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Posts Tagged ‘horses’

Summer Riding

Heat Index chart

It has been a particularly hot summer here in New Jersey. Listening to the weather channel indicates we are not the only ones setting a record number of days above 90º. During the summer the barn conversations invariably roll around to getting all the rides done early in the morning. As I listen to the schedules and look at all the gear on the horses I find myself to be the eccentric rider. But all my antics have a factual basis for them, I am mindful, however, that I don’t always work the fact right.

From my youthful wanderings around the country I know that humidity prevents effective evaporation and evaporation is the body’s major cooling mechanism for humans and horses. I also know that air movement aids in that evaporation.

Every location’s climate is different, but here in the Garden state our humidity is always higher in the morning hours, dropping around 11 am and staying lower until the day is almost evening. Lower is relative, a Jersey summer day can start out with 80-90% humidity in the early hours and drop to 60% by lunch. Dry by Louisiana standards and a sopping mess by New Mexico’s numbers. The stillness of the morning almost always gives way to a 4-7 mile-per-hour wind by lunch, adding another cooling dimension.

So, despite the rise in the mercury bulb during the summer, I often find the boys and I are more comfortable riding a bit later in the day when the morning humidity drops and the afternoon breeze sets in.

I’ve tried to explain this to friends but get tongue-tied and lost amidst explanations of evaporation, convection, conduction and radiation as forms of heat transfer. (maybe it’s a “tion” thing) And the “heat index” or “real feel” temperature given with the weather report is just a mathematical equation based on a subjective study. Wind is rarely mentioned as a cooling effect in the summer, but we get a daily wind chill report in the winter. Why the weatherman discounts the wind’s affect on heat is beyond me. How do they think the idea of fans came into being?

Then there is the ride itself. My summer rides follow the shady side of the path or the forest edge of a field. Working near a river is sure to have a cooler microclimate – nature’s air conditioner. Avoiding fields with vegetation above 18 inches allows the horses’ bodies to feel breezes and keeps the bugs down too. Tall grass works like its own little insulation factory. I run through the sun and slow in the shade. Sometimes the shade of an indoor doesn’t compensate for the higher humidity lurking inside; a contribution from each horse ridden in it over the last 24 hours. California and Florida have simple roofs over their rings to abate the sun – what a great idea.

River walking is a special delight as the horse comes out cooler than when he went in. I was once fortunate to have a solid-bottom, shallow river by me and the boys and I spent many days walking a mile or more in the cool water. Great work for their muscles and their work-out was their cool-down for the day.

If the summer humidity is below 60% I will wet my horses down before I ride them, being careful to scrap all the excess water off. Odd thing water, it cools the veins, yet can generate an insulation effect if left to soak on the horse and weigh the hair coat against the skin trapping in the body’s heat, or robbing it in the winter. But then I’ve never understood why ice floats. Water is nature behaving oddly. And all of my friends think the saddle and pad will fall off if I place them on a wet horse. It’s a trick I learned from endurance riders and they are not known for their saddles sliding wrong side up. I did work with an FEI instructor once who knew this trick with horses and used it on her students as well, sponging us down as we listened how to perfect a movement.

rubbing alcohol by the gallon

When the humidity gets high I use alcohol baths to rinse the boys off. Alcohol or Vetrolin in a bucket of water sponged on and scraped off, evaporates quickly leaving them to be put away cool and dry.

The boys are good travelers so I dispense with leg wraps during summer travel, preferring bell boots to protect heels if there is a short stop. The major blood vessels running down each leg are a significant heat transportation highway- no use making the horse hotter than the day already will. I eliminate polo and other leg wraps for the same reason unless there truly is an orthopedic risk without them. I dress down myself in the summer and do the same for the horses.

Taking note of how the sun and shade, moisture and air swirl around you each day may give you new ideas of when and how you ride. Summer doesn’t always mean you have to be a morning person. Here’s a link to some good extension articles on keeping horses out of danger in the summer.

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Reading through some of my posts it is pretty obvious that I lean towards research topics. I have no scientific background and can’t pronounce most of the terminology used in scientific reports, but my mind tends to always be asking questions and that runs it into the world of research papers. Through scientific endeavors we know a lot more about horses these days then we knew in the past, but there are still an awful lot of topics left on desktops with no funding to initiate.

Research on horses is expensive and most horse studies use a very small population because of the expense. Think about it; it is pretty expensive to have a hundred or more horses around for a research project: land, feed, labor–– Cha-ching, cha-ching. There are also rules that have to be abided by. Most research is done through academic organizations and they have ethics boards on how the animals can be handled or treated and they are very susceptible to lobby groups. So if you wanted to do a study where you tested the reaction of a horse to a tap on the nose by your finger, you might not be able to get that approved. A finger tap could be defined as cruel in some interest group’s vocabulary. And there are things that we, as a society in the West, just won’t tolerate. You can do all sorts of nutrition tests on pigs because pigs are a food source. You test protein and you can put the pig down and necropsy it and look for findings. The pigs life is limited anyway. You can’t really do that with horses, certainly not on a research scale.

Yet, it is through research that we find stuff out, learn to eliminate harmful things and incorporate beneficial things for our animals. Just doing chemistry equations doesn’t really work; if it did we would have an answer to all the world’s diseases. Just play a game of chemical bonds between the bad-guys-disease-makers and the medicines. The pharmaceutical libraries are full of papers on what should happen, but what in fact did not happen.

But now we have the Internet. My son has his extra CPU power harnessed by Stanford for a gnome project, gamers are connecting and creating whole fantasy societies and people are connecting to share ideas around the world. What if we all could share a research project?

I first started thinking about this when I heard a podcast by the Science Times (New York Times) on Moebius Syndrome. A researcher connected into that particular population affected by this syndrome and asked for volunteers to take a survey. She got a really good response. Cornell is doing a study on skeletal variations of the horse and they put ads in horse publications and sent packets to horse owners for measurements. And just this week I received a survey from a Ph.D. candidate doing a project on horse personalities. (You can participate through a link below)

Now putting surveys in the hands of untrained scientists can be a can of worms. But let’s be optimistic and say you could develop a survey that allowed you to detect the outliers and wild cards. Going to the masses might give enough information that would make a follow-up project much more informative and meaningful because you would have already narrowed down a focus through those survey results.

I’ll bet every vet has a few clients in his or her practice that they feel confident in. They are the clients that the vet knows really follow the instructions: the wound is hosed twice a day for 20 minutes-really. The eye drops are put in every three hours around the clock- really. The horse is walked 1 hour a day for 10 days – really. Why couldn’t these individuals be asked to join a “survey army”?  We are talking about basic research, but let’s say you want to do research on horses drinking after work in hot weather. Wouldn’t it be great to get 300 inputs to that question instead of 15? It could be done. Yes, lots of work and effort to come up with a standardization procedure, but think of the payouts. And once a procedure has been developed it can become an industry standard and used throughout. Think of the potential world-wide. There is a lot of information and a lot of variances that could be discovered.

The fact of the matter is that we really are at a point where this is being done by researchers. We just need to expand our horizons and get more equine researchers thinking this way. We can participate in helping to discover the magic that makes up a horse.

If you have 20 minutes why not try your hand at being part of a research army. Rachel Kristiansen at the University of Mississippi is conducting a survey about horse personalities. Take Ms Kristiansen’s survey and become an active member in helping to help your horse.

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new research on livestock nutrition

One of my annual March sojourns is to partake of the Mid-Atlantic Nutrition Conference. I come away filled with adrenaline and excitement: my brain neurons firing away at all the paths those little research tidbits lead me down. None of my conjectures  have any scientific backing, but they are still worth a moment  or two of wonder. I noticed some interesting directions from the conference this year.

It might help for you to understand what this conference is all about–– livestock nutrition. Primarily dairy cattle, poultry and equine. This is where the academic researchers, feed mills, veterinarians and large livestock producers go to find out what are the newest research studies and theories on animal nutrition. You are not going to get razzle-dazzle slides here; you are going to get charts and ugly photos. But you walk out with a good sense of what isn’t known, what needs to be studied and a few sentences of something that has finally been proven.

It always reminds me the road to knowledge is a long one and that the body is blessedly complex.  I hope to post a number of entries over the next several weeks on specific topics covered at the conference along with my thoughts and questions. But for now I am still cogitating on a number of overall directions and impressions from my time in Maryland.

  • There was a new word thrown around quite liberally phenotype. Phenotype refers to the OBSERVABLE characteristics of an organism that has resulted from the interaction of its genotype and environment. It is an old word, but is being picked up and used more regularly in the scientific community. One might say that I am a phenotype for heart attacks; I have a chicken physique. (we’re using silly examples here, folks.) All fat lands in a plumb Buddha belly with nary an ounce going into my legs or butt. Observable characteristics are the belly fat. My mother and father had the same structure. This predisposition is most likely a genetic code of where my family line should store fat. Environment characteristics are the incessant putting of a full fork into my mouth. And now we have research to show that belly fat is hormonally active and a leading cause of heart attack. So I could stand as a phenotype for humans courting heart attacks. Or I could be a fat horse and the phenotype for laminitis.

There was a lot of discussion of the laminitic, IR and obese horse phenotype.

  • I think this word is being used more often because of another trend- the researchers are looking really small. Better technology has helped here as well as directions in human medicine. And in looking really small they are finding that the organism is REALLY connected. A cure for laminitis isn’t going to come by just looking at the inflammation of the feet. That is a sign, but now they are realizing that there are a lot of things on the cellular level that might cause inflammation in a body structure that might send hormone signals to other parts of the body that might start another cascade of seemingly unrelated events that end up in the feet. In looking really small, researchers are broadening their horizons.
  • Researchers are starting to whisper in the hallways about the failures. No one studies the failures in a research project. Part of that is due to the “system” of publishing papers where talking about failures is likely to result in a failure of the paper to get published. One of the speakers mentioned that in a clinically induced challenge of horses with genetic predispositions for laminitis, 20% of them never get laminitis. Their results are left in the paper trail that hits the circular file. Yet, this researcher had the strength to pause and say, folks someone should study these failures- what have they got in their systems that the other horses don’t have. (Please remember a failure is what does not prove the hypothesis. So if the hypothesis is that lush green grass will produce laminitis and these predisposed horses didn’t get it. Well, they “failed” in that they did not prove the point where as the other 80% did get it and proved the hypothesis.- Okay, okay- it’s a very simplistic explanation to help get across a very complex point.)

I’m not a scientist, but I find this thrilling stuff.  Finally the research industry is connecting the smaller dots that make up the larger ones. I also find it overwhelming- the amount we now know we don’t know. Dr. Raymond Goer from the University of Michigan School of Veterinary Medicine said it nicely,

“I know a lot less than I did a year ago. And I know a whole lot less than I knew two years ago.”

We are having to step back to go forward, but it is putting us on a better path.

Oh, and that word “phenotype” bet you see it everywhere now.


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Ford's 1939 rendition of Stagecoach is a classic

We just got hit with a cold rainy weekend. I gravitate towards the fire and a good “sunny” movie on such occasions. Last night it was John Ford’s 1939 rendition of Stagecoach with John Wayne. An old black and white video,  but the content is wonderful and just scratches an itch for a good action movie with lots of horses and the white hats winning.

I’ve seen a lot of horse films and have to say, reviewing Stagecoach really focused my attention on the quality of horse wrangling and camera angles. I’m not a film expert, but I believe this was one of the first big talking pictures. John Ford had a knack for camera angles, or he had the market on a camera man who did. Slowly raising an askew hat to reveal a lascivious eye says more in 15 seconds then 10 minutes of speech. No wonder this film put John Wayne into the Hollywood A list.

Stagecoach was also one of the first films to step out of the Hollywood studio and film the action on location. Anyone holding a video camera taping a lesson will be appreciative of the steady action in most of the chase scenes and the innovative angles of horses coming over the camera. Where was that camera placed?

Normally my eye picks up a lame horse in a nano second, it just cuts out everything else happening in the film, but I didn’t get stuck on any lame steeds in this one. They may have been there, but angled so as not to distract. All the beasts looked shinny and well cared for and very well-trained.

And the riding- please Lord, let me have a seat like the Calvary officer before I die. Stuck, stuck I say, to the saddle. I will no doubt slow motion that scene for the next three weeks looking at body angles, hip closures and mark up my TV screen with lines of planes running through all those angles.

If you get a copy, check out the Indian on a pinto, galloping full tilt and loading a gun, no reins in sight. His upper body looks as stable as if he were standing on the ground. Ecstasy for an equestrian. Made me sit up and take notice.

Then there was the 6-in-hand (I don’t know driving terminology) pulling the stagecoach at break neck speed for quite-a-ways.

six horses pulling away

How about swimming them across a river. The scene breaks off before the stagecoach comes out of the water and I highly suspect it was actually a raft they were pulling. The marvels of editing and the human’s mind willing to believe any suggestion.

Films now-a-days show precious few moments of horse action and often the camera zooms in on the rider’s face. Stagecoach reveled in a long chase sequence and kept the camera close enough to see what the riders were doing, but framed the entire horse-rider unit in most of the shots. There were horses in the background for the majority of the outdoor scenes.

Most of the stunt riders were out of the rodeo and someday I’ll blog a bit more about them. But today I just want to enjoy the sweetness of great riders racing across wide open country, all caught on film for me to enjoy. Outta my way folks, I’ve got a stagecoach to catch.

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