Stretching The Home Stretch: Can Horses Lead Us to the Fountain of Youth?
We’re all health-obsessed these days, working to feel younger with less stress and more happiness. As we work toward these goals to feel healthier, our equine friends can teach us a thing or two. Led by champion Catch the Fire, here are five ways the racehorse at The Meadows Racetrack and Casino in Washington County, PA maintains his youthful energy to lead us down the home stretch to better health.
Any middle-aged person will tell you his or her metabolism is not what it used to be. Gone are the days of mindless food consumption and lazing about without physical consequence. In fact, studies indicate our metabolism decreases by 50% when we reach 60 years old. To maintain our fitness and health as we age, it’s best to follow the dietary lead of high-performance athletes, individuals who take great care of their bodies because their athletic success depends upon it. The racehorses at The Meadows Racetrack and Casino are no different than a pro basketball player or golfer, they depend on a nutritionally sound diet to rev up their metabolism to perform at the highest level on the racetrack.
Horse nutrition looks very much the same, only with different food groups.
“The most important thing is to have good quality hay,” explains Amanda Conklin, a doctor at the Canon Hill Veterinary Clinic. “That being said, we know that hay is deficient in a lot of minerals and, because they are exercising at such a hard level, they need calorie intake. So, we feed them grain and other supplements [that] are going to be high in fat and protein because they are building muscle.”
Like selecting the best produce and meats inside our local supermarket, consistent quality is extremely important for these seemingly ageless equine athletes. One provider, Western Alfalfa, actually grows hay used in some Pennsylvania race barns to guarantee consistency in daily quality as well as when a horse moves from one to another stable.
The Payout for High-Intensity Training
Interview any human athlete, be it LeBron James or Bryson DeChambeau, about their success and they’ll inevitably mention their work ethic. Unlike the “natural athlete” myth, every professional athlete devotes an extraordinary amount of time to personal fitness. There’s no other way you can perform at their level, whether running the basketball floor or driving a golf ball 360-yards.
Many athletes today also talk about “High-Intensity Interval Training” (HIIT), workouts that burn a high volume of calories in a short period of time. HIIT has become extremely popular in amateur circles as well. Many adults, who typically hit a plateau in weight loss goals as they age, have found that a 30-minute HIIT workout elevates our heart rates to produce better fitness results in less time.
Racehorse trainers have known all about HIIT before it even had a cool name. They determined shorter, more intensive training sessions really produced dividends come race time and sustained their high level of fitness for more years.
The Delvin Miller Adios Pace for the Orchids at The Meadows Racetrack and Casino in Washington County, PA demonstrated how valuable this high-intensity training can be. Live-streamed to more than 50,000 fans, five horses were neck-n-neck for the $375,000 prize as they entered the final stretch. The race was so hotly contended, screaming could be heard from those working the paddock and stables throughout the entire 2-minute race.
Driver Mike Wilder attributed champion Catch the Fire’s ability to pull away from the pack to his workout his HIIT-based regimen. “All the training we did paid off that day,” he said. “High-intensity training in the months and weeks prior was the key to a winning finish.”
Winning the prestigious Delvin Miller Adios Pace for the Orchids was a career highlight for Wilder, trainer John Ackley, principal owner Charlie Taylor and the entire Altmeyer-Wilder Racing team. High-intensity training definitely took the prize that August day as it will for many of us who wish to stay young and energetic.
Emotional Health Depends on Your Social Network
We’ve all met them, those magical seniors who clearly get everything they can out of life, whether on the dance floor, in book groups, or just enjoying the presence of their friends and family. They’re an inspiration to us all, but they’re also “staying young by acting young.” Studies show that seniors who remain actively engaged within a solid social network enjoy better sleep, health, and longevity.
And this social community does not just include people. Heather Wilder of the Altmeyer Racing team says the bond between horses and humans has always run very deep. “I think that they speak to your soul. It’s a wonderful job to come in here because if they are having a bad day or they are scared we give them confidence. They trust us, we’re bonded with them. We give them what they need. And some days when we’re sad or feeling down or not having the best day there’s nothing better than wrapping your arms around your horse. They give you back what you need.”
President Ronald Reagan understood this storied relationship between horses and humans as much as anyone, once stating, “I’ve often said there is nothing better for the inside of the man than the outside of the horse.”
Having ranched most of his life, President Reagan knew he could always trust his horse to support and teach him. He spent time around horses until the end of his life. Horses also play a key role in many programs for the mentally ill and for those with autism, often children who bond quickly with their equine friends even when sustained human relationships are challenging. We continue to learn much from our equine companions today, including obvious lessons about patience, determination and how to maintain a youthful attitude for solid emotional health.
When are Hormones are Happy, We’re Happy
Driver Mike Wilder says he can feel the excitement and ageless energy radiating from Catch the Fire at the beginning of every race day. This enthusiasm does more than make for a great run around the track, it elevates Mike’s spirit. “He’s just raring to go and that makes me even more excited to race.”
This excitement was definitely on display when Catch the Fire captured The Delvin Miller Adios Pace for the Orchids at The Meadows Racetrack and Casino in Washington County, PA this past August. Some say Catch the Fire even smiled that day.
Happy hormones are just as important for us. Dopamine, the happy hormone, provides pleasurable sensation and enhances learning, memory, even our motor functions. Serotonin is a hormone and neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood, sleep, appetite, learning ability and memory, and digestion. The “Love Hormone”, oxytocin, is key to childbirth, breastfeeding, and a source of strong parent-child and friendship bonding. Oxytocin levels tend to increase with physical affection. Endorphins serve as our body’s natural pain reliever, a response to stress that increases with positive activities like eating, exercise, and mutual affection.
Taken together, when we produce these hormones we not only act younger, we feel younger and live a healthier daily life.
The Vital Importance of Regular Check-Ups
We hear it all the time, how regular check-ups are a fundamental key to good health. Yet our lives have never been busier, and if we feel fine why should we take the precious time to see our doctor? The importance of these visits cannot be understated. A doctor’s visit provides the physician with the opportunity to run a battery of tests, assess blood pressure, provide immunization shots, screen for genetic and other health risks, and discuss important tests like colonoscopies, prostate, and breast exams. Most doctors also check-in about depression and general mental health, a significant discussion given the current stress most of us are feeling.
Horses are also regularly tested to ensure health, happiness, and high performance. “Vets look at horses regularly,” says Dr. Conklin. “Their diet is analyzed and they have regular blood work. They are also screened for soreness and other problems.”
Dr. Conklin says most people have no idea how high the level of care is for a racehorse, assuming they receive a daily jog and only receive medical attention when injured. This could not be farther from the truth, according to one trainer. “The care the horses get is incredible, they are never left with any issues that are not attended to. If they get sick we take their blood immediately and the vet arrives right away.”
The same should go for all of us. “Regular health exams and tests can help find problems before they start,” says The Center for Disease Control and Prevention website. “By getting the right health services, screenings, and treatments, you are taking steps that help your chances of living a longer, healthier life.”
Next time you’re looking for inspiration to live healthier and feel younger, visit the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Association website for some “well-trotted” inspiration.