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We’re glad you stopped by to visit our website on distance driving. Perhaps you’ve just discovered MDDA and want to learn more about just what we do. Perhaps you’ve come to check the schedule to see when and where competitive drives are being held or check the results of past drives. Or perhaps you are just interested in looking at some photographs of our horses and drivers at the various competitions. Whatever the reason, thanks for browsing and drop us a line if we can answer any questions or be of service to you.

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Clinic at the Farm

MIDWEST DISTANCE DRIVING ASSOCIATION CLINIC

OFFERS ADVICE FROM THE EXPERTS AND THE “NEWBIES”

By Jane Licht

As my husband and I helped Romona Radtke and Theresa Burns-Metcalf set up chairs rented for the Midwest Distance Driving Association’s Clinic held March 17, Romona remarked that we were setting up too many chairs. “There won’t be that many people coming,” she said. However, her predictions soon proved incorrect. Every last chair was used plus one large table had to be removed from the room to make more space. Thirty-five who paid for the clinic, plus the volunteers and speakers, managed to squeeze into the tight quarters for the morning sessions held in the observation lounge at “The Farm” near Milton, Wisconsin.

Several MDDA members who were new to the sport last year were invited to give their impressions and hints about what to expect. Dan Soby reviewed the basic rules, which are Upper Midwest Endurance & Competitive Riding Association (UMECRA) rules plus a few extra because of the driving aspect. Dan explained that the driver must never remove the bridle while the horse is hitched – this would be cause for immediate elimination. When Dan drove in competitive drives last summer, Dan’s wife Karen acted as his groom, except that in this sport, she is called his “crew.” Since Dan drives with a pair his crew must ride on the vehicle. Drivers with single horses can elect to either drive alone or with crew.

One of the speakers was first year driver Sharon Beck who with her trusty Arabian Cassie always came to the drives alone. Her husband has no interest in horses. Sharon appreciated all the help she received from other drivers, riders and volunteers at the distance events. Sharon remarked that whether conditioning her horse at home or driving at the events, she always carries a fanny pack with a first aid kit and a cell phone in case she should have an accident. However, so far she and Cassie have always had good driving experiences.

Another first time driver was Tom Krueger who drove one of his Haflingers as a single last summer. To prepare for his presentation, Tom said he asked his horse what he liked best about competitive driving. His horse commented that definitely, it was all the quality attention he received from the nice veterinarians and volunteers. They made him feel really special and important. “Tom had to trot with me around in a circle first one way and then the other way to make sure Tom was fit enough to drive me on this race,” the horse reflected.

After a morning break, long-time competitive and endurance riders Connie and Chuck Gray gave some helpful tips on conditioning. Connie said the first step in planning a conditioning program is to evaluate your horse. Look at the muscle type. Instead of thick anaerobic muscles, it is more desirable to develop the leaner aerobic muscles that can effectively use lots of oxygen. If your horse is young and inexperienced, go slow with the training program. If your horse is older but already in good condition, you can actually train pretty aggressively. You should not increase the distance and speed at the same time but rather increase time spent trotting one day and distance the next. You should consider environmental factors such as temperature, humidity, and terrain. Make sure you understand your horse’s normal resting heart rate and respiration. Keep observing him closely for signs of stress, heat and soreness. Learn how to use electrolytes properly. Keep records of your activities and your horse’s response. Connie explained that it is nice to meet your window of time but that is secondary to finishing with a horse in good shape at the end of the race. “In this sport, she said, “to finish is to win.”

The cardiovascular system will improve over the first few months of training but it will take six to 12 months to strengthen bone and sinew. Chuck commented that he often rode the 50 or 100 mile rides. In this case the horse should be near the end of his second year of distance competition before attempting a 100 mile ride. Since our drives are only 12 or 20 miles long, it is quite possible to condition a horse to do them in 12 weeks.

The next speaker was also very active in distance riding for many years. Elinore Tonsor spoke on nutrition and use of electrolytes. She explained that adult horses do not need much protein. “Ten per cent, that you would find in good grass hay is ideal.” Rich alfalfa should not be fed on a regular basis since the excessive protein is hard on internal organs. Elinore explained that horses vary widely on what they need as far as supplements. However, every distance rider and driver should use electrolytes for these competitive events. She recommended putting an ounce of electrolyte in applesauce in a large syringe, giving it to your horse the day before the competition and again just before he is to start, and then after the event is over. The purpose is to keep him hydrated and drinking water.

MDDA President Theresa Metcalf-Burns presented awards from the 2000 driving season. High point winner for single horse was Paul Wasilewski and Wes Licht won the multiples division. Later the other participants were also winners as many useful door prizes were given away.

Lunch was served outdoors in the bright sunshine while participants, volunteers and speakers mingled and discussed distance driving and other horse-related topics. The afternoon featured Romona Radtke demonstrating a vet check with Tony the horse while Sandy Rudstrum carefully recorded the metabolics on the all-important score sheet. In the morning, the two women had briefly explained what a typical distance drive was like from beginning to end and now they showed the group using a horse and actual equipment. Romona checked Tony’s pulse, respiration, gut sounds, looked at his gums and even checked out the opening at the other end (phew!). She gave Tony mostly excellent scores except she noticed swelling in the right front leg and a bit of lameness when he trotted out. However, since Romona knows this horse well and knows that he tends to get better after trotting a few miles, she likely would let him do the race. However, as veterinarian, she might nix his participation. “Veterinarians are gods in this sport,” she explained. “If your horse is eliminated by the vet you thank him and leave without another word. Later when the vet is not so busy you might politely ask for specifics.”

During the mock safety inspection, Theresa checked Pauline Stollenwerk’s spares kit and noticed that the leather punch was missing, which meant that one would have to be found before competing. All the other required tools were present. Wes Licht explained the proper fitting of the harness parts while Pauline harnessed her horse Tony. Tony was then hitched to Pauline’s meadowbrook cart and they drove around the arena to simulate the drive. A midpoint vet check was simulated and the vetting at the end of the drive was demonstrated where Tony showed improved movement. Then two more horses were brought in so that each participant could experience taking a pulse and respiration.

Enthusiasm remained high throughout the day. One participant commented, “This is as good a clinic as I have ever been to.” MDDA members hope to see many of the participants at the Novice drive April 28th at Ray and Audrey Gehrig’s Iron Oak Farm near Janesville. Volunteers as well as drivers are encouraged to attend. “Volunteering is a great way to learn more,” said Theresa Burns-Metcalf who may be contacted at 608-943-6126 or via email – dawnmeto@mhtc.net

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