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.
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.
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.
Friday I rode Chance, for the first time since the heat wave. As I was tacking him up, I noticed his feet were starting to chip. The growth line that all the horses developed after moving here, is now down about an inch from the bottom of his foot. I considered trimming him, but decided, since he gets a little ouchy every time I do, to let him trim himself – as an experiment. After taking photos, I took him out to the track and got on.
I was afraid that I’d lost all my fitness, and was pleasantly surprised that I’m about the same. I wanted to give Chance an easy day, to ease him back into work, so after our one lap of walking, the plan was to trot 5 or 6 laps. With every trot lap he got a little stronger/faster, until about halfway into the 4th lap, he broke into a gallop. And if we’d been on a real track, I know we would have been flying! I ran out of air, so we only galloped 2 laps. But they were strong. I wasn’t wearing my GPS, as I had planned a nice easy ride, so don’t know what our speed was, but I was really happy at how he pounded around on the really hard part of the track, wanting to go faster. And it is hard – like concrete. I checked his feet as I untacked – but they were just the same, nothing had chipped off.
Saturday was Zola’s turn, and she was very good. We did half a lap of walk, then half a lap of good trotting, then a lap of walk. A nice ride, and the first time she’s been relaxed going around the far turn.
Today was Chance’s turn again. This time I was planning on using the heart rate monitor, but after getting it out, found I had forgotten everything except how to attach it. So tomorrow will study the manual again! Instead, I wore my GPS. Chance had a slight swelling on his right front – on the outside about 1/3 of the way down the tendon. I had watched him trotting earlier and he looked great. Touched the swelling and that bothered him. I felt pretty strongly it’s not a lameness issue – more likely a bug bite – and decided to just see how he went. I remembered (surprise) to look at his feet and take photos before riding him, and in the past 48 hours he had chipped off the chunk on the outside of his right front. Terrific!
We went a lap at the walk (which took 5 and a half minutes), then an easy trot lap (2.5 minutes). Chance seemed perfectly fine, so went another trot lap in slightly over 2 minutes. Then Chance wanted to gallop, so we did. At 2 laps, I was tired and took him back to a trot for a rest, but we only went several strides before he moved back into a gallop. Clearly he was feeling good, as he booked right along. I kept him from going too fast for the turns, and the GPS said our speed was 19.8 mph. Which is not too bad, and probably close to our limit – at least for turns. The whole ride took just over 14 minutes up to that point, then we walked a lap to finish. So it was a good ride, and I was very happy Chance was feeling good, and again pounding over that hard ground without hesitation.
I checked his feet after the ride and nothing else had chipped off.
The photo directly below shows an area on the outside of his hoof that is ready to break off. The following photo shows how it looked today.
The photo below, shows the solar view – and it’s clearly visible how much toe will come off when it chips.
I received a link to this article today:
It’s nice to see some publicity about those using science and technology to condition racehorses. Australia and New Zealand seem to be leading the way in using heart rate monitors and other tools to get facts about the horses they train.
I will be rooting for Ortensia on June 19th!
Zola had the day off on Tuesday. On Wednesday I lunged her with tack on, but didn’t ride. Yesterday I rode her and we did some more walk/trot trot/walk transitions. All went well. The key thing is that she has not done anything ‘bad’. This is critical (to me at least). The more times she does it correctly, the more it becomes what she will do. The goal in training (educating) a horse is to be consistent so that the horse’s responses become second nature. I have to say that I am really picky on the early training. To me, it’s the foundation the horse will have for life. I want it to be solid. Even more so, I want the horse to respond consistently and without thinking so that when something unexpected comes up, the situation will be that much easier to handle.
Even though I didn’t plan on riding Chance, I did tack him up and attach the heart rate monitor. And it worked! What was interesting was that he was already tacked up before I put the monitor on. He was standing, apparently calm, tied to my horse trailer (which is routine), he had been fed some cookies, and appeared totally relaxed and ho hum. Wrong! When the heart rate was picked up on the receiver, it was 69 beats per minute. Should have been more like 30. I was very surprised. I led Chance away for perhaps 150 feet. His heart rate dropped to 59. I stopped and let him stand, and it dropped to about 50. As I led him back to the trailer (to both Chance and Zola this means they are done for the day) it dropped immediately to 39. And that was without a bridle, which I think would have made his heart rate higher. Let alone my actually getting on. Will be interesting to see what happens when I ride him with it.
What this tells me is that it is much harder to read horses than I thought. And I feel I’m good at it. I can easily see that a person less attuned to their horses – say someone who boards and rides a couple times a week – could be getting on a horse who might appear relaxed, but could be very nervous. This experience was fascinating to me and for those who can afford it, I recommend a heart rate monitor. The ironic thing is that horses monitor our heart rate constantly – without need of a monitor. Will be interesting to see, as an experiment, if Chance’s heart rate goes up if I try to get mine to go up. On Zola my heart rate is probably always high!
Knock on wood, Chance appeared to be walking normally this morning when he came in. Plan on riding him tonight.
Yesterday I gave Zola the day off, as she’s been going so well. Wasn’t planning on riding Chance, other than at the walk, as he is probably still sensitive on that right front. But I was excited about trying the heart rate monitor again, since I bought a new battery.
I saddled Chance up and positioned the heart rate monitor according to a YouTube video (the manufacturer’s video was for a completely different model but the positioning appeared to be the same). Then the disappointment – heart rate of zero. I had wet the pads that touched the horse as well, so was really surprised it didn’t work. Didn’t bother wasting 20 minutes, just took it off, untacked Chance, and called it a day.
Inside, I got on the computer and emailed the woman who had made the YouTube video. Also contacted the manufacturer asking for assistance, and the dealer from whom I purchased it. After that I went online and googled for help. A Facebook entry came up which seemed promising.
I should say, at this point, that I had already tried finding my own heart rate, with no success. In all honesty the company offered NO decent instructions. I did notice that the transmitter is clearly marked Left and Right. However, the belt on which it is attached has no matching right or left marking – which to my mind defeats the purpose of labeling the transmitter. Using “common sense” I had attached the transmitter with the logo facing the same way as the logo on the belt.
The woman on Facebook told the user to do the opposite. Who would have guessed? Also, the entire belt was to be wet. Then she advised trying it on yourself! Imagine my amazement when it actually worked!!!! Thank goodness. It was quite discouraging coughing up over $300 and then not having a working device.
Having finally surmounted that obstacle, I also managed to successfully download the info into the Polar online software where I could then see it. Woo hoo! And this morning I tackled the GPS sensor (this has no readings visible, but communicates only with the heart rate monitor – so I will still wear my own GPS so I can see what I’m doing) and got it working. Or so it seems.
Tonight will be the test.