Using Vet Check Strategy to Improve Your Finishing Time (Even If You Don’t Have a Crew) , by Kim Fuess

Wouldn’t it be nice to improve your finishing time without riding your horse faster? Being efficient and using your time wisely in a vet check can shave between 5 and 10 minutes off your overall time for each vet check. In a 100-mile ride with six vet checks you could possibly finish an hour earlier without riding your horse even 1 MPH faster.

Being efficient in vet checks is especially important at rides that impose strict cut-off times, like the Tevis Cup. Even if you are not worried about cut off times wouldn’t you love to be able to cross the finish line an hour earlier when riding a 100-mile ride? Here are some tips to help save time in vet checks.

Cool down when coming into a vet check. Most horses recover faster with a gradual cool down when coming into a vet check. The majority of horses will take longer to recover if they come in at a working trot or faster and then are asked to recover by coming to an abrupt stop. The time you think you are saving by not slowing down will probably be wasted as you wait for your horse to meet criteria. If you don’t believe that there is a difference try this on yourself. Run a lap around a track at a good clip and then come to an abrupt halt. Note how you are feeling and how hard you are breathing. Then try running the same lap but start a gradual slow down a few yards from the finish line. See if there is noticeable difference in how you feel. Now put your horse in the same situation at a vet check. Chances are he will recover faster with the cool down and the gradual cool down will also lessen chances of him stiffening up.

Know the optimum distance your horse needs to cool down. Don’t walk a quarter mile in to a vet check if you only need 100 yards for your horse to cool down. Each horse is different so use 50-mile rides and your long training rides to learn what the optimum cool down distance is for your horse.

Know your vet check routine/plan before getting to the vet check. A well thought out vet check routine or protocol will save you from wandering around the vet check and wasting time. For example: start cool down 200 yards from in-timer, go to water trough or get P&R, grab some hay, wait in line for vet, let horse eat while you grab crew bag and set up vet check, tack up 5 minutes before out time, offer horse water on way to out time, if hot, wet horse on neck, get to out timer two minutes before out time, check to make sure tack is in order and you have everything needed for next leg of ride, leave vet check on time.

If you know your horse is at criteria, get your P&R time ASAP. Don’t waste time at the water trough if your horse is not drinking. Remember once you get your P&R time you can spend the rest of the vet check at the water trough if you choose. Get your P&R time first and if you find your horse needs more time to eat and drink you can always stay longer then your out time.

At vet checks less than 40 minutes see the vet ASAP. Grab a handful of hay as you wait in the vet line and note how interested your horse is in food and eating. This is important information to have for the vet as some vets will want to know if the horse is interested in eating. By seeing the vet first, you will leave a longer block of time for your horse to eat and drink, undisturbed. You will not be wasting time walking back to the vet check area and waiting in line to see the vet. Remember, you can always take your horse back to the vet for a recheck if you sense a potential problem arising and you can always stay after your out time if you think your horse needs to eat, drink, or rest longer.

Watch your out time. Plan on getting to the out timer two minutes before you are scheduled to leave. This means you have to know how long it takes to get tacked up, pack up your crew bag, and give your horse a last opportunity to drink.

Opportunities to eat. Any time you think you may be waiting in line, whether for a vet or to leave the check give your horse the opportunity to eat. Carry a flake/handful of hay with you to the vet check line, out timer, water trough, etc.

Your 40 minute/one hour hold will basically follow the same protocol. From the ride meeting the night before, you should already know if you need to unsaddle before visiting the vet and if you need to see the vet 30 minutes after reaching criteria. Adjust the routine to fit any specific ride/veterinary requirements. Remember that the purpose of the vet check is to give your horse (and yourself) the longest block of time to rest, eat, and drink. Being efficient at vet checks does not mean you have to have the manic energy of an Indy 500 pit crew — it means following a planned vet check routine, keeping track of time, and creating an optimum environment for your horse to recover so he can continue down the trail.

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