Ride Along at the FEI World Endurance Championship
The first-ever FEI World Endurance Championship in Malaysia was held Nov. 7-8 in Terengganu. Meg Sleeper, VMD, Dipl. ACVIM, and her horse, Syrocco Reveille, competed on the team representing the United States.
While the competition didn't work out as the squad had hoped, her journal entries provide an inside look at what it takes to transport and maintain an elite equine athlete. Enjoy!
Read the official report at "Lightning, Illness Rein in U.S. Team at Endurance Championship."
I have been fortunate to again be part of the team and I will be leaving in a few days for the world endurance championship in Terengganu, Malaysia.
The horses have been training in Williston, Fla., since the last training session/selection Sept 12-14. Jan Worthington took care of ours (Reveille) for the first two weeks, and since then Dave and I have leapt frog between N.J. and Fla., to split caring for her and those at home. It has been difficult, but good in many ways--mostly because the temperature is close to that of Terengganu (although the humidity here is lower). However, in spite of meeting many wonderful people down here (Bob and Colleen Marr are among the best!!), the insects seem to be on steroids and I cannot imagine living here long term. Brown recluse spiders, black widows, scorpions, oh my!! BLECK!
We still have no final travel arrangements; we only have itineraries ... no confirmed tickets, although we leave on the 16th. If those itineraries are correct, the horses go through Amsterdam with Jim Bryant, and we all go through Hong Kong to arrive in Malaysia two days before the horses. That means Jim will be caring for all six U.S. horses for the 2 ½ days they lay over in Amsterdam. It is certainly imperfect, but we are hoping some local friends that can help him care for the horses those days. It will be a long transport for them ... five days total.
Got the tickets today and things are getting just a little crazy. The best news today is that a good friend, Monique, will probably be able to help Jim with the horses one day in Amsterdam ... big relief! More once there is something to report on, but all the horses look really good and we are hoping this is the year for the U.S. team!!
Syrocco Reveille, Dave, and Meg, at the WEC
We left this morning around 2 a.m. for the Miami airport (a seven hour drive) and dropped the horses off at the holding facility. It was a good, clean facility and the horses settled in pretty well. We left everything with Jim and went to check in for our own flights. We flew to JFK from Miami in the early afternoon and leave from here tonight at 11 p.m. for Hong Kong. From there we go to Kuala Lumpur and on to Kuala Terengganu. The horses go to Amsterdam with Jim (and help from local friends) for 2 ½ days, then on to Malaysia from there. We will see them again on the 20th. This is going to be a major maturing experience for Rev. So far, she has actually been taking things much more in stride that I thought she would. Actually, Jan's horse, Leon, was the most agitated of the U.S. horses at the holding facility. Hopefully, Jim will be able to keep everyone calm, cool and collected for the trip. We heard that one of the Canadian horses was not able to go because of a mistake in her vaccine timing. What a bummer for her and their team!
For those of you who would like to follow the events during the ride (or to see things from the organizers perspective), the official Web site is: malaysia-wec.com I think they will have an event broadcast, pictures, etc (the event starts at 3:30 p.m. local time on Nov 7th). I think there is an 11-hour time difference, but will try to figure that out. Also endurance.net often has good reports.
We made it ... all in all it took about 40 hours. Our flight from JFK to Hong Kong actually stopped in Vancouver, which we hadn't expected, but we only had to deplane for about 40 minutes. We counted approximately 15 babies (infants) and it was crowded (and a bit smelly) from Vancouver to Hong Kong. Definitely not a particularly nice experience, but the remainder of the trip went well and the hotel is very nice. They just finished the portion where we are staying and there are a few glitches, but it seems like it will work well. They have wireless in the lobby. We are staying about 35 minutes from the ride site, unfortunately, but still another day before the horses get here so we can work out a schedule. We are 12 hours ahead of eastern daylight saving time. The Canadian riders are staying here and I saw Wendy Benns. It is Wendy MacCoubrey who had the vaccination problem, but the organizing committee is transporting her horse specially in another week so that the she can still compete ... so generous of them!! Updates from Jim about our horses are that they are fine. Flame and Theatric were leg-wrapped for the trip, and Theatric had a lot of secondary leg filling, but he removed the wraps and all will be fine.
Heard from Monique today and she said the horses looked good in Amsterdam. They each got hand-walked for one hour and in the exerciser for another hour. What a relief to know she was there to help Jim!! They arrive here tomorrow at 1:30 p.m. Then things will start getting busy! After breakfast we went to the venue, took a look around, and got credentials.
They have moved us to a smaller barn than last year, but otherwise everything is organized pretty much the same. It was great to see so many people from last year and other international rides. We organized obtaining keys for groom rooms while some of the others went to the petrol station and checked out last year's hotel. On the way back to the hotel we bought buckets, sponges, chairs, etc., and walked through the old souk area in town. The fabrics are simply breathtaking, but it was HOT!! The temperature is in the mid 80's with a humidity of 80%, so actually feels quite a bit hotter than Florida. It is good we will be riding over night!
I am hoping we can organize a trip to visit the leatherback turtle refuge and information center (great idea of Mark's!). Apparently, Terengganu is one of only six places in the world where they nest. Although in 2007 no turtles returned here, two females did return this June. Unfortunately, there are very few males, though, and none of the eggs have hatched since 2000. Tomorrow should be good because once the horses arrive, we won't have a lot of down time, but we are still a little jet lagged.
The horses are here and what a long day it has been. We ended up going to the venue this morning to scrub buckets, set up stalls, etc. The horses were slightly delayed and arrived at 2 p.m. There were a total of 24 horses on the flight, so quite a few riders went to the airport. The U.S. horses were offloaded first, and Rev was in the first palette. Unfortunately, she had been loaded on one side and when they removed Reason from the middle slot (and she couldn't see Leon was in the far slot), she had a fit and I couldn't back her to open the stall. One of the professional grooms had to come and twitch her to get her off. However, once she was off, all was fine and she settled reasonably quickly. Leon and Theatric both leapt off the palettes and nearly wiped out on the cement runway. After all that excitement, getting back to the barn was a breeze. We walked them until the quarantine vet was ready to examine them, and Rev took one look at a sandy patch and had a nice roll. All the others followed suit.
The quarantine vet looked at her name and said "Ah, shyrocco--a seaward breeze ... do you prefer to pronounce it SHrocco or SIrocco?" How cool is that after most people in the U.S. stumble over it? After everybody was through the exams, we took all of them for a nice long walk (except Theatric ... Kathy iced his legs) and then gave everyone IV fluids. Unfortunately, it took a long time to organize the fluids, so we weren't back here until 10 p.m.
Transportation has been interesting as well. Fortunately we have a small pickup truck with a short bed. We can reasonably comfortably fit five in the front two seats. Unfortunately there are 10 of us, so depending on how many people go somewhere, some always have to sit in back. Coming back from the barn last night, we also had bags of clothes to bring back (which had been sent with the horses) and all 10 of us. We managed to squeeze five of us into the bed, squished between and on top of duffle bags ... then it started to rain. The locals were quite amused and someone even asked Kathy if she knew it was raining ... yes, maybe it was the rain dripping down our faces. We just finished dinner and are now heading to bed so that Kathy and I can be back on the 6:30 a.m. shuttle to do early morning duty.
I am still waking up around 4 a.m. about every other night (depending on exhaustion level), so that ends up being a good time to type, but I am hoping I will be able to sleep through the nights soon. Right now there are two people for three of the horses and one for three, and we are trying to get a lot of hand-walking done. Soooo, lots to do. Also, they do not seem to use manure forks here. We only have shovels, brooms, and plastic dust pans to clean stalls. To make it even worse, used bedding (shavings, manure, etc.) must be put into plastic bags, which they take to a dumpster (and I assume on to a land fill!!?!). Those of you who know how I am about recycling can imagine how difficult THAT is for me because it is impossible to only scoop out dirty bedding with a shovel and you end up removing a lot of clean shavings, too. Since the floors of the stalls are concrete, I want to give her a nice thick layer, but that also makes cleaning it harder. I am truly considering going to the store to look for latex dishwashing gloves so that I can just pick up the manure that way!
Yesterday we did two, hour-long hand-walking sessions (and that is the plan for today and tomorrow as well). Actually the first one was more of a drag because she was pretty happy to get out and was very enthusiastic. However, with the humidity I came back drenched both times, so walking speed doesn't seem to make a difference in your body's attempt to cool. The second time we had a bevy of local children following us on bicycles as we walked on our training track (which goes by a few small houses/huts). They are really cute; if you smile and wave, their faces just open up with smiles and we seem to be a great pastime. However, I am sort of hoping they get bored with us. On our second walk we had five or six bikes and a motor scooter doing the trail within two or three feet behind and next to the horses; the horses were not exactly sure they liked the close proximity or the excited Malay chatter.
Yesterday, Rev gave me a real scare when she rolled into the paddock fencing and got her hind legs caught for a minute or two. She seems fine, although for the first 5 minutes after she wouldn't walk on her right hind leg, but kept holding it in the air and stomping with it. The main result is residual white paint scuffed on her leg, a small skin laceration, and a few abrasions. The problem is the pens are only about 12 x 20 foot, and it just doesn't leave much room for a horse to roll, particularly if he or she flips over. I am hoping that is our big (and only) scare for this ride, since there always seems to be something, and I am also hoping that she has learned she just doesn't have room for a big roll in these pens. However, there aren't a lot of options and she needs to get outside, so right now I am still holding my breath when I put her out.
We drove some sections of the trail yesterday, and it appears they have done a lot of work to prevent the flooding that occurred last year. There are sections they have built up with gravel (fortunately the gravel sections are not too long, but definitely more than last year). Also, they have taken out most of the palm plantation. There is a new loop which is actually pretty rolling (not flat) and goes into the jungle. That one is the fifth loop and should make it interesting since the horses will hit it when they are pretty tired. While driving we saw a pretty large (maybe three foot-long) monitor lizard sitting on the trail and a monkey in the trees. Apparently there is an elephant reserve nearby, and wild elephants are fairly close, but not sure we will see any unless we drive a bit. It is too built up this close to Terengganu. Guess that is about it for now...
Rev's hind legs swelled quite a bit standing in the stall overnight (yesterday am), but by the time we left yesterday evening they were a lot better. I am hoping it will be gone today. I have also learned she is capable of being as stubborn as Rime (her full sister). We worked out a "deal" on getting her body clipped, but legs and ears were NOT acceptable even after two doses of sedation (including dormosedan). I think it will help with the heat dissipation a lot, so my plan is to use a razor on her ears, and keep working on her legs a few minutes per day. However, by the end of the day yesterday, I was too exhausted to keep trying and a break seemed like a good option for both of us. Today will be the first day we actually get on their backs, which will be great!!
Life lessons I have learned the last few days:
While it is surreal and humorous to hear Christmas music (Jingle Bells) when you are checking out at a Malaysian department store, continual Christmas music during meals becomes irritating after three days.
I adore lox or whitefish salad for breakfast, but finding fish in your breakfast roll when you are not expecting it is disturbing. Best to break all Malaysian breakfast rolls apart before biting into them because you cannot otherwise tell whether it will be empty, contain fruit, or salted fish.
Jet lag is a convenient way to make time for writing (there is not much else to do between 4 and 6 a.m.).
A little later on 10/23
The shuttle has improved a lot. The first few days it was running about 45 minutes late (which made for 1 ½ hours each way if you are depending on it. It is a lot better now, though-today it was actually on time!! Rev's back legs were swollen again (I forgot to wrap them before leaving last night because we were rushing to make the shuttle), and somehow overnight she rapped and scratched her front leg in the stall, and while the scratch is very superficial ... it is really sensitive and swollen. So, since we still have plenty of time we are treating her pretty aggressively (bute today and an antibiotic for 3-5 days, depending on how she responds). I feel as though I should bubble wrap her, but at least it is early and she is sound, so nothing too scary. Otherwise, it was a good day. We finally got to ride (an hour of walking, but nice to be in the saddle). Blood work was done and all the horses look really good. It was overcast all day and drizzled off and on. Actually, a very nice change!! The humidity has been ranging from 70% to 100%, with temperatures ranging from 75-95°F. When the sun is out mid-day, it is really hot!!
Still overcast today with a humidity of 88%. I was a better mother last night and wrapped Rev, and today she looks much better. Hind legs are almost entirely normal other than the scabs, and the front leg swelling is much better and less sensitive, so we are on the right road. Also, I have determined that Rev is a drama queen. She let me clip the insides of her front legs and a little more on the outer ears using the small clippers in her stall without much fuss. I will just do it gradually without an audience and think it won't be too much trouble afterall. She also has turned into a HUGE chow hound ... with an attitude. She used to be pretty picky about eating if there was any change in her "routine" however, here she licks the bowl clean at every meal. Today I gave her a little lunch of beet pulp in the paddock to start getting her used to the Malaysian product (since it looks pretty different than what we have in the United States). She scarfed the entire thing down and when Leon tried to reach over the fence in the direction of her feed bowl (which was at least three feet from the fence), she turned around and double barreled the fence between them, knocking one board right off the post. So much for my sweet-tempered, delicate mare. She has turned into a monster!!
I now have two other Americans using the latex glove technique for stall picking.
Last night we stopped by Noor Arfa, a batik factory which has demonstrations of Malaysian crafts and various items (mostly Batik clothing and fabric) for sale. Unfortunately, by the time we left the barn and got there, only the store was open, but we are hoping to get back there to see the presentations. The fabrics were spectacular and we got some gift shopping done. Cheryl and I are thinking about getting our hair cut ... SHORT. I had specially gotten mine cut before leaving, but it is still too long for the climate. I hate having it sticking to my neck and face when we are walking or riding. We have found a local salon within walking distance. It is a little scary, particularly since we have seen no local women with short hair--they all wear it long, but I think we have determined to do it. Jim said he will shave his hair using the horse clippers (with a guard) so you can imagine how desperate we are.
Proving the theory that nothing worthwhile is ever easy, the last 24 hours has been pretty rough. At yesterday morning's trot out, Rev was lame (about grade 2, which was more than we expected based on the leg injury she had). So, we decided to start on diagnostics to determine the cause. Unfortunately, it appears to be coming from her foot rather than the wound. We are working under the assumption that she did something during transport in the plane, since she has never before been lame. Jim and Becky (and everyone really) have been wonderful and we are trying to stay optimistic that we can get it resolved in time since she has never had an issue before. Jim said, "The worst part is she is the only horse that never had an issue throughout the selection process!" which actually made me feel a little better (but not a lot...). Unfortunately, back to hand-walking for a few days, which worries me a bit because of muscle issues post travel. For her muscles, would be best to have her continue the return to trotting exercise. However, now we must balance the two. I plan on walking her at least three hours per day until I can resume trotting, and hopefully that will be adequate.
Spending this time with her yesterday, Becky, Jim and I were at the barn basically the entire day (and actually, I have been on the early crew for feeding every day since I get up early anyway and usually we don't get back until 7 or 8 p.m.). We went to a welcome BBQ at the Sutra last night, so we left the barn at 4 p.m. to make the trek back to our hotel for showers and make the 7:30 shuttle to the Sutra. The food was excellent, and it would have been a nice opportunity to see the foreign riders, but I was not much in the mood and we were all exhausted. We all ended up packing into the truck to leave early, which still didn't get back to our hotel until 11:30 p.m. This morning was the first time I have actually slept until the alarm goes off.
It is evening now, and she looked good today ... thank goodness. I walked her 4 ½ miles this morning, and another 4 ½ miles this evening while the others went out for a night ride. She wasn't too happy being left behind, and it was more of a "drag meg for 4 ½ miles" than anything else, but we both survived it fine although we didn't get back to the hotel until close to midnight.
The great thing about today is that Rev still looks basically sound, so we are hopeful that we can address the inflammation in her foot the next few days and she will be close to 100% by the time of the ride. Dave (my husband) gets here on the 29th, and will replace shoes, so then I can start riding her. As with many "trials," I found myself thinking that the more effort I put into her, the more likely she will recover, but of course, that is a linear relationship.
In any case, I woke up this morning to find myself very sick. I managed to walk her about three miles in the morning, but simply couldn't go any farther. I was walking with Jan and she kept saying, "I won't leave you out here" or "why don't we find you a place to sit and I will take the horses back myself and send a car out for you?" Well, I made it back, but it was clear I was not going to be up to hand-walking her in the afternoon, in fact standing became more than I could do by noon and I went to lay down in one of the groom rooms we have out at the venue. Becky came to check on me because they had planned on driving the course, something I really wanted to do, but when I had to run to the toilet to be sick when they arrived, there was no way Becky would let me go.
I managed to get back to the barn mid afternoon, but was only minimally functional. Debbie and Jim both took Rev for additional walks and I think she still ended up with close to nine miles of walking, although I couldn't do much of it. We are keeping her wrapped in her stall (as Jim said, "let's just do her up like a racehorse so she has less chance of banging herself") and icing her foot twice daily. She let me do most of it sitting in a chair next to her, but fortunately, Jim ended up finishing the last leg wrap.
Some of the others have had a day or two of nausea and/or diarrhea, but I think this was different. I have been able to keep a cup of tea down this evening, so I am optimistic I am on the mend. I am actually very lucky. Stewart Dell had similar signs today, and was dry heaving enough that he went to the infirmary. They took him to a local hospital where he is currently receiving fluid therapy. I think once I am able to eat again, I will stick to bread, fruit that has been peeled, yogurt, and rice!!!
I am nearly totally better today!! Was able to eat a little at breakfast and lunch, and was starving tonight at dinner!! This morning I was able to do a slow 4 ½ mile walk/graze with Rev, and fortunately this afternoon Kathy took her out for me, because I was pretty tired by then. However, I expect I will be completely back to normal tomorrow. Also, Dave comes tomorrow, so that will help a lot (both with the physical work and the mental stress). Once he puts shoes back on, I can start riding her again (and I can't wait!!). She looked really good today, and now I am just keeping fingers crossed that she had enough time to mend from whatever she did in the crate that she stays sound while returning to full work. One of the U.S. horses had elevated muscle enzymes after work today, so I have decided to cut all grain for Rev until she is back in significant work. Becky had a very stringent program for return to work, and none of us expected there would be any problem at all. Rev was mortified to only get hay tonight, but her weight is perfect and a few days certainly won't be a problem, particularly since we are only walking right now.
One of the Canadian horses has anhidrosis, and Jim has been helping them with that. He and Becky have been pitching in with stalls and hand walking, and I think we have been working them too hard. Actually, they made us all go to the beach along the trail over lunch time when the barn was closed for a little down time. It was nice to see some clean beach (pipes drain into the sea near our hotel in Terengganu) and we all relaxed for an hour or so.
Off to bed, now!
Whew yesterday was a busy one! Stewart Dell (I will try to include last names or at least last initials) and I are physically much better, but still have waves of nausea and lightheadedness periodically. However, I was able to do the 4 ½ mile power walk with Rev in the morning. Zulu (the head steward) took us on a trail tour over lunch, and we managed to see loops 2 and 4. This is the same loop, just done in reverse for #4. He was driving pretty fast with four or five cars following, and it sounds like the U.S. truck nearly rolled when one tire went in a ditch. Exceptional driving on Becky H.'s part saved it and everyone completed the drive in one piece.
Becky H. and I went to the airport to pick up Dave, Steve Bentzel, and Judith Ogus. Jerry and Martha Gillespie also arrived on that plane, but were taken by shuttle to the hotel. We whisked the others to the stable, and managed to get Rev's shoes done by the time the barn closed at 7 p.m. I had been worried Dave would be too tired from the travel, but apparently he slept most of the way, because he was WIRED!! In fact, he was up most of the night. At one point I was worried because he had been in the bathroom for awhile, but he had just been eating cookies.
Rev looked great today and it was wonderful to ride her!! I ended up taking her out twice (about seven miles in the morning and seven miles in the afternoon), gradually building up the amount of trotting. She trotted out great afterward, so hopefully things are finally on the right track. Dave was impressed that she will stand for 20 minutes with both her front feet in bags of ice ... what can I say, the princess is learning, but it did take me a few days. She did have a temper tantrum on our first riding session this morning. Two of the Canadians came up behind us on the loop. Rev was not scared, but wanted to take off racing them and ended up rearing and trying to bolt a couple of times. The Canadians were impressed that she didn't actually fall over backwards and suggested next time I step off when she goes that high. I replied that I don't plan on there being a next time and will ride her with a running martingale until the edge is off of her (boy I hope it is off before the start of the race!!). The remainder of the training track they discussed whether horses are more likely to fall over backwards on a high rear because of the rider pulling on the horse's mouth or the horse losing balance. When I got back to the barn, I told Dave he made her feel a bit too good. Steve B. also took her out for a 4 ½ mile hand-walk, so she got out a lot today. Steve also brought two telescoping manure forks, which he made specially to bring (so much for us coming up with our own patent!). The entire barn was thrilled!!
I got a couple of questions about anhidrosis and I guess I should try to explain it a little farther. It is most common (but still very rare) in horses which leave a cold environment for a hot one. Jim saw a few cases when he was a resident in Florida. I had personally never seen one. Apparently, they will often sweat fairly normally the first few days, but then they stop sweating. Since sweat is the primary way horses cool, you can imagine it could be dire in this kind of environment. Hopefully, this horse will respond and be able to start at the championship, however if he doesn't, it would not be safe to compete him here. It is a shame after so much work to get here.
Megan Davis emailed that we should consider acupuncture and it was sort of embarrassing that we didn't think of it. Anyway, Jim passed it on to the Canadians, and has actually started acupuncture in the U.S. horse with the elevated muscle enzymes. That horse is doing great, by the way, and enzymes are heading back down to normal. So, a couple of bumps along the way, but things seem to be on track now.
Most of us are pretty healthy now, too, with just an occasional bout of nausea or cramping. They have excellent sushi here, and although I was really worried after being sick again last night, I had four pieces for lunch and a couple more for dinner. So far, so good ... We are now supposed to be eating lunch and dinner at the ride site, which ends up requiring a pretty long day before we can get back to the hotel. We plan to rent our own car tomorrow, which will give us a little more flexibility. We were going to share with Kathy B., but there are just too many crew people here for that to work out. I am still hoping to get my hair cut, too. Jim B. let Grace R. shave his head with horse clippers. She tried to convince me, but I am still not that desperate.
I am not sure how I ever got everything done before Dave and Steve got here, because now it seems even more difficult! That is not totally true, because this morning the three of us were able to get several stalls done. I took Rev out for about 12 miles this morning, including a fair bit of cantering, which was really nice. There are tons of lizards, a few really large ones, but mostly the small ones which scoot across the trail in front of you and remind me of chipmunks running across the trail. I still haven't seen a monkey while riding, just while driving. Yesterday I rode again in the afternoon. Dave hand-walked her to a fairly flat part of the trail for some schooling work and I met him with the saddle and equipment in a car. Then I rode her back to the barn and he drove back with Grace R. A group of workers were working on the trail and they sat in their truck and watched me school her. When I rode by on the way home, one of them yelled, "Very nice horse!"
It seems as though we all have good days and not so good days as far as the GI stuff. An immodium a day is better than an apple for keeping the doctor away in this country! Dave is still healthy, but the travel hit him yesterday. Also, he keeps getting asked to shoe horses. Jeff P. is the farrier for the U.S. horses, but David Parro is a vet friend from Chile and one of their horses needed shoes. Dave ended up spending most of this afternoon in the South American barn, which worked out great because the money will help pay for the rental car (they are paying $2-300 per horse!!) ... we decided to splurge on a rental through the organizing committee, an SUV at $75 per day, but it is worth it since Dave, Steve, and Jeff are all big guys and I just don't think we would fit in a toaster (one of the small, cheap rental cars).
I rode again this morning and over lunch Cheryl and I finally went and got our hair cut. It cost me 8 ringats (less than $3) and I really like it. It feels soooo much cooler and the people were wonderful!! They took my name and e-mail and I am hoping to stop by and drop off some pins or stickers for the kids before we leave. Steve walked Rev for about six miles this afternoon and we went through the icing routine, etc, etc. Now on the way to a BBQ at the Sutra resort. Unfortunately, it ends up being a lot of driving, but we are planning on leaving for the barn at 7 a.m. tomorrow, so will be able to sleep in a little.
It was pouring this morning so we got a little bit of a late start, however Jan and I were able to fit in a short ride this morning and actually got in a quick shopping trip to the old part of town to get batik shirts for everyone to have dress clothing for the formal dinner over lunch. Jeff P. is a real haggler, but he ended up giving tips to the sales girls that flirted with them (and when we were leaving he yelled "good bye" down the narrow market alley and blew them kisses). Fortunately, he did not start an international incident (but in the paper was a story about a man found guilty of massaging the shoulders of a co-worker and touching her forearm repeatedly. He was sentenced to three years in prison or a public whipping). Night ride tonight, so will be late again and tomorrow I want to start driving the loops so I can become really familiar with them. Since we will be doing all of them but the first one in the dark, I want to really be familiar with footing, etc., so I know the best places to canter.
Today was a long day at the barn, but I have decided I do best here. Becky H. and Jim B. have been trying to get riders to leave the barn for shopping or relaxing, but I actually find it more relaxing to be at the barn. I am not good at taking naps, etc., and although I should be spending any down time writing (I thought I would actually get work done while I was here!), I end up finding endless things to putter over at the barn. Kathy and I rode this morning, and this afternoon Dave took Rev for a 4 ½ mile hand-walk. Apparently he saw Steph T. while he was walking and she took some pics of him and Rev (in one he mooned her, so you may want to avoid endurance.net in case she posts it). I also clipped most of Rev's body again today (except under the saddle). It is amazing how much fur she had re-grown. I will gradually try to get more off her legs, but she still really objects to that so she may just have furry legs.
I ended up so filthy (actually we all did ... imagine a day in the barn clipping horses with the temperature at 98 F and humidity 58%), so we showered in one of the groom rooms. They are pretty Spartan with concrete floors and walls. The bathroom is about 3 ft x 3 ft and the shower head sprays off the wall into the middle of the room (a shower curtain is supposed to keep the shower from spraying the toilet or sink ...) and there is no hot water. Anyway, we got showered and went to the Sutra for a glass of wine or a beer before the welcome party which was scheduled for the evening.
It was lovely sitting on the patio overlooking the China Sea as dusk settled; the party was also great with a live band. There were lots of new arrivals (mostly officials, but a few more crew people) and everyone danced. They set off balloons for each country at 10:30 p.m. (ours got a slow start, but it was the only one that headed toward the vet gate so we took it as a good sign) and then we headed for home.
Election day!! Have you voted? I am keeping my fingers crossed over here and will leave it at that. I have gotten into a few "political discussions" over here, but FORTUNATELY, most of us seem to be on the same page.
Anyway, while last night was a lot of fun, now we are focusing on the race. It is only three days away, and things are getting a lot busier. We are still icing Rev three times per day, riding her once, and walking about five miles once (Dave or Steve have been pitching in to do most of the walking since they arrived). We practiced taking bullets (liter water bottles) from crew while riding today, and that made the same old loop a little more fun. Rev has always been good about letting me take bottles at a trot, but we tried a couple at the canter, and that was fine, too. I doubt we will be going that fast here, but was fun anyway. I am planning on starting at 9 mph for the first loop, and will decide about the later loops once we see what happens at the first vet gate. I have spoken with Dr. Martha (head treatment vet) and several officials who are very concerned about the race. Right now there are 144 horses entered and they are expecting a third of them to finish and a third to need treatment.
I am sooo curious about how people will ride. I know there will be some who go out like gangbusters (hoping there will be many), but some will ride smart. I don't think many horses will be able to maintain a 12 mph pace here with the humidity, but it is possible the weather will make it an easier night as it did last year. I am actually hoping for a really hot, humid, god awful night, because as nasty as it will be for us, I think we will be able to ride smart enough to get through (and hopefully do well). There are also several miles of deep sand in the 1st and 3rd loops, which will make it a little more technical as well.
It has also started me thinking about Kentucky in 2010 (the next world equestrian games). This event will be a difficult one to follow. There are 34 countries here (actually 33 since Brazil had quarantine problems and won't be able to come) and that is doubtful for Kentucky. The King of Malaysia has paid the vast majority of the bill for this event (including horse, rider, and groom transport), which has enabled many countries to compete that otherwise could not (Russia, Guatemala, etc.). It will also probably be impossible to match the grandeur of this event. Opening ceremonies will be in an arena that seats 40K, and it is expected to be full (largely because the king is competing). There have been advertisements for the race scattered all over in the media, including ESPN. All lunches and dinners at the ride site (for riders and crew) include pasta stations, various hot foods, sushi (I have eaten sushi for lunch and dinner the last 3 days!), and dessert buffets including a chocolate fountain. It is a long cry from what endurance is really all about, but I am sure we will be getting a harsh reminder on the 7th!
Just checked online and saw the election was called ... very happy about that!! I came to the media room to get online and check, and got kicked out by two journalists (this is MY seat and I am with the media). Whatever, I found a spot to sit on the steps outside ... For some reason have been having trouble sending out messages.When the connection is slow, e-mails just sit in my outbox waiting to be sent. Anyway, got a ride in this morning and they did a mock vet gate for all of us. It was a little fumbly, but better to practice now than the real day. We have gotten our hold box space, so the grooms and handlers are walking through with Becky H. now to plan strategy. I have to check my weight on the official scales. Opening ceremonies are tonight at 8:30, and we have several meetings this afternoon (plus another hand walking for Rev). The horses are all looking really good ... pretty full of themselves and Jim did some more bloodwork yesterday after work. Rev (and a couple others) are a little low in sodium, so will be adding more salt to her meals...
Opening ceremonies were last night. It was also fumbly. The organizing committee suggested we leave two hours to get there due to traffic (although the stadium is about eight miles away). We got there about an hour and 45 minutes early. It took quite some time to find the correct place to go, and then we sort of just milled around until it started. It was a lot of confusion, but seemed to look organized to the people in the stadium. As part of the "show" they had several Malaysian singers perform as well as Lorenzo, the flying horseman. He is the man in the video that has gone around online who stands on the backs of two horses while driving them (and sometimes two or four more) around the arena from their backs over jumps. It was pretty amazing, but we didn't get back until after midnight and we are now heading to the barn at 6 a.m. to get a short warmup ride in before first inspection this morning. I think there will be a nap necessary today!!
Later on the 6th
All horses vetted through and looked really good. Flame was a bit of a raving lunatic, but all the others were pretty well settled in spite of the excitement. I was pretty tired today, and Dave essentially booted me out of the barn this afternoon. It took a while because I couldn't find a ride (everyone is sort of running to their own tune today), and I kept thinking of last minute things I wanted to do. However, I was finally able to catch a ride with Grace and Jan at 4 p.m., so I got home at 5 and actually slept for an hour before meeting with Vonita B., while Dave stayed at the barn to help shape shoes and take care of Rev. Vonita is going to be my road crew person, so I wanted to let her know what I wanted at flybys along the trail and what to expect with Rev. Rev and I don't have a person to swipe the card at the in gate (there are not a lot of extra crew people here and they were all snagged), so the plan is that Steve will swipe my card and then run to help start cooling Rev while I unsaddle and carry my own saddle to the crew area when I come into the hold. Imperfect, but will hopefully work.
The team had to be declared this evening, but we riders still do not know who it will be. I expect we will find out at the last meeting with Becky tomorrow morning. Dave is the eternal pessimist and worries that we will be chosen to ride as individuals rather than on the team because of Rev's foot injury during transit. He may be right, but there have been issues for everyone along the way, so I am still hopeful. However it turns out, I think we have six horses that look really good--and that is the most important thing.
There have been problems for a lot of the foreign horses here. The Canadian anhidrotic horse overheated following a 10 mile training ride a few days ago and needed to be treated, so he will not start (but he is fine). There have also been tie ups, colics, and lameness issues in the other quarantine barns, so vetting all six U.S. horses, five of six Canadian and two of two Japanese horses (all the horses in our barn but one) was great! I do not yet know the total number that will start, but will probably be somewhere around 130.
Looking forward to a good night's sleep tonight and that should get me ready for being up overnight for the ride. Will probably not send another update until after the ride (hopefully that means later in the day on the 8th after I have finished and slept!) but keep all extremities you have crossed for us!!!
Well, it is the day after the ride started, and most of you probably already know the results, but it was quite the endeavor and I will give you a play-by-play of what happened, as much as it hurts. The team was announced that morning and was me and Rev, Kathy and Theatric, Jan and Leon, and Cheryl and Reason. Reason had developed scratches on one foot the morning of vetting in, and had been very lame. However, they were able to get him vetted through with a "B" for gait (and a lot of work!!). I had thought that might bump me onto the team, but it turned out it didn't matter and we would have been on it anyway.
Meg Sleeper and Jan Worthington set out together.
At the first check, Rev's heart rate was down within two minutes. Actually, her recoveries were phenomenal all day. Jan and Leon and I were supposed to ride the entire day together, so the plan was both horses would enter the vet gate together when both heart rates were down. I adore Grace and Jan, but they had been telling us the entire time we were in Florida that Leon recovered the best of all the U.S. horses and they were concerned about having to wait on another horse, so it was actually a little gratifying that Rev out recovered him by one or two minutes at every check, and we were waiting on them. Cheryl and John were a little ahead of us, and our two horses got through next, but Kathy and Val gave us all a scare because Theatric and Flame almost did not recover within 30 minutes (the time required to continue in the ride). In fact, we ended up getting a gift there, because Theatric's pulse was too high when he entered the vet gate, and when he finally did recover and re-entered the gate it was over the 30 minute time, but the card swiper was not working and the officials didn't realize he was over the time allowed. Whew, we were lucky and all U.S. riders were through the hold.
For loop two, the first loop in the dark, Becky asked us to ride at 10.5 mph, which we were able to maintain pretty easily except for one pretty scary hitch.
During this loop, we had a bad thunder storm and quite a bit of rain. Near the end of the loop, we were nearly struck by lightning and the horses bolted. I saw the bolt of light and sparks all around us. The thunderclap was immediately after and both horses bolted. Unfortunately, Leon bolted into Rev and pushed both horses out into the jungle. We hit a tree, and both horses went down and rolled. Jan and I both managed to hold the reins and I got up right away because I had not hit very hard. I had pulled Rev's bridle nearly off her head, but managed to hold onto her. I looked for Jan, but she was still on the ground under Leon. I got over to her, and was at first really scared because her face was bloody. Fortunately it was just a bad scratch, but it took several minutes before I could ascertain whether she was OK to stand and to get her back on the horse. Then I mounted and we finished the loop.
Because there had been quite a bit of rain, we were riding in ankle-deep water a lot of the way, and I kept praying we didn't get zapped again. The horses actually vetted through the gate quickly and we got Jan fixed up during the hold. It turns out a bolt had hit the venue as well, and since everyone was standing in water over their feet because of the rainfall, they had actually felt the electricity run up their feet.
The organizing committee has each of us riding with a GPS unit with a red button we were supposed to push in an emergency. They had emergency personnel prepared to get to any point on trail within six minutes (and we all had to ride with a card stating our name and blood type). However, I didn't even think about it until later in the day. Anyway, I think we were all very lucky to have come through the storm. Unfortunately, at this hold Sunny (John Crandell's horse) got pulled for lameness and Cheryl Dell, who started vomiting at the first vet gate, withdrew from the ride. She had only eaten watermelon that day, so we aren't sure if it was nerves which started her vomiting and then dehydration set in, or if it was food poisoning, but she just got sicker and sicker. That left us with only three team members left and all would have to finish. As it turned out, Reason's scratches were not a factor.
On the third loop, Becky asked us to go back to a slower speed because a lot of people were getting pulled, and the horses were slogging through some deep footing and puddles. The goal was 9.5-10.5 mph, and we did it at 9.8 mph. Although we cantered the entire loop, we needed to stop to cool very frequently (the humidity was 98%). Most of the water points were set up with generators with hoses so the stewards could hand the riders a hose and you could spray the horse down while you were sitting on him or her. Unfortunately, only about half of the checks had generators to allow this, but Rev actually let me hose her off from her back--I couldn't believe it!!--and we probably stopped to do that two or three times during the loop.
Both Leon and Rev looked great at the check, and Becky asked us to bump up the speed for loop 4. She asked for a speed between 11 and 12 mph. She also told Val to pick up her speed to try to catch us. Rev had been leading Leon the entire day, and I told Becky it would be nice to give her a break and allow her to draft off someone else for a bit. The plan was for Val to catch us during that loop, but Rev continued to be very willing and we cantered the loop at 13 mph. Stopping to hose them slowed down our overall pace to 11 mph, but we still managed to pick up our placing and pass a fair number of horses and Val wasn't able to pick up any time on us.
At the following vet check (#4), the vet said Rev had the best mucous membrane color of any horse he had examined so far that day, and her CRI was 52/48 (which is great!). For those of you that are not endurance people, the CRI is the cardiac recovery index, developed by Dr. Kerry Ridgeway (vet extraordinaire). A heart rate is taken and time is checked, the horse is trotted 250 feet and when the horse returns the heart rate is retaken one minute after the horse started trotting. It is most often performed while the soundness is being checked so the horse trots out 125 feet and back. Usually the trot takes about 30 seconds, so there is a little time before the second heart rate is determined. A horse that is metabolically stressed will have an increase in the second heart rate (often by 8 bpm or more).
Sooo, Becky asked us to pick up speed again for the fifth loop. The goal was 13 mph. I told her we had cantered most of the last two loops at that speed, but cooling slowed our overall pace. She suggested we ride at a slower pace if it meant we could stop at fewer water spots, but to try to maintain as close to 13 mph as possible. We cantered most of this loop at 13 mph, but this was the first loop the horses didn't drink well, so we ended up stopping at most of the water points to offer water, resulting in a pace of only a little over 10 mph. The horses pulsed through rapidly again and we headed to the vet gate. Unfortunately, Rev limped. It was her LF, and the examining vet allowed us to re-present at the exit exam (which gave us the hold time to try to figure out what was going on). We couldn't find anything in the leg, but iced it and re-presented an hour later. She was still off, so we were done at 84 miles (there were two short loops left). That meant the team was out. At least it was unrelated to her shipping injury (that was bruising in the RF foot), but VERY small consolation. Over the next few hours she developed filling in the LF ankle, and it was the LF which Leon had collided into when we had the thunderbolt accident, so we assume she had an injury then, and the miles gradually took their toll. Jan went out on her own the last two loops and was the first U.S. horse to finish, but Leon was pulled at the finish. He was lame in the RF ... once again, the leg involved in his accident with Rev.
So, Kathy and Val ended up being our only finishers....sort of ironic considering we were worried whether these two horses would get through the first vet check. The final verdict was only three countries finished a team (we think...). I second-guessed my ride briefly..."If I went slower after the fall on the second loop, would we have finished, etc, etc." However, that's not why we are here. At the world championship, we need to push the envelope as long as we do not endanger the horse. We had planned on a top 10 finish (and hoping on top five) and we were on track to do that. There is no point in just going around for a completion. If I knew she was sore, of course I would have backed off to try to eke out a completion for the team, but she had felt fine on trail. The same was true of Jan, so second guessing is pointless (and just causes ulcers).
The Arabs stopped by to try to buy Rev, but I told them she was not for sale. Dave and I had talked about it before we came and decided we would not sell, although the winning horse did sell for $1.5 million. I guess it's nice that they liked her, though.
I think our result is incredibly depressing in that it will once again get drug though ridecamp as a failure for the team, although I really believe the system worked. This is the third world championships I have participated in, and I think the process has improved significantly beyond my past experiences. I think we had horses capable of doing very well here and we were on our way to doing it. None of our horses had metabolic problems, and Becky, Jim, and Todd were simply wonderful. I feel terrible for letting them down, but we need to focus on moving forward and continuing to improve the system. I believe the U.S. endurance team is on track, and hopefully we will get a chance to prove it in Kentucky.
About the Author
Meg Sleeper, VMD, associate professor of Cardiology at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine and the school's Cardiology Section Chief since 2001. Her primary research interests include inherited heart diseases, in particular inherited cardiomyopathies and therapeutic gene transfer. She is also an avid world-class endurance competitor with more than 14,000 miles logged and placings in endurance competitions in six countries, in addition to a best condition award.
POLL: Managing Working Horses