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Thursday, September 12, 2013

I'm a better blogger than vet student.....

I was lamenting in an email for being behind on my blogging posts and was reminded that blogging is suppose to be fun.  And really, that’s the problem - it’s not that I love blogging so little - it’s that I love it too much!  I’m pretty good at putting off my riding (or even my running) if I need to get school stuff accomplished in a crunch time (and I’ve gotten pretty good at putting it back into my life once crunch time is done!).  But blogging?  It’s almost physically painful for me to get a great blog topic, write it down on the list with the other great blog topics I have, and then get my school work done. 

Sometimes I manage to trick myself - I’m not writing a blog post I’m writing a response to a comment!!!!!

And that is how this post came to be written last night, when I should have been working on a neuro case write up that was eminently due.

Don’t worry Gail - I’m not singling you out because it was bad!!!!  It’s because your question/comment was so much more intriguing and because I’m a much better blogger than vet please take this as a compliment :)

I believe that the cavalry comment was directed more at the “how to ride 25 miles” than longer distances beyond that.  The cavalry pace and distance expected of their horses seems to be similar to the expectations of a modern day LD. If I’m remembering my history right, even the pony express only rode 10-15 (sometimes as many as 25) miles before switching horses.  Doing a 100 miles in a day just isn’t something I can find that was done historically as a matter of fact. If someone has different history - please let me know - but I think the whole training for and doing100 mile races (even a couple a year) with the goal of being able to do it over and over on the same horse is a modern phenomenon. So while I think that it is interesting (and reassuring!) that the cavalry had similar pace and mileage goals as some of today’s endurance events, taking the historical reference too far has it’s limitations.

Using slow, long rides to get to this 25 mile distance is sort of like getting to the 20-26.2 mile distance in humans.  You can actually go the race distance in training, although some plans only take you up to 20 miles max for a marathon program. I haven’t run an ultramarathon, although I’ve done some research since it was my intention to a couple of years ago.  What I found is that at some point you stop doing training runs as long as your goal race. You worry more about time on your feet (“conditioning” your feet) and staying injury free.  To do a 50 miler, you might do a marathon or 50K. To do a 100 miler, you do a couple of 50’s, maybe a 70. 

Having not actually done an ultramarathon, this is pure speculation of course.......but from what I’ve read it all seems very mysterious.  You work your way up to a marathon distance and just sort of make some fantastic jumps in mileage that you just sort of keep running through and you figure out your nutrition and hydration and your mental game and if you have a bit of luck, some training, and pick the right race you complete that ultramarathon. 

Completely reminds me of getting a horse to a 100 miles. It’s easy to systematically take a horse from 0 to LD.  A little more “take it on faith and close your eyes” to take a horse to 50, and pure magic to get to a 100. 

And in that no mans land between LD and a 100 I think there’s a huge chance that HIIT could be one of those “cornerstones” that has been ignored for a long time.

It’s true that horses are “designed” to move slowly over long distances and as was mentioned cover mileage in the double digits if left to their own devices. slow, that means a walk.  Not the trot and pacing we use to cover 50 or 100 miles in a day.  Sure, they trot in the wild, but most of their movement is to slowly walk and forage, with infrequent spurts of activity. BTW - based on what I’ve read lately, humans are designed to walk too.  Not run or jog over long distances.   Sure, we can do it, but what I’ve read is now they think that early humans, not being fast enough to actually run after their prey, basically stalked it by walking after it hour after hour after hour - and could keep moving at a walk far longer than the prey they sought.

So, in some ways, we are “designed” more like our horses than I used to think!

However, you are spot on about the differences between human and equine physiology and its something I harp on over and over and over. You canNOT make direct correlations between what works for humans and what works for equines.

It’s impossible for me to actually know what my horse is feeling during our rides and I’m not doing truly HIIT workouts with Farley.  We do intervals of extended/faster trotting and canter and she is still aerobic.  Our “interval” ends when she starts to slow - I then bring her to a walk for a 30-60 seconds, and then ask her to go back to the faster pace. Then repeat.  I’m not brave enough to try actual HIIT with my horse where I’m working very close to the max.  I didn’t set out to do “interval” training with Farley - I didn’t realize that was what I was doing until about a year into it. I’m less trying to apply a human exercise concept to my horse, and more trying to explain the phenomenon I’ve seen in the last 2 years with Farley.  Maybe something else is going on and it has nothing to do with my “accidental” interval training. But right now, it’s the best explanation I have.

I just don’t know. 

In the short term it gave me a sounder horse that had better performance.

In the long term I don’t know - We spend a lot less time “pounding the pavement” (to use a human term). She gets a lot more rest and time off. Does this mitigate any increase risk from increasing speed and intensity for short bouts? 

I know that from a human side, I really respected the advice that was circulating when I was in high school/college that it was incredibly easy to get hurt and injuried from speed training and unless I was actually after trying to “race”, I should avoid it.

However, according to the 20 min book, 20 min of HIIT 3x week = 30 min of non-interval exercise 5x week. 60 minutes versus 150 minutes.  I’m spending a LOT less time pounding the pavement. And if you consider in that 20 min of HIIT, I’m only sprinting a MAX of 12 minutes per workout - the rest is recovery, it makes the difference even more significant. And from this wee bitty amount of cardio a week, I can run 10 miles - without a problem and even PR it.

The caveat is like I read for my ultramarathoning prep - it’s not necessarily the mileage that is hard - its the time spent on your feet.

How long can you stand and walk around before you think to yourself “my feet are killing me!  I need to sit down....”?.  Because I’m only “on my feet” for 20 minutes and I’m not doing those 2 and 3 hour long runs on the weekends, I consciously stand and walk as much as possible during the day. Back to that concept of what we were “designed” to do, I truly think that this model of spending most of my time on my feet moving slowly (walking) with just a few minutes of “mad dashing” is probably really close to the truth.

It’s worth pointing out that both me and Farley had what could be considered a “good base”, even if it was several years old.  Neither one of us were truly beginners.  And while (according to what I’ve read so far) muscles do NOT regain their conditioning for months and years after starting exercise - there is evidence that “historical” exercise (highschool/college for humans, yearlings for horses) will in part determine how much athletic capacity or fitness levels in future years. Farley being sent to the track as a youngster and me running in junior high, high school and beyond definitely fits that description, even if both of us were “failures” (Farley was deemed too immature to race and was used as a broodmare, and the only chance I’ve ever had for an age group award was if there was 3 or less people in my age group.....).

I’ve never suffered classical “concussion” injuries and I have REALLY good, normal biomechanics. In the past I’ve suffered from nerve injuries on the bottom of my foot, an achilles issue, planar fasciatis, and IT band issues (at the knee). The fasciatis and nerve pain disappeared when I switched to primarily barefoot running. About a year later I started interval training and the achilles and IT band issues have gone away (except for riding in a Wintec saddle apparently....). I’m not sure how my study would have differed if I had shin splints, or knee arthritis, or other joint dysplasia, or flat feet, had been running in motion control shoes etc.

I’m not even sure whether the HIIT I’m doing is aerobic or anearobic - it’s such a short duration and 75 seconds seems to be plenty of time to recovery.  I may be anearobic for the intervals later on in the session, but I’m not sure.

I hope you (my Dear Reader) read this commentary and realize I’m just another person that’s trying to figure it all out, and trying to decide how best to apply knowledge, research, and personal experience to myself and my pony.  A one rat study proof does not make :). I just know that I’m approaching 30 with over 10 years of running under my belt and numerous chronic injuries and now I’m faster and injury free since making the change to HIIT. Farley is in the same boat - she’s a middle aged pony now with several soft tissue injuries and yet....more sound, stronger, looks better. There’s something to all the buzz on the exercise and health networks, even if we don’t don’t know the particulars.

Gail - I know you ride a Fresian (mix?) and so that’s where this/my one rat study REALLY breaks down.  I have no idea how you apply this knowledge to a heavier horse breed. I dont know if speed training in a heavier breed carriers with it greater risk or greater rewards than a light breed. I know I never would have “chosen” to do interval training as a way of getting Farley to a 50 or a 100 - and I’m only here talking about this in retrospect because I did it on accident. :).


  1. IIRC you're right about the Pony Express - it was human endurance more than horse endurance, and they swapped out mounts really, really often. I think the Mongol army is a closer model to endurance, and even they swapped out horses a lot - but they could move a whole army a hundred miles in a day, which is just mindboggling. Each of their mounts was a hundred-miler horse, day after day - it's just that each horse did most of its hundred without a rider, and only 15-25 miles with the extra weight. Sadly, I just don't think there's enough surviving data for us to learn anything about conditioning from them - I suspect each rider started with a bunch of prospects and killed the ones that went lame or something, which is Not An Option for us.

    Uh, human stuff - I've only gotten close to becoming "a runner" in the last two or three years. Every time I tried when I was younger, no matter how slowly I moved through c25k, I always got shin splints and had to spend months healing. The two things that allowed me physiologically to run were cutting out gluten and cutting out padded shoes. I whine, a lot, about how I am never going to get to eat another chocolate croissant for the rest of my life, but I feel so good living gluten-free that I honestly don't regret it.

    I'm all fired up to try sprints but now I'm too close to VC and I've entered ultra-paranoid "don't get sick don't get hurt don't change anything" mode. But Dixie's gonna be on vacation in October and I'm going to try sprints and cross my fingers that I don't wreck my legs again...


    It's hard for me to chalk up my injury free status to intervals or barefoot shoes since it happened at the same time.

    We will have to discuss our "strategy" for the 5K the weekend after VC....

    1. Yeah, I did the barefoot shoes thing shortly after I did the primal thing for the first time, but I give it a lot of credit because my feet and legs just don't get tired anymore. When I do strap on normal-people shoes my feet hurt almost instantly and my legs turn to lead in a couple of hours, just walking around doing normal stuff.

      I have to have strategy?! I am not at the strategy stage!

    2. It's a trail race. Strategy is easy in a trail race.

      1. Walk the uphills
      2. run everything else (except if you run down really steep hills in the mud and slip and slide it's incredibly easy to piss off your IT perhaps everything isn't REALLY everything else....)
      3. Attempt to at least run across the finish line, even if in most auburn trail races the finish is at the outlook which means running UP hill at the end :(

  3. Funder's comment about the mongols is well taken. Especially from the distance-speed equation being a function of rider endurance and the number of horses the rider had available to switch. What we lose sight of from a modern perspective was the attitude of the rider. Horses were fundamentally transportation and weapons platforms. Failure to perform meant at the best abandonment on the march.

    My sense, not from endurance but from a historical military horse perspective, is that you can only look at historical military from a LD perspective.

    From the 19th century perspective, normal military marches were at a walk. During forced movements the limits of horse and rider became important, but I have run across no references for more than 20-hrs on the march and even then the toll on horse and rider was such that march casualties from lameness were high.

    Modern horses are generally in much better shape than their historical predecessors and are much better taken care of. I think that is why it is easy to take a basically sound horse to the LD range. Beyond that you starting work with a smaller subset of horses that have the "talent"; kind of like modern athletes compared to the average joe.

    1. I had thought of the mongols when writing the post, but couldn't remember the details well enough so decided to stick to more recent history I was more comfortable with :).

      I totally agree with your "better shape and better taken care of" comment. I think modern wormers have a huge role in this, and the options in modern tack proabably have another role.

  4. Wow! I feel so honored that my comment inspired a whole new post:) Definitely informative with lots of food for thought. Thanks for taking the time! I do have a purebred Friesian, and the amount of data on training warmbloods for endurance is pretty much non-existent, even though I know there are some competitors out there with warmbloods and even drafts. I'm not sure that they do the 100 mile rides, though.

    The big thing that I've discovered so far is that my horse's resting heart rate is 30-32 bpm, which means that the threshold of 60 bpm which is commonly used to determine fitness to continue is not going to apply to my horse in practice, even though it might technically apply at a ride. I talked to my vet about it (who is not an endurance rider) and she thought 52 bpm might be a better threshold for my guy, but that the most important thing for me to do is monitor the crap out of his heart rate until I have a very good grasp of what is normal.

    While I have heard so much positive information about HIIT for people that I think it is reasonable to conclude that at least trying it with horses makes sense, I am concerned that something that might work well for an Arab won't work at all for my much heavier horse. I don't think Friesians in general would have problems with the aerobic exercise involved with endurance because they were originally bred for the stamina needed to drag a plow around all day plus trot like heck into and around town. But, I am concerned that intense interval training might be pushing my horse into an area that he is not physiologically capable of. His strong suit is really his ability to trot, not to canter or sprint, and I think I have to keep that in mind while training. On the other hand, I do see your point about less time training meaning potentially less chance for injury. I'm sure my training strategy will evolve over time, as I get more comfortable with what my horse's limits are, and I really love all your posts because they make me think through what I'm doing and give me a better perspective to evaluate my results.

    1. Gail - it sounds like you are in a good "place" in training your horse and are carefully thinking about and considering information and then applying it - and thats the whole point of this blog! and I think you are doing it well. I HATE it when I see people blindly doing one strategy or another just because it worked for someone else and really want people to THINK about why something might or might not work for them.

      Another thing I was thinking with your friesion - all the acid base stuff I was looking at (the slowly developing metabolic alkalosis etc.) is on endurance horses that are NOT the heavier breeds, so definiately consider that when looking at the biology and response of biochem to exercise!

    2. Mel probably remembers this better than me, but... re: resting heart rate, I read in EN or something that they ended up going with 60 for recovery heart rate because it's actually the point where a horse is probably not in trouble, metabolically. It used to be 72, and they've eased it down over the years as the vets realized that a horse can pulse to 72 but still be on the edge of "in trouble."

      And I've heard that there's not as much correlation as you'd think/hope between RHR and how fast they recover to 60. It's probably awesome to have a horse with a low RHR, but it doesn't mean much when you come in hot to a vet check.

      Big-bodied horses: Robin Hood looks like a short draft and he's a Hall of Fame horse. A lot of the successful mustangs are thick, heavy-bodied horses. There's always a few of the chunkier stock breeds doing 50s or more, too. Your biggest challenge will always be cooling Nimo, but you can do a lot to help him with heat conditioning, a smart clip job, and water/alcohol to dump on him at checks.

    3. My take on low resting heart rates is that they are overrated. As long as a horse as somewhat normal resting heart rate, it's fine, and if they aren't recovering at a ride it's *probably* due to some other factor than that they don't have as low a resting HR as their neighbor :).

      Agree with Funder about cooling re: my experience with doing this with a larger horse than an arab.

  5. My strategy - if you can call it that - has been a simple one, ride for horse first, conditions second & goals third. There have been so many trendy training techniques that have appeared for human athletes - how often do we hear of the successes? I've watched 100-mile horses at the end of an event. The ones who look good are always in the minority. I think it's a stretch for them physically - maybe more than we should ask - but when you see those individuals who make it look "easy" - it's "easy" to be inspired! My preference is the Multi-day format - time for them to recoup, rest - then move on down the trail!

  6. Ride for conditions as in weather and trail conditions? I get the horse and goals, but not sure I mean by the second point.

    I have to admit that I'm NOT a multi day person. I just don't get much enjoyment out of it. In some ways I think waking up and doing a 50 for 3 or 5 days in a row is a completely different sport than doing 100's. Two days is doable for me. At 3 days I just want it to be over. The time I did 4 days, I had done LD's and the vet (the Duck) tried to convince me to go on and finish the 50 at lunch and I seriously considered just collaspsing and forcing them to drag me out of camp if they wanted me to go out for the additional loops. No way. :)

    I think about the "more than I should ask" aspect a LOT. There are 50's that I no longer do because I felt like they were "more than I should ask" my horse to do, but in general have not encountered the same feeling at a 100 - probably because the 100 mile courses tend to be easier than some of the toughest 50's. So I think it's more individual ride/terrain/weather based than strictly milage.

  7. I think multidays are for people who a) really like to camp or b) have LQs. I've told my NoCal Duck friends that one year I will try a Duck multiday when somebody with a LQ takes me along, but ughhh, I'm so done with the sleeping in the truck being filthy eating crap from a cooler experience after 2 days.

    I am amazed and awed by multi/Pioneer teams, but it's just Not For Me, not til I win the lottery and drop like 150k on the world's nicest rolling horse motel rig.

    1. I have to admit that I get bored on multidays. I talked to Karen a bit about this when we rode together at Wild West and she had a point about more and more multidays being the same trail loops around camp and that it's a much different experience when you are able to travel new trail and not go back into camp during the day. Or even in a new camp. I'm also not one of those people that see news stories on those people that decide to ride across the country on horse back 10 or 15 miles a day. You know the ones of you that look at my cougar rock pics and think "I owuld NEVER do that!!!"? That's how I feel when I hear about those people riding across country and the feeling I get in the pit of my stomach when I think about doing a 5 day multi day. However, it's also fair to say that currently I don't have a family member or signicant other that shares this sport with me, and maybe it's different when it's a "family affair".


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