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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 :)


  1. I just learned so much. This post is awesome.

  2. Cool!!!!! I was kind of afraid that this post came off as a "I'm so awesome and did everything right" sort of post, so my part 2 will focus on some of my major screw ups :)

  3. Wow! This the first I have heard about the thirst receptor. That information will make a huge difference in how I approach hydration for the horses I ride. Can't wait to share it with the unit.

  4. Thanks for the info! I'm trying to soak up all the info I can and love detailed posts. I know you posted a while back on tailing am will need to find it. I want to train my mare to do it and in ths heat t s. great thing to work on.

  5. Call me a sucker for technical information, but can you do a detailed post on acid/base balance:) And expand a little on how the respiration changes during the ride that you described affect the internal workings of the horse? And how giving electrolytes can mess that up? Thanks!

    1. I can definiately do the acid/base stuff (will be a couple of weeks probably until some other stuff cycle's through that's already written). As for as how the respiration changes the acid base during a ride....I haven't found much and since horses (and us) don't keel over dead from breathing hard in exercise I know there are some adaptations that HAVE to be in place to manage the higher resp without screwing up the acid base-I'll do some looking and see what I can find that will help you come to your own decision. since we know less about elytes than it seems anything else - I'll present what I know and what I can find, but ultimately I probably won't be able to provide any concrete answers specifically to elytes. I think the fact that elytes are going in orally - it's not like they are hitting the blood stream immediately, so that's a good thing - they go through the gut first. The other thing I'm wondering about is how the presence of elytes and salt in the mouth affect the brain signalling. There was a human study showing that there is a "governer" of the brain, that is affected by the presence of a sports drink in the mouth - even if it wasn't swallowed. The athlete could be very very fatigued......but rinsing the mouth with a sports drink would reset "the governer" and the athlete would be able to go on longer. So I know longer thing that what enters the mouth is benign, even in small amounts because of the connected the brain seems to be with the mouth.

  6. Here's a really good explanation of the buffering system functioning during exercise, a little more than you need to understand it, but skip through the chemistry equations and just follow the concepts:

  7. I'm skimming through Hinchcliff right now and it looks just as complicated as I feared - no clear cut answer for how best to support acid base changes throughout an endurance race. There is a lot of vague "proper electrolyte supplementation to maintain hydration status" talk - but because feed stuffs have a substantial amount of elytes, just because you chose not to give the elytes in a syringe doesn't mean your horse isn't replenishing their reserves throughout a ride.

    BTW - came across the actual reference for the whole "water in the mouth suppresses drinking" response thing - and it turns out it's a "cold hypotonic liquid" that hits certain nerves in the mouth that suppresses thirst. I guess there's been a study where warm isotonic (same salt level as body fluids) does NOT suppress the thirst mechanism. Cool huh?

  8. also - one quick thing (in case i don't get to the topic) - looks like respiration can quickly correct for acid base but it's not the only trick up the body's sleeve for handling the fluxes in the system during exercise - hemoglobin etc can help out the buffer system. But I still think that it's a delicate system and watching the respiration rates flux so widely and quickkly over a ride (if you are climbing out of canyons etc in hot weather) is a visible sign of how often and quickly the body has to adapt to changing intensities because just something as simple as how quickly you are breathing has so many wideranging effects,. Biology is so beautiful!

  9. The thirst receptor is totally new for me too. That is valuable information.

  10. Yes, please, to an acid/base post! The practice of elyting more than anything else seems like total voodoo to me. Not the baseline of it -- I can see the science there, and I happen to be someone who needs to really slam electrolytes when it's hot out in order to stay happy/healthy/functional, so I am a believer...but in terms to what to give horses when? Voodoo! So I have been erring on the ultra-conservative side and feeling worried about it -- horse has coped fine thus far, but I would really like to understand what I'm doing and why before we hit 50s.

  11. I'm a human that needs regular elytes too so I'm torn between knowing I need them so why not the horse? I don't know. I'm just not seeing the difference on the equine side like the humans.

    Will do a post in acid base balance :-). Its not my fav subject and it would be good for me to go through it again and understand it well enough to teach it.


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