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We Are Flying Solo

December 28, 2010

Headless Horsemen (And Horses)

I certainly hope this is not a harbinger of our coming season.  My sticker appears not to have survived the salt slush grind that was West Virginia mountain interstates yesterday.  Good thing USEA sees fit to send you a new one every year.

I hope Santa (or the Flying Spaghetti Monster or whoever) has graced you all with holiday pony hugs and treats.  I want to offer a congratulations to Allison who is the new owner of a dressage saddle!  Once worn by the legendary Solo, it is sure to bring greatness to any pair of equine shoulders beneath it.

If no one brought you a saddle for Christmas, our BO still has her two jumping saddles available.  I am sure she is open to offers as well, as the ponies always need hay!

Solo and I are plopping around in what's left of the snow, meeting some new neighbours, and scheming of a spring season (ok, maybe that last one is just me).  The days are getting longer (wahhooooo!) and with any luck, evil white precipitation will go back up north where it belongs!

December 25, 2010

Horses Love Candy Canes Too!

So take one out to Dobbin if you get a chance.  Happy holidays to all of you and give the ponies a smooch for me, as well.  I cannot smooch my pony at present as I am three states away, sigh. 

I hope you enjoyed our foray into equine nutrtion.  Some disclaimers:

(1) This was not intended to be an end-all discussion of nutrition.  My posts only cover a fraction of the variables which exist.  Google is your friend.

(2)  My perspective applies to the performance horse and specifically, to the eventer.  Please do not give a fat supplement to Fatty McFatPony who lounges around in the backyard and gets toodled around on once a week.  Both Fatty (in the long run, he will, anyway) and I thank you.

(3) I am fully supportive of fat supplements for people.  Especially if they appear in the form of brownies or other heavily frosted items.  If you cannot possibly bring yourself to eat them, please send them to me and I will be happy to take one for the team. 

Lastly, please send a kind thought to our wonderful dressage instructor, P.  She has laid to rest the mighty Reitz yesterday with a broken heart.  This giant white mare was phenomenal, trained through Grand Prix dressage, and noble of heart and spirit.  I was truly honoured to have sat on her and to have been tolerated by her.  She is buried in her favourite paddock where she thoroughly enjoyed retirement until her aging legs could no longer hold her up.  She joins our very special Ben in perfect freedom from pain forever.  

December 22, 2010

Filling And Refueling The Tank

Now we are all experts on equine metabolism, right?  And I am rolling in the glee of all my fellow science nerds who have come out of the woodwork!

We know that the horse must also be fit if he is going to do his job well. We know that he needs fat and glycogen stores in place in order to answer the energy demands of his muscles. He needs carbohydrates and fats in order to stock his larders and replenish his stores after a workout.

So should we stuff him full of fat and sugar so he will have fuel busting out his ears? Only if you want him to die of colic and laminitis at the same time. Equine digestive systems cannot handle "loading" of substances the way a human system would. Studies have demonstrated that it will take 24-48 hours for a horse to completely refill his glycogen tanks after a hard workout, so it's best to offer him a meal 60-90 minutes after he's tapped them and then, if he has really drained the well, a second meal can be offered about three hours later.

How much fat he will need on a daily basis will depend on your horse. I like to at least top dress feed during heavy work/competition with something that is around 22-26% fat. Fat supplies 2.5 times more energy pound for pound than starches. Solo's normal food (SafeChoice) is 7% fat and I can tell you, that even with 14% protein, it does not give him a big "bang" of energy. This is because protein cannot be stored and any that is not immediately used is just peed out. So I will add something like rice bran pellets or Empower at 22% fat on top of his meals in the spring and fall.

Here's another interesting little 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.

OMG, fat is awesome!

But you don't want to go overboard -- 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 and jumping, remember?). Which is basically shooting yourself in the foot.

So, in the end, it comes back to common sense -- all things in moderation. But if we understand WHY, we can better tweak the details of our management programs. Because it's just not as much fun when you are kicking your horse's guts out just to stumble across the finish line in cross country and 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 and you wonder if the next set of jump poles might end up in your face. But if you give Dobbin the resources he needs to get the job done and condition his body so that he can maximize the energy you put in, then you'll still have plenty of gas left for that victory gallop at the end of the day.

December 18, 2010

Oxygen Optional

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

But here's the breakdown: there are two basic types of metabolism. (1) aerobic (the muscles use oxygen while generating energy; a slow process) and (2) anaerobic (yes, you guessed it, genius; the muscles generate energy without oxygen; much speedier).

A horse who is working in a long, steady fashion (think endurance racing or your dressage school) gets to create energy aerobically. He has an advantage because this is a much easier and longer-lasting method of working. You see, fat is a horse's go-to fuel and in order to burn it, his body must use oxygen (just like your fireplace must have a flow of oxygen to burn up your firewood and create heat).

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

Glycogen is a finite resource, though, and stores are smaller than his fat supply. Burning it also produces lactic acid, which fatigues muscles. So, you, as pilot, want to save that glycogen until you really really need it. You want to save that hard sprint or gallop, which burns up those precious reserves, for your horse trial or other vital moment. And once he burns it up, you have to make sure to give him time to replenish the storehouse before you ask for it again. The more glycogen he has stored up, the longer he can go in a demanding situation before he fatigues.

If he gets really desperate, Dobbin can also turn to blood glucose for energy. His nervous system needs this to function, though, and 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 and muscle cell pH, so be grateful...

Why the heck should we care about all this anyway? In my opinion, knowledge is ALWAYS power when it comes to horse management. If I understand what my horse's body needs to do his job and how it uses what I give him, I am better able to meet his needs and maximize his performance safely.

Because you need to understand all of that to understand this, the point we act on: 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. When you fit him up, he can drop that percentage dramatically even during moderate exercise, meaning his body won't quit on him for much longer.

So should we stuff our horses full of lard? How do we refill his glycogen tanks? All this and more, tonight at 11. Ok, not actually at 11, but you clever ones out there got it...

December 16, 2010

Saddle Pictures

Ok, I'm really late, but here are the pictures of the sale saddles!

Phillipe Fontaine:

Crosby XL:
Shows the rip -- you can't feel it when you ride in it.