Saturday, January 6, 2018

The Purina Feed Greatness Challenge, Week 4

Time once again for observations and musings on the Purina Outlast product and what we're seeing in the horses we're feeding it to.

Since it has been four weeks, I took out the weight tape and measured all 3 of the endurance horses again. I have to say, I was surprised -- floored may be more appropriate -- by the result.

Hoss has gained right around 20-25 pounds on the tape. I wasn't super surprised by this, as when I girthed him up today, he'd lost yet another notch on his girth. So I was expecting him to show a gain.

Yes, Hoss got a much needed clipping, and he's sticking his tongue out at the camera

Demon has also gained about 20-25 pounds. This really did surprise me. Yesterday, I noticed I could see ribs on him at the right angle. Since he's always lost some weight after an endurance ride, this seemed about normal. So when the weight tape brought him in at 875, I was truly surprised. I did feel along his ribs, and they're not super easy to feel. I don't know why I could see them yesterday.

Doing his very best to look good for his picture

DC gained about 10 pounds. Considering the tape already at her at 850 before, I should hope she hadn't gained much. Being also the smallest, she should have the smallest total gains. Still, I was surprised to see she had changed at all.

DC is by Demon. It's astonishing how similar they look

It should be noted all the original weights were taken about a week after we started the challenge, so these gains all occurred in 3 weeks. I wouldn't change any of them in terms of where they are on the body condition score. Hoss is a 6, DC is a 6, Demon is a 5.

I did finally get an email from Purina. Here's the meat of what they ask:

Have you seen these changes in your horse?
  • Difference in hair coat condition
  • Boost in overall bloom and health
  • Continued optimal intake due to palatability

OK, let's take these in order.

"Difference in hair coat condition"

Honestly, not really. They look and feel about the same to me, other than Hoss has started blowing coat. Beth, however, swears they all look better, especially DC. I just don't see it. Besides, with it being shedding season, they're growing new coat so of course it's different. Hard to pin that one on feed.

"Boost in overall bloom and health"

OK, wait, what?

What does this even mean?

This "change" is so vague as to be meaningless. I don't even know what "bloom" means when speaking of horses. They don't have flowers. As to health, well, they're healthy as ever.

"Continued optimal intake due to palatability"

Honestly, why they included this as a "change" escapes me. Yep, they're eating it. Hasn't changed since day 1. I suspect this is included to round out the magic 3 we humans tend to like so much.

All of the expected changes are vague and invite subjectivity in observation. How much change in any of these criteria is seen is purely in the eye of the beholder. Witness the difference in how Beth and I perceive the coat conditions of my horses. It puts ideas into one's head, and encourages seeing change even if it isn't really there.

Amira, the unhandled mare, continues to improve. Now I'm noticing she's level-headed all the time, rather than in the immediate time after a feeding. She's still pretty calm and relaxed in the mornings when it's been over 12 hours since she had a serving of the Outlast. So it's either showing better effects over the long term, or because it allows her to relax she's learning to stay that way in the absence of the product's effects. She's even sort of approaching me, the big meanie who forced her into a trailer and drove her 2,000 miles. Now, the only way we'd know for sure if the Outlast is responsible for these changes would be to take her off it and see what happens. Not likely to happen, especially with a horse who needs so much work and help.

We're continuing to see changes. At this point, we'll very likely continue to keep Outlast in the barn. It does seem to be helping, even if I find the vagueness of their expected changes frustrating.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Death Valley Encounter, Day 4: Nadeau Springs

Hoss now doing quite well, I felt it was safe to leave him alone for several hours while Demon and I rode. The vet check was back in camp, and Cheri Briscoe was parked next to us, so I knew he'd be well looked after.

Since it was New Year's Eve, I had gotten party hats and head bands. I taped a party hat on Demon's crown piece and a head band on my helmet. We were ready to party!

Not feeling super amused by the party hat
This day is pretty flat through the desert without the extreme climbs and drops of the previous days. It's not as picturesque as previous days, but there are some spectacular views of the valley as the trail rises up away from camp. It's also a little repetitive, as the second loop is the same as the first loop with some bits cut out.

The first loop went quite well. I had to pull Demon down to a walk for some of the uphill stuff. Between wanting to make sure I had enough horse for the afternoon and my hip starting to burn, I made quite a few gait changes.

Heading up the hill from camp
The first loop took us close to the Nadeau Spring, where we had to get a question. In this case, "What was the color of Emperor Hirohito's horse?" I have no idea. I didn't even know the guy had a horse. But that's not the point of the question, more that you know it and it proves you didn't cut trail.

Coming back toward camp goes through a sandy wash. It isn't as deep as some other places, but it was easier to have Demon walk the whole thing than go back and forth between walking and trotting at irregular intervals. It's pretty there, anyway, so going slow and appreciating it is nice.

Looking toward Great Falls
We made it back to the Stockwell Mine Road, which heads back to camp. Except we had to go the other way and loop back a couple of miles on other roads. When we got to the turn, Demon was chugging along so fast I missed the notes on the pie plate. I got him pulled up and took out my GPS to find we were off track. He was mildly annoyed when I made him head the other way, away from camp, but trotted along amiably enough.

We finished the first loop and had our hour hold. I looked at my watch when we arrived and promptly forgot what time it was, which I didn't realize until I was sitting in my camper, looking at my watch, and contemplating if it was time to leave again or not. Was it 11:15 when we came in, or 11:25? Maybe 11:05? I don't know. Regardless, we didn't leave camp until 12:30, by the time we passed the vet inspection and got back on trail.

Demon was feeling particularly good. Maybe the extra time in camp did him good. He kept up a good pace, not really wanting to slow down. I did make him walk some of the longer uphill, just on general principles.

He was going so well, I didn't want to interrupt his groove. So rather than slow him down when my hip started hurting, I took a two point position, grabbed mane, and hung on. We did slow for particularly rocky sections, and when going through the wash the second time around.

Heading back toward camp
The only thing worse than getting super close to camp then turning away is doing so twice. We got back to the Stockwell Mine Road, and Demon was utterly convinced this time we should be going straight back to camp from there. It took some convincing on my part to get him going. It helped two horses were not far ahead of us, so he decided I couldn't be entirely stupid if they were going that way, too. Still, this time he was much more annoyed than the first time around. Once we reached the point of heading generally back toward camp, though, he eagerly picked up the trot, and we finished the second loop in just about 3 hours, not counting our extra time in camp.

Happy New Year, Ya'll

Death Valley Encounter, Day 3: Tower Trail

Due to Hoss's colic episode, I didn't expect to ride at all on Day 3. I slept through the start for the 25s and 50s anyway. So, at 8:30am, when Hoss was looking particularly good, I made a spur of the moment decision to take Demon on the fun ride.

We saddled up and made sure Hoss had food and water before we left. By this time I was comfortable leaving a full meal in front of Hoss while I was gone for a couple of hours. I took Demon up to the check in area and let Annie know we were going to join the fun ride.

I was pretty sore from riding Hoss the previous day. He'd worked me pretty hard, despite obviously ending up being sick. So I really felt it when I got on Demon.

Demon was feeling very good and enthusiastic about getting out. So we headed off down the trail at a good trot clip.

The trail was fairly fast and flat, and since it was an 11 mile ride, I felt good about letting Demon open up and go as fast as he wanted. We had a couple of very good gallop stretches. We rode a portion of the Loop 2 trail for the 50 milers which goes up to Great Falls.

Great Falls is a really neat geological phenomenon. Sometimes there's water, sometimes there's not. It makes no difference what time of year it is or what the weather has been like. Water is allowed in or stopped by a crack in the rock way in the back. There were lots of burro tracks up to the falls. They'd been going back there regularly to check for water. It must be there reliably enough for them to be traveling there as often as their tracks make it appear.

Coming back down from the Falls the trail gets super sandy and deep. I had to make Demon walk through this. Most of our trail at home is hard and rocky, so he does not get work in deep sand. Although we live in San Diego County, the beach is an impractical distance away to go condition in sand.

Once we were out of the sand, we picked up a nice trot for the last few miles back into camp. This was mostly fairly hard road with good footing, slightly downhill. We did intervals of walking and trotting until we got back to camp.

Back at camp we vetted in for the 50 on day 4, and I brought Hoss up for the vet to check him over. The vet declared vet cured of his colic episode. By this point Hoss was convinced I was starving him and ate up every bite of everything I offered him.

Sadly, I neglected to grab my phone out of the truck before Demon and I left, so no pictures.

Death Valley Encounter, Day 2: Slate Range Ridgeline

It was definitely Hoss's turn for bad luck.

We saddled up and Hoss was doing very nicely, trotting out at a good (for him) pace. We trotted most of the first 8 miles or so, which were relatively flat, going over substantially the same trail Demon and I had come back on after crossing the highway on Day 1. Once we got to the highway, we stopped for a drink and headed up to the Slate Range Ridgeline trail.

This was where I had briefly gone wrong with Demon the previous day. It's a lovely trail. The Duck was telling us the previous night it was originally built by motorcyclists, who now cannot use it (I suspect a subsequent wilderness designation). While working on permits, several BLM persons had to be taken out to see this trail. The biologist said it was created by burros, so would be fine for horses. The Duck asked if it was common for burros to stack rocks, and the biologist assured him yes, they do indeed do that. I suspect she was pulling his leg a bit. Biologists aren't known for being good at humor.

Totally no humans involved, burro rock stacking.
The ridgeline trail is pretty slow going, so we took our time and enjoyed the view along the trail. I can't hike so Hoss had to pack me the whole way. Again, I was a little nervous about falling off the trail, but Hoss being Hoss, he never put a foot wrong, and took any slipping in stride. I may have been nervous, but he carried on in his usual phlegmatic manner.

Looking down into the Panamint Valley
Once off the ridgeline, we were back on jeep tracks, but it was still pretty up and down. So it was mostly slow going.

When we got to the next water stop, Hoss was breathing pretty hard. Harder than I would expect for having walked as much as we had.

One last look at Panamint Valley before going off the trail
The rest of the trail back to camp, through a wash and down a canyon, was mostly downhill and sandy so I kept him mostly to a walk, though he did do a bit a pacing. At the next water, he was really breathing hard, and his heart rate felt fast. We were a few miles from camp. At this point I was thinking I was going to pull him.

Back at camp, Cheri Briscoe checked his pulse. He was at 72. His pulse hung at 72 for 5 minutes. At that point I said, nope, we quit. I took him back to the trailer and untacked him before bringing him back to the vet. The vet cleared him to continue, but we called it a day.

It was just as well we did.

After giving both horses lunches and hay to munch on, and verifying they were eating as normal, I ate my lunch and laid down for a nap. About 2 hours after we'd come in, someone banged on the camper door. I rolled out of bed and opened the door to a slightly alarming although not entirely unusual sight.

Hoss was laid out on his side, his head held up slightly by his lead rope tied to the trailer.

This is not super unusual for Hoss. He is well known for using his lead rope as a pillow and will lay out on his side to sleep for much longer than most horses are inclined to do. It is unusual for him to groan while doing it, and to lay like that so soon after a ride.

I untied him from the trailer and got him to his feet. He seemed relatively normal, yawning more like he had been awakened from an excellent nap than anything. Still, better to take him to the vet for nothing than have something get worse later.

Cheri and I were speculating Hoss had indeed been napping when I noted the vet had been listening to a particular section of his gut for a very long time. Turned out he was extra quiet right there. I said if his heart rate was in the 50s, it was a good bet he was colicking. She checked his heart rate and actually counted. 56. So Hoss got a dose of  Banamine.

I took him back to the trailer and gave him a sloppy bran mash. He polished that off and slept with his head propped against the side of the trailer for several hours. I got up every 2 hours or so to check on him and dole out small amounts of hay. It wasn't until sometime between 2am and 4am he finally pooped. Until then, I barely slept, every sound causing my heart rate to spike. I hadn't even felt him go down the first time, so I was on hyper alert for any motion or sound. After he finally did poop, I gave Demon his regular breakfast and Hoss a little bit more hay, then slept for a couple of hours. Once he'd started pooping, Hoss did not see fit to stop again, and was declared cured about noon the next day.

My strong suspicion is a combination of the heat and not getting clipped and not being as fit as he should be got to him. Usually I would have "hammered" him in the weeks right before the ride, but I had family problems going on which I had to take care of and just couldn't get it done.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Death Valley Encounter, Day 1: Panamint Valley

I have to start with a bit about the trip to the ride itself.

Demon and Hoss started fussing under the divider with each other almost immediately upon loading. I tied them both, not short, but enough to prevent any real reaching under the divider. The trip was uneventful until we stopped at the Walmart in Adelanto. I was sitting in the cab clearing my notifications when the trailer started rocking. Demon has in the past been known to start pawing mindlessly, and I assumed it was him acting up when I hollered and went back to see what was up. I climbed up on the side of the trailer and looked in at Demon, who gave me a wide-eyed look and tilted his head toward Hoss.

At this point I noticed Hoss's hind leg did not look quite right. There is no way it should be at quite that angle. In a bit of a panic, I ran back and opened the gate.

Hoss was sitting on his butt like a dog, held up by his lead rope just enough to prevent him from tucking his front legs. He immediately tried to exit the trailer, but his head was still tied. His foot hit the spigot on the 55 gallon drum, opening it and creating a flood of water in the midst of his predicament. I yelled at him to whoa, and ran around to untie him. Once he was freed, I told him to come on out and he was able to get out of the trailer and gain his feet with little trouble.

Letting my heart rate come down, I started asking Hoss to move about a little to make sure he was OK before re-loading him and heading on up the road. I was looking Hoss over when a car stopped and the most exuberantly excited young man (I'd say mid-20s at most) asked in the most breathlessly awed voice if he could have a picture with Hoss. I can honestly say I have never seen someone in this particular age group so enthused to meet a horse. Hoss was, of course, an incredible ambassador for his species and stood quietly for petting and to have his picture taken. I really wish I'd gotten a picture of those two young men with Hoss. It was truly enchanting and did quite a bit to distract me from the distressing situation we had so recently found ourselves in.

Once picture time was over I made a thorough inspection of Hoss. He has a fresh wound on the very tip of his ear, either bitten by Demon or caught in something in the trailer, and multiple nip marks from Demon trying to get him back on his feet. My best guess is either Demon got hold of Hoss's ear, or he got it stuck, and set back, causing him to fall. I doubt having him loose would have allowed him to get to his feet on his own. There simply was not enough space. His effort to get out when I opened the gate makes it clear to me his only chance to get up was to be afforded more space. He's fallen in the trailer enough times to support this conclusion.

We arrived at camp and found a spot to park. The night was uneventful, other than arranging with Lora Wereb, the "official" XP massage therapist, to give Hoss a massage and checking over while Demon and I were riding on day 1.

The morning was clear and cold, yet far warmer than normal for this ride. Demon was amped and ready to get his endurance ride on. We saddled up and left about 10 minutes after start time to let the hot-shoes get well down the trail. Demon was super happy to find himself once again on the endurance trail after a long hiatus due to (human) illness, surgeries, vehicle failures, and long distance trips.

In years past, this trail was ridden in a "clockwise" fashion. This year it was done widdershins. This meant coming to the ETI trail early in the day. The ETI is a single track trail which drops down into the Panamint Valley. It is a beautiful and technical trail, and there is some advantage to going down before lunch rather than up it after lunch. Coming to it with a fresh horse is nice in that the horse has the energy to deal with the rocks and dips. On the other hand, there's something to be said for going up it with a horse who's had some of the stuffing taken out of him already.

Demon did very well, but my fall with DC at Virgin Outlaw in 2016 has left me with a slight fear of drop-offs, especially with an enthusiastic horse. Looking back I can say he never did anything remotely dangerous, kept himself on the trail straight and true, and was careful if fast. In the moment all I could imagine was toppling off the edge in a moment of imagined equine inattention.

Looking down into the Panamint Valley
Once we made the valley floor we set off at a good clip for the vet check. There were several areas we had to slow for "moguls" in the jeep road. I had been forewarned of this and advised to simply go to the edges or off into the desert for better travel. Demon, however, is a stickler for the rules generally, and did not think going off trail was a good idea. So I would simply ask for a walk through those areas and we'd trot when it flattened out. Besides, my hip has gotten worse, and it starts hurting enough to change gaits anyway. It worked out for both of us.

The vet check was perhaps a mile from a mine. Many vehicles were traveling around, and Demon found them quite fascinating. He ate a bran mash, but otherwise spent his time watching the vehicles traveling to and fro.

Those mine vehicles, they are super interesting!
After the lunch hold, we took back to the trail. We did intervals of walking and trotting to the Nadeau Toll Road, originally built by hand by the earliest settlers of the area. It is truly a feat of human engineering and grit, when one recognizes just how much work had to have gone into carving the road from the hillside.

Nadeau Toll Road
At the top of the Toll Road, where it intersects with the Wildrose Highway, we were meant to cross the highway. I knew this. While Demon was having a drink I was thinking we would be crossing the highway. But when he finished, I noticed ribbons up the hill. There were no ribbons toward the highway. I thought, well, perhaps we're supposed to go up the hill then cross the highway. So up the hill we went. And followed the single track. And I forgot we were supposed to cross the highway.

I think we made maybe half a mile before I thought to look at my GPS and realized we were off track. We turned back and found yes, we were meant to cross the highway right there. We got back on trail and headed down toward camp.

Most of the rest of the trail was slightly downhill or flat, so we made fairly good time heading back. Demon had started to flag on the Toll Road but got a second wind and trotted most of the last bit as strong as he'd started.

We finished in about 8.5 hours, an admirable finish. The new girth I'd gotten from Teddy Lancaster of Running Bear worked very well, despite having been tested a whole three quarters of a mile before we headed to the ride. Demon was super pleased with himself when we were done, and tucked right into his dinner. One day down.

Purina Feed Greatness Challenge Week 3

This week, I had Demon and Hoss at the Death Valley endurance ride. Seemed like a good time to see if I noticed any particular changes in either of them.

I fed both horses a bran mash with a serving of Outlast the morning we left (12/27). They were fine in the trailer, other than fussing at one another more than usual in the first part of the trip. Hoss was recently moved into a pen next to another horse, who likes to pick fights. Well, Hoss managed to get the better of his neighbor, badly enough said neighbor was laid up for 3 days. So now, when Demon got to snuffling under the divider, Hoss thought he was a badass and fought back. I'm not positive a tussle is what resulted in Hoss's ear injury and fall in the trailer, but it seems a likely scenario. At least after that point it seemed the two were staying on their own sides of the divider.

Demon rode the 50 on day 1. He did a good and consistent job. I gave him a serving of Outlast at the lunch check and one again when we got back to camp. He also did the fun ride on day 3. That day I gave bran mashes with Outlast and gave him his regular serving with his lunch. On day 4 he did another 50, again going fine. I can't say as he performed any better than he usually does.

Demon at the vet check on day 1, fascinated by the vehicles at the mine.

Hoss attempted the 50 on day 2. I was very concerned with how he was doing during the first 30 miles. He seemed to be panting and having a higher heart rate than he should through the second half of the first loop. He was perfectly cheerful and wanted to go. Indeed, I spent a lot of time holding him back due to concern about his condition. I had given him Outlast in a bran mash before we left. I did pull him at the vet check and about 2 hours later was alerted he appeared to be in distress. It turned out he was indeed suffering a mild colic, which 10cc of Banamine cleared up overnight. Again, I can't say he was doing any better than usual.

What I can say was different was the quality and  frequency of both horses' manure. They were both producing more well-formed manure balls and at a higher frequency. Demon was less likely to slow down or stop to poop. They were much easier than usual to clean up after. In this regard, I can say they were doing better.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch....

Beth has been observing changes in my 3 endurance horses and in the 2 she started on the Outlast before I left for the ride. She noted DC is eating better, even when fed far from the other horses, and isn't charging around her pen when another horse is taken out. Demon seems more cheerful and animated. Hoss is more likely to interact with people other than me. These are all changes I had been watching and not commenting on, due to worries about the placebo effect. Even though I don't really expect changes, and am doing my best to stay objective, of course I want my horses to be happier, so I know it would be easy to think some change I think I see is due to the Outlast. I've been waiting to see if the changes seem to stick.

Due to the changes she's been seeing, Beth decided to start the 4 other horses on Outlast.

In particular, Amira seems to have benefited greatly. I picked up this mare from Iowa in October. It's fair to say she has had a very traumatic history with trailers and was otherwise essentially unhandled. Even when I picked her up we had quite a hard time. It took 5 hours and a rather large dose of sedative to get her on the trailer. Before the sedation, she had at one point fallen out of the trailer we'd gotten her half on, struck her head on a post, and laid on her chest for a solid 15 minutes groaning. I can't blame the horse for being a bit alarmed by people after all she's been through just with trailers. We haven't been able to so much as touch this mare since we got her home. I made an attempt at trimming her feet when she was sedated for teeth and almost got my head removed for my trouble.

Amira before Outlast. Looking for an escape.

Before I left for Death Valley, I cornered Amira and got a halter and drag rope on her. Even with this, she was difficult to handle and certainly untouchable beyond her withers. Beth started giving her the Outlast, and the difference is night and day. She was even able to brush Amira down to her hocks, an action likely to result in a kicking fit before. Amira is even different before the Outlast and after, enough to make the product look like magic. I've decided to start giving it to her 3 times per day. Since she lives next to the barn this is easy to accomplish.

After Outlast. Soft eye and relaxed body language.
Even the three other mares, Obsession, Rez, and Sere, seem to be calmer and more at peace since beginning a daily dose of Outlast.

One of the boarded horses, Jack, is reportedly doing quite well too. He's more focused and less suspicious than he was before.

I won't say I'm a believer, but I will say it looks promising, at least for more than half the horses here.