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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Everyone has an opinion and it stinks!

Ines graciously offered to trot out Farley for all the vet checks during my 100. This gave me the opportunity to observe Farley during her trot outs and see the vet checks from the perspective of the vet, rather than the person on the end of the lead rope.

I learned 2 things

#1 – “It’s not the speed”, or rather “I may be the lowest common denominator in the trot out”

Farley has a huge stride for a little horse. Ines has very long legs and the two of them travelled over the ground quite nicely together. Farley looked absolutely sound and very even for the entire ride, I think partially because Farley wasn’t having to compensate for ME by shortening her stride. I think it isn’t the speed of the trot that’s the issue – it’s how confined Farley feels at a certain speed that causes her to shorten her natural stride causing her to look funny.

#2 – “Everyone has an opinion and it stinks” or “Know thy horse”

There were a lot of vets at this ride – as a result, Farley saw lots of different vets throughout the ride. I learned something very interesting. Vets aren’t very consistent in the letter grades they assign. Farley could trot out after loop 5 and get an A for attitude, impulsion and gait. Farley could trot out BETTER after loop 6 for a different vet and get B-‘s for the same attributes! Farley could get a B for muscle tone after one loop, and then with a different vet get an A for muscle – even though according to my evaluation she was exactly the same.
What I saw at this ride validates what I have done over the last couple of years – take responsibility for my horse and don’t worry about exactly what letter grade I receive during the vetting - as long as I don’t a receive a score that’s completely out of the ordinary (such as a C for hydration parameters after a single loop).

From what I saw at this ride, I think unless you see the same vets over and over it’s really difficult to say “her hydration is better now because she got B’s last loop and she got A’s this time”. Or “I got a A’s on my card and you got B’s, therefore my horse was better prepared”.
I used to let a less than optimal score stress me out for the next part of the trail. Then, invariably I would get a different vet for the next loop and he would shrug and say “looks fine to me”. I think the most important thing is to know my horse, know when a score is completely out of place (for example, I would not expect to see a C for hydration parameters at any point during the ride and a C for muscle tone would be of concern and if I decided to continue, would do so very conservatively depending on the trail) and go and enjoy the ride if everything is normal.

My first reaction, after contemplating this, was to say “exams should be pass/fail!”, but then common sense took over. Have a “sliding” scale for attributes can be very valuable, especially for riders new to the sport, and can help a new rider establish what is “normal” for the horse. However, the line between an A and B is so thin, and (at least in my experience) interchangeable depending on the vet, I don’t feel like those scores are very useful. Either score is a Green light and I’m not going to spend a lot of time worrying about it. In my opinion a C is cause for concern – a sort of “yellow” light, proceed with caution.

I think more useful than the vets evaluation is a periodic ride evaluation that you, the rider, do. After all, the consistent factor throughout the race is YOU. Score your horse YOURSELF. Regardless of how the horse scored at the vets, are their muscles tighter? Is their hydration better or worse, based on the parameters of jug refill, skin tent (which is not a reliable indicator of hydration…..from what I’ve read), membranes etc.? Have someone trot out your horse – I’ve learned it’s deceptive what you feel, it’s better to see – does the horse have more or less spring to its step? Take an honest look at your values throughout the ride and decide what to be worried about. Decide whether a ride strategy or home management procedure needs to be changed. Understand that the difference between an A and a B can be very subjective.

Even though the vets scored Farley’s parameters as A’s or B’s inconsistently throughout the ride, according to MY evaluations throughout the ride, Farley actually remained very consistent.
  • Her trot out after the 6th and last loop looked almost exactly the same as the trot out after the 1st loop. (despite one receiving A’s and one receiving a B-)
  • Her rump muscles had the same tone before, during, and after the ride
  • She finished slightly more dehydrated than she started, despite receiving A’s at the finish. Her hydration improved after the midway point, when I started electrolyting. Will probably need to be more aggressive in the first half of the race if it’s very cool.

Based on these observations I feel that Farley is well prepared for the distance and I do not have any concerns.

Anyone else have opinions on the system used to score horses during rides? Do you work really hard to make sure you receive A’s, or are you more likely to rely on yourself to evaluate the horse?

At Comstock and deliberately set a pace that would normally get me tight rump muscles (and a B score). I got all A's from the vet (same vet all ride), which agreed with my self evaluation so my initial thought was that the selenium/vit E addition was responsible. Now I'm not so sure - Before the tye up I didn't reliably do my own self evaluations of muscle tone, so perhaps the inconsistent A/B's I received at rides before the supplementation versus the A after supplementation don't mean as much as I thought. Especially considering I got "mixed" scores at this ride and upon my verification, I felt she was very consistent.


  1. I always try to watch as much of the vetcheck as possible (rather than handing my pony to a friend so I can run and pee). That way, I can see the cap refill, etc.

    I do the trot-out myself, so I can't see that, but I do listen to the trot-out, which for me is more telling than the motion (Fiddle's right front foot wings out, so she travels soundly but the motion looks non-symmetrical unless you are watching feet instead of legs).

    I also do a "mini" vetcheck right before I leave, listening to guts and heart, and checking mucus membranes. Sometimes this check makes me sit right back down to let her eat for another 10 minutes.

    So, yes, I agree with you, Mel: know your horse. For beginners: if you see a bunch of different vets in a day, ask a bunch of questions until you know what you are looking for.

  2. Anyone else have opinions on the system used to score horses during rides? Do you work really hard to make sure you receive A’s, or are you more likely to rely on yourself to evaluate the horse?

    ....the horse is okay, or it's doesn't matter if the vet thinks it's okay, and vets often don't know when they really are not. I've seen horses with better scores than my horse had collapse and die. Vet cards are not an insurance policy on how your horse is doing. I tend to go more by how my horse is actually doing, than by anything written on their vet card.

  3. ...what I meant to say (duh) is that it doesn't matter what the vet thinks if the horse really isn't okay - that's why we need to know our horses. It's great when the vets give us all A's but all that means is that at that moment in time the horse looked good, and things can change rather rapidly.

  4. The last vet check day 2 for me nearly ruined my ride as I was so obsessed worrying over a grade "B" muscle tone that I didn't enjoy my ride, or post ride at all for fear something was wrong. When I got her home I watched her trot out, and her muscles were loose as jello after a two hour trailer ride home. I'm beginning to suspect that Phebes who does not like handled by strangers is tensing her whole body at the approach of the vet, this vet inparticular. The vets are not overly enamoured with her as she always gives nasty mare ears (though she does behave these days). The grade thing about stole my weekend. But once we were home I rationalized what I thought, vs what the vet thought and decided to feel good about our accomplishment and not let a couple of "B"'s color my perception of the whole weekend. ~E.G.

  5. A follow-up on that was the time my horse was REALLY in trouble, she vetted through okay, got a completion, and then the crash. Not knocking vets, they are there to help us, but we definitely are the most responsible party there to KNOW OUR HORSE.

  6. I haven't had a whole lot of the vet checks yet, but have made some observations that have been noteworthy, such as when is a vet check helpful to me as a rider. I've been given scores on my horse and though a score gives a vague sense of the state of things, the most helpful of the veterinarians has given my horse a score, and an explanation of why the horse is getting that score. (ie, the horse is tight in this muscle, and this is why; or your horse's gut sounds are poor, this is what could happen, and this is what you need to do). As a relative newbie still (and will consider myself thus until all systems are go, go, & go...) at Limited Distance there is still so MUCH to learn. A grade may be helpful to me somewhere along the line when I know what that means for "my" horse, but a short explanation would be far more valuable.


    I'm REALLY done now. ~E.G.


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