Welcome to Bit of Honey Training LLC

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

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Update on Grace, the 2014 Equine Comeback Challenge Horse

As many of you remember, Grace was my 2014 Equine Comeback Challenge horse.  She was a 20 year old Percheron cross from a PMU facility who had been a broodmare and had twelve foals.  Through no fault of her own, she ended up at Mountain Valley Horse Rescue.

Grace came to Bit of Honey Training to learn to be a riding horse, proving that even at age 20 you can still learn to be an athletic citizen! 

She also picked up some extra skills like working over small jumps, then I took her to the Rocky Mountain Horse Expo last March. 

After the expo in Denver I was invited to attend and teach at a small exhibition in Eagle, Colorado, where I met Marleen.  She is from the Netherlands, and was missing her older draft cross gelding she had to leave when she moved to the US.  Marleen's riding background was english, and so Grace fit precisely into a spot in her heart! 

Marleen adopted Grace, and they returned to the mountains for pleasure riding and lots of love.  I've been privileged to keep in contact with Marleen, who takes photos of Grace regularly and keeps me up to date on their fun rides.  I'm so glad Grace found her forever home with someone who loves draft crosses, who is enjoying having such a sweet mare.  They ride around the ranch, play with obstacles in the arena, take lots of photos, and Marleen does her best to keep Grace (who LOVES MUD) as clean as is reasonably possible. 

One email message from Marleen said this:
"Hi Kim, I wanted to let you know how well Grace is doing. She loves to get out in the pasture to play and we have been doing some obstacles in the outdoor arena. It has been so much fun. She is moving forward nicely and needs less encouragement every time I ride, which is about twice a week, and then I lunge her two times. We started small trail rides this summer.  She has become quite attached to me and follows me everywhere, sometimes no need to tie her because she will stay next to me at all times. The bond we have established is amazing."

Grace is also getting acclimated to Marleen's little dog, and the animals even made the annual Christmas card!
I'm so grateful to have had the pleasure of working with Grace, who was a wonderful example of how a rescue horse who had numbers against her (20 years old, 12 foals, 0 riding experience, only 45 days of training with me) could have the greatest happy ending a horse could ask for.  Here's to many more Equine Comeback Challenge horses finding their forever homes.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Dewey's Plans and Surgery for Kim

Dewey has been ready to start riding for a little while now, but I've been having significant pain in my left leg for a couple months.  After last week's MRI and much consulting about conservative treatments, the doctors determined the only way to solve the pain is for me to have back surgery to fix the issue.  This puts a pretty good kink in my plans for Dewey, since I'll be going in for surgery on Tuesday next week.  Happy new year!

According to the neurosurgeon, if all goes well I'll be back to riding at the end of January, so hopefully Dewey and I will be riding at the Comeback Challenge in Denver.  In the meantime as I'm able, I plan continue the ground work I've started with Dewey plus adding in some trick training.  I frequently use clicker training to teach horses all kinds of things, and Dewey has decided he likes cookies, so I think he'll be fun to play with this way.  I also will be incorporating Miles and Mahzi the dogs into the work, which will help Dewey to learn all the tricks of the trade and hopefully result in a very fun liberty presentation at the expo.

Since Miles showed her what to do, Mahzi has already proven herself happy and willing to climb onto obstacles on the trail and jump fences in the arena.  She and I have also been working on her mounting block skills so she can demonstrate preparing a horse for a rider while standing at the block.  Mahzi is almost ready to mount from the block and ride the older more finished horses with me!  Between these projects and the other fun tricks I like to teach, I think Dewey and I can put on a pretty good show together, even if I'm limited with how much time I can spend in the saddle during his 90 days with me.  Fortunately Dewey is eager to learn as well as a quiet, loveable, and friendly soul, and I don't anticipate any issues with how his riding will come along.

I do have a request.  I ask that whatever you do, be it prayer, positive thoughts and energy, sending good ju-ju, whatever you are inclined to do in an honest attempt to persuade the universe, would you do it in my behalf?  I really want this surgery and recovery to go smoothly so that I can get back to doing what I love:  riding, teaching, and training.  Hopefully Dewey will be the supreme example of how lovely a three year old OTTB can be, despite difficulties like a surgery on the human!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Labels, Cantering, Trailers & Trails

Cole made up for a slow week with a full Saturday of lessons!  I have a couple that is taking lessons together to learn horsemanship and riding skills before they purchase horses of their own to keep at their place and trail ride.  The wife has done some riding, and the husband is quite new to the equestrian world.  Our lesson today, a two hour block for the two of them, included a primer on horse feed (aka why Highboy gets a vat of mash twice a day and the ponies just eat hay) as well as an activity for naming horse parts and tack pieces, then some discussion and practicing of leading and handling the horse for the vet and farrier.

The horse body parts activity was fun, I had stickers made from address labels with different words written on them.  The husband and wife took turns sticking various labels on Cole.  I like this activity because it addresses all three learning styles:  auditory (they talk themselves through placement of labels), visual (they can see different parts and where the label goes), and kinesthetic (physically palpating body parts and putting labels on them).  Plus it's fun to have the discussion about "who NAMED these parts?!" when words like stifle, gaskin, poll, coronet, and cannon come up.  My husband insists that it was Dr. Seuss who came up with the names for horse parts.

We also labeled the western saddle.  Overall Cole thought the project was somewhat embarrassing, but I think it's good to keep Cole humble.  I can almost see him rolling his eyes in the photo, asking "WHY is this necessary?"

After the labeling, we went to the round pen and worked on how to handle a horse safely for the vet and farrier.  When we were done Cole did a riding lesson with Phoenix, who is learning to canter.  I lunged him first since he was full of beans and to get goofiness out of his system.  When she got on to ride and felt how slow he was, she said maybe we should have left a couple beans in!

The next lesson was with a client and her five year old mare who hauled in.  The lunging went well, the riding went well, and the untacking went well.  Then when she was asked to load into the horse trailer, she declined.  We asked nicely, offered her grain and hay in the manger, but she still didn't want to get in.  There are a lot of reasons horses decide not to get into a trailer, but today this mare had no reason to be concerned for safety, she was just tired and didn't want to do it.  This smart mare had developed an evasion that consisted of running backwards as fast as possible so I couldn't keep up to tap her on the haunches and send her forwards.  We worked with a butt rope, her response was to rear up and land on the other side of it.  We tried a rope halter when she kept pulling away while wearing the nylon web one, and she still tried to pull away.  Finally I decided to back the rig up to the fence.  After being aimed at the trailer, if she ran backwards she would only have about 15 feet between the trailer and the fence to do so, and then she would just bump into the solid metal and wood fence.  Her owner held her rope through the front window to keep her aimed the right direction but not pulling on her since horses just pull back if they feel trapped.  I tapped on her haunches, and my working student stood on the horse's other side so she couldn't turn and leave sideways.  This made it so her only option to escape my incessant tapping was to go into the trailer.  After much praise for putting her head, then her front feet in the trailer, and after much tapping on her haunches she finally got in after having a great temper tantrum.  She's a thinker, though, so I think each successive time to load will be easier.

It's very important to note that we were careful to not let her injure herself even when rearing and striking out.  We never held her face solid by leveraging her rope or the halter because that's when she would have gotten into trouble with tipping over backwards when resisting.  I never lost my temper with her because then it would have become an actual fight, and nothing good comes of a puny human fighting with a 1000 lb animal.   Better to send her in by making her irritated with my tapping.  Even one pesky fly can get a horse to run across the pasture, so I became the fly that only quit when she would go in the trailer.  When she eventually got in, there were treats and hay in the manger as well as praise, and of course all of the tapping stopped.  She was so stubborn partly because she is at the beginning of her training and hasn't really been asked to do things she didn't want to before, and a five year old horse who always does as she pleases can be quite a creature to convince.

I then got on Beauty bareback for a relaxing afternoon ride.  I suspect she hasn't been ridden bareback before, because when I climbed on she curled her head around and snurffled my leg saying, "Uh, Kim, I think you forgot the saddle....?"  Beauty is a tolerant soul, and figured I'm a strange human but so far my oddities haven't resulted in anything bad, so she humored me and went along with it.  We rode all over the property, with a client and her horse as well as Mahzi.

A good day to be out riding, and lots of progress made for several horses and humans.  What Saturday would be complete without some photos of Highboy messing around in turnout?

Breaking From the Barrels

Saturdays are always busy around here, whether we're at a competition through show season, or having a day full of lessons during the winter.  It's great for the young horses like Dewey to be around the commotion, and it's always fun to see how they react.  Some get nervous because they don't know what to make of the busy-ness, others like Dewey are just super interested in everything that is going on.  I've found that horses who were on the track often do quite well in hectic environments, because the track is such a busy place they are already used to it.

First Dewey and I went to the round pen to lunge.  He was wearing his saddle and his leather halter.  While we were lunging my friend took Cosmo, the pony they are leasing, past the round pen to the arena to do a little bit of leadline stuff with her daughter who is five.  Her husband also came down to take photos, and he brought their one year old daughter.  Mahzi the dog was running around "helping".  This was really something for Dewey to see, so I changed my plan for the session and took Dewey down to the arena so he could watch everything.

Dewey's eyes were glued to Cosmo, who had such a small human ON TOP OF HIM.  I don't think Dewey had seen children before, those small humans were really perplexing.  I led Dewey around the arena and over the poles to keep him thinking, and he did his best to pay attention to me while also staring at the kids.  I wish I had gotten a photo of the expression on his face, it was really entertaining to watch him watching them.  He was particularly interested in the one year old human, who made such funny noises, moved so erratically (she's just learning to walk) and squealed randomly.  So that it wouldn't be scary, I led Dewey so that we were following behind Cosmo.  That way it felt like Dewey was chasing him rather than being chased.  The first few times my friend trotted the pony with her daughter aboard, Dewey wanted to run with them and tugged on my lead rope in an effort to frolic alongside!

When they were done with Cosmo, Phoenix got on and rode for a while.  Dewey and I worked on obstacles some more.  I set up the barrels so that they were lined up as two rows, and Dewey had to walk in between them through the channel.  I make this fairly narrow, so that the horse will accidentally brush his body against the barrels, the stirrups will hit them and make noise, and the horse can get used to that sort of stimuli.  With horses who have no riding experience this can be one way to gauge how they will react to someone's legs on either side of them doing unexpected things like bumping the horse's sides.  It was fun to see Dewey's reaction.  Since he never actually raced and we don't know exactly how much "riding" training he had, I was interested to see what he thought.  When I sent him into the chute he went in carefully and stopped.  Then as I quietly asked him to come out the other end, he LEAPED out of the barrels bursting into a gallop!  I was using a fairly long rope, so it wasn't a big deal to get him to come back down to a walk and he came right back to me when I asked.  I realized that this wasn't anxiety about being in a confined space, but a trained behavior to break fast out of the starting gate at the track.  My barrels were similar enough to the starting gate that he put two and two together and thought that I wanted a fast start. 

We repeated the barrels exercise several more times until Dewey figured out I didn't need him to break from the barrels quite like that!  I only needed him to walk slowly through and it was less work to do it that way, so he was all for doing it the easy way.  Then he was quite content to amble around in circles on the long line, passing through the chute periodically.  We also revisited the tires and the poles, even adding in a little cross rail.  I like to introduce jumping this way, with very small obstacles and doing it slowly so the horse always feels confident.  This allows me to sort out how much the horse has been exposed to before coming to me, or in Dewey's case how similar my barrel chute is to a starting gate!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Afternoon Working Photos

I had a friend here riding with me today, and she had time to take some photos and video of me with Dewey this afternoon.  Finally proof that I do exist!  It's hard to be in the photos when I'm always taking them.

Dewey and I started at the horse trailer like we always do, brushing and putting boots on.  He's a little antsy because he knows something fun is coming and it's hard to be patient when you're so excited to go play.

Then once he's tacked up we walked to the round pen with Mahzi, who is taking her job as the horse-training-dog-in-training very seriously.
Once in the round pen I put Dewey on the lunge line so he can frolic a little before I ask him to really think hard about anything.  He sure was feeling his oats this afternoon and was so fun to watch.  One of the great things about him is he will run around and play on the line, but he runs out of steam pretty quickly, and then once he gets his jollies out of his system he's pretty quiet and focused.  Not every thoroughbred is like this, for example if I let Highboy just run and play on the line he could go ALL DAY on adrenaline.  But Dewey is very sensible and just needs to jump around a little and then he's ready to get down to business.

 Mahzi thinks that lunging is great fun, too.  She's still a little confused about what she's supposed to do if Miles isn't in the round pen with us to set the example, but she's trying hard.  She at least has figured out that she's safer outside the round pen until I have the horse paying attention, then she will come in to assist.  Mahzi is there for just about everything I do with the horses, considering she's only been a Bit of Honey Training dog for about 2 months she has come quite a long way!

Dewey was doing so well, it was time to put a bridle on and see how he did with that.  I was able to get the bridle on easily, and he made some silly faces with the bit in his mouth but overall seemed quite relaxed.  I then put his halter on with the lunge line attached to that, on top of the bridle so that I wasn't cuing him with the bit at all.  Then we lunged with the bridle on and it was like he had to relearn all over again how many feet he had and how to use them.  I see this commonly with young horses, each time you add in a new distraction or something to think about, everything else they have learned gets set back a little while they incorporate the new stimulus into the routine.  Nothing to worry about, just something to note so that I'm patient and give him the time he needs to assimilate all that he's learning.

In other news, Dewey's brass halter plate arrived today!  He'll be sent to his forever home with this leather halter and his name plate which says "Dewey - 2015 Equine Comeback Challenge"

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Saddling and Working with Distractions

Dewey is learning new stuff every day.  I put his saddle on again, and he was still a little goosey when the girth was tightened.  He looks at me to ask if the equipment is safe, and when I confirm it is, he just settles right down.  He has a bit of frisky in him when we first get to the round pen to lunge, but he very quickly gets to work.  Such a contrast to Highboy who will wrestle and play at top speed for hours...  Dewey is quite reasonable and quiet and just want to do the right thing and earn praise. 

For example, after lunging a little in the round pen Dewey and I went to the arena to walk around so Dewey could check out some of my "toys".  I have tires, jumps, barrels, poles, and all kinds of tumbleweeds I can't seem to keep out of my arena.  Dewey looked calmly at everything, and even followed me over the poles and little cross rails.  The tires took some investigating, with a lot of snurrfling and pawing at them with his hooves.  Once he figured out they were just another obstacle to walk through he followed me right over.  He also followed me around while I toted the muck bucket and pitchfork all over the arena to pick up manure from the previous ride.  When I told my husband this story he was surprised at how settled Dewey is, and how well behaved.  Highboy STILL likes to run and buck and jump around for the first half hour he's in the arena, and he's been living here since September when we moved in!  My husband keeps commenting on how easy and quiet Dewey is, and I have to remind him that for my own horses I tend to pick the biggest, hottest ones I can find (Highboy, Thai, Major, Cecil).  Really many more of the OTTBs are like Dewey, quiet and eager to please and just want a job, those just aren't the ones I tend to pick for myself.  Dewey will be such a great ambassador for how re-trainable and mild an OTTB can be!

I also have been working with Dewey in the evening, when my working student is busy feeding everyone.  This way Dewey gets used to being required to focus even when there are lots of other distractions.  It's hard to think straight when all your buddies are getting fed and you are being asked to stand quietly to have boots put on and being told not to step on the human who is handling you, but it's a necessary evil.  

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Dewey Sporting the Braided Tail Bag

Dewey is now sporting the braided tail bag. I like to do this over the winter when they don't need their tails for fly control, it keeps them from rubbing it out on fencing and keeps their buddies from ripping pieces out when they are wrestling.

He has to wear a halter so he doesn't wander during the tail bagging process. Highboy's halter is too big for him, but I'm still waiting for Dewey's halter to arrive.

First I tie the top of the bag around the bottom of his dock (the bone in his tail). You don't want pressure on the tail bone because you can actually damage it by tying something around it and cutting off circulation. There are three tubes of fabric hanging down.

Then I put a 1/3 section of tail into each bag by using a little wire tool that I push through the tube, hook the tail hair, and pull the hair into the tube.

Then I braid the tubes as tight as I can to keep them secure.  Since the hair is protected inside I can do a really firm braid without damaging the hair. I put some elastics on the end of the braid and voila!

Dewey's Farrier Visit and First Saddling

It's a little hard to tell in the photo, but Dewey is on High Alert because the neighbor has turned out her llamas in the pasture for the morning.  It sure made Dewey's first farrier appointment exciting!

Dewey had front shoes on, but his toes were long and heels low.  He also grows hoof in a somewhat strange shape, his right front bows out towards the middle of his body, and his left front dips in from the side.  None of these are big problems, just something to be aware of as we maintain his feet.  The farrier is used to working on hooves with these types of issues because he is awesome and has so many years of education and experience.  He had great recommendations:  he thought that we should pull the shoes, trim just his toe so it's further back and leave his sole so he won't get sore, and lightly even out the odd growth with a rasp. We did this, and Dewey was moving better in the round pen already.  It's wonderful to be able to let him go barefoot since we have such great footing in the round pen, arenas, pastures, and turnouts.  With his toe back he is also much less likely to hit his legs with his hooves and that hoof shape minimizes interfering. 

Dewey was mostly pretty good for the farrier, until the neighbor's llamas went out to pasture to play.  Dewey was SIGNIFICANTLY concerned about the release of the camelids.  After some time in the round pen watching them over the gate he decided maybe it wasn't an imminent crisis.  Then he and I did some more liberty work with the mounting block.  No problem at all.  Then we went back up to the barn to tie at the horse trailer.  I pulled his mane, trimmed his ear do-dads (the funny long hairs that hang out of the inside of ears), and gave him a thorough grooming.  He love love loves the rubber curry comb with the wiggly teeth.  I had to use my special sunscreen spray on him to reduce static during his brushing, but he was fine with me spraying the brushes.

Since he was being so quiet and reasonable, I thought I might try a saddle on him to get an idea of fit.  I have a variety of tack available and several saddles that can accommodate a thoroughbred type back, and it turned out one of my old favorites fit him quite well.  It's a Hartley jumping saddle, very close contact with no knee rolls and a forward flap.  It works nicely for horses with long high withers. Dewey had to sniff everything thoroughly before I could put it on him.  With only a little start as the white saddle pad flapped around him he was mostly good for saddling.  I assumed he had been at least saddled over the course of his track training, and had a jockey aboard.  He was ok until after the girth was fastened.  I took a step away from him, and he tried to take a step forward.  When he felt the girth under his belly holding the saddle on, he panicked and pulled backwards.  Because he was in the tie ring that allows for this he merely pulled back until his rope had gone completely through the tie and he was loose, then he froze.  He stood still, legs splayed out in every direction in case he needed to make a quick getaway, and cocked his head sideways to stare at me and whisper, "Kim, there is something on my back and it is grabbing my belly..."  I approached him quietly and told him not to worry, that he would get used to it and the saddle means no harm.  With some coaxing he followed me back to the trailer where I retied him and continued petting him.  Once he was settled again I led him to the round pen, with only minimal nerves on his part caused by the girth and saddle.

In the round pen I had both dogs with me for moral support.  They show the horses what to do and act as a calming influence, as well as being silly and desensitizing the horses when nothing more interesting is going on.  I asked Dewey to go out on the lunge line.  Since we have been free lunging this wasn't totally unfamiliar to him, but he was a little confused.  The dogs and I clarified and he figured out what I wanted, he even got to walk, trot, and canter a little both ways.  By then his brain was full and so we went back to the barn to untack.  I put a little ointment on his bumps and scrapes, which are consequences of lip wrestling with his new friends over the fence, and then put him away for the day with his hay pile. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Dewey's Round Pen Beginnings

Dewey is coming along and starting to figure out things like ground manners and the routine here.  Even though he's living in a paddock with shelter, I still turn him out in the round pen to play so he can kick up his heels and run in a little more space.  Because he is sensitive to correction, it doesn't take much at all to get him to behave, even when he's eager to romp around.  Horses from the race track mostly are led with a halter and a chain on the lead rope, since there are different expectations for them when on the track with regard to their in-hand behavior.  Dewey is learning how to behave himself with just a regular leather halter and no chain, since in regular riding horse life it's much more desirable to have a horse who behaves and walks calmly without extra hardware.

First I tied him to the trailer, which is my temporary hitch rail until I get a metal one set up at our new facility.  I groomed him, cleaned his hooves, and put his boots on.  He's figured out how to stand tied quietly, because I use a device that allows him to pull back and the rope slides through slowly.  When he stops pulling there is immediately slack in the rope.  He has only pulled a couple of times, and now he realizes that standing tied is not the same as being trapped, and there's no reason to panic or break equipment.  I use a long lead rope so that even if he pulls for quite a while he still doesn't technically get loose.  Since I'm always there supervising I can re-tie him shorter once he's calmed down.  Overall, though, he's very mellow and sensible, especially considering he's only 3!

On our way to the round pen Dewey felt a little frisky when he realized he was going to go play, and about 50 feet before the gate he gave a little squeal and a small hop into the air with all four feet.  All it took was a firm verbal reprimand from me, and he settled right down, looking at me a little apologetically as if to say, "sorry, Kim, but it's just so FUN to be going out!"  The rest of the walk to the round pen was uneventful.

Once in the pen, I turned him loose to play.  He ran around and tried to explain he is fast, he just didn't want to be a race horse.

When he was done playing he came right over to me and followed me around like a puppy.  Since he is so eager to please, I did some liberty work with him, just having him walk next to me as I wandered around the pen with no halter or lead rope.  I carried the muck bucket around picking up manure out of the sand footing, and he stayed right with me, investigating this odd human behavior.  He figured out really quickly that a deep breath meant I was going to stop, and that the voice command "stand" meant hold still right there.  I took him to the mounting block (still at liberty), and he lined up for me in position to mount on his left side as soon as he realized I wanted him to stand a certain way.  I climbed onto the mounting block, patted both sides of his back, then began to scratch his withers.  I'm not exaggerating when I say he stretched his lips four inches longer and began to wiggle them in earnest as I got all his itchy spots on his withers and haunches.  He even got a little too vigorous, and turned his head towards me, mouth wide open, in an attempt to scratch me in return!  This is a totally normal horse behavior, though one that I generally discourage because I don't want horse teeth on me, even in affection.  I gently pushed his head away from me and stopped scratching him.  He then understood that I didn't need to be scratched back in "pasture courtesy", and resumed just wiggling his stretchy lips.

I got off of the mounting block, went back to Dewey's head, and he followed me in a small circle so I could line him up to practice the mounting block from his other side.  Most of the time at the track a horse has the jockey tossed aboard from the left side while the horse is walking.  Learning to stand quietly at the mounting block for the rider to get on is a new, though important skill for his new life as a riding horse.  Dewey was unphased by my patting and leaning on him from his right side, though I did have to remind him about the "no teeth" rule when I scratched his withers again.

Since Dewey is so young and somewhat of a blank slate with regards to regular riding training, I think this all indicates he's going to enjoy his work.  He nickers at me when I walk into the barn, and he is trying his best to be mannerly when leading around.  Walking back to the barn from the round pen he got a little excited, too, since I wasn't using a chain on him then, either.  I stopped him, turned to face him, and ask him to back up so I have more room to walk without a horse climbing on top of me.  He is quite communicative, and would back up as soon as he knew that was what I wanted.  He did look at me as if to say, "Really?  I have to give you more space than THAT?  And walk quietly?"  Then he paused and looked over his shoulder at two of my clients who were walking with us, and they both instantly knew what he was asking, so they nodded their heads and replied, "Yes, that is the rule here, you have to walk quietly and give Kim enough room so she doesn't get stepped on."  Dewey and I stopped three times on our way back to the barn.  Each time he would look at me incredulously like he could hardly believe I was going to be such a stickler about this, and then he would look at my clients for confirmation, and they would nod.  He finally heaved a big sigh and just walked with his head down, giving me plenty of space, with a "well, when in Rome..." attitude.