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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

CC part 2

The Heat - Horse
20MT 2011 made me feel like a real endurance rider because I managed an issue (a hind end that really really wanted to cramp) related to how cold the temperature was, for most of the ride. AND we absolutely rode the ride I *wanted* to ride.  At no point did I give up and just let Farley do what she wanted because it was easier.

I felt the same way about this ride.  I ACTIVELY managed a horse through a ride with a very high heat index and actually made a difference of how and whether we finished. 

I think going into a ride with a perfectly conditioned horse and relying on the heat/hill/mileage conditioning and not worrying about actively managing the heat because you know the horse will take care of itself is not necessarily a bad thing.  This is how I've rode Farley most of her career.  However, it's a really really good feeling to know that if things don't go perfectly I DO know what I'm doing, and I DO know how to mitigate trail and weather conditions. 

Here's some of the things I did to keep her cool and hydrated.  A lot of these are common sense, but maybe there is a little something in here you can use someday :).  This list is also going to serve as a reference for me to look back at before my next hot ride as a reminder of what worked!

Rehydrating at the trailer overnight
I had to trailer Farley into ride camp the heat of the day.  I put a "milkshake mash" in the trailer, but also left the hay in because if she didn't eat the mash, having more hay in her gut (besides the obvious help of eating more calories etc.) would help my nutrition long term because hay in the gut can absorb more muscle and hold more moisture in the horse.  I also left the hay in, because it was left over from the bale and my only other option was to dump it out on the ground and at 28 bucks a bale I figured on this trip she could have hay in the trailer instead of just milkshakes......

She came off the trailer slightly dehydrated.....

Here's where it is tricky.  All other parameters didn't show dehydration.  Skin tenting showed a slight dehydration.  Skin tent is probably the least reliable hydration parameter - it depends on elasticity of the skin, the amount of fat in the skin, genetics, head position, and the person performing the test. 

However, considering that there is a rate of dehydration that occurs in the trailer, even in moderate weather....and it was HOT....if I wasn't dealing with an apparent dehydration [5% dehydrated before you can see it clinically in the hydration parameters, which means for ~800 pound horse you are already 20 liters (~5 gallons) short when you first notice the dehydration], she could still be missing anywhere from 1-4 gallons!!!!!!!!  A deficit I did NOT want going into a very hot 50......

So I made it my mission to rehydrate her over night. 

I feed stable mix, which is a complete feed when fed at a relatively high number of pounds so I felt safe giving her lots and lots of wet mashes that night because I was still no where near the feeding recommendation.  So Farley got the wetest-standing-water-on-top mashes that I could make until about midnight (an idea I got from Irish Horse).  When I declared that she could stop nickering at me for mashes and just eat her hay. 

The morning came and she peed a wonderful color of pee and we were ready to go. 

A cool horse drinks.  A hot horse might not.

We started the ride and she characteristically still hadn't drank really well by the first vet check at 12.5 miles.  I asked the vet and he said that was typical of the horses that he had seen.  Since she wouldn't necessarily be drinking at this point I didn't freak out.  In the middle of the second loop she started drinking out of water troughs and I knew that from this point forward she should be drinking. 

I carry a sponge, but knowing that I would be able to scoop out of some of the troughs, but not sponge, I ran over and bought a scoop from a vendor the night before the ride.  Thank goodness.

The next water trough we came too, she wouldn't drink.  But I knew it was time.  I dismounted and started scooping (it was a location that allowed scooping).  By the time I had cooled her neck, Farley was drinking. 

At that point I knew I had an important piece of information: if the heat load was too high (ie - Farley was too hot) she wouldn't drink.  Her not drinking was a signal that I needed to do some work with the scoop to lower her temperature. 

Normally Farley, being heat tolerant, is good at dissapating a heat load and is just annoyed and shivery with excessive cooling, but on this ride, scooping and sponging were incredibly important to keep her drinking throughout the ride.

Tack choice
I chose my lightest saddle and pad that covered the least amount of surface area.

I got off her back
I knew I needed to get off her back to reduce her amount of work she was performing, which would help reduce the heat she was generating, but it would also help her dissapate some of that heat load.  I was NOT going to be efficient going up hill, but figured I could go downhill all day. 

This strategy refreshed her more than I would have thought possible.  Everytime I got back on after jogging down a hill, it was like she had gotten a power burst.  It did good things for me too and I rode better for longer.

I stayed in the shade as long as possible, while still moving.
It sounds totally opposite of what you should do......but you should move faster in the sun, and slower in the shade.  It really really works! If you don't believe me, go out for a run in the hottest part of the day and try it yourself.  It's remarkable how much heat load can be dissapated by walking in the shade and jogging/trotting in the sunny portions of the trail.  If Farley had gotten really tired I would have utilized the same concept in a different way: for example getting off and jogging the sunny patches and riding at a walk in the shade.  Or walking the sun and resting stopped in the shade.  Or dismounting and walking in the sun and then mounting in the shade.  You get the idea. 

I rode faster in the morning
But not too fast :).  This was a strategy I tried to utilize in a previous hot ride on Minx and it back fired at me - I went too fast in the morning and then didn't slow down enough once it started to heat up (plus I didn't do some of the other strategies listed here).

Knowing that the heat was coming - as long as the vet checks indicated that everything still looked really good AND she was still able to dissipate heat well enough using the various strategies listed here - I trotted EVERYTHING that wasn't straight up hill, and I got off and RAN the down hills on foot.  And on the flats we trotted FAST.  As it got hotter and her heat load increased, we slowed down. 

Again, it's important to know your horse - Farley was showing her heat load through a reluctance to heat and drink when it got too high - it didn't seem to affect her willingness to go forward.  So even if she wanted to trot and canter forward, our speed was always evaluated against her performance at the last water trough. 

I think it is possible to go too slow at a hot ride......The heat load is going to continue to build and there is a point where going slow on the trail is working against you getting back to camp and putting the horse on the trailer in the shade and stripping tack.  It's a fine line to balance - how long does the horse hold and build the heat load while on the trail, versus how long they are on the trail?  I've had discussions with other endurance riders over the years over whether a 12 hour 50 really is the kindest/easiest thing to do for a horse.  You certainly don't want to go to fast, but if I can ride a conservative 50 in 8 or 9 hours, that is 3 or 4 less hours that I'm spending on the horses' back.  Of course the bottom line is that you don't want to override a horse and try to do a 5 hour 50 if you are conditioned for a 9.  But don't do a 12 if you are conditioned for a 9 thinking that it's somehow better on some intrinsic principle.

This general concept is why I ended up riding a midpack 50 (32/70 finishers, 88 starters) instead of a back of the pack 50.  I was trying to minimize the time she had to be out in the heat, while never getting to the point where the heat load she was carrying was a real problem.  It's like marathoning for humans - A really fast race is hard and a really slow race is hard.  A fast race relies on good cardio etc., but a really slow race requires you to spend 4.5-5 hours on your feet.  There's a magic place in there where it's not too hard from a cardio/phyisological standpoint, but you also aren't spending an inordinate amount of time on your feet. If you ever watch a marathon finisher line, the people in the top 3rd look tired, the people in the middle 3rd look great, and the people in the bottom 3rd look terrible.  I think a hot endurance ride can be the same. 

I monitored her after the ride, and was reminded that movement and offering multiple sources of water are important.
I did not put Farley, who was clinically dehydrated in the trailer.  At BEST you will sustain a neutral hydration in the trailer.  PROBABLY the horse won't drink enough to meet their ongoing hourly fluid needs and end up more dehydrated at the end of the ride, even with a short ride.  Big deal in a hydrated horse?  probably not.  Big deal in a horse that was probably 7-8% dehydrated?  YES!!!!!  Because at the end of that trailer ride you could easily have a horse that is 10 or 12% dehydrated or more.  NOT bueno for the horse.  BTW - the majority of horses finishing any endurance ride have some level of dehydration.

I will admit that that I use the term "monitored" loosely.  I was, at this point, flat on my back with a migraine.  I had an airmattress at the side of my truck, I made sure that Farley was in the shade, with hay and water and a mash, with carrots scattered on the ground.  I had a vet school classmate who had also ridden the ride come over and check her gut sounds with me (quiet but there) and proceeded to try and sleep. 

I opened my eyes and it was still light.  I led her to the water trough where she drank deeply.  During the walk she was attacking little clumps of grasses and left over hay from other people's rigs, even though she was ignoring the hay at the trailer.

This illustrates 2 principles.  I had home water at the trailer, but I was very glad I made the effort to lead her to the water trough. Another thing to remember is that horses are made to move and sometimes all it takes if a short little walk around RC and they are stimulated to eat and drink.  Ideally I probably would have taken the time to hand graze her and walk her more, but I physically couldn't, she was picking at her hay at the trailer, and I knew sundown was just around the corner, so I just waited.

When I opened my eyes again it was dark and she was crunching carrots, drinking and eating. 

BTW I've seen this at hot 100's too - where she'll be a bit hot in the afternoon, but after the sun goes down she comes alive again and her hydration parameters recover as long as we slow down in those hot afternoon hours. 

One last note
After attending Dr. Susan Garlinghouse's seminar on horse hydration I replaced my 5 gallon bucket and black muck bucket that had been using for horse water at the trailer with a shallow 10 gallon pan that allows the horse to have their eyes above the level of the pan, even when the water level is low.  The bucket depth and whether horses were required to dip their heads in past eye level was cited as one factor in how much horses drank at the trailer.

What about elytes?
You notice that the management strategies that I listed above do not include elytes.  I gave a very conservative amount of elytes during the ride.  And I do not believe that they significantly contributed to either her hydration or how she went through the ride.  I think that elytes rank below the above strategies as a heat and hydration management strategy.  Yes, I have an elyte post coming up :)

Crupper needed?
Very unrelated.....but the last point of this post is that I'm going to have to try and put a crupper on Farley.  I used one with Minx, but haven't gotten around to teaching Farley to go in one.  However, after this ride she had some girth sensitivity that was from the girth and saddle sliding forward, so that's going to be my next project :).  After Tevis 2010 I saw the same thing, especially after the California Loop, so I know I'll want one for Tevis this summer, so now's the time. 


Here's the deal.

1. The saddle has a good sweat pattern but not a great one
2. The saddle puts me in a pretty bad chair seat
3. Her back looked PERFECT after this 50 - I had the vet take a second look at it knowing that I'm trying to make some saddle decisions for my upcoming rides.

What do you guys think? 

My wintec dressage by far gives me a really good (basically perfect) sweat pattern, but the lack of d rings, the rise of the pommel, and the straight flap make it difficult to ride on technical trail. 

The Aussie is a bit heavy and big for a long hot ride.

How important/bad is the fact it puts me in a chair seat, beyond the fact that it isn't pretty? 

Would a wintec allpurpose give me a similar pattern, with the more appropriate flap and rise?  Does anyone have one I could try out before I try to find a used one in my price range? 

Do I try to put spacers on my stirrup bars and see if that helps the chair seat?

Any other ideas? 


  1. Having grown up in the riding school of thought that said, "How the saddle seats you doesn't matter; a good rider should be able to ride well in any saddle", I am now here to say that is absolute BS. I used to think, looking at my ride photos, I was just doomed to be a crappy rider...and then I started paying attention to how my saddles were fitting *me* and realized it makes a huge difference in how well and effectively I can ride. I would look at how well you feel you can ride in the saddle with the chair seat: Are you still able to be balanced, get off her back, ride well enough to employ your dressage training and principles?

    As far as your Wintec dressage saddle, have you seen the d-ring loops that hook over stirrup bars to attach a breastcollar, and the insert that slides into the panels on the back to attach a crupper?

    I agree on the crupper. I've always used one, because Mimi has no withers. My father always used one on both of his horses that had excellent withers. Good withers help with side-to-side sliding, but I like doing everything I can to keep the saddle off their shoulders.

  2. Agree with Ash 100%. I had a Wintec 2000 AP which I loved and really enjoyed, but ended up not working for Sinatra so I had to move on. But I can recommend that one for rider comfort. Sits you much better to their Endurance model, which was a total chair seat for me. I sat in but haven't ridden the dressage, and the AP is similar without as high of a rise to the pommel. Get the D-ring savers which slip over the stirrup bars and add rings to the front. The AP model actually had staples on the back, but I bought an English Stowaway pack and that attaches through the billets anyways so no rings needed.

  3. Great post, and great timing--the Dragon and I are signed up for a 50 at Mt Adams at the end of the week, and it's entirely likely that heat/humidity will be a big issue for us. So: thanks!

    re: Wintec endurance saddle, it was a TOTAL chair seat for me. My posture and equitation became instantly better when I got a saddle that actually fit me and my horse. Huh. Imagine that. The Wintec dressage saddle was fine, it was the endurance model that sucked.

  4. I heard similar things about the wintec endurance model in regards to the chair seat even I researched them A couple years ago. Sounds like I need to get my hands on a wintec 2000 AP with cair panels which might the same type of fit as the dressage. A classmate is letting me borrow her jump wintec with cair. Its different than the AP but might give me an idea of how the AP might feel.

    1. I've got a wintec AP with cair you're welcome to try. I liked it, but there was too much contact under the stirrup bars which gave Major white spots. It is pretty secure, not as good as my Solstice, but love the synthetic suede.

    2. that would be awesome!!!! would you mind if I rode in it at Wild West see how is it over 50 miles? I need to email you and see if we can work something out when I can pick it up :-)

    3. It's just sitting in the garage. Email me and we can meet up.

  5. Great post, bookmarked it for the heat strategies :)

  6. If you like an Aussie (stock) saddle but don't like a chair seat and also want something lightweight, I'd suggest an Ammo saddle (also called a Steve Jeffreys). They are synthetic and very light, and were designed to have a dressage-type seat (with the stirrup bars set so that your legs are under you).

  7. I agree with your point about staying in the shade as long as possible. I did a 75 mile ride where the temperature was 36 degrees Celsius (96.8). It was hot, windy and there was very little shade (there were no clouds). On the last leg (after 10am) we'd trot in the sun, and walk as soon as we got to a tree, trying to stay in the shade as long as we could, whilst still moving forward. We scooped heaps of water onto the horses and ourselves, and found that it made a huge difference too.

    We also used the strategy of moving fast whilst it was early and cooler. The ride started at 2am and we'd done 55 miles before 9am.

    Well done and congratulations on yours and Farley's completion in such difficult conditions! :D

  8. Wow - I am a little shocked Pronto and I got through the CC LD without my having read your post first...! I would also love to see a photo of the electrolyte contraption. My guy drank an immense amount during the ride (I was so thrilled), but the vet at final check said to watch his hydration. Even the rider I was with the last 10 miles said "but he drank half the water troughs!" In reading your blog, I think I need to change my pre-ride strategy and make sure he has wet mash in the trailer and that he is drinking in camp - maybe even take away any dry food and only give wets, as he never turns down food (very hungry little bugger). Need to come up with a good electrolyte system too. Good blog and much to ponder....

  9. I think you can see by the math that even if they are drinking a LOT, they can still behind the hydration curve. Especially if you look at what they need for maintenance on an hourly basis, AND what they are continuing to lose by continuing to exercise on an hourly basis, AND making up that 5 or 10 yeah......I think that by actually seeing these numbers helps me to understand that I can have a perception that my horse is drinking a lot - but it still might not be enough to account for all those ongoing and previous losses.


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