Friday, May 30, 2008

Eight Belles on Kentucky Derby Day

By Katie Merwick and Melodee Shelly-Bolmgren

Chez Chevaux and Second Chance Ranch were invited to share in the festivities of Derby day at Emerald Downs. The Washington horse racing community and Emerald Downs truly care about the health and welfare of thoroughbreds during and after their racing careers. Proof of this is evidenced by the newly established Prodigious Fund which will help us support our missions of thoroughbred transitioning and retirement. They donated table space, two pages of free advertising in the Derby Day Program, and an autographed photo of Street Sense, the 2007 Derby winner, for us to raffle off. We were asked to bring retired and retrained racehorses out on the track between races in a further effort to publicize our efforts and fundraise. With repeated announcements throughout the day, they called for the fans to get involved, come meet us, and make donations. Melodee and Chez Chevaux volunteers set up and manned the table upstairs while Katie and her volunteers hauled in four retired, retrained and rehomed ex-racehorses to show off in a parade, both in hand and under saddle, before a packed grandstand. It was their first visit back to track since they retired. Regardless of what PETA and other categorical detractors of all racing might imagine, the alumni were happy to be back on the track.

Neither of us actually had time to watch the Derby live. The Chez Chevaux volunteers at the fundraising table watched the race while Katie and Melodee hustled trackside to prep the horses to head out onto the track. The Kentucky Derby is the event of the year in American racing. Much of the general public only knows anything about racing on Derby Day. It is usually a joyous day. People dress up, drink a lot, and wear hats. But this year, the Mint Juleps went by the wayside when Eight Belles went down.

Everyone has a speculative opinion. We have our own too. Both of us do know what we're talking about throughout multiple arenas of the equine performance world, and we have some things to say: Eight Belles' injury was a tragic accident and her resultant trackside euthanasia, albeit necessary, was traumatic to see. But, don't throw a blanket of comprehensive blame on the racing industry. Shortly prior to this years' Derby, two Rolex (Three-Day) eventing mounts, Frodo Baggins and The Quiet Man, were euthanized due to falls at fences in the cross-country phase of the competition. Teddy O’Connor also Competed that day without injury, however, just recently he had to be euthanized due to injuries suffered in a freak barn accident. Horses have also broken legs and required euthanization thereby, from the proverbial "bad steps" taken while running barrels, cutting cows, and while bucking, running and playing at liberty in turnout pastures. Oh, and don't forget trailering accidents! No one who loves horses wants to see them die.

In response to the numerous calls and emails we've received both enquiring and complaining about racing:

(1) Racetracks in America may be dirt or polytrack. Tracks do strive to provide the best surfaces possible regardless. Surfaces are better installed and maintained than any others you are likely to find in amateur performance and pleasure arenas, and/or trails and endurance races. Racetrack footing is groomed and prepped before each race. Comparatively, if you are an eventer and astride the twentieth horse with studded shoes to go over fences in a three-day event, you may be hard pressed to find a take-off spot that isn't slop! Steeplechase racers and open jumping stadium competitors contend with footing issues just as debilitating as a race track surface can be. Be assured that the condition of the racing surface and the health of the equine competitors is of paramount concern to all connected and with aspirations to the Kentucky Derby.

(2) Jockeys really can, and must, ride well. Quickly, consistently, and in company with their horse. If they are hurt, at best, they lose their paychecks. Jockeys will not mount a horse if they feel it is not sound. They are consummate professionals who know their lives are at risk every time they are legged up onto a horse.

(3) Safety of all racing participants is paramount to the industry which continually works to maximize policies that promote safe outcomes. See: The Washington Horse Council.

(4) Successful racing and performance horses do love their jobs and the people connected with them. I have seen this proven over and over again. A recent example is the Canadian racehorse, Topaz Legacy from Assiniboia Downs. He dumped his rider at the gate and ran the entire race using strategy, tactic and skill to win the race!

(5) Thousands of starving and abused horses are rescued every year from private citizens. Neither Chez Chevaux nor SCR have ever had to so do at a racetrack.

(6) Racing owners and trainers may easily invest a myriad of hours and more than 5 or 6 figures into sound racing prospects before it becomes evident that the horse is not physically or mentally suited for the demands and skill sets of racing. Those same people have donated their horses to our organizations or given them away to the general equestrian community to be retrained for a second career. We must note that racing is the only sector of equine sports that has routinely donated such expensive horses for retraining while they were sound and marketable. Owners and trainers have gone as far as to pay board and vet bills for the horses pending rehoming.

(7) Many unwanted horses of all breeds do not get a happy retirement. See: The Unwanted Horse Coalition. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) reports that in excess of 100,000 horses are annually transported from the United States to Canada and Mexico to be slaughtered. These horses suffer miserable conditions enroute. Their death is unnecessarily violent beyond comprehension. The voices of those who target their criticisms of equine endeavors at racing could better direct their concerns for equine welfare to this ongoing situation.

(8) Some two year old thoroughbreds are physically and mentally ready to race. Others are not. Nor will they be at three or four. The same applies to any equines' potential entry into pleasure and performance careers. Race tracks have ultrasounds and state-of-the-art veterinary technologies readily available, coupled with a capable trainers' lengthy experience. The daily preventative and post care of races horses that we have witnessed is unmatched by any other equine discipline.

(9) Race and performance horses can, and do, retire sound. Glo's Moe, a Second Chance Ranch retiree, began racing at two and retired sound at ten years old without injury. This is not entirely uncommon.

(10) For those who believe all horses should run free in "nature": Begin by thoroughly educating yourselves with an investigation of the mustang herd management policies and practices of the Bureau of Land Management.

(11) for those who questioned the response of Eight Belle’s attending veterinarian. Teaching University Hospitals and Racetracks are committed to their practices and lifelong learning. We have stood by and held beloved equines when immediate humane euthanasia was the only answer. Vets do not want to euthanize a horse for whom any hope of recovery exists. Doing what had to be done expediently for Eight Belles, while compassionately providing her with every measure of dignity possible as the whole world watched, had to be a profound personal misery. The ultimate test of triage and professionalism under fire.

Racing is neither cruel nor evil. No equine and human interaction is without inherent risk. Domesticated horses rely on their human connections to care for them. While there are a small number of less than caring humans in all equine arenas, one cannot fault an entire industry for the perceived actions of a negative minority. All evidence indicates that the people caring for and involved with Eight Belles’ strove to do the best job they could for her at all times.

Most importantly please recognize that all of us, from every side of the table, are working toward the same goal; to protect and provide the best for horses. Second Chance Ranch and Chez Chevaux are dedicated and responsible nonprofit equine welfare organizations. You can help a race horse today by donating!


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

EPSM: How Diet Can Effect Performance

EPSM (Equine polysaccharide storage myopathy) has been shown to be the major cause of a common muscle disorder of horses, known as exertional rhabdomyolysis or “tying up.” Beth Valentine, DVM, PhD, Dipl ACVP, the foremost researcher and expert on EPSM, proposed the first successful therapy to halt and reverse the progression of EPSM. A graduate of the NY State College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University, Dr. Valentine is currently a professor at OSU College of Veterinary medicine.

Dr. Valentine reports, “I am a veterinary anatomic pathologist, in the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, involved with many different species and pathologic disorders. I have a special interest in equine disease and in neuromuscular disease. I head the Neuromuscular Disease Laboratory, which is currently involved in the study of the incidence, pathologic features, and pathogenesis of equine polysaccharide storage myopathy. The laboratory has also been involved in collaborative studies within and outside of the College of Veterinary Medicine.”
SymptomsHorses with EPSM lack the ability to obtain or properly utilize energy from soluble carbohydrates, which are the main source of energy in grains, sweet feeds, and pelleted horse feeds. The exact pathogenesis of EPSM is still not known, although pathologic findings of abnormal polysaccharide storage and response to diet change suggest abnormal metabolism of starch and sugar.
Glycogen is on of the energy sources for muscle contraction. An EPSM horse has an excessive buildup of glycogen in the muscle resulting in muscle cramps and weakness. Obvious symptoms include tying up, reluctance or inability to move, stiff gaits especially in the hindquarters, and sweating. Less obvious signs of EPSM are reluctance to transition into gaits (from walk to trot / trot to canter) difficulty backing up, muscle atrophy and weakness, or lack of energy. This condition can be misdiagnosed as back or hock soreness or colic.

Two other conditions that may be related to EPSM, are “Stringhalt” and “Shivers.” Some cases of both have been successfully treated with Dr. Valentine’s EPSM diet. The first is “Stringhalt" identified by abnormal hind leg action, particularly when the horse backs or turns. It is often? described as a "hitch" or "cramp" in which the horse pauses with its hind leg in the air before stomping it down. It can also happen while standing, or on the first step as they get going, or on the last step before stopping. It can effect one or both hind limbs. It is thought to be caused by a problem with the nerve supply to the hind leg muscle, but those horses that respond to an EPSM diet likely have muscle cramps rather than nerve problems. The second condition is"Shivers". This is a condition that appears similar to stringhalt. It usually happens only at a standstill. One classic symptom is that the horse abnormally elevates its tail and has a lack of energy to the hind limb muscles. Horses with Shivers typically have difficulty with lifting hind legs while being shod - it’s often only one back leg that shows symptoms. They may develop more severe signs such as muscle wasting and weakness over a period of time.
DiagnosisWhile EPSM is a relatively newly recognized disease it is believed to have been around for hundreds of years. It has been confirmed or suspected in virtually every draft horse breed, although it is not breed specific as it has been identified in numerous other breeds, Thoroughbreds being one of them. PSSM (Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy) also referred to as Exertional Rhabdomyolysis is a separate glycogen storage disorder found in Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, and paints. Although, I have yet to find data indicating any difference between the symptoms or treatment. These are thought to be the same thing now – the only controversy left is whether TBs that tie up have RER or EPSM. PSSM is the acronym Minnesota uses, I use EPSM, and more recently I have take to using EPSSM to try to bridge the gap and avoid confusion.

A positive response to diet change is usually accepted as evidence that your horse has EPSM. The best diagnostic test is a muscle biopsy, which generally runs $200 and is fairly non-invasive. It is a faster way to rule out or identify the problem.
Treatment - diet vs. drugsRace horses who do not have a clinical case of EPSM may experience “tying up” for other reasons due to the nature of their work. Of interest it the fact that furosemide (Lasix) has been shown to decrease serum levels of potassium, which can predispose muscle to injury during exercise.
Banamine is used routinely to treat an episode of tying up. Some trainers take preventative measures by adding Vit E and Selinium to their diet. A routine of putting the horse on a walker after a work or race to keep them moving is also beneficial. There are no clinical studies on whether an EPSM diet may reduce the number of tying up incidents in race horses, but Dr. Valentine has worked with many racing TBs that have tying up problems, and all that she knows of have responded well to a change to an EPSM diet. This observation certainly warrants further research. Coincidentally, many race horses are already following Dr. Valentine’s diet unknowingly.
If your horse does have EPSM, the treatment is dietary manipulation to provide a high fat, high fiber, low starch and sugar diet. Cereal grains (oats, corn, and barley) are typically the major source of starch and sugar in a horse’s diet. In EPSM horses, energy must be provided by other sources, including extra fiber (such as Beet Pulp), fatty acids from fats or oils (liquid corn oil), and amino acids from protein (such as alfalfa). Dr. Valentine recommends gradual increase in dietary fat aiming for at least 1 pound of fat (2 cups oil or equivalent in other fat source or sources) per 1000 pounds of horse per day, along with as much reduction in starch and sugar as possible. As much turnout time and regular exercise as possible are also important. This therapy has proven to successfully control signs of muscle dysfunction in most affected horses. Owners should realize that it will take about 4 months for their horses to fully fat adapt, and tie ups or other muscle problems can still occur during this time. Additional supplements such as more significant amounts of chromium and magnesium may also be useful in some cases.
On a personal note, I have experienced success with Dr. Valentine’s EPSM diet on several occasions. I currently have a warmblood/Thoroughbred mare who came to Second Chance Ranch with a mysterious lameness that could not be positively diagnosed for years. The previous owner had exhausted all diagnostic efforts, including MRI, Ultrasound, X-rays and repeated flexion tests. I was told she had a problem with her right hind suspensory. I first noticed that the mare improved with work, and the stiffness to the right appeared, in my opinion, to actually come from the stifle or possibly higher up in the Gluteal region. The mare did not have any of the clearly obvious signs of EPSM, however, she did have an unexplained muscle weakness and stiffness. I put her on Dr. Valentine’s EPSM diet and saw progressive improvement - she is currently sound and working 3nd level dressage.
Dr. Valentine generously shares her time and knowledge on a discussion board hosted by Rural Heritage;
She can also be reached at;Beth A. ValentineOregon State UniversityCorvallis, OR Phone: 541 737 3261Fax: 541 737

Reference materials;

(Dr. Valentine’s bio, definition of disease and symptoms)

Other research articles


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Transitioning Your Race Horse

This article was previously published in the Washington Thoroughbred Breeder's Association magazine (WTBA) - written for the consideration of race horse owners and trainers.

Off the track Thoroughbreds (OTTB) are a popular choice for a number of equestrian sports because of their athleticism and performance pedigrees. They are known for being highly intelligent and willing workers. However, many are just as content with having the job of being a “pet” or trail horse. Some have injuries that define the choice for them.

Most race horse trainers are vastly knowledgeable regarding a race horse’s limitation and abilities. Any member of the general equestrian community who wishes to purchase an OTTB will likely need to be educated as to which job an ex-racer is best suited for. At Second Chance Ranch we evaluate temperament, confirmation and physical condition. Some of the more common injuries from the track are bone chips in the hoof or knee, fractures to the cannon bone, bowed tendons, bucked shins, or less often a hock injuries. Often, bone chips in the knee can often be removed and not impede the horse’s ability to work. Chip in the hoof often doesn’t even need to be removed unless it’s in the coffin bone joint. Fractures eventually heal, but prevent the horse from jumping. Ligament and tendon injuries are far more limiting. A hock injury will probably preclude dressage training. Trail or pleasure riding is still an option for almost any horse.

Hunter/Jumper and Eventers look critically at confirmation – the angle of the shoulder to neck, pasterns, stifle, and length of back. While dressage riders may not be as particular about confirmation, they require a horse that enjoys repetitive training.
A horse that has a strong hind end and healthy active hocks will be the most appealing to a dressage rider. Western riders (cutting, team penning, barrel racing) need a horse that can move fast, bend and turn on a dime, while working in close range with other horses and stock. All riders will require a horse that can stay sound. Otherwise, the options are pasture pet or brood mare. Keeping a horse sound completely depends on the environment, training and care they receive after they leave the track.

The most “at risk” OTTBs are those who go into a demanding and competitive second career such as the jumper and eventer circuit. Serious jumpers invest a substantial amount of money to compete, much like with racing. If the horse can’t do the job they are often not considered “pets” nor do they have a retirement plan. Anyone taking a horse off the track should consider what they will do if the horse is not capable or willing to withstand competitive sports. Second Chance Ranch appreciates the time, work and funding that goes into these careers. Our horses are adopted on a contract that states we will purchase the horse back if you can no longer keep it, or no longer want it. This lets the adoptor off the hook for having to re-home a horse who cannot work. It allows SCR to approve of the next home and continue following the horse through contract. Our repurchase price will not exceed the adoption fee – the purpose of our contract is not to have people put training on a horse only to sell it back to us at a high price. Although, we do work cooperatively with local trainers who want an OTTB as a project. They keep the proceeds of the adoption and SCR approves of the home and enters into a contract with the adoptor.

We must not forget lead ponies! Regardless of breeding, a horse who has fulfilled the job of escorting race horses to the paddock and gate, or through morning workouts are worth their weight in gold. Any horse who has that job on their resume will have a waiting line of people to take them home!

Beyond choosing a job for the horse, there are a few things you can do to set your race horse up for success (1) don’t give them away to the general public for free. This prevents people from taking on a cheap project and turning it around for quick profit (2) use a “right of first refusal” contract so that if the horse doesn’t work out for them, you have the option of taking it back. This keeps you in the loop and you will know if the horse is being passed on to someone other than the person you chose as an owner (3) Verify where the horse will be put into training. The initial transitional training and environment is critical to the horse succeeding in any sport, or even as a pet (4) consider or offer “consignment” to a qualified trainer. They will require a reasonable boarding fee while the horse is put into training. The trainer will find an approved home that has been adequately screened. The sales price would reflect compensation for training. as well as delivering heftier price for the race horse owner. Worst case scenario, the owner has cut out the cost of boarding and receives the horse back with training on it.

Retirement. Okay, let’s say your horse has such limiting injuries, or they are a senior citizen and need the job of “pasture pet.” There are rescue and retirement organizations who can help, however, you need to screen them as well (1) they should have 501c3 status with the IRS as public Charity (2) They will have written guidelines and policies (3) They will utilize an adoption contract vs. sales contract (4) they will be operated by experienced equestrians with knowledge specific to race horses (5) they will have vet, farrier, and client and sponsor references available. (5) they will agree to provide you with updates and adoption status if asked.