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John Strassburger The Equine Things That Matter Most
by John Strassburger

John Strassburger, Horse Journal’s Performance Editor, is a graduate A Pony Clubber. He currently competes in eventing at the Intermediate level. As editor of The Chronicle of the Horse for 20 years, he covered six Olympics and thousands of competitions. With his wife, he operates Phoenix Farm (phoenixsporthorses.com), a breeding/training facility in California.

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California Chrome—Simply Awesome

By John Strassburger, December 02, 2014

2014 Hollywood Derby - California Chrome
 2014 Hollywood Derby - California Chrome
I got to watch a superb equine athlete perform at the top of his game last Saturday, when California Chrome won the Hollywood Derby at Del Mar Race Track near San Diego.

When I saw on Friday, while watching TVG, that California Chrome was going to be racing the next afternoon, I made sure that I’d be in the house and able to watch the race. Why? Because I’ve felt, ever since he first saw him run last March, that this horse truly has a mystical, almost magical, quality about him.  And as a horseman whose niche has been training young horses, it’s been fascinating to watch his physical and mental development over the course of the year.

Over my 40-plus years of watching racehorses, I’ve seen many fabulous horses run. Affirmed, Alydar, Seattle Slew, Riva Ridge, John Henry, Forego, Zenyatta, Flatterer and Lonesome Glory all come to my mind immediately. All were exceptional athletes with an exceptional will to win, horses that walked around exuding class, strength and a sublime inner confidence.

But in my mind there have been only two I would call freakishly extraordinary—Secretariat and Ruffian. Just walking in the paddock or cantering to the post, they radiated an incredible strength, an awe-inspiring athleticism, and extraordinary equine intelligence. Now I’m willing to put California Chrome in a class with these two god-like horses.

He is, simply, an extraordinary physical specimen. The highly developed muscles on his nearly perfect frame simply ripple with strength, as his chestnut coat glistens with health. It must be a daily treat for those around him to see him in the barn or on the track. I’ve always considered Secretariat to be the perfect physical expression of the horse, a 10. I’d rate California Chrome a 9.75.

California Chrome has always shown an extraordinary ability to use tactical speed. He’s able to accelerate and decelerate at nearly any point in the race, an ability that’s often what separates the very good racehorse from the exceptional racehorse. Most racehorses can accelerate only once (some can’t at all!), and it’s the ability to turn the speed on and off that often makes the best ones.

But he showed a new wrinkle to his tactical arsenal on Saturday, when he broke from the gate as if shot from a cannon to immediately grab the lead, before rating back to second and then surging to the front midway through the final turn and then turning it up two or three more notches to seal the score.

That was huge, because the knock against him last spring was how tardy he was leaving the gate. Breaking quickly from the gate showed his mental development, how he’s learning to play the game even better, which fascinates me as a horseman.

Plus, the Hollywood Derby was his first grass race. And, again, that’s comparable to Secretariat, who concluded his 3-year-old campaign (and his career) by winning two 1 ½-mile races on the grass. Victory on the grass means that California Chrome has now won over all three racing surfaces—dirt, synthetic and grass, another highly unusual achievement among racehorses, who generally prefer one surface or another.

I certainly look forward to seeing California Chrome run as a 4-year-old, and I salute his owners for continuing to race him, for letting us racing fans see him run more, instead of shipping him off to the breeding shed, where he’ll be worth a lottery’s worth of millions of dollars. 


Medical Technology Never Ceases To Amaze Me

By Grant Miller, DVM, December 01, 2014

Vetigel- a revolutionary new product that stops bleeding in seconds. Photo courtesy Suneris

 

This morning I wound up in the dental chair after biting through yet another night guard (yes… life as a veterinarian actually isn’t a stroll through the daffodil field as so many thought!).  My dentist was very excited to report that he had come across a new product designed to stop bleeding that he hoped to someday use in his own practice.  He mentioned that when he pulls teeth, often times the artery that feeds the tooth bleeds excessively, making smiles far more difficult to muster for everyone involved. For now, the product has only gained FDA approval for use in animals, but the company that makes and markets it hopes to make it available in human medicine soon.

 

The product is called Vetigel and it is made by a New York-based company called Suneris.  It is, in my opinion, and amazing feat of technology that will help save many lives.  It is a plant-based polymer that can stop bleeding in about 3 to 5 seconds post-application.  The gel can be used internally or externally and works on everything from minor bleeds to major arterial hemorrhage.  

 

For horses, the “Achilles heel” when it comes to bleeding is the artery and vein bundle that runs down either side of the fetlock. It is called the Palmar Digital vein, artery and nerve. If you are one of the unlucky souls who has witnessed a horse bleeding from this area, you know it can be quite gruesome. Even veterinarians cringe when they think of having to locate and ligate a bleeding palmar digital artery. Now that a product like Vetigel is coming to the market, what were once life-threatening sources of blood loss are now reduced to mere minor complications.

 
Arrows point to the location of the Palmar Digital arteries.

 

The product comes in a single syringe and can be stored at room temperature.  There is no preparation necessary or special training required to use it- it is safe and easy.  Just open the pack and squirt the contents in the syringe on the bleeding vessel.  The product is completely bioabsorbable - there is no need to remove it.  The company also makes a solidifying agent that can be applied to the gel once the bleeding has been stopped.  The two together can either function as a long-term absorbing bandage, or they can be removed at a later time.  Isn’t technology amazing!?

 

So- how does it work?  VETIGEL accelerates the natural hemostasis (blood clotting) cascade by enabling the activation of Factor XII and platelets and adhering to the wound. Both Factor XII and platelets circulate in our blood and are instrumental components in the clotting cascade. This combination creates a million-fold increase in the production of fibrin (kind of like an “emergency patch” for the body, which leads to a rapidly formed blood clot.

 

The product has a one-year shelf-life and the company is considering offering different size syringes (5 cc and 10 cc) along with different shaped tips for easy application.

 

As I mentioned, it can be used during surgery or for everyday use on external lacerations. We all know how efficient horses can be in slicing themselves to shreds, so in my opinion, having a product like Vetigel available in our emergency kits is a no-brainer. 

 

The product is coming out on the market soon -  ask your veterinarian to look into it and hopefully stock it.  Veterinarians who want to receive a free sample can register here. I believe veterinarians, owners and horses will all breathe easier knowing that this product is within reach!

 


Cynthia Foley Horses Keep Us Grounded
by Cynthia Foley

Cynthia Foley is the Editor-in-Chief of Horse Journal, which focuses on real-life horse-product field trials with buying advice and recommendations. An experienced horsewoman, writer and editor, she competed successfully in the hunter/jumper divisions for many years and, after completing college, moved to Kentucky where she learned the Thoroughbred racing industry, including several years as assistant manager at a major rehabilitation and training clinic outside of Lexington. When she and her husband moved to Virginia’s Hunt Country, she secured a position at The Chronicle of the Horse, where she worked as assistant editor. She is an avid dressage rider.

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A Quiet Barn: Better Than a Tranqulizer

By Cynthia Foley, November 28, 2014

On Thanksgiving eve, I had to make an extra trip back to the barn to do something I forgot to do. Of course. The busier I am, the more it seems I have to get done and the more stressed I become. And the more stressed I am, the more likely I am to forget something. Holidays . . . Good grief! It's a season of frenzy.

So, my mind was on overload, and I forgot something. I had been thinking about what I still needed to get done for the big dinner the next day when I put the horses in and fed them. Now, I wasn't in a good mood. It was my own fault, but I was just plain bitchy.

I left the dogs at the house, as I was in no mood to deal with their "nonsense." They had enjoyed playtime in the barn just a half hour before when I went up to the barn the first time that night.  So I stormed up to the barn by myself.

I pulled open the barn door and stepped inside. Immediately, my mood changed. My stress vanished. The horses were munching hay. They looked up at me then went back to their hay. The barn was beautiful. Quiet. Unrushed. Warm. Inviting. Full of love. I just stood there and took it all in. I became relaxed. I was revitalized.

I'd never experienced such an abrupt change of mood. It was as if the "barn gods" knew what I needed and made sure I got it. 

I completed the task I had to do and then paused one more time, just to look around and take it all in again. I returned to the house in a very happy mood, full of even more reasons to give thanks the next morning.

 

 

 


John Strassburger The Equine Things That Matter Most
by John Strassburger

John Strassburger, Horse Journal’s Performance Editor, is a graduate A Pony Clubber. He currently competes in eventing at the Intermediate level. As editor of The Chronicle of the Horse for 20 years, he covered six Olympics and thousands of competitions. With his wife, he operates Phoenix Farm (phoenixsporthorses.com), a breeding/training facility in California.

Email John

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Our “Talk” With Boogie

By John Strassburger, November 26, 2014


Too bad Boogie can’t wear these glasses when he jumps.

 

As a trainer, every now and again your life gets complicated by a horse who just doesn’t live up to your expectations, whose body screams that he or she should be a really good horse, but they just don’t respond to the things you do to train other horses. For the last three years I’ve been training a horse like that.

And today I’m going to share with you the story of our latest journey with him—talking to him through an animal communicator.

Boogie came into our Phoenix Farm program in the spring of 2011—a 3-year-old Oldenburg who was then still a colt because his owner, our barn manager Roxanne Rainwater, hoped to stand him at stud. He was a handsome horse, a fabulous mover and an obvious athlete, so my mouth watered at the prospect of riding him.

He started nicely under saddle, but he soon proved to be a painfully slow-maturing horse, physically and mentally, and, of course, he was constantly distracted by the hormones coursing through his body, giving him thoughts that I don’t think he understood. We decided to geld him at the start of his 5-year-old year, because it was clear that keeping him to be a stallion made no financial sense and because taking him to any competitions was just too nerve-wracking.

Gelding him was the best decision we ever made. It allowed him to focus on his work, and he became the absolute pet we always thought he really was. But his jumping has still progressed rather like a rollercoaster. One day I’d think, “OK, he’s really getting it.” And the next day I’d think, “That was awful. I clearly don’t know what I’m doing.”

I’ve often said that, if I were a high school football or track coach, Boogie would be the kid that drove me crazy. He’d be the kid who’d be an all-star quarterback or running back, or a superstar sprinter or hurdler—if he’d just put some effort into practice. He’d give you excruciating glimpses of his passing skills, of his power or his speed, in practice, but then you’d look over and him just jogging slowly around the track or standing by the fence with a herd of girls fawning over him. You’d want to grab him by the shoulders, shake him, and scream, “You could be great if you’d just put some effort into it!!”

Finally, this summer we decided that at age 6, and having done nearly a dozen beginner novice and novice events, the time has come to move him up to training level. We decided that, as my father used to say, it was time to see if Boogie was going to “fish or just cut bait.”

Since he’d always run well at Twin Rivers (where we go three or four times a year), I moved him up to training level at their event in late September. He had only a mediocre dressage test, had one stop in show jumping at a difficult distance, and then jumped nicely clear on cross-country. “Yes,” I thought, “now we’re getting somewhere.”

Four weeks later, I ran him at the Fresno County Horse Park, and we won the dressage with a good score of 26 penalties, and then on cross-country he stopped at a rail on top of a mound between two ponds. Disappointing, but it was a very difficult fence that stopped about 20 percent of the training field, and he jumped quite well everywhere else. But then he lowered two rails and had a stop again in show jumping.

A month later we were back at Fresno, and we had a great dressage test, scoring a 22 (that’s 88% for you dressage folks), winning the dressage by 7 points. Show jumping followed a few hours later, and he lowered four rails, three because he just didn’t pick up his feet high enough.

That was extremely disappointing and frustrating, and we looked at each other in confusion, especially because he hadn’t touched a jump in warm-up.

So on to cross-country, where he stopped twice at the same jump as the previous month, which this time was located in the water next to the mound—so I didn’t expect it to concern him. But, after I jumped an easier option fence so we could continue, he jumped the rest of the course even better than the previous month, including a new rail-ditch-rail combination with striding that I feared would be short for him. But he jumped through it like it was a gymnastic combination I’d set at home.

Now we were thoroughly confused and frustrated. How could he go both better and worse? How could he feel, at the water jump, like he’d just given up and then continue as if nothing had happened, feeling uncertain only on the second water jump? (He’d been jumping through water just fine throughout his career, though.)

Driving home for five hours gave us plenty of time to ponder, and I figured it was time to, as they say, think outside of the box. Heather and I had once worked with another very talented but confusing horse, so we decided to try that, to see if “talking” to Boogie could put us in the right direction.

So last Wednesday evening Roxanne, Heather and I talked with a local animal communicator named Lori Pacheco (lori@healingheartstrings.com), and we had an interesting conversation with Boogie.

To start with, we laughed when he said he thought we were for a party! But from this chat, we did learn several things that we can take action on.

The first was the big question: Did he like eventing, like going cross-country, and did he want to do this job? We were all afraid his answer would be no, he didn’t like this job. But he “said” that he liked it very much, that he liked being part of our team, and that he knew he needed to get better at it—and that he wanted to get better at it.

That was good news, for sure. But why did he stop at those jumps? Boogie responded that he sometimes has trouble with light, with what we interpreted to mean reflection or glare, especially at water.

Boogie also said that he has trouble perceiving his distance from jumps, and that he feels as if he has to touch them with his feet to tell where they are.

Third, he “said” that confidence was an issue, that sometimes he talks himself out of being able to do things. He said he thought he’d performed well in the dressage ring at those two events, but that he didn’t know he’d won. He liked to hear that, he “said.”

Those last two answers seemed to largely explain his jumping problems. We’ve long felt that he had trouble judging the height of jumps. We recalled that when we first started jumping him, he had trouble negotiating crossrails, because he was trying to jump over the highest part instead of the lowest—because he was looking at the top of the jump and not the bottom. So we set exercises to make him look down, which helped, and we’d kind of forgotten about this problem—but I think it explains his uncertainty about that particular cross-country fence.

I felt, both times, as if he wasn’t looking at it, and now I think the problem was that he wasn’t looking at it properly. He was looking at the top of the jump, not the bottom. So in October it looked really high, because it was on top of a mound, and last week he couldn’t see the bottom because it was underwater, and maybe he couldn’t see the top clearly either, because there was water behind it.

So I’m going back to exercises to encourage him to look down. Back to step rails (rails on Blox or similar devices, which I’ve tested for Horse Journal) and bright ground rails.

I’ve also purchased him a shadow roll, the sheepskin noseband popular with racehorses to encourage them to look down instead of raising their heads while being restrained. I’ve used a small one for more than five years when jumping my intermediate mare Alba. (I tried it on Boogie, and it certainly didn’t seem to negatively affect him.) For Boogie, I ordered the shadow roll in white, but, because of his sunlight issue, I think I may get a black cover to shade his eyes like football and baseball players do with black patches on their faces.

I hope those two things work, because I don’t Boogie can wear glasses! We did, though, try on a pair of plastic joke glasses we have. He seemed to like wearing them in the barn, but I’m thinking perhaps I should try sports goggles. I wonder if I can find them big enough? 


Cynthia Foley Horses Keep Us Grounded
by Cynthia Foley

Cynthia Foley is the Editor-in-Chief of Horse Journal, which focuses on real-life horse-product field trials with buying advice and recommendations. An experienced horsewoman, writer and editor, she competed successfully in the hunter/jumper divisions for many years and, after completing college, moved to Kentucky where she learned the Thoroughbred racing industry, including several years as assistant manager at a major rehabilitation and training clinic outside of Lexington. When she and her husband moved to Virginia’s Hunt Country, she secured a position at The Chronicle of the Horse, where she worked as assistant editor. She is an avid dressage rider.

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Happy Thanksgiving

By Cynthia Foley, November 25, 2014

Our girls enjoying their hay.
Our girls enjoying their hay.

 

As I think about the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, my thoughts do not turn to a big meal or football or the Macy's Parade or Christmas shopping. I think about the past year, the upcoming year, and how - despite all the stresses and worries - I'm lucky to have my wonderful horses, a dream job, and good family and friends, 

Thanksgiving for me is an attitude. It's trying to see the glass half full. Focus on the good stuff. Sure, I'm looking forward to the day off from work, but there's more to it than that. I'll dawdle in the barn in the morning, I'm sure, because I don't have to be at my desk at a certain time. Maybe I'll straighten up the tack room or do some dusting. Or, after the horses have been turned out, I'll just sit down with the barn cat and give him some extra attention and brushing. He's already caught a couple of mice this fall, so he's doing a great job and I want him to know I'm grateful.

I'll forget worries about our financial health in 2015 and chronic illnesses loved ones are battling that I cannot do anything about. I'll just focus on what's good in my life, especially our horses. I can't imagine my life without those deep-nicker greetings when I enter the barn or a quick head rub before they head out to the pasture for the day.  

Our girls - Sally, Kelsey and Paz - have no understanding of what it takes to maintain a healthy barn, good nutrition and perfect care, but I know anyone reading this does. I'm thankful I can maintain that. We horse lovers of lesser wealth make a lot of sacrifices through the year to be sure our animals live like royalty, and I'm thankful I am blessed with a husband who doesn't mind me doing just that. 

As I clean the stalls on Thursday, I'll think about my life. I'll consider what I'm thankful for, such as the dirty stalls.  A too-clean stall can mean a sick horse.  I'll be thankful the horses are out rolling in the mud, as it shows they're feeling good. I won't mind the extra currying.

I'll be grateful that we've only had one bale of bad hay so far this year - probably a bale I stored too close to an open window. And I'm very thankful for that full loft of hay.

Thanks will be extended to my neighbors with a wave and a hello for putting up with horse sounds and smells without a complaint (although they have expressed thanks to us for using fly parasites for the last several years). We all need good fences and good neighbors.

And I'll be thankful for all of you who help make Horse Journal what it is - a powerful consumer advocate that helps real horse people maintain their budgets, make wise buying decisions and take care of their horses properly and frugally - and I thank you for sticking with us as we moved to a digital format. And that means I'm giving thanks for our wonderful Horse Journal staff , too - Margaret Freeman, John Strassburger, Grant Miller DVM and Deb M. Edlredge DVM - who willingly share their expertise and genuinely care that our readers get the individualized attention they deserve. I could not do this job without them.

Yes, there's a lot to be thankful for this November 27 - but, as long as there are horses in our barn and the ability to care for them, giving thanks will always be at the forefront of my mind..

 


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