Saturday, December 31, 2016

At Year's End

And so it is time for that annual ritual of reflecting on the past year and setting goals for the future.  I kind of suck at the whole summary of great (and not so great) things because for me, I've already moved on (also my memory is one of the many things that seems to be going as I get older).  I also am terrible at setting goals because I have learned that stuff that seems like a good idea when I first think of it becomes horrifying in the light of day (why did I think it would be a good idea to drag out the elliptical and commit to working out on it 30 minutes for 5 days a week???).  But, just for the fun of it, I did a quick scan of my posts for 2016.  And they brought back a flood of memories, but also a reminder that my journey with Nimo is not the linear path I once thought it would be.

This past year, in particular, has brought about some significant changes in my thinking and an almost end to the endurance branch of the trail entirely.  But, try as I might to write the post that releases me from my commitment to pursuing endurance with Nimo, I cannot do it.  There are some very valid reasons for me to move on to other things.  I'd love to spend more time working on driving with Nimo and take away some of the pressure to condition out on the trails.  I even tried out my "So, I'm not doing the whole endurance thing anymore" with a few close friends and my husband.  My husband's reaction was the one that surprised me the most.  I really thought he would look relieved, and think, if not say, how it would be nice not to have me gone so much on the weekends for riding.  But instead, he looked almost disappointed when I told him.  I explained I would have more time to spend with our daughter on the weekends so he could get more breaks from the childcare role.  And he told me that I shouldn't be worried about it and that he was fine with all the time he spends with her and that I shouldn't be quitting endurance for that reason.  That was kind of a big "wow!" moment for me.  I had assumed he was growing internally increasingly bitter with all the time I was away and the increase in responsibility he had for caring for our daughter.  But it turns out that was all in my head.  And it definitely made me reconsider my decision.  (Note to self:  Talk to husband more than 5 minutes a day and discuss things other than the child's bathroom habits and what we need at the grocery store.)

Especially because I discovered that without the next endurance ride looming in my future, my motivation starts to wither away.  There is so much that the world of endurance has to offer and it constantly challenges my thinking about feeding, nutrition, hoof care, saddle fit, communication, and fitness (for horse and rider) that I have found that I cannot yet live without that challenge, even if all we are doing is really low level intro rides.  Not to mention that I love so many of the endurance bloggers and riders in the community.

And so, I do plan to stick with at least a little endurance (is that even possible?) during the upcoming year.  I also plan to continue the Science of Motion work with Nimo and I'm taking yet another class (this one focused on bodywork) to expand my knowledge of the equine body.  I hope to publish some more posts about nutrition and at least learn more, even if I don't develop any conclusions.

But most importantly, I will continue to blog.  There was a time earlier this year when I thought about giving it up because of the time it takes, and if you are a regular reader, I'm sure you noticed my posts were few and far between for a significant part of the year.  As I discovered this month, though, blogging is one of the most helpful things I can do to keep me motivated and in pursuit of knowledge.  In fact, I wish I had blogged more during the time when I was really struggling with how to proceed because it might have helped me figure out the right path, or at least get some encouraging words from my readers (you are simply amazing and never cease to impress me with your knowledge and kindness and support!).

I started out 2016 with a post called A Changed Mind.  I am in a completely different place now than I was when I wrote that post, but the idea behind it is still so, so important to me.  I want to continue to learn and write and think and experiment and keep my mind open to endless possibilities.  I have a wonderful horse, a wonderful family, and a wonderful network of friends and fellow riders, and all I can hope is that 2017 brings lots of new ideas and changes:)  I wish all of you an amazing new year!

A random picture from April that I took out at the barn.  The light was so beautiful that night and I don't think I ever posted the picture.  It reminds me of a happy night with Nimo:)

Friday, December 30, 2016

Festival of Lights

I know that it's after Christmas, and for some people, that means taking down the decorations and the tree and moving on.  We like to keep the Christmas magic going for just a bit longer.  So we took a trip to Bull Run Regional Park.  I've actually ridden Nimo there a few times now and I've taken my daughter for a couple of short hikes as well.  It's close to our house and it's a nice park.

In addition to water access for canoeing, hiking and horse trails, a water park, a shooting range, and lots of picnic shelters, the park offers a spectacular light display called the Festival of Lights from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day.  The Festival involves a 2.5 mile drive through some pretty amazing light displays and at the end of the drive, you can stop in a little Christmas Village/Carnival for hot chocolate, photos with Santa, and more lights.

I'm not sure when the Festival started, but I've been seeing some of the light displays from the interstate since I first moved to Virginia in 2001 and I've always wanted to get a closer look.  Somehow, though, it has never worked out for us to go.  Until this evening.  Gemma is old enough to really start appreciating the light displays now and actually makes us take her for a walk each evening around the neighborhood so she can see the lights, so it seemed like a good time to add a tradition to our December.

So at about 7:30 this evening, we all piled into the car.  And by all, I mean my husband, me, my daughter, our dog, and every single blessed one of my daughter's stuffed animals plus her imaginary cats (we aren't sure how many there are yet...God help us if they are breeding...).

It's a quick trip to the park for us and because it is after Christmas, the line to get in wasn't too long.  And then the sheer amazingness began.  The cars are not supposed to stop for gawkers like me to take pictures, so most of what I got is a little blurry, but I'll share the pictures with you.  I didn't even take pictures of a third of what was in the park, but hopefully you'll get a taste of the displays.  Very worth the trip (and the $20 entrance fee!).

Cool rocking horse near the beginning
Fun line of trees with lights
I love this wreath!
A moving snowman blowing snow!
Of course I had to get a picture of the horse!
I'm not even sure what this is, but it looks so colorful!
Pirate Santa?
Not sure you can tell, but this is a fish pond and the fish were flashing and moving!
So blurry, but it was such a cute display
I adore these trees!
The entrance to my favorite section of the drive
This picture fails to do this scene justice - the whole surrounding forest was full of these moving lights that looked like snow falling - gorgeous!
This tree looks creepy and Christmasy at the same time
More creepy/Christmas - there was a witch flying over the castle!
Near the end - Santa's house, I think
I hope you enjoyed just a little more of Christmas, and if you're ever near Centreville, Virginia during the holidays, make sure you add the Festival of Lights to your list of activities:)

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Analyzing Nimo's Diet: Protein Requirements

In the fourth installment of my series on equine nutrition, let's turn our attention to the final source of energy:  protein.  It is at this point that something useful finally comes out of Nutrient Requirements of Horses in terms of a starting place, but it is only that, a starting place.  Because it turns out that not all protein is equal.  Horses don't really have a requirement for protein in general; rather, they have a requirement for amino acids.  Not all sources of protein have all the essential amino acids in the right amounts.  Plus, there is the matter of the digestibility of the protein as well as its bioavailability.  And, of course, it is difficult to measure the protein in food, so we don't always really know what we're feeding.

The best measure of protein for the average horse person is probably Crude Protein (CP).  You'll see this number (usually as a percentage) on feed and supplement labels.  CP tells you the level of total protein in the food, but it doesn't tell you how much of that protein the horse will be able to use or how complete it is (i.e. how many or which amino acids it has).  It does, at least, give you a maximum number, though.  If your feed has a CP of 8%, you'll know that it isn't possible for your horse to get more protein out of that feed than 8%.  And, according to some of the studies identified in the book, it's more likely that the true digestible protein will be somewhere between the 40 and 90% of whatever percentage is listed on the bag, depending on the source of the protein if it is a feed or the type of grass/legume if it is a hay.  So, if the feed has an 8% protein, but only 50% of that is digestible, now you're only feeding 4% protein, which is probably pretty low.

But there are formulas in this section, so I can at least get a baseline for Nimo.  Here's the one I choose for Nimo:

CP (g/d) = (BW(kg) x 1.44) + (BW(kg) x 0.354)

This formula includes the maintenance requirement at the elevated level (for working horses) plus the additional protein needed to support a horse in very heavy work.  If we plug the numbers in, we get:

CP (g/d) = (680 x 1.26) + (680 x 0.354) = 1,220 g

Thus, 1,220 g of protein is the amount of crude protein I should be looking for in Nimo's diet as a starting point.

Aside from this formula, I found a couple of other noteworthy pieces of information in this section of the book.  First, horses that are fed a ration that completely meets their caloric requirement but is deficient in protein will lose weight (see p. 58).  So if you have a horse that should be getting enough food based on your calculation of DE (that means Digestible Energy), but is still losing weight, it's probably a good idea to check not just the level of protein, but also the quality of protein.  But what is a good quality protein, you ask?  Nutrient Requirements stops short of giving us any ideas for actual food products, but it does tell us what the ideal amounts of amino acids are on p. 65.  Presumably, a food source with ratios close to these would be a great source of protein for the horse.  These amounts are based on the ratios of the amino acids in the muscle of the horse.  Lysine is set at a value of 100 and the other amounts are as compared to lysine:

Methionine: 27
Threonine: 61
Isoleucine: 55
Leucine: 107
Histidine: 58
Phenylalanine: 60
Valine: 62
Arginine: 76
Typtophan: Unknown

I'm not sure why lysine is used as the base for the ratios, but we do, apparently, have a good idea of what the lysine requirement is for horses.  It is 4.3% of the CP requirement (see p. 58).  So for Nimo, that would be 52 g/d.  The book notes that if the source of protein doesn't have close to the ideal relationship of lysine to CP, you may need additional sources of protein (see p. 60).

One thing that is addressed is excess protein.  I can't remember how many times I've been told that if you feed a diet too high in protein, it causes the horse to drink more to excrete the extra protein and it can even stress the kidneys due to the extra water and protein that have to be processed.  Nutrient Requirements, however, admits that "not much evidence exists concerning the effect of excess protein consumption" (see p. 65).  There may be an issue for growing horses in terms of reduced growth and increased calcium and phosphorus loss, though.  Additionally, one study found that excess protein "may interfere with acid-base balance during exercise (Graham-Thiers et al., 1999, 2001)" (see p. 65).  (Note:  Acid-base balance is actually a really important concept for endurance riders.  The best place that I know to look for information is on Mel's blog using this link:  Mel did a multi-part series on acid-base balance that is very informative.)  So, it's hard to know if excess protein really does strain the kidneys, and it's also hard to know exactly what constitutes excess protein.  That said, there doesn't appear to be a good reason to go overboard with protein either, so especially for growing and performance horses, more careful monitoring of protein is probably a good idea.

It does appear that exercising horses do need extra protein based on several studies that in particular found nitrogen loss during exercise through sweat.  (I didn't realize until recently that nitrogen is an important component of amino acids, so its loss apparently indicates protein loss.)  I already added the extra protein required for Nimo in my formula above, but if you are interested in knowing how much your horse's protein requirements increase based on level of work, check out p. 64.

So we know protein is really important for horses and we also know that horses need a certain composition of amino acids to get the best use of the protein they ingest.  But what sources of species-appropriate food contain a good ratio of amino acids?  Are there any particularly good sources of protein that we should be feeding?  Once again, I must throw my hands up in frustration.  Nutrient Requirements cannot recommend even one good source of protein for horses.  It talks a lot about swine and there was apparently one study done on the presence and ration of amino acids in mare's milk.  (Unsurprisingly, mare's milk fits the amino acid profile established as ideal...)  But there is absolutely not a single recommendation on where the wondrous food might be that you could feed your horse.

Just for fun, I googled the amino acid composition of duckweed.  The composition can vary depending on the water in which it is grown, but here are the values reported by one study in grams of amino acid per 100 grams of dried duckweed (Lemma gibba).

Methionine: 0.64 g
Threonine: 1.68 g
Isoleucine: 1.66 g
Leucine: 2.89 g
Histidine: 0.73 g
Phenylalanine: 1.75 g
Valine: 2.12 g
Arginine: 2.14 g
Typtophan: 0.40 g
Lysine: 1.85 g

Unfortunately, it's hard to compare these to the ratio reported by Nutrient Requirements as optimal for horses.  (It's late at night and my brain isn't working too well.)  So you don't have to scroll up and look, here are the values for horses again:

Methionine: 27
Threonine: 61
Isoleucine: 55
Leucine: 107
Histidine: 58
Phenylalanine: 60
Valine: 62
Arginine: 76
Typtophan: Unknown
Lysine: 100

However, my initial (and not super mathematical) assessment is that while duckweed could be a component of a horse's diet, it does not have the optimal ratio of amino acids.  If we use lysine as the benchmark, then we would expect all the amino acids except leucine to be a little to a lot below the level of lysine, and we don't see that in the analysis for duckweed.  It looks like the ratio of lysine to methionine may be pretty good in duckweed, but other ratios are not in alignment.  So there goes my theory of growing the perfect protein source for horses in my aquarium:) 

Here is Nutrient Requirements' conclusion:  "Several factors can affect amino acid digestion in horses...these include site of digestion, feedstuff variation, biological value of protein, protein intake, amount consumed, and transit time through the digestive tract" (pp. 65-66).  So your guess is as good as mine in terms of how you should assess protein in your horse's diet.

Going forward, I will turn my attention to vitamins and minerals, but I'm rapidly losing faith that all this reading and research is yielding any real benefit in terms of how I feed Nimo.  That said, I have been concerned about the quality of protein he has been getting in the primary source of his hay, which is why I've been supplementing with alfalfa and alfalfa/grass mix hay for many years.  I'm still a ways off from being able to do a true assessment of how necessary that supplementation is, but it is on my list of things that I hope to accomplish through this series of posts.

So next up in the series is Calcium.  If my memory is correct, there is some tangible information in the book about this particular nutrient, so let's hope that I can find something helpful:)

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Bananas for Electrolytes?

As you know, I'm always looking at ways to use real food to supplement Nimo's diet.  Something I've been interested in for awhile is looking at ways to provide electrolytes through food rather than the commercial electrolyte mixes available.  Luckily, I'm not in a situation with Nimo where he has demonstrated a specific need for a particular electrolyte mix (although that could change over time), so I can research and experiment a bit.

One food that I've been thinking about a lot is the humble banana.  Both my husband and my daughter eat a lot of bananas, so we always have some sitting on the counter.  Also, bananas in this area are definitely one of the cheaper fruits, even when we buy organic.  At $0.49/lb for regular bananas and $0.69/lb for organic bananas, the price rivals that of commercial horse feed.

So what is in a banana in terms of nutrition?  I used the USDA Food Composition Database to find out.  Here are the values for a pound (about 454 grams) of bananas (which would be about 3-4 medium to large whole bananas or 2 cups mashed):

Energy: 404 kcal
Protein: 5 g
Fat: 1.5 g
Carbohydrates: 104 g
Fiber: 12 g
Sugar: 55 g
Calcium: 22.7 mg
Iron: 1.2 mg
Magnesium: 122 mg
Phosphorus: 99.8 mg
Potassium: 1,623.9 mg
Sodium: 4.5 mg
Zinc: .7 mg
Vitamin C: 39.5 mg
Thiamin: .1 mg
Riboflavin: .3 mg
Niacin: 3 mg
B-6: 1.7 mg
Folate: 90.7 ug
B-12: 0 ug
Vitamin A: 290 IU
Vitamin E: .5 mg
Vitamin D: 0 IU
Vitamin K: 2.3 ug

While I haven't covered all of the vitamin and mineral requirements for horses in my nutrition series, let me just say that there isn't anything too exciting about the values above, except for the potassium, which is considered an electrolyte (along with sodium, chloride, calcium, and magnesium).  A typical pound of Nimo's regular feed (Triple Crown Growth) provides about 500 mg of potassium whereas the banana provides 1,624 mg (or 1.6 g), which is actually a significant amount.

To figure out if the potassium provided by a banana is close to what a commercial electrolyte mix would offer, I looked up the values for some commonly-used e-lyte mixes.

Buckeye Perform 'N Win: 910 mg potassium per oz
Adeptus Persevere Low Sugar: 1,928 mg potassium per oz
Kentucky Performance Enduro-Max: 3,657 mg per oz

I should note that different electrolyte mixes include different amounts and ratios of electrolytes and most endurance riders I know end up experimenting with different products to find the one that seems to best fit their horse's needs.  The reason is likely because electrolyte supplementation is still poorly understood.  There are no simple formulas for what endurance horses (or other performance horses) really need despite a lot of research on the topic.  Endurance vets can often see a horse come into a vet check with an issue like a hanging heart rate when everything else seems OK and will diagnose a specific treatment like a dose of potassium.  But messing around with large doses of electrolytes can really get your horse in trouble if you don't know what you are doing (and even if you do!) and can't closely monitor the horse.  Which is one of the biggest reasons why I would rather use food whenever possible.  Because food is less likely to stop a horse's heart (which an overdose of potassium can do).

So, from my point of view, it is at least theoretically possible to come close to the supplementation of potassium provided by commercial electrolyte mixes through the use of bananas.  Obviously there is still salt and calcium and magnesium to worry about, but Nimo will usually eat a banana even if he doesn't want a mash after a ride, so I think there is real value in having a food source that is particularly tempting for a horse that may need an extra boost of e-lytes for recovery, but who may be tired and not want to eat well.

You can, of course, force feed electrolytes through a syringe, but that can come with a price too.  You may overdose your horse on something he doesn't need.  The horse may also experience digestive upset or even burning in his mouth if the e-lytes aren't diluted enough, which can lead to some additional problems.

On the other hand, bananas generally make horses (and people!) happy, so I think they are at least worthwhile to have around, even if you choose to use a commercial mix.  You could even choose a mix like Perform 'N Win that has a lower amount of potassium per oz and supplement with the bananas when you feel like extra potassium could serve a purpose.

I am, of course, neither a vet nor an equine nutritionist, so this post is just me speculating and thinking and researching an alternate way to get decent amounts of potassium into Nimo in the event that I think he needs it.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

On Risk and Responsibility

Today I read a post published by fellow blogger, Hannah.  Hannah is a former eventer and endurance rider who currently blogs about hiking with her dogs at Bully and Blaze.  (Hannah's blog about her endurance adventures is well worth the read even though it is no longer active.  In fact, it was one of the handful of blogs that convinced me endurance was a worthwhile endeavor.)

I'm not sure I can really categorize Hannah's post, except to say that she continues her unique and thoughtful perspective after finding out the result of a search and rescue operation at a location she was hiking at.  Her post reminded me that it is important to acknowledge the risk I take every time I get on my horse and the even bigger risk I take when I ride him on a trail like the Devil's Backbone at Graves Mountain or go on an endurance ride.

I think it is too easy for horse riders to think their risk is mitigated because they wear a helmet or a safety vest.  It isn't.  At all.  It only takes a single missed step on a slick trail on the side of a mountain for death to come on swift wings.  No helmet can save you from the weight of a 1500 pound horse falling on you and tumbling down a mountain.  And for those of us with kids (or spouses or plain old people who love us deeply), the question becomes, "Is the risk worth it?"  How will my husband explain my death to my daughter if that fateful event occurs?  How will she view me as a mother if I don't live to see her college graduation because I died in a horse riding accident?  And God help me, what will her father feed her if I'm not around to cook?

The truth is that I don't know the answers to those questions (except the last one - and the answer is pizza and cookies and hot dogs) and a part of my brain is constantly engaged in thinking about them.  From the moment I knew I was pregnant, I began developing milestones for my continued existence.  First, it was to live long enough so that my unborn baby could survive on her own if I died.  Then, it was to live long enough to give birth.  Then, it was to live long enough to breast feed my daughter for six months.  Then it was to see her walk.  To hear her talk.  Now, it is to get her started in her early education years, so she isn't damaged by the public school system, or at least gains the skills to take on a world that is becoming a stranger to me.  But what about her first date?  Her first break-up?  Her first true failure?  College?  Marriage?  A baby?

And what is my responsibility to keep myself alive for all of those things?  Do I shut myself away from anything too risky so that I'm guaranteed a death from natural causes?  (It would be so much simpler if I could just live forever!)  Or do I live life to the fullest to show my daughter that there is something to be gained from overcoming adversity and even fear?

I think those are questions we all have to answer for ourselves.  And it is worth thinking deeply about those questions and coming to a decision.  I have chosen to continue to ride my horse.  In fact, I've chosen to put my daughter on that horse to ride too (within some pretty specific and careful parameters, though).  Nimo is not a beginner horse.  He is a lovely animal with a beautiful personality who is smart and funny and gorgeous and worth every moment I spend with him.  But he is not bombproof or even comfortable to ride.  He can be spooky and unpredictable.  He is awfully tall and a fall at speed is nothing to joke about.  I still have what may be permanent nerve damage from a fall from him about a year ago.  It's not a big deal and doesn't bother me, but there is a small spot on my lower back that doesn't feel right anymore and it is a constant reminder of the risk I take when I ride.

But here's what I think about risk.  If you don't engage in some kind of risk-taking physical behavior on a regular basis, you may very well not engage in risk-taking behavior in other parts of your life either.  You may not take on the risk of a relationship or a new job or a business venture.  I'm not talking about riding a motorcycle without a helmet on the Beltway here, but I think we are biologically programmed to need a certain amount of risk in our lives.  If we never have to overcome fear or survive a challenge, I wonder how it affects the way we face all of our decisions and the impact it has on our happiness.

There may be safer things for me to do, but none of them carry the sheer joy that being with horses does.  None of them challenge me in the same way and none of them fulfill me or make my heart feel as full.  And the legacy that I want to leave my daughter is for her to know that taking a risk for something she loves is worth it.  I want her to know that it is OK to be absolutely terrified and that going forward may be the very thing that she needs to do.  But I also want her to know that it is OK to listen to her inner self, that is OK to fail, that it is OK to go in a new direction, and that it is OK to walk away from something that doesn't feel right.  And even that it is OK to not know the answer or to change her stubborn, stubborn mind.

It's a tall order to be a parent these days.  Somehow, we have to find a way to be true to ourselves and be true to our children.  Luckily, I think there isn't necessarily a right answer for all of us; rather, there are possibilities and choices.  And finding our way begins with acknowledging the difficulty of the path that we must take.

So tonight, I'm going to go hug my daughter and be thankful for every last moment I've had with her so far.  And tomorrow, I'm going to ride my horse and tell my daughter how wonderful it was.  And when she asks me if she can ride too, I'm going to say yes.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Conditioning at Pleasant Grove Park

A friend of mine recently told me about Pleasant Grove Park, near Palmyra, Virginia.  Pleasant Grove Park is an 800 acre park that includes an historic home/museum, dog park (and separate off-leash area), community garden, butterfly garden, soccer and baseball fields. community center, picnic area, and 18 miles of multi-use trails that horses can be on (although I believe at least some of the trails are prohibited to horses).

Much like many other smaller parks in Virginia that allow horseback riding, the information on the website is pretty stingy.  So, for those who might be interested, here's the scoop.  Horse trailer parking is located in a grassy lot to the left shortly before you get to the visitor's center.  So, if you use your GPS to get directions to the visitor center at 271 Pleasant Grove Drive, Palmyra, VA 22963, you will get to the right place.  (There is a separate trailhead with parking for cars only that is about a half mile or so before you get to the main park entrance and that is primarily for the dog park.)  The cost is $8 per person to ride (except if you live in Fluvanna County - then the cost is free as long as you get a pass) and you need to fill out a waiver and deposit cash/check at a little registration area that is in the middle of the parking area.  Trail maps are also available there or you can download one electronically here.

I had a chance to check out the trails earlier today and they were quite lovely, although a bit slick and muddy from the recent rain we've had in many areas.  The trails are almost exclusively in the woods with views like this:

The terrain varies from flat to gently rolling to steep hills, so it is a great place to condition.  Which is probably why we ran into six endurance riders who were also out on the trails today.  We kept our pace a bit slower due to the sometimes slick conditions on the trail.  I think Nimo would have been fine to trot most of the trails, but the two ladies I was with are less experienced at faster speeds and were reluctant to do too much trotting.  Although at one point, all three horses just got in a groove and trotted up a couple of pretty steep, slick hills without an issue.  Even without much trotting, though, the hill work gave us a nice workout and aside from the other six horses and 4 trail runners, we had the trails to ourselves.

In terms of trail markings, the trails are fairly well marked, but much like Virginia road signs, the trail markers did not immediately seem all that relevant because there were weird loops and lots of short segments of trail, each with a different name and arrows pointing in two different directions.  All those signs were complicated by some Heritage Trail signs that seemed kind of random.  So we mostly wandered and explored and then when we got hungry after about 2 hours on the trail, we asked a group of endurance riders which way was the fastest back to the trailer, which got us to a point in the trail that we recognized and were able to follow back.  Here's what our meanderings looked like:

We only did about 7.5-8 miles, but it was great to get out and see some new trails.  And now that we know how things work a bit better, I think we'll really be able to use this park as a great place to condition!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Traditions

My husband and I have always preferred a quiet Christmas, without all the hustle and bustle that can be associated with the holiday.  Our extended families live quite a distance from us, so both of us are used to a less dramatic holiday time.

Since having a child 4 years ago, though, we've tried to look for traditions that we can incorporate into our holiday celebration.  There's no question that Gemma's delight with all of the Christmas decorations and other tasks leading up to the big day has made it easier for us to enjoy celebrating the holiday.

We both grew up with slightly different holiday traditions, so it's been fun choosing the ones that work best for our family and give us the most pleasure.  We always have a tree with lights and decorations (although the past couple of years, the decorations barely made it on before Christmas!).  And we send a Christmas letter to our family and friends.

In terms of gifts, we've gotten a lot lower key in terms of what we give to each other.  I remember my parents saying so many times when I was growing up that gifts didn't really matter that much to them and never being able to understand.  But now I do.  My husband and I buy what we need throughout the year and a few things that we want.  When Christmas comes around, there may be a few things that we need/want, but the holiday is really not about gifts for us anymore.  We just love the atmosphere of a beautiful tree and music playing in the background after a nice dinner and a glass of wine.

Even our daughter, while she certainly likes presents, seems to enjoy the process of Christmas more than the gifts.  In fact, she even helped me put gift tags on her own presents earlier today because I had a few things left to wrap.  For her, the excitement was picking out the tag, putting it on the package, and finding a place for the gift under the tree.

We don't really do anything with Santa.  It wasn't a strong tradition in my house growing up and while Gemma knows Santa from movies, she doesn't believe that he is going to bring her any presents.  I know there can be some controversy about how Santa is handled, but it's just not a tradition we wanted to incorporate.  (Possibly because neither one of us wants to sacrifice any of the sleep we get to pretend to be Santa in the middle of the night!)

On Christmas Eve, we have an easy, informal dinner after going out to the barn to see Nimo.  After dinner, Gemma gets a gift from us which is always Christmas pajamas.  Then, she can choose any one gift from under the tree to unwrap.  After which she plays with whatever it is for awhile and then we spend the next 2 hours wondering why she is bouncing off the walls and wondering if she will ever go to sleep:)

On Christmas morning, Gemma opens the rest of her presents (the last 2 years, she's basically taken all day to get through them because she likes to play with them after she opens them and even take breaks).  I work on making dinner that is usually ready around 1.  It is always ham, green bean casserole, sweet potato souffle, and dinner rolls plus either pumpkin or apple pie.  Then I'll got out to the barn to see Nimo (I'm hoping to ride a little, although I think we're making it a family event this year, so at least there will be pictures!) and we'll have a quiet evening.

If you'd like to share your favorite holiday tradition, I'd love to hear it!

Friday, December 23, 2016

My Little Helper

I've written before about how Gemma likes to help take care of Nimo, in addition to riding him.  She especially enjoys helping me mix up his feed bags, and she's getting amazingly accurate these days.

Look mom, I totally know how much of this feed to put in the bag!
I can do it, Mom!  I don't need your help!
All things must have sticker on them, even Nimo's feed bags!
Tonight was no exception, and she helped me make up the feed bags.  Unfortunately, we had a very busy day today with lots of excitement (there is possibly a fish living at our house now...) and we didn't get out to the barn until late, so she fell asleep on the way out and didn't get a chance to supervise me to make sure I put the feed bags in the right place and gave Nimo the right hay.  The barn cats probably also missed her affection a little, but hopefully they'll cope until the next time she comes out:)

One very tired little girl!
Sometimes I admit to just wanting to take care of Nimo myself, but mostly it is really cool to see how Gemma is getting more and more capable.  If I plan things right, I may actually end up with a personal assistant out at the barn!:)

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Throwback Thursday: The Red Dress

Many years ago (2008, I think), I competed in a dressage costume show with Nimo.  I don't think our dressage test was particularly brilliant (although it wasn't horrible either), but I do remember that the judge loved my red dress:)  It was a ton of fun to do a costume show, and I keep hoping I'll find the opportunity to do one again.

All that hair!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

What do fish and horses have in common?

Over the past few years, I have occasionally toyed with the idea of getting an aquarium.  Admittedly, I enjoy the fuzzy, hairy mammals the best, but there is something really fascinating about fish.  We had a small aquarium when I was growing up and I mostly remember the annoyance of cleaning the tank, which was always a family event.  My mom and dad were less than thrilled with one more chore to do around the house and I don't think my brother and I were too enthralled with the fish after awhile, so eventually the whole thing was shut down and I don't think I missed it much.  I did have a female Betta when I was in college, but it wasn't long before I remembered how much I'm not fond of cleaning and when she passed on, I was relieved.

But I'm always looking for ways to expose my daughter to new experiences and lately, she's been having a love affair with the fish in the pet store.  This love is probably due in part to the movie, "Finding Nemo," but also because she genuinely seems to love other species (except crickets and flies - they are banned from the house).  And I've been reading more and more about fish social lives and their fascinating physiology.

So, I started educating myself about aquariums, and I was thankful to learn that there are now lots of great gadgets that can make an aquarium owner's life much easier than it used to be.  And then I stumbled across this book:  Ecology of the Planted Aquarium by Diana Walstad, and things got a whole lot more interesting.  According to Walstad, there is a method that can be used to maintain an aquarium with fish and plants that doesn't require any fancy gadgets besides a tank heater and mechanical filter and that yields a fairly self-sustaining ecosystem.  I have to admit that I was hooked.

And then I read that something called duckweed is a great plant for aquariums because it floats on the surface, which allows it to utilize carbon dioxide much better than submerged plants.  Why is that important, you ask?  Well, it turns out that in many cases, access to carbon is the limiting factor for growth in aquatic plants.  Photosynthesis slows way down if CO2 levels fall significantly (which happens a lot under water because water isn't a good conductor for CO2) and even if there are plenty of other nutrients, the plant can't grow, which means it doesn't take any nutrients out of the water which means the fish start dying due to ammonia overload or you need some serious filtration, a whole bunch of new water, and a prayer to save your fish.  (Aquatic plants have a great affinity for ammonia, so they help keep levels under control in fish tanks.)

Duckweed:  Not just for ducks!  Source:
Anyway, duckweed is a plant that I started researching at least a couple of years ago as a possible horse feed because I was looking for something that could offer high quality protein wasn't from a GMO source and was readily available.  I first learned about duckweed through my job when we started getting grant applications from farmers who wanted to use it to manufacture biodiesel.  Duckweed is considered pond scum by most people and therefore a useless and sometimes even harmful vegetation that can suffocate ponds if it isn't kept under control.

As it turns out, however, duckweek is an amazing food source for livestock.  This article reports that duckweed can have a crude protein level of up to 43% and that it works well as a source of nutrition for fish, poultry, and pigs.  It also points out that the plant has little to no indigestible material for monogastric species (like horses).  Duckweed can even be eaten by people (check out this article and this one).

I have yet to find any research on feeding it to horses, though.  Which is why I wanted to run a little experiment involving a baby swimming pool in my backyard.  Duckweed basically needs stagnant ponds in warm weather with lots of nutrients in them to grow.  Which is basically every pond and puddle in Virginia during the summer, except our yard is on the side of a steep hill, so no ponds.  I thought I could create my own stagnant pond with a little pool and try growing duckweed on a small scale to see if I could and to see if Nimo would eat it.  As it turns out, both my dog and my daughter are crazy about water in the summer time and won't leave even a bucket of water alone, so it just wasn't possible to run my experiment.

UNTIL NOW.  Because as of this afternoon, I have a 65 gallon aquarium (seriously, it was the best deal I have ever seen and I could not pass it up!) in my family room.  The expression on my husband's face when he helped me unload it was definitely one of the better ones I've gotten from my crazy ideas - he's going to warm up to the idea of the fish very soon, I can tell:)  And after many, many weeks of getting the tank up and running and stocking it with plants and fish and testing the water to make sure everything is OK, I should be able to grow a very tiny crop of duckweed.

And then I can test my theory that it is edible for horses (or at least one horse) and see if it might make sense to grow it on a larger scale.  One big issue with duckweed is that it is mostly water (you know, because it grows in water), so you can end up harvesting a whole lot just to get one pound of dried duckweed, which would be easier to transport and feed - probably - assuming you knew how to dehydrate it, which I don't yet, but I'm sure I'll figure it out.  Although, I don't think a horse would need a whole lot because it is so nutrient dense.  On the other hand, imagine if horses really loved it and it provided good nutrition and you could bring a wet bucket of it to an endurance ride for your horse to use for hydration and nourishment at vet checks and after the ride...

Seriously, the possibilities for using what I used to think of as invasive pond scum are endless.  So stay tuned for the results!:)

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Getting Comfortable with Failure

I have a love/hate relationship with the AERC Facebook page.  Sometimes I learn something and sometimes...well, sometimes, I just cringe and realize that maybe it's not such a mystery why the human race has been dooming itself for millennia. 

A few days ago, though, I saw a pretty powerful post by a gentleman named Bruce Weary.  In part, he wrote,
Ah.  The dreaded non-completion.  It seems that in some things in life we'd rather not proceed if there is a significant chance of failure.  Well, in endurance riding, we fail.  A lot, sometimes.  In saddle fit.  In overzealous conditioning.  In falling off a horse.  Or in a wrong feeding/electrolyting program.  In riding too fast.  In riding too slow.  The list goes on.  At some point, IMO, we have to visualize these things happening to us, and how we would deal with them, so we can put them away and not worry so much about them.  Life is inherently risky.  I think it's also important to de-emphasize the disappointment in pulling or being pulled from a ride.  It takes mental effort, but I think it's important to decide to no longer let the possibility of not completing a ride be a reason for not stepping up to the starting line of whatever ride you've been dreaming of, whether that be your first LD, 50, multi-day, or Tevis.
I failed six times in a row in my first attempts at finishing Tevis.  I got sick twice, and had a pretty sick horse there once.  My mentor taught me to get comfortable with failure and making mistakes in life, because I would see a lot of both of them, so I never took my initial lack of success at Tevis personally.  A horse named John Henry decided he was tough enough for both of us, so he dragged my whining carcass to the finish line, finally.  All those failures made that one success that much sweeter.
So, saddle up.  Heaven helps the man or woman who help themselves.
This post meant a lot to me because I have definitely felt like I'm becoming an expert in how not to finish an endurance ride.  And mostly I'm OK with that, because I've never pinned my self-esteem on completing a ride and success for me means keeping my horse safe and sound above all else.  But, I think Mr. Weary's point about failure being so much a part of the endurance journey is an important one for me to remember.  And it doesn't just apply to endurance; it applies to everything about working with horses and I guess, if you want to get philosophical (which I am prone to doing after 9 pm), life itself.

So, getting comfortable with failure is going to be one of my goals for the coming year.  I'm still not sure what the plan is for next year beyond an intro ride at the beginning of March, but I am sure that I will wrestle with as yet unknown issues, and this post is going to be my mantra during those times, so I can keep my bearings and remember to move forward.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Analyzing Nimo's Diet: Fats and Fatty Acids

Here is the next installment of my nutrition series.  Today, I'm going to write about what Nutrient Requirements of Horses has to say about fats and fatty acids (see chapter 3).  

To start out with, what are fats and fatty acids?  I thought I knew, but to be honest, after I read this chapter, I'm not sure I understand what fats are anymore.  The best I could glean is that fat may be a term used to describe a solid substance that acts as a carrier for fatty acids.  (If the substance is liquid at room temperature and above, it is called an oil.)  Fatty acids can be categorized in different ways, but the categories of monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and saturated are the ones I am most familiar with.

Sources of fat (and fatty acids) can be animal or plant based, although Nutrient Requirements cites studies that show vegetable sources are more palatable - think corn, coconut, and soy rather than lard, beef tallow, and butter (see p. 44).  Feed byproducts like rice bran, wheat germ, and copra (shredded and dehydrated coconut meal) are also sources of fat.

With all these sources of fat, I thought it would be nice to know not only which sources horses think taste the best, but also which ones are likely to be more bioavailable.  Nutrient Requirements doesn't address that question, although it does cite studies that show that fat is better digested when it is added to hay and grain (like top-dressing) versus encased in a pellet (like in a commercial feed) (see p. 45).  I think that is an interesting result given how frustrating it can be to deal with fat/oil supplementation.  It turns out that it may be worth the extra aggravation to top-dress a horse's meals with a fat source rather than rely on a commercial feed.

But how much fat?  This is another area that makes me want to throw my hands in the air and walk away from this whole series of posts.  I have read that significantly increasing a horse's fat intake over what might be considered a "natural" rate (whatever that is) can offer benefits, particularly to the performance horse.  This section of Nutrient Requirements does touch on those benefits when it states, "fat supplementation has other potential benefits, including improved energetic efficiency (Kronfeld, 1996), enhanced body conditioned, diminished excitability (Holland et al., 1996a), and metabolic adaptations that increase fat oxidation during exercise (Dunnett et al., 2002) (see p. 44).  Great, so how much fat does my horse need to take advantage of those benefits?

Good question.  It turns out that some studies seem to show benefits, others show no benefit, and some even show a negative result.  Or the studies were poorly designed.  Or they had a really small sample size (like 4 horses).  And when it comes to performance horses, "the results of studies examining the effects of fat supplementation in horses on athletic performance are equivocal" (see p. 48).

As if that isn't frustrating enough, when it comes to recommendations on what to feed, Nutrient Requirements basically just summarizes some studies that have been done and the main result and leaves it to the reader to make a decision.  The conclusion seems to be that yes, horses do need some level of fat in their diets if for no other reason than to be able to digest fat-soluble vitamins, and that level might be above 0.5% of the diet.  And you can probably feed your horse rations with 12%, 14%, or even 16% fat for short periods of time without any adverse reactions.  Supplementing with extra fat may or may not improve your horse's glycogen stores for performance and conflictingly (yes, I think I just made that word up due to my irritation with the lack of definitive research), it may or may not lead to glucose intolerance.

And how about those essential fatty acids (you may know them as Omega-3 and Omega-6)?  No recommendation.  They are essential, so we know horses need them, but in what ratio is a question left unanswered.  I know I've seen supplement companies discuss the benefits of using products, particularly those with Omega-3 fatty acids, but Nutrient Requirements can't even hazard a guess on how much of these life-giving substances are necessary, much less optimal.  So where do the supplement companies' recommendations come from?  I'm not sure.  Until I read this chapter, I was under the impression that a horse needed maybe a 3:1 ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fatty acids (and what about Omega-9?).  But now, I'm not so sure.  I know studies have been done for people, and maybe there is an attempt to extrapolate the results to horses, but I'm not convinced that is a good idea, given the lack of any definitive answers for horses despite the many studies that have been done.

And one thing that was not addressed at all, which might even explain some of the conflicting results in the studies, is that all sources of fat are not created equal.  Things like corn oil and soybean oil are typically made as byproducts from non-food industries (like ethanol and biodiesel).  Oils may be chemically extracted and even "deodorized," which is a euphemism for removing the odor so you can't tell the oil is actually rancid.  I think it is fairly general knowledge now that oils used for human food should be cold-pressed when possible and at least not chemically extracted, and I think the same concern should apply to oils used for horses.  And that makes any kind of fat supplementation quite expensive.  A gallon of really good coconut oil may run more than $100 and other niche-market oils like camelina and hemp are still about $85 per gallon.  Olive oil may be a bit less expensive, but the olive oil you get in the store may not be pure olive oil due to the infiltration of some kind of scheme to cut the olive oil with lesser oils to skim profits (there have been a couple of books - here's one - and a few news articles written about the problem, but there are no indications that things have improved as a result).

I've actually researched fat options off and on for many years.  I've fed ground flax seed, chia seeds, shredded coconut, stabilized rice bran, corn oil, coconut oil, camelina oil, and high fat commercial feeds as a way of adding fat to Nimo's diet.  I've kind of settled on a combination of three of those right now.  I feed about a quarter cup a day of chia seeds (mostly because they seem to be similar to flax seeds, but don't require the grinding), about a half a cup a day of shredded coconut, and 1 oz of camelina oil as a top-dressing to post-ride mashes.  I would supplement with the camelina oil more, but it's too messy for me to add ahead of time to Nimo's feed bags and it isn't the best choice to ask barn staff to handle either.  If I was feeding at my own barn, though, I would definitely be exploring its use a bit more because it stays liquid at cold temperatures and isn't as prone to rancidity as other oils like flax and rice bran oil are, but still seems to have many of the same benefits.  I wrote a bit about the comparison between flax seeds and chia seeds in this post, and I covered my choice for shredded coconut in this post.  I haven't written about camelina oil yet because I don't feed it every day and I'm still kind of wandering around in terms of why I'm feeding it and what benefits it might be offering.

So once again, this is an area that really does need more research and I think the information in this chapter does highlight the need to question claims about the benefits of fat supplementation.  Obviously, if you are doing something that works for your horse, keep doing it, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend forcing the issue, either.  If finding a good quality source of fat is expensive or feeding it is messy, it may be that your horse isn't missing out that much if you don't feed it.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Analyzing Nimo's Diet: Carbohydrates

You may remember that several months ago, I started a series of posts on nutrition.  You can read the two posts I've already published at these links:

Energy Requirements

As a reminder, the main source of information for my posts is Nutrient Requirements of Horses, Sixth Revised Edition.

There is no formula for carbohydrate requirements for horses.  This is a huge gray area that depends on the horse's metabolism, its environment, what else it is eating, and its work load.  It's kind of frustrating to learn that the requirements are so variable, especially because "[c]arbohydrates are the principal sources of energy in horse diets" (p. 34).  So basically, carbohydrates are the most important thing your horse will eat, but you're kind of on your own when figuring out how to feed them.

There are different categories of carbohydrates, and some of them are considered better than others depending on the situation.  The different types include:
  • Monosaccharides - Examples are glucose and fructose.
  • Disaccharides - The most relevant example for horses is lactose.
  • Oligosaccharides - The examples given in the book are unrecognizable and mostly unpronounceable, so I'm skipping them here.
  • Polysaccharies - Examples are starch, cellulose, and pectin.
And now things start to get really complicated.  "All carbohydrates contain similar amounts of gross energy.  However, when utilized by the horse, they provide variable amounts of digestible energy (DE), metabolizable energy (ME), or net energy" (p. 34).  Apparently there have been some attempts to classify the different typed of carbohydrates in order to bring some clarity to how the feed might be digested by horses, but none of these systems is ideal.  A commonly-seen system involves separating something called neutral detergent fiber (NDF) from neutral detergent solubles.  NDF includes "cellulose, most hemicellulose, and lignin" (p. 34).

As a little bit of context, Nutrient Requirements explains that,
For many years, the amount of nonstructural carbohydrate (NSC) in a feed was determined by subtracting the amount of NDF, protein, ether extract, and ash from total dry matter (DM).  More recently, the term "nonfibrous" (or nonfiber) carbohydrates (NFC) has been used to represent this difference, whereas "nonstructural carbohydrate" has been used to describe a chemically analyzed fraction of a feed...The NFC fraction is comprised of all carbohydrates not found in the NDF component of a feed.  The NSC fraction includes mono- and disaccharies, oligosaccharides (including fructan) and starch...Few commercial feed analysis laboratories completely fractionate the carbohydrates that make up NSC, but in most feeds, the amount of NSC can be approximated by summing the amount of starch and the amount of water-soluble carbohydrates (WSC). (pp. 34-35)
I think this information borders on relevant because the NSC value of a feed is now included on most feed labels that I see and lower NSC values are considered more appropriate, particularly for horses with metabolic issues.  I say borders on relevant because at this point, all we're getting is a general definition, which is not that meaningful, along with the information that feed companies may not be precisely measuring the value, but rather estimating it.  (Estimates may not be bad, but I think it is always good to know if something is measured exactly or estimated and if the NSC value matters to you, you may want to contact the feed company directly to get clarification on how it was determined.)

However, the NSC value alone is not going to tell you how a food's energy is being absorbed by your horse.  Nutrient Requirements goes through a variety of studies that assess things like volume of feed, type of feed, combinations of feed, where the feed is digested (sooner in the process versus later in the process), and the type and volume of bacteria in the digestive tract.

I managed to glean a couple of useful pieces of information from this section.  First, feeding smaller volumes of a high-starch feed (i.e. high NSC value) may result in greater energy absorption from the feed than if a higher volume was fed (p. 38).  Regrettably, what is considered a low versus high is not identified.  But, presumably, if you feed three meals of two pounds of oats, your horse will get more energy than if you fed one meal of 6 pounds.  This knowledge has been around for awhile, but it's always nice to see a scientific basis.  Second, oat starch is considered more digestible in the small intestine than corn or barley starch (p. 38).  Previously, Nutrient Requirements mentioned that an increase in digestion in the small intestine led to greater energy absorption than if the digestion occurred later in the process in the large intestine. Again I think it is common knowledge that oats is the most digestible grain, but I didn't realize it had to do with where the digestion occurred until I read this chapter. 

Another thing that I want to at least mention here is the application of the glycemic index to horse feed.  You can read the details on pp. 39-41, but I'll relay what I thought was most interesting.
In humans, the term "glycemic index" (GI) has been used to characterize the magnitude of the blood glucose increase to various foods.  The primary purpose of the GI in human nutrition was to provide a means of comparing carbohydrate sources in order to manage hyperglycemia... Recently, several studies have attempted to apply the GI concept to horse feeds.  The methods that have been used in horses have been extremely variable, making it difficult to interpret the results across studies... With appropriate standardization, there may be some application of the GI to horse nutrition; however, many factors will have to be considered, including the age, breed, and physiological state of the horse, as well as the physical form of the feed.  In addition, a GI system must account not only for differences among feeds when they are fed separately, but also when they are mixed with other ingredients as is common in the horse industry.  For example, Pagan et al. (1999) reported that the glycemic response of horses consuming sweet feed was reduced when vegetable oil was added to the feed.
What I had trouble understanding was how the GI might be different and potentially more valuable from the NSC value already used.  I have been thinking of the NSC value as something like a GI value, but that appears to not be the case.  That said, my takeaway from this section is that a person probably wants to exercise some caution when it comes to the claims of certain feed companies that a particular feed is best for a horse with a insulin- or metabolic-related issue that requires more careful monitoring of blood sugar.  I'm not an expert in this area, of course, but there are definitely feeds that appear to be labelled for use in metabolically-challenged horses based at least in part on starch values.  I suspect at least some of this may be more marketing than reality, and I would encourage anyone with a horse that needs a special diet due to concerns about blood sugar levels to do some research on their own, preferably using sources not sponsored by a feed company (or even a vet because many - not all! - vets seem to parrot what the feed company tells them).  In particular, I noted that age, breed, and physiological state of the horse may play a role in how a horse processes and reacts to different types of feeds.  Additionally, it appears that it might be possible to control a blood sugar spike by adding fat to the food at feeding time (I think this is also true with people, but don't quote me on that).  Anyway, this information is just another indication that feeding your horse is more than buying a certain feed and dumping it in the feed bucket.

The final thing that I want to point out here is that there is some information on things like how exercise impacts glycogen stores as well as the idea of "carbohydrate loading" and other ways in which feeding practices can affect the utilization of glucose during exercise as well as post-exercise recovery.  For example, Nutrient Requirements reports that, "When horses exercised for 1 hour at 500 m/min or for 4 hours at 300 m/minute, muscle glycogen stores were depleted by approximately 60 percent" (p. 40).  If you're like me and you have no idea how fast those paces are, I looked up the conversions.  500 meters per minute is equivalent to 18.64 miles per hour, which is pretty fast, although not unheard of, for endurance racing.  300 meters per minute is equivalent to about 11 miles per hour, which is probably closer to the pace that medium-paced endurance riders use and the 4 hour time in the example is a good fit for endurance conditioning and riding. Nimo can absolutely trot at 11 mph, although I've never pushed him to 4 hours straight of that pace.  If I did, though, it looks like I would be severely taxing his glycogen stores and pushing him toward extreme fatigue.

Which is why I might be tempted to consider "carbohydrate loading."  For those unfamiliar with the concept, it basically involves significantly cutting back on carbs while continuing to exercise for a few days before a major physical effort (like a marathon) and then significantly increasing carb consumption while resting just before the event.  Apparently there is evidence that this practice does increase glocogen stores in humans and may assist in delaying fatigue.  But, Nutrient Requirements goes on to state that "there is no clear evidence that carbohydrate loading has any significant benefits to equine athletes" (p. 40).  So carb loading for horses is probably not helpful.

However, feeding a grain meal 2-3 hours prior to exercise may or may not be helpful, depending on a variety of factors like whether it is accompanied by hay.  I didn't find this analysis that useful, because in the endurance world, we are feeding our horses all the time, particularly in the few hours prior to a competition, and we may not be feeding just grain or even grain at all.  Because endurance feeding practices differ so significantly from what I see commonly done in other disciplines (like not feeding for a couple of hours before the competition to make sure the digestive tract is able to handle a significant, but short-term, physical effort), I think more research is really needed in terms of pre-competition feeding practices.

One study discussed did address the consumption of carbohydrates during the exercise.  This study engaged in the practice that everyone can follow (heavy sarcasm here) of intravenous infusion of glucose.  The study did show increased time to fatigue, but the authors of the study noted that "the intermittent feeding of horses during long-term exercise might not duplicate the effects of intravenous glucose infusion" (p. 41).  Great, so I guess we keep doing the intermittent feeding thing during our conditioning and competitions, but in terms of the specific benefits or guidance on how we might best accomplish increasing time to fatigue with food, there is still really no information.

That said, I do think another study discussed might shed some light on exactly how serious glycogen depletion is for horses in endurance events and why intermittent feeding may only be partially helpful.  This study looked at how fast glycogen is restored to the body after exercise.  The study found the fastest rate repletion occurred during the first few hours after exercise and it was faster in horses fed hay and grain versus just hay.  "At 28 hours post-exercise, muscle glycogen concentrations were 90 percent of pre-exercise values when horses were fed hay and grain, but only 71.7 percent...when they received only hay" (p. 40).  I admit to being shocked that at 28 hours post-exercise (and this was probably not an endurance event type of exercise), glycogen stores had still not fully recovered.  Although I am not surprised that adding grain made a difference.  I often want something starchy after exercise, and I assume that is for a reason.

So there you have my attempt at looking at carbohydrate requirements for Nimo.  My conclusion is almost to throw my hands up in the air.  There is just enough information in this chapter to tantalize me, but nothing definite jumped out at me to give me a solid path for feeding Nimo.  I do feed him a small amount of oats, and I already intermittently feed during longer conditioning rides and post work-out, but in terms of specifically what I should feed and in what amounts, I still feel like I'm in the dark.

That won't stop me from blindly stumbling along toward Fat and Protein requirements in future posts, though:)

Saturday, December 17, 2016

My Favorite Horse Memes

Today's post will be pretty short.  After a day of cleaning the house and cooking for guests, I can barely keep my eyes open.  Also, dinner parties for 4-year-olds and under aren't quite the same as dinner parties for adults:)

There are several horse-related memes floating around Facebook that never fail to make me smile when I see them, so I thought I'd share them with you today.  Enjoy!

This is exactly how Nimo used to feel about trail rides before we started our endurance conditioning.
This one recently started making the rounds, and it could not reflect more perfectly how Nimo feels about small ditches
I use this one on my husband a lot - he has yet to see the humor:)
So appropriate as we go into winter, especially with the ice we got last night!

Friday, December 16, 2016

DIY Healing Salve

With the arrival of winter, my skin always becomes dry and itchy, and being outdoors with the big, black one doesn't help.  Alas, I have sensitive skin, so I can't really use any over-the-counter products, even the ones that insist they are for people with sensitive skin.  I also generally try to keep my personal care products as natural as possible to reduce the chemical load on my body, which experiences enough difficulty without having to combat lots chemicals too.  Which is why it was so great when I found this recipe over at the Camp Wander blog.  I thought I'd share the process with you, in case you are interested in learning how to make your very own salve too.  If not, you can actually purchase it (along with many other similar products) at the Camp Wander store.

I've shared this salve with friends and family and it has successfully treated dry skin, toe fungus, and infected dog bites.  I'm not saying that you don't need a doctor or prescription medication for your problems, but I will usually try this stuff before moving on to something harsher.

Here are the ingredients you need:

1.  1 cup real olive oil (not the fake stuff that is mostly sold in grocery stores - buy directly from the farm or a reputable source, if you can, otherwise, you might as well just slather rancid corn oil on your skin)
2.  1 cup coconut oil (again, be careful of your source and make sure it is cold pressed without chemicals)
3.  5 Tbsp beeswax pastilles (the original recipe calls for only 4 Tbsp, but I found that with our warm summers, the whole mixture would go liquid, so I upped the beeswax to keep it semi-solid even if the house is 80 degrees)
4.  1/2 tsp vitamin E oil (for preservation - if you're going to use the salve within a few months, you probably don't need it)
5.  Lavender essential oil
6.  Tea tree oil (melaleuca) essential oil
7.  Lemon essential oil

All the ingredients except the olive oil because I forgot:)
Here are the supplies you need:

1.  3-4 cup glass measuring container (like a Pyrex - it has to be able to handle heat)
2.  2 quart sauce pan
3.  Some kind of stirring device (like a big spoon or spatuala)
4.  Five 4 oz jars (you can use the 4 oz canning jars that Ball makes or you can get specialty jars made specifically for cosmetics)  Note: The original recipe calls for 4 jars, but I find that I need 5, so you may play around with this a bit.

The process:

1.  Put the olive oil, coconut oil, and beeswax in the Pyrex container and stir them.
2.  Fill your saucepan about half-full with water and then put the Pyrex container in the pan.  You'll want the water level to be at least equal to the oil level in the Pyrex container, but you don't want to risk spilling water over the edge of the saucepan or splashing in the oil mixture (getting water in the oil may contribute to mold development over time, so that's no good).

My lovely spatula/spoon before my husband burned a hole in the handle...not that I'm bitter...
3.  Put the heat on low-ish.  You're essentially creating a double broiler (but the Pyrex container is so much easier to use for measuring and pouring) and the goal is to slowly heat the oil mixture until the beeswax is melted.  It takes an agonizingly long time and you'll be tempted to increase the heat to speed things up, but I encourage you to suck it up because you don't want the olive oil to boil.  It will lose some of its good qualities if it does (even though so many cook books advocate cooking with olive oil, don't do it - olive oil is not meant to handle heat; use lard or ghee or coconut oil instead).  Beeswax melts at about 150 degrees, so you're walking a fine line with the temperature.  You've got to keep stirring and checking on the beeswax pastilles.  Once they start to melt, things will go fairly quickly, though.

4.  While you're waiting for the beeswax to melt, you can add excitement to your life by putting the essential oils in the jars.  Add 10 drops of lavender, 8 drops of tea tree, and 6 drops of lemon to each jar.

Your jars should look like this after you put the essential oils in them
5.  Once the beeswax is melted, take the Pyrex container out of the saucepan (and turn off the stove - no need to burn your house down just to be natural!) and stir in the vitamin E oil.

6.  Now you get to fill the jars with the oil mixture.  I usually fill all of them about 3/4 full and then start topping them off so that I can get a sort of equal distribution of the oil mixture. You don't need to stir them to mix the essential oils in - the simple act of pouring in the oil allows the essential oils to blend in on their own.

Jars are filled!
7.  Put a paper towel over the jars and let them cool for about 6 hours (or a little less if your house is cold).  The purpose is just to avoid any condensation that might accumulate from steam if you put the lid on the jar while the mixture is still hot.  The moisture may cause mold or shorten the life of your salve, and you do not want that to happen after you worked so hard to get this far!

Possibly the most exciting picture ever taken...
8.  Admire your hard work.

Yes, I stuck my fingers in it to test the consistency
9.  Put the lids on the jars and label them.  I cannot emphasize labeling enough, particularly if you make other stuff.  You don't want to think this is apple butter by mistake...

10.  Keep one or two for yourself and give the rest away - your friends and family will think you are amazing!

The great thing about this recipe is that you can use the base ingredients (olive oil, coconut oil, and beeswax) by themselves or add different combinations of essential oils to address specific issues.  For example, I have some LLP essential oil from Spark Naturals.  It's a proprietary blend of lavender, lemon, and peppermint essential oils meant specifically to heal allergic-type reactions on skin.  I added 30 drops to one of my jars instead of the mixture from the recipe to create a salve for itchy skin issues.  As it happened, I managed to develop a stye on my lower eyelid a few weeks ago (that was not a happy day in our household - I think I may have had a meltdown - How does a person get a pimple on her eyelid?  Gaaaaaa!).  It was so itchy and painful!  Before I went to the eye doctor, I put a little of the LLP salve on my lower lid where the stye was (but not IN my eye, because I don't think the salve is meant for on-eye use) and immediately got some relief.  Within 48 hours, the stye was completely gone and I saved myself a trip to the doctor.  The important thing to remember is not to go overboard with adding a lot of essential oils to each jar.  I would probably stick to no more than 30-40 drops total per 4 oz jar.  Essential oils are meant to be diluted at least a little in a carrier oil.  Some, like lavender, can be used directly on the skin by most people, but diluting them is typically the best way to go.

In terms of where to buy the ingredients and supplies, my go to store is Mountain Rose Herbs.  They have the best selection of essential oils (and the vitamin E oil and other herbs and supplies like the 4 oz jars) and a lot of them are organic, which I prefer.  Spark Naturals and Young Living are other sources I've used and I haven't had any quality issues.  I get my olive oil from Radiant Life and my coconut oil from Tropical Traditions.

Anyway, I hope you've enjoyed this little tutorial on how to make salve yourself.  I found the process a bit intimidating at first, but after making several batches, I feel pretty comfortable with the process, and I love being able to make it myself!

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