Posted on Friday, December 3rd, 2010 at 12:27 pm.
December 3, 2010
Autumn has been a very busy couple of months starting with a visit to the World Equestrian Games in Kentucky to give some lectures (which should soon be available on the web) and finishing with the SA Horse Expo in Johannesburg and the 8th International Conference on Equine Exercise Physiology in Cape Town. I was at WEG for the eventing competition and the weather on cross-country day was perfect for taking pictures. I met up on course with Jim (Chiapetta) and we walked most of the fences.
At the start of November I headed for Johannesburg. We ran the first ever SA Horse Expo at the Turffontein racecourse. As there were so many leading vets and scientists coming to South Africa for the ICEEP meeting we decided to run an expo for South Africans. This consisted of around six parallel sessions of lectures for groups such as racehorse trainers, farriers, physios, vets and sport horse owners. Speakers included Hal Schott, Pat Harris, David Hodgson, Ken Hinchcliff, Cathy McGowan, Joe Pagan, Emmanuelle can Erck, Hilary Clayton, Rene van Weeren and Lesely Young to name only a few. As well as the lectures there was also a trade exhibition.
On the Saturday morning we then flew down to Cape Town. Saturday evening we had a wonderful meal in Sevruga on the waterfront. Sunday it was on to Spier, a winery about 30 minutes outside Cape Town, where the ICEEP meeting was being held. The opening lecture was given by Professor Tim Noakes who is based at the University of Cape Town and who asked the question “How does the horse know how far it’s going to run?” Pacing is essential in human sport for optimum performance and that is only possible as the human athlete knows how long the race is. The horse doesn’t.
The week was followed by an excellent scientific programme covering respiratory (kindly sponsored by Flair), cardiovascular, applied physiology, biochemistry, haematology, endocrinology and thermoregulation, biomechanics and physiotherapy. The social highlights were many. The evening on Table Mountain watching the sunset drinking champagne and listening to a string quartet, the Braai (a South African bar-b-q) and the gala dinner in a beautiful old winery with amazing entertainment. The gala dinner was also my last function as Chair of the International Committee of ICEEP and I have now handed on the Chair to Prof Ken Hinchcliff from University of Melbourne.
The next meeting in 2014 won’t be such a long trek for me – it’s going to be in Chester (UK).
Posted on Saturday, November 20th, 2010 at 2:20 pm.
November 19, 2010
I have just returned from Cape Town where I organised the 8th International Conference on Equine Exercise Physiology (ICEEP). This was attended by almost 200 vets, physios and scientists from around the world with an interest in horses and exercise. One of the very interesting papers was risk factors (i.e. things that make the chance of EIPH more likely) for EIPH (exercise-induced pulmonary haemorrhage) in Thoroughbred racehorses. There are several papers published on risk factors for horses bleeding from the nostrils (epistaxis) but until now there has not been a paper for EIPH (which is blood in the airways after exercise but not visible externally).
Interestingly this study did not find any relationship between EIPH and age, sex, weight carried, track hardness, race speed or air quality. The only significant factor was ambient air temperature with horses racing below 20°C being at twice the risk of having grades 1 or 2 (out of 4) or higher EIPH. A similar finding of increased frequency of blood in the trachea after racing in colder weather was found in Standardbreds.
Another very interesting study confirmed what has been previously demonstrated by the group at Kansas State, namely that Amicar (aminocaproic acid) is not effective in reducing EIPH!
Posted on Thursday, August 5th, 2010 at 3:38 pm.
November 25, 2009
Today is a meeting of the World Class Performance Scientific Advisory Group which is being held at the Animal Health Trust, and is only 10 minutes away from where I live so I have no excuse for being late. At this meeting we are discussing genetics research, boots and the pliance saddle system amongst other things. Over coffee there are two main items of discussion, although these do not directly concern the SAG. No prizes for guessing what these are. Rollkur, and the changes to medication under FEI rules.
OK. Rollkur. The FEI is in a difficult position. I would have to say that in many instances, Rollkur does not look nice. Is it proven to cause injury, pain or distress? To date, no. Can we be sure it causes pain and distress? No. Therefore it is hard for the FEI to act and ban it. In any case, what are they going to ban? The head going past the vertical? The head being more than 15° past the vertical for 5 minutes at a time? No more than a total of 15 minutes of Rollkur in every hour of exercise? I have to say I do not know that I have the answers, but I can think of some of the questions we need to be asking.
For example, does hyperflexion (using this term now as I am trying to deal with the science) inhibit ventilation (breathing)? Almost certainly. To what extent do different degrees of hyperflexion reduce the amount of air the horse can move in and out? Does this result in decreased blood oxygen levels? Does the horse experience a sensation of difficulty in breathing? We need more research, and fairly urgently, as the debate so far has been primarily emotive. There does not appear to be a “standard” Rollkur as far as I am aware, which means it is difficult to know what we should be studying. For example, we do not know how different riders introduce it to their horses. Some may do it over weeks. Some over months. Some may introduce it slowly, but start with a high degree of hyperflexion. Others may introduce it over a short period of time, but from a very low degree of hyperflexion. We have to know what we are trying to study in order to study it. But because the debate is so polarised and dramatic, we may now find it difficult to get riders who practice it to tell us what they do and allow us to work with them to define the science of it and its effects. We may well simply drive it underground so that it is never seen at competitions, but simply becomes a technique practised at home.
From a scientific perspective, I do not believe the FEI has the evidence to “jump” and make changes, and nor do I think they should do at present. I do believe there are other issues in equestrian sport which might well have a higher priority if we are looking to improve welfare. What do I think personally? If I am not used to putting my head on my chest, then if I started doing this for 10-15 minutes a day over a week, initially I would find it hard. After 1-2 days I might have pain in the neck and shoulders and reduced range of movement. If I kept doing it, that would probably go away. After a week I might be able to do this easily and without discomfort. If you then asked me to make it 30 minutes at a time, then I would likely go through the same process again. The fact that I can do it does not mean it’s “natural” and does not mean that it will not have long term consequences. But I don’t know what these will be, or if they will indeed occur, or when. And a more complicated thought occurs to me. What if Rollkur increased the risk of, for example, neck problems, but at the same time decreased dramatically hindlimb lameness or back pain in horses?
The progressive list. It all seemed to be going very well. Almost all the federations were in favour of the changes proposed under the “clean sport” initiative. Then it was all spoiled by the voting on the “progressive list” which will allow certain drugs commonly used in equine veterinary medicine to be effectively used closer to competition. This aspect of the clean sport initiative was introduced during the FEI General Assembly and there was clearly some last minute intense lobbying to get this through by the very narrow margin of 5 votes. This was a decision voted on by federations. The individual federations may have consulted their veterinary committees, but we do not know. We also do not know how federations voted as this was a secret vote.
So why are many people, and especially many of the top vets, so upset about this and what impact could this have? There are a wide variety of reasons. For many people this does not sit well within the ideal of “clean sport”. In fact, it looks like we have taken the medication issue and given it a very good wash on 100°C and then intentionally splattered it with mud, if you like analogies. This was not dealt with as a veterinary issue, and the veterinary community seems to be primarily against it. Let’s take bute. Many horseowners have bute around in their stables. Imagine a horse that goes lame the day before competition. You don’t have time to call your vet, so you give it a sachet of bute. The horse is better and you compete, with the horse breaking its leg or rupturing a tendon, or shattering a joint on the cross-country. Pain is there for a reason. It’s a warning that something is not right. Pain makes you take it easy. Pain is protective. That’s just one way to look at this issue.
Also, I saw that it was presented as a way to allow people to treat horses that have “muscle stiffness”. Muscle stiffness usually occurs as a result of trauma (e.g. bruising from falling or possibly partial rupture) or from tying-up or from over-exertion. If my horse had muscle stiffness requiring bute the day before competition, I would be very concerned. There is actually more of a case for allowing it after cross-country to ease knocks, sore feet and any muscle stiffness.
‘And now, what really may be the worst part of this whole debacle. As reported in Horse and Hound, the cost to the FEI to run the new clean sport programme will be over £1,000,000 per year. The biggest part of this is for the integrity unit – £270,000 per year. And it may come as a shock to see that the integrity unit is run by Lord Stevens’ own company. I thought this sort of thing came under conflict of interest? But what a great business model. Create a problem and then just happen to have a company that can solve the problem. That would be akin to a vaccine company creating a type of flu not seen in people, releasing it into the world and then supplying he vaccine to proect against it. That’s one for all of you who are into conspiracy theories. www.flairstrips.com
- David Marlin, November 25, 2009
Posted on Thursday, August 5th, 2010 at 3:37 pm.
November 27, 2009
One of my new “projects” is local intermediate event rider Steph Casson. Steph is literally 10 minutes down the road and has a couple of very nice horses. Today I am going to go and watch her school her horses, maybe fit a heart rate monitor, and get some video. I’ll keep you posted on how she progresses this coming season. www.flairstrips.com
- David Marlin, November 27, 2009