Sunday, September 10, 2017

Beautiful weather, bareback dressage, Rogan and Sunny



What a beautiful weekend!!

I thoroughly enjoyed not having plans and time to play with both horses all 3 days.  I am always amazed at how consistency really makes for fast progress!  Also, interestingly enough I am working on the same tasks with both horses right now.  The contrast between Rogan and Sunny is educational. Rogan understands all the movements I am asking for (through our previous training) but physically struggles - he is built very downhill and has very low set neck -almost a ewe neck; he is very stiff and heavy in his movement.  He also has some anxiety from my previous attempts to teach him things (thank you Rogan for helping me learn and improve!).  Sunny is much more athletic and fluid, but is still learning what I am asking for and how to do the movements.  The increased fluidity, relaxation, and understanding for both horses over 3 days is wonderful.

I love riding bareback for fine-tuned arena work. I am using a Equi-Pedic saddle pad underneath a Parelli bareback for a little protection for the horse's back and a little grip for me. I can really feel if the back is lifting or if the horse has a little tension or brace that we need to work out; this is much harder for me to feel in the saddle at this point in my learning.  Rogan tends to 'cheat' and visually put his head/neck in a 'frame' but not actually have a relaxed and lifted back. When I ride him bareback I can feel this instantly and then ask him to release his tension and lift.  Rogan isn't very strong yet and can only really lift his back when his neck is around the horizontal position, when he tenses he typically raises his neck so I can gently ask him to lower it down again and then think 'lift' with my body and it works!!  Sunny is getting really strong and seems to vascillate between an excellent lifted back and then a REALLY lifted back during certain movements which is fantastic, but also makes it hard to tell if he is always lifting as I am losing contrast, LOL! It is good to ride multiple horses!

I am starting out both horses with neck stretches in hand and when mounted.  Then with Sunny we are still playing with Spanish Walk, but at this point it is Spanish-Stand, LOL.  He is continuously improving and we get 4 leg lifts in a row consistently under saddle but we are struggling with walking forward between.  I am hopeful more practice and loads of praise will sort this out from Spanish-Stand to Spanish-Walk.  Then I have been warming up with alternating between shoulder-in and haunches-in along the rail both directions; today I added in more half-pass.  I used a barrel as an end-point to the half-pass; both horses quickly figured out the target and aimed themselves to it, half-passing over for a rest and treat at the barrel.  I find horses are much more motivated and offer so much more when you give them a purpose such as 'we are going to that barrel with a cookie' rather than aimlessly repeating a movement along the rail.  Today I also added in walk-pirouettes. Rogan really surprised me, he did several really nice 1/2 - 3/4 pirouettes -- this is where he shines because he understands what I am asking and since I had warmed him up well and his body was loosening he gave me some awesome relaxed and beautiful movements.  Sunny doesn't understand this very well yet and accordingly I have to be very precise in my direction. However, when I do my job and prepare him correctly Sunny will consistently offer really nice 1/2 walk pirouettes.  If I don't prepare him well he will do what just comes easier and step out with his hind end (a coke-bottle turn, rather than a pirouette).  Today we got 3 really nice 1/2 walk pirouettes each direction (yay!!)  What I love about this is both horses are so relaxed and on really light contact -- just enough to communicate, everything is so easy and smooth!  The horses are relaxed, understand the communication, are physically capable and 'it' (the really cool fancy movement) just easily happens!  No more "driving the horse into the bit"-- bleh, never ever again!!!!  Thank you Theresa McManus and the many horses that have helped me learn!

Next, I played with trot/walk (or gait with Sunny) transitions.  Each horse needs a slightly different focus.  Rogan has done a million transitions (and knows his job), but wants to tense his neck and thrust forward (this is my fault too from previous riding/training mistakes). I have to help him relax his neck and lift into the transition. I find this is easier if he does the transition from a shoulder-fore position, it breaks up the bad habit and every day he is getting softer with more of a lift-transition.  He also tends to fall-in on his right shoulder when on the right-rein/direction and starting him in a shoulder-in on the circle helps him stay even on his shoulders when this happens; accordingly he drifts out on left hand circles...  Sunny still will get emotionally nervous about transitions and just needs practice and repetition that they are ok; he still needs his million transitions!  He truly hasn't done a lot of arena/practice transitions, it is very different on the trail where it is very obvious to go/slow.  We just walked, then gaited for about 20 feet, then walked, then gaited, etc. At the beginning he would vacillate between a mild balking and a nervous-go, the balking equaled a light tap with the stick and then nervous-go equaled relaxation and repetition.   Today he really understood and we had forward transitions without nervousness, balking, or the stick!.  Downward transitions are really easy in the arena (ie I think stop), LOL!

I am also adding-in shoulder-in at the trot for Rogan and gait for Sunny.  Both horse's think it is hard (me too!!!), but both horse's were really getting a few good steps by today.  Rogan struggles more going to the right and Sunny to the left.  I think this will really come soon for both, but I find it hard to push both the horse's and myself to the next level (versus stay in our comfort zone).  I have to just keep practicing and praising the wonderful horses for every good step they offer, and then the next session they just offer more -- each step they take increases their mental understanding and physical ability to do another the next day!  And today I was amazed by the improvement in Sunny's gait after practicing this -- he was really moving, while maintaining relaxation and a hugely lifted back, Wow!! And I also learned throughout the weekend of riding that I am dropping my left shoulder as my bra strap falls down on that side-- Now that's a good reminder, LOL! If I remember to keep my hands level in turns, etc (ie "serving tea to the queen") then my bra strap stays up-- imagine that 😉

Finally, we added on the canter. Once again both horses are practicing the exact same thing -- a relaxed upward lift into the canter (pushing off with the outside hind, rather than falling onto this inside front leg). Both horses initially tend to raise their necks and fall forward into the canter. Rogan physically is having trouble cantering so I just ask for a nice lift into the canter, about 2-3 strides then walk.  I am not sure if he is just that stiff, anxious about previous mistakes I made in the canter (ie flying lead change training trying Parelli methods -- that didn't work at all for us!!), or a little footsore too.  Regardless we are taking it slow and building up with all the walk/trot/lateral work, using hoof-boots, and he also has an osteopath visit in a few weeks.  Sunny is doing amazing -- he is just having to figure out that horses can canter in a small arena (instead of a 14 mph hand-gallop on the trail!!) and is offering a delightful back-lifted balanced and relaxed canter.  I also only ask Sunny for a few strides as he is just learning, and when he lifts into the canter and offers a few lovely strides I let him know he has the 'right' answer by stopping and praising.  Not every transition is lovely (of course) but we are making huge improvement.  I CAN'T WAIT until we can flow down the trail alternating between his amazingly smooth gait and this lovely little canter! That is my goal (or one of my goals!).  My next conditioning ride (next week after 3 weeks off from conditioning) will just be a short 7-8 mile loop where we, hopefully, practice maintaining a gait or lovely little canter most of the time.







Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Iron Horse! 100 miles, 2 days

Iron Horse Award, handmade by Marshall Bates from old-horse shoes found on the Iron Mtn trail

Sunny completed 50 miles both Friday and Saturday at Iron Mountain Jubilee. The weather was perfect, the trails were fantastic, and all the stars aligned! He transversed 100 miles of mountain trail with 15,622 elevation gain/loss on Saturday and probably about the same on Friday (my Garmin lost Friday's data).  His 100 mile ride time was 18 hr 52 min, we tied for 27th on day 1 and had a 4-way tie for Turtle on day 2 (it was great sharing the trail all day with Dale, Roger, and Monica!) The Renegade Vipers stayed on perfectly for both days and the vet cards looked great the entire time. Thank you to Nancy Sluys and team for putting on such a great, well-thought-out ride!!

Day 2, Photo by Becky Pearman

After just under a 5 hr drive to camp, he weighed 910 lbs (413 kg) and had a body condition score of 5.5/9 on arrival. (I love having the horse scale at rides! On an aside, he weighed 878 lbs on arrival at Old Dominion after a 1 hr trailer ride). After completing the 50 on Friday he weighed 896 lbs, losing 14 lbs or about 6.4 liters of fluids, this would equal to about 1.5 % dehydration (not taking into account any weight loss or dehydration from travel prior to the ride) [For the math geeks,  Liters of fluid loss = Kg of horse x % dehydration].   I was hoping he would regain his 14 lbs of loss overnight, but the next morning he still weighed 896 lbs (hey but in the morning he didn't have his renegades on... so he actually regained about 1.4 L of fluid, and YES I did just weigh all my wet/muddy renegades and all 4 weighed about  3 lbs or 1.4 kg).  At the end of the 2nd day he weighed 878 lbs or 399 kg, having lost a total of 32 lbs or 14 kg.  This equates to about 3.4% fluid loss or dehydration for the 100 miles/2 days.  That is not too bad, but of course I hope this improves at future rides as he becomes better at eating and drinking on the trail and at camp; he did eat much more consistently on day 2 than on day 1. I did give Sunny plain salt and mashes prior to the ride and electrolyted about every hour on trail with 1 oz (half-dose) of Enduramax and 1oz ProCMC (and lost my drench syringe on trail too).

Powerline view on trail
I was pumped and excited after finishing the first 50 on Friday with both of us in great condition, so I went ahead and signed up for Saturday. About 1 am on Saturday I was definitely thinking 'WHY?" why did I think this was good idea again... And when I tried to get up and walk Saturday am, I definitely thought, why??? But I had already paid my $110 so I certainly wasn't going to back out and lose my entry fee, LOL.  Sunny agreed and was reluctant to leave basecamp, he wasn't concerned at all about following the herd of horses down the trail, he knew the correct direction to go, back to the trailer and his alfalfa.  However, after a few miles down the trail we both loosened up and he was especially happy to catch up with Dale and Cheyenne; Sunny has a crush on Cheyenne and loves to share the trail with her.

My Trail Buddies for Day 2 - Dale, Roger, and Monica
Hospitality stop on the 2nd, 20 mile yellow loop

Sunny and Cheyenne enjoying Melody's and Sweet Pea's leftover hay at the Vet Check

I loved having different trail both days, with gorgeous views!  I thought the footing was fantastic, mostly firm sand/clay base trail with some shale/rocks and gravel roads. There was no boulder climbing like on the Old Dominion trail. I enjoyed hiking the climbs to give my body a change and Sunny's back a break from carrying me.   During the last 15 miles on Saturday my calves were failing and my shoulders were cramping.  I still need to improve on my posture while riding, I push my heels down too far which works my calves too much and I hunch forward a little which is why my shoulders cramp from supporting my heavy head.  Also, when I have brace in my position it can create brace and tension in Sunny as well (never a good thing).  This is a continual work in progress and fatigue brings out bad habits, but on the bright side when my calves stopped working I had to find new ways to keep posting without using those muscles :)

Photo by Nancy Sluys. Starting out on Day 2, this photo captures my braced posture (and tells my why I am still so sore today!)
I loved basecamp, it was picturesque with mountain views, shade trees, and on the banks of the New River (and had showers too!!). The horses enjoyed the cooling river (great for 'icing' the legs after riding all day!) and good roll in the sandy banks afterwards.




Lessons learned --
1. I need to keep practicing better posture
2. My hind renegades rubbed on the 2nd day, this has never happened previously but I may have had them adjusted too tight.
3. I did have mild girth chaffing on the 2nd morning, I smeared on the Desitin and it actually looked better post-ride. Next time I will use Desitin prior to any long ride.
4. This ride really took everything Sunny and I had. We are both really tired, my calves are swollen and I have been on/off nauseous, he is still only walking around the field, not trotting and playing yet; his windpuff's are little extra puffy this morning out from standing around after such intense exercise. We did finish with A's and in good condition but in hindsight I don't think we were really fit enough for this level of difficulty. Had the conditions been less than perfect (ie muddy, hotter, more humid, etc) we probably would have run into problems.  This is the hardest I have ever pushed myself or my horse and while I don't regret it, I do understand that we need to be more fit before tackling hard 100 mile rides (ie Old Dominion). I don't have the experience to know what is 'normal' for horses after such a hard ride but I would like both my horse and myself to be a little perkier a little sooner.   I think prior to tackling any more longer rides I would like to pace a little faster, add-in a little more canter, finish 50's solid early to mid-pack rather than with the turtles. But we have just added 100 miles to our base of long-slow-distance and we should both come out better for it.
5. Our relationship is improving, Sunny trusts me more (and vice versa) and I love the fact that he still wants to be partners after such an ordeal. He seems to know I do love him and he trusts me to take care of him, knowing I dismount and lead him through the hard sections, take him off the hi-tie for grazing walks and pee-breaks (he doesn't like to pee in his 'bed'), and in return he still walks up to me in the dark, after 12 hours of work, after 100 miles and almost 10 hours of trailering, just so I can make sure everything is still ok.

Plan:
Rest and more rest and relationship play while resting!  Then we will keep building our partnership, practice dressage, and maybe start adding in some more speed to our conditioning rides.  I would like to practice maintaining a balanced, easy canter for longer stretches on the trail.




Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Ride Between the Rivers 2017



Sunny and I received our first Turtle Award!!!  Definitely got our money's worth in hours on the trail, LOL!  Also, I had my heart rate monitor on me instead of Sunny to participate in a study comparing the intensity of exercise of endurance riding to other sports, such as long-distance cycling.  Here is what Jerry (the researcher) said about the results:

"Your maximum predicted heart rate was 185[220-35]. Your average heart rate was 133 therefore your maximum predicted percent heart rate was 72%. This is almost exactly what the average has been turning out and comparable to a bike rider doing 100 mile race. You are tough to be able to do that for 10 hours and 42 minutes"

But to start from the beginning... I made some adjustments to (hopefully) prevent a repeat of the tying-up episode at Old Dominion.  Sunny was treated for Anaplasmosis, I switched his diet to the low-starch, high-fat/fiber Triple Crown Senior,  I rode him lightly in the arena for about 15 - 30 min every day the week prior to the competition, and I did about a 20 min pre-ride the night before.  It worked -- no muscle stiffness, tying-up, or any other problems! Yay!!!  He also looks a lot better having gained some weight since switching his diet  -- he went from about a 4 - 4.5 Body Condition to a 5- 5.5 BCS.

Also in the 8 weeks between OD and RBTR Sunny has had some significant muscle changes from our dressage training and me learning what a lifted back feels like, and then asking for it!  (Thank you Theresa!!!) I started to have saddle sweat dry spots under my seat (from his lifting and developing/widening back muscle), so I adjusted my saddle 1/2 turn wider and we had even sweat patterns again (it has a large allen wrench that you insert into the 'magic-hole' and turn 'righty-tighty' for narrower and 'lefty-loosey' for wider).  I love my DP saddle!!

Otherwise everything is getting much easier about going to endurance rides, which is wonderful. Graham and I have a routine and list, we know what needs to be packed, how long it takes, etc, etc. Much less stress about camping, electrolytes, and everything -- So if you are a Green Bean just starting out, things do get easier with practice and repetition!.  Sunny camps like a pro, lays flat out on the high-tie every night and eats better at every ride!   The funniest thing is that he doesn't like to pee on his Hi-Tie or on the trailer, he will hold it until I take him for a walk -- I understand, I don't like to pee at my bed or dinner table either!!  I also would like him to eat a little better by himself on the trailer, but he is improving.  I also just used my previously made electrolytes from OD (I froze them between the rides) and gave Sunny a dose every 1-2 hours, with plain salt the day before the ride.  He doesn't currently like to eat salt in his feed so I am having to give it to him via syringe.  But I just found out the Triple Crown Senior provides about 1 ounce of salt per 5 lbs of food, which is the about the basic maintenance requirement which makes things easier!

Trailering to ride-camp and setting up was smooth, no issues.  I did get a bit of headache/migraine from the intense mountain driving but with medication and rest it was gone by ride morning.  I really enjoyed my pre-ride. Sunny was motivated and gaited the best in his life thus so far- smooth, fast, and fun!  Sleep the night before the ride was in short-supply with lightening flashes and rain keeping us awake for a few hours, then sometime in the early morning loose horses running past spooked Sunny who jolted on the high-tie and caused us to wake-up very quickly to check on him.  All was ok and I believe the loose horses were quickly recovered by their owners.  And the impromptu wake-up allowed us to check on Sunny who felt a little chilly since the rain and temperature drop, so I put a light sheet on him so he wouldn't have cold/stiff muscles in the morning, and also fed him an early breakfast.
Trotting through the river. Photo by Becky Pearman

Ride morning went as planned with plenty of time to eat and warm-up. Graham was wonderful help, making sure I was checked-in with the start-timer and ensuring that I was well-fed with all my gear. Sunny was ready-to-go at the start, but certainly calm and listening well --no troubles with speed or rating.  The trails were quite muddy in parts (I describe it as brownie batter with walnuts!) with large puddles. We were pre-warned that the puddles may be very deep in the middle with dangerous debris; last year one was so deep a horse fell!  So I was very cautious to go around the edges and avoid any deep centers.  The river crossing were absolutely gorgeous -- knee to chest high clear mountain water with good footing of small-medium river rocks.  There was plenty of room for Sunny to splash and self-cool himself without disturbing any other horses too!   He got me plenty wet too, I had to change my soaked boots out for dry sneakers at the first hold.  He didn't drink or eat much the first loop, but steadily improved through the 2nd loop, and by the third loop he was devouring everything in sight -- he really liked a roadside weed with little blue flowers...I think it may be Chicory.
Headed out for the 2nd loop with dry sneakers. Photo by Becky Pearman

I had decided to try my Renegade hoof boots out during a competition for the first time and the mud was a real test!  I put 3 of the rubberband holders on the velcro prior to the ride, knowing all the mud might be problem for the velcro; this worked very well, I didn't have any problems with loose velcro! I did have 1 front boot cable break during the first loop and had front boots slip off two other times with no damage. The cable broke after he had a hard slip at at trot on a front foot at a sloped mud bank going around a puddle; I think the crazy angle with the impact force at the trot was too much torque for the cable.  At the first hold I repaired and tightened the front boots -- I had recently trimmed Sunny and the boots were actually a little looser than normal.  During the rest of the ride the front boots didn't budge.  During the second loop the boots were doing great, until Sunny got excited about catching up to some horses during an area of deep boot-sucking mud.  He powerfully lunged out of a mud hole and left both back boots behind.  When I went to fetch the boots I almost lost mine! And I realized just how slick the footing was when I slipped and went straight down into the mud;  it was very deep (mid-calf) with powerful slick suction.  Thankfully Sunny was somewhat patient with the whole process (even though there were horses in front of him that he needed catch up with!) and I replaced the boots, remounted and proceed down the trail, complete with mud-covered pants and squishy-sloshing shoes! At the hold I was able to change into a fresh pair of tights, socks, and I commandeered Graham's shoes.  At the end of the 3rd loop I finally had a cable break on a hind boot and quickly replaced it with fresh boot.  Overall the boots performed better than expected given the tough conditions.  I wouldn't use them if trying to race, but I was able to easily complete the ride in time and saved the costs of shoeing.  I also noted that if I was slow in the mud I didn't have any problems; I only broke cables at a trot when he slipped or lunged through the muddy footing.. hmmm.

Drying off during the 2nd hold


During the 3rd and final loop I didn't see another horse or rider!  Sunny wasn't very motivated without any buddies and we had plenty of time, so we just mosied down the trail.  We stopped to eat grass when he wanted, carefully walked through the deep mud, and walked the big climbs and descents.  At the radio-checkpoint I enjoyed some delicious watermelon moonshine which made the rest of the ride very relaxing!  During the last mile we picked up a steady canter, I let go of the reins, closed my eyes, spread my arms and flew down the trail!  And at the very finish I caught up to the last riders, but savored my turtle award of last place, 50/50 (54 started, 4 pulls).  Sunny looked great at his completion check, all A's and moving well.


Fritzi and myself enjoying the RBTR swimming hole post-ride!


Sunny and Poptart reuniting post-ride




Sunday, July 16, 2017

July Lessons with Theresa

Shoulder-in to Travers (haunches-in)

I just got back from my latest session of lessons with Theresa McManus; this time both Sunny and Rogan came along.  Having two horses worked well, because after a few sessions Sunny becomes tired; alternating horse's keeps both fresh.  I wasn't quite as well-prepared for this session, because I hadn't done all my homework from the previous session. I knew our canter transitions needed work and I also needed to focus more on lowering Sunny's head/neck to a neutral and relaxed position to allow him to use his back well (Theresa re-iterated both points and it is the focus of our new homework).  At this stage he is not strong enough to carry himself with his back lifted for long periods of time, and carrying himself in 'neutral' with a moving back, alternated with lateral work lifting his back will strengthen his muscles over time.

I think this will be one of the biggest moments of my lifetime learning and riding journey---I felt and recognized a truly lifted back for the first time!  Theresa and I switched horse's briefly, and I had the opportunity to feel Maggie's back (bareback, so I could really feel!). Maggie's back was actually lifting under my seat bones, it was very firm and strong (and wide, LOL!).  When people talked about lifting the back I always understood it to be a lifting of the loin as the hindquarters engaged-- I have felt this and always thought the loin lifting was the goal. However, this was different-- this lift was directly under my seat bones. I could have assumed it was just Maggie and how her back felt.  But then we switched back to our own horses and suddenly Sunny had the same feeling from Theresa riding him ---this was new!  I have ridden Sunny a lot and he has not done this before.  I lost the feeling after a few minutes, but we repeated the switch the next session and I think I have it! Now that I know the feeling I can subtly change my seat and legs and ask for the lift -- now for lots of practice.  I don't think I can verbalize how to ask for the lift, I think this is something most people must learn by feeling a properly schooled horse. And once you have the feeling then you can play with asking for it in your horse. Maybe a subtle ask (not really a squeeze) for upward with my legs at the same time as asking for the horse to lift the base of his neck with the reins...clear as mud, right? Unfortunately in modern riding in the USA properly schooled horses are in very short supply-- certainly don't look for them in the competitive dressage world 😢.

A few steps of shoulder-in while gaiting (for the first time)

We also discovered that advanced lateral work IS possible in Sunny's gait (saddle rack?).  We didn't know if a horse could step under for shoulder-in or travers, etc during a more lateral gait versus the diagonal trot.  I don't know that it would work with a pace or stepping pace, but when I asked for shoulder-in during a relaxed gait, Sunny readily did it!  He crossed his legs underneath himself readily, no problem.  My theory is that since his gait is actually a 4-beat gait (almost lateral pickup with an even 4-beat set down) it is actually similar to doing the lateral work at a walk.  We will keep playing with this 😁



We also started Sunny jumping, he has cleared logs on the trail but has not had any formal training.  Theresa has an excellent resume for teaching jumping, having previously coached the 1988 British Olympic Showjumping portion for the Modern Pentathlon team (not too mention having ridden 4-star level eventing in the UK!) She initially set up a low progressive grid to build confidence and to teach him to figure out his feet and balance.  The grid was fantastic, after the 3rd session he was bouncing through the caveletti and small jumps like a pro. The small size of the jumps (ie 18", etc) kept him (and me!) confident.  I would love to practice this more and would thoroughly enjoy some eventing or jumping on the side (in all my free time between dressage and endurance training...oh and work too, LOL!)


Besides loads of learning we also had fun swimming with the horses. Claire Morris (thank you Claire!!) graciously soaked herself taking Rogan into the lake while I rode Sunny and I think we all had lots of fun!  Sunny likes lakes so much so that he stands in the big water troughs and splashes, generally tipping the whole thing over in the process. I am glad I have a small automatic waterer at home.... but I bet he would enjoy a field with a pond!
Tipped over water trough...

Guilty party... the fresh splash marks give him away!


Lesson notes: (and FYI- all this fancy-shmancy 'dressage' stuff is done bitless!) (or you could just call it a healthy foundation for all horses 😉 )

  • The outside rein is used to control speed and direction.
  • The inside rein is used for flexion (vertical-- how lifted or lowered is the head/neck) and bend (lateral - how turned to the inside is the head/neck).  This was re-iterated when attempting to halt after jumping-- when in the moment I used both reins Sunny kept moving, but on the next pass I remembered to lightly lift 1-rein and had a beautiful soft halt. 
  • Shoulder-in: I need to rotate (not twist or lean!) my body with my horse and look where his head is (ie follow his movement). This is what feels natural and easy, but I tend to over-complicate things sometimes---I have a tendency to look straight down the rail and this throws him off slightly. 
  • Rider weight - always in the direction of the movement. For me this is subtle shift following his movement with my seat, this is not lean of my body or heavy stepping into the stirrup.
  • Standing/resting - Make sure he keeps his back lifted supporting me while stopped/resting; it is easy for him to slump and drop his back when we are resting, but it is important for his back health that he stays lifted. If I really need to rest him then I just need to dismount!
  • School Walk - this is a very neat exercise that promotes lightness and lifting ability for shoulder and forehand.  It is a precise 4-beat walk with a pronounced lift of the forelimbs - visualize a military parade walk.  This was much easier to feel when bareback and accordingly I think it would always be much easier to learn this bareback; once I developed the feel for this movement bareback I could recognize it under saddle much easier.  While bareback I felt each shoulder lift and rotate under my seat, it is how I imagine a Spanish Walk would feel (obviously much more so!)
  • Gaiting (or trotting) - I need to ensure that Sunny always has his head/neck in a relaxed 'neutral' position (unless specifically working on lateral work with a lifted base of neck or stretching down/forward).  When gaiting in this posture I can really feel his back muscles moving and this changes abruptly as soon as he stiffens his neck!  (once again felt best bareback). He moves most efficiently in this relaxed posture, but has a tendency to brace his neck with a little tension, especially when gaiting or trotting (the walk is much easier). Essentially he moves just fine by himself in the field, but I have to teach him how to relax and use his muscles efficiently and healthily while supporting a rider.  It is natural for a horse to brace when loaded up with 175 lbs of rider + tack, and most have to be taught how to both relax and lift to support a rider.  This will extend to the canter as well....but we are saving that for later. 
  • Canter transitions - Sunny needs to be relaxed prior to the transition with his head in the 'neutral' position; if he anticipates or tenses I just lower his head and ask again.  When he is tensed/braced he tends to pull himself into the counter with his front legs.  When relaxed and balanced he will lift into the canter pushing off his outside hind leg. All his transitions need to be pushing transitions!  My transitions are all from a travers (haunches-in) position to set him-up for the correct lead.  I need to ensure that my reins are soft with only very light (or no) contact. I tend to lift on the inside rein asking him to lower/relax his head and he takes that as don't go (which is confusing since I am asking him to go with my legs!).  We have an easier time in a larger area which makes sense as the horse has somewhere to go, and the first transition tends to messy because he is not thinking about canter.  Practice, practice!  
  • Transitions - When working specifically on transitions do not continue moving along after the transition, always stop and praise so the horse knows what he did right.  Work on improving the canter itself after the transitions are solid.  Also I am going to play with the beginnings of Piaffe with slowing the gait until he almost walks then asking to move forward again -- essentially shortenings and lengthenings, and transitions within the gait. 
  • Walk Pirouette - Start with travers (haunches-in) on the circle. Spiral to a smaller circle. When I feel he is balanced and ready continue from travers, I open up the inside rein to 'open the door' for the front end to step over.  Feel a step and ask him to walk forward. Slowly build to several steps, and eventually a complete 360, always coming forward at the end. 
  • Spanish Walk - this will be fun!  I know Sunny can do this move as I watch him do it when he climbs in and out of the water trough.  This is may be a meaningless exercise to the horse, but I believe it lends it self very well to positive reinforcement training (clicker or treat).  This exercise significantly strengthens their shoulder and ability to lift the base of the neck; it also helps teach passage in the future.  And it can be done with fun on the ground initially!  We start with the Jambette, which is the leg lift done in place, then progress to walking forwards in the true Spanish Walk.  I start next to a wall to prevent misunderstanding that I am asking for haunch/body movement.  It is essential that the horses head/neck is lifted to shift the weight to the haunches and lighten the forehand. I then play with a slight vibration on the rein by the mouth/nose and then tap the upper leg near the back of the elbow until I get a try of a forward lift of the leg.  (and this is where we are at!).  Then, essentially, I will continue to develop and modify this behavior until I get the full extended leg lift.  I am looking forward to playing with this!
1/2 serpentine or 1/2 reverse bow-tie pattern

  • 1/2 serpentine and Bow-tie exercise - we didn't get to this exercise, but Theresa recommended it to play with canter transitions, or actually she recommended a reverse 1/2 bow-tie aka 1/2 serpentine. We can also use the basic bow-tie pattern too.  
  • Jumping - always use an odd number of jumps/poles/caveletti. Unsure why but I will listen. Also I need to find the correct balance for neck release in 2-point position. I need to keep my hands on the mane (not waving wildly in the air...) and move them forward to release the reins during the jumps.  There is a sweet spot of just enough contact to allow a full rein release during the jump and retain enough contact to help guide the horse.  I can practice while cantering down the trail.  I also tend to completely drop the reins... which is fine on Sunny (he just keeps jumping), but could be dangerous as he could get a foot caught when lifting his knees so nicely over the jumps. 
  • Following the movement - I tend to stop moving my hands/shoulders with the horse's movement when I am concentrating (ie in new lateral work), then Sunny stops moving in response! I need to practice continuing to have flowing, relaxed shoulders/arms even when concentrating!
Homework with Sunny (to be completed prior to my next session)
  • Have solid relaxed gaiting -- the neutral head position should be automatic and routine
  • Have solid relaxed 'pushing' canter transitions
  • Have all the lateral work (shoulder-in, travers, and half-pass) solid in the gait
  • Full walk-pirouettes
  • Have the Jambette (spanish walk at halt) with both front legs
  • Continue his muscle development
    • encouraging constant lift of the back during dressage sessions and periodically during conditioning (it is too much strength-work for a horse to stay lifted in an endurance ride, instead I am looking for a neutral relaxed back during our rides)
    • Sustain lateral movement
      • Warm-up with shoulder-in to travers (haunches-in) and back to shoulder-in, etc.  Add in half-pass. It is better for strength development, responsiveness, and mental stimulation to switch between movements frequently, rather than do 3 repetitions of each movement in a row down the long side of the arena---that gets boring!
Swimming with both horses

And a little section on Rogan too!
Rogan is a 13 year old QH x Warmblood gelding. I have had him since he was 5 years old and we have done tons of stuff together.  He is wonderful but wasn't really cut out for endurance, so he has enjoyed being the '2nd' horse for the past few years, so needless to say he is rather hefty and unfit right now.  He hasn't been ridden consistently for about 2 years and has some stiffness/unevenness since being in early retirement (his last hoorah was completing the Old Dominion 25 in 2015!). He knows how to do all the basic lateral work and but we have previously been stumped on flying lead changes-- I tried many methods with Parelli Horsemanship (we have passed our level 4 online and were level 3/4 under saddle) but only succeeded in getting a more anxious and bucking horse, so I stopped. Ultimately the Parelli program did not teach me how to balance my horse and help them carry a rider well.  So, I finally took him to Theresa.  She watched us show her the problem, and felt it was physically inability to get his hind end under him for the lead change, leading to the bucking/anxiety.  When we continued working it was clear he was short-striding in his left hind limb.  She put us through shoulder-in on the circle and travers on the circle (walking) and watched us very carefully.  Rogan could easily bring both hind limbs underneath of him in shoulder-in, but could not bring the left hind under him during travers (haunches-in) on a circle to the right (ie the left hind was on the outside of the circle having to swing under and push off).  He could do this the other direction. He could also lift his hocks and back legs easily when trotting poles on the ground.  Very interesting!! We think the stiffness/restriction comes from his upper left back/loin area since he can move all the other areas well.  The other very interesting thing was his improvement.  After stretching the left hind with lateral work he suddenly became shorter on the right hind! And after the 3rd session he was significantly improved, tracking up with both hind feet evenly and performing the lateral work more easily.   I am going to see how much improvement I can get with just basic lateral work a few times a week, if he doesn't significantly improve then I will schedule an osteopath. appointment. 

Rogan's homework
  • Try to ride for 10-15 minutes 2-3 times/week 
  • Warm-up walking the rail with a shoulder-in circle about 4x each direction, then repeat with 3-4 travers (haunches-in) circles each direction.  I really need to insist he engage his hind leg for this and likely will need to lightly tap him with a stick to insist!
  • Trot the rail for a lap or two, insisting on 'neutral' neck and relaxed back (no tension/brace allowed!).  He also can't always go along stretching his neck to the ground as we need to build up his back. 
  • Trot shoulder-in on the circle 3-4 x each direction
  • Trot cavaletti a few times (spaced about 3 1/2' apart, and an odd number of poles)

Claire swimming Rogan


Friday, July 7, 2017

Back in the Saddle!

Enjoying some play-time after work

Sunny is healthy and ready-to-go again! He did test positive for antibodies (ie exposure) to Anaplasmosis.  This could have been the cause of his tying-up, but we will never know -- hopefully it doesn't happen again!  I started him on IV antibiotic/oxytetracycline initially (the recommend treatment), while waiting for the oral doxycyline to arrive. In hindsight I should have just waited for the oral doxycycline... The morning after his 3rd IV dose he wouldn't walk up from the pasture and wasn't able to put his head down to eat, Argh!!! After a few minutes of initial panic and some emergency phone calls (thank you Dr. Lynne Johnson!!) we realized the IV must have gone extra-vascular and caused severe inflammation/pain. All his vitals were fine and he was very happy to eat with the bowl held up to head/neck height. Graham and I set him up with everything raised to head/neck height and started him on pain medication (Equioxx).  Luckily the oral antibiotics arrived later that day and he didn't miss a dose of treatment. He improved rapidly with rest and pain management and soon was back to normal.  He also tested negative for PSSM type 1.

In the meantime Sunny and I both enjoyed playing in our downtime.  I dug out my old tarp to see what he thought, he wasn't too impressed --- the grass was much more interesting!  I also started introducing a bit, he has never worn a bit and while I don't intend to ride with one, I think it is an important part of horse's education since they are commonly used and I never know what weird situation I may end up in someday (like forgetting or breaking my bridle/halter and borrowing someone's bridle for a ride, etc). I introduce the bit as a fun game.  I hold the bridle as I normally do, asking him to lower his head.  When he bumps the bit with his nose I give him a treat.  Soon he is very interested in the bit and taking it in his mouth!  Every time I bridle I hold a cookie below the bit and when the horse takes the bit in his mouth he gets a cookie too! Over a few sessions Sunny worked up to grazing with the bit for a few minutes, but I wouldn't say he is comfortable with it-- we'll get back to this during winter weather or other rest breaks.

When starting back to exercise I initially kept it light and easy with some arena riding.  We are starting to incorporate more gaiting into our rides and I finally got a segment videoed to hopefully ID 'the gait'.  I believe he is doing a saddle rack based on reading Lee Ziegler's book and watching gaited horse you-tube videos.

Link to her book: (https://www.amazon.com/Easy-Gaited-Horses-methods-training-pleasure/dp/1580175627/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1499464390&sr=1-1-fkmr0&keywords=easy+gait+lee+zeigler)

The saddle rack has an almost lateral hoof pick-up and then an even 4-beat hoof set down.  I hope to certify him (ie finalize his registration) with the Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse Association later this summer. I basically need to video him consistently gaiting (which requires him to consistently gait, LOL, and for Graham to video for me!)

Today we had our 2nd conditioning ride since Old Dominion.  It was fantastic, I focused more on having fun and moving out, and thus avoided big climbs and rocks.  We ended up doing almost 21 miles, with an average speed of 5.5 mph (which is fast for us, considering all of our stopping, play in the water breaks, etc) and an average moving speed of 6.7 mph  (Wow! that might be our fastest conditioning ride yet!).  And I didn't think we had much elevation change, but apparently we had 4112 ft of gain/loss.  Hmm, Sunny will be a little tired... good thing our plans include a break from conditioning and dressage/horsemanship session with Theresa instead!  The dressage is very relaxing; it is tiring too but in an entirely different way and focuses on a different set of muscles than conditioning.  And on a different note, I am planning on participating in the rider heart rate monitor study during my 50 at Ride between the Rivers. So today I took my HR immediately after stopping several times and it averaged around 140 bpm.  If that is consistent while I ride, then I am staying at 75% of my maximum heart rate and riding for 4 hours is some significant exercise!




I also tested out a pair of Scoot Boots on today's ride. I have heard so many good things about them and would love to stop replacing cables on my renegades!  I measured his feet and sent in measurement photos.  He was between a size 2 and 3 on the front and the dealer recommended a size 2 for a snugger fit since we do endurance riding.  When I received them the size 2 was difficult to seat on front hoof and I had to tap it with a hoof pick. The heel straps were visibly digging into the heel bulbs and the center gap was 1.5 cm --- the boot was too small!  So I tried it on the back hoof, it seemed to fit perfectly -- the center gap was about 8 -9 mm, it went on easily, was snug but not close to digging in, and I could not easily twist or rotate it.  However, during our first canter/gallop I lost both Scoot boots (that added a few more miles to the ride!) off the hind hooves. I tried switching to the front as sometimes new boots stretch out after a little use.  They were still tight on the front but I didn't think they would rub or cause a problem.  Within 2 miles they were off too, ugh!  I put the renegades back on, and they stayed perfectly (as they always do) until a cable snapped after about 15 miles.   After talking to the dealer (who has not had this happen before) I hypothesize that horses that do well in Renegades (movement and hoof shape-wise) may not do well in Scoots and vice versa.  The dealer's horse won't keep Renegades on and I have heard that from other people who horses are doing well in Scoots (Jamie M.!)  So now I have an almost new (5 miles of riding) pair of size 2 Scoot Boots (minus 1 of the trail gaiters...) and an unopened set of Scoot Boot endurance gaiters for sale :)  Guess I will be buying more Renegade cables....

Happy Trails and see ya at Ride between the Rivers!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Health update

Our Old Dominion ride photo by Becky Pearman. Good thing she took the photos in the first 2 miles!!
Sunny is doing great at home, you would never know he had a problem last week. He is running around the field having fun, and we have enjoyed some light bareback riding at home.  His 1 week recheck bloodwork showed his CK value normal and his AST returning to normal as anticipated (The AST has a much longer half-life of 7-8 days in the horse, so in 1 week the value was about 50% decreased).  However his CBC, checking his white blood cell counts and red blood cell counts, showed decreases in two types of white blood cells, neutrophils and lymphocytes.  This raised a red flag in my mind for Anaplasmosis. Both Poptart (http://poptartthearabian.blogspot.com/search?q=anaplasma) and Rogan tested postive and were treated for this in 2016, so I know it is present at my home.  Anaplasma phagocytophilum is a tick borne disease that can cause a variety of symptoms including fever, lethargy, muscle stiffness, anorexia, edema, and skin hemorrhage/petechia, and low neutrophils and lymphocytes among other signs.  It is carried by Ixodes (Deer) ticks.  I also found a 2008 case-report (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1939-1676.2008.0115.x/full) of a horse having a severe episode of tying up at the same time as an acute infection of Anaplasmosis; this association would have to be studied more to know if Anaplasma can cause tying-up or if it was just a coincidence, but it is certainly on my radar!  Anaplasmosis is typically treated with oxytetracycline or doxycycline and most horses respond well.

So, being the veterinarian that I am, who likes to have solid data, I sent out testing for Anaplasmosis, Vitamin E and Selenium blood levels, and genetic testing for type 1 PSSM (polysacchride storage myopathy) which is found in Rocky Mountain Horses.

Shockingly (LOL), I also have spent a lot of time researching PSSM and horses that have exertional rhabdomyolysis in general.  I hypothesize that "normal" horses do not have episodes of tying-up unless caused by external factors such as exhaustion, dehydration, or electrolytes abnormalities (ie potentially after 50-100 miles of riding).  Otherwise, I think research will eventually show underlying abnormalities in all other horses that have exertional rhabdomyolysis. Unfortunately medical research is not at that point yet, so many episodes are labeled idiopathic (or we don't know).  It could be genetic abnormalities as identified with PSSM or an infectious cause that may temporarily affect muscle such as with Anaplasma, or something else.  Currently, research with muscle biopsies group the causes of expertional rhabdomyolysis into different causes including PSSM 1, PSSM 2, and RER (recurrent exertional rhabdomyolysis); there is genetic testing for PSSM 1. The PSSM types are found in 20+ breeds, most commonly in QH and stock types as well as drafts and warmbloods (but also in gaited breeds). The RER types are found in thoroughbreds, arabians, and standardbreds. The underlying mechanism that causes the tying-up is different depending on the underlying abnormality.

Currently the management recommendations are similar for all types of exertional rhabdomyolysis, but essentially every horse is an individual with their particular needs and responses to different diets and exercise regimens.  Diet -- as low NSC (starch + sugar) as practical and add fat as needed for calories(the goal being 20-25% of daily calories in the form of fat).  Exercise-- every day is the best, even if it is only for 10 minutes and 24/7 pasture turnout is a must as well, which is easy as my horses live out with run-in stalls.  I can manage the diet readily enough, but the daily exercise will be tough; hopefully several times a week will suffice as it has for the last 10 years of his life before this episode.   I will admit that I started jogging with the horses on Friday as I certainly don't have time to exercise myself and Sunny after a full day of work.  And if I take Sunny, why not also take Rogan who is fat and needs exercise!  I also figured I would be more balanced with a lead rope in each hand, LOL!  I will have to get a photo next time.  They did better than expected (we only went 2 miles) and I think with a little practice I will have some reliable jogging partners, LOL!

On the diet, after obsessively researching all the locally/readily available options I have decided on Triple Crown Senior which is 11.7% NSC and 10% fat by weight. I decided to err on a lower NSC with a lower fat, rather than returning to Purina Ultium which as an NSC of 16% and fat of 12.4%; however the Ultium is still certainly a good option depending on availability and Sunny's taste preferences.  The food I was feeding, Nutrena ProForce Fiber has about a 20% NSC and 12% fat, good for most horses, but I would rather go lower on the NSC since Sunny had a tying-up episode.  I plan on feeding 3 qts (about 3 lbs) of the TC Senior, 1 qt Alfalfa pellets (about 2 lbs), 2 cups (1/2 lb) of stabilized flax, and 1 oz of California Trace Supplement am and pm.   This doesn't quite meet the 20-25% fat recommendation, but is certainly within the low NSC recommendations, and it is a big change from the Omolene 500.  I may end up reducing the alfalfa pellets and replacing with more senior to increase the portion of daily calories from fat, but I like the alfalfa pellets for the extra calcium to help buffer the stomach and hopefully reduce ulcers.  I will at least keep the alfalfa on hand for the rides!  The flax adds additional Omega-3 fatty acids and extra fat.   And, of course, I will adjust accordingly based on his current body condition score.

So that is the plan for now, and I continue to wait for test results... If he is positive for Anaplasmosis I will treat and continue to ride him lightly at home, but will hold off on heavy conditioning until after treatment.  If he is negative, then I will slowly and progressively resume conditioning in the next week or so.   For now I am thoroughly enjoying the bareback gaiting and dressage.  I love riding him bareback during our learning about gaiting, as I can really feeling his back change as he speeds up or slows down, or tenses and relaxes. The nicest gait so far is a 4-beat rhythmic gait about 5-6 mph, where his head and neck are relaxed but lifted in a natural posture and as he relaxes I can really feel his loin and back lift.   Hopefully this summer I will be able to submit a video to the Kentucky Mountain Horse Association for certification and permanent registration!



Sunday, June 11, 2017

Old Dominion 50: 3 miles and a tie-up (exertional rhabdomyolysis)

Not the ride photo I wanted!  Receiving IV fluids at the treatment area at Old Dominion Endurance Rides. 

I made my list, checked it twice and headed to the 2017 Old Dominion 50.  Sunny had new shoes, he was rested, gaining needed weight and ready-to-go.  Everything went smooth; he had his pre-ride salt, Ulcergard and bath.  After our short trailer ride to basecamp he settled in quickly, he even got to camp next to his best bud, Tivo! I let him rest instead of checking out the trail as both Sunny and I were familiar with it; instead he got a nice hand-walk around camp.  It got a little chilly overnight so I put a light sheet on him so his muscles wouldn't be cold and crampy at the early morning start.  When Graham and I woke up in the morning, Sunny was sleeping flat-out on his Hi-tie; he was well-rested for the 50 miles!  He ate and drank well overnight, and even pooped in his food-pan, LOL!  I was a few minutes behind schedule and only had a short warm-up so we were almost last out of camp and just started with an easy walk down the trail.  This was absolutely the best part- I had a happy, relaxed, free-striding, on-the-buckle walk past the start line!  We then joined my team, a group of 3 other friends and maintained an easy, smooth gait for the first mile or so.  One of my goals was to maintain Sunny's heart rate at <150 bpm for the duration of the ride to avoid anaerobic exercise and fatigue.  So when his heart rate increased with a combination of ride-start excitement, desire to move-out with his friends, and a few small hills, I slowed him down to a slower gait/walk until we could maintain <150.  Our friends went on ahead and just a few minutes later he stopped on trail.  I thought that was very odd until I saw he was waiting for Janice and Pete to catch up---a new potential best horse-friend  (or so I thought at the time).  Pete and Sunny then proceeded down the trail, but about 1/2 -mile later Sunny kept slowing down and transitioning to a walk which is pretty unusual -- he is typically pretty forward down the trail.  I dismounted to check him over and he started having full body muscle fasiculations.  His heart rate was around 60 bpm (normal for walking down the trail) and his hydration parameters looked great; he had barely broken a sweat.  Janice proceeded (after making sure we were okay and with my blessing) down the trail with Pete, and Sunny didn't event try to follow --- a very bad sign.   As we were now the last horse on trail, Duane (the OD's amazing drag-riding team leader) came up from behind.  He very nicely asked if all was okay -- I answered "NO" and my tears started flowing.  I quietly hand-walked Sunny for a few minutes to see if he would work himself out of the fasiculations and let him rest and drink in creek.  Unfortunately, he worsened and become more and more reluctant to move.  I made the call to pull and Duane radioed for a horse-ambulance to pick us up.  Thankfully we were only about 1/2 mile from Orkney Springs Rd. so Sunny didn't have to far to walk.  Duane had to pony Sunny out while I encouraged him from behind.
Love how relaxed and happy we both are walking past the start line!  Photo by Melissa Lizmi


Unfortunately, Graham was waiting to crew for me at BirdHaven and heard over the radio that I was 'off the horse' and 'on-the-pavement'; this was taken by everyone as a severe fall and my horse was being taken back because I was injured enough not to ride. In reality I had dismounted and led Sunny to the pavement for the ambulance ride home!  Graham was very relieved to find me well and hale at treatment with Sunny :)  But, for the rest of the ride I had many condolences and questions as to my well-being!

Back to Sunny - We had a quick trailer ride back to basecamp and were dropped off at the amazing treatment veterinarian, Dr. Lynne Johnson.  She took excellent care of Sunny and ran bloodwork immediately.  His CK (creatinine kinase) was about 12,000 u/L , definitely elevated but below the threshold for tying-up. Normal CK is generally <350 u/L, but clinically normal horses without can have levels over 30,000 u/L after a 100 mile endurance ride due to the time and intensity of the muscle use.  Sunny's hydration, electrolytes, and overall physical exam looked good, but he was very obviously short-striding in his left hind at this point and both tight and sore over palpation of his left hind gluteal muscles.  The initial diagnosis was a muscle cramp, but I was to watch him carefully for any changes, collect his urine and monitor for dark discoloration (a sign tying up and of the muscle damage breakdown product myoglobin passing through the kidneys), and return in a few hours for recheck bloodwork. He received banamine to make him more comfortable and we slowly returned to basecamp for an afternoon of R&R (and carefully monitoring!) instead of 50 miles.  He rested through the morning, enjoying his feed, hay, and water and had several nice and yellow urination's. He remained uncomfortable in his left hind with a shortened stride and he did progressively tighten some in his left gluteal muscles for an hour or so after returning to camp.   This was obvious on muscle palpation, the right side was relaxed and jiggly (like jello) and the left was taut, firm, and sore. By mid-afternoon he was looking much better and walking without such an obvious hitch. Graham packed us up to head home and I took Sunny back to treatment for his recheck.

Swollen left hind rump muscle 24 hours post-ride; Sunny is standing square.


Dr. Lynne Johnson took the recheck blood sample and on his exam noticed his left rump muscles were markedly more swollen than the right side.  I hadn't noticed; I had just assumed the difference was because he was resting a foot, or one hind leg was in front of the other.   She was concerned that he was tying-up rather than simply cramping. Unfortunately the recheck labs proved her suspicions correct.  His CK had elevated to HIGH, above the limits of the bloodwork machine--- definitely well-above the threshold for a tie-up; we had just taken the initial blood sample at the very beginning of the episode.   When horse's have an episode of tying up (or exertional rhabdomyolysis) the muscle is having a problem contracting normally and excessively contracts and tightens to the extent it damages and kills muscle cells. The substance myoglobin is released and filtered from the blood by the kidneys; myoglobin turns the urine a dark brown to black color. However, if enough myoglobin is released it can 'clog' the kidneys and ultimately cause kidney failure and death, in severe cases. Thankfully, most horse's seem to recover fully, especially with treatment.  Luckily, Sunny never even had dark urine and we treated with IV fluids and little vasodilator/sedative to help flush out any myoglobin and prevent damage. He is doing great at home now and right now (subject to change) I plan on rechecking his bloodwork weekly until it normalizes and slowly return him to full work, starting with easy walking for about 45 min to 1 hour later this week.

The obvious next concern is WHY?  What caused this to happen? How can I prevent it in the future? The million dollar question!!  Basically nobody knows.  Sunny is 10 years old and has never had an episode of tying-up previously. He is not a breed associated with any genetic myopathy/muscle storage disease. He did not work hard enough to have a dehydration or electrolyte induced episode. Anecdotally, there have been an increased number of tying-up episodes in our region this year. One reasonable theory from Dr. Lani is that the horses essentially have carb-overload or too high of NSC in their diet from the lush grass caused by the unusually large amounts of rain this spring.

Exertional Rhabdomyolysis, Stephanie J. Valberg, DVM, PhD, Diplomate ACVIM
AAEP Proceedings 2006

"Dietary Imbalances Episodes of ER may be triggered by diets with a high non-structural carbohydrate (NSC) content, inadequate selenium and vitamin E, or electrolyte imbalances. Serum vitamin E and either whole blood selenium concentrations or glutathioneperoxidase activity can be helpful in assessing potential deficiencies. Horses with ER are infrequently deficient in selenium; anecdotal reports suggest that, in some cases, supplementation may prevent further episodes of ER."

I believe Sunny has more than adequate selenium and vitamin E in his diet. He receives about 5.6 mg of selenium daily in his feed/supplements and receives 2400 IU Vitamin E and he is on fresh grass (which provides loads of Vitamin E and unknown, but likely very low, amounts of selenium)

Besides the potentially lush grass, I started Sunny on Omolene 500 this winter/spring to help him maintain weight.  He has been a picky eater and significantly preferred textured feed to pellets; Omolene 500 was one of the highest fat/lowest starch "sweet feeds" I could find available in my area. But when looking it up today, it has about a 32% NSC -- this definitely could be too high.  The goal for normal, but sensitive horses is < 20% and possibly much lower if you have horse that has founder, metabolic syndrome or other issues. For reference the approximate NSC of oats =  45%, corn = 65%, and beet pulp = 36%.  I actually had started the process of switching to Nutrena ProForce Fiber 2-3 weeks ago. He likes it!! The Nutrena feed is beet-pulp based and has a maximum NSC of 20% and fat of 13%.  As of now, he gets 3 lbs of the Nutrena feed + 1 1/2 lbs of alfalfa pellets, 1 oz NaCL(salt), and 2 oz of California Trace ration balancer supplement am and pm (also I am using up old rice bran, so he gets 1 cup of that am and pm as well; I might switch back to 1 cup of ground stabilized flax am and pm for the fat/Omega 3 fatty acids when I finish up the rice bran).

The other advice I received from several experienced endurance rider-veterinarians including Dr. Julie Bullock and Dr. Lani Newcomb is to make sure I exercise him lightly more frequently. I did a great job of resting him before this ride and in hindsight that was probably not the best thing to do for him. In the future I need to take him out for a short ride the day prior to rides, just enough to break a light sweat.  Ideally, I also would have him out for at least 10 minutes of exercise (trotting/gaiting on line or under saddle, running the fence if I take Rogan out of the field, etc) every day -- this is very hard in reality, but if I skip days I need to take an extra long time warm-up with easy walking.

Hopefully this never, ever happens again and the small adjustments to feeding and riding schedules will prevent another episode.  I figure I will know a lot more in 20 years-- maybe I actually will be a pretty decent endurance rider-veterinarian ---each mishap teaches me so much! I think my pull rate must equal my completion rate so far (just checked, not quite equal with 3 pulls and 5 completions)

We will forge ahead and take it easy with some fun mountain rides and a little more emphasis on relationship and dressage for the next 8 weeks until our next attempt at Ride between the Rivers in beautiful Elkins WV.