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GoSmart with Jim and Deanna Searles: Tips on Keeping You and Your Horses Healthy at Congress

GoHorseShow with cooperation with SmartPak continues our highly popular GoSmart column with SmartPak team riders, Jim and Deanna Searles. They will also provide some valuable insight of how they have become so successful and maintained their reputation as two of the top trainers in the industry.

Jim and Deanna have shown and trained multiple Congress and AQHA World Champions and stand leading hunter under saddle sire, Allocate Your Assets at their Circle S Ranch in Scottsdale, Arizona. Their next article deals with how to keep you and your horses healthy during the Congress.

If you’ve been to Congress, you’ve had it. If you haven’t been to Congress, you’ve heard of it. “The Congress Crud,” as it’s fondly called, is one of the few downsides to the magnificent show that boasts more than 17,000 AQHA entries and holds the title as the world’s largest single-breed horse show.

Causes of the Crud

No strangers to the Congress, all-around trainers Jim and Deanna Searles of Circle S Ranch in Scottsdale, Arizona, have more than just a bit of experience under their belts with the Congress.

taylor searlesJim and Deanna know that combating the stressors of both humans and horses is half the battle to success at this show.

“One reason that Congress is so different is that you’re there more days, and you’re up longer and at odd hours. Your body and your horse’s body is not used to being up at that time, whether it’s practicing in the wee hours or when the show runs late. The wear and tear on your body causes your immune system to weaken, so you need to condition yourself physically and mentally to endure it.”

An additional element that stresses both horse and rider is the unfamiliar environment.

“Depending on the weather, you’re inside the barn a lot. If it’s cold, the barns are closed up and you’re breathing in the dust and ammonia of the urine, and you’re in close proximity to others who may be sick,” the Searles state. “It’s the same thing with the horses who are also in a different environment.”

Since competition takes the best of both of you, horse and exhibitor, the Searles offer the same tips they discuss with their clients as well as practices they follow themselves.

Before You Go, Do This:

deanna searlesThe Searles encourage their human clients to do the following:
• Get the flu shot
• Take vitamins before you go to build up immunity ahead of time
• Consider adding supplements like Zinc and Echinacea before you leave and continue to use during the show

The other half of the team, the equine competitor, should be scheduled for:
• Fall vaccinations, including their own flu shot
• Worming


While You’re There, Try This:

While at Congress for the long haul, the Searles admit that as exhibitors, it is difficult to stay on track with elements like nutrition, but committing to some simple habits can make your entire stay enjoyable.

• Plan to keep your nutrition on track when you’re busy
“We take a Tahitian vitamin drink, Limu, and we drink a shot of it each day,” they explain. “Supplement drinks that help you keep healthy are a good nutritional tool.”

deanna searles• Commit to eating a healthy diet as much as you can while there.
“Getting your vegetables and fruits, or just being conscious of it and getting a salad or a bowl of fruit helps,” they add.

• Eat off the grounds as much as possible.
“We try to go out to dinner off site frequently,” reveal the Searles. “A lot of people do stay on the grounds the entire time, but if you do, try to make healthier decisions.”

• Keep hand sanitizer and sanitary wipes to help keep hands germ-free.

• Get outside as often as you can for fresh air and sun even if the weather is cold.

• Include rest in your routine.

• Keep reasonable hours.

“As we’ve gotten older, whether we’ve gotten either wiser or lazier, I’m not sure, but we try not to get up at the weird hours as often as we used to,” says the couple. “We’ll still get up early and will be out there at 5 am, but we don’t do the 3 o’clock practice sessions as often to avoid getting everyone’s immune systems down.”

searles• Incorporate recovery time into your travel plans.
“A lot of times, people are traveling far, so they need some time to recover. The whole setup process takes two days after long hours of driving, so sometimes a day to rest and recover after the setup is wise. We encourage our clients to try not to overdo it and have an awareness of their exhaustion,” they explain.

As far as the horses, the Searles have learned some tried and true methods for their best of health, too:

• Spray down all the stalls with a disinfectant upon arrival, and spray the aisles each day for longer lasting effects

• Give the horses fresh air and sunshine outside as often as it’s feasible

• Keep the horses on an omeprazole product such as Ulcergard/Gastrogard

• Have a plan to allow the horses to rest

“Since the lights are always on in the barn, we put fly masks on them to kind of dull the lights at night so they can get some rest,” the duo explain.

jason martin searles leslie lange group• Do your homework at home to avoid late nights
Just like people, they have found the horses appreciate not participating in the middle of the night sessions.

“Horses don’t like to get up at 2 or 3 am any more than we do, and they’re not at their best ability then and neither are we.”

The Searles understand that having a game plan with the tips above are crucial to avoiding the Congress Crud.

“Building up your immunity before and during the show, including increasing your Vitamin C and Echinacea, and even your normal allergy medicine due to air you’re breathing is a consideration,” say the pair. “Paying attention to your body’s signs of being tired, and including strategies like power naps are valuable; even a 20-minute cat nap can help maintain your immunity. It’s not that we will never get sick, but making a commitment to stay healthy and be aware of our bodies can shorten the duration of the infamous Congress Crud.”

Photos courtesy of Searles Family