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Friday, November 29, 2013

Giving my Dear Readers

Above: Picture of Matt and I when his family decided to do impromptu post-meal pictures

If I had my chose my favorite holiday, it wouldn't be Christmas - it would be Thanksgiving (followed by 4th of July as a close 2nd). A gathering of friends and family without expectations beyond good food and good company.  The weather is usually good here in Central CA and while the skiing season may or may not have started yet, all other outdoor activities are usually fair game. The days aren't so short that I can't get an afternoon ride in sunshine, and the mornings aren't cold enough that I can't motivate myself to get out the door for a run. In short, life is darn near perfect. 

I don't do a lot of "thanks-giving" challenges because it's rare that a day passes me by where I am not reminded how incredibly blessed my life has been. But today, I wanted to share a special thanks with you, My Dear Reader, so you can have some idea of how you touch my life. 

Thank you for pushing me to learn subjects well enough to explain them to you. I always feel like I don't understand a subject well enough until I can teach it simply enough for anyone to understand.  Some of the topics you have pushed me to write have been subjects that *I* have been interested in, and others have been subjects I would have *never* researched enough for total understanding, except you guys wanted to know. The most recent example of this is acid-base balance. I recently had a comprehensive overview of acid base in school (finally!!!!) and to my pleasure I understood acid base at a higher level than what was being taught.  I TRULY understood the topic, instead of just having an understanding that allowed me to pass the tests (like last year.....). 

Sometimes it's the little things - why was able to recall lung development of neonates in conjunction with pulmonary surfactant in response to an instructors question? Because this summer I wrote about latherin when we talked about heat conditioning, which is also a surfactant - which is actually quite rare since these molecules are biologically "expensive" to produce. So, it jogged my memory about ANOTHER surfactant that I had learned about....

I do very little actual studying for school. I spend my time highlighting stuff in lectures that is relevant in endurance and doing further research and clarification on those topics so I can compose blog posts. And it turns out that a SUBSTANTIAL amount of vetmed knowledge is needed to understand how the heck our equine endurance athletes do what they do and how we can help them do it better.

You, my Dear Reader, are shaping me into a veterinarian you can be proud of. I'm learning how to interact with clients and REAL people. I'm not just learning concepts for the test and so that I can fix animals - I'm learning how to explain complicated medicine to people who aren't vets, but deserve something beyond the dumb downed version that seems to be so prevalent. 

I am grateful every day for your questions, your honesty, and your encouragement. You keep me on track - four years is a long time to stay committed to one thing. I hope that the posts and articles that go up on this blog in a small way give back - whether it's a laugh, a smile, or an idea. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Why yes I *DO* have a 50 this weekend

Most of you probably don't know that I have a 50 this weekend.

I'm trying to forget that I ever knew it. 

I didn't pre enter, leaving me lots of room to wiggle out of doing it if anything on my LONG list of "requirements" weren't met. 

  • No rain
  • No rain in the days before leading to sloppy footing
  • No wind
Turns out the weather is going to be beautiful and all that mud created the end of last week will be nicely dried and gone.

So I found more excuses
  • found out that the park gates close at 7am and 7pm.  If I don't get done in time on Sunday to get out the gate, I won't be able to leave, and I'll NOT be at school on Monday morning for my 7am surgery lab.  And missing that would be BAD.  As in, might-have-to-repeat-third-year bad.  But then I found out that the start was 6:30 or 7a, AND someone pointed out that I could pull at lunch if I thought finish time was an issue and get a good 20 or 30 mile conditioning ride in. 
  • I ONLY want to ride Sunday, or not at all. Sunday is 2014 season (Dec 1) and a finish would count towards my decade team goal (10 years of completions with same horse/rider at 50 mile distance or beyond). 
  • Farley hasn't done anything since Tevis besides our riding around in the river bottoms. Surely her legs will break off and we will die if we attempt a 50 when it's been so LONG (sarcasm - she has more conditioning now, then when I started the season and finished cache creek - a MUCH harder ride). 
One by one my friends eliminated all excuses and even managed to throw in some threats and guilt ("I"ll find your house on my way to the ride on Friday and slap you!"  or "I can't go so you have to go for meeeeeeeee!!!!!!!").

So I re-agreed that yes, I should go, that I WOULD go. 

But driving home I still had a knot of anxiety in my stomach about doing the 50. And I couldn't put my finger on it.  There was no reason I shouldn't go, hang out, RO at lunch if I needed to, visit with friends etc. 

But still I mostly felt dread and completely unmotivated to take any steps that would get me closer to riding the ride. Like downloading the application. Or packing the trailer. Or cobbling together a set of boots for Farley. Or making a food plan. Or making sure my riding clothes are clean. 

And then I had an epiphany. 

It's been a long time since I had FUN at a ride. Here's how my last FIVE rides of 50 or more miles have gone, in reverse chronological order

1. Horrible, agonizing pain for 80 miles
2. Horrible headache and please-just-let-this-end pain.
3. Got lost, and knee pain.
4. Worst migraine of my life the last 3rd of the ride, and post ride until the next morning.
5. Broken horse. 

It's been the November 2010, THREE YEARS, since I had an endurance ride that ended well, and that I actually enjoyed. 

At the end of Tevis this year, I really didn't know whether I wanted to continue to ride distance.  I thought that it was that syndrome of "it hurt's so good" that a lot of us experience at the end of the ride, but it was different.  I spent the last hour of Tevis really really really considering giving up horses all together.  The next day I couldn't imagine riding distance ever again. 

Even though a week or 2 later I was talking about doing my next 100, that underlying thread of doubt of whether I was done with endurance persisted without my acknowledging it....until I was faced with a relatively easy, EXTREMELY LOCAL ride that I had no excuses not to go to.

If I'm being completely honest, the physiological/bodily reaction to the thought I really might do a 50 this weekend feels a bit panicky, with a lot of anxiety.

It's similar to the feeling I got at the thought of riding in the rain, after I did a 50 in the pouring rain with no rain gear, wearing cotton and got way too cold.  Traumatizingly cold.  For the next couple years, if it started to rain when I knew I had to ride, it was really hard not to melt into a puddle on the ground crying "Noooooooo......". Because it was that awful.  Of course, eventually I got over it - I got the correct gear and rode in the rain enough times staying dry and warm, that I eventually was able to not get that visceral response to rain.

I'm thinking that's where I am with distance riding right now.  I've had a couple of years, and a lot of rides in a row where I was in a lot of physical pain, and my mind (without my permission!!!!  Grrrr..) has made an association that 50+ miles = pain.

Now that I know the problem, I think it's even more important for me to do this ride on Sunday if possible. This is a relatively low risk ride for both me and Farley that has a great chance of going well. Just the thing I need.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

"Happy Partners Day" Farley!

6 years ago, on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving I met Farley for the first time.  I responded to a 2 sentence text only Bay equestrian network ad that listed a horse that was the right breed, age, and height and then stumbled through a phone conversation with someone that mostly spoke spanish and went and looked at her anyways because I needed "practice" looking at horses as I searched for that very special horse that was going to be my next endurance horse. 

I like to celebrate this day, and not the day before Thanksgiving when I drove to the bay area with a horse trailer, white knuckled through holiday traffic to pick her up, because that first test ride was when our partnership really began. 

I thought it was so unlikely that she was what I was looking for that I didn't bring any cash with me and assured the seller that I would be back in the morning, with the $1800 he was asking in cash.  This was before the horse market crashed and I didn't even bother haggling. 

It was 1/2 of what I thought I was going to pay for a horse and while I didn't fully understand just how well bred and perfect she was for what I wanted to do, it was one of the 3 times in my life a horse has clearly spoken to me, as if out loud. 

She told me she loved the trail and wanted that to be her job.  And that she would do her job well and take care of herself and me.  And that I should give her a chance to prove herself because she was darn sure she could give me all I wanted in a horse. 

And she was absolutely right. 

She's by far the easiest, kindest horse I've ever ridden.  I've never been scared or nervous on her back. She's NEVER thrown anything at me that I couldn't handle, and has ALWAYS taken care of herself and me in bad situations.  She's taught me that horseriding is FUN and that I don't have to battle the fear in my gut against the love of the horse everytime I mount up. 

She's taught me the value of genetics, breeding, and a pedigree.

She's taught me the value of a good minded horse.

She's conquered every phobia I have of riding and has fulfilled every dream I've ever had about horses.  We've completed Tevis, gotten that cougar rock picture, galloped through trails, cantered bareback through meadows, jumped, swung sabres, shot pistols, and many more things I'm sure I take for granted now and have forgotten that I never had. 

In return I've tried to repay her with kindness, fairness, and security.  At one time, I thought I would resell her, as she's the only horse I've owned that had any kind of value to anyone but me, but it is now my sincerest hope that she will live a long and healthy life in my ownership for the rest of her days.

She was just as sweet and sensible as a 7 year old as she is now as an almost 15 year old.  Not much has changed in 6 years, which makes it so unbelievable that so much time as passed. She's still an unassuming short, brown, mare with great feet.  Physically she hasn't slowed down, and if anything is stronger every year. 

There's a saying that you have the horse you deserve after owning it for 2 years, but it's hard for me to take credit for Farley. I've done a lot of thinking over the last week and tried to evaluate whether I was only taking credit for the "bad things" and none of the "good" but I've come to the conclusion that the things I can take credit for, whether bad or good aren't the things that really matter to me and are what this post are about.  I can take credit for the fact she knows her canter leads, doesn't stand while mounting, can do a walk-canter transition, knows how to nicely go on the bit, sometimes takes liberties on the ground, doesn't stand under saddle all the time etc........and these reasons have nothing to do with why I love this horse.

I guess typically in these sorts of posts I would go through my pictures and chose some of my favorites of Farley over the years, but there's enough photos posted here of Farley over the years that I think the words alone mean enough. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

The last of my nutrition tidbits

Sorry for the silence - I’ve been writing posts - but they are “special” posts that are being scheduled for the future for moments that are coming up that I don’t want to miss! You’ll understand when you see them go up :).

Let’s get started on more nutrition!

A question that I’ve gotten several times over the years is, “What if my horse hits a wall during our first 50?” or it’s variation: “How do I know whether we are done or if I should work through it?”

I usually give some variation of the this answer:

It's hard to tell whether your horse is done, or if it's just a wall that they will get through. Some people are comfortable asking their horse to push through that wall, and some people have the opinion that if it isn't fun for the horse, than they don't want to ask and would rather pull. For me, asking Farley to push through the wall is a lot like asking her to go out on a conditioning ride. Farley doesn't enjoy conditioning and going away from home early on, she drags and goes SLLLOOOOWWWWW. And sometimes does a silly spook. Or flings her head. Or is just so dull I worry - is she tying up??? Is she lame????? Is she colicky????? Exactly the same things I worry about during an endurance ride when she doesn't want to be forward. I handle it much the same way. If I'm asking for forward and she's dumpy and slow and resistant I do a systems check - are her butt muscles tight? Does she feel sound? Did she eat and drink at the last check? If all the physiological systems are a go, then I insist on forward motion, even if I have to use a crop to reinforce my leg, until she knows I am REALLY serious that she continue to move off my leg. Is there a chance that something is going on that I missed that I've now made worse by my insistence that she move forward? Yes. Is it likely? No. Twice during training there were issues that manifested as slows and resistance. Once, I caught the problem, and once I missed it and didn't catch it until later. But on the one i missed I gave her every opportunity to prove to me something was going on - including lunging her in a roundpen looking for lameness - and when nothing showed, I had to conclude it was a training issue and not a lameness issue. And.....she ended up tying up at the end of that arena session. But, you do the best you can at the time with the information you have. I feel confident enough in my ability to evaluate Farley, and I have enough time with Farley that I know what is likely to be wrong, so I feel very comfortable concluding that the "wall" during an endurance ride is mental and insisting she keep moving after doing a quick "systems check". But on a new horse? I would be more cautious and while a systems check on Farley takes me ~30 seconds, I might take 1-2 minutes evaluating a resistant horse that had less experience.

I think it's still a good answer. But now, based on some new knowledge, I would ask the very important question before going any further:  “Are you carbo loading?”. 

Turns out carbo loading, or including simple carbs and starches in the diet CAUSES HORSES (and humans) TO HIT WALLS.  There’s a place for a higher carb diet but it ain’t in the endurance world.  Carbs ARE indicated for sprinting type horses (quarter horse racing, thoroughbreds) but even they need to be carefully weaned off of carbs before a race to minimize carbohydrate metabolism during the race.

The nutritionist explained to me the mechanism behind how carbohydrate metabolism impacts performance and I *think* it has something to do with increased lactate production which eventually overwelms the body’s ability to use the lactate as an energy source and causes fatigue.....but to be honest, this was 2 weeks ago, and I didn’t write it down right away and now I can’t recall exactly. :(.  If someone REALLY wants me to write the nutritionist an email asking her to re-explain, otherwise I’ll wait ‘til I see her in the spring for my next block.

The bottom line is that feeding carbs (carbo loading the day before, or using carbohydrate rich foods pre race or during the race) will cause an increase in fatigue. 

Oil is still an excellent energy source for endurance horses. It doesn’t have the fatigue effects of carbs, adds lots of calories while minimizing risk to horses sensitive to non-structural carbohydrates, and the research suggests that feeding oil for at least 6-8 weeks prior to an endurance ride can boost aerobic performance. Horses are very good at utilizing fat (as compared to cows), especially if you introduce and increase the amount gradually.  Starting at 1/4 c. per day and increasing it 1/4 cup per week until you reach 1 c. or so is a recommendation I see commonly, and is what I do. Just remember not to use corn oil (pro-inflammatory - and yes, I used to think that was a bunch of BS, but it isn’t and is actually being taught in vetschool :). 

The reason we recommend oil be eliminated from the diet about 1 week before the race is also related to why you want to increase amounts of oil gradually. 

Have you ever accidentally overfed oil?  I haven’t, but I’m told they will get nasty diarrhea.  Oil suppresses the microbes of the hind gut (ie makes them just a bit unhappy).

An excellent way to think of the horse hind gut is the horse’s “rumen” - a giant space where good bacteria and microflora are busy digesting and breaking down nutrients and making food stuffs available to the animal that normally could never be utilized by mammals. Keeping the bacteria in the hind gut happy is PARAMOUNT to keeping the horse happy.  Lots of things can piss the bacteria off - overload grain, not enough forage, too much oil, antibiotics....If you mildly insulting the little buggers perhaps you get some diarrhea.  REALLY pissing them off (which we will touch on in another related nutritional issue) could cause an “environmental” shift where a bunch of the gram negative normal bacteria flora dies, releases endotoxins and poisons the horse as the ultimate act of revenge.

So.  Happy microbes = happy horse. 

If you’ve fed oil properly, you’ve slowly built up the amount over time without the microbes protesting - they’ve adapted to each weekly increase. 

The problem is, even though there’s no overt signs of unhappy microbes, feeding oil/fat is still slightly “depressing them”.  The benefits that you get feeding oil is worth this, and at home during normal training and athletic effort this minimal amount of depression isn’t worth a second thought. 

However, when you go to do 50 or 100 miles, it is crucial that all the systems of the horse - including the critically important microbe community of the hind gut - are in absolutely the best shape they can be - and that means pulling the horse off oil for the week prior.  Fortunately, even though the horse isn’t consuming oil in that last week, you still retain all the benefits of feeding oil over time on race day :).

Moving on to particle size. 

The “length” of forage or feed that your horse eats is important.  In the horse gut, large particles “pass” (ie go into poop) and small particles “stay”.  (FYI in cattle it’s the opposite - large particles stay in the GI tract while small particles pass - which makes sense if you think about the difference the length of fiber you find in each species’ poop, but I digress).  Various parts of the horse’s gut have these “saculations” or pouches.  Small particles settle out into these saculations and create a little micro acidic environment, while the larger particles keep moving down the GI system. 

Accumulate enough of these small particles and you will create a more and more acidic environment within the gut.  Note that this isn’t a systemic acidic effect - this is localized within the gut.  At some point the pH drops (acid) enough that it makes the gut environment less hospitable to the normal bacteria/microflora....which start to become unhappy.  The “new” lower pH of the gut makes it much MORE hospitable to DIFFERENT bacteria that LIKE this new lower pH and decide to make it even LOWER - which of course makes the old resident bacteria even LESS happy and they die. 

This is not good because the old resident bacteria are mostly gram negative which have  “endotoxin” as part of their outer membrane which is then released as they die.....Endotoxin is a potent stimulator of the immune system and unfortunately horses are EXQUISITELY sensitive to endotoxin. 

It’s the revenge of the microflora :).

During this whole process of a new lower pH, the GI tract lining is also becoming ulcerated, which allows the dying gram negative bacteria and the endotoxin to be released systemically. 

And then you have a dead horse.

Well, not actually - I’ve just spent 2 weeks learning how to deal with endotoxemia in horses - all of which bores me and so I will not bore you with it. 

The moral of the story (besides don’t piss off the bacteria in your gut) is that feeding little particles of forage is not as good as feeding it in a longer form.  Obviously pasture forage or baled forage is good, but how small is too small? When you do you have to start worrying about how small the particles are?

Apparently cubes contain fiber lengths that are borderline OK.  Pellets are too small.

I immediately started thinking about all the pelleted mashes my horse gets leading up to a ride and at a ride. There are some folks who won’t let their horses eat hay at all during the last section of a 100 because of worrying about choke and their horses only eat pelleted mashes at that point.  Am I acidifying my horse’s gut and setting it up for GI ulcers and potential microflora issues?  On top of all the other stressors the horse experiences at a 100?

I asked the nutritionist specifically about this situation and she said because I am suspending the small particles in an emulsion (ie a mash) that the impact of small particles on the gut was less, and because I only fed mashes over a very short period of time (only at rides, mostly in a 24-48 hour window), that in her opinion I wasn’t causing an issue. It would be more of an issue if I was feeding significant amount of mash made with pelleted feeds daily. Like most things in nutrition, there doesn’t seem to be any hard and fast rules - more general guidelines that are applied to individual situations after weighing the available options.  I do give a pound or two (works out to about 1-2c) of soaked pellets daily for vit E administration etc.  but I think that is a small enough amount, combined with a diet that is almost 100% forage (makes the microbes very happy!) that I won’t worry about it.  But it’s something I’ll definately keep in mind if I find myself feeding more mashes than usual for some reason. And because there ARE additional stressors on the gut at ride, even more reason to wean off that oil during rides so the microflora are as healthy as possible.

It’s quite interesting (and difficult!) to stay up on what’s happening in the nutritional world, but I’m always so grateful when I get to have a conversation with some one that does it for a living.  I always learn so much and come away with some many tidbits that are practical and I can use to tweak my horse management.

It can be easy to get lost in the sea of information, but I think if you start with some basic fundamentals (ideally horses should live on a large amount of acreage and eat good quality pasture forage), it gives you something to base the new information in, and help you make a decision of whether it’s something makes sense and might be worth implementing.

The oil is counterintuitive to me - but there’s a large enough body of research on the subject, that I’m willing to do it. 

The rest of the new information makes sense to me if I look at horse management as “managing a horse that is varying degrees from the ideal (ie on pasture)”. The further from the ideal, the more intensively the horse probably needs to be managed and the more attention to detail is needed.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Things I (may or may not have) learned running

(Inspiration for this post, came from the here)

Before I was an endurance rider, a blogger, or a vet student....I was a runner. 

Most of my "big" running days occurred preblogging - here's some pics from a marathon that I posted early in the life of this blog.

Most of my running occurred BEFORE I owned 2 horses.....And then when I unexpectedly had one horse again (colic will do that.....), I was too busy overriding my one horse to seriously run again.

Things have come into balance, and not withstanding some unfortunate injuries (spraining my ankle half way through my ride and tie last year comes to mind....) I'm finally started to integrate running back into my life as a habit again.

I was a runner before I was much of anything else, and it's been a constant thing in my life as far back as elementary school.

The only label that predates running is "horse crazy".

Fortunately I've found a sport that nicely combines my love of running and "horse crazy" - endurance (and ride and tie).
Even if running isn't your thing, we've touched on the subject how it's both less painful and extra gratifying being a more fit rider in the sport of endurance.  Running is how I chose to be rider fit. (BTW, if you share a love of horses and a desire to be "rider fit" I encourage you to join the facebook group, "Rider Fit".  It's a great place to be encouraged by other horse people trying to achieve fitness goals in order to "do good" by their horses and themselves. )

This is how I've justified an entire post talking a lot about running and very little about riding :).

I've recently discovered Pinterest and I have a board devoted to things I love and want out of running.  I came across this and decided to compare what she learned running to what I think my lessons learned our (and maybe come up with a couple of my own!).

Granted, I don't think I've EVER been able to run consistently for 3 years - motivation loss, injuries, burnout etc - but I have more than a decade (OMG I just realized my first marathon was over a DECADE ago!) of sticking with this sport and STILL I get butterflies in my stomach when I know I have an awesome run planned and that has to count for something right?

"What I've learned in on-again off-again running" :) (as compared to 10 things I learned during my first 3 years running) - note that I don't cover all 10 things since this post was getting long....go to her blog and fill in the missing numbers.

1. It gets easier. 
...You don't feel like you're going to die after every run, just some of them."
 ==>LOL so true.  Totally agree. I'm starting to feel better in a week (usually about 3 runs).  I start absolutely craving runs at the 3 week mark.  But those first couple of runs? OMG you've never heard such a wheezing, snotty, congested person shamble along.

2. I prefer morning runs to any other time of day
"If I go in the morning, it's done and out of the way. I feel so great the rest of the day from getting my heart pumping and legs moving, and I didn't take away from any normal "day" time.  "
==> I believe in morning running.  There is some research that says morning is "best". However....I've always been an afternoon runner. More of my runs have been done at 4pm than at any time of the day.  I LOVE how I feel after a morning run and everything she says is true - it feels like stolen time.  BUT......I also really really love sleep.  And I have a hard time with nausea in the morning which isn't a problem for easy or tempo runs, but really starts to affect me during intervals. I know morning running works: I was the most consistent runner I have EVER been when I lived in an area with active mountain lion activity and I was told that running in the morning was lower risk than the evening.  But....that internship ended and I moved back down to the valley and once my pillow called me and I have never been able to consistently run in the mornings again, despite making real efforts to.  Besides the the often said advice of "Find something that works for you and stick with it" - my specific advice from my running experience would be "pair running with another activity, whether it's getting out of bed in the morning, lunch time, or getting home from work or school".  If lunch time = run time, or I immediately change into run clothes without sitting down after getting home, I'm much more likely to run.

3. My stomach can't handle much (or any) food before a run
"Articles and advice are great, but at the end of the day you just have to do what works best for you. There isn't necessarily a right or wrong way to prepare for a run."
==> I sort of agree. The new research on carbohydrates and hitting walls is compelling.  We will talk later about that in an upcoming nutrition post (true in our horses and there's some other complexities with horses too). I would argue that sometimes eating NOTHING before a run is better than eating something that is going to start a cascade of blood sugar spikes, HOWEVER, if the simple carb thing (Gu's come to mind) works for you and you have no complaints..then who am I to say you are doing it wrong?  I'm lucky.  For as much trouble as I have eating during endurance rides, I am EXACTLY the OPPOSITE running.  I can eat ANYTHING and be perfectly happy. Except gummy bears - ate some late into a marathon one time and they did NOT go down well and from that moment on they sort of squee me out.  And red bull type energy drinks are NASTY but who knows, maybe it tastes better when you aren't currently running double digit miles? And while we are on the subject, I'm DONE with lemon lime flavored electrolyte drinks - it's the flavor usually provided at aid stations.

Over the years I've sort of honed my running food - more from other dietary issues that have come up in my life - gluten sensitivity, and sometimes lactose sensitivity, tendancy to go hypoglycemic if I eat simple carbs etc.  But in general the food has been a non issue for me and I've been blessed with a GI tract of iron that hasn't had me running for the bushes during a race (knock on wood!).

5. You cannot underestimate the power of a good pair of shoes
Have to admit I've done a complete 180 degrees on this one.  Up until a couple of years ago I preached the virtues of a well fitted running shoe specific to your style and type of running.  I diligently tracked mileage and time and bought extra pairs when one worked really well, because they would change season to season and sometimes not fit as well.

Nowadays I run barefoot. Mostly I wear moccosins, and I replace them when the soles wear through and rocks keep getting in.  I've gotten injuries directly attributed to shoes - either because they were worn out, or because they were the wrong shoe.  I've never had an injury directly attributable to going barefoot. And, in going barefoot I've resolved several chronic pain issues that I did not attribute to shoes, but just running in general. 

Barefoot isn't for everyone and to make it work I think it has to be a lifestyle change - not just a change that you make for running.

And it's not like my running moccasins are any cheaper than my old fancy running shoes.  Still $100 a pair!  And they last only marginally longer.

I do agree with her on socks. Do not underestimate the value of good socks and if you are still doing athletic socks in those white cotton things, move on already!!!!  Break down and buy 1 or 2 good pairs that you save only for running or whatever.  Your feet will thank you and sometimes just getting to wear those socks is enough motivation to get out the door :). (BTW - I've loved several socks over the years, but my current fav is SmartWool in their various forms.)

7. Sometimes it's more fun to run with someone
...and sometimes it's not.  I used to think I wanted a running partner. It's never really worked out pace or schedule wise with anyone.  And I've discovered I really rather run alone.  Running is the ONE time my usually very logical mind day dreams. I'm not sure why, but it's very special to me and if I want to run with someone, I'll sign up for a race.  Otherwise I really really want to run by myself (and sometimes that includes leaving the dog or horse at home).

10. You don't have to run if you don't want to 
Number 9 is so important to me, I'm saving it for last. 

Not running if you don't feel like it? Even if it's on the schedule?  It took me until LAST YEAR to learn this lesson.  OMG.  I am such a slow learner.  If I don't feel up to a run, or didn't sleep, or want to ride instead, or just take a day off, it's OK!!!!!!!!!  Seriously folks - I consider this revelation the biggest break through I've ever had in running (or riding).

9. You don't have to be fast or skinny to be a runner
 The fast part I figured out a while ago.  It took me a while to accept that while I might feel like a runner, I'll never look like a traditional runner.  It took doing 3 marathons and never losing weight or significantly changing my body.  And doing endurance and other crazy physical things that "proved" to me that I WAS in good shape, even if I still looked squishy.  Reading that "20 minute" book helped a lot - that's when I decided I exercised because it did far more than weight loss - I was exercising because it made me smarter and happier.  And since I love running the most, I decided that exercise=running.  And it has nothing to do with weight, my image, or anything beyond "it makes me feel good".

On pinterest I see a lot of running "motivational" quotes - some I relate too and some I don't.  Weight loss, body image, running away from life --> these are not the things I run for.  What does running mean to me? Here is a taste:

Most of the images have credits embedded :).

Now, Go out and DO something.  And if you are of the equestrian persuasion (and you don't have to be a runner!) than stop by the rider fit face book group and say hi!


Monday, November 18, 2013

Food adventures!

Today's words are over on the food adventures blog ( Go check it out and come back here tomorrow for more nutrition stuff :).

Saturday, November 16, 2013

I'm not feeding Se anymore. Here's why.

So, let's get to the first tidbit from my nutrition class - I'm changing my vitamin E/Selenium protocol!

We've talked about Selenium and Vitamin E before, so if you need a refresher, go here. 

Based on the results of Farley's blood selenium test at the time of the tie up (low end of normal), I started supplementing vitamin E and Selenium (in an organic yeast form since I was told this was the safest and most effective form). Raising the selenium levels was my primary concern, and I starting giving vitamin E because on a dried grass/hay diet, she probably was not getting sufficient levels.

Post-supplementation I've retested Farley several time with the results always reflecting an increase in Se levels - she is now in the top of the "normal" range.  Her performance during endurance rides improved dramatically - I get A's on muscle tone, she's no longer as stiff, and I don't get comments from vets that she's moving "funny" on the hind end.


Seems rather simple right? I corrected a Se deficiency and reaped the expected benefits.

Turns out there's more to the story. 

Organic Selenium is more bioavailable, HOWEVER the way it absorbs does not push selenium towards the pathway you want - for the muscle type disorders. It goes to an alternate pathway that can use Se, but is not essential (Se is one of several nutrients that can fulfill the requirements of that pathway) and has nothing to do with tye ups. 

If you feed organic Se, you will see a blood level increase, just like I did - however, because that Se is not going to the antioxidant/muscle pathway involved in the tye up, the blood level means NOTHING and is NOT helping.  Even though inorganic Se forms are less bioavailable, it turns out that the Se that is absorbed in this form is the form that goes towards the pathway involved in muscle/tye ups. As a bonus, the inorganic form is cheaper too.

So what about the changes I saw in Farley? The positive effects I was seeing (less stiffness, better muscle tone) was due to the VITAMIN E supplementation. Exclusively. 

Turns out that you can actually replace much of any needed Se supplementation with vitamin E supplementation. And since vitamin E supplementation is much safer than Se supplementation, this is what the nutritionist recommends. 

I was so shocked I actually confirmed this during class, and then spoke to her after class, just to make sure I had heard right. And I had. The organic Se wasn't doing a thing, causing a false rise in blood levels and that vitamin E that I had been throwing at her by the handful is solely responsible. Apparently these facts are well known in the nutrition world.

Sometimes you can do the right thing by mistake.

In summary, if you are feeding Se to reap the benefits of it's antioxidant activity in muscle, you have to feed the inorganic form.  And there's a good chance you can avoid Se supplementation altogether if you supplement vitamin E instead.

I'm throwing out my selenium and just continuing with the vitamin E.  Safer, cheaper, and simpler. Sounds good to me!

(this section below was originally at the beginning of the post, but I cut/pasted it here so that you could read about Selenium and skip all the philosophical stuff if you wanted :))

I love it when nutritionist come and teach our nutrition classes to a bunch of vet students.

Mostly there's a lot of complaining and whining. Some checking facebook and mostly complete silence when asked questions designed to check our understanding. 

Since nutrition can be a bit dry (yes, even I, the nutrition junkie can admit this) with tables and charts and numbers and equations that may not be intuitive, I don't necessarily blame my classmates (who will someday treat my horse and most of the time do an excellent job doing so. ).

But as I looked around, realizing this was the last nutrition that many of us would have before going into practice, I wondered how comfortable I was taking nutritional advice from a vet?

All throughout vet school I've heard how we (vets) should be the primary source of all things animal related - whether it's traditional medicine, or behavior, or nutrition - and there's lots of discussion what place non-vet animal "specialists" should have if any (behaviorist, non-vet chiropractors, nutritionists, trainers). 

To be fair, it seems like most of these discussions take place in the small animal world - with the large animal world being a more harmonious place where vets, farriers, nutritionists, trainers etc are expected to get along and use each other. However, what do you do when the various specialists you employ disagree on what should be done? Does one profession get to be primary over the rest? What do you do when your really good farrier insists he needs to nail on the corrective shoe for your foundered horse when your vet told him specifically it needed to be glued in order to not de-stabilize the foot? What about nutrition - a nutritionist is telling you one thing and your vet is insisting on something else - how do you decide what you will do for your horse?

At this point, I am more likely to take nutritional advice from a nutritionist than I am my vet, if the two disagree.

As a general observation, I see the vets-to-be around me more interested in fixing broken things. Learning about downed cows and treating disorders caused by nutritional imbalances is considered "clinically relevant".

Gross nutritional disease is certainly important. If I bring my horse in with equine metabolic syndrome, I want my vet to know to be knowledgeable about nonstructural carbohydrates and their effect on the syndrome, what hays tend to lower in NSC, and what steps can be done to reduce NSC in hays. 

But, there's a whole 'nother level of nutrition that goes beyond preventing or treating grossly abnormal clinical disease.  What about optimizing performance now and preventing more subtle imbalances whose effects perhaps do not show up for another 20 years? 

To be fair, perhaps a very basic the level of nutritional knowledge is what clients want and expect from their vet. I've been on the observing side (as a boarder at a barn) of clients being told by the vet that they need to change from a 100% California alfalfa diet to something with more grass in it. "I've fed this way for 20 years without a problem!", even though they are being faced with issues directly linked to that 100% alfalfa diet. Perhaps nutritional advice from a vet is seen as unsolicited (fix my horse doc!) and vets are seen as a provider of things that come the form of pills and bottles and needles. Management of the animals is a personal subject and an implication that management of the animals caused this problem can be seen as judgment or blame.

Some vets, like feedlot vets, have a livelihood that is based on knowing nutrition really really well and they are the exception to the rule. But most vets seem willing to take what feed and kibble companies tell them, rely on AAFCO certification, and be content in a basic understanding of the gross needs of maintenance, growth, lactation to prevent gross imbalances in the diet.  

However I want to be the vet that is more focused on preventing problems before they occur, optimizing performance in a working horse, and optimizing quality and length of life in the geriatric horse from the day it's born. Which means I want to be that vet who can answer nutrition questions competently, and be able to have a detailed conversation with a nutritionists without my eyes glazing over.

And THAT'S why I love when I get a nutrition class taught by a nutritionist.

Monday, November 11, 2013

I rode today

I have been doing too much of the same thing lately. 

 Saddling up, and then riding like a maniac for 30-60 minutes with the dog. 

 Especially when training athletically it's important to mix it up.  So today I skipped the saddling up part, and took a nice bare back ride.

Mostly walk with a little jog thrown in, I dropped the reins and took crappy cell phone pics of the trails I have the privlege to ride on. 

Group picture!

Autumn is the most gorgeous, understated time in central CA. The colors are a muted pastel and there's the golden color of summer peaking through, but if you look hard enough under the dust, you can see the plants just waiting for that first "germination" rain that we should be getting any day now.

Remember the one and only time Farley dumped me on the trail, near the beginning of the year? Here's that stretch.

 For certain fellow bloggers who are going with me on a night's some of the scenery you are gonna miss 'cause it's goin' to be dark! :)

Hi there! A plethora of topics as I put off doing *real* work.

 Eventually I'll get to this (my list of draft post ideas)

 But since there's ANOTHER list of school assignments due this lovely 3 day weekend, I'm going to do a quick update and then it's off to do things like "learn enough crap that I don't make a miserable vet in 18 months".

Isn't that reassuring?

All week I waffled between "do I have a cold?" or "do I have really bad allergies"?  Now, some of you might say poTATo, poTAHTo - but it's an important distinction.

The golden rule of interval training and avoiding injury and sickness is to NOT work out when you are sore or on the brink of being sick.

You can ignore that golden rule like I did when I first started long distance running and spend most of your time
a. injured
b. about to be injured
c. recovering from an injury

AND as a bonus predictably get whatever bug was going around in the first couple weeks of fall marathon training, or right after your marathon or big race. 

No thank you.  I'd like to think after more than a decade of endurance running that I've FINALLY started to learn from my mistakes. And MAYBE after more than a decade of running, I will be able to run CONSISTENTLY for a year or two and actually accomplish cool stuff, instead of running in 3 month spurts and alternating between injured and sick.

Allergies means that I continue interval running as usual. A push-myself-to-the-brink-of-puking interval work out is not likely to take allergies and turn into something more nasty through immune suppression.  HOWEVER, Cold = taking time off from stressful interval training until the worst is over.

Four days ago I *thought* it was allergies, but now I'm pretty sure I'm recovering from the last of a cold. *sigh*. I guess no sleep, and major stress in school does not go unpunished.

In addition to making it hard to hear or talk, the congestion in my head is also making it near impossible to write or talk coherently.  A fun fact when the school assignments in the docket are short essays, and what I REALLY want to do is knock off some of those blog post topics that have been floating around for a while.

So instead I did *useful* things like this:

1. Set up my snowboarding stuff for the upcoming season. 

Board still looks awesome?  Check
Pants and jacket still fit? Check
Helmet still in serviceable shape? Check
Can locate BOTH members of the pair of gloves and snowboarding socks? Check
Still in possession of a thrift store pair of goggles? Check

Tess thought the purpose of my crouching down to take a picture of my ultra cool set up was to jump over the board and pounce on me. This is one of a series of ~10 pictures in which she is:

a. chewing on my boots and bindings
b. trying to do a handstand on my board
c. leaping over the board like an agility obstacle
b. licking my face

Having a cold means that I have a very bored, very naughty Brittany.

You can't tell from the picture, but my boots are LEOPARD PRINT. Here's the story.

Last year Matt and I ordered our gear on line and the board was the first to get picked out - for those of you not familiar with snowboards, there's lots of different brands, models, lengths etc, BUT at the end (especially if you are a short female) only 1-2 boards usually that will work. So, whatever my feelings on color (pink/purple) and design (faces with cameras) this was *my* board.

The type of bindings were dictated by the board, so I ignored them for now, and focused on boots.

Fun fact for you non-snowboarders.  Every year companies come out with new color and designs for their equipment, so if you are willing to go with last years fashion, you can get some good gear for a decent price!

For example, my snazzy board is a 2010/2011 season model, that I bought in the 2012/2013 season. Whoo hoo!

I did some research to see what Burton (the brand of board and bindings) recommended as the "best" boot for this board/binding combo for going down the mountain and come up with the line of boots and went looking for a deal on a previous year color.

I had two choices - leopard print and black.

There was a time in my life that I would have chosen black without blinking.

That was the time BEFORE I was an endurance rider. I was a safe, self-conscious dresser that errored on the side of darker colors that wouldn't draw attention to myself, and my equipment reflected that.  Nice, safe, traditional color combinations.

And then I learned that colors and patterns could be FUN. And I learned to be brave and not give a sh*t and spend more time having fun and less time worrying about appearances.

The arrangement was that Matt would buy my bindings and board and I would buy my boots. Which meant when I picked out my boots, it resulted a raised eye brows and expressions of doubt ("are you *sure*?") but no real argument.

On to the bindings.  Glory Be!!!!!  They have my bindings in a previous season color!  Again, my options are a nice safe black, OR a GLORIOUS lime green.

I'm not sure how I knew that the lime green would be THE THING that would seemlessly meld leopard boots and a purple/pink board, but I KNEW.

The difficult thing was convincing the person that was actually paying for the bindings.

Finally, resigned to the fate of having to be seen with the gaudiest dressed women on the slopes, he bought them for me.

And when all three pieces came and we put it together, we stood there in SHOCK of how AWESOME it looks. And everyone who sees it agrees.

I of course paired it with an awesome purple plaid jacket (another previous season find) and black pants and helmet and I am READY to bruise a tail bone! 

Of course, I've been busy doing other things too.

2. I finally, after more than a month of being moved in, set up another 2 rooms - the work out room and office.

Finally, both are serviceable.

Not completely done, but serviceable.

 A vital piece of equipment that belongs in one of those two rooms, my beloved treadmill/treaddesk, unfortunately is NOT.

I realized one day I was doing WAY too much sitting. Part of the issue was I hadn't elevated and set up my desk to standing height.  That taken care of, I decided the next step was to either organize the garage to the point where I wanted to use the treadmill to watch movies etc out there, or move the treadmill into the newly set up (very tiny) work out room.

I decided it was less work to move the treadmill.

Although in retrospect, perhaps I errored in that assessment.

As fellow blogger Aurora put it so succinctly on Facebook, I failed at house Tetris.

 The door behind the treadmill is the garage. The treadmill is neatly positioned in the laundry room.

The bad news. To actually exit out the garage, I have to climb through the treadmill, squeeze between the washer and the treadmill and elevate the platform to the storage position. I can then exit through the door. To get back into the house I have to reverse the process - close the door, stand next to the washer, lower the platform back down, crawl through the front.

The good news!  I was able to do a hill interval workout!  And watch a movie while walking. Not to mention the extra security of having a treadmill in front of a door right? Because that door ain't opening as long as that treadmill is down!

Overall we can consider this a success I think.

I did have to warn Matt before he got home with a text that started out: "Please don't be mad but...."

3. A friend gave me these AWESOME food kits - I love them. At 350 calories I can keep them in my backpack, car whatever as a "oh crap I'm in town and now I'm hungry" emergency food, instead of trying to find something in town that is wheat free and protein dense. They may also provide the answer of "what to eat for lunch while backpacking" or for that first night on the trail when I invariably have a screaming migraine. I'll make some version of my own with my food saver, but sometimes it's nice to have something ready to grab. These won't work for endurance rides since jerky is completely unpalatable for me on horse back, but it's a definitely possibility for running and other non-horse trail adventures.
I think I have now wasted enough time talking about random things that I can go do something productive like write school essays. And maybe you will see me back today with a post off my list - and maybe in a couple of days :).

Friday, November 1, 2013

Accidental intervals

Remember when I told you that I did "accidental" intervals on Farley and that's how we train for endurance now?

Today's ride was the perfect example and because I rode with my phone, I'm able to show you what I'm talking about.

Today I didn't go out with the intention of doing intervals - I decided to do our "short loop" and we warmed up to our regular spot, did some trotting, walked up the levee embankment and down the other side. Then took off a little faster and she's been giving me a lovely canter lately so off we went chasing the white dog down the trail.  We rounded the corner and took off a little faster and I let Farley edge out the little white dog (usually the rule is that Tess gets to run in front and "win") and then it was back to a walk to navigate a bit of technical rock/gravel/hill stuff. And then it's a straight shot towards home through a wide dirt orchard path and we went faster and faster and FASTER until I was going as fast as I've EVER let her go, but she was being good and Tess, although not in front in any more, was TOTALLY game and keeping up on our heels - and we were going so fast that I was trying to decide whether I should let Farley REALLY go - no time like the present right? - .....or should I come to my senses and stop going hell bent for home in jeans, crocs, and dressage length (long) stirrups? 

And then a tractor pulled out in front of me on the orchard road and after slowing to a trot to pass the moment of insanity had passed and we went home at a more sedate pace.

And voila!  What shows up on my pace chart looks remarkably like an interval workout. Periods of faster work interspersed with really slow speed recoveries.  99% of my rides look like this - and I'll do any where from 3-15 miles at a time.  Sometimes I go really fast, sometimes I go really slow, and sometimes I'll do longer stretches of something in between.  Very very rarely will a keep a consistent pace through an entire ride. I feel like this mimics endurance rides too. Often on a technical ride I'm making time where the footing is good, and then walking through the really steep stuff, or the crappy footing.  Sure, during a real ride I do much longer stretches of that 9-10 mph trot, but what I'm doing in training seems to prepare my horse just fine - and changing up the paces and speed during training keeps the conditioning rides fun for me and my horse.

This is what a dog looks like after she's raced an arab and lost:
After putting Farley up I couldn't find Tess....until I looked in my tack room.  She had crawled in and snuggled into the cushy bale bag. Unfortunatley she got up before I could take the picture :(.

She is currently zonked out in her kennel and I can only hope this means I don't have to deal with "bored puppy syndrome" tonight.  :)