Y'all know that the more focused I am on something, the more I dive into content about that thing. Health and fitness are always on my hot-topics list, but I'm especially focused on them right now as I shift into a new fitness cycle.
Here's where's I'm putting my content-absorption time these days:
Nerdy Health & Fitness Podcasts
I listen to a lot of podcasts on the subjects of nutrition, fitness, and mental and physical health. My standards are high. I want knowledgable hosts who are willing to change their minds based on the evidence. I want to question and expand my knowledge rather than sitting in an echo chamber of comfortable "truths" or poking into unrealistic "bio-hacks." Here's a small handful of titles that are presently stretching my brain:
The Peter Attia Drive -- Peter Attia is a former surgeon and active physician who focuses on longevity. He and his team produce extraordinary content, specializing in roughly 2-hour, long-form interviews, listener Q&A, and topical podcasts with extremely detailed show notes. Attia drills down on research-supported facts in a context of experienced observation of real people. Biohacks are not his thing. This podcast is about the details of exercise, nutrition, lab work, etc. for listeners who are serious about maximizing longevity and healthspan.
Attia is pleasant to listen to, extremely knowledgable, and willing to change his mind based on the evidence. He does get pretty technical at times, so be prepared to pay attention and even commit some time to watching the video so you can follow along with graphics.
A limited scope of Attia's content is available for free, but full access will cost you $19 per month. It's worth it.
FoundMyFitness -- Dr. Rhonda Patrick is another very bright, deep thinker on the subject of longevity and healthspan. While Attia's content leans a little more in the fitness direction, Patrick is more likely to explore alternative (but still not bio-hacky) therapies. Her 1-hour plus episodes are long enough for thorough interviews and exploration, and her style is relatable enough to help us lay folk absorb the more technical content.
FoundMyFitness podcasts are free. Paying for a premium membership will get you access to an additional podcast, Q&A's with Patrick, and other perks.
Pushing the Limits -- Lisa Tamati is an ultramarathoner whose fascination with optimizing human performance shines through in her in her hourish-long podcasts. Usually via conversations with other experts, Tamati explores ideas ranging from research on human metabolism to intriguing methods of (legally) enhancing athletic ability. Though some of her fascinating topics are out of reach for the average person -- or at least the average budget -- she remains grounded in the basics tenants of mindset, health, and longevity that apply to us all. Plus, her kiwi accent is fun to listen to!
Tamati's podcast is free. If you love her style, you can check out her books and coaching services
As I noted, all three of the podcasts listed above are fantastic, but can be quite dense. If you're in a mood for something a bit easier to digest, try these:
Revolution Health Radio
Mind Pump: Raw Fitness Truth
The Healthy Rebellion Radio
Nerdy Health & Fitness Books
I don't have time to read as much as I'd like, but I do consume as much non-fiction as possible. Between tangents into adventure survival stories and equine physiology, I generally have at least one health and fitness book going. Lately, I've found the following titles both engaging and useful:
Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Endurance by Alex Hutchinson. Hutchinson's book Which Comes First: Cardio or Weights? is also a fun read (if you're a nerd, of course).
Exercised: Why Something We Never Evolved to do is Healthy and Rewarding by Daniel Lieberman. I also liked Liberman's book The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease so much I read it twice.
Burn: New Research Blows the Lid Off How We Really Burn Calories, Lose Weight, and Stay Healthy by Herman Pontzer
If you check out several of these titles, you'll find that the authors don't always reach the same conclusions as one another. Also, they'll all admit that, as much as we want answers, sometimes we just don't know enough to be sure.
I like that. The idea is to explore concepts, apply those that ring true, and don't get bogged down in the weeds of uncertainty. Eat real food. Move your body. Sleep. Love. The rest is details.
Early morning. Dark outside. Treadmill whirring. I'm halfway through my warmup when *ZING!* Pain stabs my forefoot. It's familiar. Dreaded. My old demon, Metatarsalgia.
This isn't a running injury, per say. In my case, it's a chronic condition caused by an unfortunate genetic cocktail of bunions, arch construction, and long toes. (Seriously? Long toes?) Most of the time, I keep it under control with custom orthotics, stiff-soled shoes, and an anti-inflammatory diet. But occasionally, it flares.
We all have something, don't we? Whether it's periodic acute injuries or aggravated chronic ones, there will also be times when pain gets in the way of our goals. As I sit here with my foot wrapped in a frozen clay pack, I realize that age and experience have improved on my skills when it comes to maintaining fitness while managing injury.
Here's what I've learned:
#1 - Know When to Fold 'em
Kenny Rogers was right. Sometimes, it's better to give up than to push through.
When my metatarsalgia attacked mid-run, I seriously considered finishing my planned workout anyway. It was only a recovery run! Just 4.5 miles of undulating hills! Maybe if I stretched my forefoot a little? Nope. Ran with my toes curled? Nope. Ignored the pain? Sure.
Right on cue, my online trainer started saying things I already knew. Ignoring our bodies' whispers will, eventually, force them to shout. What could have been a minor injury requiring a few days off may blow up into a serious problem that decimates race plans and wipes out months of gains. He was right, of course.
Sadly and brewing with frustration, I did the hardest thing. I stepped off the treadmill.
If you've ever been an athlete on a roll, you know it is terribly difficult to give up on a workout. You feel like you're violating your own commitment. Cheating. Wimping out. But think about it: Isn't it better to sacrifice a few miles today in order to avoid a month of missed runs? To skip those final few bench presses rather than taking several weeks off to nurse a nagging shoulder?
When injury strikes, base your decisions not on the workout in progress, but on the longer term. You'll achieve higher training volume overall by backing off early and recovering quickly than you will by pushing through. Injury will always call your bluff.
#2 - Focus on What You CAN Do
We left my tale of woe with me stepping off the treadmill mid-run. I was worried. I was irritated. And, I was prepared to shift gears. Instead of heading for the shower, I limped across the gym and switched my running shoes for cycling flats.
When we're hurt, it's really easy to bask in our misery. I'm going to lose so much fitness. I'll never be ready for my race. This sucks. What if, instead, we got creative?
It's perfectly possible to train around most injuries. Get specific about what you can't do (in my case, push off my left forefoot) and find challenges that don't involve that movement. If you can't run, maybe you can walk or cycle or swim. If you've tweaked your elbow, you can probably still squat and lunge. Sprained ankle telling you standing balances are out of the question? Skip the vinyasa yoga and do hatha instead.
You might even make some gains while you recover. For example, cycling has long been hailed as a beneficial cross-training modality for runners. (Now I have time to do more of it!) Even if you don't gain, you'll minimize loss. Research demonstrates that training your uninjured bits helps preserve muscle even in immobilized limbs.
#3 - Maintain Your Usual Routine
On a related note, sticking to your usual workout schedule ~ even if you're changing up the activities ~ has benefits of its own.
Have you ever noticed that, despite initial resistance to taking a break due to injury, our natural tendencies toward laziness still kick in? "I can't run right now" has a way of morphing into "I'm going to binge Netflix and eat all the Cheetos." Don't do it!
You've worked hard to establish habits and routines, so stick to them. I hopped on the bike again this morning at my usual running time and pounded out a HIIT workout. After lunch, my strength workout is still on the docket, though I'll be working around a hamstring that I pushed a little too hard on Wednesday.
Even if your injury (or illness) really is severe enough that you can't do an alternative workout, still set aside your usual gym time to focus on your health. Use the time to stretch or read up on current research about your chosen sport. Alternatively, engage in a contemplative practice. Research has demonstrated real mental and physical benefits from mindfulness activities such as meditation and prayer, regardless of whether they are secular or religious in flavor.
Keeping your usual schedule will help you remain focused on getting back in the game instead of letting the sofa steal your success.
#4 - Actively Treat the Injury
Speaking of focus, there's a big difference between resting and recovering. Sure, rest is usually an important part of recovery, but there's so much more you can do than sit back and wait for your cells to repair. Depending on the nature of your injury, taking an active role in your recovery may even make the difference between a complete fix and chronic problems.
Don't be afraid to enlist a professional. The right practitioner (whether in sports medicine, chiropractic, soft tissue therapy, functional medicine, or whatever) is one who understands your goals and has the knowledge to help you return to full function. If you have that person's number in your phone, consider dialing it.
Of course, there are a lot of common sense steps you can take on your own. Get out your ice packs, foam rollers, and therapy balls. Soak in an epsom salt bath. Modify supportive devices, if applicable. (For me, that meant adding temporary forefoot support to my usual orthotic, per my podiatrist's direction). Tend to localized and systemic inflammation using compression, more ice, extra sleep and diet.
#5 - Eat Even Cleaner
Oh yes, diet.
It can be especially tempting to treat ourselves to junk food when we're injured. Self-medicating with food is common, including among athletes facing the depressive tendencies that accompany setbacks. The problem, of course, is that these "medicating" foods are usually pro-inflammatory choices like pizza, mac & cheese, or cookies.
Instead, try to stick to food that really does contribute to healing. You choose quality fuel to support your training, right? Wouldn't your damaged body appreciate quality building blocks even more?
Personally, I've upped my veggie and fish intake while staying away from inflammatory foods like grains and sugar. At the very least, it helps me mentally to continue treating myself like an athlete rather than a slug.
#6 - Stay Positive
It all boils down to positivity, right? The mental game is at least half the battle, and all the strategies listed above contribute to it.
Personally, I find that curiosity and positivity go hand in hand. Recovery is an opportunity to explore new activities, read some research, and get creative. You really can maintain your athletic mindset throughout your recovery and out the other side.
Bonus Tip - Take This Advice to the Barn
Oh, horse people: Don't miss the crossover application to our furry friends! Having an injured horse can be just as frustrating to having an injury of your own...and it can also offer just as much opportunity.
If your horse is laid up, look for ways to spin his down time to your advantage. Work on a low-activity training issue, like accepting the bit, touching ears, or picking up feet. Learn some physical-therapy "tricks" like carrot stretches. Bond over extra grooming and hand-grazing in the sun. Get in some extra steps on a slow handwalks.
Whatever you do, don't let an injury lay waste to your time or ambition. Recalculate your route and keep going!
Earlier this afternoon, Stacy Westfall offered a webinar that resonated with my own preoccupation of the month: Setting Goals and Overcoming Obstacles. I glean nuggets from Stacy every time I hear her talk, so I jumped at the chance to attend. Here are my notes:
Stacy started out with the obvious question and answer: Why set a goal? Because, as Zig Ziglar famously said, "If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time."
It still rings true, doesn't it? If we don't even try to get what we want, we are essentially choosing to live without it.
Then why do people stop trying?
Stacy Westfall on Failure
Stacy observed that the most common reason people stop trying is failure ~ either fear of future failure or the pain of past failure, or both. Sometimes, this fear is so crippling that people give up.
Anyway, Stacy suggested that anyone struggling with goal setting take time to explore their past failures. Are those failures getting in the way now? What could you do differently next time?
She also encouraged listeners to examine their own thoughts and judgements regarding their failures. A question she asks herself is, "What am I making it mean when something isn't going as I wish?" The meaning we impose on failure is often more impactful than the failure itself.
Stacy Westfall on Change
Next, Stacy explained that changes is uncomfortable because our brains are hardwired for all things safe and familiar.
Sometimes, it helps just to understand what is happening at a physiological level. If nothing else, we might give ourselves a little grace and be in a better frame of mind to try again. We can also anticipate when diversions are imminent and strategize to stay on track.
Stacy Westfall on Dreams
Stacy threw out a couple questions to help listeners define their dreams:
Stacy observed that they are really the same question. Are they? I only partially agree. To me, #1 is more freeing on the dreaming front, while #2 offers a dose of reality that somehow makes the dream itself seem more courageous.
Stacy Westfall on Overcoming Obstacles
Prior to the webinar, Stacy provided a workbook to help listeners plan for overcoming the obstacles that are an inevitable part of goal-seeking. (I believe the workbook is still available for free on her website.)
Each failure, then, leads us to an opportunity. We may need to gain knowledge or build skills, or simply pay more attention to practical ways of planning ahead. "Understanding and accepting failure as part of the journey," Stacy said, "frees up my mind to be present."
And being present ~ not hung up on the past ~ is key to starting again.
As a bonafide nerd, I consume a lot of content related to horses, fitness, productivity, and nutrition. (Also interior design and true crime, but those are topics for other places.) Here are some of the best bits that have caught my attention lately:
Free Webinar by Stacy Westfall: Setting Goals and Overcoming Obstacles - 1/15/22
Stacy Westfall is a talented horsewoman and educator. I've been using her approach to goal-setting for 2022, so I jumped at the chance to hear her focus more on the subject. The free event is coming up this weekend! You can register and download a free workbook at Stacy's website.
Free Webinar by Old Dominion: When Shit Goes Wrong at a Ride - 1/18/22
The Old Dominion Endurance Ride folks are hosting a free webinar on "how to handle when shit goes wrong and bad things happen." Why hasn't had that kind of day? Mark your calendar for 7:00 - 9:00 pm EST. For the Zoom link, e-mail Sonja Knecht-Hoshi at email@example.com and she'll send it your way as the webinar date gets closer.
Strongest Year Yet: A Free 2022 Health & Fitness Launchpad by Mark's Daily Apple
Mark's Daily Apple and I go way back...back to before "paleo" was cool...back when MDA had few enough readers that I actually won some stuff in the early blog contests there. Mark Sisson was one of a handful of folks who got me on fitness and nutrition track that I credit with keeping me healthy and strong for the past 15+ years.
Strongest Year Yet is a primal lifestyle introduction and support structure for women over 40. It may be a bit basic if you've followed that stuff for a while, but it's a great place to start (or re-start) if you're focused on aging well this year. You can join Strongest Year Yet for free at Mark's Daily Apple.
Centaur Biomechanics Blog
Last week, I stumbled across the website for Centaur Biomechanics. Based in the UK, this company is "dedicated to bringing the latest biomechanical analysis and interpretation to horses and riders of all levels with the goal of optimising equine health and performance as well as improving the ridden interaction between the horse and rider." [Quoted from the Centaur Biomechanics website.] Their blog offers many posts on issues that affect the comfort and performance of horse and rider, from perceived vs actual rider symmetry to how hoof shape influences saddle fit.
Free Endurance Ride Web Pages for Ride Managers
You may have noticed some changes to The Sweaty Equestrian website. I've done some cost-cutting in support of my decision to not charge ride managers for web pages this year. Instead, I'm offering to build the pages for free and asking managers to pay it forward by giving a half-price ride entry to a junior or new rider.
The idea is to give back to the sport, both by encouraging future participants and supporting ride managers. I'll take on as many as I can manage, first-come, first-served. Feel free to spread the word to the ride managers you know. Click here for details.
Podcast Recommendation: Marathon Training Academy
You don't actually have to be training for a marathon to enjoy this podcast. (I'm not, either.) MTA is a well-produced show offering two episodes per month on topics that are relevant to most runners. A couple of my recent favorites are Interview with Sally McRae: Keep Your Heart Up (posted 12/9/21) and Issues Faced by Slower Runners (posted 11/11/21). Search your favorite podcaster or there MTA website for more.
That's it from me. If you've found something cool lately, feel free to drop a link in the comments!
Did you ever get up from a chair or reach for a dropped object and think, "Damn, I'm moving like my grandmother?"
Yeah. Me too.
My joint mobility is actually pretty good. (Ignore the ice pack on my knee. Really. It's just and old ski injury that flares up on occasion.) My real battle is with posterior chain muscle tension. It shows up most in my hamstrings, glutes, and lower back.
This is particularly noticeable after a long or fast run, or when I increase the weight on my back squats or deadlifts. Unfortunately, I have a tendency to ignore it until it gets quite bad. Why do I do that?
I explored that question as I was doing Stacy Westfall's 5 Steps to Blow Your Own Mind exercise (podcast episode 159). One of the steps is to list the reasons you haven't achieved a particular result before now.
#4 is, admittedly, more of a time commitment. Yoga makes a massive difference in how well I feel, not to mention how well I ride. 25 minutes is shorter than most of my runs, so it takes my running slot on non-running days and I still come out ahead. (Also, goodness no, I don't have time to drive to a yoga studio! I use the Down Dog app.)
One more thing: I'm making a point of getting to my chiropractor/soft tissue guy at least monthly. Not only is the regular maintenance good for injury prevention, but it helps keep those old twinges (ahem, knee, ahem) under control.
That's it! Habit formation is underway, and I plan to end this year feeling better than when I started. How about you?
Dr. Aaron Horschig of Squat University demonstrates his quick shoulder warmup
Movement Enhanced demonstrates a deep squat with thoracic rotation exercise
Adam Schafer of Mind Pump explains how to perform a 90/90 hip stretch
Free Printable Quick Mobility Flow and Muscle Activation Warmup Sheets
Hay is expensive! There’s nothing more frustrating than watching your horse toss his meal out of the feeder onto the ground. Not only does that behavior lead to waste from trampling and wind, it also increases your horse’s risk of sand colic.
What Makes a Good Horse Hay Feeder?
Over many years of horse ownership, I’ve searched for a solution that:
Having struck out on commercial options, I came up with a way of modifying a bunk feeder from my local farm store to meet the above criteria. I made two of them last spring. Since then, they have been tested by at least six, different equine personalities…and approved by me.
I needed one more, so today I took pictures as I pulled it together. Take a look at the final product, then I’ll show you how to make your own.
What You'll Need
To make your feeder, you'll need:
How to Make Your Waste-Less Horse Hay Feeder
This is really easy, I promise. It took me about 30 minutes, including finding the right drill bit and pausing to snap photos.
STEP 1: Drill holes in your bunk feeder. Fun, right? It's easiest if you tip the feeder on its side.
The red arrows in the photo below show where the holes need to go. Hint: The mid-point between the legs is at the 9.75 inch mark
You'll put three holes on each side of the feeder, just below the lip. I find that this spacing works really well. It's easy for me to slip flakes of hay between the crossbars, but hard for the horse to throw them back out.
STEP 2: Thread both ends of one of your sections of paracord through one of the holes. Leave enough of a loop to clip on a carabiner.
The purpose of the carabiner is to keep the paracord from slipping through the hole. You could use something cheaper, like a large washer, but I like the carabiner because it doesn't have any sharp edges to wear on the cord, and it's easy to unclip if I ever need to remove the crossbar in a hurry.
STEP 3: Thread one of your sprinkler risers onto the paracord.
The purpose of the PVC riser is to keep the horse from getting tangled in something more flexible (like chain or uncovered paracord). It's also not particularly interesting for most horses to chew on, and it's smooth against their faces as they root around inside the feeder.
STEP 4: Thread both ends of the paracord through the hole opposite the one you started with. You should have a few extra inches on the other side, which will make it easy to tie a simple knot to close the loop. Be sure you pull the cord pretty taut before tying your knot. Mine ended up with just enough slack to expose about an inch of paracord on each end of the PVC riser.
Clip on another carabiner to keep the knot from trying to slip back through the hole over time.
REPEAT STEPS 1-4 to add the remaining two crossbars. Ta-da!
STEP 5: Use the cam straps to secure your new feeder to the fence. This way, it's easy to detach the feeder for cleaning, but your horse can't push it all around his paddock.
That's it! For less than $150, I have a bunk feeder that is the best combination of easy use and effectiveness that I've managed to find yet.
How well does it work? That depends on the horse. I'd say it keeps 90-100% of the hay off the ground for most of my horses most of the time. My determined hay-tosser occasionally gets up to half of his hay out of it, but usually much less. I call that a win.
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As I reach the end of my last bucket of Buckeye Perform N Win, I find myself on the hunt for a new electrolyte product to use during conditioning. (I normally use something with higher concentrations during 50-mile or longer events, when replenishment is more urgent.)
Perform N Win was popular among endurance riders for its sweet taste and gentleness on equine tummies. I wrote to Buckeye to ask about the discontinuation and rumors of an upcoming re-formulation. They responded quickly and kindly with the following:
I also asked on social media what other AERC riders who used to use Perform N Win are using, and thought I'd share the jist of the responses here, since that post will soon be buried.
This is hardly a scientific survey, but the most popular electrolytes among respondents to my post were Mad Barn's Performance XL and Kentucky Performance Products' Endura-Max. Some riders were also using Kentucky Performance Products' Summer Games, the product suggested by the former maker of Perform N Win.
I pulled the comparison information below directly from the product labels. The companies format their analyses a bit differently. (Note things like sodium and chloride breakdown vs just salt, and chlorine vs chloride.) Being neither a nutritionist nor a chemist myself, I won't attempt to elaborate or interpret. Instead, I included complete ingredient lists for a fuller picture. If you're knowledgable on the subject, please do add your thoughts in the comments!
A couple of the analyses include additional nutrition information. For example, Summer Games offers copper, iron, manganese, and zinc; Performance XL offers vitamin E and ascorbic acid.
Most riders who commented on Mad Barn's Performance XL noted that their horses love it. A couple said they (the riders, that is) didn't care for the smell of the product. One noted that while it doesn't include a buffer, it is not caustic. This makes sense, given the relatively low sodium concentration.
The KER article notes that well-respected endurance vet and rider Dr. Garlinghouse combines equal parts electrolyte and kaolin pectate in a blender to make a smooth, tummy-friendly concoction that can be syringed into the horse during competition.
In the interest of thoroughness, other favorite electrolytes cited by riders on social media included: Apple-a-Day, Perfect Balance, and DAC. One rider also mentioned Endura-Max Plus, which is a paste version of the same KPP product. It includes a buffer but, at about $10 per single-serving tube, is considerably more expensive than the powder.
I'm thinking of trying the Mad Barn product for use during conditioning, as its lower concentrations should be easier on the horses' stomachs.
For competition, I like the idea of buffering Endura-Max with kaolin pectate (which can be purchased by the gallon for $10-20, depending on the vendor). My horses typically eat their electrolytes in a mash, so I'll have to test whether they'll mind a bit of kaolin pectate in the mix. Stay tuned.
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2021 AERC Convention Notes: Nick Warhol on What Makes a Great Endurance Horse, and How Do You Get One?
You know Nick Warhol, right? Over 13,000 miles in 13 years of endurance, 30-plus 100-milers, ride manager, former AERC board member, and storyteller. Yeah, you know the guy. His talk at the 2021 AERC Convention was worth the price of admission. (You can still access all the Convention sessions through the end of March!)
Warhol began with a disclaimer: All opinions are his and could be argued by others.
I reckon that’s true of anyone trying to sort out what makes a great endurance horse. We all agree on good feet, correct conformation, and all that…but Warhol’s focus went more than bone deep: His #1 most important trait for an endurance horse: its mind.
Warhol listed a variety of mental attributes of a good endurance horse, noting that some are trainable, and others are not. Here’s his list:
This is about the point where Warhol began spinning stories. Those were the best part, but you simply have to hear them in his voice. I’ll just capture his practical points here.
Spooking (the phantom type, not the occasional honest spook) is problematic and even dangerous. Warhol said that, in his experience, spooky behavior is best addressed through relationship rather than training.
Okay, I can’t resist. I’ll pass along one story:
Warhol had a gorgeous, talented mare. She was fabulous, but he clung on as he rode her, afraid of hitting the dirt (again) on one of her dramatic spooks.
A friend finally advised, “Don’t ride her like she’s gonna spook. Ride her like she’s not!”
He added that no matter what horse you buy, it’s possible her personality and mindset will change when you start doing endurance. Your unicorn could turn into a dragon at the starting line. It is, quite literally, the nature of the beast.
When asked how to prevent race brain, Warhol answered like a card-carrying member of what I call the I Choose Life Club: “Go ahead and get off until they calm down. When the frenzy stops, get back on.” Cheers, Mr. Warhol.
Of all the talks during Convention, this one resonated with me the most. I’m currently searching for my next "perfect" endurance horse. No, I’m not shopping. I’m assessing a couple mares that are already in my pasture.
Neither is perfect, but they both have so many strong points. Some of their weaknesses can be trained away. Some of their strengths may evaporate under the pressure of an event. Only time will tell.
I’m working with the pair of them. Listening, watching, asking questions. Where do they shine? What imperfections can I live with? Are the good things about each horse good enough to make up for the bad ones?
Here's the thing: Those mares are watching me, too. They're reacting to my strengths and weaknesses. The difference is that they don’t have a choice. They’re stuck with me. So I’d damn well better give them my very best.
You might also like:
Dr. Stephanie Seheult on How Your Body Works with your Horse
Dr. Langdon Fielding on Electrolyte Problems in Endurance Horses
Dr. Melissa Ribley on Riding in Different Conditions
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I always enjoy presentations by Melissa Ribley, DVM. Her talk at the AERC Unconventional Convention on March 6, 2021, was especially effective in sharing her passion for traveling to endurance rides all across the country. My notes capture the highlights, but there's no substitute for the full video, now available from AERC through the end of the month.
Dr. Ribley is an extremely experienced endurance vet and rider. Not only does her AERC record span well over 20,000 miles, it also reflects her love of traveling with her horses. Competing in different regions means implementing good hauling practices and being prepared for all types of climate and terrain. Dr. Ribley shared tips on all counts.
Five Reasons to Ride Out-of-Region
Dr. Ribley started by sharing some enticing reasons to explore endurance rides in other regions:
I've only made it to one out-of-region ride in the past, and it really was fun for all the reasons above. Dr. Ribley got me thinking about doing more, but I'm not sure how I can pull it off on a practical level. My vacation time doesn't go as far as I want to! Maybe in retirement. Stay tuned.
Tips for Traveling with Your Horse
Dr. Ribley provided excellent advice that can reduce stress for both horses and humans on cross-country treks with the trailer:
Tips for Riding in Diverse Terrain
Once you get to your destination and give your horse some rest, it’s time to ride! Dr. Ribley offered thoughts to bear in mind when riding in different types of terrain:
Tips for Riding in Diverse Climate Conditions
As both a vet and a rider, Dr. Ribley is well acquainted with the impact of climate on horses’ ability to perform. She shared some excellent advice for keeping our equine partners safe in all conditions:
Dr. Ribley took some extra time to focus on hyperthermia. Horses whose temperatures exceed 103 degrees Fahrenheit are in danger!
Do you ride out of region or in diverse conditions? Are there tips you'd add to Dr. Ribley's list? Share them in the comments.
You might also like:
Dr. Stephanie Seheult on How Your Body Works with your Horse
Dr. Langdon Fielding on Electrolyte Problems in Endurance Horses
More conference notes are on the way! You can subscribe to receive email notifications when new posts are published. Just fill out the mini-form in the right-hand sidebar.
I love seminar notes. Rarely can I take the time to go back and watch an entire presentation, but I do re-read my scribbles for a refresher on the key points. I hope that sharing them here will be helpful to you as well.
Of course, I can’t possibly share all the details from this stellar session by Langdon Fielding, DVM, MBA, DAVECC, DACVSMR, and self-proclaimed electrolyte fanatic. To really take advantage of his generosity, register with AERC to access the 2021 Unconventional Convention content, which will be available through the end of March 2021.
Sodium in Endurance Horses
Dr. Fielding began by sharing a typical lab panel taken from an “Ain’t Doin’ Right” horse at an endurance ride. The panel showed higher than normal sodium and lower than normal potassium, chloride, and calcium. He posed the question: Is the problem here too much sodium or too little water?
Because sodium is all about the balance between electrolytes and water, identifying which side of the equation (sodium or water) got the level out of whack is key to preventing a repeat performance.
Potassium in the Endurance Horse
Moving on to potassium, Dr. Fielding said so much of this electrolyte is lost in sweat that low levels are common on lab panels taken during endurance events. Some horses tolerate low potassium better than others, and it’s not always problematic. However, low potassium is common in horses that are struggling or require treatment.
Dr. Fielding added that although weakness is a classic symptom of low potassium, this can be hard to differentiate from normal fatigue in an endurance horse.
Calcium and Thumps in the Endurance Horse
Dr. Fielding noted that although calcium is clearly tied to muscle and heart function, it is less consistently associated with endurance horses that are having trouble.
Low calcium, typically in addition to loss of potassium, chloride, and sodium (in Dr. Fielding’s words, "lots of electrolyte abnormalities colliding"), can contribute to synchronous diaphragmatic flutter, or thumps. Interestingly, thumps may be observed in a horse that is otherwise fine, as well as in a horse that is exhausted.
Dr. Fielding noted that feeing a horse alfalfa (which is high in calcium) can help thumps resolve within an hour or two, but cautioned that giving electrolytes to the horse could be risky if the horse is dehydrated. He said a vet would generally treat thumps with IV fluids including calcium.
It is possible – though this has not been rigorously tested – that feeding a low calcium diet during conditioning, then offering alfalfa just before the ride, can help prevent thumps. Dr. Fielding cautioned against doing the reverse; that is, eliminating alfalfa at a ride if a horse is accustomed to consuming it.
Dr. Fielding wrapped up his presentation with a reminder that problems in endurance horses aren't always about electrolytes…and when they are, the answer isn’t always about changing products or administering more.
Did you get a chance to listen to Dr. Fielding's talk? What did you find most interesting?
You might also like: Dr. Stephanie Seheult on How Your Body Works with your Horse
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Was anybody else thrilled to see that both days of AERC’s 2021 Unconventional Convention start with a focus on rider fitness? It seems to me that interest in this topic has increased recently. Maybe it’s not my imagination!
Dr. Stephanie Seheult kicked things off with a session entitled “How Your Body Works with Your Horse." Dr. Seheult is a Doctor of Physical Therapy with a Bachelors in Health Science, as well as an active equestrian. Most of her clients at Advanced Physio are also riders.
Dr. Seheult described two, common causes of pelvic imbalance:
Dr. Seheult also emphasized the importance of the gluteus medius muscle for lateral stability in the saddle. She said one side is usually stronger than the other. On the weak side, your hip flexor must compensate for your inactive gluteus medius, forcing you to use your hamstring to lift your heel to get your leg on the horse. Whew!
My favorite part of the presentation was the self-evaluation exercises. Dr. Seheult encouraged us to try a few tests in real life as she talked:
Anyway... Dr. Sehult had one more test:
After the self-evaluation exercises, Dr. Seheult was joined by Jeanette Henry, owner of Positively Pilates. The two of them work together on Ride Advanced with Positively Pilates.
I won’t even attempt to recite the nuances of the gentle pilates session Ms. Henry talked us through. It focused on the neutral spine and a rider’s ability to keep the pelvis centered while rotating the legs outward. I found the pilates exercises easy and pleasant, and can definitely see the benefit of looking more into pilates as a way to further strengthen and balance my core.
Access to the videos is closed during the duration of the convention (March 6-7, 2021), but my understanding is that AERC will reopen registration next week. If you didn't get a chance to catch this session the first time around, I highly recommend taking the time to watch the video and try the exercises.
It always seems so much more productive to run, spin, lift, ride, or write. But I know that's short-sighted. Like strength work, mobility work is key to athletic longevity.
How about you? Did you watch Dr. Seheult's session? What did you get out of it?
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A couple months ago, I asked around on the interwebs about where to get covers to go over caged endurance stirrups -- you know, to keep my feet warm while riding in winter chill, rain, and wind.
You know what I heard back? Crickets.
I definitely needed a better solution. Enter my friend Simone.
Simone Mauhl is an endurance rider in the northwest region. Conveniently for my winter riding dilemma, she also makes tack - much of it custom, and much of it for packing. (We have a lot of hunters out here in Idaho.)
So, when Simone mentioned that she could make me a pair of stirrup covers designed for caged endurance stirrups, I was all over it! We put our heads together and she came up with this design:
Well! That's much prettier than my redneck version, don't you think?
Anyway, back to the stirrup covers. The photos above feature them on a 2008-ish era Easycare E-Z Ride stirrup that Simone borrowed from Mr. Sweaty's saddle for a model. However, she made sure to make the velcro loops adjustable for all sizes of endurance stirrups, with or without cages.
My own favorite stirrups are a battered pair that came with a used Bob Marshall. If I knew what brand they were, I would buy more, but alas, they are unmarked. They're a bit smaller than the E-Z Rides. I tried out the covers on them the first time we got a snowy day with decent footing.
The product is too new to be posted in an online store yet, so just look up Simone Mauhl on Facebook. If you aren't on Facebook, ping me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll hook you up.
Happy toasty riding!
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My goal, whether standing or riding, is to be able to draw a straight line down through my ear, shoulder, hip, and ankle. The overall picture should be balanced and relaxed, not forced. This will minimize strain on my muscles, joints, and connective tissue. Not only will it look good, but it will minimize injury risk and fatigue both today and over the long haul.
The problem is that my lifestyle bears the hallmarks of modernity. I work at a desk, commute 45 minutes each way, lounge on a sofa, and spend way too much time staring down at a laptop or phone.
Posture Impacts Our Health and Our Horses
Unfortunately for me, the research is clear: Poor posture has a detrimental impact on health.
The unnatural strain that slouching puts on our spines can lead to chronic back pain and even degenerative disc disease. Lopsided musculature throws joint alignment out of whack, as well as leading to inflexibility and lousy balance. Slouching even interferes with digestion and breathing!
If that isn't enough motivation, consider what dressage rider and coach Gina Allen says about how rider posture impacts our horses:
"The hunched or rounded upper back, known as “kyphosis”, is a common postural problem. It can inhibit breathing, interfere with digestion, and cause tremendous stress to the discs between the vertebral segments of the thoracic spine. All this offers little support to your equine partner and often results in pushing him onto the forehand. Stretching through the front (anterior) chest muscles and strengthening the mid-upper back muscles can help correct this problem as long as the kyphosis is not too advanced.
Exercises to Correct Posture for Riding and Life
When I got the wake-up call from Mr. Sweaty's photo, my initial inclination was to hitch back my shoulders and stand up straight...and somehow remember to keep doing that day after day. I quickly realized, however, that there must be a better way. So, I did some reading.
It didn't take much googling on the subject to remind me of the highly-relevant fact that our muscle groups are designed to work in pairs: Quadriceps along the front of the leg balance hamstrings along the back of the leg, biceps work in opposition to triceps, and so on.
Fixing this takes both stretching out the shortened muscles on the strong side and strengthening the muscles on the opposing weak side. Here's the plan I've selected to target my own weaknesses: upper back slouch, forward-thrust neck, and lower back pain:
It's not as much as it sounds like, because several of those moves are already built into my regular workouts and yoga. However, getting all the stretching and strengthening in does take some extra intentionality.
This is a good time to remember not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Even if you just pick one stretch and one strengthening exercise to target your problem area, you'll be miles ahead of where you'd end up if you took no action at all.
Building Habits to Improve Your Posture
Building new habits tends to work best when we hitch the new habits to existing ones.
This can take the form of adding the new habit to something you already do: Every time you brush your teeth, do a stretch and a strength exercise.
Or, take this opportunity to replace a less desirable habit: Every time you get the urge to check social media, do chin tucks instead. (I actually do this. It works.)
I also use a plain old timer system during the work day: Every 55 minutes, my phone alarm goes off. That's my cue to spend five minutes greasing the groove (get your mind out of the gutter, people -- it's pullups, chinups, and pushups) or doing a few stretches and exercises to target my posture.
As your physique gets more balanced, all you have to do is remember to apply it in the saddle. Again, try tying the habit to something you do anyway: Every time you see a ribbon or change diagonals, check in with your posture.
Your health, and your horse, will thank you.
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Nobody rides for the awards, but everyone appreciates them. Coming up with the right idea at the right price is an ongoing challenge. I plumbed years' worth of discussions on social media to learn about riders' favorites. Here are 91 ideas, from old standbys to the downright bizarre, to get your juices flowing.
These days, it's easier than ever to have your ride logo embroidered, engraved, or printed on just about anything. Riders love a "branded" award that keeps the happy memories alive. For bonus points, include the date and location -- bearing in mind, of course, that doing so could limit carryover of extras to next year. Riders cited these items among their favorites:
In reviewing years' worth of comments on the subject, I reached the [decidedly unscientific] conclusion that more riders give tees the thumbs-up than the thumbs-down. Variations on the theme get extra appreciation. Tank tops, long-sleeved shirts, and UPF fabrics are especially popular. Sweatshirts take it up another level entirely!
Many riders report that practical items -- the things they keep in their cars or barns or living rooms and keep using for years -- are their favorites.
Some riders really like traditional awards that carry emotional significance. Ride photos are always a hit. Some managers get especially creative in making unique trophies, buckles, plaques, or certificates to commemorate riders' accomplishments.
Distance Riders of Manitoba president Darice Whyte spent the year snapping photos of riders, then had the best ones printed on metal for the club's division winners. They turned out gorgeous! Here are a few more examples:
Crafts by Local Artists
Some ride managers excel at sniffing out local talent, and artists can be amazingly generous when it comes to handcrafted awards. From potholders to pottery, horseshoe art to painted rocks, artisan soaps to quilts, you can't go wrong with something this special.
Just for Juniors
Who doesn't enjoy seeing juniors get some extra love at the end of a ride? Many rides offer extras for our youngest riders. Some reported favorites include:
Former junior rider Kelly William Stehman now sponsors juniors herself. She suggests awarding "things that would be good for juniors to add to their saddle bags or something that would help them become better riders. Things like scoops, sponges, stethoscopes, quality multi use tools. Maybe some sort of GPS unit to help them learn pacing or some hoof boots as a big award."
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Is it just me, or do some people get harder to shop for with every passing year? Here are fifteen ideas to help you surprise your favorite endurance rider this Christmas:
Custom Gold Foil Map
These gorgeous maps can be customized to showcase any special location, especially if it has an intricate shoreline or trail system. I purchased one in copper on black. It's stunning in a black wood frame, and the seller was a pleasure to work with.
Charlie Mackesy Book or Print
If you haven't seen this guy's art, you must take a look! Mackesy's work embodies the kindness and gentle humor I associate with Winnie the Pooh, but with horses and without the cheesy illustrations. (Sorry, Pooh.)
High Quality Layers
It seems like distance riders are always asking each other, "What do you wear to stay warm and dry on stormy rides?" My suggestion is to look for gear brands instead of equestrian-specific brands, because the technology used for skiing, cycling, and other outdoor adventure sports is so much more advanced. Some of my favorites are Outdoor Research, Rab, Patagonia, Marmot, and Mammut. Every serious rider needs a good down "puffy" coat and a 3-layer, waterproof, breathable rain shell with taped seams.
Does your rider have a farm name? Ride with a team? Manage an event? Surprise them with the perfect logo -- no design skills needed. You can create your own with support from an app like Weebly Logo Maker or commission an artist on Fiverr. The logo itself is a great last-minute gift, as you can usually get one in three days or less. Pay a few extra bucks for the vector file, and you'll be all set to customize anything: window decals for the truck, completion awards, a metal sign for the driveway, whatever!
Riders can keep both their diamonds and their fingers safer by trading out gold rings for silicone ones during barn time. As a bonus, they're comfortable and stocking-stuffer cheap. Vendors like Qalo and Enso Rings have options that go beyond basic gray.
Feel free to pad your gift with a few emergency supplies, like energy gels, some bandaids, sunscreen, and pain meds to make the walk out more tolerable.
Satellite Communication Device
This is a great gift if you have a healthy budget. I like the Garmin inReach, which fits nicely in a front pocket of my running vest. Its interface is easy to use and can even be operated through a smartphone app, which gives the user a proper keyboard instead of just the integrated grid. Your rider will be able to drop "breadcrumbs" when exploring new territory and send unlimited free pre-typed texts/emails. They'll also have have two-way, real-time communication capability -- no internet or cell service required. And, of course, there's the SOS button if shit really goes down. Bear in mind that you'll need to pay a subscription service (about $15/month) to keep the device active.
Riders doing longer distances often go to bed well before dark. I like a good sleep mask to help block out the world. This one from Sleep Master is my favorite for comfort (very silky, highly adjustable, stays in place) and effectiveness (larger surface area blocks all light).
While you're at it, these Acoustic Sheep SleepPhones are a nice alternative to earplugs for muffling the clatter of ride camp. They're nice at home, too, for listening to music or a sleep meditation without bothering your partner.
Every rider's nightmare is to lose a horse in the wilderness. Equine ID collars can be worn in camp or while riding to help bring a missing horse home. These I.C.E. clips make good stocking stuffers. I'd like to have one on every saddle!
Merri Melde -- aka The Equestrian Vagabond -- makes adorable equine pins and magnets (and other things too) sure to bring any rider luck.
Custom Stuffed Horse
Speaking of adorable! These are pricy as plushies go, but this Etsy vendor will put your horse's markings on a stuffed toy for the cutest keepsake ever.
Most distance events have a race photographer. You can usually find out who took photos at any given ride by checking the event website or Facebook page. Frame a great shot or have it printed on glass, canvas, or metal. You could also make a collage honoring one special horse, or perhaps all the different horses your rider has competed with over the years.
How about paying for a clinic, ride entry, or private lesson with an expert in your area? A session with an equine massage therapist or chiropractor wouldn't go amiss. Also, it's AERC membership renewal season...
For a truly unique gift, look for a craftsman in your own backyard. A couple years ago, my dad worked with Forgiven Fabrication (they are on Etsy now!) to turn a photo of me and my first endurance horse into a steel silhouette.
Cowhide and Sheepskin
Nothing beats coming back to a cozy home after a winter ride. Cowhides and sheepskins are perfect for adding warmth and flair to just about any style of decor. Even better, they hold up beautifully to pet hair, blood, and barf. Trust me on this.
I've had good experiences with Cowhides International (get the Brazilian ones, they're higher quality) and Sheepskin Shop.
What are you hoping Santa brings this year? Add your ideas to the comments, and happy gifting!
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After I learned that endurance riding was a thing, it took four years for me to actually get started. I spent the time reading everything I could get my hands on. That was back before the internet had much to say about distance riding, which meant I was ordering actual, paper books. I lost them all in a house fire in 2018. These are the first five that I replaced:
1. Go the Distance: The Complete Resource for Endurance Horses by Nancy S. Loving, DVM
This book was my bible as I got started in the sport, and I still re-read it periodically. Written by a veterinarian and experienced endurance rider, it covers all the basics: horse selection, conditioning, nutrition, metabolic health, cooling strategies, hoof care, common mistakes to avoid, and more. Though originally published in 1997, it is extremely well written and the content holds up (even if the riders' clothing in some of the photos doesn't).
2. America's Long Distance Challenge II: New Century, New Trails, and More Miles by Karen Bumgarner
This is another comprehensive book about preparing for, and competing in, endurance distance rides. The author's endurance career began before AERC's current record book, which starts in 1985, and is closing in on 30,000 miles. I am eternally grateful to have had her as my mentor and can certainly vouch for her expertise. But don't take my word for it. As of this writing, her AERC record shows 368 endurance rides (including 44 hundred-milers) with only 12 pulls. Astounding.
3. EMERGENCY! The Active Horseman's Book of Emergency Care by Karen Hayes, DVM
This unusual book is designed to guide you through helping your horse when no vet is available. The author provides brisk, precise instructions for how to respond to a colic, founder, laceration, heat exhaustion, choke, eye injuries, sudden lameness, and more while you work on locating a professional. I keep it in my truck for reference when I'm far from veterinary help. Sadly, EMERGENCY is hard to find new, but you can still pick up a used copy for a song.
4. All Horse Systems Go: The Horse Owner's Full-Color Veterinary Care and Conditioning Resource for Modern Performance, Sport and Pleasure Horses by Nancy S. Loving, DVM
Note the author on this one. Yep, she's the same endurance-riding veterinarian who wrote Go the Distance. This book focuses on a wide spectrum of veterinary information, presented for the lay person, with an eye to the kinds of issues that matter most to distance competitors. The electronic copy is affordable, but I'd encourage you to track down a hard copy if you can. After the fire, I managed to get one on eBay for about $60. It's worth it for photos and easy reference.
5. The Horse's Mind by Lucy Rees
This book offers a fabulous treatment of equine psychology. The author covers everything from how the horse's sense organs function to why our equine partners behave as they do. My favorite section, "Horses and People," begins with a discussion of how horses perceive training. It's dense reading, but highly applicable to the ways we interact with our horses every day.
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Thanks for dropping by! I'm an endurance rider in the northwest region of the United States. This blog explores the mental, physical, and technical aspects of being a better horseman, athlete, and human.
The Sweaty Equestrian