Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Ice Storm 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

Training and Conditioning: Humans vs Horses

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

Thoroughbred exercising with EPM

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

Stakes-level horse during a 6 furlong breeze:

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

Michael Dickinson, creator of Tapeta

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.”

Bleeding (EIPH), Lasix and synthetics

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

Training to avoid bucked shins

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

Interval Training the Thoroughbred

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

Rune Haugen, using science to train winning thoroughbreds

Ok, we know why HR/GPS monitoring can help win more races and keep your horses sounder, we even know that world leading thoroughbred operation Coolmore uses this stuff at Ballydoyle under trainer Aidan O'Brien, but here is a first person account of exactly HOW a modern racing stable can integrate the technology and the science in real life.

Rune Rules in Norway, courtesy of Polar Equine

A former jockey, Rune Haugen has been an extremely successful thoroughbred-trainer the recent years. Champion trainer at the Norwegian racetrack Øvrevoll three years in a row, Derby-victory, several wins in gr-3 races in Scandinavia and numerous other high-class races makes him one of the top trainers in Scandinavia. The secret behind his success? Controlling and evaluating every part of his horse's training routines. Haugens most important training remedy is Polar’s GPS heart rate monitor.

Total turn-around

- At “Stall Nor” one top-bred horse after the other broke down and never even made it to the races. The owners were obviously frustrated, and contacted Sæterdal. He transferred human training principles to the horses at “Stall Nor”. He controlled the horses training doses by using heart rate monitors. Within months, the negative trend had turned. The injury-rate fell drastically and the horses started to win races, says Haugen, not mentioning his own important role in the turning process. He was hired as the new trainer at the stable, thus responsible for putting Sæterdals training principles into practice.

Heart rate monitors, lactate- and muscle enzyme-tests are the aids I use to control my horses work-out routines, Rune Haugen explains.

- A heart rate monitor measures the beating of the heart. I use the information from the monitor to determine how a horse responds to training. I combine this with blood tests. If a horse works out at a certain pulse level, I can measure the lactate level in the blood afterwards. The link between lactate level and heart rate gives me essential information about a horse’s capacity, training development and possible sickness, he says eagerly.

- Why is the heart rate monitor so essential in your training routine?

- Because by using the HR monitor I know the exact status of my horses’ physical shape at any given time. The race season for thoroughbred horses is short. This means it is extremely important to have the horses in top shape in just the right time.

Once he has started talking about the advantages of pulse-based training, he can’t seem to run out of arguments:

- Measuring the horses’ heart rate daily makes it easy to detect when a horse deviates from its normal level. This is often an indication of the horse being ill. When a horse’s heart rate at rest rises from its normal, it is an indication of illness. If the heart rate doesn’t go down as quickly as it normally does after a training pass, it is also a warning signal. It is obviously very important to avoid training the horses hard if they are ill or out of shape. A top athlete, whether it’s a horse or a human, can have their careers ruined by excessive training during illness, Haugen says.

Training consultant for the Olympic team

- I also have to point out the importance of being able to reproduce a certain training routine. I’ve succeeded with several racehorses in the past years. But what if I had these successful horses, but subsequently didn’t have a clue how hard I actually trained them? How would I be able to learn from what I’d done? , Haugen asks rhetorically.

- Pulse-based training and specific blood tests give me information I can learn from. This way I don’t stagnate, but keep developing as a trainer. I think that’s why our stable is at the top year after year, the trainer champion analyzes.

- I believe that all horse athletes can be successful following the training principles I use on my thoroughbred horses, if they have the necessary potential, of course. Sooner or later I hope to find time to try it out on standardbred trotters as well, he says vaguely, for the first time during this interview keeping the cards to his chest.

He certainly has the opportunity to try out his theories on top athletes in the show jumping business soon enough. The Norwegian show jumping team has qualified for the Olympics in Beijing, and Haugen is hired to evaluate and keeping control of the horses’ physical shape towards the big event.

- A huge vote of confidence, Haugen comments, then bursting out:
- A lot of show jumpers and dressage horses, even those competing in high classes, are in poor physical condition. They are trained very specifically at the routines they are supposed to perform at, but lack the most important: endurance and fitness. This makes them vulnerable for injuries such as pulled tendons. Some endurance training in combination with the specific training would lower the risk of injuries significantly for these horses, Haugen claims.

- Does it take a lot of your time collecting the data’s from the training and analyzing it?
-Yes, it does. This is because my whole training system is based on this. Now that GPS is a part of Polars heart rate monitor- system, it is possible to evaluate every step a horse takes during a training pass. As this training control system is something I believe in, I don’t mind using time exploring the possibilities the system gives me. As a matter of fact, the potential that goes along with the GPS HR- monitor makes it almost addicting to work with, Haugen laughs.
- At the same time, I have to say one don’t have to spend all the time that I do to improve a horse. Being in control of your horse’s training and health is the bottom line here.

Is it hard to learn how to use a heart rate monitor on horses?
Definitely not. Several years ago, the equipment was a bit troublesome to use, especially because of the wire, but today’s equipment is wireless and can be put on the horse within seconds, and it’s very accurate. My employees find the heart rate monitor very easy to use in the daily training, Haugen says.

Decides heartrate zones before workouts

- The training jockeys at the stable are taught to make the horses stay at a specific pulse during a workout. I decide the pulse level for each horse in advance, and it’s very important that my employees follow my directions as precise as possible. To inspire them to do so, I have introduced “Watch of the Month”, meaning the jockey that has stayed closest to the right heart rate during a month is rewarded, Rune Haugen explains. This man certainly seems to be in control of every detail of his horses` routines.

- How would it be, do you think, to go back to training horses without using the heart rate monitor-system?
- Impossible! Haugen says without hesitation.
- Simply because being in control of my horses` training gives me the inspiration and joy I need to put a full effort into my work. Another aspect by using a heart rate monitor is that it gives me an indication on which horses to train together. If I have a two-year-old with a very high capacity, this horse won’t develop optimally if trained among other horses at the same age with lower capacity. This horse can be trained with the tree-year-old horses, but if so, it is extremely important to monitor the training so the horse isn’t trained too hard for his age and ability. Training harder than a horse is ready for, means asking for injuries to pop up, Haugen says while almost pushing his teacup off the table by his eager gesticulation.

No tendon injuries

- Speaking of injuries, training- induced injuries are a common problem among sport horses. Often the injuries are career-ruining. What’s your experience on this?
-As mentioned, the owners of this training camp used to have a lot of injuries on their horses. After the introduction of monitored training, no horse has pulled a tendon. Optimal doses of training makes sure the horse’s body isn’t overstrained, but at the same time the horses have to train hard enough to be fit for the tough races they are competing in. I know I am repeating myself, but “controlled training” is the key word even here.

- You make it sound so easy. But a heart rate monitor itself can hardly make you a top trainer?
- Of course “feeling” and horse experience means a lot too. But honestly, I don’t see why using training aids like HR monitors makes any horse trainer less of a horseman. A combination of experience and new technology seems like a good combination to me, Haugen says and smiles.

- What are your goals for the future, Rune Haugen?
- I’ve made it to the very top in Scandinavia. I’ve raced horses internationally too, with good results. My specific goal is to win a prestigious international race in France or England. With my top training system, top training camp and with owners that buy top young horses, I don’t see why I wouldn’t achieve my goal within a few years.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Heart Rate Training Zones explained

The MAXIMAL zone (90-100%) of max HR
Training at this intensity is the definition of speed work. Main benefit is increased neuromuscular coordination at race-specific speeds. Also the scene of extreme fatigue, work in this zone must be carefully controlled. In the US this is done every 6-12 days, more often in Australia and other countries albeit over softer surfaces.

The THRESHOLD zone (80-90% of max HR)
This is the pace at which the horse is still able to use lactic acid for energy, which delays the onset of fatigue during a race. Targeting gallops towards this zone will improve cruising speed in a race. Only accompished by a 2:00 lick in ELITE horses, others will need to slow down.

The AEROBIC zone (70-80% of max HR)
This intensity best develops lung function and improves the horse's ability to use oxygen to fuel movement. Exercise at this pace actually allows for the creation of new blood capillaries which aid in performance. Happens a lot during the 'legging up' phase of getting a horse ready for the races, but often neglected when racing commences.

The RECOVERY zone (60-70% of max HR)
Here is the optimal pace to train in which any lactic acid is flushed away, and the recovery processes are enhanced. Best used after a breeze for 60-90 seconds before exiting the track. Many jogs, especially indoors, are just a tad to slow to accomplish optimal recovery.

The definition of fitness is for your horse to constantly be able to increase his speed or distance, or both, while remaining in these heart rate zones. This is best accomplished with progressive loading (variation of speed, distance, frequency) while allowing for recovery and recuperation.

On the flip side, a horse that normally gallops at 25mph in the threshold zone that suddenly shows maximal heart rates at such a workload, could indeed be compromised and giving you a very early sign that something is amiss.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Why Heart Rate Zone training increases thoroughbred stamina

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

ThoroEdge Equine Performance

Good morning-

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

Curlin at Lane's End

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.