Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The World in White

I've always loved fog. You have to, if you're going to enjoy life in Oregon's Willamette Valley, where I spent most of twenty years. Then, as now, I lived atop a hill. Autumn mornings often found our house perched upon a sunlit island with a sea of mist spread out below, pierced here and there by a shark fin of towering evergreen.

Our latest fog at In the Night Farm was accompanied by freezing temperatures that lingered for days and turned the world white with hoarfrost. Every branch and wire bristled with shards of ice, and seedheads drooped beneath the added weight.

I rode twenty miles on Sunday, shrouded in goretex and fleece and stillness. Aaruba's boots muffled his hoofbeats on the gravel. An occasional train whistle echoed weirdly. Unseen dogs barked from afar. Hardly a car passed. No one stirred outside the farmhouses whose yellow interiors glowed like nebulas in the mist.

I've lately been enraptured by Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series. It was easy, out there on the lonesome roads, to squint into the pale diffusion of daylight and believe in English soldiers on the moor near Culloden; to grip the reins, afraid; to take a ragged breath and canter on with ghosts in chill pursuit.

This is what I love about fog: It is imagination made tangible, vapor cupped in gentle hands, the world concealed, the mind released.

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Friday, November 21, 2008

For the Love of a Horse

As a sophomore in high school, I wrote a short story entitled For the Love of a Horse. It was the kind of romantic tripe that only a teenager can write, something about a girl who dies to save the horse she loves. I think she falls off a cliff in the end. It was a terrible story, but I have to admit that occasionally, when I'm in a sappy mood, I still like the title.

Do you remember being eight years old, surrounded by model horses and dreams? Do you remember being twelve, working all summer in trade for your first mare? Do you remember being sixteen and understanding that horses are better than boys?

Do you remember being twenty and falling in love, and marrying, and selling your horse to move to the city?

Most of us wander, at least for a while, from the passion of our youth. Marriages. Careers. Births. Divorces. Finances. Travels. Deaths. Mistakes. Life carries us far enough to almost forget. We pretend we don't mind, that stolen hours in the stable don't matter any more, that we would rather be secure in townhouses, insulated from vet bills, never called out on rainy nights to see to a colic or a founder or a foal.

And yet they draw our eyes, the horses grazing at roadsides. We guess breeds, gauge height, critique conformation. We remember the magic behind their eyes, the heat beneath their skins, the trace of sweat upon their racing flanks. We look until they are out of sight, and in that moment, we forget to pretend.

One day, we finally confess. The affair is not over. What but a lover or a horse can move like sea beneath us, dance scarcely touching, speak without sound? The ember flares. We leap into the blaze, and so we live or die again...for the love of a horse.

Related Posts
Timing Isn't Everything
Shall We Dance?
Home Is Where the Horse Is
Shot in the Dark: Friendship

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Buying Time

Every day that passes as we steam along toward winter deepens my awareness of the fleeting calendar. It is almost inevitable that the day will come when Aaruba's conditioning must be put on hold due to inclement weather.

I'm up for workouts in some pretty nasty conditions, but I also remember last winter. We saw more snow than anyone in our corner of Idaho can remember. It stayed on the ground for over a month, crusted with ice and riddled with unseen hazards. If this winter is like the last, Aaruba will get at least a month off.

A month's rest isn't too bad, in terms of conditioning. Horses retain their fitness far better than do humans, and four weeks of rest will result in only minimal loss of cardiovascular training. After that, though, aerobic fitness begins to slip, followed by muscular strength. Too long a break will result in detraining of the horse's supporting structures -- bone, ligaments, cartilage, tendons -- that were so carefully built by hours upon hours of long, slow distance training. Two months off will generally require a month of conditioning to get back to the previous level of fitness; three months off will require two months' remediation, and so on.

I am determined to minimize this winter's impact on Aaruba's level of conditioning so we can get an early start in the 2009 endurance season. "Early" in the northwest region means April, which means I need to keep Aaruba in the best condition possible until January strikes, because by the time February releases its hold, I won't have much time in which to rebuild.

Unfortunately, winter is already rattling its sabre here at In the Night Farm. I nearly froze to death getting the photos for last Sunday's post (my own fault -- I didn't dress for full-on freezing weather!) Autumn is rife with rain and wind. When all is still, morning paints our hillside white with frost. Winter comes, it whispers, and soon.

And so, each ride I take these days is weighty. It prolongs Aaruba's season of fitness and propels us a few miles more toward our first 50-mile race in 2009. It assures me that, despite the cold, Aaruba is still all heart and strength and wind. It postpones the inevitable.

Related Posts
Oh Wind, if Winter Comes
The Best Laid Plans

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Monday, November 17, 2008

The Best Laid Plans

Endurance! Just thinking about the 2009 season makes my pulse jump.

I've renewed my AERC membership and added Consolation as a second mount. I've created new and improved templates for my conditioning logs. And, I've formulated my goals for 2009.

One of my favorite things about this sport is the endless challenge it offers. Riders like me, who are just starting out, can set goals for number of miles to complete or new (but reasonable!) speeds to achieve. Experienced riders whose horses have several years of conditioning under their girths can think about actually racing, or riding all five days of a pioneer ride, or attempting a first 100.

Me, I'm going for miles next year -- sound, steady miles that will build my horses' bodies and minds in preparation for faster efforts in the future. I hope to attend every ride in Idaho, but even if I don't, I should be able to achieve the following:

Aaruba: Reach the 500 AERC endurance mile mark. He currently has 105 miles, so we have just 395 to go. I think this is quite attainable; we might even manage 500 miles next year alone. I'd also like to increase our speed a little, from end-of-the-line to mid-pack. Of course, all this depends on our ability to keep his ulcer-prone tummy content. More on that in an upcoming post.

Consolation: Earn 200 AERC miles, LD and endurance combined. This is a touch ambitious as it might require her to do two 50's with one rest day between them at the last ride of the season, but if all goes well, I think we can do it. Obviously, training is more important than conditioning at this point in her career, and I'll gladly sacrifice this mileage goal in favor of spending more time on the basics if necessary.

Myself: Expand my understanding of equine nutrition and exercise physiology. Learn to trim hooves so I can touch them up when Travis is unavailable. Be less shy, so I can make more friends at rides.

By spring, you can bet I'll have a much longer list of goals. Acey will be on it, as will Sandstorm and Tuetano and Insider and Ripple and CJ.

By fall, I will be very tired. And content. And busy planning for 2010. _________________________________________________________

Related Posts

Applied Physics


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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Horseback Church

This morning at sunrise, Aaruba and I left home for a walk among the fields. The frozen countryside, still and solemn as stained glass, gave breadth to thought. It offered the sweetest kind of silence. It quieted my soul.

Come unto me, all ye who labor and are heavy laden,
and I will give you rest.

Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me,
for I am meek and lowly in heart;

and ye shall find rest unto your souls,

for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

~ Matthew 11:28-30, King James Version of the Bible ~

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

Limited Distance Day

The skies over In the Night Farm cleared overnight to reveal a landscape newly rinsed by a week of rain, lightly frosted with morning chill. Aaruba and I took advantage of the crystalline day by holding our own, private Limited Distance race. We covered just over 22 miles of countryside in 2 hours and 42 minutes, averaging 8.25 miles per hour and feeling great.

Was it only 14 months ago that I hadn't a single horse to ride? Before that, did I really spend 7 years outside the equestrian world? May I never live without an endurance horse again! This is purest bliss.

Photo by East End Portrait Photography, Old Selam Endurance Ride 2008


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Friday, November 14, 2008

Shot in the Dark: Intimacy

It is the most precious thing, to know exactly where you belong.

~ Tessie Naranjo


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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Don't Look Down!

My second riding instructor, the one I knew longest, was named Mona. I can still hear her voice as it echoed to the corner of the arena, where I balanced astride a bay gelding, begging for a canter. "Don't look down!"

Alas, I still look down sometimes. I occasionally forget that it's "elbow, not wrist," too. See?

But, in the years since I attended weekly lessons, I have learned something Mona never mentioned during all those don't-look-down moments: It's remarkably easy to tell which lead you're on without looking down.

Next time you ride a canter, pay attention to which of your knees shifts naturally forward. That's the lead your horse is on. Every time. Even if you're in 2-point.

That's how I tell, anyway. What's your trick?

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Deworming Dance

Yesterday was deworming day at In the Night Farm. One by one, I pulled horses from their paddocks for a little grooming, followed by a shot of pyrantel pamoate.

Acey is my only horse who objects to this ritual. I think it's the sensation of the tube in her mouth she hates, more than the actual paste. Either way, her eyes turn glossy and her chin tucks when she sees the tube coming. That, however, is the extent of her protest.

Not so long ago, deworming Acey was more of a project. Before she was gentled, I dewormed her by mixing the paste with a mash of beet pulp and oats. That worked well, but once she understood basic in-hand work, it was time to administer the dewormer properly.

The first time I tried, Acey raced backward in an effort to escape. Pulling on her would have done no good; in fact, it would have made her feel even more desperate to evade me. So I went with her -- and when she wanted to stop, I asked her to keep backing.

I asked calmly, just as though we were in the middle of a lesson on giving to pressure rather than attempting routine health maintenance. My goal was not to punish, but to show her that she had a choice: Stay and be dewormed in peace, or escape by working hard.

You want to practice backing up? What a good idea! Let's back up...more...keep going...good girl! Now, how about that dewormer?

I raised the tube. She backed away.

No? Okay, we can back some more. Let's go clear around the corral this time...good...very nice...ready to stop? How 'bout that dewormer?

Acey was blowing by now. Backing, even calmly, is hard work. I approached with the tube again. She eyed it and stepped back.

Really? Huh. Well, we can practice backing some more, if you insist. Let's go around twice this time...keep going...goodness, it's a long way...whew!

This time, when I slipped the tube between her lips, Acey didn't move. I dosed her, then scratched her withers while she swallowed.

There, wasn't that easier? Good girl!

Had Acey's deworming issue been more severe -- particularly if it had been result of a long and dismal course of oral medications -- I would have dosed her with something tasty, like applesauce or molasses, several times throughout a series of training sessions before administering the dewormer.

In Acey's case, however, that ten-minute lesson conveyed the message that will save us both a lifetime of headaches. Six weeks later, she backed only once -- quite a bit further than she'd planned -- before accepting her ivermectin. Six weeks after that, I watched the thought cross her mind, then vanish in the wake of a wise decision.

* * *
I wrote the above post an hour ago, and it's been bothering me ever since. Why? Because at deworming time, Acey's eyes still glaze over with the rainbow sheen that signals stress and resistance. I'm going to buy some applesauce for her, after all.

Also, the above method is one I would probably avoid using with a horse that has a tendency to rear. Backing can be frustrating for a horse, and the act of backing "gathers" him into his hindquarters, which makes rearing -- an extremely dangerous behavior -- all too easy. Turning a horse like this in tight circles instead of backing would accomplish the same objective; circling would also be a good alternative for a horse that isn't yet trained to back politely.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

And the Winner Is...


Congrat- ulations on your new Halter Bosal Combo from Crazy Ropes by Debbie! I hope you and Fritha enjoy it as much as Acey and I enjoy ours.

Thanks so much to all who entered The Best of the Barb Wire contest. I was warm-fuzzied and humbled by all your kind comments, which went far beyond the simple "why you selected this post" for which I asked in the rules. I didn't expect that, and it means more to me than I can say that what I post here has actually mattered to you. I'll do my best to keep it up!

And, thanks again to Debbie Hanson for sponsoring this contest. Be sure to stop by the Crazy Ropes website to check out Debbie's rope tack, which is very reasonably priced and custom made to fit your horse and even your color scheme.

Finally, remember to check out the new Best of the Barb Wire section of the sidebar to enjoy your fellow readers' selections (and a personal favorite that I sneaked in)!

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Monday, November 10, 2008

A Cowboy for You

In a recent comment, Susan at The Pony Expression referred to me as a "old horse soul." I confess I was flattered. It's time now to pass along the compliment.

Existentially speaking, I don't believe in "old souls" -- that is, the concept of reincarnated beings or even angels incarnate -- but if I did, my friend Spartacus Jones would be one of them.

He is a singer, a songwriter, a horseman who claims that equines saved him from being someone none of us would care to know. I've heard just enough of his story to believe him. How much can horses change a man? I'll just say this: he's one of the few I'd trust with my horses. (Don't panic, SJ, I haven't written you into my will. Yet.)

Anyway, he just sent me a copy of his new CD. A set of "horse inspired songs for horse inspired people," Many Ponies contains some songs I'd already laughed and cried to as I listened via Spartacus Jones' MySpace page, plus nine or ten new ones. It's all I've listened to since Saturday morning.

Having grown up to the soundtrack of my dad's LP's, I was easy prey for Spartacus Jones' style. It's Elvis. It's Marty Robbins. It's country and blues and Spanish and more. It's lyrical. It's funny and sweet and deeply honest.

Many Ponies contains the song I wish had been written for me ("A Cowboy for You") and the one that could have been written about me ("Everything That I Love Best"). All 15 tracks are the songs of a horseman's heart. Want proof? All profit from sales of the CD will be donated to horse rescues, including Meadowgate Equine Rescue in New York state. Want more proof? Read this.

Follow the links and give Many Ponies a listen. If you like what you hear, pick up an extra copy. Christmas is coming, and nothing looks as good in a stocking as a cowboy.

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Sunday, November 9, 2008

Home Is Where the Horse Is

I spent all last week out of town on business.

I don't mind traveling. It's nice to run on other cities' greenbelts, explore new sights, listen in to homogenized conversations over the roar of espresso machines at Starbucks. I enjoy the quiet of a hotel room in the evening, where I can be alone with a book and a glass of wine and no worries about what my greyhounds might be chewing up in the next room.

But, I do miss the horses. Mornings are incomplete without their wickers in the dark, evenings lonesome without fuzzy muzzles wreathed in steam. I am always glad to return to my farm, cast off high heels in favor of muck boots and jeans and a baseball cap, breathe in the hay and sweat and mud.

This time, I brought home a nasty flu that held me captive all night in the throes of a headache, sore throat, chills, aches, and fever such as I can't remember experiencing in years. I wasted a Saturday of perfectly decent weather huddled on the couch with a mug of my Magic Tea (2 Tbs lemon juice, 2 tsp honey, 2 slices fresh ginger, a dash of cayenne, and hot water -- try it next time you're sick), a novel, and two snoozing hounds.

By evening, I couldn't bear it any longer. I pulled on boots and a coat, grabbed a carrot, and met Aaruba at his paddock gate. I led him to the round corral with a hand on his jaw, released him to trot the perimeter.

For twenty minutes he trotted around me. I stood with hands in pockets, turning him occasionally with tiny step and tilt of shoulder. Dusk crept over us like fog, obscuring the valley where a farmer tilled sable swaths across his golden field. Bats swirled overhead. Cold settled like a moist blanket tucked into the edges of night.

At last I turned my back and moved to the rail, drawing Aaruba with me as though by a spell. We walked then, side by side as his breathing slowed, and I felt truly home.

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Saturday, November 8, 2008

A Fair Question: Equine Athletes, Equine Ulcers

In response to yesterday's post regarding EGUS, Endurance, and the AERC, Lori at The Skoog Farm Journal courageously posted the following:

I'm sure that this comment won't be very popular, but if people know that there is a good chance of horses suffering from this gastric problem, why are these animals pushed to that extent? They are living things, not machines. What is wrong with moderation? I have watched many people in the Dressage World push their horses until they break down...and dump them. All for the glory of the person at the expense of the animal. Why do we do this?

In other words, is it morally acceptable to engage our equine partners in rigorous athletic competition, such as endurance riding, knowing full well that doing so adds a risk factor for EGUS?

It's a fair question, one I've considered at length throughout my research on Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome (EGUS). I believe it's worthy of further discussion.

Note that Lori includes sports other than endurance in her question. She is right to do so; in fact, 60% - 90% of performance horse across all disciplines appear to be affected by gastric ulcers. Endurance seems to fall on the lower end of this range; all the same, 67% represents a lot of horses.

The question grows more complex when we consider that not only performance horses are affected. In fact, nearly all domestic horses are at risk, and as little as an hour's training per day can result in ulcer formation. Furthermore, a great many ulcer cases are asymptomatic, apparently causing no distress to the horse.

Moderation is, as Lori suggests, an option...but it still won't solve the problem. Simply stalling a horse, or failing to keep hay in front of him, or administering frequent doses of bute to relieve pain from other medical problems, can result in EGUS (and a host of other ailments). Equines ranging from old schoolies to greenies just starting under saddle are at risk.

To eliminate EGUS, we would have us give up horsekeeping altogether. However, turning our horses loose in the Nevada desert to be rounded up by the BLM and sent to slaughter seems an imperfect solution. (Ahem. Shall we avoid a slaughter debate, please? If you want to discuss that issue, make tracks to the nearest online horse forum and knock yourself out.)

So, should we compete in equine sports? Should only those individuals who can provide 20 acres of quality pasture per horse be allowed to keep them...and ride them only lightly, if at all? Is there an acceptable middle ground? Where do you draw the line, and why?

Related Posts
Strategies for Prevention of Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome
Pharmaceutical and Alternative Treatment Options for Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome
Equine Ulcer Supplement Options
EGUS, Endurance, and the AERC
Bringing it Home: EGUS Prevention at In the Night Farm
The Good Bad News: Gastric Ulcers in Equines

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Friday, November 7, 2008

EGUS, Endurance, and the AERC

Intense physical conditioning. Consumption of feed concentrates. Long trailer rides. Frequent change of venue and companions. Is it any wonder that equine endurance athletes are prone to the development of Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome?

Obviously, the stress of travel and competition can scarcely be avoided in the life of an endurance horse. Furthermore, although exercise is known to promote beneficial intestinal motility, prolonged exercise -- particularly at a canter and/or on an empty stomach -- can result in ulceration due to splashing of gastric acid onto the non-glandular portion of the stomach. Prolonged exercise also draws blood circulation away from the stomach and stimulates acid production, further increasing risk of ulcer formation, and the electrolytes many endurance riders administer to ward off metabolic problems may exacerbate existing ulcers [Holbrook, et al, 2005].

It is possible that many of the mild colics experienced in association with endurance racing are actually caused by gastric ulcer pain, not impactions or gas. Fortunately, no major blood loss seems to occur as a result of EGUS in endurance horses, and I found no evidence that gastric ulcers may perforate the wall of the stomach or otherwise result in equine fatality.

Little research exists on EGUS in endurance horses because race day isn’t conducive to endoscopy, which requires 12-18 hours of fasting followed by sedation. However, a 2003 Pride Project research study of 140 endurance horses indicated that 51.09% of the participating horses had gastric ulcers. A study by J.E. Neito, published in 2004, found that 67% of the endurance horses tested suffered from EGUS. Both studies concluded that endurance horses tend to have milder cases of EGUS than are commonly suffered by Thoroughbred racehorses. Neither study indicates a percentage of afflicted horses that is dramatically out of line with the 60% incidence of EGUS in performance horses across the spectrum of disciplines.

Though a substantial percentage of equine endurance athletes suffer from EGUS, omeprazole -- the drug most recommended and proven to cure and prevent gastric ulcers -- is banned by the AERC. Considering that omeprazole is not considered to be performance enhancing, and that the AERC actively promotes the welfare of horses participating in the sport of endurance, omeprazole's presence on the prohibited substances list may seem incongruous.

In 2005, the AERC issued a letter expressing its reasons for prohibiting the use of omeprazole during endurance competition. The letter is included in its entirely in the minutes from the June 27, 2005 meeting of the AERC’s Board of Directors. An excerpt is quoted below:

After much discussion of the benefits and drawbacks of such a modification, the veterinary committee has come to the decision not to recommend a modification of the current drug rules to allow the use of omeprazole while competing.

This decision is based on several factors:

1) Allowing the use of a testable drug during competition is a far deviation from AERC’s long-standing policy of absolutely opposing the presence of drugs during endurance ride competition.

2) The reasoning for allowing omeprazole during competition could, and we anticipate will, be used for other existing drugs such as anti-inflammatory agents. For example, flunixin (Banamine) certainly has beneficial, protective effects in the horse and is not considered performance enhancing in the normal horse.

3) The affects of long-term use of omeprazole are not known and the veterinary committee will not recommend nor endorse off label (very long term) use of the drug.

4) Horses symptomatic for gastric ulcers should not be competing.

An article by Marcia Smith, DVM, published in the October 2008 issue of Endurance News, the AERC's monthly publication, included a recommendation that horses be given maintenance doses of GastroGard (omeprazole) for four days preceding a competition. The last dose must be administered at least 24 hours prior to the start of the competition to comply with recommended withdrawal times in Appendix E of the AERC's drug rule.

According to its manufacturer, Merial, GastroGard's beta blocking effect lasts only 24 hours. Because an endurance competition officially begins upon pre-ride vetting, which usually takes place the evening before the ride itself, it seems unlikely that Smith's recommendation would benefit an endurance horse during a race, though of course there is value in lowering stomach acidity during travel to the ride venue.

AERC publications recommend that horses with gastric ulcers (at least, those that are symptomatic) be voluntarily suspended from competition. Preventative measures such as frequent feeding of roughage and application of antacids during stressful circumstances are encouraged, though the ingredients in some antacid products marketed for use in horses are also on the AERC's prohibited substances list. Sucralfate is specifically listed as a permitted substance in Appendix C of the AERC's drug rule, and may be beneficial in easing the discomfort of an endurance horse suspected of having gastric ulcers.

It seems that, if we wish to participate in endurance riding (or almost any equine sport), our horses are more likely than not to suffer some degree of gastric ulceration. We must, therefore, either choose not to participate -- perhaps even to avoid domestic horse keeping altogether! -- or else commit to doing our best to prevent the onset of EGUS, cure it when possible, and manage symptoms as necessary to keep our equine partners comfortable and content.

The final post of this series will cover the specifics of how I have chosen to deal with the subject of EGUS right here at In the Night Farm.

Related Posts
Introduction: Equine Gastric Ulcer Series

Strategies for Prevention of Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome
Pharmaceutical and Alternative Treatment Options for EGUS

Equine Ulcer Supplement Options
A Fair Question: Equine Athletes, Equine Ulcers
Bringing it Home: EGUS Prevention at In the Night Farm

Sheer Brilliance: Aloe and MSM as Alternative Therapy for EGUS
Q & A: Aloe and MSM as Alternative Therapy for EGUS
The Good Bad News: Gastric Ulcers in Equines

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Thursday, November 6, 2008

Feed Me!

One of the nice things about horses is that you don't have to be technology savvy to enjoy them.

If you want to enjoy horse blogs, however, you have to crank your knowledge up a bit. You've obviously gotten that far.

If you want to make blog reading really easy, though, you have to learn to subscribe.

Okay, okay. A lot of you already know this. But since I learned about blog subscriptions just a few months ago (and I shall be eternally grateful to the friend who taught me), I'm going to assume some others out there could use an explanation about feeds.

"Feeds?" you say, "As in beet pulp and Equine Senior?" Not exactly. I'm talking about RSS feeds. It stands for Really Simple Syndication Feeds. I haven't figured out yet what that means. Fortunately, those of us who still think "booting up" means lacing our Ariats can take advantage of RSS feeds without understanding them.

Basically, an RSS feed transfers content from its website of origin to a central location of your choosing. There, you can peruse it at your leisure. You never have to worry about forgetting to visit your favorite blogs, and you never have to type in web addresses or scan your "bookmarks" list. It's rather like having a magazine made to order and updated automatically.

For example, I use Google Reader to follow about 30 blogs. As each blogger updates his or her site, my password-access Google Reader page alerts me to the new post. I can either read the post right there in Google Reader, or else click on a link to view the post in its original context.

Those who don't read scads of blogs may find it more practical to have a few favorites delivered straight to an email inbox. This method is highly convenient but may result in occasional formatting blips. In the event of a formatting problem, just follow the link in your email message straight to the originating blog, where you can see the post as it was intended to appear.

Both options -- RSS Subscriptions and Email Subscriptions -- are available from The Barb Wire. Subscribe now by clicking on the links in below, or take advantage of the links in the sidebar anytime.

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Either option will walk you through a quick, easy set-up, and you'll never miss another post. Happy reading!

P.S. Don't forget to get yourself entered in the drawing for that Indian bosal from Crazy Ropes! See The Best of the Barb Wire Contest for details.

P.P.S. No, I haven't been holding out on you -- that photo was taken on July 1, 2006, when Ripple Effect was two hours old.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Equine Ulcer Supplement Options

Next time you’re in the mood for a challenge, try selecting an ulcer supplement for your horse. Scores of products litter the marketplace, many boasting glowing testimonials and some backed by a bit of research. Anecdotal evidence suggests that what works for one horse may not work for another. Therefore, if you seek to control ulcer symptoms in your horse or prevent the development of EGUS, you may be doomed to a long treasure hunt. This post will provide a map to help you get the lay of the land.

Ulcer supplements tend to fall into three categories: antacids, digestive aids, and natural alternatives. Supplements are available in a variety of forms. Pastes and liquids may be administered even to a horse that is off feed, while powers, pellets, and granules are easily mixed with mashes or concentrates.

Antacids reduce the pain that occurs when stomach acid irritates nerves in the stomach lining by “buffering,” or raising the pH of the stomach environment to reduce its acidity. Most antacids employ calcium carbonate, magnesium hydroxide, or aluminum hydroxide as their active ingredients.

Although antacids do effectively reduce stomach acidity, their effect appears to be very short term (an hour or less) unless the dosage is higher than 240 milliliters, or approximately 8 ounces. The standard, recommended dose of equine antacids is 1-2 ounces.

Antacids are most effective when administered frequently (at least 4 times daily) and immediately preceding exercise. Their true benefit may be in relieving ulcer pain long enough to allow a horse to eat in comfort. The natural reduction in stomach acidity as a result of forage consumption then promotes additional eating, beginning an upward spiral.

Unfortunately, long term antacid use is not without risk. Many antacid supplements include magnesium, which retards calcium absorption. Because calcium deficiency can cause bone and muscle weakness and even aberrations in heart rhythm, this possibility bears particular consideration for equine athletes. Additionally, antacids may reduce the effectiveness of other oral medications by interfering with absorption; they may also affect normal urinary excretion of certain drugs.

Below are notes on several of the most common equine antacids:

U-Guard – Available in powder or pellet form. Mixed anecdotal reviews on effectiveness and palatability. Approximate cost: $15/month for powder or $30/month for pellets.

NeighLox – Available in pellet form. Mixed anecdotal reviews on effectiveness and palatability. Approximate cost: $95/month.

Pro CMC – Available in liquid form. Limited but positive anecdotal reviews on effectiveness when administered by oral syringe before exercise. Approximate cost: $30/month.

Digestive Aids
“Digestive aids” is a catch-all term for products reputed to improve general intestinal health. Some of these products claim to reduce ulcer symptoms or prevent ulcers; others are not labeled as ulcer supplements but boast anecdotal support for their positive impact on EGUS.

Probiotics – Probiotics are live microbes that exist naturally in the digestive tract. As beneficial bacteria, they are thought to promote health by suppressing the growth of unfriendly bacteria, improving the immune function, and enhancing the protective barrier of the digestive tract. Daily stressors, particularly in an emotional or hardworking horse, can upset the natural, bacterial balance of the gut. Probiotic supplementation attempts to stabilize friendly microbe populations through frequent ingestion of live or freeze-dried organisms. Clinical proof of the effectiveness of probiotic supplementation in soothing equine gastric ulcers is limited, though anecdotal evidence abounds.

L-Glutamine – L-Glutamine is an amino acid, one of the building blocks from which proteins are constructed, and among its primary functions is the nourishment of cells in the protective lining of the digestive tract. Although L-Glutamine is generally considered non-essential, that is, a normal body produces it in sufficient quantity, evidence suggests that an equine under stress (including travel, illness, athletic conditioning, disrupted social environment, etc.) may require dietary supplementation.

Digestive Conditioners – A variety of products market themselves as digestive conditioners. Most of these products combine fiber, probiotics, and amino acids in an effort to improve overall digestive health, including, in some cases, the easing or prevention of EGUS. Other ingredients may include polar lipids (fats that protect intestinal lining), threonine (an essential amino acid necessary for the production of protective mucus), and various immune system stimulants.

Below are notes on two of the most common equine digestive aids:

G.U.T –Ulcer supplement containing L-Glutamine, probiotics, and more. Available in powder and paste form. Mostly positive anecdotal reviews on effectiveness and palatability. Approximate cost: $20/month.

Succeed – Digestive conditioner containing L-Glutamine, probiotics, soluble fiber, and more. Advertised as all natural. Available in granular and paste form. Mostly positive anecdotal reviews on effectiveness; mixed anecdotal reviews on palatability. Approximate cost: $100/month.

Natural Alternatives
Gastric ulcers are nothing new, and many natural substances have been used for centuries to soothe and protect ulcerated stomach lining. Research on the effectiveness of these substances is limited, just as with antacids and digestive conditioners, but a great many individuals swear by them.

Below are notes on some of the most common natural ulcer supplements:

Seabuckthorn berries – Reportedly provides benefits including improved mental focus, enhanced digestive health, and bolstered immune system. The equine product Seabuck Complete is available in liquid form. Approximate cost: $80/month.

Papaya juice – Reportedly increases production of protective mucous in the gut, resulting in improved appetite and reduction of ulcer pain, diarrhea, and cribbing behavior. The equine product Stomach Soother is available in liquid form. Approximate cost $50/month.

Slippery elm bark, aloe, MSM, okra, and chamomile, previously discussed in this post, may also be used as natural ulcer supplements.

The Conclusion
There is no simple answer to the question of which ulcer supplement will work for any given horse. Research on the subject is limited and inconclusive, and results are so highly individualized that your only recourse is likely to be trial and error. I recommend testing one supplement at a time and taking careful notes on your horse’s attitude, appetite, and behavior as you determine the most appropriate regime for his well-being.

As you make your selections, bear in mind that some ulcer supplements contain substances banned by various sanctioning bodies, including the American Endurance Ride Conference (click here to view the AERC’s prohibited substances list). The next post in this series will further explore the AREC’s position on EGUS in endurance horses.
Related Posts

Strategies for Prevention of Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome
Pharmaceutical and Alternative Treatment Options for EGUS

EGUS, Endurance, and the AERC
A Fair Question: Equine Athletes, Equine Ulcers
Bringing it Home: EGUS Prevention at In the Night Farm
Sheer Brilliance: Aloe and MSM as Alternative Therapy for EGUS
Q & A: Aloe and MSM as Alternative Therapy for EGUS
The Good Bad News: Gastric Ulcers in Equines ______________________________________________

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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Shot in the Dark: The Mutual Pledge

And for the support of this Declaration,
with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence,
we mutually pledge to each other our Lives,
our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

~ The Declaration of Independence, 1776 ~


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Monday, November 3, 2008

Why Ride Bitless?

Thanks to all who have submitted their nominations for The Best of the Barb Wire Contest. One week remains in which to enter in the drawing for a free, custom Indian bosal (modeled at left by the lovely Acey) from Crazy Ropes. Click here to find out how!

Typing all these reminders about the contest has gotten me thinking. Why do I ride bitless?

In answering the question, I started a post that soon sounded like every other anti-bitting manifesto under the sun. In that draft, I talked about how bits operate on the pain principle:

Bits operate on a pain principle, that is, the horse does as he's told in order to avoid pain in his mouth. Many bits are willfully designed to operate in precisely this fashion, and even so-called "mild" bits will cause pain in the hands of an unskilled, insensitive, or careless rider.

I talked about how training and safety:

Many people operate under the assumption that, in most cases, a bit is necessary to ensure rider safety. "Why on earth don't you use a bit?" they ask me, agog.

My favorite reply: "Why on earth
do you use one?"

The answer usually includes a reference to the hardness of the ground (often in combination with the rider's inability to bounce), or else the danger of a bolting horse. "Of course I'd like to ride without a bit," they say, "but I just can't risk it."

I beg to differ. You don't need a bit to control your horse from the ground, do you? No? Then why should you need one to control your horse from the saddle?

No really, why?

It seems to me that a horse that runs through a bitless bridle doesn't have a tack problem -- he has a training problem. Many people agree with me as far as that goes. "But what if he spooks?" they say. "I have to be able to stop him."

When it comes down to it, though, a truly panicked horse isn't going to stop, no matter what you've put on his face. Bolting horses run blindly into traffic, through barbed wire fences, off cliffs. They run until they feel safe.

Guess what's not going to make a horse feel safe: Pain. Guess what tight reins against a bit cause: Pain. A bit isn't going to stop a bolt, and it might make things worse.

I talked about the value of other aids:

Although most people assume we "steer" a horse by directing his head, not unlike a front wheel drive vehicle, this assumption represents a fundamental misunderstanding of equine physiology. Horses are not built to pull themselves around. Their engines are in their hindquarters, and it is from there that everything from starting to stopping to collection to turning originates.

My riding improved dramatically when I made this connection. I began talking to my horse's hindquarters instead of his head, guiding him with seat and leg, using
reins not to point him in the right direction, but simply to block him from moving in the wrong direction. The result was improved impulsion and responsiveness, and almost complete release of my horse's head. These days, except when practicing single-rein-stops, I use the reins only minimally.

I considered the issue of compliance vs. force:

The bitless philosophy is related to natural horsemanship. It assumes that if we build partnerships with our horses and establish ourselves as trustworthy leaders in these partnerships, then our horses will choose to obey.

Bitless riding is not for the insensitive, nor the impatient. It is for those who care to win their horses’ hearts. To have a horse’s heart is to have his mind; to have his mind is to have his body; to have his body is to have control – not by conquest, but by companionship.

The power of “yes” is in the possibility of “no.”

I even acknowledged that I don’t believe all bits are torture devices cast by the devil in the pit of hell:

I disagree with those who contend that all horses suffer mental and/or physical anguish when bitted. I have seen too many horses reach eagerly for their bits and mouth them contentedly to believe that bits are inherently cruel.

A rider who has light, quiet hands and is skilled in the use of other aids can achieve remarkable feats in partnership with his bitted horse. I am insufficiently schooled in dressage to give an educated opinion regarding whether high level movements can be achieved without use of a bit. I suspect they can, though accomplishing this presumably requires a very skilled handler.

I believe all the above, but the truest answer to the question of why I ride bitless is also the simplest. It was in the draft. Did you catch it? I didn't either, at first. I had to think for a while before I realized that the reason I don't use a bit is simply that I don't need one.

Even on Aaruba’s fractious days, when he teeters on the edge of explosiveness; even when Consolation and I struggle for dominance; even astride Acey who is so green we haven’t trotted yet; even during the various shies and bolts that come with hours on the trail, I have never wished for a bit. I simply don't need one.

Aaruba got me started on the concept. Having ridden with bits my entire life, I’d planned to start him in a full-cheek snaffle, then switch to a copper D-ring and stay there. I soon discovered, however, that the trainer who started Aaruba had not only forced a saddle on him by locking him in a cattle squeeze, but had hurried the bitting process so that Aaruba was terrified of the thing.

I spent hours spreading a snaffle with molasses, teaching Aaruba to lower his head and accept the sensation of metal sliding over his tongue, desensitizing him to the passage of the headstall over his eyes and ears. Although I rode him in a snaffle for many weeks and he never jerked his head away, I sensed his tension every time that bridle appeared. And so, I sought an option that would relieve his stress.

Despite being annoyed by his infomercial of a website, I ordered Dr. Cook’s Bitless Bridle. It took a few weeks for Aaruba to relax about being bridled, but finally he began to trust that nothing was going in his mouth. I experienced no difference in his responsiveness under saddle, certainly no loss of control. If anything, Aaruba listened better because he was more at ease.

When we began endurance conditioning last spring, I discovered the benefits package that comes with bitless riding. I needed only one piece of headgear for an entire session, from catching to cooling out. My horse could eat on the trail (Dr. Cook’s Bitless Bridle wasn’t good for this due to its tight noseband, but I have since switched to a Crazy Ropes Indian bosal and won’t go back). I never needed to lead my horse by the reins. I never bruised my horse's mouth when he tripped and yanked the rein.

Looking back over the hundreds of miles I've ridden this year, I can’t think of an experience for which I would rather have had a bit in my horse’s mouth.

So, why do I ride bitless?

Why not?

Related Posts

Tack Test: Indian Bosal

Call Me Crazy: A Word about Natural Horsemanship

Twenty Minutes in Photos: Trust-Based Training at Work

Shall We Dance?: Bonding through Liberty Work

Heart in My Hands: Gentling the Unhandled Horse

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Sunday, November 2, 2008

Oh, Wind, if Winter Comes

I can't deny it any longer. Winter is coming. The days of riding a horse or two after my evening commute are over. With the advent of Daylight Wasting Time, I'll be lucky to squeeze in twenty minutes of groundwork before dark.

I am trying very hard not to complain about this, to put my structured side on hold and allow my training and conditioning schedules to bend with the wind...and rain...and snow... That said, I do have a few goals for this winter:
  • Maintain Aaruba's fitness and (maybe) build speed in preparation for the 2009 endurance season. The good news here is that equines retain fitness much longer than human athletes. A fit horse can enjoy a month's layoff with minimal loss of fitness. I think I can manage 2-3 rides per week for most of the winter, which should be sufficient for maintenance. If we can safety (in terms of both footing and temperature) do some speed rides, so much the better.
  • Continue Consolation's on-trail training and build foundational fitness in preparation to being serious conditioning in Spring 2009. This should be easier than my goal for Aaruba, as Consolation's workouts are shorter and less strenuous. I'll be thrilled to get in 3 rides per week on Consolation, but I'll settle for 2 rides plus some groundwork.
  • Continue Acey's under saddle work in preparation for early conditioning in Spring 2009. In Acey's case, I won't need to worry much about a sweaty, chilled horse; however, wind may be more of an issue with her than with the others. Typically, the greener the horse, the more it is distracted by windy conditions. I'll settle for 2 sessions per week and take more as they come.
My biggest challenge, other than finding sufficient daylight and reasonable weather conditions, will be cooling out sweaty horses. We don't have a barn, so I'll need to be sure my mounts are warm, dry, and fluffy after each workout. I plan to do this by:
  • Riding as early as possible in the day, so there's time to cool out before nightfall.
  • Planning time for longer walks at the end of each ride (at least 1/2 mile; preferably a mile).
  • Toweling after unsaddling (thrift stores are a great source of cheap towels), and currying to separate wet hairs.
  • Using a jersey cooler to wick moisture away from the horse and prevent chilling. I ordered a cooler for $20 on clearance from SmartPak. It's a touch small on Aaruba, but for that price, I wasn't going to be picky, and it'll fit Consolation perfectly.
  • Letting the weather win, occasionally. The silver lining? More time to blog!

Oh wind, if winter comes, can spring be far behind?
~ Percy Shelley


Related Posts
Gone with the Wind

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Saturday, November 1, 2008

Takeout Today

It's carnival time! Trot on over to Enlightened Horsemanship for links to posts by a variety of equestrian bloggers, including yours truly.

While you're there, be sure to read up on EH's First Annual Guest Blogger Search & Sweepstakes. Be a horse blogger for a day -- you know you have something important to share! -- and win a signed copy of Linda Tellington-Jones' The Ultimate Horse Behavior and Training Book. (Just don't submit anything really great, okay? I want that book!)

If you still have some time on your hands, come on back here to enter the Best of the Barb Wire contest for your chance to win a free, custom Indian bosal from Crazy Ropes by Debbie.

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