Welcome to Bit of Honey Training LLC

Welcome to Bit of Honey Training LLC
Welcome to Bit of Honey Training LLC

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Developing a Rehabilitation Exercise Program

The past few days I've been working with Highboy in both the round pen and the arena in hand, evaluating what affects his gait and movement.  I pay attention to how he moves when traveling to the L or the R.  He really struggled with traveling to the R, wondering how to get his body to make R turns. We've been experimenting with ground poles, 3 groups of 3 poles each, traveled over in a straight line.  His first time over them he approached cautiously and stopped, but rather than spooking he did the "honk-snort" and looked really closely at the poles.  He stepped carefully over them at the walk and went to the other side of the arena with me.  We turned around and came back, and he took a shorter look at them and went over.  After repeating this a few times at the walk we tried trotting through the grid, and he did his best to find an even pace and stride.  We only trotted through 4 times, and then it became noticeable that he was consistently hitting poles with his R hind hoof, so we quit for the day.  It's very important that we quit on a good note before the horse becomes sore or frustrated, especially at these very beginning stages of therapy.  We're laying the foundation for his relationship with me and for his future therapy, and I want to make sure he knows I'll take care of him and listen to his opinion.  (His opinion might not always change the program once we get to training, but at least he knows it counts!)

Highboy has been working through Ex 4a

Today was his third time in the round pen.  These are very short and low-stress sessions because his body can't handle too much exertion in circles yet.  He understands the voice commands for walk, trot, whoa, and reverse.  He doesn't hold his gaits yet, so he won't continue trotting without prompting from me, but he is listening very carefully, and trying desperately hard to do the right things.  Today was fun because I had my dogs out with me, and the border collies are very horse-savvy.  Belle just stays out of the way of the green horses, but the more trained ones she deposits her frisbee under them, just in case they want to play.   Miles waits at their head if they look nervous, and usually he has quite a calming effect on anxious horses.  Highboy is in the midst of determining where he fits into the horse herd hierarchy, so he told Miles to leave him alone.  I verbally released Miles and he waited by the tack room until we were ready to head to the round pen.

Once in the round pen I set up one pole, and observed Highboy walking and trotting over it both directions.  He got progressively more careful as he realized what was expected of him.  This is a good exercise, as long as it's done slowly and in a controlled and relaxed way.  The horse is able to think through the exercise and realize that if he picks his feet up and moves them a prescribed distance with each step, he won't hit the pole.  I like them to reason their way through it, rather than rushing and getting wound up with stress hormones pumping.  I don't learn well when I'm rushed or stressed, and neither do horses.  Additionally, in a PT setting it is counter productive to have the horse rushing, since we are trying to create more strength and mobility through his haunches and lower back and this is best done through slowly developing the muscling through strengthening exercises.  All this was done today with Miles running laps in the round pen with us, attempting to play with the lunge whip but having the latent effect of making Highboy quite dog-proof.

Highboy worked through a simplified version of Ex 3a in the round pen, using only 1 pole

Once we did a few minutes of work with the ground pole I was curious how he would respond to the surcingle, both as preparation for saddling and preparation for therapy with therabands.  I discovered I need a much shorter cinch, but I did put the pad, surcingle, and breastplate on too.  It did make a slight difference in how he moved, striding out a bit more with his limbs both to the L and R.  Tomorrow we'll try with equipment that fits a little better, but today's response indicates that he may do well with therabands used correctly. 

It's very exciting to me to see even these subtle changes in Highboy.  He is much more agreeable now, much less mouthy.  He eats his mash and finished his hay the last two nights in a row, and really has started to feel at home.  I can tell because he has begun WWF horse wrestling with Cole, Major, and Billy over the fence.  When they are turned out together there is some racing around, but mostly lip wrestling and then grazing.  All good young horse socializing behaviors, and it makes for a more relaxed new kid.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Highboy Update

I started Highboy on BL Solution (devils claw, B-12, yucca) for an anti-inflammatory, and he was moving a bit better after his warmup today in the round pen.  Only about 15 min. of slow voice commands work at walk/trot/whoa/reverse, but slightly more swing through his pelvis and lower back by the end.  Harder time going R, but since most track training was probably "go fast bear left" hard to say if it's learned or physical (or physical because that was how he learned).

I also started him on gastroguard, an ulcer treatment.  His first day of clicker training (done at liberty so I can observe how he really is processing things) he did about 15 min. with the small carrot pieces as treats, then he got grumpy and walked away and laid down and rolled.  He didn't want to eat any more treats.  The second day he went about 10 min. before walking away, lying down and rolling and ignoring the treats.  He also will take a treat if it's offered to him cold turkey, but if he's had time to think about the food he doesn't want it.  I wondered if his stomach starts to produce acid, making him uncomfortable, and then he doesn't want to eat.   Also, it was taking him up to 8 hours to eat all his mash, but after starting the gastroguard he's eating the mash in 2 hours and he has hay in front of him all the time which he munches throughout the day and night.  So I've done 2 doses, one each day, of gastroguard and we just played a little in the round pen today with no treats, just trying to learn about going to the right and to the left, and starting voice commands.  His ground manners are quite nice now both haltered and at liberty.  I enjoy working with all breeds of horses and types of equine minds, but this is why the OTTB is my favorite type of horse.  They have such "try", and generally even when they don't feel well they want to do the right thing. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A Day at Bit of Honey

Smooching on my new kid

Sabbath flaunting his white bikini

Billy the QH thinking hard in his riding lesson

Riding lesson with Shambhu the Connemara cross

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Beginning Clicker Training

Highboy is relaxing!  Today my friend who went to the track with me to pick him up even noticed how much calmer he is now that he's been at Bit of Honey for a few days.  When I am working other horses, he stands at the gate of his paddock and STARES at us, wondering what on earth I'm doing with them.  When I ride Major, my OTTB dressage horse (retired from eventing), Highboy really watches carefully trying to understand what we are doing.  This evening my friend took some video of Highboy trotting in hand away and towards her so I have a baseline video to compare as he progresses.  The video can be seen HERE

When Highboy is in the pasture in the afternoons, he spends a lot of time staring towards the house if I'm inside.  He'll graze some with Garmin the pony, but mostly he watches what is going on.  He observes the farm across the street, the alpacas down the road, the neighbor dogs come over to visit, and of course the house to see if I might come out soon.

Today I introduced clicker training to Highboy.  There is nothing special about the clicker in and of itself, it is all how you pair the sound of the click with a highly desirable treat.  This way the horse learns that the click means he did the right thing, a goodie is coming, and I can be much more precise with my praise using this sharp sound than I can even with my voice or patting.  I begin this process by standing on the opposite side of the fence so I can stay out of reach, holding a target, which in this case was a large empty laundry detergent bottle.  It doesn't matter what the target is, just something that is big enough to catch the horse's attention.  When Highboy touched it with his nose, I would pop the clicker (used in dog training and originally dolphin training) and give him a treat.  The treats are very small and frequent.  For example I've found Highboy likes carrots and candy canes, but not the regular horse cookies all the other horses like.  That may change in time, but for now I'm using a carrot chopped into tiny pieces, like thumbnail size.  So each click earns one small piece of chopped carrot, and occasionally when he does something really good he gets a "jackpot" of a whole handful. 

He figured out the target pretty quickly, and then got bored.  However he was very interested in following me around, and so I changed the program so we were playing a game of "follow the leader".  Each time he did the correct thing he got a click and a treat, and if he did the wrong thing I would completely ignore it.  By the end of our 15 min. session, spent completely at liberty with no halter or lead rope, he was calmly following me at a walk over the tires, putting his front feet on the bridge, walking next to me politely, stopping when I took a deep breath out, and trotting when I jogged.  Smart boy!  It is important to make these sessions interesting, short, and to quit when the horse is REALLY into it so he is eager to start work next time. 

For more information about clicker training you can look up the book Clicker Train Your Horse by Alexandra Kurland  HERE

Monday, July 22, 2013

Veterinary and Farrier Evaluations

Today the vet came out and evaluated Highboy with me.  It is difficult to do a complete evaluation at the track, because the horse is very excited and adrenaline can cover a lot.  Now that Highboy is at Bit of Honey and getting used to the routine he is settling in a bit, and we were able to get a good baseline for where we are starting with him.

The first thing that is obvious with Highboy is that he is thin, about a 3 for the Body Condition Score.  You can see a great poster and explanation of how this score is determined at   thehorse.com   

Prominent hips and spine
He is thin, but also weak in his hind end, with a lameness I was unable to see at the track.  The lameness did not get worse with flexion tests, so that indicates it is not a joint problem in the hind legs.  Because of this weakness and the pain in his lumbosacral spine he is a prime candidate for rehabilitation, and fortunately he landed here where it is our specialty!  He is to be my personal horse, and we have no deadlines to meet, so Highboy can come along at his own pace, healing and learning as he goes.  Ideally we'll be jumping in a couple years, but to start we will be doing at least two months of ground work to address his body condition and back muscling.  

As discussed in the last post, race horses are usually fed a very high carbohydrate diet of oats.  Part of "letting a horse down" off the track is getting them onto a more balanced diet with more protein and amino acids so that they have the nutritional building blocks for muscle to get more weight on them.  The idea is that racing horses should be light and fast, not carrying extra weight around that will slow them down.  So, to increase Highboy's weight and put some muscle on him he is now eating 4 lbs of beet pulp (which is then soaked in water), 4 lbs of alfalfa pellets, 4 lbs of Safechoice, 2 cups of Platinum vitamins, and 2 scoops of Cosequin  glucosamine/chondroitin sulfate.  This is divided into two meals, and Highboy has unlimited access to grass hay, a salt block, and water at all times.  He is comically figuring out how to eat mash.  It was puzzling to him the first day he was here with lots of dribbling and smooshing of mash, but now he's getting the hang of it. 

Another change to be made is Highboy's feet.  He arrived in aluminum racing shoes on all four feet, but was a bit overdue for re-shoeing.  After talking with the vet and farrier we decided to see if he would tolerate (and hopefully thrive) barefoot.  If a horse can go barefoot it is often the better way to increase circulation through the foot, improve neurological proprioception, and keep the horse's gait more natural (or in Highboy's case return him to a more natural gait).  Some horses don't tolerate barefoot, especially if they are working on hard footing or rough terrain, and thoroughbreds are particularly notorious for having thin soles that just bruise and hurt if left barefoot.  Highboy's feet seem pretty good, so we're going to see if he can go barefoot for the added benefits.
LF hoof with aluminum racing shoe
LF after shoes are removed and hoof lightly trimmed

Highboy is also settling into the routine of stall at night, small paddock in the morning, and pasture in the afternoon.  This elaborate routine helps him mentally because after the regimented life of the track a routine feels familiar, but it also allows him a lot of walking and munching and gradual movement.  The idea is that he will slowly start to build up his own muscle as his diet can accommodate for it, and as I add in rehabilitation exercises we can target some of his weaker muscle groups.  In the meantime Highboy is learning about standing quietly at the hitch rail.  He's learning how to walk politely at my side, not dragging me around.  The beginning stages of this in-hand work feels like I'm practicing flying a 1000 lb kite that periodically tries to climb in my lap, but it gets better every time I handle him.  He got a little over-excited during the trotting in-hand when the vet was working on him, but we reestablished the space I needed to not be squished and finished just fine. 

The vet did a dental on Highboy, and fortunately his teeth looked pretty normal for his age of newly four years old.  One of the perks of getting a youngster!  When I palpated his jaw joint (the TMJ), he reacted quite strongly to having both sides touched at the same time, and he did the same when the vet checked.  This is an indicator of lower back pain, which Highboy also has.  To palpate each TMJ individually did not elicit a response, so that was good for his mouth.  His whole body is pointing to his lower back, saying that area is painful to touch as well as under muscled and weak.  His physical therapy will focus largely on this area, strengthening his core muscling and major muscle groups of the haunches so his spinal muscles can relax and unclench, hopefully reducing his pain and further allowing his haunches and core muscles to take the work load of carrying his body.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Colorado High

Introducing:  Colorado High

For months I have been on the internet haunting my usual sites watching for my next eventing project.  A few had caught my eye but none of them seemed to be exactly what I wanted.  Then several weeks ago I found a thoroughbred at the track in Denver, through the canterusa.org website.  This is a group that works to re-home off track thoroughbreds by listing them online for the track trainers.  It is a fairly large organization on the East and West coasts, and within the last couple years a new branch has opened in Colorado.  I met two of the representatives from Canter at Horse Expo in Denver back in March of this year, and they were kindred souls who also adore these horses. 

I found this beautiful boy online, contacted his owner, and set an appointment to see him last weekend.  Two friends went to the track with me so I could evaluate him as an eventing prospect, and he turned out to be much nicer than even his pictures showed!  It is hard to get accurate conformation shots of a horse that is as wound up as a racehorse, and the questionable elements in the photographs didn't actually exist in real life.  I was very excited about him, and spent the rest of the day gushing about this amazing creature I'd found.

After some finagling with the county and previous owners for a brand inspection so I could legally purchase the horse and remove him from the track, I was able to pick him up yesterday morning with the help of a good friend and client. 

Some of the things I was looking for in an eventing prospect horse were:
  • Thoroughbred or TB cross
  • Tall, at least 16.1 since I'm 5'8" but I'm ALL legs.
  • Legs that were straight and correct, with clean joints and cold tendons (no swelling or heat)
  • Between 4 - 7 years old
  • Sound, no limping
  • Nice mover

Some of the details that would be icing on the cake, but not absolutely necessary:
  • Bay
  • Gelding
  • some kind of socks or white on the face 
  •  old enough to start jumping (at our barn that is variable depending on the horse's physical and mental maturity)
  • low mileage, i.e. not raced much

Some things that I noticed about Colorado High that don't necessarily affect his future as a sport horse:
  • an old scar on his left front hoof
  • an old, cold, splint on his right front cannon bone
  • some superficial scrapes on his hind pasterns
  • slightly asymmetrical muscling through his body, the left more thoroughly muscled than the right.  This is very common in racing horses because so much of the focus is on left turns at speed

Now that he is here, I'm calling him Highboy.  The name suits him because at 4 years old he measures all of 16.2 hands tall but with his presence he commands the attention a 17 hand horse would!.  His registered name is "Colorado High" and the name comes from a horsey book I adored as a child. 

The plan is to let him down from the track while also working him into "civilian life".  There are a few different philosophies on how best to do this.  One theory is to just put them out in a field with some other horses and let them acclimate themselves with minimal interference, then start retraining in a few months.  I find that turnout is good for the OTTBs, but in a structured environment.  At the track a horse's life is very routine-oriented, and extremely structured.  To minimize stress and "lifestyle crisis" during this transition I like to keep an elaborate routine here at home.  Highboy will spend nights in a stall with fluffy shavings, similar to what he had at the track.  In the morning he will be turned out in a small pen with my pony, Garmin.  In the afternoons he and Garmin will go out to pasture.  Grass hay is unlimited so there is always something to eat and (maybe more importantly) something to do. 

As far as feeding goes, at the track horses are fed a very high carbohydrate diet to keep them in racing form, mentally and physically.  Lots of oats and sweet feed.  I take them off of the high carbohydrate diet right away.  To add calories supplemental to the hay, I feed beet pulp, alfalfa pellets, a complete feed, a joint supplement, and a vitamin/trace mineral supplement.  Highboy was getting some beet pulp and alfalfa at the track as well as his oats and sweet feed, so this hasn't been too big a shock to his digestive system.  Fresh water is always available of course, as it should be for any animal.

With regard to re-training, Highboy will be gradually eased into a training program here at Bit of Honey.  Today he learned about being tied at the hitchrail, he was groomed and had his mane shortened, was bug-sprayed and got his own fly-sheet to wear.  Whenever I'm with him I work on ground manners and teaching him what is appropriate, including coming when he's called, which he'll mostly learn from watching the other horses come when called by name.  Once he has gained some more weight and knows me and the routine a little better we'll begin re-starting him under saddle, since there are significant differences between the way a horse is trained to race and how a horse is trained to do dressage, jump, and ride cross country.  We'll start at the beginning, with voice commands, reintroducing the tack and equipment, lunging, and standing still at the mounting block.  Though he has experienced some of this on the track, I want him to learn it in the calm, logical, reasoned environment of Bit of Honey.  I start at the very beginning, using this process to build trust as well as re-teach skills.  I treat him as though he were a youngster who had never been ridden, so I can explain things to him in whatever way he'll best understand, and not assume that he knows things he may never have been taught.

The veterinary side of things will start this week, with Dr Landes coming out to see Highboy for dental needs, diagnosing and treating for ulcers (very common in race horses), hoof evaluation with the vet and farrier, and vaccinations.

Many more posts will be forthcoming as Highboy progresses in his transition to civilian life - but for now we welcome the latest OTTB to Bit of Honey Training!

I'm standing on a little incline, his withers actually are about as tall as I am.  But what a cute baby face!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Dear Lesson Horses,

The horses are being offered their own line of credit?
Is there something Cole isn't telling me? ....  I resolved this with Cole by telling him he needs to be 18 years old to get his own credit card.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Cat Hair

How does one cat produce so much fur?   Today I was brushing Miles to de-mat some of his longer fluff, and Sabbath the cat marched up to us, leaped onto my workspace, and dismissed Miles with a swat of his front paw.  Miles then laid down on top of Sabbath as a disciplinary measure.  Sabbath waited until Miles left to greet a client.  Then Sabbath planted himself in front of me and demanded I brush him.  I took my cat/dog de-shedding tool and began, and it quickly turned into Sabbath rolling around on his back for just the right scratch on his belly!  In the end I had more hair from him than I usually get from both border collies!

Sabbath and his (now removed) fur coat


Rainbow over the arena
 All the views of these double rainbows make me feel like our ranch has been blessed.  We are so fortunate to be in such a beautiful place!
Rainbow over the driveway

Rainbow over the farm

Rainbow over the house

Rainbow over the trailer

Evening mist

Monday, July 15, 2013

How to Make a White Horse Look White

What to do when your horse is THIS muddy?
When you want your horse to look THIS clean?
The How-To of the day is explaining how we get a horse with extreme mud and stains to sparkly white for the show ring.  I use these products because they work well, and I have severe allergies to most shampoos and these don't give me allergic reactions.  There are other products that work just as well, but I end up with swollen eyes and blisters on my hands with most other brands.

If your horse is really starting out as muddy as Samson's photo, you'll need to at least start by using a shedding blade to take off the top layer of mud.

Once the worst is scraped off, I wash a flea-bitten grey horse with Quic-Silver shampoo because it gives kind of a silvery sheen to the horse.  On someone like Garmin I use Quic-Color because it brightens his brown patches and makes his white cottony and bright. 

I wash the horse by wetting down one side, and soaping it.  Then I let the shampoo sit while I wet down and suds the other side.  I let the soap sit for about 10 min while I soap and condition the tail.  Then I rinse the whole horse. 

Once the horse is clean I scrape off the excess water, but before he dries I spray him down with Laser Sheen hair polish.  I'm careful not to do the saddle area if he will be riding, nor his mane or tail if he will be braided.  This hair polish makes the hair slick and smooth, and your tack will slide off and braids will fall out!  

After spraying with hair polish I let the horse dry completely, then I braid the tail and put it in a bag to keep shavings and dirt out of it.  I put a sheet on the horse with a hood if needed (Cole always tries to grind as much dirt and manure into exposed body parts as possible the night before a show). 

In the morning if the horse has any stains a brush will usually remove them because of the post-bath hair polish application, and if they are stubborn a little water on a rag usually takes the stain right out.

That is how I take my horses from mud to gleaming show show ponies!

Hacking with Fergie and Miles

I mostly love this picture because you can see how happy Miles is to do his job!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Houdini Sunday

Cole, the lesson horse, is also an extreme escape artist.  While at overnight horseshows he requires both a latch and a leadrope tied in a complicated knot to keep his stall door closed.  He crawls, jumps, and sometimes just mysteriously materializes on whichever side of the fence he wants, ninja style.  This morning I had him in a paddock constructed of metal panels with Samson, all the gates latched closed and secured.  I came home from church several hours later and Cole is in the pasture, happily grazing away.  The fencing is all still in place, the gate is closed and latched, and Samson is still inside.  How did Cole do it??  Did he leave the pen, close the gate behind himself and latch it?  I guess only Samson knows.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Good Deed

Did my good deed for the day. On my way home from pilates (excellent for riders!) I found a big fluffy black dog wandering around at I-25 and the Owl Canyon exit. I got out of the car and called him, and he came about halfway to me. He turned around and trotted away. I called him again, telling him I'd help him find his family, and he paused, then came to me and hopped in the car. He had nice manners, had recently been shaved, and looked generally well cared-for. I took him to my vet where we scanned him for a microchip with no luck, but the receptionists were able to decipher his scratched up 2010 rabies tag. They called the county, and his owners will come get him at the clinic. He did give me kind of a "look" when I left him there, like, "I thought you said you'd help me find my family and now we're at the VET?"

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Hot Dogs (and cat!)

L to R:  Miles, Belle, Sabbath, and Nase
 It is HOT!  Today as I was tending to a horse with a sore foot my animal crew was keeping me company.  They were all smart enough to find some shade to lie in rather than stand in the sun.  This was after a full morning of riding horses, a short ride around the neighborhood as a search and rescue mission to locate Belle's frisbee, and teaching riding lessons.  The animal lessons included Sabbath schooling a client's dog on cat etiquette or cat-iquette if you will.  Sabbath is very dog-savvy and this client's dog will chase cats if given the chance.  Sabbath saunters up to the dog, climbing the tree to which the dog is tied.  Sabbath can say more with a look than most cats can by vocalizing.  He commands the dog to stay where he is, and then Sabbath approaches confidently, weaving around the base of the tree through the trunks.  If the dog snaps or lunges at him, Sabbath will either freeze, bolt up the tree, or snarl at the dog.  Usually by the end of a training session Sabbath has a dog standing still on command while he winds through the dog's stationary legs.  This from the cat who was so feral when we got him that we didn't see him for 6 months!
Miles finds some shade

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Trail Ride at Soapstone Prairie 4th of July

 Today we celebrated the 4th of July and my birthday with a long ride out at Soapstone Prairie.  We did the Pronghorn Loop which was about 10 miles.  Major was great as usual, wearing all his trail riding accoutrements, he was ready for anything.  Sally commented that he probably could have packed out the other riders if needed with his preparatory gear.  Everyone was happy we were prepared, though, since I came equipped with camera, granola bars, and water in addition to the first aid kit, spare halter and lead, maps, hoofpick, and horse treats. 
Major rockin' the trail riding gear

Bridling for the ride
"Has anyone noticed my hat is crooked??"
 This was Linda's first big ride with her new mare, Gigi.  The mare was awesome, just kept on keeping on, trotting when she needed to catch up, walking when we were together as a group. 

I'm happy to be on the trail!

My view for most of the ride of my Major's head

A great time to be out on the trails!