Wednesday, April 1, 2015

In which electrolytes are discussed and (hopefully) de-mystified

If there's anything that boggles Green Bean endurance riders 
(and experienced competitors too!)
it's the topic of electrolytes.

The not-very-secret electrolyte recipe we use.
This generates enough electrolytes for two typical horses on an average 50.
Please note that this makes 14 of what most people call a "double dose."
We call it a single dose.  

The consensus among riders and vets is clear: elytes are absolutely vital for competition, totally optional for competition, or  completely contraindicated for competition.   

The best brand of electrolytes is definitely Endura Max.  
Unless it's Dyna Spark.  
Or possibly Northern Lytes.  
Or Stress Dex.  
Or Electo Ease, Acculyte, Finish Line, or some homemade formula mix made of lite salt and Tums.  

For mixers, everyone uses applesauce.
Except those who use yogurt.  
Or Maalox.  
Or Pro-CMC.  Or water.  Or Gatorade.  Or beer.

So, that's not confusing at all.  Right?
Photo: M. Bretherton

I take electrolytes very seriously.  If you don't, or you don't know why you should, I direct you to two articles written by Susan Garlinghouse, DVM.  As with everything Doc Garlinghouse writes, these articles make complex issues relatively easy to understand.  Her science is sound, and her writing is clear.  

The publisher of Endurance 101 has mirrored the articles to keep them safe for eternity.  Go there now and learn:

In this post, I'll describe what Hana gets for 50-mile rides.  

I will also describe what Fiddle gets.  These two things are not the same.

Hana is pretty typical of endurance horses in our camp.

14.2 hand Arab mare.  Chestnut. 19 years old, about 800 pounds.
Usually finishes 50-milers in 8-8.5 hours.
Photo: M. Bretherton  

Hana eats well, drinks well, and keeps a good steady pace on the trail.  She is not a voracious eater, but she isn't picky either.  She will not eat every speck of her beet pulp, so we can't dump stuff into her feed and be absolutely certain that she got it all.  All her electrolytes are delivered via syringe.

Here is Hana's electrolyte regimen for a normal 50-mile ride in average terrain:

Thursday (ride day -2) : nothing.

Friday (ride day -1) Since this is the day before a ride, she may get a dose in the afternoon, and definitely gets a dose at bedtime.

Saturday (ride day) :
1 full dose before the start line.
1 dose at each vet check.
1 dose after the finish line.
1 dose at bedtime.

Hana also gets regular doses of OTC Jug and a probiotic during 50-milers,
which seems to keep her energy level strong and stable.

If any of the loops are especially long (20 miles, or 3+ hours), or if the weather is especially hot, Hana may get an additional dose or half-dose on the trail at about the mid-way point of the loop.

Sunday (post ride day, usually a travel day):  1 dose before departure.  Sometimes a dose with dinner.

Fiddle is less typical.

16 hand Standardbred mare. Dark bay.  13 years old.  About 1100 pounds.
Usually finishes 50-milers in 7-7.5 hours.
Photo: M. Bretherton

Fee's electrolyte needs are significantly higher.  She is a voracious eater of beet pulp and hay, and she is pretty good about drinking water at puddles, tanks, or whatever.  I can throw supplements into her mash overnight and be sure that she will get all of it, but if I'm in a hurry (to leave camp at the end of a vet check, for example), she gets a syringe.

I also substitute Pro-CMC for some or all of the applesauce in the electrolyte recipe if we are going further than 50 miles, or if the going will be slow (and thus, requiring more doses).

Here's Fiddle's regimen for a typical 50-mile ride in terrain of average difficulty:

Wednesday night:  a scoop of EnduraMax in her beet pulp.  This is in addition to the twice-daily 1-oz scoop of salt in her beet pulp.

Thursday: (usually a travel day): a dose  of electrolytes before departure, and another dose at bedtime.

Friday (ride day -1) : a dose after breakfast and again at bedtime.

Saturday (ride day) :
1 full dose before the start line.
1/2 dose every 60-90 minutes on the trail, unless a vet check is near.
1 full dose at each vet check.
1 full dose after the finish line.
1 full dose at bedtime.
I use wide-mouth ketchup bottles to store the elytes in my saddle bag.
A syringe will fit through the mouth of the bottle to suck up a dose.
With practice, it's possible to fill the syringe and dose the horse from the saddle.

Sunday (usually a travel day): a dose of electrolytes before departure and another dose after dinner.

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday:  any electrolytes left over from the event are squirted onto her beet pulp until they are used up.

*It's important to note that, whenever possible, we also squirt a syringe or two of water into the horse's mouth after dosing.  This helps prevent mouth sores.

But how do I know that Fiddle needs so much more?
Experience (and doing things wrong) has taught me that my big, dark, heavy-muscled, fast-moving horse needs more elytes than any other horse I've used in competition.  If her heartrate hangs up, if she's reluctant to eat or drink on the trail, if she sandbags at mile 30 when she would normally be jogging along happily, it's almost always because I didn't give her enough.

One time it was cool and lovely (60 degrees, light breeze) on the trail, so I didn't dose her as heavily as usual, but the ground was soggy and made the WORK a lot harder.  We had to pull at 25 miles that day, because she got tired and peed pink.  Totally my fault.

So what does that mean for you and for your horse?
If your horse is fairly typical (in other words, similar in size, shape, age, and breeding to Hana), you can start with a routine similar to hers.  Tinker with the dosage sizes in training, giving more or less, and keep track of the horse's response.

(NOTE: few horses will ever like electrolytes.  It's like eating a salt sandwich.  Blech.)

Mess around with your heart rate monitor, and see if the electrolytes improve recovery.  Pay attention to your horse's willingness to eat and drink while using the electrolytes.  Some horses refuse to eat with the salt taste in their mouths, others don't seem to care.  Most will drink water more readily on the trail if they are given electrolytes before leaving the trailhead.

If your horse is larger, darker, moving significantly faster than Hana, or going over extreme terrain at speed, don't be surprised if you need more electrolytes to maintain a metabolic balance.  (You did read those Garlinghouse articles, didn't you?)

It would be lovely if there was an app for this.  You know, a nifty little gadget on my phone that would tell me how much to dose, at what intervals, given each horse's specific needs.

But that doesn't exist (yet).

So, the best practice right now is for riders to experiment, pay attention to results, and be prepared to change things according to the results.

Comments, questions, thoughts, anecdotes?

The box is open.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

In which our chickens (finally) move into their fancy new townhouse!

There's a lot of weird stuff that rattles around the corners of a farm.

The mailbox at camera right was under a bunch of blackberry brambles
and had our address painted on the side.  I thought purple would be more fun.

Our farm came with a lot of weird stuff. Much of it has gradually been hauled away, given away, recycled, or, in several cases, upcycled--into something new and useful.

Henhouse frame, late November

Last fall we decided that we really needed a permanent henhouse in the New Garden.

When not busy growing vegetables, we like the gardens to house chickens, who busily sort through the stall cleanings and kitchen refuse that we throw in. The oldest garden now has soil more than 12" deep, thanks to our hens.

Santa Jim sets up the roof beams

So, beginning with some paper napkin sketches, Santa Jim sorted through various piles of weird stuff to find materials suited to building a chicken house.

We scored the metal "skin" from our friend Cathy at Cascade Gold Akel Tekes.  
These pieces are cut from the "door holes" cut out of her barn siding!
We briefly considered buying pre-fab nesting boxes...

...and then I remembered the old mailbox that had been kicking around and had gotten run over by blackberry bushes.

"Do you think we could...?"  I asked Santa Jim.

We put out a call on Facebook for other unwanted mailboxes.
"I think I can make it work," he told me.

I've been getting impatient lately because it's time to plant stuff , but the Old Garden was still full of chickens and the henhouse in the New Garden wasn't finished yet.

Violet and Minerva help me turn the soil in the Old Garden,
but they can't stay there once I've planted the seeds!

Jim pushed daylight for more than a couple of days, and finally announced that the new henhouse was ready for chickens!

Extra nerd points for the sign on the door.
The hens are locked inside until they are using the laying boxes reliably--
should be only 2 or 3 days.

We moved the chickens in last night.

Inside the hen house, chickens play awkward games to pass the time
between eggs.  This is Charades:  "sounds like...wing? feather? flap?"
At night it's poker.  They have terrible poker faces.

The bright colors make me giggle.

Exterior view

And this morning...

Violet laid her egg just as I opened the door

Ding!  You have...egg!

Yep.  The Vernal Townhouse makes me smile.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

In which Raindrops are falling on our...feet... (and also on the Dragon)

Springtime in the Swampland is usually a pretty soggy thing, 

It has been raining here, but we had a beautiful day today!

True Swamplanders just pull up our hoods, lace up our boots, and carry on.  But the wet days are good times to learn stuff, and sometimes we do.

Betsey knows stuff, and she's willing to teach us.

Lately, Betsey has been teaching us about the use of essential oils.

Because we always do things this way, we gathered at Haiku Farm, with a dog for every human, ready to learn.

We started with a warm foot bath of epsom salts, lavender and peppermint.  Relaxation and rejuvenation!

"Epsom salt baths have a laxative effect on dogs who
drink them, Ripley.  Why don't you go sit by Luna, please?"
Then came the foot therapy.

vegetable oil + essential oil + Connor Connor Photobomber
 We started with Valor, which Betsey introduced to me after my hip surgery.  The website says that Valor is good for increasing feelings of strength, courage, and self-esteem in the face of adversity, and I've gotta say, it really works for that.

Valor first, for balancing
 Betsey did Patty's poor toes, while Monica and I did each other.

Ripley helped. Also Connor.

After all the people (and some of the dogs) were relaxed and feeling energized, we went down to the barn to try a Raindrop treatment on the Dragon.

Jim was working in the barn aisle, hiding his power tools from the rain.
That's okay:  there's plenty of room for all the people (and the dogs, and the Dragon)
Roo offered to help if we had any hamburger-flavored oils.
Betsey let Fiddle sniff each of the oils before she put any on.  If there was a strong negative reaction to anything (she didn't like marjoram, for example) we wouldn't use it at all.

Whuffle.  Whuffle.  Whuffle.  This is not cookie-flavor...?

If there was a strong positive reaction,  we knew that she would derive benefit from the oil.

Peppermint!  It smells like SANTA!  I love that stuff!

After the Dragon approved each oil, Betsey would put some on her body.

Valor isn't a "hot" (reactive) oil, so it can be put directly
on the heel bulbs.  

***I checked the "prohibited substances" portion of the AERC rulebook online to see if any of the substances we were using are prohibited in competition.  Some things like lavender are not permitted.  The ingredients of Valor appear to be okay, but I would not use it within two days of a competition, just in case.

Some oils got rubbed into the coronet band of each foot.

Valor on the poll.  Fiddle didn't want to let anybody touch her head. I disagreed.
Our compromise:  anybody can touch her head.  
There were no obviously sore or tender spots, but a few that were more sensitive than others.

Some oils were applied to her back and then "connected" by Betsey's hands.

Relaxed Dragon will let Betsey put stuff anywhere she wants.

Finishing touch:
Warm towel to keep the back warm and relaxed for a few extra minutes.
Did I see any changes in myself or the Dragon post-treatment?

Well, Monday and Tuesday, my lower back was extremely sore--I have a chiro appointment, but can't get in until next week.  However, despite the pain, I had increased mobility in both hips--the artificial and the organic side.

I also noticed that my side-to-side balance was improved.

Fiddle didn't report any changes.  She has Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday as days off, since those are my busy days at work.  When I rode today (Thursday) she seemed strong and ready to go.

So, there ya go.

And today, the sun came out.


Friday, March 20, 2015

In which we explore what's different about preparing for longer rides

I've signed up for the 75-miler at our first ride of our regional season.

Fiddle and I were ready to kick up from 50-milers to 75's and 100's in early 2013 when I got suddenly sidelined by extreme pain in my arthritic left hip.

To my astonishment, we went from easily completing 50-milers in late Spring to barely able to leave the parking lot in early Summer.  Recovery hasn't been easy, although it has perhaps seemed quick to those who haven't had to live through it.

Now, it's nearly Spring again.  I'm a tiny bit smarter, and two years older (with the exception of my left hip, which is 50 years younger than the rest of me).  My horse will be 13 years old in April.

It's time.

Blessed by an unusually warmish, dryish winter here in the Swamp, we've spent a lot of time on the trails since the end of the ride season last fall.

We've kept up a steady schedule all winter:  one or two days of trails per week,
usually 8-12 miles for each session--no change from legging up for 50-milers.

I've blogged a lot about our training rides over the years, and I usually log the speed and distance using an app like ViewRanger .

The app shows that we are consistent: we trot most of each session, and walk when we must--either because of terrain or because of equine knuckle-headedness.  Our speed is pretty steady at 5.5 to 6 mph when Fiddle and I go out with the Usual Suspects.

So, what am I doing differently to prepare for the longer distance?
Surprisingly, not much.

I might (or might not) spend an extra day on trails each week this spring.

That depends more on weather and my work schedule, more than anything else.  When we do take an extra day, it's usually a solo ride so Fiddle and I can practice going faster (between 6.5 and 7mph when we are solo). or going longer (14-20 miles, or 4 hours, whichever happens first).  

Riding lessons are more critical right now.
Consistent arena time has built up flexibility...and communication skills

When I was broken and while I was healing, Fee had to change her listening skills to ignore the random "cues" my seat and legs would deliver as a result of not functioning very well.

In-saddle stretching:  she still has to ignore me when I do this.
These days, we are re-refining my cues and her responses.

Of course, there's still our Cantering Problem, which is vastly improved but not completely fixed yet.

In addition to the basic "dressage curriculum," is our "fire eradication efforts" with the Dragon.

Notice in the video (above) that she is cantering in an arena full of horses, and when she finally throws a bit of a wobbly, she waits to get past everybody before starting her tantrum.  That's a big change.

Here's another:
Auntie Patty gives COOKIE! 
We couldn't have done this last year
Fiddle now accepts other horses in closer proximity.  This is enormous for her.

We still warn people with unfamiliar horses to keep a safe distance, and I will never completely trust her not to kick, but we have spent a lot of time getting the Dragon comfortable with other horses in the arena and on the trail, and we continually practice passing and being passed by other horses without fussing.

Also on the trail:

Rider fitness:  we hop off the last half-mile of each ride
and jog back to the trailer.  This is still kind of painful
for me, but important.
What about prep for the actual ride?

Well, I've made farrier appointments through the end of October to accommodate the ride schedule.

I've said it before:  there are some aspects of care that allow corner-cutting in endurance, but hoof care is not one of them.

I had to pull her right rear shoe last week because the
nail heads were completely worn off and she was likely to
trot right out of it!
I have a new(ish) farrier this year, and she is a vast improvement over the fellow I had doing the Dragon's feet last year.

Kelsey puts a lot of thought and research into the hardware she uses on Fiddle, experiments with different sole packing substances, and even tries to ensure that she is using the best possible horseshoe nails for the job.

Attention to detail:  Kelsey has it.
This photo almost doesn't show that the toe of her shoe is paper-thin,
and the remainder of the shoe is also very worn down.
 I've examined my tack, and repaired and replaced bits that are showing wear.

We have actually started to wear out a piece of biothane (!!amazing!!) on her breastcollar (after 10 years of using that particular item on several horses), so I ordered a new breastcollar from American Trail Gear.

ATG makes a "Night Rider" breastcollar with loops to
hold glowsticks securely in place.
Fiddle's will be purple, of course.
I've started ordering supplies, like a fresh bucket of electrolyte powder

I use this stuff

and a bunch of this stuff.

I have used this sporadically in my electrolyte mixes for 50-milers;
I think it's much more important for longer distances where she
will be receiving a LOT more electrolyte doses.
I've also (after listening to Doctor Garlinghouse speak on the topic) increased the amount of hay Fee gets daily.  She now has pretty much free-choice hay in a Porta-Grazer  during the day

The commercial Porta-Grazer is weather proof, so I can throw it out in the pasture
when the grass is dormant.  In summer, she will get hay at night in her stall,
and graze the pasture grass during the day.

or slow-feeding net in her stall at night.

And really, that's about it:  Food.  Tack.  Training.


Thursday, March 12, 2015

In which there is a MONSTER at the end of this blog post (no, really)

When my brother and I were very young, our favorite book was
The Monster at the End of This Book 
starring lovable furry old Grover.

If you've never read The Monster at the End of This Book, you can read the
whole thing HERE.  The page turns are at the bottom of each page.
 It's very short.  You will laugh.  Go there now.  We'll wait.
 I thought of that book this morning as I texted the Suspects:

Be prepared to park creatively, tree felling at trailhead.

The tree workers were very kind and shut down the motors while we mounted and headed out.  But I will warn you in advance:  there really are monsters at the end of this post.

It was a great day for a ride.

We all practiced leading, following, 

and working side-by-side

Yes, even the Dragon.  But it's hard to take a photo of somebody who
is right on my elbow, so this is the side-by-side photo we got.

Almost done!  But first, it's snack time.

The grass is coming in!

Back at the trailhead, the tree guys were having lunch and the machines were quiet.

This looks like a MONSTER to Hana
 In other words:  training opportunity time!

But...touch the monster machine, get a cookie, right?

Draconic dubiousity

Touch this monster machine, get another cookie

Monster?  Cookie?

Good girl!

I think we should have held out for more cookies.

I told you there was nothing to be afraid of, Hana!

Monsters and cookies.  Two great things that go great together.