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SERA convention notes - long

Okay, guys here they are - edited to the best of my ability. They are a bit random as sometimes the discussion went in a different direction due to a question.

If anything I wrote just looks flat out wrong it probably is due to rusty note-taking skills - please let me know about that.

On the other hand, if there are things in there you just don't agree with, duke it out <g> with each other - not with me, I'm just passing on what was presented.

Anyway, enjoy.

Lynn Crespo

She began the talk with a discussion of what the players are in the electrolyte (referred to as just E. hereafter) game - let's see, Na (Sodium), K (Potassium), Mg (Magnesium), Ca (Calcium), Ph (Phosphorous) - that's all I can remember - I think there are more. Some are inside the cells and some are outside the cells and they are pumped back and forth as needed as the muscles undergo work - it takes the same amount of energy to contract the muscle as it does to relax it. There's a very delicate balance of E. in the cells and anything that makes one of the E. out of whack makes the whole system out of kilter as all the processes are unbelievably inter-related.

Carbo-charge supplements make these pumps work too hard so all the E. balances get re-arranged causing the energy in the muscle to be used up at a faster rate than would normally happen. Carbo loading works at the 1st point of the cellular process so all the E. are in the wrong place (one side of the cell or the other) than they need to be to be used when needed.

After a little discussion about carbo loading she went on to talk about hydration and how horses' bodies keep fluid in the blodstream. The total concentration of E. inside the cell is the same as the total concentration of E. outside the cell. When those balances differ, you run into problems.

The horse's body senses what's outside the cell and doesn't care what's inside the cell as the amount of water in the blood vessels tells the body how much water the body has. The amount of Na really helps determine what the horse's basic needs are so the body conserves Na at all costs. The horse will pull Na, at any expense, from the gut at and cells to make the Na levels in the bloodstream balance as they should. The cells then start to dehydrate and shrink and the problems begin.

This causes a shift in the H2O and E. in the gut (as well as elsewhere) and the whole body starts to get into trouble. This is what the vet is thinking of when they tell us the horse has low/quiet gut sounds and to take it easy. This is the beginning of a potentially serious cycle.

So...with the Na off kilter, the K is off balance and the cells' processes then can't function as they are supposed to.

So the flow is: dehydration leads to loss of effective volume of blood which leads to the body conserving Na the expense of all else which leads to a loss of K which leads body to be low in K which presents its own set of problems. You still see the effects of this 2- 3 days after a ride as the hormones that set this whole process off are still being put out in the bloodstream. So, the thing to remember here is your horse needs E. for 2 days after the ride - not at ride doses - but regular doses for 2 full days afterward.

This tells us then that when looking at E. the amount of K should equal or almost equal the amount of Na in each dose.

There are lots of consequences to all this activity in the cells:

-Decreased gut motility (colic)
-Decreased muscle tone (weakness/fatigue)
-Vasoconstriction as non-vital systems like the gut and large muscel groups get shut down (tye up, colic)
-Shifts in E. activity (thumps, arrhythmias, decreased muscles tone)
-Shifts of body pH (respiration is affected, electrical activity is skewed, Ca levels are off - thumps)

All of this is so interrelated that once it starts it comes a viscious cycle that feeds off itself. For instance once the gut starts to shut down and signs of colic set in, the body starts dumping even more K which worsens the situation. For this reason when a horse goes into colic, E. are a good idea.

Do's for E.:
1. E. frequently with high K formula - overdosing on E. is a myth - as long as the horse has access to water the kidneys will sort it all out. I'll repeat that because Lynn did - neither she (nor Dr. Marcella who was in the audience) had ever heard of a horse OD'ing on E. as long as there's access to water - the horse's body will sort it all out.
2. Offer small doses of E. to encourage drinking. Don't fall into the trap of not giving E. because the horse isn't drinking - that's when they need them the most - but in smaller doses with a chance to drink inbetween doses.
3. Continue E. for 2 days after a ride - you can pass with all A's and the horse look good and then crash in the pasture the next day - it's due to the fact that the E. are still being figured out in the horse's body even after the ride is over.

Why don't horses drink? Well, their blood has to seem salty to trigger thirst - if their E. are out of balance their blood won't seem that way and they won't want to drink -that's why frequent smaller doses of E. are so important instead of getting a peak and a valley in the E. levels. Interesting note: If they drink a bunch when their bodies are low on salt, that will dilute what salt is in their body and they may very well crash.


1. No high carbo loading on the trail as that shifts the K levels and starts a whole set of processes that put the cells in jeopardy.
2. No high, infrequent doses of E.
3. Don't use human supplements for horses or vice versa.

Fat is the best source of energy - stay away from high protein, high carb diets for horses - so just say no to alfafa and decrease the grain - use beet pulp, rice bran, fat to augument caloric needs.
Dr. Ken Marcella

Dr. Marcella feels like the best thing vets can do for endurance riders is collect lots of data when our horses are getting into trouble - like finding out how long the trailer ride was, how much the horse was ridden before the ride, what the E. doses were, etc...He wants to institute a form that's used by vets for this reason.

Thumps are brought on by a large fluid loss which causes excess loss of E. which causes neuromuscular irritibility (NI) in the phrenic nerve that runs across the perra cardium (how do you spell that??) of the heart. So the nerve triggers the muscles in the diaphragm to contract when the heart does so it looks like the stomach is beating or thumping.

NI is proportional to the ratio of (Na X K) divided by (Ca X Mg X Hydrogen). Your horse runs into problems if the ratio gets off balance in any of these areas. As Ca and Mg decrease then NI increases. This brings in a unique behavorial aspect to all this. Dr. Marcella asked us how many times at a ride we thought our horses were inordinately jumpy or fidgety or ancy standing in the vet line, for instance? All of us raised our hands. He said to consider that sometimes it could be due to this ratio being off and the horse experiencing NI.

(Editor's Note: I for one found this very interesting as I think 99% of the time our horses do things for a reason not just because they feel like being bad, or annoying, or whatever. It's amazing to me to think something like this could be from their E. levels.)

This makes the 1st and 2nd loops very important to the overall health of the horse. It is here that the high adrenaline and E. levels get all sorted out as the horse goes down the trail. If you blow off signs that the horse needs a drink or needs a break then you'll pay for it later. You will also use up energy for later in the ride if you ride wrong early on.

He then went on to talk about what he termed "Biltmore Syndrome" which isn't really thumps or tying up - it's more like a localized cramping/spasms of regional muscles due Ca loss which causes selected nerve hypersensitivity.

He related stories of horses cramping in the neck/shoulder/chest area and going down as their body curved around in a C shape. Some of the horses then went into colic. For some reason (challenging ride pretty early, humidity, ??) this seems to happen at the Biltmore ride more so than at other rides he's worked - hence the term he's come up with. It usually happens early in the ride and he says standing in line can bring this or similar symptoms on - particularly for horses that have yet to drink as is the case for many of them the first loop.

He then asked us for suggestions on ways to decrease the time we stand in line at a check - that's exactly what our horses don't need to be doing - especially early on when the lines tend to be the longest.

(Editor's Note: I'd love to see some discussion about this on the list)

He then spoke some on Tying Up which he says is a bad name for a condition that has a million potential causes. He did say when our endurance horses tie up it's probably a cellular K transport problem. Some of the treatments for tying up are high fat diet (little to no grain), buffering of pH, and a diet high in hay. There are lots of triggers for tying up - transport, diet, E./fluid loss, exercise/work load and basic management.

We talked some about when to feed before a ride given the carbs in grains and both Lynn and Dr. Marcella said about 4 hours before the start - that gives the horse time to get through the carb induced slump like we all feel after a big past meal.

Both Lynn and Dr. Marcella repeatedly mentioned a low to no grain diet with more grass hay/beet pulp/roughage and fat if you need it. Grain is grain - whether it's oats, sweetfeed or pellets - it's all carbs - pellets aren't any better in terms of carbs than sweetfeed. Both talked about the importance of riding smart in the beginning, giving E. on the trail instead of waiting till you get back to camp, giving E. for 2 days after the ride, and factoring in all the stressors when considering how your horse is doing.

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