for our 4 day trip (we are doing the tourist thing in Long Beach and LA in addition to Disneyland) so likely this is one of the last posts you will see from me in a while.  And....likely when I return I will be in the middle of that mood that is best described as:  “I’m doing Tevis in 3 days and I’m pretty sure I’m not going to live to see it because I’ll have a heart attack between now and then and next time I decide to do Tevis I’ll just run it because then it’s only MYSELF that I’m ruining, not my horse that is probably doing to do just fine and thinks I’m being completely silly and wondering why I’m hyperventilating into her neck all the time”

Ah yes.  What you have to look forward to Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday! 

Disclaimer: I have now realized, approximately 400 words into this post that I *might* have had too much caffeine this morning.  Which means I’ll have an anxiety attack this afternoon, in which I wail and gnash my teeth and swear off any sort of stimulants in the future, no matter how productive they make me. 

Moving on. 

In 2009 at Tevis, Farley was 14.2 and carried 168 pounds
In 2010 at Tevis, Farley was 14.1 and carried 167 pounds

Both years I used the same saddle.  In 2013, the saddle I’m using (thanks Irish horse!) is substantially lighter - probably half the weight? and total weight should be closer to 140-150 pounds.  Yeah!!!!!  I rode in my Aussie saddle the other day and while it is comfy and is HEAVY.  Like....I-don’t-know-if-I-can-saddle-my-own-horse-at-vet-checks heavy.  Will work on that after Tevis.....

The real shocker isn’t the lighter weight that Farley will be carrying this year compared to the past.  It’s that somehow Farley is now 15.1 hands. 


On the Tevis entry form they always ask for the horse height and weight.  The weight is usually somewhere between 800-900 pounds but obviously the height depends entirely on how much effort I felt like it was to put my foot in the stirrup at our last ride. 

I don’t actually know how tall Farley is.  She was advertised as 15 as think.  She has a large wither so it’s a little deceiving. At some point I will actually measure her....I suspect she is just under 15 hands.  Which does nothing for my ego since swinging a leg over her from the ground bareback is still an impossibility (darn my short legged, big thigh genetics combined with her “well sprung ribs”!)

Watching Farley run around is one of my favorite hobbies and so as you may guess, my fav part of heat conditioning is watching her float across the arena at various gaits.

The other day a very pissed off Farley alternately did a flying trot down the long side of the arena, and did pretty circles at a canter as she realized the 20 min session had been extended to 25 minutes (and she was BORED and in disbelief that I would continue this pointless exercise and thus decided to “show me”....). 

It was really interesting to see that, especially saddled with a crupper and a rump rug, she really tucks her hind end and generates power from her hind end now.  This was NOT her way of going when I bought her in 2007. We started doing dressage at the end of 09 and continued for about 1 1/2 years.  Since then she haven’t done any serious dressage for 2+ years, not even a weekly (or monthly) “tune up”.  But watching her fly around the arena, I can still see the difference.  The flying trot and the canter are both being initiated and driven by the hind end, and when I ask for more, she responds with a more active hind end and drive from the back forward. 

Apparently that decision to focus on dressage for 18 months really did have lasting positive effects, that continued even after her losing the visible “static” effects (top line, hind end muscling) of the dressage.

I did have a revelation yesterday that she looks an awful lot like a quarter horse right now.  Not the bulky “Impressive” bred HYPP halter yearling monster, but that all-round smaller ranch horse that you see running around cutting cattle and such.  I guess actually tucking your butt and getting down to business, as well has having a half grown in roached mane will do that. 

Personally, I’m not a huge fan of quarter horses and stock horses - their personalities don’t meld well with mine - but I do envy their apparent ease of flying lead changes and they tend to be easier to get off the forehand than my under-rumped, on the forehand arab that preferentially travels with her nose in the air, or at least as high as her wither. So it was with some curiosity that I watched Farley travel with her nose and neck stretched down, coming under herself at a canter, all on her own. 

Not saddled she still runs around like a freaky arab, but saddled she apparently has decided that long and low is the way to go.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Heat Training Week 2

Looks like we are continuing to make strides towards better heat tolerance during exercise and I've decided that for week 2 I won't bore you with more tables of data.  I'm headed to Disneyland on Saturday and will be gone for a couple of days, and by the time I get back, it will be mid-week 3 of the experiment and very close to Tevis time and I'm not going to want to go back and write this up - and really, it's just more of what I saw in week 1.  

So, instead, I'm going to share some more "heat stuff" that I've learned and more tidbits for my Readers considering the heat and its effects.

Farley’s sweat DEFINITELY has a different feel to it compared to week 1.  It’s a lot more like water and less like......snot.  The sweat “lies” against the skin and in the hair coat instead of “sitting on top”.  It doesn’t glisten as much.  And when I reach down to pat and stroke her neck in the middle of a ride, there’s actually friction between my fingers and her hair - my hands don’t glide over her hair like they did in week 1. 

Being at home with no internet and a wee android screen Funder graciously looked up whether the difference I was seeing could relate directly to a difference in sweat composition.  I knew that heat conditioning can change sweat composition of horses ( but I didn’t know if you could actually SEE that change in composition to the naked eye.

Of course, Funder got distracted by things like latherin, which is a surfactant protein completely unique to horses that is in their sweat during her quest to dig me up an answer. 

I have to admit - I rolled my eyes at Funder and graciously allowed her to go on and on about the stupid protein.  I had come across it before, filed it away as a “gee whiz” factoid and gone on with my life.  I was much more interested in that the amount of sodium decreases in sweat with heat conditioning and I was trying to figure out whether a decrease in sodium would cause a decrease in viscosity.......

And then I actually re-reviewed the latherin molecule and realized that perhaps it was worth more than just a gee whiz.....

Latherin is a surfactant protein, which is interesting because the only other biological surfactant that I’m really familiar with is a surfactant protein that is produced in the lungs that reduces the surface tension in the alveoli (tiny air spaces in the lungs) that makes it possible for these tiny “lung bubbles” to stay open and thus let us do gas fact, pulmonary surfactant is only manufactured by the body late in gestation and the lack of surfactant is a significant issue in premature births. 

What the heck was a protein that reduces surface tension doing on the hide of a horse???????

There’s a good review article on the internet here:

Turns out that its surface tension reducing properties make it a “wetting” agent for hair.  Think about spraying hose of water at a horse at low velocity when the horse is dry (ie - not sweaty), or dumping water or sponging a dry horse.  At least on my horse the water that isn’t directly under pressure of the nozzle, my hand or sponge tends to bead and roll off.  Unless friction, pressure, or some other force is added to “rub” the water into the coat, the hair seems to have a natural “water repellent” nature.  The basis of this water repellence by the hair is surface tension! Adding latherin/surfactant to the liquid reduces the surface tension and allows the hair to get wet/soaked with sweat which helps it move from the skin to the coat and to the air where it cools the horse by evaporating.  Brilliant!!!!!!!

Or in fancy science talk: acts as a “wetting agent to facilitate evaporative cooling through a waterproofed pelt”.  

The structure of the sweat gland is more simple than humans - it’s more of a direct dumping line outside of the body that doesn’t conserve sodium. The extra salt, as well as the latherin alters the evaporative point of the sweat and may lead to better evaporative cooling. Lucky lucky horsey.  So, THAT’S one way horses compensate for their increased size and reduced surface area from us puny humans (puny = advantage of relatively more surface area compared to our body volume). BTW the information in this paragraph courtesy of Hinchcliff’s Equine Exercise Physiology Text.  I’m on page 336 for those of you following along......within a chapter helpfully titled “Body fluids and electrolytes: responses to exercise and training”.

So....apparently this latherin thing is more important than “making the horse lather where something rubs when it sweats”.  I kid you not - that was the level of my understanding before this week.

So......what happens to latherin as you heat condition?  I’ve found resources that say that sodium levels decrease (and of course some resources that say there is not change, because science is a messy thing, but I’m going with sodium levels in sweat decrease with heat training) but a change in surfactant levels of sweat is a much better explanation for why the sweat feels different than the sodium content.

This is what I found: The sweat of an unfit horse contains more latherin - which is why they “foam up”.

And....that’s about all I found.  Which is a bit frustrating, because a week ago Farley wasn't "foaming up" like an unfit horse - she hasn't done that since last fall. Yet, I'm sure there was a higher concentration of latherin in her sweat last week than this week.  Not enough latherin to foam last week......but enough to give her coat more "slip" under my fingers when she sweated. Apparently no one has looked at whether there is some sequential decrease in latherin as the horse gets fitter? Either in general or just heat? Bummer.

mmm....Well.....that was a lead up to a big NOTHING. 

To make it up to you, I’m going to review some concepts from my new *favorite* book by Hinchcliff (Equine Exercise Physiology), in a section promisingly titled “Heat acclimatization” and “Recommendations for preparation for exercise or competition in hot conditions”.

I really appreciate text books that cite the actual primary references that are used for their commentary, and it’s even better when they occasionally give a short summary of the study’s findings.  Often it’s a paper I was trying to find, and to have a short synoposis of it is nice (although, must be weighed against me finding and reading the paper for myself).  

OK, time for cool tidbits in no particular order, with my random commentary
- horses that exercise and train in cool temperatures still have improved physiological responses when exercised in hot conditions (so something is better than nothing.....), but the greatest acclimatization results from training in hot conditions. 

- In human studies heat acclimation starts to occur within 3-5 days of regular exposure to and exercise in the heat (I noticed the same thing).  Most adaptations are complete within a 14 day period.  Thank goodness since most of my sessions will be concentrated in the first 14 days of the 21 day period before Tevis because of going to Disneyland this weekend and beginning of next week (YES!!!!!).  So gives me an excuse to let both of us take it easy that week before Tevis after I come back.  We will do 1 or 2 heat sessions, but for the most part I will be relaxing and resting, knowing we did the hard part of heat conditioning in the previous 2 weeks.

- The most notable changes of heat acclimation are increase in plasma volume (oooohhhhh.....because an older horse has a decrease in plasma volume and this is one reason cited for their higher HR and core temps in the heat.......I’m actually combating Farley’s older age by doing heat training!!!!!!!), a decrease in heart rate and core temps during exercise, an increase in sweating rate, and initiation of sweating at a lower body temperature (other references I found put this at ~1*C), and an increase in blood flow to capillary beds of the skin.  In general the cardio adaptations are complete within the first week of acclimation, whereas alterations in sweating responses require 10-14 days of repeated heat exposure (I did not go back to the original reference to find out what their definition of “repeated” was). Even though all this was in reference to human conditioning, Hinchcliff goes on to say that in horses there is evidence that similar changes occur.

- Sweat dripping from the horse’s body is “wasted” sweat.  It means that the amount of sweat being produced is in excess of what can be used for evaporative cooling, and evaporative cooling is how sweat cools. Sweating rates increase during exercise after acclimization.....however it abates FASTER after exercise is done, so the overall sweat losses were LOWER in acclimated horses. In this particular study that is cited, calculated sweat ion losses were 26% lower after acclimation, which was mostly due to the 10% decrease in mean sweat sodium concentration.

Here is a really interesting table from Hinchcliff that summarizes the concept (click to make larger): 

- how long does heat conditioning stick? So far everything for horses and runners I’ve found refers to conditioning for the heat “21 days prior to the event” without any reference that you could say....get that heat training out of the way a few weeks earlier. However, Hinchcliff cites some human studies that report the “rate of decay” (LOL) as one to “several” weeks.  In physically fit people, there is a slower rate of decay of the heat adaptations.  HOWEVER (and this is why I probably couldn’t find anything) no one has looked at the time course of decay in horses.  *sad eyes*.

Recommendations?  I can’t possibly list them all, but here are the highlights
1.  Horse should have a high level of “event-specific” fitness and be given adequate time to acclimate to exercise in the hotter conditions.

2. Clip

3. During the acclimatization process (14-21 days): minimal exercise during week 1, with initially only light exercise during the heat of the day with harder workouts performed during cooler periods.  Gradual increase in duration and intensity of exercise performed in the heat., including some exercise performed at the intensity required of the horse during competition (which in endurance isn’t as hard to do, but the duration is something that is sometimes hard to mimic in training)

4. Start monitoring the horse's “clinical data” 1-2 weeks prior to travel to a hotter climate so you have a good baseline during the initial days of training in the hot conditions (most of these recommendations assume that you will be taking your horse to the hotter competition area, not trying to acclimate your horse at home with blankets etc). Measure water and feed intake. Record heart rate, respiratory, rectal temps before and after training sessions.  Intensity of work effort can be estimated by heart rate monitor use.  Daily weighing is useful for estimation of fluid loss. 

5. Rectal temps were cited as being particularly important, especially post-exercise, because this is the best way to detect heat illness.  Apparently there is a lag of in rectal temperatures post exercise, especially after heavy exercise in hot and humid conditions, so measuring temps 5-10 minutes post exercise is important (by sheer luck I got this one right!).

6. The normal lecture on hydration and elyte/salt supplementation.

7. A high fat diet (8-10% on total diet basis) may “reduce the heat generated by colonic fermentation when compared to a more traditional diet that is higher in roughage”. specific studies that actually quantify changes from manipulating the diet ==> heat work.  So very theoretical at this point.

Let's end with a few thoughts from my data.  

I'm finally getting temps in the 101 range post session (up to 25 minutes of work, saddled with a rump rug even in temps over 100*F). At the 10 minute mark post exercise, body temps are declining. After some more research on rectal temps ....apparently a horse’s body temperature can reach 105-106*F during endurance rides performed under moderate climate my work in the 101 range is probably OK.  If I take temps during Tevis, I’ll probably be completely freaked out by how high the temps are in competition and laugh at myself ever being worried about 101-102.  From what I’m reading, severe hyperthermia is considered temps above 42*C, which is about 108*F.  Temps 101.5*F and below are considered normal in the horse, according to the AAEP.

I finally have enough data that I’m looking at averages - average temperature increase from start to end of session, from start to 10 min post session, and from the end of the session to 10min post session (after cooling).  Because the horse’s temperature isn’t as closely regulated to a very narrow range (aka humans), assuming my start temp is in the normal range, I think looking at the degree drop and rise will be more informational than the absolute temperatures.  I’m still looking at pulses as absolute numbers, because I care more about the cut off of 60 and 50 than I do the “average”, and the pulses change much faster than temperatures.  I would rather know that she recovered to 56 in 5min and to 48 in 10min than that she dropped an average of 20 beats in 5 minutes (which is meaningless since getting an accurate pulse right after the work out that represents her HR during the end of the work out is impossible - it immediately starts dropping, even as I try to count it, and it varies during the work out depending on whether she’s spooking at the scary side of the arena etc.).

This will probably be my last significant post on heat training and it's effects!  I'll do one more post either right before or after Tevis on the whole 3 weeks of heat conditioning data I have on Farley and any interesting trends, but I think I've "exhausted" (as in heat exhausted....hahaha I crack myself up....) what I can find easily on this subject during my lunch breaks. 

If anyone finds out any heat related horsey stuff that I've missed, I would LOVE to hear from you in the comments!  Especially about latherin and why it decreases in fit horses?  Maybe it's biochemically expensive and since fit horses don't need it as much it decreases?

Monday, July 8, 2013

Ring bone!

If you are enjoying these biology posts, I have a recommendation for you.  I recently acquired a new textbook "Equine Exercise Physiology" by Hinchcliff and it's fabulous!!!!!!  Unfortunately it's pricey and your library may or may not own it....but if you do enough leg work on the internet, you *might* be able to find a pdf version for free.  I didn't use the book specifically for this post, but I just read the chapters on tendons and ligaments and was very impressed, as they clearly explained the biology and current research without dumbing it down and gave specific training advice at the end of chapters. A huge point was made about how much adaptation and conditioning can really be done to different musculoskeletal tissues and their conclusion is that how a horse conditions is highly dependent on the work and conditioning that they did as yearlings and younger - ie being able to run around on pasture. The last paragraph of the tendon/ligament chapter gave me chills:

"After skeletal maturity, training will have no effect on tendon adaptation and therefore training should be directed at muscular, respiratory, and cardiovascu- lar fitness rather than the tendon."

Instant sense of humility about any horse I've ever conditioned and took too much credit for their success or failure.  Likely the fruits of my labor were sown well before the horse was even a thought in my brain.

But once again I find myself getting off topic!

Today's post is based on a reader question.

Ring bone is a term used for osteoarthritis (OA) of the 3 lower joints of the horse's leg.  The bones are P1, P2, P3 (also called the proximal, middle, and distal phalanx among other names.  The Distal phalanx/P3 is also called the coffin bone) and depending on which bones are involved you may hear the ringbone referred to as "high" or "low.

Picture Credits: Figure 23-21 Hoof cartilage attached to palmar process of distal phalanx. 1, 2, 3, Proximal, middle, and distal phalanges; 4, hoof cartilage.
(Dyce et al. Textbook of Veterinary Anatomy, 4th Edition. W.B. Saunders Company, 122009.)

Osteoarthritis is new bone is deposited (note that the "extra" stuff in the picture above is cartilage and is normal) around (periarticular) or in the joints (articular). 

Here are some examples of ring bone (random pics from a google image search)

Nasty eh? 

Now we get to the REALLY fun part.  :).  The WHY and the HOW.  

In veterinary medicine there is a classification scheme called DAMNIT-V which classifies diseases according to categories like Degenerative, vascular, toxicity, etc.  Working within this scheme does 2 things.  When vets are considering possible diagnoses for a case (differential diagnosis, or DDx) using this acronomyn to think of possibilities from each category makes it less likely we will miss something. 

The chart below is from (a website I regularly go to if I need vet concepts explained in simple language) that shows the DAMNIT-V (V = vascular and is sometimes not included) categories along with some examples.

So for a lame horse, there are many categories (and diseases) to consider.  Is it inflammatory (osteoarthritis)?  Trauma, mechanical, neoplasia (cancer), developmental (OCD)?

Based on signalment (age, breed, sex etc.), presentation, history etc. would make some diseases more likely than others.  Diagnostics will further narrow it down. 

Now let's assume that indeed we have a case of osteoarthritis, which is a disorder whose mechanism of injury is inflammation. 

Even at this simple first step (naming the disease and DAMNIT-V category) there is some controversy.  Many of the internet resources list osteoarthritis (OA) as a degenerative disorder and even refer to it as "Degenerative Joint Disorder" (DJD).  What I was taught in school is that OA, being a productive bony disorder whose basis is in inflammation, it is technically incorrect to refer to it as degenerative disorder and we were asked not to use DJD in describing it.  Having not been in the real world clinics, I'm not sure what the general consensus is on this, so I will stick to what I was taught in class, and what is used in my favorite pathology book (Pathologic Basis of Veterinary Disease, 5th Ed, Zachary).  So, for the basis of this discussion OA = inflammation.

It gets confusing because although OA occurred because of inflammation, as a joint disease it is classified as a noninflammatory joint disease.  Inflammatory joint diseases are things like rheumatoid arthritis (which belongs in the immune-mediated DAMNIT-V category).

So, to summarize: Although OA is an inflammatory disorder, end stage OA is not an inflammatory joint disease.  

Whew.  Moving on.

Risk Factors for Developing OA
Zachary mentions that the number one risk factor for a human to develop OA is age (however this disease is NOT considered an inevitable consequence of aging) and most cases in humans are "primary", meaning that there is no identifiable cause. 

An example of a primary arthritis is me living to a ripe old age of.....I don't know.....30?  [I kid, I kid :)] and being told I now have arthritis and when I ask why, they say "it might be the running, or the riding, or the fact you broke your arm, or that fall down the stairs, or your bones line up funny or [insert your pet theory]......or a combination of living and that person next door who is your exact age and did the exactly the same things doesn't have we really don't know.

In animals most cases of arthritis seem to be secondary (ie - they have arthritis because of some other disease/injury/cause).  (On a slightly related topic, the important predisposing factor - ie "primary" cause - for arthritis in animals is osteochondrosis - OCD). 

Many different things can cause inflammation that lead to OA over time.  Note that many of these factors are not specific to "ring bone" development but to OA development anywhere in the skeleton.

Here are some specific causes that I found among my sources: 

-Traumatic injury - Wire injury to the pastern area that irritates/pisses off the periosteum of the bone.  One concept pounded in my brain during this particular subject at school is that the periosteum has one response to being pissed off - make lots and lots of new bone.

-Abnormalities in conformation - long sloping pasterns, upright pasterns, long toe low heel, pigeon toed, splay foot.  Conformation flaws can lead to excess strain or instability in one joint, causing inflammation.

-Joint instability (extra bone is deposited around joints that are instable in an attempt to stabalize it)

Joint surfaces that are incongruant

Inflammation of the synovium 

Excessive joint strain because of a single misstep, or a repetitive overstrain leading to joint inflammation

An article at the (which tends to be overall reliable source of information) cites "age, work, and concussive forces" as the three things that make a horse the most susceptible to ring bone. The article is citing Jeff Thomason, PhD, a specialist in equine biomechanics and anatomy at the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph and he goes on to say that ring bone tends to occur in older horses worked on hard surfaces much of their lives and acknowledges the horses at the most risk are those with long toes and low heels, and probably those horses with upright pasterns or high heels.

The original question that spawned this post was whether or not trotting over hard surfaces (like hard packed roads) was a risk factor in developing ring bone. I hope you are beginning to appreciate the difficulty in answering that question.  First is the issue of "causality" which is proving something caused something else, especially when temporally separated as far apart as the work the horse might have performed, and the development of OA. 

I'm not sure that the factors of "age, work, concussive forces" are very helpful when trying to tease out the cause of ring bone and make decisions in our training.  Especially if the root cause is poor lower leg conformation.  Age and work on poor conformation, especially over hard surfaces where more concussive force must be dispersed on an already poor structure is a plausible explanation, but doesn't tell us whether a middle aged horse that has good conformation worked over moderately hard surfaces (like hard packed dirt roads) will later develop ring bone.   

What's my opinion? 

Especially because other than possible association between poor conformation = potential joint instability/abnormal concussion absorption = inflammation = OA development, I'm not sold on increased concussive forces = OA. 

Leaving aside traumatic injuries, it seems to me that the bulk of the evidence points to joint instability or other structural joint issues as the catalyst for this issue, and adding concussive forces, age, work etc. exacerbate the issue. 

So, when I'm thinking about preventing ring bone and OA in general in my horses, I'll spend more time looking and considering conformation than obsessing over the exact footing that I'm working over. 

I think good structure and biomechanics + common sense/moderation of all footing types goes a long way to preventing these sorts of injuries.  Too much of anything isn't good.  All sand training isn't any better than all hardpacked dirt training.  Doing all my training at a trot and never walking or cantering isn't ideal either. 

For a number of years my only available "every day" conditioning surface was extremely hard packed dirt road next to a canal, with some asphalt pavement interspersed.  So, I did a lot of arena work to change up the footing.  And a couple times a month I trailered out to an area that had a mix of different footing types.

Everything in moderation.

It's also important to realize that a carriage horse being worked at a trot/jog over pavement is very different from what we are asking our endurance horses to do, even if our main conditioning trails are packed dirt roads and gravel. Ring bone and side bone is often cited as a "carriage horse" disease, even though it occurs in other breeds and disciplines. 

In summary, ring bone and hard surfaces aren't something I spend too much time obsessing about in my horses.  I have a horse with good leg conformation, who is not a draft breed, who I try to work over a variety of surfaces, and chances are a career ending injury will be something other than OA development in the lower limbs.  And even if ring bone is a significant factor in her life later on, it won't necessarily be due to the ground we conditioned on - it's more likely to be because of a pastern trauma injury (of which she has at least 2 healed scars, one which is much worse than the other) which are beyond my control, or because of an overtraining issue, or a "bad step" cause.  And I'm equally as likely to injury her on ground that is too soft.  In the herd of standardbreds that I work with for civil war reenacting, there are some horses that have ring bone and some horses that don't.  The horses all have a similar background and are managed in a very large pasture.  While there is a wide variety of ages, much of the population is in it's teens, with a substantial proportion in their 20's or beyond.  Some have it, some don't.  Some are symptomatic, some aren't. Like many of the conditions that develop later in life, I think that we do not have the formula figured out for what exactly causes it, and while some of the risk factors might be known, there are a ton of confounding factors and there are other conditions that warrent our attention and perhaps our efforts at prevention.  As with so many disorders and injuries, paying attention to conformation and structure can prevent so many issues!

OK - I think we've got the point: a wide range of factors that encompass everything from genetics and conformation to injury from overtraining/overstrain or "one bad step" can cause inflammation ==> OA.   

But how does the inflammation lead to all that bone formation? 

Inflammation is the short term protective response of the body to an insult or injury.  The "hallmarks" of inflammation are "rubor, calor, tumor, and functio laesa".  Yes, I actually had to memorize that for a test.  In simple english that translates to "redness, heat, swelling, and loss of function". All of these things happen because of the innate immune system that has cells that respond to the insult/injury, and release cytokines/chemokines that are tiny molecules that act as chemical gradients to attract other "inflammatory" cells, and act on various biological entities such as  cells, membranes, bone marrow etc to cause all the local and systemic effects that we associate with "inflammation". 

Acute inflammation is necessary and useful!  This process that has us icing, taking NSAIDs, and elevating our poor sprained ankle are actually initiating the healing and repair process. However, an inflammation process that gets "too big" or goes on "too long" can cause excessive tissue damage.  The inflammatory process can be a bit like the "shotgun" approach of the body to deal with something, rather than a finely honed needle.  It's an incredibly beautiful system that does an unbelievable job against a wide variety of insults.....but it's also imperfect since it does have to deal with such a wide variety.  

I'm purposefully glossing over much of the fine detail associated with the inflammatory response since it is a topic that really needs its own post if we are going to discuss, but in summary, all those little cytokines and chemokines are not only initiated the repair and healing process of the damaged tissue, they also affect the healthy tissues around the injury to some degree. And if that healthy tissue happens to be the perisoteum or bone, or the soft tissues intimately associated with the joint......that can lead to the instability, changes in the articular surface and everything else we have been discussing!

Ugh.  Having spent WAY more time on this post than I should have today, it's back into the lab to play with my bacteria and restreak plates!