From Endurance to Dressage
I don't remember my first ride. I don't remember the first time I ever saw a horse. They've just always been a part of who I am; there was never a beginning. I didn't get my own horse until I was around 13, but that first decade wasn't wasted. I rode my grandma's horses and the neighbor's. They had four grandkids, and I fell right in the middle age-wise. I don't remember how many horses they had, but I think it was always around 4.
After Sunshine, my first horse, there were a few others until I finally left home at seventeen for a yearlong study abroad. After that year, I went off to college where I earned my degree and teaching credential. I started teaching in the fall of 1994, and the following spring, I bought Sassy, my first Arabian and first endurance horse.
Before joining the endurance world, it never occurred to me to study a horse's excrement. Horses ate and drank which meant they peed and pooped. For all of my horse owning life up to that point, none of those systems had ever malfunctioned. I never had a horse colic although I had seen others colic, and none of mine ever experienced tying-up. Dark urine or even red urine can be an indicator of that particular issue.
Once I started conditioning my first endurance horse, I became aware of a lot of really scary things that can happen to horses, especially endurance horses. Horses being worked at speed for twenty-five, fifty, or even a hundred miles in a single day are absolute machines, but like any hard working machine, they require very specialized care.
As in any sport or hobby there are always those who won't do right by their animals or equipment, but they don't tend to be very successful either. I was fortunate enough to have been introduced to the sport by people who cared a great deal for their horses. Finishing a race was also secondary to the horse's health and well-being. That always came first.
My endurance mentors knew a lot about how to keep a horse fit and healthy for not just a race or two, but for years and years. MC, my riding partner of nearly two decades, has tens of thousands of miles on just a handful of horses. The American Endurance Ride Conference's motto is To Finish is to Win. While many riders compete for points - the faster you ride, the more points you earn, many others compete for lifetime achievement awards.
The friends I rode with were far more interested in accumulating lifetime awards which come after accumulating certain mileages. Montoya DSA, my best horse, earned two, 1,000 mile medallions. Over the sixteen years that I competed, I earned chevrons for completing 250, 500, 750, 1,000, 2,000, and 3,000 miles at distances of fifty miles or more including five, one-day hundred milers. I was small potatoes. I am not sure if she's still alive or not, but Trilby Pederson, the reining distance champion when I was still competing, had earned over 60,000 miles before retiring from the sport in 2004. MC has more than 21,000 miles as of last season.
But this is about poop, not endurance horses. Besides great adventures in amazing places, endurance riding gave me an education that would be really hard to buy. That sport helped me develop a very critical eye when it comes to horse health. I learned to evaluate my horse's over-all condition with just a quick visual scan. I never miss anything. Within seconds I can see when something is amiss. When I approach either of my horses, I do a thorough visual exam that includes attitude, eyes, respiration, legs, movement, and the surface of their bodies. I also scan their environment looking for things that are out of place or somehow wrong. If a single thing interrupts my visual scan, I dive in for a closer look.
When Speedy abscessed nearly two weeks ago - he's still not quite sound, I spotted it when he took a single step my way. The latest thing I've been checking for each day is the number of ploppy poop piles that Izzy has on any given day. Finally, after two and a half months on GastroElm, his poop piles are gloriously round and solid. Not just some of the piles, but ALL of them.
I think horse folks are the only people on the planet who get so excited about poop. In my circle of friends, especially when I am with my endurance pals, all conversation stops the instant one of our horses looks like he might pee or poop. When the stream starts or the apples hit the dirt, a collective sigh is released when we see pale yellow or well-formed moist balls of green or brown. It's weird, but it's what happens when you know too much. Anything but pale yellow urine or shiny manure means potential trouble.
So you can understand my anxiety these past five months. Beginning in late October, Izzy's ulcer(s) started to create poop piles that ranged in formation from complete cow pies to ropey, stringy glops of that can't be good. On Thanksgiving Day he even looked on the verge of colic. In late December, I started him on UlcerGard which didn't do much. In early January, I gave GastoElm a try, and within two days his poop started to get round again, and the sensitivity to grooming began to fade away.
While the GastroElm helped, he still had days where some of his poop piles weren't very well formed, but those days started to occur less and less often. This weekend, I realized that every single pile of poop looked the same. None of the piles were ploppy puddles. Even the poops during and after our ride required a big grunt to pass, and when they hit the ground, they gave a satisfying thunk instead of the more worrisome splat.
During our most recent vet visit, I presented a package of GastroElm to Dr. Tolley for inspection. He read the ingredients and showed me the same ingredients in his prescription strength powder that he uses for horses that need immediate relief. He gave me the full go ahead to continue using the product as long as I was seeing positive results. I don't tend to love supplements, but I am sold on the efficacy of this one.
Izzy seems to agree. He has gained at least eighty pounds in the past two months, and I have had to drop his girth one hole on each side. He's finishing his hay consistently, and he looks so much more relaxed. At less than $0.45 a day, it's cheap enough to give year round. A few weeks ago, I bought a six month supply, and I don't have any plans to stop using it. Once we start trailering out for shows next month, he'll even get double doses on show and travel days.
Who knew poop could make someone so happy?
I can't say that I've ever found a supplement that actually did what it claimed. Most of the time I feed whatever it is in hopes that it's working, but I never actually see results. Izzy gets a daily scoop of a good quality vitamin/mineral supplement in an effort to improve his overall health and maybe prevent his coat from fading. He's healthy, but his coat still fades. He also gets a full cup of milled flaxseed to help his skin, but he still got eaten up by the gnats last year. Would things be worse without those products? I don't know. They're certainly not hurting him, but I can't tell if they're helping either.
In early January I started Izzy on GastroElm, a blend of Slippery Elm Bark, Milk Thistle, Marshmallow Root, and Dandelion Root. According to the manufacturer, it forms a smooth gel when mixed with water that coats and soothes the stomach and digestive tract to help the animal feel better almost immediately. After six weeks of use, I have to say that the product does exactly what it says it does. This is the first time that I've used a supplement where I can actually tell that it is working.
Within one or two days of beginning GastroElm, Izzy's tummy was clearly feeling better. He quit being sensitive to grooming, his poop piles began firming up, and he was a lot less grumpy. For the first three weeks, I syringed the first dose and top dressed his feed with a second dose. For the past three weeks, I've only top dressed his feed. There was one day where he was again sensitive to being groomed on his left flank and his poop got ploppy, so I both syringed and top dressed his feed that day. By the next day, he was back to normal.
Not only did the grooming sensitivity and ploppy poop go away, but his face is even more relaxed. After I give him his daily cookies, his eyelids droop as he licks my hand. For so long his face has had a bit of a worried expression on it. Even that has changed. He just looks more relaxed. His appetite is also more consistent. He has always had a tendency to eat a lot for a few days and then eat less for a few days. His appetite was just never very regular. That too has changed over the past month, and he has definitely put on weight. His girth is now one hole lower. I am looking forward to our spring vet visit so we can weigh him. At his heaviest, he clocked in at 1,350 pounds, The last few times he's been weighed, he was under that at around 1,275.
I am so convinced that the GastroElm has helped that I just ordered a six month supply. It's easy to feed - I add a tablespoon to a little plastic container, fill it with ½ cup of water, cover, and shake vigorously. I fill both boys' buckets with their beet pulp and other stuff, and by then, the gel has formed. It dumps out in one solid clump. Once I mix it in, Izzy gobbles everything up without leaving a trace. It's great to have found something that I can actually see working.
Expensive poop that isn't ploppy, is worth the price of admission.
Newt is fixed and good to go. You might remember that Newt, my "new truck," went to the shop on Friday to fix an issue with the front end and steering. I dropped Newt off in the morning before Ford opened and braced myself for the call letting me know they couldn't find anything. To my surprise, I got a call that morning letting me know that the technicians were working on the steering issue. A full inspection had been performed, including a road test, and it had been determined that Newt's steering stabilizer was worn. The Steering Linkage Damper needed to be replaced.
A short time later, Ford called me back letting me know Newt was ready to be picked up. Frankly, I was dumfounded. I had done a Google search on the issue and was fully prepared for a month-long fight. Instead, Ford's service department admitted that it was a known problem and even though Newt is just outside of the original warranty at 38,000 miles, all of the work was performed at no charge.
As I ended the call, I let out a deep breath and felt the tension leave my shoulders. I had traded in my 19 year old Blue Truck because I was worried about surprise mechanical issues, and here I was dealing with the very thing I was hoping to avoid. Ford came through though and solved the problem in just a few short hours. My fingers are crossed that Newt got rid of its bug and will be road worthy for the next decade at least.
After a week on GastroElm, Izzy seems almost back to his usual self. He was on UlcerGard for ten days without a whole lot of improvement, but after just a handful of days on the GastroElm, he bounced back like nothing had happened. Again, I can't say whether it was just the GastroElm or a combination of the two things, but man, does he feel good.
Every day that I went out last week I noticed some additional way he was feeling better. The first thing that he started doing was trotting up to the fence for a treat, something he hadn't been doing over the past month. I also saw him playing around with Speedy, rearing up and "fighting" over the fence. On Wednesday he actually galloped around his field racing my dogs up and down the fence line.
He's no longer sensitive to grooming, and I tested him by using firm pressure. He never even flicked an ear my way. His appetite is also improved, and the shortness in his left hind is fading. The only sign that things aren't 100% is the slightly loose poop piles. He doesn't have diarrhea, but his piles aren't exactly well formed either. I'll continue to "activate" the GastroElm by mixing it with water before topdressing his feed for the rest of the week. Once his poop piles firm back up, I'll just top dress his feed without activating it. I also plan to keep feeding it as part of his daily routine. I think he needs it.
Only horse people get excited by a good pile of well formed poop balls.
Today marks day fourteen of Izzy's ulcer treatment. I should mention that I didn't have him scoped to confirm the diagnosis, but my vet agreed that it was likely given his symptoms: short-strided on the left hind, grouchy about grooming his left belly and flank, loose stool, and a mild colic. My vet recommended two weeks of UlcerGard.
When after five days, I didn't see any improvement with the UlcerGard, I started researching other over-the-counter supplements to see if there was something else that had, at the very least, some evidence of efficacy. Omeprazole has been extensively tested and is FDA approved, so I know if anything is going to help, it should be the UlcerGard. That doesn't mean some additional "support" won't help, but I don't want to waste my money on something that has no anecdotal evidence of success either.
Cost was also a factor. The UlcerGard runs close to ten dollars a day, so I am already forking over a pretty good chunk of change with that. Added to that is the list of supplements Izzy already gets: beet pulp, rice bran, milled flaxseed, and a multi-vitamin/mineral mix. Speedy also gets some beet pulp and rice bran as well a scoop of Cool Calories, and his daily Prascend. They both also get electrolytes any time they travel or when they work particularly hard. My per day feed bill is at least twenty dollars a day right now.
Enter GastroElm Plus. After a fair amount of research, what drew me to this product were the reviews and the price. I also liked the simplicity of the ingredients; there are only four: Slippery Elm, Milk Thistle, Marshmallow Root, and Dandelion Root. While I hate trying to solve a problem with multiple remedies, Izzy's tummy was hurting, and the UlcerGard wasn't giving him relief as quickly as I was hoping.
The day after I gave him a dose of GastroElm, he seemed better, a lot better. It could also be that he had received 10 doses of the UlcerGard. That's why I hate giving two things at once. It's hard to know whether it was the first thing, the second thing, or both things together that made the difference. After three days of the GastroElm, he looked even better. In fact, he looked really perky last night.
One of the things I most like about the GastroElm is the multitude of ways that it can be used. For maintenance, you can topdress feed with one tablespoon. It can be also be used twice a day which is what I am doing. For active upset tummies, you can "activate" the UlcerGard by mixing one tablespoon with a half cup of water. After stirring or shaking, a gel will form which is then syringed into the mouth or added to the feed. To make it a bit more palatable, I mixed it with a few drops of molasses. The directions also suggest using aloe vera juice.
On the GastroElm Facebook page, they also say that it can be used in conjunction with UlcerGard. What I've been doing is syringing the first dose and then topdressing Izzy's feed with a second dose. In between all of that, I am giving him a dose of UlcerGard. By Friday he'll have had four boxes of UlcerGard which is sixteen doses. On Saturday, he'll have had a week of twice-a-day doses of the GastroElm.
I am hoping that by the beginning of next week, I can eliminate the syringed dose and simply topdress his feed with the gel instead. After a week of that, I'll try just topdressing without activating the gel. Of course, if I start to see a return of symptoms, I'll go back to syringing the activated gel and see how that works.
I can't say with any certainty that the GastroElm is working, but it purports to coat and sooth the ulcerated tissues, allowing it to heal. I don't know if it really does that or not, but if it does, it sounds like it would make Izzy feel better. It can also be used on dogs and cats. Our dogs go through times of tummy distress, so I am keeping this in mind for them as well. For now, it seems to be helping. Izzy doesn't mind the syringing, and in fact, I can dose him without the need of a halter. He just stands patiently for all three squirts of goop. In fact, I think he almost likes it.
Fingers crossed that he continues to improve.
It started November 7. That was the first day of that crazy, hot mess of a show that Izzy and I did in Santa Barbara. The one where my propane tank broke free of its anchor, wedged itself beneath my horse trailer, and was then dragged at 60 miles an hour for the next hundred miles. That's when Izzy's tummy troubles began.
This is what I wrote about about his tummy when I recapped the whole weekend: Early the next morning, I went out to feed him, but he didn't look very good. Even though it was quite cold and windy, his flanks were sweaty, and he had virtually no gut sounds on his left side. He looked as though he were beginning to colic. I hastily called my friend Jen who was driving up to the show to serve as groom. She works at a vet hospital. I ran his symptoms by her and she thought he might just have an ulcer-y tummy. She agreed to bring some UlcerGard and Banamine. In the meantime, I started walking him.
By the time Jen arrived, a little after 9:00 a.m., it was clear he wasn't colicky, but his tummy was upset. We gave him some UlcerGard, and then we headed up to the show office to complete a Medical Report Form.
I gave Izzy the UlcerGard on Saturday and Sunday. By the time we got home, all seemed well. Over the next few weeks though he started to get sensitive to both touch and grooming around his left flank. He would threaten to kick at his own belly like horses do when the flies are bad, or at me.
The weekend after the show, I wondered if he hadn't developed a bit of "scratches" on that part of his belly. It happened to our endurance horses in the winter which is why we frequently kept their bellies clipped. When dense winter hair gets heavily sweated without time to dry out, the skin gets really irritated. A cheap and easy solution is to clip the long belly/flank hair and douse the skin and coat with vinegar.
When Izzy's belly was still sensitive a few days after the show, I did the vinegar wash, and he seemed to improve a little. And then he didn't. He continued to be off and on sensitive to grooming, but only on the left side. On Thanksgiving morning, his tummy was really upset, and it was clear that he was in the very early stages of colic. I called my vet, and together, we created a treatment plan. I gave Izzy a dose of Banamine and then because it made my vet feel better, I gave him SandRid psyllium pellets for the next two weeks. Izzy recovered quickly, but the sensitivity when grooming continued.
During a recent lesson, Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, noticed that Izzy was short on his left hind. I explained the intermittent left side tummy trouble that Izzy has had over the past six weeks. We did some stretching exercises, and the shortness of stride disappeared. With no heat, swelling, or obvious reason for the short stride, I decided to treat the skin on his flank one more time, and if that didn't help, I planned to call the chiropractor first, vet afterwards. That afternoon, I clipped Izzy's belly and scrubbed the area clean with Betadine and then doused him with vinegar.
The next morning, Izzy was better, but some sensitivity was still there. I called the chiropractor. I explained that I didn't know if this was a body work thing, a skin thing, or a vet thing. CC is a true horseman with decades of experience. He has never been wrong when diagnosing one of my horses, and he ALWAYS tells me when I need to call the vet. I trust his advice implicitly. He asked a few questions, and then he suggested ulcers. Doh! Why didn't I think of that? That diagnosis fits the progression of symptoms perfectly.
I promptly ordered 4 tubes, but since they won't be here until the end of the month - shipping is crazy right now, I ran out to Bakersfield Large Animal Hospital last week and picked up two tubes to get Izzy started. While I was there I had the chance to talk to Dr. Tolley who agreed with the diagnosis - Izzy is likely suffering from an ulcer.
Dr. Tolley thought a two week course of UlcerGard was an appropriate treatment, and if I want to maximize the UlcerGard's effect, it would be best to give on an empty stomach. I gave Izzy the fourth dose yesterday after riding. If I can't be out there before feeding time, dosing him after a late morning ride at least gives his stomach a chance to rid itself of some hay. Since we try to keep hay in front of him twenty-four hours a day, there really isn't a time that his tummy is actually empty.
While I've treated Izzy for ulcers in the past, this is the first time that I've actually seen symptoms that support the treatment. Hopefully this round will eliminate the touchiness and get him feeling better.
About the Writer and Rider
I am a lifelong rider.
I began endurance riding in 1996 where I ultimately completed five, one-day 100 mile races, the 200-mile Death Valley Encounter, and numerous other 50, 65, and 75 mile races. I began showing dressage in 2010.
Welcome to my dressage journey.
About Speedy G
Speedy went from endurance horse to dressage horse. After helping me earn a USDF Bronze medal in the summer of 2020, he is now semi-retired. Speedy is a 2004, 15'1 hand, purebred Arabian gelding. His Arabian Horse Registry name is G Ima Starr FA.
Izzy was started as a four-year old and then spent the next 18 months in pasture growing up. I bought him as a six-year old, and together, we are showing at Second Level. He is a 2008, 16'3 hand warmblood gelding. His Rheinland Pfalz-saar International (RPSI) name is Imperioso.
National Rider Awards
State Rider Awards
State Horse Awards
CDS Sapphire Rider Award
Third Level: 63.514%
Third Level: 62.105%
2021 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
(Q) Must Qualify
2021 Pending …
8/7-8 SCEC (***)
10/30-31 SCEC (***)
2021 Completed …
10/24-25 SCEC (***)
11/7-11/8 SB (***)
4/10-11 SCEC (***)
5/16-17 El Sueño (***)
6/26-27 SCEC (***)
7/17-18 El Sueño (***)
2021 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
2nd Level Qualifying
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%:
Score 1: 60.610% Bhathal
2nd Level Qualifying
5 Scores/4 Judges/61%:
Stuff I Read