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We Are Flying Solo

November 16, 2014

All Farm Residents Are Actually Still Alive

We all gotta nom, man...
Well, unless you count a few deer, but they fed coyote puppies.  Even if you don’t like coyotes, if you don’t think puppies are adorable, you obviously have no soul.

But to the larger point, I’m sure there are thousands five of you (ok, four if you don’t count my mother) who have been scratching their heads because dry winter air makes your scalp itchy wondering “where did eventer79 go?”  I’m still here.  Mostly.

There is a robust collection of half-finished post drafts & more thoughts & intentions that I can shake a stick it.  Problem is, I’m too tired to pick up the stick.  Will you settle for an acorn cap?

So What's The Deal, Slacker?

I would put a very narrow confidence interval (fellow geeks, you’re welcome) around my certainty that many of you have found yourselves in times where the demands of life greatly exceed the ridiculously small number of hours astronomers give us each day (it’s easier to be annoyed at humans than an enormous star which will eventually massacre us all-seriously, click this, it's one of the awesomest infographics ever!).  Not to mention your own finite capacity to meet said demands with energy, planning, and production of deliverables.

One target: the Everglades Pygmy Sunfish
My Real Life Job is an extremely complex one, full of research plans, coordination between uncountable layers of government, non-profit, & private sectors who are not so good at that whole communication thing, reports, 60-hour weeks chasing 40-mm rare fish in swampy ditches (yeah, everyone thinks it’s all fun & games, I dare you to come out with us!) that require a four-hour commute, prioritizing which of a state’s natural resources are more important than others because we have neither bottomless coffers nor more than six staff members…holy crap, I’m getting tired just writing that…and I didn’t even get to the daily “putting out inbox fires” part…OMG, that's the longest sentence ever...

And they all have little red flags...
So Drink A Beer On The Farm, Right?

Obviously, there is plenty to keep a person busy & in normal circumstances, those magical 0.3 miles of farm driveway form a bridge to an oasis of recovery.  From the outside, it can certainly look that simple.  However, as most of us learn after a modicum of time in Adult World (aaaand here come the porn hits, thank you, Google), there is nothing the universe loves more than conspiring to see how many boulders, made of types of rock you didn’t even know existed, it can stack on your head before you sink.
 
My neck is tired.

I don’t put this forth as a whine-fest, though, I have a pretty narrow selection of cheeses I actually like.  Actually, the same goes for wine, but I did taste this amazing Japanese plum wine at a work conference this week…

FOCUS, WOMAN!

TL;DR:  eventer79 is simply exhausted, over-stressed, overwhelmed (NOT AT ALL contributed to by her complete lack of an over-commitment problem).  When your therapy is getting on your horse, but it takes everything in you to just hand food to said horse, matters get complicated.  We’re working on that.

For now, we try to hold on to small moments.  As years go by, you learn how truly precious, finite, & fragile these are.

Red Horses:  Ok

Aside from a minor balancing act to work out involving forever wussy front feet, Solo is bright & healthy & thanks to Minion Erica’s generosity & horsemanship, once again has the hocks of a 10-year-old.  Encore is healing from a small tear in his left gluteus muscle (only my dear Encore could sprain his ass…), which will take several months, but Dr. Bob says just keep him in half-work-intensity & he is improving.  I did tell David O. that I’m fairly certain this horse carefully plans so he is 100% fit & sound…when it’s cold & dark.

Scenery:  Freezing But Scenic

So I will leave you with this, a gift from the most beautiful fall I’ve seen since I moved to NC in 2005.  Who needs New England when my yard looks like this?

shadowfx01's Fall 2014 Slideshow album on Photobucket

Hug your horses, stay safe during fall hunting seasons, & to my fellow horsey blog friends, I’m still reading & following your wonderful journeys; please don’t take offense at my radio silence.  An erratic flight is still technically not a crash, don’t call NTSB yet!

November 12, 2014

The Sage Speaks: Better Yourself, Better Your Horse

If ever someone encapsulated the goal & spirit of not only this blog, but my own strong convictions in regards to building equine partnerships through thoughful training...well, the legendary Ray Hunt (I know, big surprise) has done it.

Your food for many levels of thought, from the master himself --

Solo owns Longleaf Pines HT, 2010; Photo by Pics of You

November 9, 2014

My Webmaster Sucks

Can you hear me now??

To be fair, I think Google messes with things sometimes just to see if you're paying attention.  I did all these nice repairs in September, including a self-lecture on, erm, paying attention to your own software.  I swear, a check box unchecked itself though!!

(Re)Repaired
  • Those damn sharing links at the bottom of the post
  • I got my comment replies working, woot!!!
I'd also be oh-so-grateful if you'd share any problems you have in the poll (look to your left!).  If there's something not listed, your comments are wonderfully helpful!

I've also made the Official We Are Flying Solo User's Guide a permanent fixture in the top menu (just look up and to your right!), so if you are a new visitor, or, like me, forget your name on a daily basis...

That's right, I pushed it!

November 6, 2014

Pt. II: What Every Horse Owner Should Know About Feed (And Botulism!)

In our previous post, my personal Triple Crown (TC) superhero had already gone above & beyond the call of duty...but she wasn't done stealing my heart.


Is it hot in here?
eventer79 (23 July, 10:34 am):  Thank you (yes, I believe we were in a competition to out-thank each other) so much for taking the time to type all that out!

In the spirit of self-education, would you be able to tell me if the feed is heat-treated at any point & if so, to a specific temperature?  I'm always trying to learn more about feeds & equine nutrition & wondered if processing included any types of those bacterial controls, particularly for things such as botulism?  I really have no idea.


Interjection:

It is painful for the biologist in me to admit, but I didn't know what I didn't know about the botulinum toxin.  My understanding was that horses were at risk primarily from dead/decaying animals in hay.  I don't feed round bales (greatest risk of Unidentified Dead Things Included), so I decided keeping an eye on my hay was sufficient, & Dr. Bob said that was fine.  So I have not traditionally vaccinated for botulism.

Enter Google:  a fantastic resource tool with the simultaneous ability to scare the shit out of you (a pleasure I shall naturally share with you!).  After I sent the above question, I realized I didn't even know if the toxin could be killed or anything about its life cycle.  Bad, bad biologist (to be fair, I determinedly avoid studying things you need a microscope for)!

Warning:  Science Geek-Out Imminent

Clostridium botulinum (all EIGHT types; horses usually suffer from Type B & C - we only have a vaccine for the former, humans from A, B, E, F, & G) is a fascinating, if unfriendly, bacteria.  The bacteria itself, along with its spores, offers little direct threat.  The problem occurs as bacterial cells die, releasing the potent neurotoxin that is botulinum.  Direct cell death happens with ingestion of live bacteria, or of spores, which germinate in anaerobic environments, create an overpopulation of cells...that then die.

C. botulinum under an SEM -- amazing!
Holy Crap, Are We All Doomed?

Fortunately, every system has weak spots.  Live C. botulinum perishes with the use of many disinfectants, including sodium hypochlorite (bleach, chlorine) & 70% ethanol (sorry, you can only have that if you are my co-worker or have your own TTB, formerly ATF, permit), & cannot survive if any oxygen is present in its microenvironment.

The botulinum toxin, a large protein, is similarly vulnerable:  sunlight will denature it within three hours, as will heat above 80C (176F) for 20 minutes or above 85C (185F) for five minutes (i.e. boiling; values vary slightly with toxin concentration & surrounding pH).  

But the spore.  Oh, the impressive spore.  Able to live 2-3 years, these babies can even germinate if damaged by extreme environmental conditions.  To ensure complete Spore-maggedon, you pretty much need access to an autoclave so you can heat them to 120C (250F) for a minimum of 15 minutes.

With that in mind, we return to the conclusion of our conversation -
  

TC Rep (23 July, 2:51 pm)Absolutely!  The pelleted portion of Complete is heated to 130 – 140 degrees (F) in order to form the pellet, but the rest of Complete is not.  We do use bacterial & mycotoxin preventatives in the feed, these function within the horse’s gut to bind & remove bacteria & mycotoxins before harm can be done to the gut, or if the horse ate or drank something else that was contaminated.

These precautions are for gram-negative toxins; botulism is a gram positive toxin:  the best way to prevent botulism is to vaccinate.  Hope this helps! Thanks!

Stacy Andersen800.451.9916
  | | | dealers
PO Box 220 | Mohnton, PA 19540
(someone give this woman a raise!)



The Conclusive Non-Conclusion

Needless to say, the boys just received their last round of the initial botulism vaccine series.  In the objective big picture, our risk of infection is still relatively low, but the 24 hours I spent staring out my bedroom window trying to decide if Encore looked like he was developing hind-end paralysis were...not something I care to wonder about again!

You may now consider yourself informed.  You're welcome.

However, this is the tip of the iceberg that is equine metabolism & nutrition.  My quest for TEH LEARNING is far from over! 
It's still true...

November 1, 2014

How A Dead Mouse In My Feed Bag Made Me A More Loyal Customer (Pt. I)

Finally!!  The (new) final segment in our nutrition mini-series.  AKA:  What every horse owner should know about milled feed!

Scene 1:  Feed Shed

Eventer79 doles out dinnertime rations of Triple Crown (TC) Complete from her Precision Engineered Storage Receptacles in Specialized Delivery Carriers.  As a full scoop slides into Encore’s mixing bowl, all action freezes upon this sight:
He squeaketh no more...
Initial gut response sounds like… 

OMGWTF, is that a…wow, EW, but oddly fascinating (biologists do not have an off-switch), must examine closer.  Damn, you were one unlucky little bastard.  

Brain kicks in…

Uh.  Now what?  

More helpful part of brain kicks in…

Wait.  Ok.  Pull tags from all bags poured into that container (I keep them till it’s fed out).  The several TC reps I have met (they sponsor our 3DE’s) have been very informed & customer oriented.  I should notify TC immediately & they probably have a process.  The horses have grass & alfalfa pellets, they won’t starve in a day or two (this was in July). 
We might...
Scene 2:  The Epic Email Exchange Of Grain Education Awesomeness (edited for brevity)

eventer79 (21 July, 7:30 pm): Tonight, I scooped out my TC Complete to find a very smashed dead mouse & a variety of other strange bits including pieces of corn, which I had found in a couple previous bags as well.  I will have to dispose of all the feed I have on hand.  The contaminated bags were from lots N4184 (4 sequential bags) & N4167 (1 bag).  Thank you.


TC LogoTC Rep (who quickly revealed much fabulousness; 22 July, 12:29 pm): Thanks so much for the detailed information; I am turning this in to QC.  Please provide me with your mailing address & I will send you 6 coupons for free bags, 5 to replace your affected feed & 1 for your inconvenience.

Here is a good article that explains how you may have seen some of the corn, etc., in your feed.  I again apologize for the inconvenience, please let me know if there is anything else I can provide.  Thanks!


Always important numbers
eventer79 (22 July, 1:35 pm)Pic attached...just because.  I know it is IMPOSSIBLE for every bag to be perfect & expecting a feed mill to be free of mice is akin to expecting to fly when you jump off a roof.  All I ask is for a company to keep up best QA/QC & take care of their customers, which is what keeps us coming back!  Thanks again for your quick response and assistance, & I'll be watching the mailbox.


TC Rep (22 July, 1:44 pm)Thanks so much for this.. and yucko!  We do appreciate that you are practical & understanding about it.  I don’t even want to know how many bugs I eat in food from human grade facilities, LOL.  Coupons are going out in tomorrow’s mail. Please let me know if there is anything else I can provide. Thanks!


eventer79 (22 July, 9:35 pm):  I did wonder if you could tell me if our area supplier recently switched processing facilities?  I was able to find a different lot at my feed store tonight (#N4190, early bags in the series, 004X).  The horses are eating the new batch, I just want to be certain that they are safe & I know what I am giving them!  Appreciate your assistance!


Field to mill...
TC Rep (23 July, 10:17 am)N indicates that the feed is produced in Cleveland, NC, so the mill has not changed.  The corn contamination can happen if a feed that does have corn is produced shortly before the Triple Crown Complete.  Also, mills use corn & oats to “flush” out the systems before making a new type; sometimes things can get hung up, as I am sure you can imagine all the different elevators, bins buckets, etc., that have corners & such.  Even the ‘top shelf' grains are expected to have some other grains mixed in after trucking, elevators, equipment to harvest & manufacture are shared.

That'd take a lot of mouse traps...
Our mills clean everything out frequently & the feeds are sequenced so they produce the most sensitive feeds first (grain free, molasses free, etc.) & then proceed to the ones most similar to each other to minimize accidental ingredient carryover.  The first 10-25 bags of each type produced are set back & sold as scratch feed as an extra precaution.  If carryover that would affect quality still occurs after all of these precautions, we guarantee all of our feeds & will replace anything that is incorrect.

I have turned all of your information & descriptions into QC at the mill so they can go back to the lot & see if there is anything further they can do.  They are top notch; many of them have livestock themselves & take their jobs in QC & production very seriously because they use what they produce.

To be continued…

October 23, 2014

Thursday Thoroughbred Eye Candy

For your viewing pleasure, with thanks to exquisite fall morning light.
(I have no idea why they look blurry in post on my browser, but when clicked on, are sharp.)

Horse Portraits 23 Oct 2014 012 (Small)
Eeeee, dapples!  Yep, poor Encore, just another scrawny OTTB, hee...

Horse Portraits 23 Oct 2014 009 (Small)
Probably scoping out sharp objects...

Horse Portraits 23 Oct 2014 015 (Small)
I haven't even been working out lately

Excuse me, you're not leaving out the sexiest team member of all??
Horse Portraits 23 Oct 2014 021 (Small)
Solo appears satisfied that camera has found the correct subject

I wouldn’t dare.  And half-Thoroughbred still counts!
Horse Portraits 23 Oct 2014 027 (Small)
My most beloved face

October 22, 2014

Nutrition Reboot, Pt. III: A Much Updated Refueling Of The Tanks

dr julie n tex
The flying Tex!
Before I continue with our reboot, I must give a shout out to my beloved Waredaca 3DE (it's so cool, even Colleen Rutledge can't resist competing, even though she's already a clinician - thanks for the support, Colleen!)!  Today is opening day AND I AM NOT THERE.  *insert very sad & upset eventer79*  

In summary, despite my attempts to prove to my doctor that horsewomen are, in fact, superhuman, he cruelly (ok, he is actually amazing, but still) prohibited my plan to roll to Maryland at 0630 this morning & work four excruciatingly long days of awesome.  Sadly, my body does not seem to time its failures well & I’ll just say it’s been a long year.  My begging cry of “IT’S ONE OF MY 3DE’S, THEY ARE NOT OPTIONAL!” did not sway him.  

There may be a silver lining, though:  it is always a special year when one of our core Team Waredaca 3DE Staff gets to ride.  This year, it’s our vet box champion, Dr. Julie’s, turn!!  She & her boy, Texas Riddle (Tex), have been on fire this year, so I am fairly certain that since I will miss it, they will definitely score not only that coveted completion ribbon, but piles of prize swag!  May ALL the 2014 riders have a safe & exhilarating journey this week; Solo & I are galloping with you in our hearts.


Carrying on, we are all now experts on equine metabolism, right?  Accordingly, I have updated this part of the series quite a bit!  

We also know that the horse must be fit if he is going to do his job well.  We know that he needs fat & glycogen stores in place in order to power his muscles.  He then will need carbohydrates & fats in his diet in order to restock his larders after a workout.

Running on vapours...
So should we stuff him full of fat & sugar the night before a competition so he will have fuel busting out his ears?  Only if you want him to die of colic & laminitis at the same time.

But I Carb-Load Before My Ultra-Marathons!

Equine digestive systems cannot handle "loading" of substances the way a human system would.  Studies have demonstrated that it takes 24-48 hours for a horse to completely refill his glycogen tanks, so it's best to offer him a meal 60-90 minutes after he's tapped them.  Then, if he has really drained the well, a second meal can be offered about three hours later.

What To Look For In Your Rocket Fuel

My base feed (Triple Crown Complete) is a fixed-formula textured grain with 12% fat and 12% protein.  I have heard stated many times that, for the performance horse, you want to maximize the protein content of his diet.  However, this is another instance where understanding the unique functions of equine physiology will help you build a better plan.  Unlike the human body, your horse’s body cannot store protein & very little can be converted to energy.  Instead, protein is catabolized (broken down) into amino acids, which are then used to build new proteins, such as muscle fibre.  If protein levels exceed what the body can immediately process, it will be converted to urea, increasing urine output & simultaneously increasing rate of dehydration.  So while it is an important component of nutrition, for the your horse, it is far less useful as an energy source than fat.

Love The Fat

Fat supplies 2.5 times more energy pound for pound than starches.  How much needed on a daily basis will depend on your horse.  Given that I am not blessed with easy keepers, I top dress feed during work with Legends Omega Plus, an extruded flaxseed pellet with 25% fat.  That is a recent switch for us; I used their rice bran pellets (18% fat) for quite some time due to reduced cost, but a recent price change made it more practical to bump up to the higher fat content & I’m finding I can also use less with the same result.

Bonus tidbit:  if you supplement a horse's diet with fat, he uses less energy for heat production in his body.  He then has more energy available to do other stuff with.  Like a lot more.  Like up to 60% more. 

Ok, don't love it THAT much
All Things In Moderation

Before you go on a lard spree, though -- if the fat content of the diet gets too high, you can actually inhibit the storage of muscle glycogen (that's that thing we really need for anaerobic activities like galloping & jumping, remember?).  Just like everything else involving a horse, as soon as you find something good, you find several ways for him to damage or kill himself with it.   

It’s just not as much fun when you are kicking your horse's guts out just to stumble through the finish flags & slide off while he gasps in exhaustion.  It's not very satisfying to try to pilot him around a challenging stadium course when he's got no gas in the tank & you wonder if the next set of jump poles might end up in your face.  Hopefully, you are now armed with some new information to consider in the context of your own management program.  If you can prepare your horse’s body to maximize the use of your fuel, then you'll have plenty left for that victory gallop at the end of the day. 

October 18, 2014

Nutrition Reboot, Pt. II: Oxygen Optional

Alas, no credible reports have been filed on the location of eventer79-brain.  Even her horses are beginning to show suspicion.  However, Amy's comment on Tuesday's post provided the perfect segue to the next article in the series.  Updated & edited a bit for (hopefully) improvement.



Do. Not. Want.
We were talking about nutrition. And you've been up for days waiting for the secret to growing that unicorn horn (don't lie, own it).

Too bad.

Here's another, equally as important tidbit, though:  different athletic disciplines make different demands on a horse's body. I know, thank you Captain Obvious, right?

Breaking It Down:  The Two Types Of Equine Metabolism
  1. Aerobic - the muscles use oxygen while generating energy; a slow process
  2. Anaerobic - yes, you guessed it, genius; the muscles generate energy without oxygen; much speedier
Which Is When?

A horse working in a long, steady fashion (think endurance racing or your dressage school) creates energy aerobically.  Fat, the horse's go-to fuel, requires oxygen to complete the conversion to horsepower (just like your fireplace must have a flow of oxygen to burn up your firewood & create heat).  He has an advantage:  this is a much easier & longer-lasting method of energy production.

However, if Dobbin has to work hard & fast (think sprinting or jumping), he cannot get oxygen into his body & burn fat fast enough to meet his increased energy demands.  So his muscles turn to glycogen stores (a carbohydrate stored in the liver & muscles that the body can convert to glucose [muscle fuel]), which can be burned anaerobically.

Life Is Full Of Trade-offs

To complicate matters, glycogen is a finite resource & stores are much smaller than his fat supply.  Burning it also produces lactic acid, which fatigues muscles.  So, you, as pilot, want to save those precious reserves until you really really need it.  Save that hard sprint or gallop for your horse trial or other vital moment.  And once burned, you MUST to take time to replenish the storehouse before you ask again.  

ALL TEH SCIENCE!!
If he gets really desperate, Dobbin can also turn to blood glucose for energy.  This is a critical resource for nervous system function, though, & there isn't much of it (about 1% of the body's fuel supply), so we don't really want to push him this far.

Is your brain fried by science-geekness yet? I could go into ATP & muscle cell pH, so be grateful...

Why Should We Care About All This?

Knowledge is ALWAYS power when it comes to horse management.   If I understand what my horse's body needs to do his job & how it uses what I give him, I am better able to meet those needs & maximize his performance safely.

In addition, understanding all of that helps to understand this, the point of action: the more fit your horse is, the better he is able to utilize his fat stores first.  The unfit horse may have to get up to 40% of his energy from his glycogen reserves during even light exercise.  With conditioning, he can drop that percentage dramatically even during moderate exercise, giving you both more time under saddle & reducing the chances of equine metabolic distress.

So What's The Plan?

Do we then stuff our horses full of lard?  How do we refill his glycogen tanks?  Those answers are up next, along with a brand new addition to the series:  why choosy 'moms' choose...uh...their feed very carefully.

October 14, 2014

Throwback...Tuesday: Rocket Fuel & Other Stories

A brain belonging to eventer79 has left the building.  If found, please return to your nearest Missing Blogger Station immediately.  

To fill the static-y void in the meantime, I have brushed the dust off our miniseries on equine nutrition (which you can access in full under the handy Education menu) for new readers.  Ummm, new as in "what, you haven't been reading my riveting brain-dribbles for the past four years straight?!"  



So I have been reading about nutrition (the horse's, not mine, who cares about that?).  Why?  Well, because I don't want to do the actual work I am SUPPOSED to do, so why not. And if it has the word "horse" in it, then it is a pre-ordained given that I must read it. Who am I to argue with those that ordain??

Lots of interesting things to share with you. How horses use their feed, what different types of feed items offer, and what magical food will make your horse grow a unicorn horn (calm down, BFF, one of these items may or may not be fictional). 

Those of us who grew up obsessed with horses learned many important horse-keeping rules that have been passed down through generations.  One of those things that I always heard was that you never worked your horse hard right after he ate. Much like nagging Aunt Margaret told you never to swim right after you ate or else you'd surely get a cramp & drown. I always held equal skepticism for both. Turns out, I was partly justified.

Wait, So I Will Not Kill My Horse By Riding Him After Dinner?

After your horse eats, his body begins to metabolize his food. This means that his blood insulin will spike, which reduces the efficiency with which the body burns fat (fat is generally the go-to energy resource for horses). So, if they need energy when insulin levels are high, their bodies will instead turn to stored glycogen reserves first. While this is hardly deadly, glycogen is something you want to save until you really need it (I'll explore why in the next post).

Psh, can eat AND work...
So, what's a rider to do? Well, you have two choices. It takes about four hours for that insulin spike to return to baseline. So you can (a) wait four hours (Suck! Who wants to do that?!) or (b) ride immediately. That's right, the spike doesn't really get up there for about two hours, so if you hop on within thirty minutes, you can have your ride & then put Dobbin away before he has to switch over from fat metabolism. What you want to try to avoid, for maximum energy accessibility & efficiency, is hitting it right on that two hour mark, when insulin levels are highest & burning fat is the most difficult.

Now, obviously, we're not going to get this right every single ride, but it's something to shoot for as a general trend & a handy bit of info you can toss out if someone gives you crap for riding your horse right after he ate.

Scorecard: Science, 1, Anecdotes, 0!

October 8, 2014

Solo's Always Got Your Back

Well, unless he gets a better offer... 

Solo: No worries, big little bro, nap on, I'll stand guard.

Meh, screw that, the sun feels good.  You're on your own.