Welcome to Bit of Honey Training LLC

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

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Retired Racehorse Project First Ride

Exciting news!  I rode the new guy for the first time today.  I lunged him with the dogs first, and he just jogged sedately around a few times each direction.  When I saw that he wasn't going to be silly I led him up to the mounting block and went through my first ride rituals.  These include standing on the mounting block and stomping my feet, patting both sides of the saddle, and asking him to turn his head both directions.  Then I turn the horse around and do everything from his opposite side.  He seemed very unimpressed with my shenanigans, but Mahzi the dog was super hopeful that she would get a turn to climb the mounting block and pat the saddle too.  Miles the border collie and I have been training her since she arrived six months ago and this is one of her favorite tricks.

The new guy was easy to mount, he stood quietly and then walked off a little early, but that is to be expected since track horses are almost never mounted while standing.  They usually toss the jockey aboard while the horse is walking, so the fact that he was willing to stand at all is a major bonus.  He was a little hesitant at first, definitely trying to determine what kind of rider I am.  He walked carefully and trotted carefully, but once he realized I wanted him to stretch and swing he began to really lift his back and find his rhythm.  He did incredibly well with steering just based on my weight shifts, and he stopped very nicely when I took a deep breath and exhaled.  He actually started to match my breathing with his own, blowing his nose when I exhaled loudly.  He wasn't phased by the dogs romping around barking encouragement.

I don't always canter a horse in the first ride from the track, but he was so mellow and steady with such great steering and brakes I decided to give it a try.  I was absolutely amazed at the canter on this horse.  Big, swinging, balanced, uphill and rhythmic. We did a few figure eights at the canter while I tested out his leads, and after a little "getting to know you" he figured out very quickly which lead I wanted just by my weight shifts.

When we were done riding he was quite affectionate.  He nuzzled me and seemed very proud of himself as I praised him and told him how impressed I was.  His eye was very soft and relaxed, and he seemed even to strut a little bit as we walked back to the barn.  He almost told me that he really is kind of a rockstar, and he was glad I could appreciate his fabulousness.  

This horse is a phenomenal example of why I love the older track horses.  He raced until he was nine years old, retired sound, and obviously had terrific training on the track.  He is ten now, and has that confidence and balance I love to see in the older retired racehorses.  I realize that he wasn't a great fit in his previous home, but he is settling in here at Bit of Honey Training like he was made for this place.  After we rode I was so eager to tell someone about him that I called his previous owner.  She was pleased to hear how nicely he's settled into the routine here and she was as happy as I was that his first ride went so well.  She also told me that her first couple rides on him were equally nice, and that's why she took him out to ride the trails by himself, which then didn't go well as his anxiety kicked in.  I'm eager to see how he handles riding out here, since he seems so easy going, even despite the horse-rearranging with all the new ones coming in for training.

He was very upset by even small changes in the herd with his previous owners both at the track and in South Dakota, but here he handles all the regular shuffling of paddocks quite well.  It helps that I have a core herd of geldings who live here all the time, and they each take turns reassuring him over the fence.  Then there is Highboy, who always thinks that everything is fun and is eager for new adventures.  It's hard to be nervous with the sedate older geldings encouraging you and Highboy declaring that everything is awesome.
When we were all done I groomed him again and put him away.  He had a little snack of hay and then laid down in his warm muddy paddock for a mid morning nap while I worked the other horses.  When I went into the house for lunch I gushed about him to my husband who works from home.  I was so effusive in my praise for this horse that my husband felt the need to remind me I don't actually need another horse for myself, and he is for sale.  That's how impressed I was by this gelding.  Bless the affectionate iron horses.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Counter-Balancing the Planet

I took the new horse to the arena today to look around and lunge a little.  Yesterday we had some llama drama at the neighbor's, and all the horses were watching very carefully when a dark colored llama went for a walk along the property line while wearing a pack saddle.  It's easy to see the llamas from the arena, so today the new horse watched them while on the lunge line, and they all stared at him, too.  Miles and Mahzi were with us as moral support and acting as distractions.

The new horse was very quiet, he came to me when I called to him from the stall door and he stood quietly for grooming.  The four of us (two dogs, one human, one horse) all went to the arena together and we went over the two series' of poles and sniffed around the barrels.  Then I put the new guy on the lunge line to see if he knew how to go in a circle around me, and he was very sedate about it.  He jogged nicely to the left and to the right, only cocking an ear occasionally as Miles careened around at top speed in the opposite direction.  Our theory is that Miles feels he must run counterclockwise in a circle when the horse is going clockwise so that the Earth doesn't tip off its axis with all the spinning.  Or he is a herding dog.  Either way, he is great desensitization for the horses getting them prepared for the commotion of a horse show or trail ride.

A short video of the new horse walking on the lunge line with Miles can be seen here:

Even with the fast dogs and the interested neighbor llamas the new horse was very calm.  He pays attention to everything, particularly traffic on the road on the horizon line.  This makes sense for him, as a horse that was bred to run fast his flight instinct is strong and he is hyper-vigilant regarding potential predators lurking and moving smoothly on the horizon.  When he begins to focus on something scary, I redirect his attention back to me before he gets really fixated and all reasoning powers evaporate.  My doing that tells him that I'm in charge of the scary situation and I will always keep him safe, and since I'm not concerned about it he doesn't need to be either.  This doesn't work with all horses, some types of horses absolutely need to stare at the scary thing until they figure it out.  If I don't let them think it through they just get more and more upset.  Generally those types are horses bred to think - draft horses, cow horses.  But with horses bred to run like this horse, keeping him from getting fixated is critical to his mental health.

He is still cribbing, but only a couple swallows at a time, not nearly as bad as some I've known.  It's better to manage the horse's environment so that it doesn't begin cribbing, but he's a ten year old who has been doing it for years so the odds of eliminating it are slim.  Once a horse starts cribbing the behavior can't be completely stopped because the horse becomes addicted to its own endorphins which are the brain's pain-relief chemicals. I have continued to watch for what his particular triggers are, and I'm wondering about his digestion.  He is thin and doesn't have as much appetite as I'd like to see.  Whether that may be a result of the cribbing or a cause of the cribbing remains to be seen.

There is also evidence that cribbing and colic are associated.  However, which came first, the chicken or the egg?  The muscles activated in cribbing change abdominal pressure, and cribbing is associated with endorphin release and is done as a self-soothing behavior.  So which comes first, a belly ache or the cribbing?  Does the cribbing help relieve pain from a belly ache or does the cribbing cause a belly ache?  I have investigated the acupressure points for ulcers on him and have not had any reaction, and he was treated for ulcers when he came off the track in Nov. 2014.  His current diet is appropriate for a horse who may have indigestion.

In my continued research about cribbing I've also discovered some new-to-me information that indicates cribbing may be a genetic neurological issue.  His dam's bloodline, French Legionaire, is known for producing quirky anxious horses, so I suspect there's a genetic component affecting neurotransmitters in the new guy.  It's been compared to OCD in humans, similar in that there is a chemical imbalance in the horse's brain causing a repetitive behavior which produces more of the necessary missing chemicals.  I'm less inclined to put a cribbing strap on him because he definitely seems to do it as a self-soothing behavior and I want to keep him as comfortable as possible.  In all the research the studies show other horses don't "learn" it from watching, it seems to be a genetic thing triggered by environment so I'm not worried about the other horses here.  

I still have not settled on a name for him, and he hasn't shown a preference for titles yet.  I'm thinking tomorrow I may try calling him Rudy, because he makes me think of the movie about young man, Daniel Ruettiger "Rudy", who overcomes dyslexia to achieve the academics he needs to play football at Notre Dame.  Everyone roots for him because he's such a good guy, and the character has determination and great strength of personality.  Those are qualities I'd like to foster and develop in this horse. 

I continue to peel layers off of this onion horse, and I feel pleased that he is looking to me as his safety blanket in new situations like the arena and with llama drama.  I often say in horse training as in life, fast is slow and slow is fast, so I'm not in any rush to push this horse into anything.  I often have great success with difficult horses as they come to trust me and give me the information I need about how to teach them in the way they will learn best.  I think I will learn a lot from this horse, too, as he teaches me what he needs. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Dental Evaluation, Vaccines, and Cribbing

The new horse had his first Colorado veterinary appointment today.  Dr. Allen Landes with Equine Medical Services came out to take care of the horses at Bit of Honey Training for spring things such as dental work and vaccines, as well as doing some work up on horses who needed a little extra maintenance.

The new horse watched us carefully as we were in the adjacent paddock looking at Garmin, my pony.  When Dr. Landes and I wandered over to Highboy so the vet could appreciate how much Highboy has grown up in the last few months, the new horse grasped the fence with his upper incisors and began to swallow gulps of air in a behavior that is called cribbing, or wind-sucking.  I had been given a heads-up that he would exhibit this behavior, but so far I hadn't seen him do it since he arrived here.  Interestingly, when he is chastised for cribbing, he seems to do it more fervently, which tells me that it is (at least in him) a stress related behavior and an attempt to soothe himself.  I don't know why he just started it today, unless the stress of the veterinary appointment set him off.  It could be any number of things perhaps something obscure like the black hat the vet was wearing affected him, or even Highboy going to play in the round pen without the new guy for an hour before the vet arrived.  When we approached Highboy the new horse may have been concerned that we were going to take Highboy away.  I need to watch him in some different scenarios to gather more information about what sets him off.  

At any rate, we worked our way through the herd, boosting immunity among the horses and addressing dental maintenance as we discovered issues.  The new horse did need his teeth floated, or filed, and so he was sedated and the vet took care of him.  This included making sure that his incisors lined up correctly, that he didn't have any sharp points on his molars, and that his jaw could slide smoothly to improve the grind he gets on his food and to make it easy for him to move his mouth when wearing a bit.

Once we finished with all of the horses, I went around feeding.  I noticed that the new guy wasn't working on his hay, but standing by the fence he shares with Highboy and continuing to crib.  I stood in the paddock for a while and watched to see if I could observe any specific details or clues as to why he did it.  Highboy would come over to the fence and distract him, and that would stop the behavior.  I decided to move a hay net to the section of fence where he was holding on and cribbing.  This seemed to successfully distract him, because the place where he would grab the fence suddenly had hay tied to it.  Why not eat the hay instead?   I watched him swallow two or three times, and then go to the hay bag. 

This of course created a fun new game for Highboy, who proceeded to try to get the new guy to play with him in a mock-argument about who the hay bag belonged to.  The new guy didn't want to argue (he seems to be a peace-loving soul) and so he just gave up and let Highboy eat out of the bag.  Then the new guy moved to a new section of fence and cribbed a couple times in the new location.  I added a second hay bag, tying it to the fence in the new place.  This created quite a conundrum for Highboy - how was he to commandeer hay bags in two different locations?  I have to laugh, because Highboy also has an 1800 lb big round bale in a feeder in his paddock, but it is clearly more fun to pester the new horse about his hay. 

They both seemed to be happy rotating between hay bags and the new guy definitely slowed his cribbing.  As an extra distraction I hung a third hay bag in the stall and left some loose hay in a metal tub for him.  Lots of options for eating.  He was cribbing a little bit later in the evening when I went out to check on him, so it is definitely something I'll keep an eye on over the next few days.  If I can determine what his triggers are I can address them with distraction or helping him to not feel so stressed in the specific situations.  I have quite a few more tricks up my sleeve for tending to this behavior, so we'll see what works for this horse. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

New Gelding Diet and Mental Evaluation

The new guy is settling in well.  He has been pretty mellow, mostly ignoring Highboy's efforts to engage him in lip wrestling, and just watching everything that is going on at the ranch.  I was prepared for a stressed-out cribbing stall-walking mess of a horse, but he so far seems to be enjoying Bit of Honey and the elaborate routine.  While he prefers to eat out of the hay net when I refill it, he has also started eating the free choice hay in his large metal tub.  Now that he understands it will arrive twice a day he is eating his mash well.  He munches on it over the course of a half an hour.

His mash consists of 1.5 lbs of beet pulp which is then soaked, 1.5 lbs of safechoice (a beet pulp based complete feed), and 1.5 lbs of alfalfa pellets, and Platinum Performance vitamins.  He gets fed this combination twice daily in addition to the free choice timothy hay.  I like this combination for his type of horse, because there is lots of fiber in the beet pulp to keep his guts working the way nature intended.  I like to feed it soaked because it makes it a little more palatable, as well as getting more water into him.  Especially in a new place where the water tastes different, I like to make sure he is getting enough to stay hydrated.  The alfalfa pellets also have some fiber, but is also a good source of protein and calcium to buffer stomach acid.  This helps to prevent ulcers, a very common issue in tense horses coming from a track environment.  He was treated for ulcers by the woman I got him from, but I want to make sure I'm conscientious about maintaining him.  The safechoice pellets are a beet pulp based feed by Nutrena that contains vitamins and minerals to fill in any gaps in nutrition and get extra calories into him.  I feed the Platinum Performance vitamins because I know they cover additional elements I like to address.  These include a balanced ratio of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids to help with inflammation responses, additional essential amino acids so that he can build muscle and gain weight appropriately, as well as other nutritional support for hooves, coat, bones, and overall health.  Lest this sound too much like an advertisement, I should mention there are many ways to get these pieces of nutrition to a horse, this is just a tasty combination that I find works well for many of my OTTBs.  If I have a horse that needs additional supplementation I address it as needed, and some horses don't need nearly this much in addition to their timothy hay.

Now that he's eating well and drinking, I took him out and tied him so that I could groom him and do a cursory evaluation.  I brushed him, shortened his mane, and cleaned his hooves.  He mostly stood quietly for grooming, he was just very alert to the other horses and attentive to what I was doing.  He did act concerned when I tried to trim his bridlepath behind his ears with scissors.  I'm not sure which part of it worried him, whether it was my hands around his ears, the sound of the scissors or the tugging on a piece of mane.  He was just lifting his head up higher and higher, so I put my mounting block near him and climbed up on that.  He then stepped away from me, so I got down and scooted the block towards him with my foot.  That startled him and he reared up and pulled back to get away from this scary thing.  Apparently we need to do some work with the mounting block!  I had him tied with a contraption I like to use precisely for these kinds of things.  It allows the horse to pull the rope through the ring without ever hitting a solid point, so he didn't panic because the rope slid slowly through and as soon as he stopped pulling the pressure stopped. 

To let him see I wasn't going to give up, but I don't fight with horses either, I just kept my hands on him at the top of his neck until he stopped shaking his head and he took a deep breath, and then I proceeded to shorten his mane all the way down his neck.  When he realized I wasn't going to argue with him and that it was no big deal, I went back to his bridle path and he stood just fine for me to trim it. 

Then I took him to the round pen.  I initially thought I would just hand walk him around a few times because I was warned that he is quite herd sour and would panic if he thought he couldn't get to the other horses.  He was pretty jazzed up, though, and wanted to play.  I decided to turn him loose for a few minutes, and he really let loose!  He ran and slid to a stop, ran the other way, used both his left and right leads.  I let him run a little bit, and I could tell he was starting to relax when he took some deep breaths and had a good roll in the sand.  Then he began to look for his new friends out the gate, and so I called him back to me before he had a chance to get anxious about where the other horses were.  He understood what I wanted and came right to me.  I had him back up a few steps to give me room, and then I led him back to the barn to be groomed again.

It was a good first session.  As I've written in other recent blog posts, when I have a horse that is somewhat aggressive or dominant I'll sometimes leave him alone in the round pen for a time until he gets worried that he's alone.  Then I go back and "rescue" him so that he sees me as a leader with the power to separate him from and rejoin him to the herd.  With a horse like this one, though, it's better not to put him in a position to become worried, that way he begins to see me as a security blanket that will keep him safe. 

It was a good introduction for him to the routine of a workout at Bit of Honey.  You come out of your paddock, get groomed, go to the round pen or arena, then back to be groomed again and have a cookie, and finally you are put back in the paddock.  He watched me work four other horses before him this morning, so he had an idea of what to expect.  Because of that, his first session with me wasn't too stressful.  He's definitely sensitive and concerned about what might be coming next, so this adherence to routine will be really important for him psychologically. 

Friday, April 17, 2015

Hay Nets and Eating

Good news - as I was doing the evening feeding the new horse watched me very closely, anticipating some kind of supper although he is currently free fed hay and hadn't finished his morning mash.  When I was done with all the other horses I spent a little time watching him as well, to make sure he didn't have a belly ache after his stressful trip and arrival in his new home.  He kept staring at me trying to tell me something, and so I went into the stall with him to offer a cookie or two.  He wasn't sure what to make of them at first but decided they were sort of tasty.  He kept telling me he needed something, though.  So I got him a bucket of water and hung it in the stall (he did have a large tank in his paddock).  He looked relieved and took a drink from the bucket.

Then I filled a small mesh hay net for him, and as soon as he saw me filling the net he got excited!  Turns out he is one of those horses that needs the oral stimulation of grazing in order to want to eat.  Often I find the hard keepers need to work at their food or they have no interest in it, so ironically free-feeding doesn't always work to put weight on the hard keepers.  At the track, horses are also often fed out of hay nets and so this may have felt familiar to him.  I could barely get into the stall with the net he was so eager to start eating from it.  I hung it at a safe height in the stall and he busily dove into it and kept right on eating even when I left the barn.  Happy to have started peeling the psychological layers off of this onion horse.

Welcome to the 2015 Retired Racehorse Project Gelding

This week I made a trip with two friends to South Dakota to pick up a new off-the-track Thoroughbred.  When we left my place the weather was turning, so as we drove east we were outrunning the spring storm.

It was lovely company, we laughed a lot over the course of our entertaining conversations, and we also listened to the first half of The Hunger Games book on CD.

When we arrived in South Dakota we got to meet Heather and her daughter, as well as the farm dogs and the other horses at her place.  The gelding had been living there since November when he came off the track.  He had most of his "let down" from racing at Heather's place, including treatment for ulcers and getting used to normal horse life in a pasture.

I love the photo with the back of both of our shirts.  A meeting of the minds between Bit of Honey Training and the Retired Racehorse Project logos!

I put a leather halter on the horse for the big trip home.  I prefer to haul horses in leather halters because if, heaven forbid, the horse gets his head stuck on something in the course of travel the leather will break instead of some part of his body breaking.  He was very friendly and followed me right into the trailer.  I usually find that track horses are good for loading in the trailer and hauling, because they do so much traveling from track to track for various race meets.  This gelding is no exception, he just hopped right in and traveled like a champ. 


We were pleased to see that Heather had rambunctious dogs at her place, too, so at least the commotion of dogs will be familiar to him!

This gelding was born in Ohio, is ten years old, and he raced 51 times.  He won 5 times with total earnings of $28,374 over the course of his racing career, which lasted 6 years.  He was started for racing very late as far as race horses go.  He was not handled by anyone until he was three years old.  At that time he was halter broke and then started galloping in a western saddle until he was trained enough to race.

I was given these photos from his racing days, which were taken at a meet by Joe Nevills from Michigan who works for the Daily Racing Form. 

Part of the reason I was able to get this horse is because his temperament is sort of looking at quirky in the rear-view mirror.  He has several behaviors that were challenging to accommodate both at the track and at Heather's place.  I'm eager to see how these resolve once he settles in at Bit of Honey.  Most of his issues are a horse's attempt at self-soothing behavior that were exhibited when separated from his best friend.  Some of his issues are exhaustive running in the stall, swallowing air, walking the fence line obsessively, panic and anxiety when faced with new things or negatively associated stimuli such as semi trucks and geese.  While I haven't yet had a good look inside this horse's head, I've dealt with all these behaviors before and even all of them in one horse.  I have a variety of ways to address them, and part of the training with this gelding will be determining which methods work best to calm him and give him confidence, hopefully extinguishing the unwanted behaviors.

We arrived home in Colorado late last night, driving through some impressively large snow flakes and rain during the last hour or two of the trip.  The horse did well in the trailer for the most part, which was wonderful considering how long the drive ended up being.  We put him in the barn last night when we arrived.  I had been warned about his cribbing especially when he is in a new environment, but he has been fine so far.  He has just been eating hay from the all-day-buffet, munching on his mash which I fed this morning, and visiting with his new friends. 

He is in a small paddock with access to a stall in the barn.  He is sharing his curved fence line with Dewey, Highboy, and Garmin, and he can see almost all of the other 15 horses on the property from where he is stabled.  Highboy has made it his own personal mission to welcome the new guy and teach him lip-wrestling.  Mostly the new horse is ignoring Highboy, which makes sense because the new guy is ten years old and Highboy is almost six but mentally going on three.  

The new guy hasn't yet expressed what he wants to be called around the barn.  I was told that he was known as "Arnie" at the track, "Mac" at Heather's place, and his Jockey Club registered name is "I Shall Return".  Looking forward to figuring out this kid and getting him comfortable.  If all goes well, I will take him to Kentucky in October for the Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover.  He is already entered in this competition, and as his new trainer I'm able to compete him there at the Kentucky Horse Park. 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Saturday Adventures

I haven't written much this week because it has been SO FULL!  With some new horses in for training, I've been busy with evaluations and all the getting-to-know-you that goes with the first weeks of training.  I also have had to rearrange the herd because of new mares who have arrived.  Some of my geldings don't handle new girls very well, and in the interest of keeping this a G-rated and family friendly facility I had to move some of the boys who weren't abiding by the code of conduct to different paddocks.

Saturday was very busy but very fun.  I worked with the new mustang mare and rode her for the first time.  She had been sat on and ridden at the walk a bit, however she has not really been asked to do things that aren't her own idea.  As a result she has been very argumentative and even somewhat aggressive with me this week, so I've had to establish myself as a force to be reckoned with and NOT a doormat to avoid certain unpleasantries.  Fortunately by Saturday morning she was realizing that I am not to be stomped on, run over, kicked, or slammed around.  None of these behaviors were done in fear, she just wanted to put me in my place to ensure that the reign of power which she has enjoyed at her house continued here.  This is one of the reasons I prefer to work with difficult horses on my turf.  If I were to only visit her at her home once or twice a week she would naturally assume her normal behaviors for all the other hours in the week when I wasn't there.  With her here I have the home court advantage and can psychologically manage her within my own routine and established boundaries.  Plus I have the bonus of my other horses explaining to her that I'm a pretty good human, I just am not to be trifled with. 

Once I was done with that mare I had an old friend arrive with her two daughters.  Their birthdays were this week and one of their big gifts was a riding lesson.  They loved Cole and thoroughly enjoyed the grooming, tacking, and riding that comes with a lesson. I had a few other clients who were here at the same time riding.  It felt great to see my friends on their horses out and working!

After the lessons we all began our jump painting party.  We got the barn wall painted yellow.  It runs the length of barn and encloses my tack room.  We also got most of the jump standards repaired, scraped, and repainted.  Many of the jump poles got painted as well, with fun colors and stripes.  I have a bunch of new poles and 4x4s I want to use to make new jump standards and poles, but they need to be cut to size and assembled before they will be ready for painting.  I'm just pleased to have six jumps ready for action! 

After a few hours of painting and then pizza with sodas, some of the crew needed to leave, but others had arrived.  We did a little more work on the jumps and then tacked up for a ride.  We started in the arena and then went to walk around the back forty to tour the property and check out the logs. 

By then the day was coming to a close and I had to get everyone fed.  After tucking my horses in for the night and making sure everyone had hay I went into the house and collapsed.  It's exhausting to have so much fun.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Monday Sunset

 Sunset on Monday evening was amazing.  I took all of these photos from my back porch. 

Cole Free Jumping

To illustrate that it's not just a Highboy phenomenon, but more of a Bit of Honey phenomenon... Here is Cole the lesson horse also playing over the cross rail while loose in the round pen. The horses here just like to jump!  This jump was perhaps 6" off the ground in the center, but Cole was showing off.

To watch some video of Cole's antics you can follow this link:


Monday, April 6, 2015

Highboy Finds a Stretchy Trot

I had several good training sessions today, but my favorite was with Highboy.  He's been dying to get out and play with me every day, and I rode him Saturday and this afternoon.  We went to the arena despite some pretty stiff wind, and I lunged him first.  Only one rambunctious kick, and then he said he was ready to ride.  I got on and we warmed up (with the dogs alternately cheering and pouncing on dirt piles in search of rabbits).

Once Highboy was really focused on me and thinking, I actually got some haunches stretching/back lifting/head dropping/nose blowing/stretchy trot 20m circles!  I've been waiting for a ride like this since I got him nearly two years ago.  It's been a long road with this big kid to get him sound and working well.  Each time he would start to make real progress he would hit another growth spurt and we'd be starting all over again trying to regain his balance and coordination as he acclimated to his new body.  Today felt like a real milestone.  Hurrah for the late bloomer!

After our great ride in the arena, I turned Highboy loose in the round pen so he could play over the cross-rail.  He thought that was fun, too. I just stand in the middle taking video and the dogs wrestle in the sand behind me while Highboy does his thing!  You can watch his video here:


Sunday, April 5, 2015

Monty's First Ride at Bit of Honey

This was Monty's first week here, and the first ride, in the round pen, was mostly for the initial evaluation under saddle.  Standing tied for grooming he was still a little grumpy, but I changed the brushes to be softer horsehair brushes rather than stiff plastic, and that solved that issue.  After evaluating a few options, my XC jumping saddle fits him best at this time, and I have him in a regular 5" eggbutt snaffle.  I lunged him before I got on, and I had the dogs with me.  The dogs were romping around and barking (at the lunge whip - their favorite thing).  Monty seemed hesitant about going to the right, though he did do it, and confused about why the dogs were with us. 

When I mounted and we started riding I noticed Monty is very much still a "left banana" so to speak.  He puts his head around to the right and tucks his chin (probably the result of the side reins at the old place).  Regardless of where his head is, though, he keeps his body bent to the left.  He's not lifting his back or stretching his neck forwards yet, either.  It all seems very typical for a horse off the track who has been working in side reins.  I don't use side reins here, mostly because I don't care where the horse's head is.  I'm after correct body mechanics, which starts in the haunches.  When the horse is comfortable and using his haunches well, the back lifts and the head very naturally takes care of itself.

I did walk, trot, and canter him to see if I could get him to stretch in small and large circles, and we worked over some ground poles.  I keep ground poles on the rail in the arenas so that I can incorporate them as needed into each training session at all the gaits.  The only time he offered a little lift in his back and reached more underneath himself with his haunches was over the ground poles and just after, so I'll be continuing that work with him because he responded so well.

This week we also rode in the big arena and worked over ground poles in there, which he did just fine.  We also rode out to visit the llamas next door and he handled that well once he realized the dogs went ahead of him to show they were safe.  We walked up and down the hills in the first pasture and he did start to lift his back a little and stretch his neck forwards after a few hills.  He is very willing.  He is trying to do what I want, so when he figures out that what I want is for him to use his body in what is the most natural way for him, I think he'll heave a big sigh and really start moving nicely under saddle.  This horse is going to be a fun project and will be for sale, so stay tuned for photos and updates! 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

New Horse Evaluation

I have a new horse that arrived for training this week.  He is another OTTB who is owned by a client, and I did the first "getting to know you" session with the horse this afternoon.  To start, I took him out of his paddock and tied him for some grooming.  He seemed somewhat anxious and testy, threatening to bite and kick me while I was grooming him.  Careful to stay out of the range of impact, I ignored it, and just studied him and his behavior while I curried, brushed, and cleaned his hooves.  He watched me cautiously, like he was puzzled by my lack of reaction and he was evaluating me.  This first session with a new horse is partly for me to assess and get to know him, but it also feels like a job interview where he evaluates me and decides if he wants to work with me as well.

Once I had him groomed I took him to the round pen.  I let him loose in the 100' pen so he could check out my toys and the obstacle course, but after a cursory sniff at the muck bucket he began to race from one gate to the other calling to his friends back at the barn.  They all ignored him.  The horses in the front pasture could see him from the round pen's north gate, and they ran around a little while he was all worked up.  After a fast lap or two they ignored him as well.  Then one of the afternoon's sporadic rainstorms moved through, wetting down the horse, both dogs, and me.  At that point I decided to go back to the barn to get my jacket.  The horse was still ignoring me and just running around the pen, so the dogs and I all went together to get my jacket.  Now the horse was really alone.

When the dogs and I went back to the round pen just a few minutes later, the horse was still anxious, but was at least looking for me.  I went back into the pen, and I held the lunge whip to give myself a larger appearance to him.  He resumed running, but now he had one eye on me.  When he would run too close to me I would hold out the whip and he bumped into it with his shoulder or haunches.  He threw a couple kicks in my direction as he bolted past several times.  The dogs were keeping out of the way, they realized he wasn't going to play tag with them like some of my other geldings do.  I continued to watch him, and after a few minutes of this he became curious and puzzled as to why I wasn't reacting to his antics.  

I took a deep breath and a few steps backwards.  He came to a halt and stared at me.  I muttered to him that he could come with me if he wanted, and I walked away from him.  He followed me.  I took another deep breath and stopped, and he stayed by my side, stopping as well.  I walked, he walked and stayed by my side.  I did a couple very tight turns, pointing with my fingers which direction we would go, and he did precise pivots on his haunches to the left and to the right, taking deep breaths himself.  We walked together like this for a few minutes, and then he started nuzzling the ground.  I paused and watched him, and he laid down right next to me to roll in the sand.  He laid down so closely I could pet him from where I was standing.

After a good roll he got up again, and resumed following me over the tarp, the bridge, and in a complicated series of turns, starts, and stops.  I had nothing attaching him to me, my rope was hanging at the gate and I just held the whip so I would appear large and if he did kick I could place it between us.  He did everything with me with a curious expression on his face, and while he stayed a respectful distance from me (about an arm's length), he seemed much more interested in me and working with me.  He laid down several more times to roll, never bucking when he rose, never pinning his ears or kicking at me.  A couple times I walked away from him abruptly, and he stood with his head up, staring at me wondering why I'd left him.  I would gesture to him to come towards me, and he immediately would approach me calmly.

After a few more minutes I reattached his lead rope and we walked back to the barn.  He followed me calmly, watching the dogs walking by our side.  I retied him and repeated the entire grooming routine.  He stood quietly, never fidgeting, with his ears forward and attentively watching me the whole time.  If I walked away from him to get a different brush out of his bucket he would take a step towards me and check to see which brush I had chosen.  He never flinched, never showed me his teeth, never considered lifting a leg to kick.  He did look a little puzzled about me and my atypical human behaviors, but he seemed to have decided I might be reasonable to work with. 

When he was all cleaned up I put him away in his paddock, and even after taking his halter off he followed me back to the gate.  I left the paddock and latched the gate behind myself, and his two next door neighbors came to the fence to talk to him.  The three of them sniffed each other having a little conversation, almost as if he was telling them about our session.  There was no squealing or stomping as they had been doing earlier, just quiet nickering and talking.  Suddenly all three of them froze and turned their heads to stare at me, like I'd come up in the conversation.  I swear they may have been discussing what an unusual human I was.  I felt quite peaceful, since my first time working with each of the two mares years ago was similar to how this gelding was today.  The three of them went back to discussing, and then the mares returned to their hay.  The gelding came to the fence to talk to me a little more, asking if I would lip wrestle with him (I politely declined).

It was an interesting first session.  I feel partly that I was getting to know him, and partly like I was on a job interview and being evaluated.  It's nice to feel like I passed.