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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Less whining, more doing

So, this may surprise you, considering the wailing and feet stomping that went on in the last post, but out of all that drama did come an idea - contact some horse people I know in the area (like my FFA advisor from high school that runs a polo club here in town) and get their recommendation. 

There's a ton of private boarding stables that don't advertise because they operate only a small number of horses placed there on recommendation. 

So, as you might imagine, the stress over this issue is real, but probably magnified by the fact I have a test on Friday.  It's so frustrating to know what your horse needs, but not be able to provide it. 

In some ways, I don't blame people for not feeding grass hay - it's hard to get, especially in large quantities.  The feed store I'm buying from currently has a 5 bale limit on any one trip because they are running very low and don't expect to get another load in until spring because of the weather.  Alfalfa is very easy to get here.  It's not the super rich stuff with lots of leaf - looks more like a grassy alfalfa mix you see in other parts of the country.  I'll post an analysis on the Ca in an "average" (if there's any such thing) load of alfalfa versus grass that I had done when Farley tyed up so you can see some of the numbers. 

I'm still frustrated over how hard it is to get the 3 things I want - 2 of which I consider basic needs of a horse, and 1 which is entirely selfish - somewhere to get off the property and ride - even if it's along side a road. 

Off to drink a glass of wine, perhaps shed a tear at the unfairness of it all, and continue studying.

PS.  This is not blogging.  Blogs are entertaining, or at least informative.  This is more of a chronicle of the emotional break down of a vet student and wannabe endurance rider. 

PPS.  Why do I still feel like crying over the hopeless of it all.  It's not like Farley is in danger of keeling over any minute and I CAN stay at my parents 'til June.  Seriously.  Get a grip on yourself.

PPPS.  Being adult sucks.  Where's my chocolate and wine?  And why did I chose TODAY to start my primal 30 day challenge?  Oh that's right - as a vet student you sit on your ass all day and you can't afford to buy new clothes so you can't gain any more weight.  Especially with the 45 dollar parking ticket you got. 

PPPPS.  I did find a place that is an hour away that offers pasture and 50/50 grass alfalfa.  It's $350/month. 

PPPPPS.  I long for the days when I was an oblivious newbie endurance rider who didn't have a clue how important the type of hay or living situation was and COULD go back to doing things the way "everyone else" does in the area.  (and don't forget - they've done it for 20 years without an issue and therefore everything must be hunky-dory....

PPPPPPS.  Regarding the above comment.  I'm not bitter or anything.  Really. 

Comment away and I SWEAR not to go all psycho in the comments.  Maybe. 

A question for you'all

For those of you that saw my Facebook status about NOT BLOGGING because I should be studying….this is not a blog post.  This is a fact finding mission.

I want to know……whether I should board my horse if it means giving up grass hay and switching to alfalfa. 

The money is the same whether I continue to have her at my parents versus boarding.  The boarding stable is across the street (which is a highway) and is where my dad boards his two horses.  Nice facilities, arena, solid sided big round pen, and the ability to ride off the property for a couple of hours without trailering.  Shared pastures.  Irrigated, so at least part of the year there is some grass.

The only downside is that they feed alfalfa and it would not be an option to feed grass there. 

I’m at the point in my conditioning that the ability to get off the property for a couple hours without trailering would be a HUGE bonus.  I thought I would be able to do that at my parents, but new owners of property and new fences make it impossible to get onto the levee’s and ride, and I have to trespass property that does NOT want horses on it in order to get to a spot to cross the highway where I would ride if I boarded. 

So… critical would it be if she was on a 100% alfalfa diet?  It doesn’t look too rich - looks horse appropriate.   I’m willing to buy a bale or two of grass and keep it around, but with me seeing my horse only 3 days a week or so, I wouldn’t be able to give enough to make a difference. 

Is giving over 50% alfalfa in the diet a death knell for endurance riding? 

I’m going to have to move my horse regardless because my parents property won’t be available to me to have a horse on after this summer.  I’m going to have to decide whether pasture space, or grass hay is more important - no one in this area feeds grass.  Most will feed it if your horse is in a small private paddock/stall and you buy it - but I think that pasture is more important to hay - so not willing to go that route. 

What to do what to do.

I can always move her back to my parents for a few months and find somewhere else if it doesn’t work out. 

Right now the minimum trailer ride is 15 minutes away from my parents - but I live 20-25 minutes away.  If you start adding up the time it takes me to get to just the river bottoms for an hour or 2 ride, the cost in time is high. 

What do you guys think?  I’ve had Farley on a 50% alfalfa diet before and she did fine - she only switched to 100% grass ~18 months ago.  She’s been on 50/50 since I got her - but was fed 100% alfalfa before then. 

I would be willing to feed a ration balancer for alfalfa if that would help balance the hay.

I’m particularly worried about the Ca:P ratio. 

Please give me your thoughts!!!!!!!

Monday, February 27, 2012


Saw Farley today for a "maintenance" day - meaning I do all this little errands and chores that come with keeping a horse and checked her legs as a matter of course.  There was a little filling in both front legs, a little worse in the left front.  She trotted out fine on a lunge line and looked sound in both directions. 

So far in our conditioning I haven't had any filling although based on her past it's "normal" for her to have filling after a significant ride.  My goal is to condition in such a way as to minimize any such filling - although I'm doubtful I can totally eliminate it.  Especially in a leg that's ever had an injury, it is more likely to fill. 

So, even though I don't assume that I'm dealing with an injury when the filling shows up, I'll take it as a sign that we need to either back off on the amount of work being done and/or stay at the level we are at (with appropriate rest) until her body adapts to the stress.

So with the filling today, what's the plan (assuming the filling is gone by tomorrow, which would be normal).  We've done 2.5 hours at a slower pace (no filling) and 1.5 hours at a faster pace (some filling). That means that I'll be sticking to rides somewhere in the 1-3 hour range at varying paces for the next 4 weeks.  If filling returns at any of those rides, I'll give her 2 weeks off, then start again at one hour and see how she does.

This is probably overkill- but I have the time and I think it's better to go too slowly than too fast at this point.  

I think I need to go and do a literature review on just how significant "filling" is....

after my test of course

Which I still haven't studied for.

It's spring and sunny and I would much rather take afternoon naps and write blog posts. 

Blog round up 2/27/12

....with commentary as usual.  

This guy always has GREAT things to say.  99% of the stuff he says here about moving up levels in eventing applies to moving up distance in endurance.  If you are an LD rider and you are thinking about 50's, or are contemplating a 100 - read this article.  Fatigue is your number one enemy - can you finish rides and maintain good riding position?  Can your horse carry itself at the end of the ride?  Have your foundation blocks in place and go for it!

Eventing-a-gogo's writer Andrea has a new horse and a new blog.  In a post here she talks about her mares feet and transitioning to barefoot.  Although Farley's feet don't look nearly as bad, and she's sound on gravel, I'm going through a similar issue with Farley's hooves.  ie - they don't look classically barefoot pretty like they have in the past.  There's a rim of hoof wall and a bit more heel than I would like.  In the past, I would have chopped (ie - rasp in a responsible way...) the wall off to be level with white line/sole - however my new trimmer is very conservative and told me he prefers to let the horses foot take shape on it's own, with "supportive" trimming.  Ie - the hoof will remodel itself, if it's given a chance and trimmed so that it's encouraged to do so.  Although I know if I took a rasp to her foot and made it pretty she would be sound because she has awesome feet, I am restraining myself.  In the past, she wouldn't maintain "pretty feet" on her own - every couple of weeks I had to chop toe off the right right and heel off the left front and the right front really wanted to flare at the quarters if I didn't keep up on it.  So, with some time on my hands until our next ride, I'm willing to try his way and take the slower route.  Maybe by letting the hoof find it's own shape, it will maintain better.  Can you believe I'm already seeing a difference in 7 weeks?  The flares at the quarters of the RF are already resolving themselves, the white line is tighter in all 4 hooves, and the LF is retaining less sole.  Her RF, which I've been using a size 2 on for over a year because I couldn't get a size 1 on it due to her hoof being a tad too wide due to the flaring, now fits. (she's borderline 1's on her RF and if there's anything at all going on, it bumps her up - so it's a good barometer for me of how the hoof is doing).  She still has a rim of hoof wall that annoys me - BUT, I can't argue with what her hoof is doing.  Maybe she needs to fix the flare etc. before loosing that rim of hoof?  Maybe by me making her hoof remodel "out of order" by insisting that the rim of hoof GO, she never really transitioned to a hoof that was capable of maintaining itself.  It's an interesting experiment and I'll keep you posted. 

Home made slow feeder for hay here

Karen has posted on the "what if" monster and the mental games that go into bringing along a new horse.  I've certainly been there and I have a suspicion that me and Karen are not along. 

Sunday, February 26, 2012


 I went riding today!  And I took pictures from the saddle for the first time since I can remember. 

11 miles in 1.5 hours.  Didn't break 12mph - which considering how big her trot is, and how forward she was today, is actually quite good.

Did the entire ride barefoot with no boots.  In the past I've put boots on for this, but in reality there's only a small section of rock that can be walked on.  I really shouldn't worry - coming back I heard some dirt bikes so instead of riding the trails, I stayed on top of the levee for a mile or too and she trotted WONDERFULLY SOUND on GRAVEL. 

 But really, that wasn't the best part of the ride.

The best part of the ride was this: I finally figured out how to fix the tense, rushing Farley.  And it has to do with not pushing her buttons.  Because there's one thing she REALLY hates above all else - loss of rhythm. 

 Pics of her feet (fronts above, hinds below) after the ride.  A bit chipped, but really no big deal.  I cleaned them up with a rasp after I took the pics. 

Here's Farley after the ride.  She was quite foamy, but not too bad.  She's a good weight right now.  She's lost a lot of muscle tone in her hindquarters, but it isn't as bad as it was before I started dressage.  She moves quite nicely uphill undersaddle - I think her hocks are feeling pretty darn good with the extra room in pasture to move around in. 
Where were we?

Rhythm.  I'm more conscious of things like "rhythm", "relaxation", and "submission" because of my dressage lessons.  Although she had a tendency to rush in the dressage ring, rhythm was my biggest concern in jumping.  It wasn't until I starting counting strides and really getting into the rhythm of cantering 3 jumps on a 20 meter circle that I understood how important rhythm is.  I really hadn't given rhythm much thought on the endurance trail.  However today......I discovered that a loss of rhythm is what pushes Farley's buttons - and not in a good way.

When I turn around on the trail, Farley's reaction is to become tense, try to rush, and then become really pissed off when I check her.  She immediately becomes worse, throws her head in the air and more likely than not there is a bit of a temper tantrum, that may or may not result in a one rein stop when she tries to throw in a couple of bucks.

Today, for some reason, I started counting strides - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8.......And Farley immediately became more relaxed.  I noticed that when I try to half halt, or I'm tense because I'm trying to anticipate a trail obstacle, or I'm trying to micro manage her - I change rhythm.

It's not a big deal going out - she gets tense, but because the corrections or fewer and not as strong, it's OK because the change in rhythm is less noticeable.  It's  when she's tense, and I'm tense, and I'm having to make a lot of corrections (rating speed, for example) - I tend to brace in my stirrups and get behind the motion.

This distracts and pisses Farley off and makes her really anxious.  It might be because she can't navigate the trail as well because it changes her balance - or it could just be a pet peeve of her's.  Either way, if rhythm is important to her, it's something I can be better at.  

Every time I got the rhythm right, Farley would stretch her head and neck down and stretch her back and make happy horse noises. 

One thing I noticed is that it's easier for me to keep rhythm on one diagonal than the other.  So, I would get on the easier diagonal and get a good rhythm going.  Then, I would change my diagonal and try to make that one as good as the other one.  Once I got my rhythm on both diaganols on a flat, non technical ground, I switched back to single track near the river and tried to maintain rhythm around turns and over obstacles.

I have no idea why this is coming up now, instead of a 1000 miles ago.  Maybe having a year off has made her more sensitive to my balance.  Maybe it's the saddle I'm using and it's changed my riding enough that she's more sensitive.  Maybe I'm a little uncertain about tackling the trails again and that uncertainty is showing up in my position and translating to rhythm (very likely, as I've noticed I have a tendency to get a little more forward in the saddle than in the past, something that is definitely linked to how secure I feel). 

Looking back, I can see that most of our "naughtiness" under saddle moments were related to a loss of rhythm - including her bucking while jumping.

A couple other quick updates.

1.  I have a test on Friday.  You know what that means.  I dissapear for a while.  There's enough new posts here and on Tess's blog that it should keep you happy until Friday :)

2.  I rode in my barefoot shoes with the stirrups one hole shorter for today's ride.  Zero issues with the shoes. lower leg is still not very stable.  I need to monkey around with the leather length and perhaps put a spacer on the stirrup bar?  I get behind the motion and feel the back of the saddle (cantle) on my bum more than I should.  I may need someone to video tape me to help me figure out what I need to change.  It's a saddle I don't have THAT many rides in, and I think I'm still trying to find my "place" in it.  I may go back to a more traditional riding shoe, just to try and get my "feel" back, and then switch back to the barefoot shoes.  I may need to hop into my dressage saddle for a couple of short trips up and down the road, and then see if I can tell what's different in this saddle.  I think a lot has to do with only getting in the saddle once a week or so - with relatively few hours and reptitions it's just taking me longer to get it right. 

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Blog roundup!

A TON of really good blogs in my Reader today and not enough time to formulate entire posts on the subjects, AND ride this weekend, AND finish my homework, AND run, AND play with my puppy.

So instead, I'm posting links for you to do some neighborly visiting to some other blog and to participate in the discussion.

Funder on types of reinforcement used during training.  For my opinion, see the comment section.  And for more on this subject check out Funder's earlier post here.

Fugly posted on equipment use.  Which reminded me that I was going to do a blog post on equipment use in endurance and the importance of understanding what each piece of equipment you chose does, how, and why you are deciding to use it.  For example......nosebands.  Do I ride with one in a dressage ring?  Yes.  (a simple cavasson and fairly loose).  Do I ride with one on the trail?  No.  Because on the trail there is not need for the purpose that a noseband serves, and it is actually contraindicated - I want the horse to freely eat and drink - something the noseband does NOT allow and so in my opinion it has no place in my endurance tack.  I once asked someone (just curious ) who was using one at a 50 mile ride why - to see if I had maybe missed something in it's function and they shrugged and said "I always ride with one".  Not a good enough reason for me.  Sometimes you make compromises for safety - does my horse eat better without a bit?  Yes.  Does she always behave in a hackamore?  No.  So she gets a bit until she's going to be a good girl.  My advice for any endurance rider would be to examine their tack and equipment that they put on the horse and make sure that they know why they are using it, and that is serves a purpose.

Grey Horse Matters is a lesson to us all :).  I LOVE my comments and couldn't imagine how I would feel if I had deleted them.  Head on over to GHM and let's start "replacing" some of the comment love she had.

Mugwumps posted on conformation and I must say....I agree with her approach.  Another blog post in draft form right now is my evolution of thought regarding back yard breeders, blood lines, confirmation, and purebreds.  I've done a couple of 180's over the last year or two with both horses and dogs and it's worth going through.  So....until I get around to writing that post (yes, you may insert jeopardy music here), check out this post and give it some thought. 

And....I'm reminded why I'm so happy not to board right now.  My problem wasn't irregular feeding hours, but the amount of hay - I hate having the "feeding/hay" talk.  I must admit that my feeding times are a bit irregular, but as Farley has hay in front of her the majority of the day, and space to move around, I don't anticipate any colic problems.

I started reading a new blog recently and this is a good post - really like a writer that lets a little personality shine through :). 

I adore riding the beach and have many good memories of riding on the beach - my first gallop, my first bareback gallop, my first bareback gallop in a halter......Laura posted a great post on beach riding and it's worth a read.  It's not all effortless, galloping with your hair in the wind.  Which reminds me - can you believe I've never taken Farley to the beach!?  Looks like I won't be either - but I'm OK with it. 

Tight's update

Got my new tights in the mail today and they are BEAUTIFUL.  And so comfy.  Except......

Apparently my much beloved pair are the "low rise" version.  The pair I ordered are not.  It's not that big a deal, except they use a wider elastic band on the low rise version that I find much more comfortable.  For a $100 pair of tights that I will be wearing a substantial amount of time, it's worth it to have them be as perfect as possible. 

So, I'm returning them for an exchange.  Turns out that the return procedure for Tropical rider is VERY easy.  Go to the website, fill out a form, and put on the form what you want them to send you. 

I was looking forward to using them for a ride this weekend, so it's a bummer - but I'm sure there will be a lot more rides in the future of these riding tights. 

I pulled my old Tropical riders out of the washer to compare the fit and confirm they had the wider elastic waist band and I was surprised how faded they are - the thigh portion is a completely different color than the hip and lower leg!  And the fabric is so thin.  And there's a hole in them I hadn't seen before - probably because I don't make it a practice to stare at my nether regions as I ride down the trail. 

Friday, February 24, 2012

If horses were people.....

This post is so funny - I think the one that got me giggling (in the middle of class no less....) was this one:

#10:  If a woman didn't like a man she would scream and kick him.

#11: If she did like him she would scream, kick him and then pee on the floor.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Teamwork is less work

When started vet school, one thing that was reiterated over and over and over was that we would NOT be able to do this on our own.  "This" encompassed our lectures, our labs, working in the hospital in our 4th year, and practicing as a veterinarian after graduation. 

A good friend of mine, a retired doctor, told me that I needed a small study group, not only for studying, but for the other benefits it would give me such as social and emotional support.

With this in mind, one of the first things I did once we got settled in school was ask 2 friends to be part of my study group.

The group has evolved several times since it has formed, each time putting a little more trust in the other members and making it possible for all of us to enjoy school a little more and be more efficient at integrating the large amount of material being taught.

In the beginning, we all brought summaries of lectures, with answers to the given learning objectives.  We would discuss the learning objectives and make sure we had all gotten the same information.

Soon, we couldn't keep up with the number of lectures  and still create comprehensive lecture summaries.

Our strategy now is to "sign up" for lectures.  Out of an average of 3-4 lectures a day, each of us may do 1-2.  Then, we share those lecture summaries with the other members.  It's wonderful because it allows each of us to pace ourselves - I can work really hard in one lecture, getting all the detail, and then after the lecture answer learning objectives and organize the information into tables and other "visual aids" that organize information- and only have to do that once a day instead of 4 times. 

Each of us is still in all the lecture and are still paying attention (except right now - as I'm writing a blog post instead of paying attention!).  Most of the time I'm still taking notes on lectures that aren't "mine" - but I'm not as stressed about getting every detail, because I know my friend over there will get it and I can add it later.  Not being as stressed makes it easier to learn the information.  There are some lectures that it's just better to close the computer and LISTEN and WATCH.  I can do that too - knowing that I'll still have notes for study purposes.

Individually, each of us takes the lecture summaries and creates a comprehensive "study guide" for tests that combines all the lectures into a document.  Thus we organize the information individually for how each of our brains learn the information best. 

There's no shortcut to learning - but sometimes there's a more efficient way.

There's a significant amount of trust that is required using this method.  I'm trusting that my friends will get everything significant onto the notes.  And that they don't make major mistakes in the understanding of the material.

However, in my opinion any downsides are FAR outweighed by the advantages
1.  More time for us to study, and review, and talk about the information, rather than compiling and organizing lecture notes.

2.  Lowered stress, which encourages the learning process and decreases mistakes.

3.  More than one perspective in the notes and information - more often than not my friends' knowledge compliments mine and we both learn more than we could on our own, even when we didn't know we had a hole in our understanding in the first place!!!!!!

4.  The freedom to get the most out of each lecture - because I'm not required to take comprehensive notes 100% of the time.

5.  Lasting relationships with people in my class and a sense of community/companionship that does not come without trust. 

6.  Keeps all 3 of us on task and current on the information.  When I have 2 other people depending on me to provide a lecture summary, I'm much more likely to do it in a timely manner.

7.  Motivates me to look up details for accuracy and to complete the "picture" being taught in lecture.  Again, although my friends may have taken their own notes, if I signed up for a lecture I feel responsible to provide as complete and accurate information as possible.  This means that I often take extra time to look up information and include additional helpful diagrams and tables that are in textbooks, or that I create. I have time for this because I'm not expected to do this for every lecture - just 1/3 of them.  As a result I have a complete and better understanding of the subject which is good for MY learning - but also for my group's learning.  If there's a question, often the person that wrote up the lecture summary can answer and clarify it because they did extra research.

What does all this have to do with Endurance?

Endurance can be a very solitary sport.  You don't *have* to work as a team.  However, I think that the experience will be much more rewarding and more successful is you take a deep breath and take the plunge into teamwork.  It doesn't have to be formal.  It helps if the people on your "team" are about the same level and have the same goals.  This group is separate from your "mentor" relationship.  I think it can be tough to find that group - it might be a local friend or two, or a regional organization, or a club.  Maybe you have the unfortunate luck to have NO ONE around you, so you choose to participate in an online community.

The are 3 important relationships in life/activity:
- the mentor relationship
- the peer relationship
- the mentoree relationship

I think endurance riders are better at being a mentor, or recognizing that they need a mentor, and perhaps do not recognize the value of the peer relationship.

I encourage you to take a look at your "endurance relationships".  Which one is missing?  The convention may be the perfect place to find that relationship and make this season the best one yet.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A look back

I'm compiling posts from my blog for a project, starting with the first season that I blogged - 2009.  I'm 3 months into the 2009 season and I'm blown away by the sheer number of exciting things that happened.  It's like a fictional novel.  I buy a new truck, go on rides, do my first ride over 50 miles, and decide to try hoof boots.  I had a set back during 20 MT 65 miler with a slight reinjury of the tendon ( thinketh sandy rides are NOT our thing!), started to tell the story of who my 2 horses are, and drove Minx on a cart for the first time. 

I've gotten to the point where Minx died, and I have to admit that I'm stopping here for the night.  I just can't bear to go through it again tonight.  There's something very raw about seeing life unfold in front of your eyes, and it's a process that is very well captured by blogging.  As I'm compiling posts I'm doing a quick review and I had so many plans for her.  I ordered hind boots days before she died, not knowing she would be dead by the time they arrived.  So, for tonight, I'm pausing at the end of March, when she was still alive.

On a happier note - I'm finding all sorts of valuable nuggets of ideas in my old posts.  I was on the right track and it seems the foundation work never changes.  I was entertained by one of my comments where I say I want to complete Tevis before "going back to school".  Never mind that I hadn't decided when and where and how I was going back - I guess even then I knew what was destined to happen!!!!!!

Have you gone through your old posts lately?  Are you surprised by anything?  I tend to remember myself bumbling through those years like a lucky idiot, but as I read my posts, I'm actually quite impressed with myself.  Hind sight is 20/20 and while I can sit in my recliner now and second guess my past choices, after rereading the posts that were written DURING that period, I can't argue with my decisions - I was making the best decisions I could, using the information I had available to me. 

THAT is the most valuable part of blogging - the ability to communicate to others IN THE MOMENT what it was like at that SPECIFIC time.  It's nigh impossible to go back and write a narrative of that moment with the benefit of hind sight......

Bone is Cool! And other ramblings

Can we just agree that my post yesterday was interesting and varied enough to count for a post today?  And thus, I can mark off on my handy streak calendar that I blogged today and thus extending my current streak to 3 days....(my record since keeping track in January is 6 days in a row).

I didn't think so.

My readers are demanding - not only for quality posts, but for quantity.  And humor.  And entertainment.  And accuracy.  And a bunch of stuff that makes me think I really should be paid - but of course, something that is this much fun can't POSSIBLY make me $$ eh?  (BTW - thank you to those of you that use my ad links - I earn ~$5/month and every bit helps. )

So....let's do a bit of housekeeping and announcements today, and if you want something more substantial to entertain you with your morning coffee (lunch coffee?  afternoon coffee?  afternoon tea?) I'm sure you can find something on my blog roll or archive.

1.  Did you know that you can subscribe to my blog in Kindle?  And have my blog delivered daily right to your device?  It comes with a 14 day free trial, and if you like it, it will only cost you 99 cents per month.  Check out the link and give it a try. (yes, this was shameless self promotion)

2.  Why bone is totally cool.  Back when I was asking for research topics, AareneX asked me to post on the conditioning effects of bone versus muscle versus tendon.  Of course, this spawned the tendon posts you saw earlier.....but let's not forget how very cool bone is.  (We are going to ignore muscle.  Turns out it's rather boring and I think everyone gets that when you stress muscle, it strengthens.....and having strong muscles is important to protect other structures.  Big deal.  Going onto something interesting....)

Bone, in many ways, is the complete opposite of tendon.  When it heals, it is as strong as it used to be.  It undergoes complete healing.  After dealing with both soft tissue and and bone injuries, although bone may take a bit longer, I would MUCH rather deal with a bone injury than a soft tissue injury.  (of course - this is a little different in horses - but I am speaking from a physiologic view).

The biggest concept that an endurance rider needs to care about is how bone adapts to an increased load and understand the time frame it occurs in.

Stress creates tiny stress fractures in the bone.  This is a normal and lets the body know that it needs to send little bone eater cells to take out the stress fracture, and then send in the bone builder cells to rebuild the bone.  You can't make bone stronger until it's replaced, because bone can sense what kind of load it's under - and to replace bone, you have to remove the bone that is present, a little bit at a time, while rebuilding.

So - tiny little cracks because the bone is under an increased load, which are being replaced by stronger bone.  These tiny little stress cracks are perfectly normal and not a concern unless..........

You overload the bone to the point where the bone building process can't keep up with the amount of bone being compromised by the micro cracks.  The bone eater cells are frantically eating up bone to get ride of the cracks and the bone builder cells are working furiously to put bone back into place - but they can only do it so fast. 

Resorption (bone eaters) takes days to weeks, formation (bone builders) takes 3 months. During the gap between resorption and formation is a period of time that the bone is potentially weaker. 

The build up of micro cracks can lead to a stress fracture.  Stress fractures can lead to a complete fractures, like the perforation of a stamp.  FYI - this is considered a "pathological fracture" as opposed to a acute or traumatic fracture, since the cause of the fracture wasn't necessarily due to your decision to gallop down a stretch of load - the fracture was due to an underlying cause of overtraining and a build up of micro damage and stress fractures.  BOOM.  Broken leg, dead horse.  BAD. 

We want to cycle the remodeling process (old bone eaten, new bone built) because bone gets stronger and adapts to the load - as long as the work load is increased slowly and kept below the "failure line".  You don't want to outrun your cycle of adaption, remodeling, and repair and slowly allow the bone to get stronger and stronger as it builds new and better bone. 

Time frame for this process is around 6 months.  Significant differences can be seen in the bones of horses in training for 6 months.  The one year rule I hear tossed around may have come about because of having to adapt is several stages to keep below the fatigue line - so it may take about a year to get a horse fully adapted to your end goal of the activity. 

It's important to remember that bones adapt differently for different activities - the horse adapted to racing will not be bone adapted for hunter jumpers, endurance etc.  The bones that adapt are different (different strain on different bones for different activity), and the direction of the principle stress is a specific adaptation for that activity. 

Radiographs can pick up these adaptations, and even though it seems like the difference (in thickness and density) of bone is significant when looking side by side on the slide, I’m not sure you could reliably measure a cannon bone and determine how much bone is being laid down for a horse in training.

For a horse in work, it maintains it's bone mass very nicely.  Unlike tendons, if you continue to regularly ride your older competing horse, you probably don't need to obsess about the bone.  However, bone mass is lost in the adult animal (~1% per year in horses I think) because bone eater cells eat a little more than the bone builder cells replace unless the bone is experiencing load and stress.  Stress is absolutely needed to maintain an appropriate amount of bone!

In summary - slow down, let the adaptive process catch up, do NOT take the horse off work.   When starting endurance, increase the amount of work being done over the course of a year.

3.  My favorite things.  Technology and programs that I have found that make my life easier and generally more wonderful:

Sleep cycle alarm (itouch/iphone app) , coupled with the dawn alarm clock - see amazon - although for a $100 bucks it hasn't held up well enough that I can whole-heartedly recommend it

Streak calendar (itouch/iphone app)

Fitness apps  - (itouch/iphone apps) amazing!  For a small fee I found a really nice yoga app that I really like.  It's like being in a class but much much cheaper and I can do it on my own terms.  I have completely ignored this sector of apps, because I've been focused on free ones - but there are some really nice fittness apps that have made my life a little easier)

Journler - a mac software download that I now use to organize and compose my blog posts.

Growly notes update - just wanted to let you'all know how much I STILL LOVE growly.  I use it for all my note taking in class now.  It's so functional and versatile. 

4.  Vet interviews for Davis start tomorrow.  It's a nice reminder of how much I wanted this a year ago, and to remind myself how very darn lucky I get to be here, doing and learning one of the coolest professions there is.  Yes, there's been sacrifices and my life isn't as easy either emotionally, mentally, or physically as it was a year or two ago.  But it's been worth it and I have no regrets.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Mel attempts to apply theorictical knowledge to a practical situation

This post started very focused....and then I got distracted by Google Reader.  And then I realized I did a lot of things today I want to talk about.  And then I realized that after a weekend of pretending I was NOT a vet student and doing zero studying, my chance of writing the blog posts that I WANT to write this week are slim to none. faithful, long-suffering, and enduring readers are going to get the whole shebang this evening.  

150 unread posts and I officially give up.  Maybe during my ethics lecture tomorrow afternoon I will have the courage to start again.  When I started reading SEVERAL hours ago I had over 700 posts.  After an hour of blog reading and STILL having 500 unread posts I decided drastic action was needed.  I unsubscribed to the blogs whose posts I was regularly skipping through.  The list magically went to a more manageable 300 posts.  Another hour later, more skimming, and adding one new subscription and I just don’t have the brain power to finish it up tonight.  Ugh.  It’s 9:30, I should be in bed, and instead I’m continuing my long weekend of pretending I’m not a vet student.  A vet student studies.  I can't recall studying at ALL this weekend.  I recall driving to a work party and organizing tack and harness.  And drinking half a bottle of port.  And watching my boyfriend build a porch.  And writing blog posts.  And going on a GLORIOUS trail ride.  But….no studying. 

Today I went on a trail ride.  A REAL trail ride.  A GLORIOUS trail ride.  That I forgot to take pictures of.  Probably because I was riding with another endurance rider and I was SO excited about the company and the talking and the novelty of it all that once I got into the saddle, the phrase "horse ear picture" didn't even occur to me.  Or.....maybe it was the pleasure of HAVING MY PONY BACK!!!!!!!!!!

Do you know the real sign that the Farley I know and love is back?  I had fleeting thoughts of how nice it would be to whack her in the rump with a crop to get a little more "umph" out of her and keep her in front of my leg.  And that's how I know that everything is going to be OK :).  Yep, my sweet pony is back.  She gets to keep her name and I get to keep my sanity.

I did something else today....I rode in my barefoot shoes.  The barefoot shoes that do not have a heel, and that any real horse person would take one look at and perhaps say a prayer for me and then make sure I'm wearing a helmet.

It's a calculated risk.  I'm using a saddle that has stirrup bars that would easily let the the leather slide off if something was being drug.  I have good riding posture and concienciously keep my heels down.  I'm using stirrups that my foot would not easily go through.  I'm on a horse I know well.  I'm wearing a helmet.  If I do this on a regular basis, I WILL invest in another set of "toe stoppers", however for a test ride I felt it was a calculated risk I was comfortable taking.

My friend (bless her heart) asked if I had different shoes, and when I announced that I would be riding in these ridiculous leather moccasin things, raised her eye brown but didn't try to actively dissuade me. 

I was actually quite pleased.  It isn't a perfect combination (I've been looking for the perfect shoe/stirrup combo for me for YEARS), but it gets me a lot closer, and it allows me to get off and, run, something that is impossible to do with a shoe with a heel.  Running shoes worked, but I felt the minimalist "Runamocs" did better in the stirrup.  I'm not sure whether this will be a permanent change, but it went well enough that I'll be experimenting further with the idea. 

Did yet another ride in my "magic" orange boots.  This particular set of boots is a pair that I decided would be my grand experiment to see just how many years and miles I could get out of a pair. Not to mention how much one can abuse the boot and have it still perform.  Turns out quite a bit.  They've seen a couple of 50's, a 100, and lots of conditioning miles.  And since I'm usually in a hurry and want to get on the trail, I must admit that they aren't exactly adjusted "ideally".  When I say they aren't "ideal", I mean that I can't get the right front captivator onto the heel bulb because the cables are too tight, even with the toe strap completely loose.  She has to sort of "trot" into the boot as we start out.....and when the toe strap is fastened, it's only ~3/4" long, held in place by O-rings.  Today, I decided to try and adjust the cables longer because my friend was being so patient.  However, I've also stopped cleaning and maintaining the boots, so after half-heartedly digging at the set screws with a wrench I decided to just "go with it".  I have yet to have a boot failure with this set, even with the boots being generally ill-adjusted, and it has become a source of amusement for me how well the boots perform even when so obviously fitted incorrectly (the size of the boots and the cutback is correct, it's just everything else that I haven't gotten around to fixing).

It was like my friend had been reading my mind, when one of her first questions to me on the trail ride today was "are you going to do Tevis again?".  Yes, I want to do Tevis again.  It isn't something I've admitted here on the blog, and I don't talk about in my "real" life, but lately I've started to allow myself to dream again. 

It's a complicated issue and decision and deserves it's own post, and I'm certainly NOT going to give it justice here and now.....BUT suffice to say I think it's doable and as long as Farley stays sound and I ride smart, I'll try again.  More on that later. 

Yesterday I gave you the mumbo jumbo technical background on tendons.  Now I’m going to a more grey area - how I’m applying this knowledge to myself and Farley, what implications that has to my endurance riding….

I didn't do everything "right" for rehabbing this injury.  The first 2 months I iced and walked and wrapped as prescribed. life got complicated and I decided that putting her out to pasture was the best thing I could do for her.  It's not the recommended solution, but Farley is generally quiet, and at the time I was learning to deal with a lot of very new and complicated life changes, it was what I had to offer.

In 2007, when she injured it the first time,  I did the controlled exercise thing, the hand walking, the slowly building up to full work - basically the ideal process they teach in vet school.  My adherence to this process is what I directly contribute to our success over the next few years.

HOWEVER.  With my knowledge of tendon physiology now, I can pinpoint several things I did wrong AFTER the rehab period.  While this rehab was not as ideal as the first, I think that the key to avoid a repeat injury, which will result in me retiring Farley, will be those choices I make once she is competing again.  

1.  Sand is not my friend.  I don't live in it.  I don't train in it.  Farley's pasture doesn't have any in it.  As much fun as I had in the high deserts of California, I will never do another sandy ride with Farley.  Looking back, every ride she was borderline had a significant amount of sand.  Pushing through a sandy ride (because I don't have access to it) will cause significant levels of fatigue, which will cause strain on the tendon, because I have not equipped Farley's muscles to handle sand work.  IT IS NOT WORTH THE RISK.  Our days of sandy rides are over.

2.  Pasture is our friend.  I will sacrifice whatever I have to sacrifice, including her grass hay diet, for her to be on pasture.  She was kept in a paddock and while I made every effort to provide turnout and exercise, it isn't the same and I will not do endurance if she is not on pasture. 

3.  I will not ask a tired Farley, or a Farley that is showing signs of muscle fatigue - including tight butt muscles - to continue.  Strong muscles will protect the tendon.  Fatigued and tired muscles will result in a reinjury. 

4.  I WON'T ask for 4 100's within 366 days again.  Or American River.  Or rides that have terrible footing because of the weather.  I rode almost every ride in a 2 year period in rain, or the day after a significant storm in crappy footing.   If my gut says pull, I pull.  I was looking for excuses to pull from 20 MT, and because I couldn't find a reason NOT to ride, I rode.  From now on, instead of riding on yellow and green lights, I only ride on green.  ie - I ride because there is a reason TO ride, instead of riding because there isn't a reason NOT to ride. 

I know that by putting her back to pasture and free exercise prior to a year of careful and controlled conditioning, I probably do not have an ideal tendon healing.  There's probably some residual "wrong" collagen type.  There's probably some fibrous tissue intermixed there.  Her fiber alignment is probably OK, but there's no denying that there is probably some lasting damage to the tendon.  What do I have in my favor?

1.  She has apparently survived being out on pasture without doing too much more further damage.  Thus, I'm not having a heart attack the first time we trot in a straight line on good footing - she's been doing it for MONTHS in the pasture, and it's been a lot more than a trot.  I'm much less anxious and more accepting of whatever happens - she seems fine at this point, I'm going to use my knowledge of the conditioning process and physiology to our advantage.  Either she'll be fine or she won't, and mostly likely although a reinjury is career ending, it's not life ending.

2.  She's maintained a level of fitness in her muscle and bone, that instead of being frustrated about, I am GRATEFUL for, because a strong muscle reduces the likelihood of fatigue and overstretching.

3.  She has proven that given the opportunity, she is a horse that does do an excellent job of healing tendon tissue.  Without knowing there was an injury, before the reinjury, you could not tell by looking at ultrasound that there had ever been an issue with the tendon.

4.  She's an experienced horse, less given to stupidity and missteps.  Missteps that gave me such heart attacks the last time we went through this.  Having to teach her to watch her feet through rocks at the Death Valley ride her first season was hard because of the number of stumbles - each one I was sure she was going to come up lame from, even though we were far enough along that what I was doing was suitable for her conditioning.  Although she's been a moron for the last month or so, I'm 99% sure after today that's she's "back" mentally, and I certainly won't do a ride until I can do a half halt without her throwing her nose up and throwing a hissy fit, and until our rating conversation is just that - a conversation and not a screaming match. 

5.  I've learned the art of patience and not having a time table.  There is not deadline, there is not goal beyond what I feel like we are ready for at that moment.  I felt a lot of pressure to complete Tevis before going to vet school.  I pushed too hard in 2009 to get there, and didn't give her significant time off after 2 tough years of competition of going further and faster. 

The trick will be to keep her muscle and bone conditioned enough, and not expose her to conditions that are more likely to put strain on the tendon - like sand and trotting down hills.  I can ride smarter now, and since I feel I understand the physiology and conditioning process better, I feel like I can avoid some of the pitfalls of my previous seasons. 

Already I can tell I'm on the right track.  We've had 2 significant rides so far - and she looks great - better in fact, than before the injury.  No filling, no ouchiness on her hocks when turning to exit the trailer, no back sensitivity when being groomed.  She gallops away from me when I put her back to pasture after a ride and spends several minutes trotting and cantering around her enclosure looking absolutely gorgeous.  Time will tell, but it's encouraging as I'm not babying her on our rides, just using common sense, having fun, and enjoying every mile, since it's impossible to know when it will be our last.  

A different look at endurance

Of the top running horses out there in international competition, Monk is my favorite.  I don't plan on competing at the FEI level - just not my cup of tea, but this post on Monk's blog is a facinating look into that world.  Chris does a great job both narrating and telling the story through photographs, of what endurance look like a different setting. 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The tendon post

It's the post you've been waiting for.......TENDONS.  How they condition (or not), how they heal (or not), and what you can do to prevent injury (or, unforunately.....not).

I've been putting this post off because I felt like I didn't have the time or energy to give the topic justice.  However, in the last week I've written 3 separate emails where I've touched on tendons and the conditioning process....and decided whether I feel like I'm "ready" or not, it's time for the topic to be discussed.

I DO have references and literature for this topic and if you are interested. I can't include links to the full documents because many are copyrighted for my personal use only through the school, however I can give you citations and abstracts.  This post is a bit repetitive in its main points - however I had a hard time wrapping my mind around some of these concepts in school since it contradicted what I had read for many years, and hearing the same concept in many different ways helped my understanding, and I hope it helps yours. :)

Tendons.  Let's start with the basics.  Tendons hold bone and muscle together.  Tendons are composed of organized fibers of collagen. 

There's a saying that I heard multiple times as a newbie endurance rider - muscles/cardio condition in 3 months, tendons in 6 months, and bone in a year.  The structures continue to strengthen and adapt to the amount of work and grow stronger over the years, unless you screw up, overload them, and end up with an injury, either through an acute event (ie - a wrong step in a hole) or through chronic fatigue (overriding a horse over the course of months or a year and ending up with too much micro damage too fast for the body to heal and adapt, leading to injury).

Turns out this is mostly true (and in the case of bone, doesn't give enough credit to how AMAZING it is as it adapts).....except for tendon. 

Here's the interesting thing.  I just finished the musculoskeletal block and we were taught (and I clarified with the professors) that no "conditioning" of the tendons actually occurs.  Conditioning/training actually CREATES these little lesions (fiber disruption - which is a sign of tendon injury) in the center of the tendon, and causes the collagen fibers in the tendon to change in apparance - they get smaller and more irregular.  This is NOT good and are considered degenerative changes.  As the horse ages, the tendon undergoes degenerative changes - exercise accelerates this process.  It doesn't matter whether the conditioning is "appropriate" - this degeneration occurs regardless.  In summary: There are differences in tendon anatomy/physiology as the horse ages.
Exercise accelerates this process and this process results in a weaker tendon

In addition to the fiber bundles changing shape and the fiber disruption in the center of the tendon, the cross sectional area of the tendon (how "thick" the tendon is) can increase.  While I found a paper that hypothesized that this was an adaptive change that made the tendon stronger, the majority of the more recent papers do NOT attribute this change to increased strength.

In summary, exercise/conditioning actually sets the tendon up for injury, even if you are doing it "right".  You are not less and less likely to get tendon injuries as the seasons pass - in fact, it's even more critical to examine bone and muscle conditioning and not override, or over-fatigue the well conditioned horse.  The golden rule remains - do not ask for in competition what you have not prepared your horse for in training, no matter how experienced or fit the horse is.

Tendons are injured when they are overstretched.  The fiber pattern becomes "disrupted" as fibers break.  I'm simplifying, but bear with me - trying to keep this succinct and "readable" to a broad audience, and also get to bed before 9:30 tonight!  Especially considering that a conditioned horse may already have a compromised tendon due to degenerative changes to the fiber pattern and collagen size... the trick is to protect that tendon as best as possible.

How do you protect a tendon?  Don't fatigue the support structures (muscles) to the point where the tendon is taking more load than it should - because the tendon will fail in that situation.

It is NOT about conditioning the tendon.  It's about conditioning bone and muscle to "take the load" off of the tendon and not subjecting the tendon to any more load/stretch than necessary.

Wanna hear a terrifying fact?  They have calculated the strain a tendon can take before it fails (specific to the tendon - for example, the SDF of the front leg of an equine).  At maximal exercise (like a gallop), that tendon is being strained almost to the failure point.  It would have been nice for Mother Nature to have given a little bit more room for failure.......

So it's a bone and muscle conditioning issue.  The trick is to not overload the bone to the point of stress fractures, and not overload the muscle to the point of tendon injuries (because the muscle is too fatigued) - and NOT actually about conditioning the tendon themselves.

Let's talk briefly about how a tendon "heals".  Assuming it's not a absolutely horrifying injury and it's a more typical chronic strain injury, assume you have fiber disruption.  As the tendon attempts to reconstruct the fiber pattern, it lays down a collagen type (there are many different collagen types in the body) that does not handle strain as well as the original collagen type.  The final remodeling of fiber pattern and the replacement of "temp" collagen with the correct collagen takes place late in the healing - a year or so - and can continue for a while, especially as the horse returns to work.   Ideally the fibers align on the correct plane and the tendon gradually progresses to a "normal" looking fiber pattern. Rarely does the ideal situation occur.  Normally, not all the "temporary" collagen is replaced with the "correct stuff", the fibers don't always align well, and other fibrous tissue components can remain in the tendon, which weakens it.  This "healing" process is why degenerative changes in the tendon due to age/exercise are so worrisome - even if there is no clinical lameness.  Tendons don't heal well.  Even repaired tendons that look normal on ultrasound have a disrupted fiber pattern under polorized light, which shows the "kink" or "wave" of collagen fibers.

It's a novel way of looking at tendons for me.  Instead of being less worried about tendons as the years progressed, I should stayed concerned and conservative.   Instead, I think I became a bit relaxed after not having a tendon injury in over a 1000 miles of competition - thinking that my tendons were "conditioned",  just like the other structures.  It didn't matter I had gone 4+ years without incident - because she was in training, conditioned, and being exercised, it was likely that degenerative changes were present, even discounting the previous healed injury.  Of course, in my favor and protecting the tendons were the bone and muscles that were better prepared to handle the work after years of competing, a horse that was less likely to misstep due to experience, and a rider that could read the trail better than 1000 miles ago.  But it's never OK to push past a certain level of fatigue because THAT is what bows tendons.  Here's what could have happened at 20MT in 2010 (there are many different scenerios, but this is a plausible one and illustrates the concept I'm trying to get across).   Sand tends to fatigue the apparatus in the horse's leg that's responsible for the return of energy and is why horses move more efficiently through the sand than you and I.  After cramping early on in the ride and traveling more on the forehand, combined with sand and soft footing, the muscles in the front legs probably became fatigued as they are now performing work they were not conditioned for (I don't typically train my horses to travel on the forehand for 100 miles).  At mile 92, the muscle was fatigued enough that it forced the tendon to carry additional load.  And......boom - I'm out for a year.  

In summary, muscle fatigue kills tendons and it's impossible to "condition" a tendon to perform under those conditions (that of muscle fatigue of being pushed further, faster, over different terrain etc than what the horse's muscles/bone were conditioned for).  Pushing through this type of fatigue at any level is when injury will occur - no matter what base I have put on my horse.

Does this make sense?  The same principles hold true that I've always believed in (condition for ride conditions, condition slowly and carefully)- BUT you are not protected from tendon injuries by virtue of time or distance - only by how well you have conditioned the rest of the animal (bone, muscle, heart etc.).

What does this new (to me) knowledge about tendons mean to me as I bring Farley back into the sport?  My response may surprise you.  Stay tuned for tomorrow's post - It's 9:45p and I'm going to bed. 

Disclaimer - first year vet student that talks to as many professors as possible about issues like this, but is certainly not infallible.  :)  Just a curious endurance rider who SWEARS she's not going into equine practice. 

Other tendon facts to consider:
  •  Initial exam for a tendon injury should be performed 4-5 days post injury.  It's difficult to ultrasound to pick the extent of the injuries prior to this.
  • Long heels, short heels etc dramatically impact the lever system of the horses' leg and HUGELY affect the strain the the SDF (for example) tendon is under.  One way to take pressure off of a SDF tendon that is too weak to support the fetlock (so the fetlock is drooping) is to put "sliders" on the hoof, that extend behind the hoof several inches.  It's crazy - but by just having this piece of plastic sticking out behind the heel, the SDF is under less strain and is able to raise the fetlock to a more normal position.   This brings up an important point about hoof protection.  A Hoof boot (or shoe) that extends the heel behind (or in front) of the "normal" heel of the horse will dramatically affect the tension and strain that the tendons are under - maybe for good, maybe for bad.  I think that ANY kind of hoof protection that changes the lever arm of the hoof (such as extending behind or in front of the hoof to any significant degree) is cause for pause and contemplation. 

If you are interested in a bit of light reading,  here's a nice review article:

The response of bone, articular cartilage and tendon to exercise in the horse.
E. Firth, 2006, J. of Anatomy, volume 208, issue 4, pages 513-26

This article states exactly what I was taught, and what was said by my professors when I talked to them individually.  It mostly addresses tendon response to exercise during growth, but mentions the response of the tendon to exercise as it relates to age generally as well.

I also recommend:

A review of tendon injury: why is the equine superficial digital flexor tendon most at risk?
C. Thorpe, P. Clegg, H. Birch.  Equine veterinary journal 2010, vol 42, Issue 2, pg 174-80

Contains some nice general information about tendon and injury and it's response to loading forces that could cause injury.