Monday, December 28, 2009

Are NSAIDs the newest form of horse abuse?

According to a recently published article in Practical Horseman, the U.S. Hunter and Jumper Association is challenging recently implemented USEF restrictions on the use of double NSAID medications in show horses. The USEF's intention is to ensure the highest level of sportsmanship within its competitions, especially in the wake of the doping scandals that plagued the Olympics and several other high profile equestrian competitions. Dr. Stephen Schumacer, administrator for the USEF's drugs and medications programs, even likened improper use of such medications (and, presumably any unnecessary medications) to "a form of abuse people don't see." The USHJA, however, argues that NSAIDs are relatively harmless
and necessary for allowing older "achy" horses to compete. Drug use in equine athletes is a contentious consideration across industries, with several new regulatory initiatives implemented even this year by entities such as the AQHA, FEI, USPA and NTRA. Some of the regulations even appear to be contradictory, with the FEI, for instance, permitting multiple NSAIDS while the USEF now prohibits them.

It is clear that the use of performance enhancing drugs such as steroids, or drugs that mask pain and enable unfit horses to compete should be outlawed. But anyone who has owned even a weekend campaigner has likely encountered the need to inject a joint or administer a bit of anti-inflammatory to keep chronic conditions or minor swellings at bay. Where do equestrian competitors draw the line when it comes to substances that help a horse compete at its best and most comfortable, and those that provide an unfair advantage? Should any horse even be allowed to compete if he's not already at his best?

And if new standards are implemented, who is to guarantee the efficacy of the testing procedures? The racing industry's quest to standardize the administering of and testing for medications encountered just this conundrum after a recent veterinary study revealed widespread contamination of drug testing samples due to the variety of medications present in the racing stable environment. I'd assume that the development process for these regulations will be stymied as more groups emerge to push for liberal standards.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Third World Record for Moorlands Totilas

A new equine phenom is sweeping the Grand Prix dressage world. Moorlands Totilas, a nine-year-old black Dutch Warmblood stallion, has broken three world records with rider Edward Gal at this year's most lauded freestyle Grand Prix dressage tests. First in July at the World Dressage Masters at Hickstead, with a score of 89.40% (see video of the stunning horse's test here), next in August at the Alltech FEI European Jumping and Dressage Championships at Windsor Castle with a score of 90.70%, and again this week at the Olympia Horse Show World Cup Dressage Qualifier with an unbelievable 92.30%. The gorgeous black stallion displays a rarely before seen lightness combined with raw power and a flashy elegance that have left crowds at these events awestruck.

Detractors have criticized Totilas' showy style, with one message board commenter even going so far as to compare his exaggerated front end movement with that displayed by Big Lick Tennessee Walking Horses. Others have decried Edward Gal's training methodology, arguing that he utilizes the rollkur hyperflexion techniques that got his fellow Netherlands rider Anky van Grunsven into hot water, and that Moorlands flashy front end movement camouflages hind end weakness. I will admit that of the many equestrian disciplines, I am the least experienced with dressage, but I have to say that regardless of the criticism, watching this horse perform is breathtaking. I will leave it to the purists to decide whether what he does is as technically correct as it is artistic.

Three world records in one year, however, would suggest that he's doing something right...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Caveat Emptor

Ahh the joys of horse shopping. Anticipation of finding just that perfect equine "mate;" feelings of joy and exuberance when eyes are laid on "the dream come true;" hope and expectation for a partnership that will take ones riding skills or competitive capacity to the next level.

For horse buyers there are a plethora of caveats that come with purchasing a new mount, and the selection process can be daunting when one considers all the questions that must be satisfactorily answered. Temperament? Ease of handling and ground manners? Suitability for the buyer's level of riding and discipline? Vices or stereotypic behaviors? Sensitivities to medications or supplements? Gaps in training? Spookiness? Competitive history and potential? Price?

Eventually one wades through the answers to these questions, views a group of prospects, narrows the fields and finally takes a couple of test rides on an intended mount. If you feel that "click" within the saddle, and are in love with the horse's looks and temperament, you are probably at this stage feeling pretty good about your long term potential with this new horse. Perhaps you have even begun envisioning the moment when he steps off the trailer and into your life for good, walking down your barn aisle to his freshly bedded stall.

You would be remiss, however, if you did not at this point pause for what is potentially the most important step of the process: the pre-purchase vet exam. At this point you will select a qualified veterinarian, who will run flexion tests, perhaps take x-rays, perform endoscopings or bloodwork, and review the horse's previous health history. As disappointing as it may be to sometimes discover that your chosen horse may not be in the appropriate health you need of him, or may be suffering the lingering effects of an undisclosed injury or illness, the risks associated with purchasing a horse without a vetting are far more grave.

This week Horse& reported such a cautionary tale, about a young women who is now permanently disabled after suffering from a fall that resulted from her horse's undisclosed wobbler's syndrome. The horse collapsed beneath her while out cantering cross country, resulting in her sustaining a fractured skull, and suffering partial deafness, diminished capacity to smell and taste, and frequent migraines. That this woman will have to live with lifelong consequences of her decision to forgo her horse's vetting is a tragic demonstration of the importance of a good prepurchase exam.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Winter Horsekeeping

Temperatures fell into the twenties today in NYC, and with the subarctic chill comes thoughts about my pasture bound Quarter Horse retiree, who, thanks to lots of TLC, a hefty daily feed ration, and a well tailored blue blanket, manages to live outside quite happily during the winter. He's got a barn to come into and a stall nicely bedded down with warm shavings when the weather turns brutally cold, but as long as I've had him he's preferred the open range type of lifestyle to being stalled up. (Though I once owned a paint gelding who was a bit more high maintenance, and LOVED to curl up in his blanket and sleep cold winter nights away in his stall, sheltered from the elements.) With him in mind I thought it fitting to outline some winter care tips for your horses, to keep them safe and healthy when the cold snaps hit.
  1. Horses have at least 7 different mechanisms by which their bodies naturally insulate them from cold weather, and are better adapted to dealing with cold than with heat. That being said, dealing with cold requires a hefty energy expenditure, and it is important to provide extra quantities of free choice hay to facilitate these higher caloric needs.
  2. It is particularly important in the winter to ensure that horses have access to enough water, a feat that can seem daunting when buckets and troughs freeze over. Make sure to break the ice that collects on top of water sources, or invest in heated troughs or portable bucket heaters. Water should be kept somewhere between 45 and 65 degrees to facilitate consumption.
  3. Give cold horses lots of time to get muscles and joints warmed up at the beginning of each workout. This is particularly necessary in older horses who may suffer from arthritis or joint stiffness that can be exacerbated by long stretches of cold weather.
  4. Pay particular attention to cooling your horse out after a workout in the cold. A sweating horse can quickly become chilled, and should have ample time to cool out and then dry, preferably via a good towel rubbing or a long walk underneath a cooler.
  5. If using blankets, check them frequently to make sure they are not rubbing or scratching your horse, and ensure that they fit properly. Make sure to remove the blankets and groom your horses on a regular basis, paying special attention to any changes in weight or coat health.
  6. Special importance should be paid to caring for older horses once the cold sets in, as it can be harder for equine seniors to keep weight on or compete with their pasture mates for an adequate supply of hay and water.
  7. Satisfy hungry horse bellies with the occasional warm bran mash, a favored treat for most equines. Jazz up your recipe with carrots, apples or peppermint, and enjoy watching your horse eagerly lick his bucket clean.
  8. Rub petroleum jelly on the frogs of your horse's feet to prevent snow buildup inside his hooves. If doing lots of outdoor winter riding over snowy or icy terrain, consider investing in horseshoe caulks or rubber horse boots to improve traction.

There are undoubtedly lots more ideas out there for cold weather horsekeeping, so feel free to share yours. Here's hoping you get to enjoy watching your fuzzy pasture bundles frolicking in holiday snowfalls!

Friday, December 4, 2009

My Old Kentucky Chicken Farm

Kentucky runs through my blood more deeply than any other state in the nation.

My family hails from Central Kentucky (though mom moved just over the border into Cincinnati to marry my dad, and raised my brother and I there), on a farm where my grandma and grandpa raised tobacco and provided endless opportunities for my brother and I to while away long weekends on rolling hillsides every summer. All of us are Wildcats by birth, and UK Blue runs deep in our blood, no matter where we are now dispersed (New York, Florida, Georgia, West Virginia, etc.). Kentucky is the birthplace of my equine obsession, the site of most of my equestrian training and the origin of some of my fondest horsey memories. I rode my first horse ever in Kentucky at the ripe age of 5, at a trail barn near Mammoth Cave. Trips through the Bluegrass region of Lexington and its surrounding territories still invoke powerful sensory recall of all my horse crazy days as a young girl. My retired 29-year-old Quarter Horse still calls the state his home, and will do so until the day when we finally say goodbye to him forever.

Thus, the newest economic figures to come out of Kentucky this week are perhaps some of the most disturbing that I have read in a long time. They aren't concerned with joblessness or real estate, but with agriculture, and they are reflective of the profound impact this country's recession has had on its equine nexus. Apparently Kentucky's horse economy, once the bedrock of its livestock agriculture, has been supplanted in economic potency by its poultry farming, potentially leading to the Bluegrass state being unable to maintain its storied status as the horse capital of the world. The state whose horsey heritage is proudly proclaimed even on its license plate insignia, and which provides a home to the heart of the Thoroughbred breeding industry, the headquarters of the American Saddlebred breed, and the Kentucky Horse Park, now stands in danger of losing its stead as the heart of American horse culture.

It's of course in large part due to the buffeting the state's economy has taken during the recession, with auction prices for Throughbreds and other breeds markedly lower this year, and stud fees scaled back as less breeding takes place. It's also a result of many of the hefty incentive programs being orchestrated for breeding in other states, such as Pennsylvania. But if KY loses its horsey state of mind, it will be an irreplaceable loss not just to the state but to the entire legacy of the equine industry. Kentucky IS horses, it's that simple.

Former Gov. Brereton Jones, now owner of Airdrie Stud, summed it up thusly: "You can go anyplace around the world and tell people you're from Kentucky, and the first thing they want to talk about is the Kentucky Derby and the Thoroughbred industry...We risk losing that if everybody refuses to pay attention."

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Show Me The Money

It's no secret the the American Thoroughbred market has been heavily impacted by the past year's recession. Auction numbers decreased across categories at all of this year's major sales, stud fees are down for next year's breedings, and unprecedented numbers of mares will remain uncovered. Much of the big money still being spent at America's auctions is flowing from global markets, with Dubai's Sheik Mohammed often found at the forefront of the purchasing. In a recent Blood Horse article, Case Clay of Three Chimney's farm noted the phenomenon succinctly by commenting that America's Thoroughbred industry is currently "in the export business."

But with Dubai itself arguably headed into the tank, how soon will we see reverberations to its horse economy? And how soon will those reverberations pull the supports out from under America's flagging Thoroughbred market? Those closest to Sheik Mohammed argue that the ruler's horse interests are a private passion, unlikely to be impacted by the economic crises of his nation. But if the country's over extensions into luxury accommodations and playgrounds for the rich are any indication, its horse market is also grossly inflated. And what comes up must come down. America's current sharp correction is proof of the folly of overvaluing luxury markets. The questions then are when will Dubai come down, and from where, without the superpower buying up America's top priced horses, will the next heavy hitter in the horse economy arise?