March 29, 2008 Distance Driving Clinic
The Midwest Distance Driving Association (MDDA) kicked off the 2008 season on March 29th with a classroom clinic at the Flying “G” Ranch near Marshall, WI. The difficult winter may have held down attendance, but those that did come were treated to an outstanding educational experience.
The clinic was officially started by MDDA president Jac Deweese who welcomed the attendees and introduced the speakers. Roger Houk reviewed the rules and trail etiquette. The rules are aimed primarily at safety and include such fundamentals as never removing a bridle from a hitched horse and never leaving a hitched horse unattended. Trail etiquette is aimed at being safe around ridden horses that may not be familiar or comfortable with a horse pulling a cart. Since we are generally on public trails and frequently encounter riders, our rule is for the driving horse to pull to the side of the trail and stop. The driver should then talk to the riders to determine how the riders want to proceed. Our drives are generally in conjunction with distance riders and most are now very accepting of a horse and cart.
Jack Shea then discussed the type of horses, harness and vehicle that are suitable for this sport. Virtually any sensible driving horse, regardless of breed, can be successful. Some breeds, such as Arab, Morab, and Standardbred may have an advantage due to their muscling which helps to dissipate heat. Heavier muscled breeds may take more time conditioning, but they will become competitive. Size is really not important. We’ve had everything from Mini to draft crosses compete successfully, although it is probably not reasonable to expect a smaller animal to compete at the longer distances. The harness may be made of nylon, biothane (or other synthetic) or leather as long as it fits and is sound. It is appropriate to add padding to any parts of the harness that may rub the horse. A wide variety of vehicles are suitable as long as they are solid and safe. Wheels may be of wood or steel and may include inflated tires. The only thing to avoid is bicycle wheels which have been demonstrated to collapse from the side pressures we frequently encounter on our trails. These points were illustrated by pictures of various breeds, harness types and vehicles.
Monna Radtke delivered an outstanding discussion of the horse’s digestive tract from the esophagus to rectum. Did you know that the esophagus is 4 feet long? Or that the horse will produce 80 gallon of saliva in a single day? With this saliva they also produce bicarbonate which is a buffer and probably doesn’t need to be supplemented. The stomach is small, only 2 ½ to 3 ½ gallon, and serves as a short stop before the feed enters the 70 foot long small intestine. The next stop is the cecum which can contain 4 to 8 gallon and will hold the food for up to 24 hours. This is the source of ‘gut sounds’ and we should be able to hear activity in the cecum. There is no similar organ in the human body. Heat is produced in the cecum and digestion of roughage is the primary heat source in the winter time. The food then passes to the large colon before entering the small colon and being excreted from the rectum. Nutrients are extracted through the entire length of the digestive tract and food that is consumed on Wednesday will provide the nutrients to the horse on Saturday.
The horse is designed to handle roughage and requires a huge quantity of water to keep everything moving through this very long, one way, digestive system. If the material dries out from lack of moisture it can result in a blockage and what we know as colic. We should remember that wild horses are constantly moving and eating nearly all the time. The key take away is to keep water available at all times and provide good quality grass (not alfalfa) roughage frequently. Beet pulp is recognized as a good supplement with nutrients between grain and roughage. When soaked it can be a carrier for electrolytes or medication and is another way to get liquid into your horse. Horses may need to be taught to eat beet pulp, but they soon learn to look forward to it.
Monna also noted that Wisconsin is notoriously deficient in selenium. Selenium should be supplemented, but use caution because selenium can be toxic. Follow feeding instructions and include vitamin E which is needed for selenium efficacy.
Mary Clapper discussed conditioning. She noted that you should start conditioning by evaluating your horse’s starting condition. This is done by using your stethoscope to measure the resting pulse rate. Normal will be between 8 and 12 beats in 15 seconds. Start at a slow pace alternately walking and trotting to cover about 5 miles in an hour. Increase the distance or speed (not both) based on the pulse rate. After a workout, allow the horse to rest 10 minutes and then measure the pulse. This is the recovery rate. Your horse should recover to a rate of 16 or lower in 15 seconds. If greater than 16 you should back off your workouts. If below 13 consider increasing the distance or speed of your next workout. Keep a log and record your time, distance and pulse. When your horse is able to go 10 or 12 miles in less than 2 hours and recover to a pulse of 12 or lower you are ready for a 10 or 12 mile competitive drive. When you achieve consistent recovery rates below 12 at a distance you should consider increasing the distance. As the season progresses you will find your horse performing more easily and recovering more quickly. Don’t condition every day. Just like any other athlete your horse incurs muscle and ligament stress during exercise and they need time to rest and recover. Remember that competition is part of conditioning and travel is as stressful as competition. Allow the horse a day or two of rest before and after competition.
Wes Licht talked about the vet check and scoring. In this sport the veterinarian is the official judge and scorer. His paramount concern is the well being of the horse. Before the competition he will give the horse a thorough evaluation. This exam includes measures such as pulse, respiration, dehydration, CRT (capillary refill time), mucous membrane, gut sounds and anal tone that indicate the general health of the horse but are not used in scoring. He will also observe the horse trotting out for signs of lameness. He will note attitude, the level of heat, swelling or pain in the legs, and the level of pain in the major muscles. These will be compared to post drive measurements for scoring purposes.
The exam is repeated at the end of the drive and points deducted from a total of 400 based on pulse and respiration, lameness scoring, and changes in attitude, heat, swelling or pain. Points may also be deducted for fresh lesions and poor manners of the horse.
It is important to practice this examination, including the trot out, at home for the safety of the veterinarian and to avoid losing unnecessary points.
Glenn Garbisch talked briefly about his experience as an ‘old’ rookie. It took him several years to get the required three completions to qualify for a ‘Rookie’ award. He described his experience driving his Arab/Pinto horse Athea (Junior) in competition and the camaraderie of our group.
The group then enjoyed an excellent barbeque lunch complete with homemade cookies and brownies and some good conversation before gathering in the large indoor arena. Katz and Gary Jackson had brought three horses plus harness and carriage to demonstrate what happens at a competition.
Monna Radtke demonstrated the elements of the pre-drive vet check. The pulse and respiration is counted for 15 seconds and recorded. The vet will check for gut sounds on both sides of the horse and then test for dehydration where the skin is tented over the point of the shoulder or on the upper eye lid to see how quickly the tent collapses. The vet then goes to the mouth to check the mucous under the upper lip and will press the gum to see how quickly the capillaries refill. Starting on the left front shoulder the vet will check the shoulder and back muscles for signs of pain. The muscles of the rump will be palpated and the anal tone checked before moving to the muscles on the right side of the horse. These items are recorded but are not part of the scoring.
At this point the driver will be asked to trot the horse in a circle around some cones in both directions. Katz and her horse Talon very effectively demonstrated what happens when this has not been taught or not practiced for a long period of time. It is very important that your horse trot freely and steadily so that the veterinarian can effectively evaluate for lameness and attitude. Comments will be recorded and used for comparison at the end of the drive.
After the trot out the vet will inspect each leg for heat, swelling or pain. A score is given for each leg and this score will be compared to results at the end of the drive.
Katz brought out 3 sizes of neck collars and showed the group how to choose the size for a proper fit. She then proceeded to harness the horse with comments on harness fit provided by Wes Licht. After harnessing the horse was put to the cart and presented to Wes for a safety inspection. Wes took the opportunity to discuss proper breeching adjustment and how the shafts should align to the shoulder of the horse. Wes then gave a short demonstration of holding and using the whip before Katz took off for a simulated drive.
After driving for a few minutes Katz finished the drive by picking up her time card and demonstrating how to unhitch and remove the harness quickly and safely. After waiting the required 10 minutes she presented her horse for the post drive pulse and respiration check. She was then ready for the post drive vet check which is exactly the same as the pre drive. The only difference is that the pulse and respiration is scored plus scores are given for the trot out. After the trot out the legs are inspected and scored. These scores are compared with the pre-drive scores and any increase in heat, swelling or pain is deducted from the final score. The horse is also inspected for fresh lesions, the use of protective boots or leg protectors, and evaluated for manners. These can result in additional deductions.
The actual time is compared to the ideal and deviations beyond 5 minutes early or late will result in 1 point being deducted per minute of deviation. The final score is then calculated and placing versus the other competitors will be determined.
The participants at the clinic were then invited to learn to find a horse’s pulse using their hands and the stethoscope. They were also shown how to listen for gut sounds and to count the number of breaths in a 15 second period.