The first is a form still often referred to as “azoturia” and is usually the more serious

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Sports G-string The first is a form still often referred to as “azoturia” and is usually the more serious

The jugular vein refill time is taken by briefly depressing the jugular vein and observing the time it takes to refill (typically about a second).

Gut sounds are heard in the flank and abdominal areas.

These sounds are perceived as slight, gurgling or rumbling.

They will be recorded in the control judge book as normal, hyperactive, slight, diminished, or nonexistent.

During the pre-ride exam the horse will be observed for tack-related sores and palpated for excessive tenderness.

Legs should be checked for overt problems, such as filling in the joints or tendons, interference marks, or other swellings suggesting that the horse might suffer harm from competing.

Any minor problems will be noted on the rider card and observed through the ride for signs of degeneration.

Progressive deterioration could be cause for elimination from the ride.

In evaluating soundness, the control judge will want to see the horse trot in a straight line and perhaps in a circle to both the left and right.

Grossly lame horses are not permitted to start a ride, but horses with slight irregularities of movement may be allowed to go.

In the latter case, the control judge would try to determine whether competition would be likely to make matters worse and would not allow the horse to start if in the judgment of the control judge this would endanger the horse.

Horses with tendon, ligament or joint problems would be poor risks; horses slightly “off” because of muscle soreness or a cut would probably perform adequately.

See discussion in the Best Condition section below on soundness and degrees of lameness.

Generally horses that are Grade III or worse would not be allowed to start as this indicates the horse is in pain or starting could endanger the horse.

In examining horses before the ride, obviously lame or sick ones are readily eliminated.

In borderline cases, the control judge is likely to let the horse start but keep a close watch on him during the ride.

Most distance horses show some degree of wear and tear, and they are able to safely compete in spite of their accumulated liabilities.

Endurance control judges are aware of this and tend to make allowances. II.

RIDER BRIEFING The control judge’s next responsibility before an endurance competition is to conduct a pre-ride briefing.

During this briefing he explains how the control checks will work and what recovery criteria the horse must meet before being allowed to continue.

Usually rides require a pulse recovery somewhere between 60 and 68.

The control judge will specify the length of hold time for the various checks, which is usually worked out with the management.

If the control judge has any special concerns (bad weather, for example) he will advise the riders accordingly.

Finishing criteria will also be explained at the pre-ride briefing, and any questions answered. III.


Metabolic Factors During the ride the control judge will rely heavily on pulse recovery to assess fitness to continue, using the CRI (Cardiac Recovery Index) as a valuable tool (Chapter Eleven).

As a rule, a fit horse that is being ridden comfortably within its ability to perform will recover very quickly, often within a few minutes, to a heart rate of 64 or below.

All horses not being overridden should recover to 64 or less within ten minutes except in extreme conditions of heat and humidity.

After a 30 minute rest, if the horse has not recovered to whatever pulse that particular ride requires, he will be eliminated.

A more subtle indication of a horse’s condition is the quality of the heartbeat.

The pulse should be regular and strong, not wandering, faint or erratic.

Respiration rates vary widely depending to some extent on weather conditions.

Some horses are “panters,” and will show elevated breathing rates even at rest when the weather is hot and humid.

Panting is not necessarily an indicator of trouble, but temperature should usually be taken on such horses to make sure they are not overheating, and the lungs should be auscultated (listened to with a stethoscope).

As long as the temperature is below 103°F, and as long as pulse and other signs of recovery are prompt and progressive, elevated respiration rates are generally not considered a problem.

All horses at work develop elevated temperatures; 101°F to 103°F is common and expected.

However, once the temperature exceeds 105°F there is cause for concern, especially if it fails to drop after the horse has had a chance to rest.

Water can be effectively used to help the horse cool.

In extreme cases ice water might be employed with good effect.

Ice water, however, should be applied only to the large vessels of the neck and legs, as it is likely to cause cramping if used over the croup or back.

Most rides require the horse to be no higher than 103°F before he goes back out on the trail.

Some fit and otherwise competent endurance horses do not regulate heat very well; you will find out very quickly whether yours is one of these.

Poor heat tolerance can manifest itself in many unpleasant ways, from cramping to colic or worse.

It is a condition inherent in the individual and will probably become more pronounced as he ages.

Horses that compete in hot climates, particularly if high humidity is also likely, are especially subject to risk.

The control judge will check all the horse’s hydration factors at each stop during the ride.

You will find that when one of these metabolic indicators is poor, then the others will likely also be poor.

Of all the hydration factors, capillary refill is probably the most significant.

Capillary refill time prior to the ride is typically one to two seconds.

During the ride, refill time of two seconds or less is ideal.

An abnormal time is an indication of a dehydration problem and a cause for concern.

Mucous membranes in the fresh horse will usually be pink and moist, although slightly yellow or grayish gums are also sometimes noted.

Variations from normal would be a paler, whitish color indicating inadequate perfusion; a bluish, cyanotic color suggesting inadequate oxygenation of the blood; or a dark brick red color suggestive of severe congestion of the membranes, with inadequate movement and oxygenation of the blood within these tissues.

The brick-red membranes – 28 – associated with an extremely prolonged capillary refill is cause for great concern, because at this point the body’s circulatory system is greatly compromised.

The skin pinch test on the shoulder as an indicator of hydration is usually not considered as important as either the capillary refill time or mucous membrane color.

Generally speaking, however, the skin can be expected to rebound quickly, even at the end of the ride, if taken properly at the point of the shoulder.

During a ride, especially during a 100 miler when horses go for long periods with little to eat, gut sounds usually diminish.

However, reduced or absent gut sounds, if accompanied by other obvious signs of fatigue or distress, may indicate gut paralysis caused by clinically significant fluid loss and/or electrolyte imbalance and/or decreased blood flow to the gut due to shunting blood to the fatigued muscles.

You must remember that the heat produced by endurance exertion elicits huge amounts of sweat and subsequent fluid and electrolyte loss.

When percent of humidity and degrees of temperature together total over 150, enormous and even critical amounts of fluids and electrolytes are lost.

Hemoconcentration (decrease in the volume of plasma in relation to the number of red blood cells) reduces perfusion (oxygen and fuel delivery/waste and heat removal) and is the largest contributor to general exhaustion syndrome.

Calcium depletion leads to muscle hyperexcitability as evidenced by “thumps” (synchronous diaphragmatic flutter) and muscle cramps.

Potassium depletion leads to weakness and eventually to prostration.

Cramping and accompanying muscle pain generally take two forms.

The first is a form still often referred to as “azoturia” and is usually the more serious.

It commonly takes place early and suddenly after the onset of exercise.

Its cause is multifaceted and still poorly understood.

It can be related to feed program, hormone balance, mineral and electrolyte balance, or inability to remove lactic acid buildup rapidly enough from the muscles.

In extreme cases, the horse will be very reluctant to move and, if forced, will show great distress.

The urine may appear port wine in color because of the release of myoglobin from damaged muscle cells.

If this severe form occurs on the trail, you should send for help and wait where you are for assistance to arrive.

Deep massage of affected muscles is helpful while you are waiting.

If your horse urinates at a control check and you notice that the urine is dark in color, you should notify a control judge immediately.

The less severe and non-life-threatening form of muscle pain exhibits itself as muscle spasms or cramps and is most often noticed in the hind legs.

This form usually occurs late in the ride and is commonly triggered by loss of fluid and electrolytes from heavy exertionally-induced sweating.

Massage, careful replacement of fluids and electrolytes, and rest will usually take care of the problem.

Again, if you notice this in your horse, consult with the one of the control judges.

A very useful tool for determining whether or not to let borderline cases out of a control check is the Cardiac Recovery Index, otherwise known as the CRI.

A full and detailed explanation of the CRI is given in Chapter Eleven.

Aside from the various tests that can be used to evaluate the condition of the horse, the control judge will also use his powers of observation, just as you should.

Some degree of dullness in expression and manner, some loss of spring to the gait, and some inattention to the rider’s aids, for example, are signs of general fatigue that can be expected.

However, when these signs progress to the extreme, disaster can result.

Obvious indications of crisis include dark red congested gums, cold extremities, delayed capillary refill, gasping respiration, pulse persistently above 70, disoriented behavior, unwillingness to move, obliviousness to pain from insect bites or the rider’s aids, and loss of interest in food or water.


Mechanical Factors Just as is the case at the pre-ride exam, an obviously lame horse is readily disqualified at the control check, while a marginally lame one will require a judgment call.

There are occasions when a horse that only takes one or two questionable steps will be eliminated because the control judge feels that continuing the ride could cause irreparable damage to the horse (by damaging a tendon or ligament, etc.).

On the other hand, a horse that shows a consistent slight limp might be allowed to continue if the lameness is clearly due to a superficial injury, loss of a shoe, or some other temporary and relatively insignificant factor.

Any lameness that increases in severity during the ride is cause for disqualification.

See discussion in Best Condition section below on soundness and degrees of lameness.

If the horse is in pain at the trot out or if the control judge believes continuing will endanger the horse, then the horse will be pulled from the competition.

Generally this corresponds to a Grade III or worse lameness but ultimately is the control judge’s judgment.

For horses on the borderline such as Grade II horses, the control judge will frequently discuss the situation with the rider.

Astute riders frequently choose to withdraw their horses in this situation. IV.

POST-RIDE CONTROL CHECK All horses must pass a post-finish line control check in order to earn a completion.

According to AERC rules, all horses should recover to a pulse of no greater than 68 within one hour of finishing the ride. (A ride may announce stricter rules before the start.) In all AERC sanctioned limited distance rides, the horses must recover to a pulse no greater than 60 within a half-hour of crossing the finish line.

In limited distance rides the horse has not completed the ride until the pulse reaches 60.

The horse must not require veterinary treatment.

Additionally, all AERC horses must be judged “fit to continue.” This means that they must have satisfactory recovery in all metabolic parameters, and they must not have “an irregularity of gait consistently observable at a walk and/or a trot” if that “irregularity is thought to cause pain or threaten the athletic future of the horse.” V.

BEST CONDITION EXAM The highly coveted Best Condition award is decided according to a formula which takes into account the riding time, weight carried – 29 – during the ride, and condition as determined by the equine score.

Only the first ten horses to complete and ties are eligible for this award.

The control judge may elect not to give a Best Condition award if he feels there are no horses that deserve it.

The weight and time is included to account for the amount of work the horse was required to do.

Clearly, a horse that finished a ride in four hours worked harder than one that finished in six.

Likewise, one that carried 200 pounds worked harder than one that carried 120 pounds.

The weight/time/equine score formula tries to balance all the factors, but the emphasis is heavily on the equine scoring section.

There is a total of 800 points available; that is, a horse who finished first, carrying the heaviest rider, and who received a perfect equine score, would get 800 points.

One hundred points of this is in the weight category.

A horse carrying the most weight automatically gets 100 points.

All others have 1/2 point deducted for each pound less than what the heaviest rider in the top ten weighed.

For example, if the heaviest rider weighed 230 pounds, that horse would get 100 points in the weight category.

If the next heaviest rider weighed 170 pounds, that horse would get 70 points (because he would get 230 – 170 = 60; 60/2 = 30; 100 – 30 = 70).

All weights include the weight of the tack carried by the horse.

There are 200 points in the time category.

The horse that finishes first gets maximum points.

All others get a deduction of one point for each minute they finish behind the first horse.

For example, if the winner finished in four hours he would get 200 points.

If the second place horse finished in 4:30, he would get 170 points (200 – 30 = 170).

The remaining 500 points are in the equine score.

The Best Condition form for this section is broken down into two major divisions; namely, standing evaluation and moving evaluation.

The standing evaluation is subdivided into:   1. Recovery   2. Hydration   3. Lesions Producing Pain/Discomfort The movement evaluation is subdivided into:   4. Soundness 1 to 10 points   5. Quality of Movement 1 to 10 points Each of these scores is multiplied by 10, so there is a 100 point maximum in each subdivision.

Totals from these two divisions are added to weight and time scores to arrive at the final grand total.

Although the weight and time factors are entirely objective, this is not the case for the equine evaluation.

The degree of subjectivity of this award obviously varies, not only according to the ability of the attending control judge to recognize the horse’s true metabolic and mechanical condition, but also according to that control judge’s opinions about which factors are more important and which ones are less so.

Having put those cards squarely on the table, let us turn to the Best Condition form and review some of the ways horses logically earn or lose points.



As you have already learned, the ability of a horse to recover promptly and progressively to a low heart rate is an excellent indicator of both his immediate condition and of his fitness to continue.

Thus a horse that could recover to a rate of 56 at the one hour post-ride BC exam would get a better score than one that recovered to 60.

Further, the AERC Veterinary Committee recommends that the Cardiac Recovery Index (taken either 10 or 15 minutes after crossing the finish line) be used as an adjunct in scoring pulse recovery.

This measurement is not usually used to eliminate the horse from the rest of the BC exam; however, if the recovery pulse were borderline to start with (for example, if the recovery pulse was 68 in a ride requiring a recovery to 68), and then the CRI was also poor (68 to 72, for example), many control judges would not feel the horse should be considered.

Respiration rate per se is of little value in the scoring.

However, evidence of pulmonary congestion or difficulty in breathing is scored heavily against the horse.

Body temperature, like respiration, is of limited value in scoring recovery unless it remains over 103°F at the post-ride control check.



The parameters used to evaluate hydration include mucous membranes, capillary refill, gut sounds, skin rebound and jugular refill.

Evaluation of these factors has already been discussed.

A fully hydrated horse should receive maximum points and a severely dehydrated one should receive few points, if any.

Once again, the control judge has the discretion to excuse any horse from Best Condition judging that he finds to be overstressed.


Lesions Producing Pain.

In determining the horse in best condition at the time of examination, the exhibition of pain is of marked consequence.

It is not totally a question of whether the pain is long- or short-term, but how much pain the lesion is creating at the time of exam.

In the case of BC, the horse is being compared with the other eligible horses, as well as against the standard of a sound and metabolically normal horse.

Swellings and/or heat in joints, tendons, ligaments, and backs are considered in this category.

Also important are cuts and burns from tack rubs, interference marks and collisions with trail debris.

Clearly, damage to bones, ligaments and tendons is extremely significant, although horses with this type of problem would likely be lame and therefore not eligible for consideration in the first place.

A back raw from tack rubs or sore from muscle strain, though not life-threatening, can cause a horse great pain and discomfort and therefore is normally scored strongly against him for purposes of BC.

Interference marks can be slight or can be extremely painful.

In some cases interference can be so severe as to be crippling.

Scratches from close encounters with sticks and stones are not especially significant; on the other hand, deep cuts or contusions so severe that they cause pain and swelling can’t be ignored.

Different control judges are obviously going to attach different clinical significance to some of these items, based on their experiences – 30 – 1 to 10 points 1 to 10 points 1 to 10 points and philosophies, and thus are going to score differently in this category.



A lame horse is automatically disqualified from Best Condition consideration, so it may seem odd that this category exists at all.

An explanation is in order.

For the sake of convenience, equine control judges classify lameness into grades: Grade I is the mildest form; Grade V is the most extreme.

Grade I is defined as lameness difficult to observe, and is not consistently apparent regardless of whether the horse is circling, going up or down a hill, trotting on a hard surface, etc.

Grade II is defined as lameness difficult to observe at a walk or trot on a straight line, but consistently apparent under certain circumstances (such as circling, etc.).

Grade III is defined as a consistently observable lameness at a trot under all circumstances.

Grade IV is defined as an obvious lameness with marked nodding.

Grade V is defined as minimal weightbearing on one leg, or inability to move.

Grades III to V are automatically excused from BC judging; Grades I and II usually are not.

The “soundness” score should reflect the significance of the gait impairment as well as the degree of impairment at that moment.

A horse that merely has a peculiar way of going may appear slightly “off,” so it is very important for the control judge to have made notes, whether mental or otherwise, about how each horse moved at the pre-ride exam.


Quality of Movement.

This category judges the amount of impulsion or “spring” left in the horse’s gait, as well as his willingness to trot in hand.

A horse that drags back or needs outside urging to trot will be penalized.

It’s up to the rider to school the horse to trot out promptly in hand so that he doesn’t lose points unnecessarily in this category.

The horse should trot freely both in a straight line and in a circle.

In judging impulsion, the control judge must be able to differentiate between a tired horse and one that is just a poor mover.

Once again, he will have to compare the post-ride trot with the pre-ride trot to arrive at a valid deduction.

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