APEX – One Participant’s Perspective
Sometimes when life hands you lemons, you make lemonade.
Or better yet, if life hands you potatoes, you use the spuds to make yourself some outstanding vodka. And whip up a Cosmopolitan.
With the Vermont 100 one of the few rides on my schedule this year given the all-consuming construction of our house, I was primed to take Ned there for a third-times-a-charm stroll around the course.
But the fates had other ideas in mind: A way-too-hot forecast for heat-challenged half-Trakehner Ned, then a leaking transmission line on the hauling vehicle, topped by a key crew member who ended up on the losing end of a pedestrian/cyclist meeting with two broken wrists – all pointed to opting out of the ride.
Enter Plan B … I was reminded of the APEX Clinic happening the Tuesday through Thursday before the ride, and just around the corner from camp by Cecily Westervelt, a fellow member of the active New 100 Miler yahoo email list.
In a moment of rare spontaneity, I headed to a client meeting on Tuesday, then just kept driving northeast to Vermont.
What To Expect
A quick glance at the APEX website (www.apex-us.org) revealed clinicians I knew by name and reputation, if not personally: Stagg Newman, Kerry Ridgway, Ann Stuart, John Crandell III, Doug Lietzke, Jeff Pauley.
Would this clinic be over my head? (I consider myself to be a 100-miler newbie, with only 5 completions under my belt and less than a decade of endurance competition to my credit.)
Would it be geared toward international competition? (FEI level riding isn’t my cup of tea.)
Would it be too basic? (After all, I am not exactly new to the sport.)
Would I find out that the little success I’d already had was pure fluke and that I was a living breathing role model of What Not To Do? (Uh oh.)
Be Welcome, Come Learn, Share Ideas and Resources
From a speedy response to my last-minute “Can I come?” to the warm welcome offered by Gene Limlaw, the local rider who organized the clinic (hosted by the Rojek’s Smoke Rise Farm), to the hot coffee waiting in the Carriage House (which served as our lecture hall), to the little welcome bag of goodies we received from Slypner’s Gear, I immediately felt right at home.
Gene and Cecily filled me in on the previous evening’s goings-on since I had been absent. Conformation and shoeing analysis of less than perfect, real life with each clinician offering their perspective, a goal-setting discussion, and an overall theme of how to make your horse the best, most enduring it could be.
As the morning progressed and Ann Stuart, DVM, presented a lecture and video synopses about Recognizing Lameness, it became obvious to me that this clinic was all about learning, and sharing ideas, and enhancing a sense of community.
Participants and “experts” alike laughed over their wrong guesses about which leg was lame, which was primary versus secondary, what might be compensatory. Many of us were just relieved that we could see the horse was lame, and that yes, it was Grade 3 by AAEP criteria which would mean you were done for that day in an AERC ride.
Over and over, the “experts” talked about how they deferred to others, how they realized they didn’t know everything, how they’d learned through (often embarrassing) mistakes, how a specific program (even their own) -- be it electrolyting, conditioning, post-ride leg care, shoeing – wasn’t the be-all or end-all, it was just what worked for them.
On to Jeff Pauley, a SE Region Master Farrier whose wife, Leigh Ann, competes successfully in 100-mile rides. Jeff presented a multitude of shoeing set-up suggestions for various types of rides – concussive, sandy, rocky, slippery terrain. Again, he emphasized taking advantage of the network of farriers shoeing endurance horses around the country – make phone calls, drop emails, ask some questions about what shoeing set up might make sense for a particular ride – cultivate and use your resources was his primary message.
In a light-hearted moment, Jeff spoke about the best time to approach your farrier about new ideas – somehow, it seems that some horse owners like to have these chats while the farrier is bent over in concentration, sweating over a hoof, 99% done with the trim.
A better idea might be to call ahead and ask your farrier to schedule a little extra time for the beginning of the shoeing appointment to watch the horse go, chat about the shoeing set up for your next ride, and bounce some ideas off each other. Jeff also discussed the upcoming Shoeing for Endurance clinics being hosted by Kentucky School of Horseshoeing (see the APEX website for more details).
Ann and Jeff agreed that farriers and vets are getting better and better about working together on sport horse foot and leg care. They pointed to the upcoming AAEP (American Association of Equine Practitioners) Convention (http://www.aaep.org/convention.htm) in December, 2008, where a full day will be dedicated to the farrier/veterinarian partnership.
The treadmill demonstration was impressive, and I am so looking forward to making my Christmas Wish List for Santa, as one of these is right near the top. What a tool!
Phoenix, a Decade Team horse ridden by Dinah Rojek, cheerfully went through his paces on the treadmill, and participants were able to pick up dozens of things – the foot flight of the horse, the way the horse landed (heel first? lateral? medial?), how the heart rate responded to changes in gait at the same speed (Phoenix is an efficient canterer), and just how critically important actually moving through space is to the thermoregulation of the horse (without the fan running, Phoenix overheated rather quickly).
The good news is that those of us not on Santa’s Good Child List can reap many of the advantages of the treadmill in a low-tech way. There are ways of getting videotape of a the foot flight of a horse in motion, some better suited for the risk-tolerant than others, all requiring a bit of patience and planning and a steady hand.
John Crandell spent some time, both at the treadmill and in the classroom, talking about how successful endurance horses tend to be narrow, thus able to more efficiently move their body mass through air. As John emphasized, these were the horses that could move with economy; these were the survivors in nature. For endurance, however, these horses present a shoeing challenge because of their relatively narrow path of hoof travel, and the close tolerances for perfect balance over long and challenging distances.
Jeff and John, both farriers, agreed that farriers do not create balance issues, they sometimes just don’t catch them soon enough, particularly if riders fail to communicate about small changes the may or may not notice.
Kerry Ridgway, DVM, moved us back to the internal function of the endurance horse, with an enlightening and sobering look at the impact of ulcers, and the management and feeding and medical remedies available, both at home and in competition, as allowed by the new AERC drug rules.
Kerry discussed his upcoming study with Frank Andrews, DVM, regarding acupuncture as both a diagnostic and treatment tool. This is a topic endurance riders should look forward to hearing more about! While it is clear that while ulcers are not a new problem, the research about them is evolving, as is the approach to addressing them.
During the breaks, participants chatted with the clinicians, picking their brains, seeking ideas, coming up with possible solutions to specific problems. This was the rubber meeting the road.
Jim Masterson (www.mastersonmethod.com) demonstrated an integrated method of massage for horses, using Finch, one of Smoke Rise Farm’s horses, as a subject. The great thing about this method is that it is intended to be one that horse handlers can perform themselves. Finch is a stoic sort, but we all watched in fascination as Jim’s work, even with the lightest of pressure, elicited responses from Finch – twitching of his lips, blinking, changes in breath, snorting, shifting of weight or fidgeting, to repeated and enthusiastic yawning – that showed release of tension.
An additional handful of horses were brought in for hands-on practice, each with different tight spots and personalities, and one of the many messages brought home, as in so many situations with horses, is that less is more. When a horse would resist, many of us would push or pull through, rather than lightening our touch and guiding the horse along. The light touch worked much better!
At the end of a long day Kerry Ridgway gave a saddle fitting demonstration, using a systematic approach (http://www.ultimatesaddlesolutions.com) to check the saddle, the horse, and the fit of the saddle to the horse, to include the placement and rigging of the girth or cinch. Kerry gave us his opinions and anecdotal stories about specific brands and types of saddles but the overall theme of that discussion was, as it is so many times with endurance riding I’ve learned, “Whatever Works!”
Day Three – As Joan Rivers would say, “Can We Talk?”
The third day of the clinic came too soon, culminating the previous days’ learning, with round-robin small team work with each of the following – John Crandell, Stagg Newman and Doug Lietzke. Doug gave us a lecture about positive imagery and using sports psychology tools to excel in our sport. Fascinating, and applicable in a very practical sense.
We shared stories, ideas and techniques. We laughed, we confessed our inadequacies and challenges and strengths, as well as those of our horses. I won’t share the inadequacies, other than to say that even the legends are human (or equine) in their imperfection. Being less than a model of perfection, myself, and having a herd of beasts for whom I can point out every flaw and shortcoming, this is considerable comfort.
Something I scribbled in large letters in my notes -- “There are NO formulas!” Conditioning, electrolyting, post-leg care, whether a young horse was ready for his first CTR, 50, 100 or ready to race – each participant there, including and with emphasis on the “experts,” had their own opinions, experiences, ideas, and strategies.
And in the end, one of the predominant messages was summed up in a presentation by John about a “Virtual Stable”, in which the endurance community in the U.S. can work together, pool resources, and share in one another’s successes and learning experiences.
Since so many of us have only one or two horses, why not set up a network with so many others like ourselves, so that we can learn and share and commiserate and set community goals so that we can belong, virtually, to a much bigger stable? It will make the highs higher, the lows a little less traumatic, and celebrate our collective successes.
The creation of a “virtual stable”, in a nutshell, is the message behind APEX.