Several weeks ago – not too long before the heat wave – I was riding Chance and suddenly realized I was thinking about racing him at Kentucky Downs. I couldn’t believe it. I was day dreaming while riding!
Since then I have been so much more relaxed, especially on Zola. Not that I was tense, but I didn’t have the naturalness and lack of concern that I had years ago when I rode regularly. I guess it could be called trust – not just in the horses, but in myself. Being comfortable in the saddle, no matter what I was doing.
Like bike riding, horseback riding is something you never forget, but if you stop bike riding for 10 or 15 years, you lose the naturalness you had years before. When I was in my early teens, I practically lived on my bike in the summer. I could ride with no hands for a very long way (miles). I could stop in a skid without thinking about it, I could coast in to a stop while standing up, on one side of the bike, standing on one pedal with one foot, while the other leg hung free. I never gave it a thought it just happened one day, naturally, and became part of my my muscle memory.
When I bought a bike in 2001 (at the age of 50) it was a very different story. I felt awkward. Turning was unnatural, stopping was unnatural. I had to think and plan. Then one day several weeks later, I realized I was riding with no hands. Just like that, it was back. Without a thought, without trying.
That’s what’s happened with my riding. Suddenly I feel just like I did when I rode all the time. At home in the saddle. Natural, comfortable, unconcerned. I don’t know when it happened, just when I noticed it. And what a great feeling it is!!
Last night, when the alarm on the HR computer went off, and I brought Chance to a walk, I didn’t feel he didn’t want to do anything, but like me, he didn’t really want to go around the track. Booooring. So I turned to the right and as soon as I did, Chance’s ears perked up. We rode toward the hill to the outside of the track – fairly steep but not long – and headed up. Chance broke into a trot, and then a canter. We turned left at the top and came down the slope (at a walk) that runs in the same direction as the track, then turned left again into a circle that led us back up the hill a second time. We came down again and headed back up the track the “wrong” way. Chance was trotting and I figured he was eager to be done and get his grain. But no, when we got to the spot where I normally dismount, he resisted stopping, so we just continued the wrong way down the stretch. We kept going straight, ignoring the turn, and headed to the road. Deciding to see how hard it would be – or if it would even be possible – to get to the big hill, we crossed the road and continued further down to an open area.
Turning left into the open area, we found it quickly narrowed into what might have been a path years ago. Chance was a little concerned, but much better than I expected. We plowed our way through thick weeds, crossed big flat rocks, went down into a little gulley, then back up the other side. Crossed fallen trees and twisted our way through undergrowth and woods. I know I was having fun and I think Chance was too.
We did make it to the hill! And we headed up. This part of the hill is wide open and just long grass. Last year it was mowed, so I know what the ground is like, and had no concerns about hidden holes or rocks. We walked for a short while, then Chance wanted to trot. I was amazed what a smooth, airy trot it was. He didn’t seem to be working hard at all. Eventually, he broke into a canter which felt just as good, answering the question,”is he fit enough to gallop up the hill?” I would say a definite yes!
At the top, I decided I didn’t want to try to find our way back through the woods, so opened the gate that leads into the horse enclosure and headed back that way. This of course required getting off and then getting back on – which was again, not pretty, but Chance was a trooper and didn’t move a muscle.
What a blast!
Interestingly, though we were out for quite a while altogether, the max heart rate remained 174, and the average HR for the entire ride – including the hill climbings was 159.
Below are some shots of the hill. In the first one, taken partway up and looking back down, you can see the hill in the field where the track is (sunny area to the right). All these photos were taken late last September. It looks very different now. The grass on the hill is over waist high, and if you look to the right of the fence, where all the weeds are, that is all now grazed down. Behind the clump of trees is a barn, and that tree that stands alone is huge and is in front of the barn. The power lines are about halfway up.
Click on images to view larger version.
At the end of the ride, I took off the monitor and realized why I can’t consistently get the HR monitor to report a heart rate. I do not girth up as tight as necessary to keep the electrode pressed against his skin. I’m not going to girth up any tighter, so will have to work out another solution. Maybe a pad between the sensor and the girth – to keep it closer to the skin. As for the GPS – it really does require a battery fresh out of the charger only minutes before use. That is extremely annoying, but easily solved.
Later, after I fed Chance his grain, I walked down to the end of the road to check something. On the other side of the fence, Zola whinnied and followed along. I took that to mean, “what about me?” “What about me?” I ducked in and gave her some scratches – how can you resist a horse who’s so clearly asking for attention? Makes me feel good that she wanted her turn.
I had ridden Zola the day before. It was hot and humid, so I kept it short. She was very good. We trotted and walked, stopped and started, cut across the center of the track for the heck of it, and to practice steering. She did everything I asked and was a good girl!
The day before, I rode Chance. I didn’t feel well, as I’d done too much mowing in the heat, but I wanted to work on getting the HR monitor and GPS down. We didn’t go far, 1.02 miles, we did gallop, with a max speed of 18.7 mph, and a max heart rate of only 115. And the HR monitor and GPS were both working. So I was pleased.
I’m still working on mastering the computer and the data on the web to get the data in graphical format. Quite a challenge, especially as the manual is terrible. Googling for better instructions revealed I am not alone in finding the manual lacking. Apparently the manual for a similar product is much better – so I have downloaded it and will read it later. I can only hope it clears some things up for me.
I have heard the squeaky noise many times. It appears to be something only male horses do.
None of my horses did it all the time, and I always noticed when they did. My first thought has always been that perhaps the bladder is full, or something. I have never believed the commonly accepted reasons for it – that the sheath needs cleaning or that air is trapped in there. I just did a google search in hope of finding a veterinary answer, but only found the usual.
However, in one response I read the person said their gelding only did it when he was agitated. I of course believe it’s more likely to be the other way around – it causes him to be agitated.
It doesn’t make sense to me that it’s related to a dirty sheath – then the horse would do it continually. Ditto air. But then why is it males only??
Oh if only horse researchers were as curious about the whys as computer scientists!!! How often do computer geniuses just throw out and accept off the cuff excuses?
Last night I rode Chance, and of course continued to try to get the heart rate monitor and GPS both working at the same time!
I soaked the belt in water while I got Chance. Applied gel to the first electrode, which goes on Chance’s right side, just behind the wither. This one stays in place well. Then put the saddle pad on, and the saddle, applied gel to the electrode that goes under the girth, down behind Chance’s elbow. Then attached the strap to the electrode, which wraps around the girth for security. I then put on the GPS transmitter, which is on an elastic strap that goes around my upper arm (left arm), and the HR computer watch, which I wear on my left wrist. Put my helmet on and bridled Chance. I felt good! Things had gone smoothly, and I thought, “I’m getting the hang of this!”.
I turn the GPS on and see the blinking red light which means it’s searching for satellites. Good. We get to the mounting block and I get on. My plan was to turn the watch on just before we hit the track, so that the time is accurate. I turn the watch on and wait for the heart rate to come up. It’s then that I realize that I forgot to attach the transmitter to the belt! OMG. I ride Chance over to the trailer, hop off and attach the transmitter. I struggle to get back on – I haven’t mounted without a mounting block since 2009. Chance was so good! He stood still while I clambered up.
Walking back across the road to the track, the computer beeps and says Check GPS. I check the GPS and it’s off. I turn it back on, see the blinking red light – for 4 or 5 blinks – then it goes off. I give up on it, clearly the battery had been out of the charger too long!!!! Of all the annoying things. By now I am frustrated but happy to see a heart rate of 31. However, the fun is going out of riding.
We walk around the track halfway and then trot to get away from a big horse fly – it’s after 7 pm! Neither Chance nor I is really interested in working at this point, so he is trotting relaxed and slow. As we go around the clubhouse turn, the watch starts beeping. I look at it and see a HR of 174! (I had made changes last night, setting HR zones, hence the beeping.) I am shocked to see such a high heart rate. This is the second highest reading ever – with the highest rate coming at full gallop. I had watched the HR before, and with a good solid trot Chance’s HR had been 99.
I immediately asked Chance to walk. He seemed fine, I had noticed absolutely nothing out of the ordinary, except he was making that “squeaky” noise geldings make, which he normally doesn’t do. Other than that he seemed uninterested in working. The only thing different than normal was that he had been out grazing for an hour prior to my tacking him up, and I let him have a small drink on our way to the trailer. And by small, I mean 7 or 8 swallows. Could either or both of those things caused his heart rate to be high?
And here is where I see the real value of a heart rate monitor. As a rider I can feel certain things about my horse. I can tell when he’s off, I can tell when he’s not interested, I can feel when he’s eager to go, etc. But since horses are prey animals they tend to try to act as normal as possible. What are they hiding? We normally have no way of knowing – often until it’s too late. Horses have been known to die while being ridden. Most often it’s assumed it’s a “sudden” death. Perhaps it’s not so sudden. Perhaps the horse was in distress for some time, but as instinct demands, was acting normal.
I would like to see HR monitors made much smaller and simpler and have them be worn by all racehorses while training or racing. A higher than normal heart rate for a particular activity could mean many things; illness, stress, pain, that the horse had just taken a big drink of water before being tacked up for morning exercise, etc. Maybe horses who break down have skyrocketing heart rates from the pain of fatigue. Maybe horses that die of “heart attacks” had heart rates off the chart and if they had been pulled up, might have been fine when the cause was determined. Whatever an abnormal heart rate means, it certainly shouldn’t be ignored.
The other day an email from ThoroEdge Equine Performance included the following link:
The article made a lot of sense to me and prompted me to go out and measure the hill on the farm. Taking my wrist GPS, I hiked up the hill. I should say here that I have two GPS’s, my wrist Garmin for hiking, etc., and the Polar G1 which just transmits speed, distance, etc., to the Polar HR monitor wrist computer. The GPS revealed that the distance to the meadow at the top of the hill is 1056 feet (.2 miles or 1.6 furlongs) and the change in elevation is over 100 feet. So it’s a fairly steep slope, without being too steep. The horses frequently gallop up it, so it’s certainly rideable.
There is a way up the hill without going into the horses’ enclosure. It’s currently blocked by a fence, but my youngest son, Mike, will be here in a couple days, and my plan is to create a gate so that I can ride through. I will, of course, let Chance pick his own gait and pace until he gets fit enough to canter up the hill while carrying a rider. It will be interesting to see if his heart rate lowers as he gets more fit. I personally used to be able to hear my own heart beat the first dozen times I went up. I no longer hear it, and it doesn’t pound like it used to, but it sure does beat pretty hard.
Seeing the way Chance has become so eager to run, and how he just pounds over the hard, hard ground, I think I’ve stumbled onto a good training regimen. Every other day, not every day.
I also think that galloping slow is perhaps not the best way to condition a horse to run a mile and 1/4 or less. It’s just too easy for them. I am a believer of long, slow distance to strengthen tendons, especially on young horses, but once a horse is racing – or has raced for years – I don’t think LSD is necessary. Especially on horses like Chance, who have full-time turnout on acres of varied terrain.
Years ago, I bought Tom Ivers’ book, The Fit Racehorse. And I read it too. My brain thought it made sense, but my gut said not really. I noticed, then, that no one had reported tremendous success using interval training, and now I am not surprised. It’s just way too much work, and too hard on their legs. Horses are not humans, they are born to run. Running them into the ground is not the way.
There are people who believe a version of interval training would work, but I’m not sure anyone is doing it, aside from Standardbred trainers and some Arab trainers. And trotting or pacing is very different from running. I really think heart rate is key – and the limiting factor. The faster a horse can go without sending his heart rate rocketing into the stratosphere, the better runner he or she should be.
I am so glad that I bought that heart rate monitor! Now I can’t wait to start taking Chance to Churchill, where he can run freely without the danger of tight turns – and to see what his heart rate is, and if it improves with each trip to the track.
I am not usually technologically challenged, but the heart rate monitor, the computer watch, and the GPS are trying me!
Tuesday it was hot. I went out to get Chance at 6:30, ready to set up the monitor and ride. Of course, no sooner do I tie him to the trailer, than I hear thunder and see clouds over the hill. Great. I briefly considered forgetting about riding, and just putting Chance away, but gauged the risk and decided to at least tack him up and see if I could get a reading on his heart rate.
I had a fresh battery in the GPS and it found satellites. Success! I attached the monitor, and activated it by installing the receiver. I turned on the computer, which is like a watch, and lo and behold – there was a heart rate! I felt incredibly lucky. It turned out not to be as hard as I’d remembered. I decided to push my luck with the weather a little bit more, and put the bridle on Chance. His heart rate was steady at 44. I was excited to see what happened when we went from walk to trot.
Naturally, what happened was that I lost the heart rate! Bringing Chance back to a walk, I fiddled with the watch but couldn’t get a reading. By then the wind had picked up and the storm was getting closer, so I called it a day. I was very disappointed. Everything had seemed to go so smoothly, only to end up in failure.
All was not lost however. I did successfully upload the tiny bit of data I had to Polar’s website, and learned how to view it as a chart. Now if I can just get the heart rate monitor on securely enough.
I worked all day Wednesday, so didn’t ride. Yesterday, it was really hot and humid. At 6:3o I got Chance and tacked him up. It was so humid that sweat was literally running down my face. And worse – there was another storm coming! Deja vu!
Evidently the GPS needs a completely fresh, recharged battery, it refused to work. This time I not only wet the sensors on the monitor, but also applied gel to get the best signal possible. Got a reading of 44, which dipped to 41 as we started walking around the track. Moving to a trot, the display on the watch changed and I couldn’t see the heart rate. I brought Chance to a walk, riding with one hand, looking at the watch, and pushing buttons with the other hand. Got a reading for a while, moved back into a trot and the display changed again. Three laps of walk/trot later, I gave up on the monitor. Chance was feeling good and wanted to gallop, so I let him.
I’m getting more fit! Enjoyed galloping along. As did Chance. At one point, approaching the far turn, I realized we were going way too fast. We slowed down enough to avoid catastrophe, but still were going way too fast around the turn. Luckily nothing bad happened. Will not let that happen again!
It was awesome to feel Chance just wanting to run, especially on that hard ground. After we were done, and I had fed Chance, I took photos of the track. Directly below is a photo of what the ground is like on the far turn, and on the stretch. As you can see, despite the fact that we did 7 laps, there is not one hoof print. There is no cushion of any kind.
Below is a photo of the “good” part of the track. It used to be nice thick grass and Chance loved it. The heat wave/drought really had an effect and it doesn’t look great, and is hard also.
I downloaded the data to Polar’s site to view it, and was glad to see that though I hadn’t been able to see it, the heart rate readings were there. Without the GPS data, it’s not complete, but was still interesting. Chance’s heart rate hit a high of 213 – which I assume is when we were flying down the backstretch. His average heart rate was 159. We spent 1:06 with his heart rate in Zone 5 (I did not set the zones, but think I can) where his HR ranged between 143 – 157. We spent 2:50 in Zone 4 – where the HR ranged between 111 – 126. But without the GPS data, there is no way to know the speed or distance. Still it was working so I’m happy.
Just had a great ride on Zola. So pleasant to be relaxed riding her. She has really matured these past few months.
We actually trotted two entire laps of the track. We walked at one spot and she was slightly balky about continuing – she wanted to be done – but a nice smack on the shoulder and she went on again, and into a trot. She has never balked at the trot once she is trotting. She kept a nice relaxed rhythm and I never had to think about steering.
Our second time down the backside she took half a canter stride, but since I was posting, felt out of rhythm with me and immediately shifted back to trot. But it was very nice and relaxed.
I nearly had a heart attack yesterday. As usual, I turned the horses loose at about 5:30 (am). I keep a casual eye on them, and know their routine. Around 10 I looked out and saw they were encroaching on the yard. That is just about when they are tired of eating and looking for only the tastiest bits. I brandished my driving whip and sent them back to the field. Normal.
A few minutes later I looked out to see where they were, as normally they would be making another foray into the yard. I didn’t see them out of the windows, so went outside, as they can be in one corner of the field that’s not visible from the trailer. To my shock (and horror) I could see NO horses at all. Not one!! OMG!! AHHHHH! Alright, don’t panic, I told myself, they’ve probably finally realized they can go over the ridge to the other side – where there is more grass. So I walk up the hill to the top of the ridge and look. NO horses!
I walk back, get my truck keys, whip, and halter and lead. I cannot believe they all marched up the road and left! My feelings are hurt as well. Just as I am about to get in the truck, here they all come – over the ridge. Where they were hiding I don’t know, but I was very relieved to see them.
For the most part though, life on the farm is relaxing. I love the privacy. I love the view. I love the illusion that I am in the middle of nowhere. I love that the horses can roam free. I enjoy it all and really, aside from needing money to live and support the horses, I want nothing else than to live here and enjoy my horses and the farm.
There is a doe the horses and I see regularly (they point her out and then I see her). Yesterday I was the one to spot her, and for the first time she wasn’t alone – she had two little fawns tagging along behind. I’m sure she had them stashed somewhere and now that they are older (no spots) she is teaching them about the world.
The day before yesterday, I saw a red fox on the hill, answering the question – are there any foxes around? The coyotes can be heard singing. And in the spring, hearing and seeing the turkeys was a real treat. There are abundant birds – ones I know and ones I don’t. I have a chair under the two big pine trees by the fence corner, and I sit there enjoying it all while I fill the trough, or just watch the horses in the field.
It doesn’t get any better than this.
I’ve been reading the Paulick Report (www.thepaulickreport.com) about the Senate hearing on the need for drug oversight in the racing industry. I agree that racing needs oversight. It’s been proven that racing will not or cannot police itself. Even those found cheating are seldom punished, no matter how many offenses they have. I have to say I am proud of Kentucky for not granting Rick Dutrow a trainers license. But of course, that is not real punishment.
Reading is good – but listening to the idiotic, defensive, arguments FOR drugs has been very discouraging. Thanks to Dr. Larry Bramlage and his propaganda campaign regarding Bute being nothing but aspirin, many believe (or profess to believe) that Bute is not a powerful painkiller. There are even those who deny it’s a painkiller at all!!! Merely an anti-inflammatory. Worse than the self-serving blindness regarding Bute, is the attitude drugs are not only necessary, but okay. People argue that horses DESERVE drugs. If they have problems, should they suffer??? It’s just aspirin after all.
In addition, those who speak up for clean racing are attacked and vilified and accused of making something out of nothing, of lying, and of not knowing what they’re talking about.
The ignorance level is very discouraging. Few seem to recognize the problem (aside from animal abuse) is public perception of racing. I posted that for every racing fan there are thousands who are not racing fans. That there are millions of people who are tired of animal abuse and of horses dying. These people have power (as they should) and the slaughter industry has learned that they can’t be ignored. And truly, if racing continues on the way it is, people will demand it be banned.
Of course no one responded to that post. And I don’t think they believe it will really happen.
I have to say that if I were not trying to make a difference – for the horses – I would wash my hands of racing and be done with it. Maybe racing is too big to change. Maybe it’s too late.
It seems that every time drugs come up in horse racing – legal drugs – the pro-drug people are quick to say the rules only allow a very tiny amount be in the blood. Nanograms everyone says. Tiny tiny amounts. Curious, I decided to look up nanograms. What I found at the following sites, is that 5 nanograms of THC (the active ingredient in Marijuana) is considered under the influence and you can be arrested as a DUI. I further discovered that 5 nanograms of THC is equivalent to .04% blood alcohol level. So certainly an effect can still be felt with nanograms. For those interested, if you are a commercial driver, you can be charged with DUI in any state in the country.
A lethal dose of botulism is 1ng/kg (or 1000 ml). Hard to deny an effect there!
Bee stings can be fatal at .035 ng/ml. Again, hard to deny an effect.
So nanograms – not so innocent as drug users would have us believe. And it certainly doesn’t mean the substance has left the body!