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September 30, 2021
Evidence Is Everything in Sport Horse Management
By Kim Miller | Equestrian Writer
Equestrian sports are steeped in tradition. We braid manes on the right side of the horse's neck and always mount from the left side. Why? Because that's how it's always been done.
Happily, the sport also makes space for new thinking on horse management. Young Canadian Sean Jobin is making a name for himself in the jumping ring and beyond by embracing latest technologies, thought and methods regarding sport horse performance and well-being.
Based at Foxridge Stables' locations in Ocala, Florida and the Columbus, Ohio area's Galena, Sean is competing a small string of jumpers to increasing successes at the Grand Prix level. Keeping detailed logs of his horses' feeding and fitness routines is a basic employed by many horsemen. Monitoring heart rate and speed over a full course or school is not. Nor is analyzing slow motion video footage of his horse's every effort or tracking how often rails drop, which leg hit the rail, at what kind of fence, and where in the course the rail fell.
"We have found this is an efficient way to track our competition performance over the course of a year because small details are easily forgotten and this can lead to subtle trends going unnoticed," Sean explains.
Aligning with trends in elite human performance, Sean carefully plans his horses' training schedules to peak for major performances. Rest, recovery, variety of work and therapeutic treatments for optimal physical and mental health are all taken into account. Over a few years and partnering with biomechanical and sports science expert, Tim Worden, PhD, Sean tracks all these details and plans his horse's routines in six-week increments.
"Horse sports are a little odd in that there is no set-in-stone path to success like pretty much every other sport has," Sean observes. He sees that void as an opportunity to "think outside the box." That's his mental happy place as a horseman and it puts him in league with like-minded contemporaries and forward-thinking organizations like the Sport Horse Research Foundation and the Equine High Performance Group. Dr. Worden is a leading member of both these organizations that seek to maximize horses' athletic potential while preserving their welfare and career longevity.
It was Dr. Worden who brought Haygain High Temperature Steamed Hay to Sean's attention. Allergies affecting Sean's top jumper, Darius, and a few others at Foxridge prompted the investigation. Darius was rubbing his tail and was among several horses coping with what appeared to be a range of mild allergies. "There are so many things a horse can be allergic to," Sean notes.
For Darius, alfalfa was one of his triggers. Along with switching him to a Timothy/alfalfa mix and getting allergy shots, the idea of soaking Darius' hay was raised. Soaking does dampen down the dust found in hay, but at a cost: it leaches nutrients and even a soak of just 10 minutes can increase bacteria content by 150%. Dr. Worden had heard about Haygain Steamed Hay, so he and Sean did what they do often: talk to other experts and find out the facts.
Evidence Is Everything
Evidence is everything in their cutting-edge realm of sporthorse management. Sean and Dr. Worden first reviewed the science on Steamed Hay before considering it for Foxridge's program. Extensively tested at the Royal Agricultural University in England, the patented Haygain method reaches and retains temperatures exceeding 212°F. The process reduces up to 99% of the dust, mold, bacteria and other allergies commonly found even in hay with a desirable nutritional profile.
Steamed Hay has become an effective complement to Darius' allergy management routine, Sean notes. Consistent with Haygain research proving most horses prefer Steamed Hay over dry or soaked counterparts, Darius eats more of the Haygain hay.
Haygain is relatively new at Foxridge, and Sean envisions it becoming important for several horses to reduce the risk of allergies and respiratory issues. That's especially true at competitions, he adds. "We bring our own hay to most shows, but with different humidity levels and getting it into the truck and the stabling, it's great to have steaming to keep the hay consistent." Horses are keenly sensitive to changes in their environment and the ability to keep hay the same at home and shows eliminates at least one variable.
Good For The Sport, Too!
Sean's embrace of evidence-based approaches is not only about benefiting his own horses. He believes that better understanding of the hows and whys in horse performance will help the sport gain fans. "A lot of people like horses but don't know much about show jumping," he observes. In what little mainstream coverage of the sport exists, rails and refusals are often described as "unlucky," Sean points out. That's not an explanation that piques further interest. Texas Hold 'Em Poker and Corn Hole have developed big TV audiences and Sean thinks show jumping could, too. Better understanding and explanation of the whys behind wins and losses would be a stride in the right direction.
More is better for any horseman when it comes in information, Sean asserts. "I think a lot of people just think of equestrian success as a money question: You have to have the best trainers, best horses, etc. Obviously, that works for some people, but I don't think it's the whole story." He cites Olympic and World Cup champion show jumper Steve Guerdat of Switzerland as an example of consistent success over many years on many different types of horses. "We can learn a lot from a super dominant guy like that. It's not just about the funding. There's always more we can do to improve our ability to train our horses and keep them happier and healthier for longer."
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