Wednesday, November 30, 2011

In which the Bad Idea Fairy writes an Endurance 101

Endurance 101 – The Bad Idea Fairy’s Endurance Ride Diary
The Bad Idea Fairy and trusty steed "Holdmybeerandwatchthis"

Intro:  I am the Bad Idea Fairy (giggle!) and my horse is a super-special Lipizzan-Morgan-Mustang Stallion.  I started the registry myself online and Fuggles is my foundation stallion.  His registered name is “HOLDMYBEERANDWATCHTHIS” because that’s what kind of registered names LipiMorStangs will have. They are beautiful and have the best of all the breeds, and they have special gates, too: the Trollopand the Cantelope™.  His breeder called him “Fuggly”, which I think is adorable, so I call him Fuggles because he’s my Snuggley-Wuggley-Fuggle-Boo.  We are going to be beautiful together and win every race.

Friday, 2 pm
Finally I’m ready to pack the trailer and load Fuggles and go to our first endurance race!  I thought that nail artist was going to take all night, but I couldn’t imagine going to such an important event without getting my fingernails painted in our barn colors—PINK and GREEN forever!

Friday, 3:30 pm
No more room in the trailer.  I tried to decide between bringing the PINK fleece cooler or the GREEN fleece cooler, and finally decided to bring them both.  Same with the saddle pad:  PINK or GREEN?  Both!  So excited.

I hope ride management will give me some hay, there wasn’t room to pack any in the trailer with all my special gear.  I bought a brand-new pink-and-green saddle on eBay, and it arrived today, hooray! Just in time for me to pack it for the ride! 

Friday, 5:30 pm
Getting dark.  I guess I’d better load Fuggle.  He’s my Sweetie-Oogy-Poo-Bear, and I just wuvs him so much!!!!  I hope he gets right into the trailer so we can go…he hasn’t been in it for two years, but I’m sure he’ll be fine, despite what happened last time.

Friday, 6:30 pm
He’s almost in the trailer!  I’ll give him another pound of sweet feed to encourage him!  He has two whorls on his head: that means that he needs lots of encouragement to reach his potential.

Friday, midnight
I thought endurance people were supposed to be nice to newcomers.  Everybody here was really grouchy when we came into camp a few minutes ago.   Even the ride manager was a grump when I knocked on her rig door.  They’re going to make me wait until morning to do my vet check—don’t they understand that the ride starts at 6am? 

Saturday morning, 1:45am
It was sweet of that couple to come out of their tent and set up my metal corral panels for me after I dropped them that third time.  I guess endurance people are nice. I’ll give Fuggles 15 pounds of grain for dinner so he’ll have lots of energy tomorrow, and then I’ll drink some whiskey to help me sleep….

Saturday, 4am
Wh-a-a-a-a-a-t???  It’s not time to get up yet!  Just stay clear of my horse!  Don’t you understand that he’s a STALLION?!!!  I’ll get up in just...a little…more…time…  (zzzzzzz)

Saturday, 6:15am
Stupid alarm didn’t go off!  If it weren’t for Fuggles kicking down his corral panels when the other horses left camp, I’d still be asleep.  Now I’ve got to see the vet and tack him up and catch up with everybody on the trail.  It’s a good thing my horse really likes to gallop!

Saturday, 7:00am
That vet is ignorant, he was so busy pretending that Fuggles was going to bite that he barely admired him at all!  Vets are such sissies about stallions.   I guess I’ll show them all when I win this thing. I’ve seen that movie “Hidalgo” about a million times, so I know all the tricks to win.

Saturday, 7:30am
On the trail at last.  We’ll gallop and catch everybody!  Go like the wind, Fuggles!  We are soo bee-yoootiful with the wind in his mane and the wind in my long, flowing hair. Helmets are so ugly, don’t you agree? And they make my hair all icky.  I hope the ride photographer gets lots of pictures of us.  Maybe we’ll be on the cover of that magazine they have.

Saturday, 8:15am
No, Fuggles, we don’t have time to stop at the water tank.  We have to go FAST! 

Saturday, 9:30am
Found the trail again.  It’s harder to watch for ribbons when I’m texting two people at once.  Must remember to only text important people.    

Saturday, 10:30am
Found the trail again.  I must have missed that turn when BFF called with the news about her and Bradsome?  So upsetting.  It would be okay if he was single, though…cute-o-potamus! 

Saturday, 11:am
The vet says that Fuggles is Grade 2 lame, but she’s an idiot.  They obviously don’t teach vets about the special gates of LipiMorstangs.  Apparently I don’t get 6 hours to finish the ride like everybody else, just because I got started late.  Now I only have an hour to get back to camp and win this thing!  Quit eating, Fuggles, we have to race and win now!

Saturday, 11:50am
Whew!  We made it to camp just in time.  Now they will take Fuggles’ pulse and we will be done.  We didn’t finish first because we got lost so much.  When I told  the manager that the ribbons were confusing, she said that the other 54 riders didn’t have any trouble.  She’s really a grump. 

Saturday, 12:30pm

Sunday, 1 pm
Well, that ride manager certainly knows how to treat people if they stick up for their rights, but I’m still outta here.  All I get for all this work is a stupid tee-shirt, no points or anything, meh, it isn’t even pink and green so it won’t go with any of my outfits.

The vet doesn’t want me to leave camp because Fuggles’ heartrate is still higher than 70, but whatever, I’ve got to get back home and get my nails re-done.  These people don’t deserve to have a great horse like Fuggles around here. 

I’m sick of endurance and these stuck-up people. 

I think I’ll do reining with Fuggles instead.  I saw a pink-and-green western saddle on eBay that will look really cute on him!

Monday, November 28, 2011

In which Endurance 101 covers food and fluids for riders

Endurance 101: Human fluids + food, and why you need them
Here’s a topic that I totally overlooked when I began riding endurance:  taking care of myself!

I studied and researched and queried and did all kinds of thinking about what (and when, and how) to feed, water and electrolyte my horse during a ride, and gave absolutely no thought whatsoever to my own metabolic needs.

And guess what?  That strategy didn’t work out nearly as well as you might think!

Endurance is hard.  To finish your event, you will want every scrap of extra energy and every single grey cell the Almighty left in your custody; you can’t afford to compromise any of those tools.  Your horse is depending upon you to take care of yourself so that you can make good decisions on his behalf!

Where I live, we don’t think much about a need to consume water.  It falls from the sky pretty constantly 11 months each year, for one thing, and it seeps into our boots pretty constantly for those same 11 months.  There’s not enough time in our 4 weeks of “summer” to bleach all the moss from Swamplanders' bones, so we really don’t think about our blood drying out.

However, when Swamplanders like me travel to rides on the Dry Side of the Cascade Mountain range (which is where most of our region’s rides are held) we encounter a totally different environment:  a place where the sky can rain down for two hours in the morning and the ground will be bone-dry by noon. 

Guess what happens to Swamplanders when they travel to dry regions without adding a lot of extra fluid to their diets?

The word shrivel comes to mind. 

If you live in a drier climate, or if you won’t be changing weather systems when you compete, your experience may not be so extreme.  However, as I discussed in the post about DIMR, 1% dehydration is enough to affect mental acuity, and not in a good way.  At 2% dehydration, your aerobic endurance performance is reduced, and this is exacerbated if you continue to exercise in a hot environment. 

Dehydration doesn’t just impair your reflexes and gross motor skills, either:  it directly affects your mental acuity and alertness, and YOU ARE GOING TO NEED ALL THAT STUFF on the endurance trail!

Sports drinks aren’t usually necessary unless you are exercising very hard in an environment much hotter than your normal training conditions, or if you are extremely sensitive to heat. If the flavor of sports drinks will encourage you to drink more fluids, consider splitting an 8-ounce sport drink between 4 large water bottles, and topping up the bottle with water.  Most sports drinks contain a bunch of sugars which can cause a severe boink when they wear off, especially if you are still an hour or two away from the vetcheck. 

So.  Drink your water.  Start consuming extra fluids two days before the ride if possible.  I understand that this makes driving long distances a bit awkward…consider, however, that your rest-stops are also brief breaks for the horses in the trailer, and that’s a good thing.  Remember that if you aren't peeing, you aren't drinking enough fluids.  Drink your water.   Drink your water.  Drink your water.   

Every rider is different and has different preferences and needs during a ride weekend.  On the evening before the ride, I strongly advise you to avoid excess alcohol (which contributes to dehydration, among other things you don’t want to cope with on ride day) and carbonated beverages (because those bubbles are really unwelcome on the first leg of a ride when the horses are all fizzy). 

Other foods that riders remind each other to avoid include chili and anything spicy.  Suffice to say that my friend Aimee and I were very glad that we had only signed up to ride a limited distance event the day after we snacked our way through a large bag of dried gourmet wasabi peas.  Save the gumbo, the greasy sausage, and the coconut rum drinks for the night after the ride.  Trust me.

Here’s my go-to list of foods for ride weekend:

Friday (day before the ride) – lots of protein, lots of crunchy veggies and fruit, and lots of water.  I try to have

·       a tuna sandwich and/or

·       a hard-boiled egg for lunch with

·       an apple and some

·       snap peas or broccoli

for dinner, I like

·       chicken + pasta + veggies for dinner (recipe below),

and I keep a ziplock bag of salted almonds and cashews in my pocket for snacks.

Saturday (day of the ride)

·       oatmeal + applesauce for breakfast, plus

·       some yogurt and

·       a banana if I can choke it down (I often have a nervous stomach before the start line)

At the vetchecks, I seek out

·       V-8 juice (an excellent source of electrolytes!) and

·       an apple or

·       some string cheese

At the lunch stop, I like

·       peanut butter + banana sandwiches

·       more V-8 juice or

·       a bottle of iced tea if the weather is hot.

I carry Belly Timber bars in my pockets during the event, because they are easy to chew, swallow, and digest, and they don’t turn disgusting if they get hot or squashed. 

I “decaffinate” myself the week before a ride because I can never choke down a whole cup of tea on ride morning, and the headache at miles 7 is unbelievable if I’m accustomed to drinking 2 or 3 cups of caffeine each morning. 

After the ride

·       PROTEIN!  This is the time that I really want meat and beans and cheese, and lots of ‘em!

·       FLAVOR!  My buddy Paul’s amazing Cajun gumbo is the best post-ride food I’ve ever had.  Lots of spice, lots of flavor.  Absolute bliss.

·       CRUNCH!  Once the ride is over, I’m willing to spend the energy to eat crispy vegetables again.  Celery, fresh snap peas, and broccoli always taste extra-good to me at dinner time.

·       A beer.  Nothin’ nicer. 

For your first few rides, pack a variety of foods to eat in camp before and after the ride, and a wide variety of stuff that you think might appeal to you at vetchecks.  Don’t forget that you will get tired—and cooking and eating seems like hard work to a tired rider. Be careful to avoid foods that sometimes bring on allergies and sensitivities during a ride weekend—the excitement and exercise may make your reactions more severe.   Bring things to eat that are “easy.”  I even know several riders who pack little jars of baby food or applesauce in their coolers. 

Keep track of what you eat and what you don’t.  I pitch all the food-trash back into a cooler, and then take notes about which packages and peelings are empty at the end of a weekend so I can figure out which foods I actually ate and which foods I ignored during the event.  The list of “foods eaten” becomes the shopping list for the next event.

“Green Stuff”: Pre-ride Pasta and Pesto and Veggies
Fresh tomatoes, mushrooms, peppers, and whatever veggies look good at the market

Mix these with:
Pesto, either homemade or from the store
Pre-cooked bite-sized chunks of chicken, beef, pork or shrimp 

Then, boil up a bag of
Fresh or frozen ravioli

When the ravioli is cooked, drain away the water and immediately add the vegetables and serve.  “Green Stuff” is the only food I’ve ever given to my young cowboy friends and had them come back and ask for another serving of vegetables.

You can toss the veggies into the water with the pasta if you like your veggies slightly softened, and then stir the pesto in after you drain away the water.

This is also very nice served cold.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

In which Endurance 101 considers post-ride recovery

Endurance 101 : after the finish line, you aren’t done yet
Congratulations, you’ve finished your first endurance event!   Time to kick back with a cold one and socialize a bit with the other riders…right?

Uh, no.  Not quite. 

Your horse worked hard all day, and you took good care of him on the trail.  This is no time to quit watching out for him!  When the excitement and adrenaline of the day’s event wear off, your horse may start feeling a little tired and sorry for himself.  In most cases, that means he’ll sleep really well through the night.   Set him up for success by anticipating his needs for the next few days.

After you finish your finish-line vetcheck, return to your camp and un-tack your noble steed with care, looking for any scrapes, bumps, swellings, rub-marks or other oddities.  If the weather allows, sponge his entire body to remove the sweat crust from his hair and skin.  Scrape off the excess water, and allow him to dry in the sun if you have any available.  If the weather is cool, cover him with a fleece or wool sheet; if the weather is cold, clean him as thoroughly as you can without chilling those hard-working muscles and put a blanket on him. 

It’s not necessary to use liniment, but it won’t do any harm. (I love the smell of liniment, don't you?).  Avoid applying alcohol-based cleansers to scraped or rubbed hide!   Remember that, even if your horse is not normally blanketed at home, an extra layer may be a welcome layer for fatigued muscles.

Make sure he has plenty of food and water available.  It’s okay to make his hay “free-choice” at this point, and if he’s a fan of beet pulp, go ahead and fill the bucket full.  Equine nutritionists like Susan Garlinghouse, DVM recommend that endurance horses not eat a full grain-meal before a long-distance ride, but some grain after the event is okay.  I take a normal grain meal and divide it into three or four portions for ride day, feeding one small portion with breakfast and the others at vetchecks and after the ride. 

Wait until he’s stopped stuffing his face to administer a dose of electrolytes.  Many horses dislike the taste of electrolytes so much that they’ll quit eating for a while after a dose.  If your horse loves to eat, you can sprinkle some electrolytes into the beetpulp if you’ve practiced this ahead of time and know that he will eat it.  (If there’s any doubt about how your horse feels about electrolytes, wait until he’s had plenty of food to give him a dose of it.)  Keep an eye on the water bucket, also:  eating hay encourages horses to drink water, and hydration is a condition devoutly to be desired.

What about alfalfa?  There’s a bit of arguing back-and-forth about alfalfa as a feed for endurance horses, but in general after a ride, I throw a few handfuls on top of the hay pile.  I tend to think of alfalfa as a “garnish,” like whipped cream and a cherry, rather than a food, like a plate of spaghetti.  If you want good information about feeding alfalfa to distance horses, I recommend an article written by Susan Garlinghouse, posted here: If your horse seems picky about food after a long day of work, by all means offer a flake of alfalfa to re-ignite the appetite.

If your horse is a picky eater, or seems disinterested in food after an event, seek out some fresh green grass.  A horse who is not interested in good grass may be experiencing early symptoms of colic, so if he turns up his nose at grass or alfalfa (especially if he is the kind of horse who normally loves his food), listen with your stethoscope (or your ear) to his gut sounds.  If you don’t hear noises that sound like the “scrub” cycle of a clothes washing machine, it’s time to ask for some veterinary advice.  Early intervention is the best kind.

Take your horse for a quiet stroll after he’s been back in camp for a few hours.  Make a point of visiting all the water tanks, walking slowly enough for your horse to grab a bite of grass every few strides.  Stop and talk to people as you meander through the camp.  Ask other people about their day, and be ready to talk about yours.  It doesn’t matter how long it takes you to walk around camp; the important point is that you allow your horse to stretch his legs and un-kink his muscles before he settles down for the night.

Some folks swear by a mud poultice after a long ride to cool the legs, support the tendons, and reduce “stocking up” (puffiness in the lower legs) following exercise.  I have never needed to poultice legs thus far, and I can almost always find a deep spot of cool creek water to stand my horse in, or a hose, or even a deep rubber bucket.  (Please note that my horse is abnormally tolerant of my strange requests, including a request for her to stand with her hind legs in deep rubber buckets of cool water). 

If you would like to apply a poultice, there are excellent instructions posted on Karen Chaton’s blog here:  She very-correctly cautions that if you haven’t applied leg bandages before, get somebody to teach you to do it properly. 

Ice boots are a good alternative to a poultice.  Ice boots are strapped on like shipping or splint boots, using Velcro.  They are generally filled with gel-packs designed to be frozen and thawed many times; I buy replacement gel-packs inexpensively at the marine supply stores near home that serve sports fisherman. 

Some horses like to be fussed over and groomed after a ride, and others prefer to be left alone. The gelding I rode for years was a social butterfly, and would happily follow me everywhere through camp as I did a million little tasks.  My current mare prefers to turn her face to the trailer, cock a hip and ignore the rest of the world while she naps.  She doesn’t want me to bother her unless I am bringing apples and carrots.  Fiddle doesn’t even want to look at her best buddy/pasture-mate when she’s tired; instead, she kicks the hay around so that she can eat with her back facing Hana.   Learn what is normal for your horse, and try to abide by his preferences whenever possible. 

Before you go to bed for the night, take a quick walk around camp with your horse.  Does he seem interested in the activities of others?  Does he want to eat grass?  Does he try to grab the food on the ground spilled by other horses?  Does he stride out eagerly, and will he keep up with you as you stride briskly along?  Those are all good things.   

The morning after the ride is a repeat of the evening routine.  Supply plenty of food and water, run your hands over your horse's body to note any tenderness or swelling, note his eagerness and interest in the activities around you.  Take him for a walk to loosen up his muscles. After he’s finished his breakfast, a dose of electrolytes may help him maintain hydration during the trailer ride home.

Break up your camp, and get everything ready to load your horse.  Take one more quick walk around camp with your horse and stop at the water tank to give him one more opportunity to drink some water before you leave.  Then, load him up and head on home!

If your drive is more than 4 hours, try to stop every 2-3 hours for 15 minutes or so to give your horse a break (these rest breaks can be re-fueling and potty-break stops for you as well!).  Offer water or a few bites of sloppy beetpulp, or a handful of carrots and apples.  My horses travel with hay bags in the trailer, so they often “eat their way home” from an event, arriving home just a little fatter than when they left for a long weekend of hard riding!

For the next 3 or 4 days, keep a closer-than-usual eye on your faithful steed.  Make sure he continues to eat and drink normally. You may want to continue providing electrolyte supplements for a day or two after returning home to encourage your horse to drink plenty of water.

Monitor his enthusiasm for being turned loose in the pasture, and compare his post-ride behavior with his normal behavior.  If you see anything that seems abnormal, call your vet and explain what you see.  With experience, you will learn how quickly your horse “bounces back” from an event.  He may seem a little quieter for a few days, or he may seem especially bossy when he is turned out with his usual herd. 

After a few days, you might want to work him lightly, beginning with a short arena session or even a hand-walk down the road.  I usually wait a week to ride after a difficult 50-mile ride to return to our normal trail-riding routine; the time off after a shorter event may be shorter depending on the experience level and fitness of the horse. 

When I see my horse trotting around the pasture and chasing the goats as she did before we left for the ride, I know it’s time to go back to work.