Archive | February, 2014

Horses, welfare–theirs and ours

25 Feb


This space should be filled with the glowing review of The Global Dressage Forum-North America that took place last week: it was a meeting for lovers of the sport, the horses, the principles, the WHY of dressage. Soon, this space will be so filled..

But the overriding principle for horse sport, at this Forum as elsewhere, must always be, ‘welfare of the horse.’


And in that spirit–  and in memory of all the nameless, unknown horses who suffered heart attacks, fractures, and other life-ending and competition injuries on various endurance tracks around the world but mostly within one FEI Region  which must go nameless so as not to sow discord—


here once again is a link to one of the few images/videos we have of truly perverse sport:


And what bothers me most is not this one horse but rather our International  Federation’s  almost non-existent response, so busy are they handing out yellow cards, etc., for improperly strapped helmets.   It is as though welfare of the horse is the least of their concerns.

So as not to heap all negatives on one organization, the recent shenanigans in Florida prove that USEF does not care much about the health of its  horse shows or the competitors, at least in dressage.

Ironic, considering  that USEF (U.S. Equestrian Federation)  was born as AHSA (American Horse Show Association) , devoted mainly to the governance of horse shows. In the ensuing battle to lead horse sport in the U.S., the high-performance USET (U.S. Equestrian Team) fought with AHSA  and eventually won the right to rule, thus creating umbrella organization  USEF.Which leads to this:


Basically, the U.S. has a 75-mile rule that requires that much distance between  CDN dressage shows on any given day, so as to give organizers and riders the best advantages for competition.  There is also another USEF rule, however, that allows an approved CDI to add a CDN to its prize list, no matter what the distance from another already-approved national dressage show.

In the battle for not merely supremacy but monopoly that is South Florida, one organization has tried to be given all dates and put all competitors out of business—both by invoking the mileage rule for one of its shows  AND filing a formal complaint to suspend the mileage rule for another of its shows.

How can it be good for competitors, let alone the health of competitions,  to only have one venue available for all shows?

How can it be good for horses to have organizations whose understandable worries about lawsuits and income seem to have replaced the need to always keep paramount the welfare of the horse?


Hats off to endurance…

11 Feb

Go to any search engine, type in endurance + horse + distress, or pain, or exhaustion or any such modifier one likes, and there are, basically, no images.

Endurance horses currently seem to  have more deaths, more heart failure, more leg fractures, more positive drug tests, than nearly all other FEI disciplines combined. These  health problems are related to the new emphasis on flat-out speed racing, as opposed to the classical sport which required superb conditioning and use of tactics to master the hills, rocks, and other terrain problems of the usual course.

 It is difficult to be sure,  because FEI apparently has no statistical base set up  to determine the reality. Not to mention that FEI only investigates a select portion of the cases in endurance.  Still,  the public concern for endurance is limited to the perception that it is becoming a pastime for rich Arab sheikhs who bend the rules. But there is comparatively little worry for the horses.

 On the other hand,  type in rollkur and up come thousands of images

The public outcry over a perceived position of a horse’s head and neck is fueled by these images, many of them photoshopped and otherwise unreal. And yet, there is something so powerful about images, they  engender a reaction far deeper than any to the very real suffering of endurance horses, let alone the every-day life of many third-world work animals.

There is an ugly lesson here , no doubt.

Sport Horse Deaths…some thoughts

4 Feb


A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing…and a very little bit possibly even more dangerous.

But this is the internet—and the amount of knowledge floating out there in the cloud is so vast as to be virtually  incomprehensible:

                  Are you suffering from hearing loss? Could be the ibuprofen you popped a few times a week (it reduces blood flow to the ear’s cochlea);

                   Is your horse suffering from …just about anything? There is a study out there, somewhere, that will both prove and disprove your hypothesis and cause;

Which leads me to be so bold as to talk about the sudden deaths from heart failure in horses in sport.

A Thoroughbred racehorse’s spleen  is about FOUR feet long, by 8” x 4”. When the heartbeats get up to about 200 bpm (beats per minute), the spleen massively  contracts and ‘dumps’ the store of oxygenated blood into the horse’s system. This is rresearched phenomenon and many papers are written about how best to use all this rich, oxygenated blood to benefit performance.

In the wild, this is a useful occurrence—the horse senses a predator, goes into fear mode, takes off, dumps blood, gets an extra ‘kick’ and outruns/outlasts whatever wanted dinner.

But research is now showing that our performance horses are a looong way from the generations of  horses  that actually worked all day just to either stay alive themselves or to help human masters put food on the table.

Because performance horses’ heart rates do not often enough get high enough to dump all the blood in the spleen, some of the blood cells get ‘old’—and ‘old’ blood cells lose their round, flexible, soft edges. Instead, they become hardened ,rough-edged and  inflexible.

red blood cut

And yet, all these blood cells must get through capillaries whose diameters are smaller than that of a single blood cell. Stiff, ‘old’ cells can cause  blockage. Blockage may result in pulmonary hemorrhage, some colic situations, and even death.

In any case, racehorses have a routine—they walk around part of the tracks, trot a bit, canter a bit, get into the starting gate—a true adrenaline trigger. They explode out of the gate, dump their spleens, and then canter around for a while after the finish line to get their systems closer to normal.

But sport horses routines often include: being held on cross-country courses; having to gear up for a qualifying jump course and then gear up again for a jump-off; being held at vet checks on endurance courses and then taking off at speed again ; being schooled early in the day and then brought out again for a quicker warm-up right before competition.In all of these situations, the horses heart rates go up and down and up and down–but possibly not in an optimal way.

Maybe it is this part of the routine, as well as the final cooling down, that needs to be fine-tuned and adjusted