Welcome to Bit of Honey Training LLC

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

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Highboy and Kim are Bored

I'm a thoroughbred.

The cold has settled in, I'm still stuck horizontal in bed with nerve pain, and Owen is still feeding horses for me.  This mandatory time-out is hard on everyone, but especially those of us required to behave out of our elements.

Owen loves the great indoors.  He thrives on sleeping in, staying in a heated house with a computer and comfy office chair.  This necessary nonsense of getting up with the sun to let the dogs out to do business, followed by emerging from the house squinting in the cold air to break ice out of water tanks is not his preferred lifestyle.

I am having the opposite problem.  Remaining motionless, cloistered in sweatpants and old t shirts has become just cause for my brain to go into overdrive.  Usually I quiet the rabble in my mind by functioning in high gear, moving and lifting, walking and riding.  Now I find myself repetitively tapping my fingernails, compulsively wishing my body would just cooperate already.  

My barn dogs are weathering the impromptu vacation fairly well.  Mahzi has finally grown up enough to embrace her true lab temperament, so she is enjoying helping Owen with the twice daily feeding and watering, and then she is pretty content to return to her crate and kibble in the heated garage.  Miles the border collie is turning eight this year, and being down to three legs he has gotten used to helping in the morning, then lying down to supervise in the afternoons.  

Highboy is having the same problem I am.  He wants to GO PLAY!  Whenever Owen goes into the paddock to feed, Highboy tries to engage Owen in WWF horse wrestling.  It's impressive enough when seventy-five pound Mahzi the dog charges you wanting to play, it's entirely another thing when the invitation is issued by a 17.1 hand, 1200 lb dog-like horse charging at Owen at full speed. 

 Owen has been briefed on how to respond to such requests, and so when he sees Highboy lurking suspiciously he doesn't go into the paddock without a dressage whip.  Once wielding a long stick, Owen proceeds to whisk it through the air making a swooshing noise.  

Highboy stares at him, astonished that someone told Owen how to gain points and win this game of intended physical exertion.   According to the rules, Highboy then bolts to the far end of the paddock where he waits politely for the mash to be deposited in the feed tub.  After Owen is safely out of the way Highboy knows he's allowed to go eat.  

I had a well-meaning but ill-equipped friend offer to take Highboy this weekend to the round pen to let him play.  I generally don't have anyone else handle Highboy because he is so ridiculously large and boisterous.  He doesn't intend to hurt anyone and is not malicious at heart, but because of his sheer size and energy level he can do serious damage to a puny human unless his handler really makes him toe the line.  It takes some amount of chutzpah on the part of the human to safely take him from his paddock to the round pen.  Since his paddock is huge and well shaped for frolicking up and down the hill contained within it, I'm electing to leave him there until I can handle him myself.  

After dealing with ridiculous huge young horse antics for a week and a half now, in response to my kind friend's offer to take Highboy out to the round pen this weekend Owen replied:  

"Go ahead, you FLY that kite!  I don't think he'll have come back to earth by the time you get to the round pen, and good luck getting the halter on him..."  

We decided Highboy will just have to wait out my recovery like I'm doing, stuck in one place.  At least he has a hill to run up and down.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Convalescing At Christmas

The nerve pain in my leg has returned and I'm stuck in bed this Christmas week...  I'll be seeing specialists the first week of January and hopefully will have some answers soon.  In the meantime Owen has been cheering me up with my favorite comfort foods, grilled cheese and tomato soup through a straw so I can eat in bed, and bringing Miles the border collie into the house to make me smile.  

Owen also got me a beautiful English saddle necklace for Christmas and a belt buckle with the Retired Racehorse Project logo on it.  
I'm so grateful for the folks who have come over to help move big round bales of hay for the horses, held gates to minimize escapees while moving said bales, and helped blanket the squirrelly thoroughbreds who needed heavier pajamas for the impending sub zero temps.  Mostly I'm grateful for Owen taking care of things like feeding all the animals, our furnace dying, and our car dying.  It's not the greatest Christmas ever, but it could be worse.  

Monday, December 21, 2015

Thanks for Purina Sponsorship

In support of the 2016 Equine Comeback Challenge, Purina has sponsored us again this year.  It takes a lot of feed to keep Bit of Honey Training horses healthy and happy, and Purina gave us two bags of feed to keep Touch A Prince feeling and looking his best throughout the program.  Without getting too technical with my nutrition analysis, I like the Strategy GX for the retired racehorses because it helps them to put weight on and keep it, without making them hot. 

Thank you Purina!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Touch A Prince at the National Western Complex

This weekend Touch A Prince and I went to the National Western Complex in Denver to let him see the show grounds where he'll be performing in March for the 2016 Equine Comeback Challenge.  It was an Arabian show, but they also had open classes, which any breed could enter.  I had planned to ride and show Touch A Prince Friday evening when the show started, and then again on Saturday morning in the english classes.

Touch A Prince was a perfect gentleman for loading in the trailer, traveling, and unloading at the show grounds.  I got him all settled in and I took him for a walk in the arenas so he could look at everything.  It was pretty intense in the arenas with everyone warming up, there were saddleseat horses who move with big exaggerated steps at all three gaits.  There were also reining horses, who ran into sliding stops and spun around and around at top speeds.  The announcer's system surprised Touch A Prince as well, and hearing music over the loud speakers definitely added a bit of excitement.  Touch A Prince was very alert, and all the new circumstances were just intimidating enough that he started needing some help.  We were finally in a situation where he didn't feel confident, and so he looked to me to give him safety and protection.  I happily provided this within safe boundaries, for example not allowing him to leap into my lap when he shouted "hold me!" as we walked with the large tractor that was working the footing in the arena.

We have had really cold weather at home this week, 20 deg. and 20 mph wind.  Because of that I haven't been doing too much riding with Touch A Prince just prior to the show, and I hadn't had a chance to ride him with a bit yet.  At this type of show a bit is required when you are competing, so I had brought several different ones in case Touch A Prince wanted something specific.  When I tacked him up on Friday afternoon he was very calm for grooming, he didn't make ANY faces at me when I tightened the girth on his saddle.  However, when I put the bit in his mouth as part of bridling him he became very agitated.  He wasn't unreasonable, and I wasn't concerned about riding him, but he definitely was not his usual mellow self.  I ended up only riding him for about twenty minutes though, because he really was upset about the bit.  He repetitively twisted his head, almost entirely upside down so that his lips were higher than his ears.  He jigged in place, with incredible tension throughout his body but especially in his jaw and neck. 

After I got a very little (albeit poor quality) walk, trot, and canter from him both directions I called it quits for the night.  I took him back to the stall and he wasn't able to think through the turn to get into the door and into his stall.  He just froze in the barn aisle, mouth and neck dramatically flexed.  I could tell it was the bit bothering him since he kept gaping his mouth open, and while doing this he would tense all his neck muscles.  I decided to take his bridle off in the barn aisle and put his halter on to see if that would help him get around the door and into his stall.  It was like I had hit a switch.  As soon as the bit dropped out of his mouth he closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and rested his head on my chest in thanks.  His entire demeanor changed and he instantly transformed back into the quiet friendly horse I've had thus far.  He very easily negotiated the turn and walked into the stall where I finished untacking him.
Even though I had only ridden him for about twenty minutes, he was very sweaty and lathered up from tension.  We headed to the wash stalls to hose him off with warm water.  Because the show was about to start all the people and their horses were waiting for space in the wash rack to bathe.  We went to the very far end of the barn where there were just two teenage girls washing their brown horses.  I thought we were going to be standing there FOREVER waiting for the girls to finish the sixth and seventh soaping and scrubbing of the one white sock on their horses.

As I was pondering if a person could scrub the hair right off of a horse's legs, Rebecca found an opening at the other very far end of the barn in that wash stall.  Touch A Prince and I hustled down there and I was able to get him rinsed off in short order.  Like most track horses, he wanted a drink from the hose before I began hosing him off.  However, I don't think he was expecting warm water, because the disgusted look on his face very clearly said, "Who serves luke-warm water as a happy hour beverage?"

Because Touch A Prince had been so upset about the bit, but still tried so hard to do everything I asked of him, I decided not to show him Friday night after all.  I really wanted this trip to be a positive thing for him, and pushing him to perform when he was that anxious wouldn't have been good for either of us.  I needed to remind myself that as an eleven year old he has a long history with humans and tack from before he came to Bit of Honey.  As situations present themselves reminding him of past experiences, Touch A Prince tells me a little more about his interpretation of old events and his opinions.  I learned a lot about him Friday night, and I really greatly appreciate his honesty and efforts to work with me despite being so upset.  I put him away for the night and we adjourned to the hotel.  

Saturday morning started out well.  Touch A Prince nickered at me when we entered the barn.  He looked pretty well rested, and he had eaten most of his large pile of hay overnight.  After taking him for a brief walk around the barns and arenas to look at everything once more I began braiding him for the day's photos.

Touch A Prince surprises me with how much he likes to be fussed over.  When he first arrived he didn't seem to have much patience for it, he wanted me to just get on with it and go to work.  As time has gone by he has decided that perhaps primping is actually kind of nice.  He stood quietly for braiding, and we would occasionally take breaks so I could rub his face and ears with him leaning into my hands for just the right scratch.

Once he was looking dapper and tacked up I took him to warm up.  I had switched the bit from the loose ring three piece snaffle I'd used the night before (which he obviously hated), to a regular eggbutt snaffle with only one joint in the middle of the mouthpiece.  I suspect this bit may be more similar to what Touch A Prince raced in, because he acted much more like a happy race horse.  He was still tense, but a thousand times softer with this one, and much more eager to go forwards with less jigging up and down.  There was MUCH less head twisting.  He did find the warmup arena stressful, and he wasn't happy just walking around in circles.  I took him to the big arena and let him gallop a little bit.  This made him much happier, he felt like he had permission to run, which he really loves.  After a few laps of this he had settled down nicely, and he could think about the trail class which was first.

Trail definitely seems to be his thing.  He was great over the complicated series of poles, stood quietly at the rope gate, and marched nicely over the bridge.  He definitely performs his best when he is thinking his way through something. 

The video of his trail class can be seen here:

We also rode in two rail classes, where we walked, trotted, and cantered with the group.  Videos of his rail classes can be seen here:


He was very well behaved in the rail classes, and I wanted to end on a good note.  I took him back to the barn and untacked him in the stall.  By this time he was getting agitated about the bit again.  When I went to unbuckle the already loose noseband he tossed his head and didn't want me to touch it.  I suspect he thought I was going to make it tighter.  He seemed surprised when I unfastened it completely.  Then he fairly began shouting at me, "Get it off, get it off, get it off!", tossing his head as I began to remove the bridle itself.  I do this very slowly so that the bit won't hit his teeth when I remove it.  This time was just like flipping the switch from the night before.  As soon as the bit had passed from his lips he closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and rested his face on my shoulder.  He was calm, sweet, and thankful.  I don't know how much more clearly a horse can say that he doesn't like a bit.  It was good that he was able to see the show grounds, anyway, and I learned a lot about him this weekend.
When we had packed up, Touch A Prince hopped in the trailer like a champ and headed home with me no problem.  I think he was relieved to return to his large paddock, all day hay buffet, and friends.  Now that we're home and after he has Sunday to unwind, I'll be doing some further investigating into this mouth thing.  I'll do a different type of thorough oral exam to check out the bars of his mouth, his tongue, and the arch of his palate.  However, regardless of my findings, if he declares that he just will not be happy with any shape metal (or plastic, or rubber) in his mouth I'll continue to work him without a bit.

I definitely want him to be happy in his training and in his forever home when the right adopter appears, so if that means bitless trail riding I'm all for it.  My lesson horses all teach without bits, and I've evented horses and gone cross country successfully with them bitless.  The only reason I use bits is because they are required for certain types of competition.  I get just as good results, and often happier horses, without them.  I am grateful that Touch A Prince told me what was wrong, and I'm very impressed with his willingness to work with me despite his anxiety.  I feel very honored to have a horse as honest as he is in my barn. 

Friday, December 18, 2015

Touch a Prince First Horse Show

Touch A Prince is with me here at the Colorado Arabian Horse Association Holiday Hoorah show at the National Western Complex.  So far he's been a little nervous about the spinning reining horses and the high stepping saddle seat trotting horses, but it's all good exposure for him.  He is also finally enough out of his element that he is really looking to me to keep him safe and for instructions on how he should handle things.  Hoping for a few good classes tomorrow!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Sweetpeacefuldream's TV Spot

Sweetpeacefuldream is going to be on TV tonight at 7:30pm on Altitude TV. This mare went from racing in Denver, to full training in CANTER Colorado's program using Kim Leonard of Bit of Honey, to Kentucky to compete in the Retired Raceehorse Project Makeover. Check out her story tonight! 
Check out the full episode video on YouTube:

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Touch A Prince and the Snow Ride

I took Touch A Prince out to the back fields to ride in the snow with Mahzi the dog.  It was really cold, so I put a quarter sheet the Bit of Honey colors of black and yellow on his haunches for the ride.  I just tacked him up and climbed on, and he calmly rode out to the back with me and Mahzi.  He balked a little at going to the farthest pasture, since his friends were calling to him from the barn and he really would have preferred to go back to them.  I didn't argue with him, I just insisted that he keep going away from the barn and he finally acquiesced after trying to persuade me for a minute or two to turn around.  We had a nice ride walking around in the beautiful fresh snow, and when my ears started to get cold we headed back to the barn and I put him away in his blanket.  It's wonderful to have a horse who is game to just go for casual rides like this with me and my dog.

Touch A Prince is Faster in the Field and Faster into the Trailer

I'm always impressed by what a difference a dental makes in how a horse travels.  Since Touch A Prince has his dental just yesterday, I rode him again in the hackamore with no bit in his mouth.  We rode out to the back fields and did some trotting up and down hills, and I was surprised how well he moved.  He definitely thinks it's more fun and interesting to work outside than in the arena, but what impressed me what how big his trot became, how much he lifted his back, and how he lengthened his frame and reached further forward with his head and neck because his jaw could slide easily.  All these things tell me that his dental was a good thing to do.

A horse's teeth are continually erupting, which means the teeth are sort of growing up into the horse's mouth throughout his life.  This is good for a horse because he wears his teeth down when eating, and there is always new tooth appearing to replace what was worn off.  However, because we keep horses in living situations like stalls and paddocks, and they eat hay instead of pulling at grass while grazing in pastures, they wear their teeth differently than nature designed for them to do.  This wearing down of teeth can create sharp points in the horse's mouth, and cause the incisors to become uneven.  If the incisors don't line up correctly, that in turn affects how the cheek teeth meet, and how the jaw slides.  By filing or "floating" Touch A Prince's teeth to address the sharp points and uneven wear we made him much more comfortable, which became obvious in the way he moved and rode.

After we were done riding I untacked him and opened up the horse trailer again.  I led him over to the trailer and I walked in, and he followed me right in with no hesitation.  He dove into his mash in the rubber tub, and happily ate dinner there.  While he was eating, Mahzi the dog and Sabbath the cat romped around, in and out of the trailer, chasing each other and hopping up and down the step and ramp.  Touch A Prince ignored them and just ate his mash.  I even interrupted his eating to make him back out of the trailer, and then asked him to walk right back in, which he did immediately.  I sure appreciate how nice it is to have a smart quiet horse who wants to do things the easy way.
Video of loading into the trailer can be seen here:


Monday, December 14, 2015

Touch A Prince and the Vet Visit

Touch A Prince had his scheduled appointment with the veterinarian.  I like to do a thorough evaluation on new horses that come into the Bit of Honey Training program so I know what sort of jewelry the horse is arriving with.  We went over Touch A Prince, performing a detailed exam, because I want to make sure I'm training him to do a job that he will enjoy, where he will stay sound, and he will be happy.  I am able to privately adopt out Touch A Prince because I am an exhibition ride with the Equine Comeback Challenge this year, and as such I'm not competing for the prize money but rather to get this horse trained and into his forever home.  To make sure I send him to the right forever home doing a job that is best suited to him, I needed more information about him from the vet.

I work with Dr. Landes with Equine Medical Services for these types of assessments because his practice is entirely equine, and he has spent quite a bit of time specializing in sport horses.  His specialty training includes acupuncture, chiropractic, manual therapy, dental work using hand floats, and together we have rehabilitated many horses who have come from the track.

Dr. Landes carefully went over Touch A Prince to determine if he was sore anywhere and if he needed a chiropractic adjustment.  There were a couple places that had somewhat limited mobility and flexibility, so Dr. Landes gently corrected those.

We also did a thorough exam on Touch A Prince's legs.  The vet assessed how he moves on the lunge line, on a straight-away, and we did flexion tests to see if any of his leg joints were sore.  We found a few things on this portion of the exam that merited further diagnostics, so we adjourned to the barn for x-rays.
One of the issues we wanted more information on was Touch A Prince's left front knee, or carpus.  In this first photo you can see the arrows pointing to the knees on the horse, and you can see that the horse's left knee is larger and shaped differently than the right.  The knee is cold, hard, and tight, indicating that whatever caused it to be this way happened a long time ago, likely many years ago from his racing days as a youngster.  If it was a new injury, there would be heat and swelling that feels like a water balloon.  We decided to take some radiographs (x-rays) of this knee to see what is going on inside with the bones in this joint.

Dr. Landes has a mobile digital setup for x-rays, which makes it very convenient and easy to see what is going on while out in the field and without needing a dark room.  We set up shop in the tack room with the computer and other equipment and we were able to look at the radiographs right away!  Such a fast system compared to all the hours I used to spend in the dark room developing films for the veterinarians I worked for.  The yellow box is the x-ray camera, and you can see the cassette holding the film is placed behind the horse's leg.  I was holding the film with a pole to keep it in position, and I also snapped this photo of the process.  I think I only knocked off Dr. Landes hat once with my journalistic endeavors.

We got really great pictures of the knee which showed us several different things that were new to me. To make sure we have the most information from these images we also sent them to CSU to have a radiologist look at them and give us a detailed report.  Dr. Landes and I were geeking out about the interesting x-rays, and because we thought it was exciting, the dogs thought it was exciting, but my cats were nonplussed.  They were lying on a set of shipping boots and slept through the whole thing. 

We also found that Touch A Prince definitely needed a dental and his incisors were first on the list.  Dr. Landes always checks incisors first, because the way they meet (or don't) greatly affects how the back cheek teeth meet each other and how well they grind against each other.

This first mouth photo shows the view when you are standing in front of the horse pointing the camera into his open mouth.  Blue gloves are holding the tongue out of the way, and if you look closely you can see teeth in the back.  

The entire vet appointment was really helpful.  It gave me so much more detail as to what Touch A Prince is dealing with in his body, and what kind of riding and training will allow him to be comfortable.  For now I'll be working with Touch A Prince on obstacles, trail riding, and flat work.  I want to make sure he's comfortable throughout the training process. The radiologist at CSU explained that the x-rays showed an old racing injury, so that confirms that we are doing the right thing by channeling Touch A Prince into a light riding job.  He is such a pleasant horse, I think he'll make a lovely mount for someone who wants to do trail riding.