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Sunday, July 7, 2013

Biology for Endurance Riders and their Horses

Biology for Endurance

I have a question for you, my Dear Reader. Over the years I’ve done a number of posts about biology concepts that I thought were interesting and relevant to endurance. I firmly believe that if you understand the underlying biological concept, you as a rider and manager of your horse can think through the methods and products out there and make an informed decision on what you want to use and try.

Mugwumps posted something very interesting recently on “trainer brain”.  Basically, she was about to share with a client something she had recently discovered about her client’s horse that was going to FIX an issue and totally revolutionized some of her training thoughts and methods..........and the client was all like “that’s great. I love that you fix the horse and I trust you to do it, and I’m happy that you are going to do it, and while I love horses, I want to ride and enjoy my horses”.  The client enjoyed riding horses and being with the horse etc.....but didn’t particularly care about the nuts and bolts of how to train and thinking through all the training “stuff” and the “method behind the madness”. 

I had to laugh when I read the post because I immediately saw that I have “vet brain”.  It isn’t enough for me to know what is wrong and what I have to do to fix it.  I have to know the HOW and the WHY behind it.  In fact, I barely care about the WHAT unless I know the WHY AND HOW.  And yes, I completely get that there are a substantial portion of my readers, that while they love endurance, love conditioning, and love their not particularly care about the biology and magic behind what they are doing.  In fact, that might be one of the reasons I’m not sure I can do clinical medicine for any length of time, because so many clients are just going to want to know the what and the fix....and I find that so unfulfilling.  :(

I think that a larger proportion of endurance riders care about the WHY and HOW than the equestrian population at large, but I don’t fool myself that all of you are quite as obsessed as I am.........but my hope is that in these “essential biology concepts for endurance riders” posts that there is a tidbit or two for everyone to enjoy matter how much or little you care about the WHY and the HOW.

As a complete side note, I am curious where my readers fall on the spectrum.....Do you care a lot of HOW/WHY?  Somewhat?  Not usually at all? Post in the comments.....

But, somehow we have wandered off the subject of the post!  I had a question for my Readers and it was NOT whether you particularly cared about biology......In fact, on further reflection I may want to remain in blissful ignorance of the particular answer...
Someday I want to redo those biology concept posts, update with necessary with current references, and put them into one place where it is easy to find and reference the information. While that project probably won’t happen for a while, I am wondering whether there are any biological mysteries that I haven’t covered and that you are curious about? 

Here’s some of the topics I’ve covered in the past in various detail, along with some questions that I’ve been asked that are in the draft pile. 

Heat Conditioning (Metabolics)

Hydration (Nutrition)

Antioxidants, including vit E and Selenium (Nutrition)

Hay, oil, and all that other “stuff” (Nutrition)

Fascinating muscle and joint factoids (Musculoskeletal)

Tendon conditioning and repair (Musculoskeletal)

Bone conditioning, repair, and fractures (Musculoskeletal)

The hoof - structure, growth, and function (Dermatology)

What’s up with the grey horses (Oncology)

Magic spleens (Hematology)

Are arabs really better at this endurance thing (Genetics)

NSAIDs (Pharmacology)

Balance and soundness - Design of the back and response to pressure (biomechanics)

Lyme disease (Infectious disease)

Rabies (Infectious Disease)

West Nile (Infectious Disease)

Testing the Test (Diagnostics)

Stress response - running out the stress

 The Immune system - an introduction

Filling: what is it, what does it mean, and how does wrapping help? (Inflammatory/Immunology)

Locomotion: jumping, weight carried, and other size dependent biomechanics.


  1. Yes, more bio/endurance nerd posts please!

  2. Ugh. On rereading the post I forgot to go back and edit the mugwump reference. Basically the client just wanted the trainer to fix the horse, but didn't want to know the details or the why because it just didn't interest her even though she was an excellent equestrian and loves her horses.

    Ok! More biology posts coming up! And some day a book illustrated with cartoons :-)

  3. Yes - more, please! Love it...

  4. Love the biology stuff, I'm still mulling over the bone remodeling post...

    I've always heard that working a horse on hard footing can cause problems like ringbone. If the horse is conditioned over time to be used to working on hard ground would this still be true?

    Many of our local trails here are basically gravel road (hard packed old logging roads with various levels of organic matter over top)or gravel jogging paths.

    My horse has been on these trails for several years and we have gradually increased our trotting and cantering over this ground. I try to not do these more than once or twice a week. Do you think this will cause problems later? Or, has his bone remodeled to handle the harder surface? I do try to keep him on softer footing as much as possible but sometimes its just too muddy (and that brings another whole set of problems!)

  5. I am always ALWAYS very extremely interested in the how's and why's of horse biology. I am obsessed. I love to learn new things. And that mentality puts me above and beyond so many local horse professionals. It's kind of alarming, actually.

  6. Definitely interested in more. I always "star" or "like" your bio posts because while I read them, I know the information will slip away from me since I'm not always having to apply it in full on my typical day-to-day. I love being able to come back and scroll through the posts and glean good info when I am questioning things though. Its wonderful.

  7. Yes to the biology posts, and I would be especially interested in fill (for practical reasons) and the spleen (because I recently read something targeted at flat track horses that simultaneously 1) made sense out of a practice I've used pre-events because I stumbled on it and it seemed to work and 2) seemed possibly like total nonsense).

    Also in rabies, just because I find rabies fascinating.


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