Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Ask the Judge

Questions About Dressage

With Amy McElroy

Dear Amy,

I have a question about some gifts I received for my birthday. I now have a lovely square pad with bling around the sides and my farm's name and logo. I also have a beautiful whip with a bling on the handle, and I have a fun and new pair of gloves with bling on them. I love my gifts, but I need to know if I can use all of these things when I am competing this season? Please advise!

Glittery Togs

Dear Glitter,

This is a very good question as there had been much discussion about saddle pads and bling this year. Let's talk about your saddle pad first. It does sound very beautiful and perfect for the show arena. Is it legal? Let's look at the current ruling regarding the use of saddle pads with decoration.

You might be surprised to learn that saddle pads are not required when competing. Although they are optional, I have never seen anyone compete without a saddle pad, and I don't recommend it. A squared dressage pad or a fitted pad are both acceptable. The pads should be white or of a conservative color. According to the USEF rulebook DR 121, under Saddlery and Equipment, a logo, monogram or name it may appear on either or both sides of your saddle pad. The logos that are allowed must not exceed 200 square centimeters: this is about the spread of your hand, or roughly the size of a 5-inch by 6-inch card. When I look at a logo on a saddle pad, I try to imagine the size of a hand, and if it is smaller than that, I consider it an appropriate size.

You may use a breed logo for horses registered with that same breed. Beware of an inappropriate breed logo! If you have the Hanoverian logo on a leopard Appaloosa, this would not be correct, and you would most likely get a warning. You also may display a national flag if you are a citizen of that country. You can't display a national flag of a country for which you simply have an affinity: Americans can't have an Irish flag on their saddle pads just because they love Ireland.

You may also have the USEF logo. Professionals and amateurs have additional and different logo restrictions. Professionals may have a business or product name, or their sponsors logo on their pad. Amateurs may not have a business, product name or logo unless they actually own the business. Competition award pads are also allowed for both amateurs and professionals, as are pads bearing the name of your stable. No other advertisement or publicity is permitted on any saddle pad.

Other inappropriate saddle pad characteristics include busy patterns or decorations and loud, bright or distracting colors (no smiley faces, zebra print or blaze orange.)

These are the current rulings on saddle pad appearance, effective December 1, 2016 and currently in use.

Now let's consider bling. In the dressage world, "bling" refers to shiny, jewel-like decorations on tack and equipment. As far as wearing gloves, you might be surprised to learn that in classes Fourth Level and below, gloves are recommended but not mandatory. Although many people wear traditional white gloves, any conservative color is permissible. Bling on gloves is allowed, and has become quite common: I think it looks good when done tastefully. (As a sidenote, bling will draw attention to your hands, so if yours are not yet independent, it would be a better idea to wear a more conservative, planer pair.)

In regards to your blinging whip handle: bling is allowed on your handle, providing you meet all the other whip regulations. As with the gloves and the saddle pad, carrying a whip is optional in those classes where it is permitted. (You are not allowed to carry a whip in some classes and circumstances, such as when you are riding in regional championships or the nationals.) When a whip is permitted in competition, the only requirement is that it may not be any longer than 47.2 inches (120 centimeters). This measurement does include the lash. Keep in mind that an adjustable whip is not ever allowed. If you carry a whip that exceeds the length limit, you will be eliminated. This might be a good time to mention that you should not be surprised if, after you have completed your test, the ring steward asks to measure your whip. Depending on the size of the show, steward my check every whip, or every second or third whip. The judge may also request that the steward measure any whip that looks suspiciously long.

For all the current rules on dress and equipment, you can always visit the USEF website under "dressage rules." These rules do change, so check to be sure you are always up-to-date. Also, if you are at a show and you have further dress or equipment questions, you can find the technical delegate and ask: technical delegates are well-versed on all the current rules.

To summarize: assuming you are an adult amateur, you may wear a saddle pad with your farm name and logo on it, providing the logo does not exceed the size limit. Bling on your saddle pad, whip handle and gloves is permitted. Currently the only place bling is not permitted is anywhere on your horse: no hoof appliques, no glitter in his main or jewelry in his tail.

I think you will look very fashionable in your new show clothing and tack and it sounds as if you were lucky to receive such wonderful birthday presents. Go ahead and enjoy them. I hope you shine in the show ring!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Congress Champions at Three Runs

Ranch Sorting Horses are Winners

By Pam Gleason

Ranch sorting is a competition that evolved from a common activity on ranches in the West: sorting cattle into pens for various purposes. A growing sport in the Aiken area, and now it can boast to all American quarter horse Congress Champion sorting horses as well as a reserve Champion. All three horses live at Three Runs plantation and are owned by Blair and Ted Cummings. Blair and Ted own and run Cummings Insurance Agency, a full service independent insurance company that offers automobile, home, life and equine insurance, among other things. They relocated to Aiken from Connecticut a few years ago, and that move also entailed a change of disciplines for them.

"Ted had done some raining and I was a western pleasure rider," says Blair. "But when we came to Aiken, everyone told us we should try ranch sorting, and so we did and we love it."

The Cummings ended up training with Marc Chancey, A performance horse trainer based in Waynesboro, Georgia. They became devoted to the sport, and, with Marc's help, soon acquired their own sorting horses. These include Teds horse Hallowed Be (Mick) and Blair's horse High Rollin Sug (Gambler), A nine-year-old gray gelding from High Brow Cat lines that Ted gave to Blair as a Christmas present last year. They also recently bought Scoot to Smoke (Grace), A mare that they hope to breed in the near future. Blair and Ted travel to Waynesboro regularly to practice and learn more about sorting and they compete monthly at the BSC arena in Waynesboro, where there are Ranch Sorting National Championship sanctioned events.

The all American quarter horse Congress, held each October in Columbus, Ohio, is the world's largest single breed horse show, attracting entrants from around the country and the world. In ranch sorting, teams of two riders enter an arena where there is a herd of numbered cattle and they must move these cattle, in numerical sequence, from one pen to the other as quickly as possible. At the Congress this year, Marc Chancey road Ted's horse Mick, while Janine Kassab from New Jersey rode Gambler. Marc and Janine topped their class to win the Congress championship. Janine also competed on grace, and was Reserve Champion. In November, Marc took Gambler to the world show in Oklahoma City. They did not win, but they did place well in a huge class. Blair says that the goal for next year is to get all three horses qualified for the World Show. In the meantime, she and Ted have the chance to enjoy their champions as riding horses and as companions.

"When we are sorting these our trail horses," she says. "They are phenomenal trail horses as well as performance horses."

The horses live at their home in Three Runs Plantation, and Blair and Ted ride regularly on the trails there or in the Hitchcock Woods. Ranch sorting horses have to be quick and nimble to cut out their cows, but Blair says that her horse gambler is as calm and quiet on the trails as anyone could want, whether she is riding alone or in company. He is such a kind and adaptable horse that, two weeks before the Congress, Blair lent him to a girl named Malley Flowers to compete in the Special Olympics Georgia State Horse Show in Gainesville, Georgia. Malley then went on to win gold medals and one silver in showmanship, horsemanship and trail.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Eventing Preview

Winter in Aiken

By Pam Gleason

Aiken's event riders had better get ready: It's going to be one heck of a season.

The Aiken area has been a winter destination for event riders for several decades. Aiken has wonderful footing, good weather and a plethora of recognized and schooling competitions that can put a lot of show miles on a horse in a very short time. There are clinics, lessons, social events and an exciting atmosphere. Sometimes it seems as though everyone is here: Olympic riders and legendary figures in the sport, established and aspiring professionals, talented juniors and, of course, amateurs from up and down the Eastern seaboard.

The number of competitive opportunities in Aiken seems to grow every year, and this season there are so many that event riders may never unpack their trailers. By our count, there are 71 separate competitions or clinics for event riders between the beginning of December and the end of March in the Aiken area alone. This does not count the United States Equestrian Federation High Performance Eventing training sessions that are expected to return to Stable view in the new year. (The USEF usually announces the actual dates in early January.)

Aiken also makes a convenient base of operations for riders who will ride in Georgia at Pine Top and Poplar Place, or in North Carolina at the Carolina Horse Park in Mill Spring. Tryon is the new location for the Fork CCI3* this April and will hold the 2018 World Equestrian Games in September 2018.

To help Aiken's eventing enthusiasts keep track, we have once again pulled the eventing dates from our calendar. We hope that this list will serve as a handy reference. Of course, there are other activities that will also interest Aiken's event riders, so be sure to check the website of the relevant facility before heading there, as time and dates do sometimes change.
Aiken Horse Park
931 Powderhouse Road
Aiken, SC 29801

Contact: Debbie Salem: 803.257.0925

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Increase your horse's strength with exercise

Any horse can benefit from a simple strength-training routine. Here's how to safely build your horse's muscle power.

Strength training for horses isn't just limited to heavy draft breeds competing in pulling contests. Any horse in any discipline can benefit from a strength-building regimen, and any rider can put together a systematic, safe program to muscle up her mount. Try these simple tips to increase the muscle power of any horse. Stamina has to be in place before strength can be increased, so put some endurance-building mileage on him before beginning power trips.

Undulating terrain is the best equine gym, as a horse must lift his own body weight with each stride when traveling up- or downhill. Start with jaunts up gradual slopes, and increase the grade and length of time spent in "climbing" as the horse becomes more muscular. If your horse has a particularly weak side, negotiate the ups and downs on the diagonal, with his weaker side toward the crest. The "high" side of the body has to exert more muscle to maintain balance. Flatlands riders can use man-made "hills," such as dry drainage ditches, in place of natural terrain; or they can practice jumping or pulling in a harness (drags and harrows, not easy rolling carts), even if their horses don't otherwise use those skills.

Monitor your horse during his strength training: Heavy blowing or trembling muscles indicate that he needs a break, Next-day soreness tells you that you pushed him too far; scale back next time out.

Strength develops slowly, but after a few weeks of power tripping, the first changes will become visible as increased muscle mass along the spine and greater tightness and trimness of the belly. Your horse's ridden performance will improve as well, with a greater reach in his gaits, more bounce in his jumps and increased control in his turns.

This article first appeared in EQUUS issue # 231.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Research Update: Equine Heart Health

Catching up with the United States Eventing Association’s Cardiopulmonary Research Group as it works to solve the puzzle of sudden equine deaths in competition

By Sushil Dulai Wenholz

Two horses lost their lives on the cross-country course at the spring Red Hills International Horse Trials in Tallahassee, Florida, in 2008. The deaths of both horses, Jonathan Holling’s Direct Merger and Missy Miller’s Leprechaun’s Rowdy Boy, were ultimately attributed to heart-related problems. Certainly it wasn’t the first time an eventing horse had died on course or from heart trouble. But those two losses were, perhaps, the pair of straws that finally broke the camel’s back and helped spark a research effort by the U.S. Eventing Association that continues to this day, aimed at preventing such tragedies.

Raising the Question

Not long after Red Hills, the USEA officially launched its Equine Cardiopulmonary Research Group, led by Catherine Kohn, VMD; A. Kent Allen, DVM; Mark Revenaugh, DVM and Eleanor M. Green, DVM.

“If you look back at what was going on in eventing when we started, there were concerns about what seemed to be a surge of horses that died in competition,” says Dr. Kohn. “These were seemingly healthy horses at well-run competitions. Incidents like this are catastrophic for the horse, of course, but also for the rider and the eventing community.”

The CRG was formed, she adds, in an attempt to apply science to the question of what was causing these unexpected deaths. And, since 2008, members have been working toward an answer.

Setting the Stage

CRG members started the project by looking at horse deaths on cross country. They identified two categories: fatalities attributed to injuries from falls and fatalities where the horse did not appear to be injured. CRG research has focused on this second group.

Next, researchers reviewed deaths of human athletes in competition and found that cardiac problems were often implicated. “So we decided to start [our study] by looking at the cardio and respiratory health of horses competing in eventing,” says Dr. Kohn.

At the 2009 Plantation Field Horse Trials, the researchers ran a pilot study, completing electrocardiograms (ECG) and heart and lung ultrasounds on 20 horses the day before and immediately following the cross-country test.

An ECG records the heart rhythm and heart rate. An ultrasound, or “echo” study, uses ultrasound waves to make images of the heart muscle and the portion of the lungs closest to the skin. One type of echo study, an echocardiogram, specifically makes images of the heart muscle as it moves so that the size, shape, quality of the motility of the heart muscle and the functioning of the heart valves can be assessed.

Veteran four-star eventer Allison Springer was one of the volunteer participants at that first trial, competing in the CIC*** with Destination Known. “The study can be successful only with a broad range of data gathered from participants like me,” says Allison, explaining her decision to join the study. “The welfare of my horses is of the utmost importance to me. I feel that participation is a responsibility that I owe to all the amazing horses that compete in my sport.”

Dr. Kohn recaps the results of that first study, saying, “We didn’t find anything egregious in those horses. There was nothing to suggest that the horses tested had unsuspected heart or lung abnormalities that might lead to a catastrophic incident on course. As 20 horses is a small study population, we consider this a pilot study. However, our results did not support the hypothesis that undetected structural heart or lung disease is common in healthy event horses.”

The researchers carried out several other studies, including one looking at levels of cardiac troponin, a protein released when the heart muscle is damaged. In this study, researchers collected blood samples from horses at rest and following the cross-country test at two competitions.

“The horses were all healthy with no obvious heart disease, yet several showed a substantial increase in troponin levels after the cross-country test,” says Dr. Kohn. “We were intrigued by these results. However, we tested horses at additional competitions and did not find concerning increases in post-cross country troponin levels. This information, as well as the expense of troponin assays, led us to decide not to commit resources to this line of investigation. We are hopeful that we may obtain funding for additional troponin studies in the future.”

The Devil Is in The Details—or the Device

The result of those initial field studies was the creation of this hypothesis: Horses may develop transient cardiac arrhythmias (an irregular heartbeat) while on cross country. In this condition, the heart rhythm breaks down, making it difficult for the horse to pump blood efficiently. In some instances, these arrhythmias may compromise exercise tolerance and could lead to falls, injury or fatalities.

How to prove or disprove the theory? “We needed to look at the electrical activity of the horses’ hearts while they were competing to try to answer the question, ‘What’s happening on the field of play?’” says Dr. Kohn.

To do that, researchers needed a recording device that would remain in position on the horse during the twists, turns, ups, downs and speed of a cross-country run. However, such a device wasn’t commercially available and, says Dr. Kohn, “It soon became apparent that the ‘devil was in the details,’ and fabricating a device that would stay in place would be a challenge.”

In fact, it took several years of trial, error and modification to develop an effective system. Two CRG members, Doctors Ric Birks and Mary Durando, had engineered a recording system that they were using successfully on racehorses. They made some modifications to this system for use in event horses during competition.

“In 2013 and 2014, we were able to acquire interpretable recordings of heart rhythm during the cross country in approximately 65 to 70 percent of the horses we tested,” explains Dr. Kohn. “We are very pleased with the performance of this system.”

The recording system consists of electrodes in the area of the girth and on the horse’s back with wires connecting the electrodes to the recorder itself. The recorder is secured inside a small pouch sewn to a saddle pad. Researchers affix the system before the horse goes to the cross-country warm-up, and the system remains in place until after the cross-country test. The researchers are then able to record the electrical activity of the heart at rest, during the less-intense work of the warm-up, during the cross-country test itself and during at least the early few minutes of the recovery period.

Allison, who also participated in a field study at the Plantation Field CIC** in 2015 aboard Cascani, attests to the advancement of the system. “The equipment used to gather information has improved significantly in the past years, allowing for more accurate information-gathering,” she says.

For study participants, Allison explains, the process is simple. “A couple of vets came to my stall when we were tacking up for cross country. They have a thin quilt saddle pad that held the sensors. They were very mindful about me being 100 percent comfortable with the placement of the pad, that the wires were comfortably tucked away and that no piece of extra equipment would influence my performance in any way. The vets were excellent to work with.”

Making Progress

By the end of 2015, CRG members had conducted studies at the 2014 Waredaca Horse Trials, the 2015 horse trials at the Horse Parks of New Jersey and Fair Hill, the 2015 Plantation Field CIC, and the 2015 Fair Hill Three-Day Event. Participants—all volunteers—have included approximately 65 horses competing at Beginner Novice through the CCI*** level. Researchers briefly examine each recording at the event and inform riders if significant heart irregularities are detected.

“Our next task was to determine how many of our recordings were of sufficiently high quality to be interpretable,” says Dr. Kohn. For that step, two to four veterinarians specializing in equine cardiology make a preliminary review of each of the recordings. Those that pass this screening test are then examined in detail by the same veterinarians.

“Recordings vary in length from 30 minutes to as long as 90 minutes,” explains Dr. Kohn. “Detailed review of these recordings is time-consuming, especially considering that all of our researchers are volunteers with full-time jobs. We are currently working on the detailed analyses of our 2015 data.”

The researchers hope that during the 2016 competition season they’ll hit 100 useable recordings—a large enough number, says Dr. Kohn, “to give us a good idea of the electrical activity of the hearts of healthy horses in the cross-country phase of an eventing competition.”

Since the group’s key researchers live on the East Coast, studies to date have taken place in the East for the sake of convenience and to minimize expenditures. The group hopes to extend their studies to the Midwest and possibly the West Coast this year. “We want to give more riders an opportunity to volunteer and thus ensure that we have as broad a population of eventing horses in our study as possible,” says Dr. Kohn.

Looking Forward

“We are very pleased to be able to obtain, for the first time as far as we know, interpretable recording of the electrical activity of the hearts of horses galloping and jumping their way around a competition cross-country course,” says Dr. Kohn. “We are now focused on studying sufficient horses to get our 100 interpretable recordings and an analysis of the large amount of data we have in hand.”

Dr. Kohn refrains from offering conjecture on results from data that is still being evaluated. “Speculation is dangerous,” she says. “Our goal is to be open-minded and approach our data in a scientific way so that our conclusions will be valid. You formulate a hypothesis, test it and then the data proves whether your hypothesis is right or wrong.”

One thing Dr. Kohn doesn’t expect the studies to include: recordings from horses who collapse on course. Luckily, such incidents remain uncommon, she explains, making it extremely unlikely statistically that the group will capture recordings from such a horse during one of the field studies.

Dr. Kohn is also willing to share her hopes: “I hope that we don’t find significantly abnormal heart rhythms or occult heart disease in any recording from our 100 horses. If we don’t find evidence of unsuspected heart disease, then we can conclude that recommending specialized screening tests for heart disease in apparently healthy horses is unlikely to be helpful in preventing equine fatalities during competition,” she says.

In addition, she notes, the group would be able to say that transient, potentially performance-limiting heart-rhythm abnormalities didn’t occur in the study population. That would suggest that such abnormalities are unlikely to be common in healthy competition horses and unlikely to be an important cause of collapse or fatality during competition, she explains.

While Dr. Kohn notes that this phase of the research won’t answer all the questions about why fatalities may occur in horses who are competing, it will provide essential baseline data that’s not currently available. “Defining the range of electrical activity of the hearts of healthy horses in competition is essential for interpretation of potentially abnormal exercising ECGs in eventing horses,” she says.

What Riders Can Do Now

While the study moves forward, Dr. Kohn has advice that event riders can act on today. Most important, she says, know your horse’s heart. Ask your vet to listen carefully to the heart. If your vet finds an arrhythmia or a heart murmur, make sure he or she does a comprehensive cardiac exam, including an echocardiogram.

“Consult with a veterinary cardiologist who has experience working with horses and follow his/her advice for ongoing monitoring of your horse,” she encourages. “You will then have the information necessary to make an educated decision as to whether or not your horse should enter a strenuous competition. Refraining from competing horses known to have an increased risk of a heart problem during strenuous exercise will reduce the risk of injuries and fatalities during competitions.”

Allison explains one of the precautions she has implemented: “I take fitness very seriously and have been regularly using heart-rate monitors on my horses for fitness work.”

Dr. Kohn thinks it’s important to point out that all participants in the research study are volunteers. “We are very grateful to the riders who have helped us. Without them, we can’t do anything,” she says. “So if you’re competing and you see our USEA Cardiopulmonary Research Program sign, come talk to us and, if you can, volunteer to be part of our study. We welcome your participation!”

Jonathan Holling: Gaining Something Positive

Jonathan Holling sat aboard his horse, a 1996 Irish Thoroughbred gelding, Direct Merger, in the cross-country start box at the Red Hills International Horse Trials in March 2008. He had every reason to expect the horse to turn in a clean, fast round, just like the year before. But this time, something went wrong.

Clearing a vertical and heading on a three-stride line to a narrow, the typically brave Direct Merger uncharacteristically ran out. “He got wobbly, reared up and died,” recalls Jonathan, emotion still evident in his voice. “I was lucky that it didn’t happen while he was jumping. I walked away unscathed, physically.”

But for Jonathan, it wasn’t enough to feel lucky. He’d seen other riders not walk away. He wondered what if it had been a kid in the saddle—would a smaller, younger person have been unhurt? And most of all, the question haunting him was why his healthy, athletic horse had suddenly died under him.

“I was so upset at the time,” he recalls. “Every time I would ask a vet—really smart, experienced professionals—they would [give an answer] and it seemed to make sense. But eventually they would all get to a point where they had to say, ‘I don’t know,’ because there is not enough research on this issue with eventing horses.”

When Jo Whitehouse of the U.S. Eventing Association approached Jonathan about the fledgling idea of putting together a cardiopulmonary research group, he knew he had to throw his support behind it.

“This was a way to focus on getting something positive out of it all,” says Jonathan. I couldn’t continue to ride horses and event at the top levels if I was not doing something to help understand why this could happen.

“I was shocked at how amazing people were at the time,” he continues. “The whole equine community. I had to take this outpouring of support and turn it into a push for this study.”

Ultimately, he hopes the study will yield a better understanding of why incidents like this occur—maybe allowing riders to identify risk factors sooner as an aid to prevention.

“I’m so appreciative that these really intelligent people are willing to donate their time and support,” says Jonathan. “Right now, I’m looking at a photo of Direct jumping into the Head of the Lake in Kentucky in 2007. I still tear up about [the accident]. It had a huge impact on my life. But if what happened to my horse had any small thing to do with getting the study going, that helps.”

Jonathan Holling and his wife, Jennifer, run Holling Eventing, a full-service training, lesson and sales business based at Willow Run Farm in Ocala, Florida. Jonathan has competed through the CCI**** level at events including the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, Burghley Horse Trials and the Nations Cup™ in Boekelo, the Netherlands. He has also coached the USEA Area IV young riders team to two gold medals.

This article originally appeared in the May 2016 issue of Practical Horseman.