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Why Can't Horses Stay Sound At Upper Levels?

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  • Why Can't Horses Stay Sound At Upper Levels?

    I mean, besides the fact that they are, well, horses!

    I see this comment over and over and over -- "there are no truly sound horses at the upper levels" or "no one can keep a horse sound long enough to do X/Y/Z." And the more I see it, the more I think about it. Is that really true? And if it is, why? Is our sport at that level really that destructive to horses that we have to coddle and coax their bodies through? Or do riders over-compete and over-train to the point where the horse has nothing left? Or option C, that I don't know?

    Disclaimer: please do not read any tone or accusation in to this. I have never competed/managed a horse above Prelim, I have only spectated/volunteered at upper levels over the years. I am hoping that folks with experience doing such can share and give me a better understanding of what that means? I know the sport is very demanding, like any peak athletic endeavour, but am curious about the foregone conclusion that seems to be written in that "at the top levels, your horse will probably not stay sound."

    Clarify for me!
    Life doesn't have perfect footing.

    Bloggily entertain yourself with our adventures (and disasters):
    We Are Flying Solo

  • #2
    my own non scientific opinion is that the Long Format "weeded out" those who would not stay sound at that level - often weeding them out before they even competed.

    Comment


    • #3
      it isn't just eventing. I remember watching an FEI job for a big GP show. Most horses there were in contention for a WEG team.....I'm not sure I saw a single horse out of 30 that would have passed a jog at CCI*** (perhaps a few would have been held then passed )

      Basically, especially event horses have to be very sound....but how one defines "sound" is different.

      Sports at a high level are hard on anyone...by definition you are pushing the limits. And you are far more likely to tweak something doing so.

      In addition....riders and trainers at a higher level are more tuned into soundness. There are a hell of a lot of horses I see at low level events, local shows, group trail rides that I do not and would not consider "sound". Sometimes the owners don't have a clue...other times they might. But most are not so "unsound" that it is really a problem and the horses are happy doing light work (and possibly the light work keeps them from being worse!).

      I can tell you...I have a nice horse aimed at the ULs who I've lost a year on now. I considered him "unsound" but really--he was sound enough to race, be a show horse, lower level eventing etc. Most people couldn't even tell he was off. But we caught it...and are taking the time to fix it because of his job. The little "unsoundness" is more likely to become a large one and it better if fixed initially even if it means losing several competition seasons.
      ** Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip. ~Winston Churchill? **

      Comment

      • Original Poster

        #4
        Cool, both good thoughts. Thanks especially for those musings, BFNE -- as I spend less time with the upper levels of say, dressage and SJ, I'm less familiar with the horses there, but that's a good point. As is the definition of "sound" -- you can take horse who has some hock issues around BN and he might do just fine, but you will certainly not get away with that, say, running a *** at Fair Hill.
        Life doesn't have perfect footing.

        Bloggily entertain yourself with our adventures (and disasters):
        We Are Flying Solo

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        • #5
          I suspect some changes in the sport has contributed. No time off in the winter, now we have Florida and Aiken. Horses were weeded out early with the long format. the training itself has become more intensive with more hours of higher level dressage movements. More technical courses leading to more time jumping with twists and turns. Even the type of horse in eventing has changed. In the past, almost all TB's now, many warmblood with high draft component.

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          • #6
            Well I can't seem to find a horse that will stay sound for the lower levels!

            Out of the four horses I've bought as an adult only one has stayed sound longer than a year (and I dabble at BN/N) but he hated jumping and became a dressage horse.

            I can't speak to upper levels at all but I just think horses are incredibly fragile in some ways. From my experiences I am amazed anyone can get a horse to the upper levels! I just don't think there are that many sound horses out there in general...

            Comment


            • #7
              Quite a lot of horses do a lot of higher level events when they are still pretty young.

              I see lots of 6 year olds going Intermediate/Advanced all winter and summer long.

              No idea if this is a new trend though.
              Fillys By Vibank - 2017 Road to RRP
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              • #8
                Originally posted by FlightCheck View Post
                my own non scientific opinion is that the Long Format "weeded out" those who would not stay sound at that level - often weeding them out before they even competed.
                This.

                What I sense is that the eventing horse of today is required to be more a sprinter trying to run a 10K race instead of a long distance runner. Run and Gun with the dressage being so important that the "generic", but stronger horse is phased out.

                TBs in racing have seemed to go the same path. I read an article sometime ago that talked about how the horses are being bred for speed, but that the (avg) top speed of the TB has not changed in 40 years. Yet, the horses are bred in an attempt to be lighter (weaker bones) and faster, the combination which seems to result in more injuries.

                It strikes me that the long format set the tone for the type/style of horse needed for Eventing. Dressagie, yes...but mainly needing endurance which would demand stronger legs (bones, muscles, tendons etc). Now, we take a TB (bred as a sprinter) and try to mold it into a completely different style of horse and the body, at some point, cannot maintain that level of effort.

                Since the LF wont ever really come back into Eventing then a breed or type of horse well be found that eventually adapts to this more intense implementation of the sport. As I watch some older videos of Eventing what I noticed was that while the horses weren't always flashy, man they were fit and they looked strong. Today I see more horses that look beautiful, fit, and delicate.

                Comment


                • #9
                  I don't think a lot of top level athletes stay sound, human aor animal. I remember the day after watching my brother do the Ironman... watching all these lean athletes limping around Lake Placid all wrapped up. Even when I trained for a marathon, my hip hurt constantly- but it wasn't awful.

                  Using a body to a maximum is going to make aches, pains and compensations. Same with horses. It's making sure it doesn't go too far that is important. Of course, the horses don't have choice, but to a degree, they do- so many act up or start stopping before they start limping.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    I have also heard and felt this sentiment echoed at times, and as a hunter-turned-eventer for only two years (hunter for 20), my eventing knowledge is amateur at best, and I'd love to see some responses from the COTH big guns that know what they are talking about that take the time to seriously consider this question, as the OP mentioned, in an objective, non-accusatory way.

                    Obviously, I cannot personally comment on UL horses, but I do know that it took me two years just to get my horse to a place that I feel is the (is this sad?) most sound he's ever been, and I feel comfortable pushing him more and asking for more athleticism. In my very limited, very amateur experience, my horse has only gotten "sound-er" with more miles and proper training, but then we also started with a *lot* of basic issues, such as just restructuring his diet and providing care that was in accordance with his new job (his track owners took wonderful care of him, but obviously he was not in an event-horse training program at the track!), but I've also borne witness to UL horses that, even under the best care, have trouble staying sound. So could that be an individual thing (just like you could have a swimmer with Olympic talent that has a perpetual shoulder injury that will prevent he or she from ever competing at or above a certain level), or is it a this-job-is-too-tough thing?

                    I remember watching that WONDERFUL video someone was kind enough to share of the Bromont Olympics, and OH-MY-GOSH.. that was an XC course, I would have had to be wearing Depends just LOOKING at some of those fences, yowza!!! Yes, there were more falls, scary falls, certainly, and many that had a nasty tumble and got thrown right back up on the horse. But it does seem to me (again, as a newcomer) that the format has been toned way down. Which is why this question of soundness in UL horses is perplexing to me. Although I think it is important to note, soundness can be an issue in any event horse, even just us LL guys, it can be quite a challenge. There have certainly been times, while dealing with my own horse's soundness, that I've thought "am I just asking too much from him?" But the more I see him improve, and his confidence and athletic ability skyrocket, I think "NO WAY, HE LOVES THIS SH*T!"

                    Was soundness such a prevalent issue "back then" when courses were more demanding and included the steeplechase? Or is the fact that all the outlets we have to discuss these things (COTH, Facebook, any horsey news outlet) have increased exponentially in size and technology and it just seems more prevalent because it's just there in front of our faces more, whereas 20 years ago, there was no COTH to post about "did you hear such and such", and post a link to a video 30 seconds after a bad fall occurs that results in career-ending lameness? Or being able to look up on USEA - oh, so-and-so scratched again, must still be unsound. Is that even a logical contemplation? Or, are "we" competing horses of "lesser quality" that are not bred as well for the jobs we are asking them to do, and therein lies the soundness issues? From a researcher POV, I'm thinking it's a complex combination of many variables that contribute to any one horse's soundness issues at any level - but is it as prevalent as it sometimes feels, and, is it more prevalent than it was 20 years ago?

                    I'm just trying to throw out some potential ideas on the soundness issue from a more ignorant position, because I think it will be interesting to see the juxtaposition of the thoughts a dodo like me has next to.. let's say.. Denny!

                    Denny - yoohoo! Where are you?

                    I'm looking forward to some good conversation, thanks for posting this thread wildlifer! Sorry to write a novel!

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Magnolia beat me to it.

                      My husband is a Sports Med doc and I've been in the horseworld for 30+years. As far as I can tell very few serious athletes, no matter their performance level or species, are truly sound. Even at the high school/college/schooling show levels there is an awful lot of icing, wrapping, anti-inflammatories, & stall rest.

                      Bodies in motion get hurt, bodies in extreme motion get hurt more often and with greater severity. The ones that DO stay sound are the lucky ones

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        I just wrote a long explanation and then hit the back button by accident....

                        Here's the short version (ok - not short. I essentially just re-wrote it):

                        1. More wear and tear is imposed as a horse moves up the levels in part due to the miles that it takes to get there (going through the levels takes time). Like almost all athletes, there is slow break-down of tissues over time due to wear and tear. The rate of that breakdown is effected by lots of factors but it happens in almost all athletes, horses and non-horses.

                        2. The increased athletic demands of the upper levels can exacerbate issues that might not be noticeable at novice including conformational flaws.

                        3. As BFNE said, UL horses are evaluated for soundness more often in many cases. This happens at the jog, in PPEs (where a more thorough exam might be done given the demands and the high price tag), and in regular check-ups.

                        4. "Not totally sound" in this context is probably more accurately described as the following: if you went over every millimeter of the horse with a fine tooth comb (or an x-ray or ultrasound) you would probably find some "imperfections." This is true of most horses - UL or not - and sometimes the horse has no idea and it's never an issue. But some people want a perfectly flawless report on a PPE and when the horse has done the work to get to the ULs that is often just not going to be the case. There are lots of humans with "arthritic changes" and healed injuries that never become issues, for example. Buying a horse is a risk (on a million levels) and any imperfection increases the risk that the horse will not remain sound. But what is important is to evaluate the likelyhood of that imperfection becoming prohibitive of the horse doing their job and weighing that risk against the nearly infinite other risks that are not even foreseeable at that point. As people say all the time: anything can happen with a horse. You could have a totally sound UL horse that has a freak accident and that is that.

                        Hope that helps
                        "We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals" Immanuel Kant

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          It's a collision of bell-shaped curves

                          Among horses, the majority will be of average soundness. Some will be exceptionally sound, some will be exceptionally UNSOUND, with the majority falling in the middle somewhere.

                          Among upper level event horses, a MUCH SMALLER sample size, the same almost certainly applies. Some will be very, very sound and endure seemingly forever. Others will flame out spectacularly in their first year at the level. A majority will be somewhere in between, and you just don't necessarily hear about the missed weeks of training, the frantic trying to find the right shoeing technique, the couple of shows a year where there's a scratch, etc. These soldiers are "serviceably sound" and carry on, just like the 50 year old joggers you see out there--some of them going slower than they used to, some of them visiting the orthopedist 3 times a year, some of them having to eventually do something else . . .

                          Competing at a high level in ANYTHING, for ANY species, takes its toll.
                          Click here before you buy.

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by saje View Post
                            Magnolia beat me to it.

                            My husband is a Sports Med doc and I've been in the horseworld for 30+years. As far as I can tell very few serious athletes, no matter their performance level or species, are truly sound. Even at the high school/college/schooling show levels there is an awful lot of icing, wrapping, anti-inflammatories, & stall rest.

                            Bodies in motion get hurt, bodies in extreme motion get hurt more often and with greater severity. The ones that DO stay sound are the lucky ones
                            yuppers.
                            I burned out from competetive swimming at age 15 because everything was broken. From ages 13-16 I practiced 4 hours a day (2 hours before and after school) and all morning on Sat. That's rough on a body, human or equine.

                            Repetitive motion breaks you down.
                            As a kid, I would go to sleep with icepacks on all of my major joints just to hold myself together to make it to Zones and Junior Nationals. Knee injections started at age 14.


                            The difference?
                            Human athletes drug the crap out of themselves.
                            FEI doesn't allow us to do this for our horses. Poor creatures sometimes just need some bute or banamine.

                            Also, the jog is on concrete. I think it should be on grass.

                            If the FEI required the rider to show soundness at the jog as well there would be more horse/rider combos spun on Sunday. LMAO.
                            http://kaboomeventing.com/
                            http://kaboomeventing.blogspot.com/
                            Horses are amazing athletes and make no mistake -- they are the stars of the show!

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              I will also say that I think that there are a lot of people looking back on the past with rose colored glasses.

                              I'm not that old....only been involved in the sport since the early 90s...but also have friends from the heydays of the 70s-80s.

                              There were a lot of "unsound" horses back then too. Competing. There were pleanty of young horses pushed along fast (hell, that is why they made a rule on it).

                              Honestly, if anything, we have improved to be able to treat horses better. Inujuries that were career ending back then now are often more manageable. We can also diagnose thing better.

                              I also know most horses DO get time off in the winter and/or spring if they went south. SP in March was once more of the first event of the season for UL horses here in the Mid Atlantic...so you were stuck doing conditioning/training work in the indoor or snow but the horses were put back into work at the same time now as they were 20 years ago and do the same damn thing (3-8 weeks off after the big fall three day, then walking for a couple of weeks, then adding in light dressage etc.---with all the other variations in between depeding on the individual horse). Most that I know are just starting back now after their vacations following Fair Hill--some have been hacking for a couple of weeks. Just now more people go south where it is nicer to put the conditioning on their horses--instead of being in the cold--because they can, and do the horses for a living instead of like the rest of us stuck in our non-moving south job!

                              Most young horses who are started up down south, will come back north to a time off while the rest of us who have been stuck here for the winter will just be starting to compete.

                              Yes, there are more events to choose from...so a rider/trainer has to use judgment and not run their horse's legs off. But I'm still seeing good jugdment and bad....just as there was 20 years ago.
                              ** Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip. ~Winston Churchill? **

                              Comment


                              • #16
                                First of all, a fellow COTHer said.. I HAD A GOOD POINT!!! Well, I can now die happy to have finally had some quasi-worthwhile input on a BB so full of knowledgeable people.

                                Originally posted by deltawave View Post
                                It's a collision of bell-shaped curves.
                                What a genius articulation. Is there a clapping emoticon?

                                Comment


                                • #17
                                  I think being sound for any given event (say, an important 3-day) is also more challenging at the upper levels because of the amount of prep required.

                                  If your lower level horse has a hot nail/abscess/bruise/minor cut and loses a couple weeks, as long as you have a couple days to hop on before the event you might just go anyway and see how it goes.

                                  The same minor injury/schedule disruption would probably mean a scratch at a higher level.

                                  Also, I agree with BFNE that in my limited experience (90s on), horses were not necessarily sounder in the LF days. We do have improved therapies, injections, and technologies that may keep horses in the game that wouldn't have been able to hack it back then, but with that I think also comes a tighter definition of sound. IMO there were horses that 20 years ago were considered sound that might raise an eyeball today. "That's just how he goes" seems a less popular attitude.

                                  Comment

                                  • Original Poster

                                    #18
                                    These are fantastic responses, thank you so much! So many really great points to think about.

                                    I watched the old '76 Bromont video too and my response was something like "holy crap!" There was no aerating, no special footing, no people scratching because they hadn't had pristine ground to train on all winter, all these things we hear now. But then again, there was no internet to broadcast it on either.

                                    When I hear barn stories now of upper level events where horses spend the night strapped to an IV bag and standing in ice, my first reaction is, WTF? But then as I think more, I know that at the top of all sports are athletes doing the same thing, like purp and the poor joints.

                                    So do continue the discussion, it is very much helping me clarify my thinking and understand a little bit better where that oft-repeated comment falls in the realm of reality and all the context that entails.
                                    Life doesn't have perfect footing.

                                    Bloggily entertain yourself with our adventures (and disasters):
                                    We Are Flying Solo

                                    Comment


                                    • #19
                                      "natural surfaces"for galloping and jumping

                                      They do LOTS of galloping and jumping , most on uneven "normal"/ hard/ soft footing; the learning curve is steep! groundhog holes, tree stumps, hidden rocks/ stones; it takes "only one bad step" those horses have taken and take many in just one season; by the time they are upper level the same multiplied by at least 10!
                                      breeder of Mercury!

                                      remember to enjoy the moment, and take a moment to enjoy and give God the glory for these wonderful horses in our lives.BECAUSE: LIFE is What Happens While Making Other Plans

                                      Comment


                                      • #20
                                        I agree with bfne (shocking), on all parts, especially regarding the "good old days." The dressage standard was low back then, and a lot of people attributed their horses tension or misbehavior in the dressage ring to not liking it or being extremely fit or to wanting to get on to the fun stuff. How many of those horses had sore backs, hocks, feet? How many of them may have seen marked improvement in their dressage, even their jumping, had they been exposed to the therapies we have available today? To that end, also, what about gastric ulcers? Just plain FEEDING in general? There were probably a lot more lame, uncomfortable, or poorly managed (by today's standards) horses back when "men were men".

                                        Also, I have been led to believe that horses DIDN'T last as long. My coach evented a horse at the upper levels in the 80s that was 17, and the horse was considered an oddity because of his age. Charisma was considered too old when he went to Seoul (how old was he? 16?). Food for thought.

                                        And, I agree with the human athlete comparison. Do you all think pro athletes jump out of bed every morning feeling GREAT! Ready to conquer the world! No, probably not. Most probably creak and crack and gimp until they get moving. They stretch and get massages and do physical therapy. They probably live on Advil (if not something MORE), they get knees and hips and elbows and shoulders injected. They are probably not the "soundest" humans on earth, but they use the therapies available to them to keep going. And like purp said, they are allowed to medicate. I bet a lot of NFL players wouldn't be able to move if it wasn't for medical intervention!

                                        Soundness IS relative. I am a lot less forgiving of things then some people and I will be quick to address something I don't like on my horse with the vet, the farrier, or the massage therapist. I can tell when Toby is ready for a massage. I knew when Vernon could do with a shot of pentosan. I put pads on when I feel like maybe they are the tiniest bit foot sore. A lot of the things I pick up on, the average horse owner probably wouldn't. And I am FAR from being a big time rider with a barn FULL of high performance horses. The more of that you are exposed to, the quicker you are to note it and deal with it.
                                        Amanda

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