Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Sorry for the lack of recent posts, but I've been a bit under the weather with what appears to be the flu. Should be back to work in the next few days, let's hope.
Above is a pic from last month's ice storm, that is my front yard, not the patio, not the driveway, the actual grass. We had at least 20 power lines and 100 trees down within one block of where we live. Luckily, we were only without power for a few hours.
We had 30 hours of freezing rain in one stretch, the worst storm in the history of the area. Missed 18 training days in January of this year BEFORE the storm above, unbelievable.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Some in my field make the generalization: You can train horses just like you train humans and get better results. Yes and no in my opinion, there are some similarities - but some major differences.
All living beings; greyhounds, camels, rats, horses, humans, etc. obey the laws of exercise physiology.
One such principle is the law of specificity, or you get what you train for. Train long and slow for an endurance athlete, train with faster, shorter bursts for a sprinter.
Another is the law of individuality, which means each trainee responds at his individual pace. That is the key with ThoroEdge Equine Performance, treating each horse as an individual. Big time trainers can shoe horn every horse into their regimen, and when some get hurt they are shuffled out and replaced with new, quality, stock. It's more of a marketing/networking game for them. I'm not being critical, that's just their business model. Everyone else must take more care.
Now the biggest difference: humans can train through fatigue and get stronger, horses that train when excessively fatigued get injured and breakdown. The managment of fatigue in the equine is another major function of my company, ThoroEdge.
Another difference is one I love to explain to my clients, or anyone else who will listen, like you guys. Consider: let's call the human standard of excellence the 4 minute mile, and the equine equivalent we'll call the 12 second furlong, for simplicity's sake.
ALL throughbred horses in the racing game are born and bred able to run a 12 second furlong pretty quickly, it's in their nature. Some can never run more than 1 or 2, others get up to 12 - we call them Secretariat. Humans are never born able to run a 4 minute mile, some lucky ones may first be able to run a 7 minute mile, then they train/grow to a 6:45, 6:15, etc. The vast majority never make it to the 4 minute goal, but the elite do.
So my point is, in training a horse you have to be very careful not to let the outsides outrun the insides. The outsides being the muscles and horsesense, the insides being the lungs, blood, enzymes, soft tissues, nervous system, etc. Humans naturally have to go through this process, but horses can trick you into believing they are ready for more if you just rely on visual observations.
If any reader has an idea for a future post, maybe it's something I have some info on, let me know in the comment section and I'll fire it on up. Thanks for reading.
Friday, February 13, 2009
Notice huge differences between this chart and the previous post regarding a stakes winner. This is a half mile breeze in a $15,000 claimer where her maximum heart rate reaches 201bpm, far below her normal mark of 221bpm. Also there is no clear peak of HR with speed, rather a flat response with early rise of HR before strenuous effort - and poor recovery after the breeze ends.
Now, I cannot tell the difference between poor fitness and/or illness or injury - but in this case we knew she had won over $100,000 in her career and was reasonably fit, but suddently couldn't break from the gate or make more than a middling move.
Confusing, never dead last, but middle of the pack with $12,500 claimers at Churchill, and middle of the pack with the $5000 crowd at Hoosier. Her exercise rider could find nothing amiss, great.
Her training center is in a very rural area, and knowing that EPM is commonly transmitted by wild animals like possums, we order a blood test. No EPM here. Probably need a spinal tap, but that seems a lot of trouble. So we start her on EPM meds anyway with the owner's blessing.
Voila, 3 weeks later, with very little training due to weather, she wins a 6F effort by 3 easy lengths, at this point she is halfway through her medication. Another 3 weeks pass by, another win at 6.5F, this time by nearly 5 lengths with nary a touch of the whip.
I realize that EPM is commonly overdiagnosed as a reason for poor performance, but in this case the 6 week medication for the disease improved this mare a whopping 2.5 seconds in a 6F race, or approx. 12 lengths!
Thursday, February 12, 2009
X-axis is elapsed time.
Y-axes are heart rate in red, pace in blue.
Red line is heart rate response over workout.
Blue line is gallop speed over workout.
Above is a heart rate vs gallop speed chart of one of the best horses I've had the chance to monitor in 2008. This former $7500 claimer won a stakes races this season and had several other nice wins, always in the money over 13 starts.
His trainer wasn't afraid of hard work, as the chart above is from a 6 furlong breeze from the gate at Churchill in 1:15. His heart rate recovery is great for such a big piece of work on a hard surface, under 120bpm within 2min and under 100bpm within 5min post breeze.
Now, before you say that 1:15 for 6 isn't a great time, this was from a gated start, which adds a few seconds to the time compared to rolling starts most often favored by trainers.
A common exercise day for this gelding was 2 separate 1 mile repetitions separated by a 2-3 min recovery interval. The first mile would go in about 2:15, the second more like 1:50.
Next up, a post with a chart like the one above from a horse suffering from EPM - you will note the vast differences. Post after that will compare workload/stress during a breeze over dirt vs polytrack, some big suprises there too.
Monday, February 9, 2009
Mr. Dickinson called me one day several months back, he had seen some info on what I was doing online, and was gracious enough to call and offer his support. I was honored to hear from him.
On the subject of heart rate and surfaces, I just found this quote from him during the famous training job he did with Da Hoss in the Breeder's Cup, which shows how far ahead of the game he was back in the late 90's with the development of his synthetic surface, Tapeta:
When the horses canter daily their heart rate gets up to 200 or 210,” Dickinson said. “If I worked them at 200 to 210 on a dirt track, they’d break down in little time.”
Anything like bleeding from the lungs is a complicated issue. There are surely many factors that contribute to its cause, such as: training intensity/frequency, surface, drugs, and the specific structures of the equine respiratory system.
One thing we can point to is the use of Lasix. It's only allowed in America, and we also seem to be the world leader in EIPH. Of course we also race year round and often times do so on dirt. Because of the nature of the game, horses rarely get any exercise in the aerobic heart rate zone at most US training centers.
Other countries forbid Lasix, have shorter racing seasons, and spend much time training on turf. In addition, horses spend much more time exercising, a lot of that slow gallop work taking place at the appropriate intensity level for aerobic development.
Very preliminary findings on my part show that in terms of the stress put on a breezing thoroughbred, 6 furlongs on polytrack is equal to 4 furlongs on dirt. Big difference. If indeed, the respiratory system fails to respond to training, as many experts believe, then training/racing over dirt year round is bound to be a leading factor.
So, how can you attempt to prevent bleeding?
First of all, just because your horse isn't gushing blood from his nostrils after a work doesn't mean he's not bleeding. Ruptures of sacs deep within the lungs probably take place quite often when travelling over a hard surface, and this accumulates over time. Aerobic work in the 70-80% intensity zone can help the horse form more capillaries that will aid in decreasing blood pressure and mitigate some of this damage.
Secondly, try to keep the stable environment as dust free as possible, which probably goes without saying. Thirdly, if you have access to one, expose the horse post breeze to some hyperbaric chamber treatments where the increased oxygen delivery can help speed the repair process deep within the lungs.
Most importantly, follow a structured progressive plan like the one in another post on bucked shins. Taking 15 small steps from legging up to racing is better than taking 5 huge ones. The more stress/recovery cycles you can hit perfectly, the better off you are.
In a perfect world, every horse would have access to pools, treadmills, turf, poly, dirt and be able to cross-train much like humans. The mechanics of running on each surface are different, like hitting a curve ball in baseball - some can do it from birth, others need to practice. Dirt will build stronger bones, but you will always be on the knife-edge for injury. Synthetics will build stronger soft tissues like suspensories, but bone density may very well suffer a bit.
Don't let Lasix do all of this work for you, fine tune the training process in order to be able to use Lasix as an edge on raceday (if your country allows it), not just as a survival tool-
Saturday, February 7, 2009
Still one of the most searched-for topics around, according to my website/blog keyword search statistics. Historically, many barns seem to experience shin problems in 2 year olds from 30-50% of the time, some operations these days tell me it's more like 10%.
Once again, I find the answer in exercise science and the concept of progressive overload. Simply put, legging up style long slow gallops build 'gallop' bone, while breezes at :15sec/furlong and faster build 'breeze' bone. If you immediately jump from 2 months of gallop that never got faster than :15sec/f directly to breezes in :13 or faster, you often run into trouble.
The above protocol from Dr. Jack Woolsey is his adaptation of the famous Maryland shin study of Dr. Nunamaker (of New Bolton Center fame) and trainer/vet Dr. Fisher (currently at Fair Hill I believe). These guys are sharp.
To pare down their research to the basics; they noticed that horses who only slow galloped failed to build strong bone density and were at increased risk for saucer fractures. But when 'speed' work was slowly and gradually introduced as stated above, not only did the shin problems disappear, but the 2 year olds developed the bone density of 4 year olds!
The key is to add speed very slowly - starting with a single :15 furlong at the end of 2 weekly gallops and progressing to a half mile breeze in :52 roughly 16 weeks later.
They also addressed the issue of frequency. Whenever the 'speed' work took place more than 5 days apart, the bone began to lose the remodelling effect. Now bone is by all accounts the slowest system of the horse to respond to training, but it still does so in less than 5 days if stimulated appropriately.
More ammunition to my belief that when you breeze horses every 6-10 days, you often lose much of the cumulative fitness effect in between works. If bone adapts and recovers every 4 days, how fast does the heart, lungs, suspensories, blood, enzymes, etc. recover? Within 2-3 days is a safe bet.
I could write 15 pages on this, and I have much more info from Drs. Nunamaker and Fisher, drop me a line if you would like to see it...
Friday, February 6, 2009
Whoa, huge topic here. I want to start by saying there are a million things to look at in any training program BEFORE even thinking about interval training. Most modern day equine athletes will make huge strides without IT. Most of all, it must be taken into consideration the effect of the IT structure on the psychological fitness of the horse. Not all are tough enough, but by many accounts, some are.
Many trainers these days will automatically tell you: "I tried IT (interval training) years ago, it doesn't work." Well, odds are they did it wrong. There are a million ways to implement IT, but only one of them is right, and everyone has a different definition of what interval training actually entails.
First off, if you experimented with IT by first adding another repetition to a breeze, you did it wrong. Similarly, if you are a 'one breeze every 7-10 days' guy and you try to add intervals, you are playing with fire - get your breeze frequency down to every 3-5 days first.
Secondly, if you added an IT session to a workout in which you couldn't quantify recovery HR from the first repetition, you did it wrong.
Thirdly, IT doesn't mean you train 3 separate sessions per day, necessarily.
IT can work, it can also break down a horse. It's all in the individual. IT should start with gallops, not breezes.
For instance, when a horse can complete a one mile gallop in 3 minutes and show a recovery heart rate under 100bpm within 2 minutes while walking on the track to cool down, then you can safely add another 1 mile in 3 minutes second interval. When recovery HR after that 2nd interval meets the same criteria, under 100bpm within 2 minutes, you can add a 3rd. When recovery is sufficient for all 3 intervals, then you go back to one mile in 2:45, etc.
Personally, I've never gone past 2 reps, but I know Tom Ivers surely did so with great success, unfortunately most conventionally trained horses today don't possess the foundation to support such a workload. His book, The Fit Racehorse II, gives every detail you could possibly need on IT structure.
So much more goes into the IT question, too much to post here, but surely you get the idea - it's all about giving the horse enough appropriate stress/recovery cycles to foster development.
Thursday, February 5, 2009
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
Horses are so very unique to humans when it comes to exercise physiology.
For instance, no human is born able to run a 4:00 mile, they first have to compete and train through 8 minute miles, then 7, then 6, etc. until they reach their physical peak, which may never be a 4min pace. This entire process revolves around what is called progressive overload: progressively challenge the body's systems with just a little more work, allow for recovery, and get faster.
Thoroughbreds however, are born and bred to run the equivalent of a human 4 min/mile, let's call it a 12 second furlong. String 12 of those 12 second furlongs together in a row and you have Secretariat, which these days means a $50 million dollar plus animal in the breeding shed.
But, conventional training methods don't always develop the approriate stamina, or endurance - rather they rely on breeding to dictate race performance.
Rating thoroughbreds to allow their internal systems to grow to support a 3:00 mile, then 2:45, then 2:30, etc. is the best way to help them realize their full athletic potential while assuring optimal levels of soundness along the journey.
You may never get a Secretariat, Big Brown, Curlin, or Triple Crown winner, but you can make your $10k claimer the winner at his local track.
Shoot, already running out of time...Next post will detail the precise role that heart rate zone training plays in the process.
Monday, February 2, 2009
Still frozen here in Louisville, basically no training for going on 3 weeks, but finally later this week things should thaw out, but then get wet of course.
In the meantime, I've been able to update my website considerably. Lots of good new info on there now, and over a dozen meaningful links to more stuff.
There are several 'edges' any horseperson can use to squeeze out improved perfromance from their stock, ranging in cost from free to several thousand dollars. Take a look and please let me know if you have any questions or comments.
Check it out at www.thoroedge.com
Sunday, February 1, 2009
As you can see, Mr. Curlin is more than ready for stud duty!
He was amazing, at the Lane's End open house last month, there were hundreds of people there to see him and the other superstars, including War Pass who was stabled next door.
Curlin continued to eat while everyone stared and took pics, then he laid down for a nap. His grooms had to awaken him in order to parade him in front of us, which he promptly did - in a most excited state, I might add.
Also made it to Coolmore and Three Chimneys - seeing Big Brown, Henrythenavigator, Fusaichi Pegasus and many others. Fantastic trip.