Saturday, January 31, 2009

Breakdowns: US vs Australia

I picked these two countries, because the data I've seen shows the US with the highest breakdown rate per 1,000 starts and shows Australia with the lowest rate:

US - 1.43 - california, kentucky, and florida over 4 year span
AUS - 0.39 - data over a 15 year span

So, a horse racing in the US is 3.7 times more likely to suffer a catastrophic injury than is one in Australia. To be fair, I believe US numbers have come down a bit with the addition of synthetics, but not down to the 0.4 range yet.

I focus on the training process. What follows is my anecdotal evidence of the two countries.

Avg time per day of actual exercise:

US - 15 minutes
AUS - 45 minutes

Avg number of breezes per week:

US - less than one
AUS - 2+

Racing frequency:

US - every 21 days
AUS - every 10 days

Number of HR/GPS monitors in use nationwide:

US - less than 5
AUS - over 100

I stay away from the raceday medication arguments, but the US allows it and AUS does not. Also, many US horses race year round on dirt, while many in AUS race on turf.

What sticks out to me is that Australian horses are trained more often, at higher intensities, and become less prone to breakdowns. The US school of thought is that these animals are so fragile that they must be 'babied' during the training process.

Who seems to turn out stronger athletes?

Friday, January 30, 2009

Use of heart rate and GPS during the training process

Heart rate stuff has been around forever, but two recent advancements have now made this technology a valuable asset to any horseman: GPS functionality, and computer software analysis.

Now you can see objective, quantitative data that illustrates the effectiveness of your training regimens, as well as highlights potential soundness issues. In effect, you have a fitness monitoring system that allows you to learn more about your horses during 3 weeks of training than you typically might learn over 3 months of racing.

Everyone knows that horses are unique individuals, now you can design customized training protocols to fit each horse at any moment in time. Truly allow each to reach his/her potential in the safest and quickest manner possible.

Heart Rate is the best indicator of exercise intensity.

It is the sum total of breeding, environment, and trainer-controlled variables such as gallop speed, distance, and frequency of exercise.

Some horses possess large hearts as evidenced by ultrasound as a yearling, but lack the conformation to move efficiently. Others post modest heart scores but have a way of going that requires little energy outlay. Yet others lack the proper enzyme levels and/or blood chemistry to finish strongly.

All of these factors can me measured, and therefore improved with proper training intensities. To sum up, the lower the heart rate at any given speed, the fitter the animal.

How the heart rate responds with increasing and decreasing gallop speeds allows us to pinpoint the current level of conditioning, and detail precisely what amount of work is needed to improve. Never fall victim to the ‘too much, too soon’ syndrome again.

This forms the basis for everything that ThoroEdge does, because having a system that can prove, on the training track, that these other ‘edges’ truly make a difference in any individual horse, is the core of our service.

Racing is full of so many variables such as trip, surface, travel, rider, traffic, etc. that uncovering a truly improved performance can take quite a long time – whereas in the mornings on the training track, those variables are constant.

There are 3 main providers of the equipment: etrakka, polar equine, and Vmax. A later post will debate the pros and cons of each.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Niagara Equissage

Hello from frozen Louisville-

I've had remarkable results lately from the Niagara Equissage system, sold in the US by Equine Products, LLC. 

I have personally seen improvements of 10-15+ Beyer points through the proper use of this tool. The system delivers cycloidal massage to performance horses with the use of a saddle-like back pad and hand unit that works with a leg/tendon boot. 

In the US thoroughbreds are often not given an appropriate warm up prior to loading in the gate. Use of the Niagara Equissage system within the hour just prior to the post parade has proven to dramatically improve racing performance. 

The system improves circulation, joint range of motion, and the respiratory processes. The horse experiences relaxed musculature, tension release, and enhanced lymphatic system performance. 

Use pre and post exercise, both during training and racing. Many large racing stables I work with send grooms to the track and fail to use this valuable tool properly, don’t make that mistake!-

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

If I Was a Horseman...

If I was a horseman I would know that unbalanced Thoroughbred Racehorses breakdown.  I would look at finish line videos and see that almost every American trained Thoroughbred Racehorse runs slightly slanted to the left, unbalanced in its action and stride.

If I was a horseman I would know or learn how to balance a racehorse.  I would know that it is impossible to produce balanced racehorses training and racing left-turn only.

If I was a horseman I would not allow exercise riders or jockeys to ride acey-ducey; putting their weight slightly off center on my racehorses back, adding to unbalancing my Thoroughbred Racehorses.  Nor would I allow exercise riders to hold a neck strap or martingale and a rein in one hand pulling my racehorse’s heads unnaturally to one side contributing to unbalancing my racehorses.

If I was a horseman I would know that the Seven (7) minutes maximum the average American Thoroughbreds racehorse spends on the training track is not enough training time for developing the bone, ligament, tendon densities plus heart and lung strength necessary to withstand racing’s pressures.

If I was a horseman I would know or learn what type of track work is needed to develop the correct bone, ligament, tendon densities plus heart and lung development that produces sound, non-bleeding racehorses able to withstand racing’s pressures.   I would study the training schedules of old-time trainers during the days of America’s drug free iron racehorses who started 20 times as 2yo’s and stayed sound for an average 100-plus lifetime starts and the training charts of modern leading Australian trainers who breeze(d) their racehorses 2 or 3 times per week, sometimes their full race distance.   I would come to know that breezing only once a week does not provide enough race specific exercise to keep my horse’s race fit, sound and not bleeding.   And I would know that harmful unnecessary, legal race day drugs like lasix (salix), glenbuterol, bute, injecting joints with steroids are badly affecting my racehorses health and racing longevity plus they allow owners and trainers to run half-fit, unsound racehorses instead of turning them out letting nature heal them.

If I was a horseman I would walk my horses for 15-30 minutes BEFORE they go on the training track starting a correct and necessary warm up process.

If I was a horseman I would slow jog my racehorses for at least a half-mile before they workout to continue a correct and necessary warm up process and I would slow jog my racehorses for a mile AFTER they workout, providing a correct and necessary lactic acid flush of their musculature systems.

If I was a horseman I would sand roll my racehorses after every workout, before they are hosed off or washed so that they would not roll in their stalls, casting and injuring themselves unnecessarily?

If I was a horseman I would hot-walk my racehorses to the left on the day they worked right turn and I would hot-walk my racehorses to the right on the day they worked left turn to help prevent arthritic back and neck conditions that affect far too many left-turn only  American Thoroughbred Racehorses.

If I was a horseman I would know that tree-less exercise saddles cause the sore backs prevalent in far too many American Thoroughbred Racehorses.  I would know that when a rider stands up in the stirrups for slow gallops he or she is forcing my Thoroughbred Racehorses to work off the forequarter (pounding the ground), that if the riders sit down in the saddle (as they do in South America) they would help my Thoroughbred Racehorses work off their hindquarter, developing more driving power and helping to keep them sound.

If I was a horseman I would know that a horse (or human) standing unnaturally still and stiff in a tight space (racetrack stall) for 23 hours per day is susceptible to arthritic conditions.    I would know that a horse needs an hour afternoon walk in the sun to keep it limbs mobile and to receive some of the vital natural vitamin-D that helps keep racehorses sound and healthy.

If I was a horseman I would provide small sun-yards for my racehorses so that weather permitting they would spend a second hour in the sun, receiving more vital natural vitamin-D that definitely helps keep my racehorses sound, healthy, not-bleeding and helps keep racehorses horses from suffering the terrible boredom of 23 hours locked in far too small unventilated racetrack stalls continually breathing in virus and bacteria laden air.

If I was a horseman I would not overfeed and under work my racehorses.

If I was a horseman I would provide good clean dust free hay, clean water and fresh-cut green-chop for my racehorses.

If I was really a horseman???

E. Abraham Ola    

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Protecting the safety of horses

Man, already taking too much time between posts - there goes my new year's resolution, I promise to be better. Here goes:

So much talk of catastrophic accidents in thoroughbred racing and other equine sports such as eventing, with the focus on racing surfaces and race-day medication practices.

The point is missed entirely in my opinion, the focus should be on the individual horses themselves. Some can run on asphalt and be just fine, others will get hurt running on cotton candy.

The equine endurance events have it right, during the races (some of which are 50 miles!) equine competitors have to pass an objective test on heart rate recovery called the CRI - cardiac recovery index. If they fail, they are immediately disqualified.

It's a known fact that subjective veterinarian opinions are unable to pinpoint when a horse is in danger of injury a great amount of the time. Which shouldn't be too much of a surprise, it is difficult to judge racing soundness when observing a horse at a simple walk.

So it says here first, watch the news for future complaints about the continuance of breakdowns even with 'safe' surfaces becoming more commonplace. Next up, maybe we'll get more drugs banned - but once again accidents will happen at an seemingly alarming rate.

Accidents DO happen, but many injuries (maybe 40%) can be prevented by identifying compromised horses during the training process - and not with a conventional vet check.

Friday, January 2, 2009

The Experts Agree

Aidan O'Brien, trainer for the world's leading thoroughbred operation Coolmore, lets it slip occassionally in interviews one of his tools for successHere he is speaking about One Cool Cat and Yeats, two of his European superstar athletes:

John Magnier gave all the credit to O'Brien saying, 'Aidan was the only one in the stable who wanted to run him again' but typically the trainer diverted any praise towards the horse. 'You would not believe how well he works at home. We have a heart monitor on him all the time, and his heart rate goes up and down very quickly.’

‘But it is in the post-race interview that his real fascination and knowledge of his horse's mind and physiology creeps out. "Listen. He's not just a plodder, he's unique. His lungs and his heart are massive. Most horses are full out at a mile and a half but his heart rate is just getting up to a 180 at that point and he is just getting going.’’