Welcome to Bit of Honey Training LLC

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

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Tennis Ball Addict Falls Off the Wagon at Feed Store

Confessions of a recovering tennis ball addict who today fell off the wagon: 

Miles got ahold of one of the tennis balls in the checkout line at the feed store this afternoon. Being the dog who never forgets, Miles has vivid memories recalling marathon games of fetch with the chuck-it from his younger days. Today something SNAPPED in his herding dog brain right there in the aisle at the feed store. Miles got down into his crouch and gave that ball the Border Collie Stare. 

I rolled it to him with my foot, and he stopped it instantly with a front paw. Then he rolled it back to me with his nose, and I kicked it back to him across the floor. He stopped it again. Never ever taking his eye of the ball, he would have entertained the staff all afternoon if I hadn't told him we couldn't take it home because Mahzi the lab eats tennis balls. Miles heaved a big sigh, and with a last longing and wistful glance at the yellow sphere we put our feed into the truck and headed back to the ranch. Oh, the sacrifices we make for family. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Fason And The Pool Noodles

Because every good retired racehorse wants to go swimming, I present Fason And The Pool Noodles!

After a squirrelly start to today's session, I decided to let Fason think about things gently bumping his sides while he is working.  In an effort to decrease his reactivity to my legs and the reins draped on his shoulders, I introduced some of my Bit of Honey Circus paraphernalia.  When I first picked up the pool noodle he made some googly-eyes at it, but then I ran away from him while I was holding it, so he got to chase it.  Nothing is as scary when you're chasing it!  Then I held still and let him approach the noodle himself.  He gave it a cursory sniff, then tried to stick it up his nose but it didn't fit.
Once he was comfortable with the noodles touching him on not just his nose, but also his neck and shoulder, I attached them to his saddle, one on each side.  This gave him a chance to think about things brushing his sides and tapping his legs, and a chance to realize that it's not actually dangerous for him. 

Fason gave the pool noodles a thorough inspection once they were attached to him, and I'm quite sure I heard him say, "Kim, we definitely did not have these at the track."

After considering the new equipment Fason decided it was not a big deal, and he moseyed around on the lungeline walking each direction quietly.  Then I removed the pool noodles and we worked on standing quietly at the mounting block.  I mimicked the pool noodles, brushing his sides and flapping the stirrups around, then swinging a rope over his back.  I love working with these adult retired racehorses, as a ten year old Fason has a much longer attention span than the average three or four year old, and I can get so much more accomplished in one session.  I can tell he has had good humans in his life over the course of many years at the racetrack, because he trusts me.  He is willing to think through problems, which tells me that he had good track training as well because he wasn't frightened into doing things.  I can tell he has a good mind because he can get very excited and wound up, then when given a thinking task he settles right to work to solve the puzzle. 

Here is a little video of Fason lunging with the pool noodles while I explain why I use them:

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Fason - a Round Thoroughbred in a Round Pen

I'm very pleased to report that while I've been occupied with a couple other training horses for a few weeks, Fason has been enjoying life in the long paddock.  He is working his butt muscles as he marches up and down the hill and he has gained great weight eating pounds and pounds of mash and hay until his heart's content.  I love to see the Thoroughbreds bloom when they start eating so well and their muscling changes more to regular horse muscling rather than speed-event muscling.

Yesterday I was visiting with Fason over the fence introducing him to some clients, and he is just a gem.  Gentle and sweet, he comes right over to us to have his ears scratched and his chest rubbed.  While he's eating up this affection, Highboy throws a temper tantrum in the next paddock.  He can see that Fason is being admired and loved on, and Highboy cannot STAND it when he is not the center of attention.  As soon as I put a hand on Fason, Highboy twenty feet away would pin his ears and stomp his front feet.  If I rubbed Fason's ears to make his lips wiggle in pleasure Highboy would rear up, then kick out with his hind legs.  It was obvious the connection, as soon as I took my hands off Fason and looked over at Highboy he would freeze, ears forward, and stare at me.

I went into the paddock with Fason and went to stand next to Highboy to give him some attention over the fence.  Highboy was pleased and went to his normal smoochy self, nuzzling my hair and taking deep breaths while touching my hands or face with his nose.  When Fason came over Highboy was cordial to him, unless I reached out to touch Fason.  Then Highboy would pin his ears, tense his nose, and give Fason the stink-eye until Fason backed away from me.  Highboy resumed nuzzling and smooching.  Horses aren't supposed to feel complex emotions like jealousy, but I suspect that's an old wives' tale.

To minimize the consternation in the Thoroughbred herd, today I took Highboy to the round pen to play first.  He was overjoyed at being out with me and the dogs.  He ate a bunch of carrots, then ran around the round pen all on his own, absolutely LEAPING probably four to five feet in the air over the six inch high cross rail jump that was set up on one side.  I've never had a horse who enjoyed jumping this much, he does it purely for the joy of flight.  He flies over, then drops his haunches and slides to a stop leaving long elevens in the sand.  He does a rollback, then flies over the jump the other direction, repeating this over and over all on his own while the humans and the dogs watch.  He takes the fence from any distance, he jumps it high, he jumps it low, he jumps it long, and he jumps it short.  He really loves running and leaping the way his body is built to do.

In contrast, after Highboy was done playing, I took Fason out to the round pen for some recreation.  With his blanket off it is obvious that he has gained significant weight over the past month and his muscle soreness is dissipating.  All his angular body parts' are now looking rounded and he is able to lift his back, lowering his head to show off an extremely special extended trot that you don't often see on a horse just a month off the track.  He sniffed around the small jump, and hopped over some ground poles.  He had a nice roll in the sand, making it all the way over with only a short turtle moment entirely on his back.

After this brief and mellow unstructured playtime, he came right over to the fence where we humans, dogs, and Sabbath the cat were standing observing.  Fason loves people and wants to be wherever we are, socializing and hanging out together.  He even inspected Sabbath.

There seems to be a button in his ears that cause his lips to wiggle.  Some video of his face and ears being scratched can be seen here:

I am so pleased with how his let-down period is going and how nicely his body and mind are acclimating to the quiet life here in Colorado at Bit of Honey.  This horse is very special, but don't tell Highboy I said so.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

High Centered in the Pond

The storm has come and gone, leaving behind gigantic snowdrifts and bare ground. Miles, my 3 legged border collie, has gotten high centered a couple times, but managed to emerge relatively unscathed. I myself got high centered in my attempt to walk out to the west pasture ponies. It looked like level ground, but when I planted my foot I seriously planted it into a mid-thigh deep snow drift, I had walked directly into the depression from one of the ponds! It took some finagling to get myself out because suddenly wherever I placed my unstuck foot the drift was equally treacherous.  I considered just lying down to make a snow angel instead, but I persevered and was able to free myself while simultaneously gaining a greater appreciation for Miles' challenges.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Are We Sure It's Only Tuesday?

Considering it's only Tuesday, I sure am tired.  I guess it makes sense as I go through the photos on my phone and review how much has been accomplished in just two days here at Bit of Honey.

First I have photos of a new saddle with completely unique tree technology.  It is called the BUA saddle, and was developed in Ireland.  I came across it while I was bedridden with health issues this winter and had nothing to do but patrol the internet.  I have the first saddle to be tested in the USA, and I am enjoying this market research tremendously.  I've ridden five very different horses in it, and so far only one has said "absolutely not!" to the saddle.  There will be further blog posts about the details of how these test rides have gone and what I think of the saddle so far.

A cool feature (for me) is that I can entirely disassemble the saddle, taking it down to its modular components which are the tree, the flaps, the panels, and the seat.  Sabbath the cat in the photo is not technically part of the saddle, but he likes to stay abreast of new innovations in tack and equipment in a supervisory role.
I also can introduce Beau, a gorgeous black gelding who arrived here in the middle of the night on Saturday from Massachusetts.  He belongs to a client and is here to enjoy the good life of retirement at Bit of Honey.  We are working on healing up a head wound he incurred during his trip across the country, but I'll spare everyone the interesting veterinary photos.  This sweet gelding is tolerating my nursing ministrations incredibly well, but because of all the attention to a sore part of his head and face he does say to me, "Kim, you seem like a nice human.  I want to like you.  But you're not making it easy." 

Our saddle search for Dancer and Alex continued this week with test riding an Allegany trail saddle.  The tree is a very close to perfect fit for Dancer, and Alex was comfortable in it as well, as is obvious from this happy post-ride photo.

Fason is healing up well from his hoof abscess, and is starting to look like a horse who is going through the let-down process after coming off the track.  I decided to increase his mash, and he of course still has free access to the all-day-buffet of hay.  Thank goodness the big guy likes to eat, we'll have good weight on him in no time.

Some of my happiest news of all is that Touch A Prince is mostly recovered from being kicked by his roommate a couple months ago.  While he wasn't able to go to the horse expo and perform in the Equine Comeback Challenge, I was able to pull him out today and we went for a very light hack walking in the arena and the back forty this afternoon.  He was fussy while tied for grooming, but after I reestablished myself as the leader in this relationship he very comfortably backed right down and we had a lovely ride!  He was quiet as could be, so I rode him while I was teaching a lesson to Carol and Shambhu, then the four of us went to the back pastures to mosey around.  Touch A Prince was VERY pleased to be out and doing something again.  He had gotten sort of cranky sitting in his paddock healing (BORING!) but after our leisurely walk around the property he had a very soft look in his eye, he was quiet for untacking, and thoroughly enjoyed having his ears scratched at the end. 

It's hard to believe it's only Tuesday.  There is a storm moving in tonight with a forecast of 35 mph wind with gusts to 50 for Wednesday.  I feel like it was worth bombing through a bunch of stuff for two days since I'll be hiding in the house tomorrow!

Friday, March 18, 2016

No Hoof, No Horse!

Fason had to stay home during the horse expo, which was a bummer since he had many fans who were eager to meet him in person down in Denver last weekend.  He had to miss the big event because of some very normal challenges that come with the lifestyle overhaul he is experiencing after coming to the ranch from the racetrack.

This first photo is of Cole, my lesson horse, who has nearly perfect hooves.  They are wide, tough, wear evenly, and are balanced.  My farrier often says that if every horse had hooves like Cole he would be out of a job!  In this photo of a very clean hoof you can even see the part of the hoof called "the white line" where the outside wall meets the inside of the hoof. 

At the track the horses are kept shod all the time, usually in aluminum shoes that are changed approximately every four weeks.  They also keep the toe quite long at the track, and the humid climate where Fason was living and racing in Kentucky was very different from our hard dry environment in Colorado.

Here in "nearly Wyoming" the soil is rocky and hard.  Because of this, the switch to going barefoot or being shod only in the front takes some time for the horse's foot to adapt.  When Fason was first turned out in his paddock he ran around, and his hooves chipped on the hard ground.  Because of his many years being shod and maintained differently, his hoof wall had become somewhat shelly and the outer layer was brittle and broke off.  He was not sore, but it looked strange.  Once my farrier, Tyler Garrison with Waverly Forge, came and trimmed Fason he explained that it's not a big deal.  As Fason adapts to our soil and the nutrition I provide his feet will adapt and become accustomed to the footing here.  Because I wanted to make sure that Fason wasn't sore when riding on the hard footing at the horse expo I did put front shoes on him.

This first photo is of his hoof when the shelly outer layer chipped off.
The second photo is of the same hoof, just a couple weeks later after the farrier had been out and attended to him by trimming the toe and rasping the edge to prevent any further chipping.

This third photo is of the sole of Fason's foot, this same one that had the dramatic chipping.  You can see that he really has good solid structures on the bottom of his foot, the frog looks pretty good, and the overall shape is not too far off from Cole's ideal foot in the very top photo.

Unfortunately, part of this hoof-changing process included an abscess in Fason's left hind.  This happened because the hoof was somewhat vulnerable due to all the recent acclimations, and we happened to have a snow/rain storm move through that made the ground very wet and mucky for a day or so.  Then, as it does here in Colorado, everything dried out very abruptly.  This sudden change in moisture created an environment where bacteria could enter the soft hoof, then when things dried out so fast the hoof sealed itself creating a pocket in which the bacteria could throw a party.  Within a day or two the abscess ruptured out the bottom of Fason's foot while I was cleaning it with a hoof pick.

Because I worked for years as a veterinary technician and have seen and cared for many horses with these issues, this was not a big deal.  I soaked his foot twice daily in a soaker boot until I left for expo, and Fason stayed home with his foot clean in a poultice wrap and then tougher boot.  This blue one is the soaker boot I like to use.  I like this method because I can put it on, fill it with warm epsom salt water, and leave him for a half hour while I go do other things.  He can even walk around without too much water spilling.  I periodically stop by and refill with warm water, and it's much simpler than soaking a hoof while standing in a bucket that I have to babysit and make sure it doesn't tip over. 

 This is a link to purchase the soaker boot

While it looked dramatic with leg swelling and the abscess draining out the sole of his foot, it was a relatively simple thing to clean it by soaking in a hot water epsom salt bath, then wrap it with a sugar-dine solution to encourage the infection to drain.  Fason is an absolute gentleman, and allowed me to apply the poultice wrap including iodine, sugar, betadine solution, diaper, vetwrap, duct tape, and elasticon.  There is always a little giggle when someone discovers I keep a pack of diapers in the tack room.  Mostly they are used for these wraps because they are perfectly sized for a horse hoof, but occasionally I have a friend visiting with a human baby and they need to use one.  Always good to be prepared, right?

I don't have any photos of the hoof wrapping process, I only have so many hands!  Next time I'll get someone to help me by taking some video.  After applying the wrap I then put on an Old Mac boot which protects the poultice wrap and helps keep everything clean and makes the wrap last longer.  I happen to have Old Mac's on hand because I have had barefoot eventing horses who needed a little more protection on the long conditioning rides and so an Old Mac boot went a long way to keep them comfortable as we trained for stronger fitness levels for competition. 
More information about Old Mac boots can be found here

When I returned from expo the swelling in Fason's leg was gone, and he was walking normally on that foot.  It was a simple matter to remove the boot and wrap, and now his hoof is back to adjusting to our Colorado terrain and climate.  I'll be sure to keep his hooves picked out, treated with iodine, and make sure he has clean, dry footing to stand on while he eats to minimize the chances of an abscess happening again.
This is of the bottom of Fason's hoof, with it all cleaned out and ready for treatment.

This red photo is after I've applied the povidone iodine to the bottom of his hoof.  This is a good way to toughen the bottom of the foot and kill any organisms lobbying to become residents in the tissues. (The springy bracelet on my wrist is to remind me that I have water running to fill water tanks.  I keep the bracelet on the water spigot and when I turn it on I place the bracelet on my wrist.  When I turn off the water I replace the bracelet on the spigot.  I've successfully managed to minimize flooding of paddocks this way.)

It's all a very normal part of transitioning a horse from track life to sporthorse life, and once Fason's feet adapt he will be in great shape.  Most of my Thoroughbreds do well with these hoof changes and going barefoot.  Dewey and Touch A Prince are barefoot, and even Monty went barefoot all winter while he was on vacation. 

Highboy has great feet, he is barefoot all the time and wears his hooves down very evenly himself.

I do occasionally find a horse whose soles are just too thin to stay comfortable trail riding and walking on rocks if he is barefoot, so I did have front shoes on Major and Thai.  Overall I prefer that the horse be barefoot if he can tolerate it, and despite the reputation Thoroughbreds have for crummy feet, I've actually found them to be more resilient than people expect after they have had a chance to adapt.

I even like the little heart shapes their bare feet make in the sand in the arena. 

Monday, March 14, 2016

Equine Comeback Challenge 2016

We had a fun time at the Rocky Mountain Horse Expo this weekend!

The adventure began with extensive packing of the horse trailer.  Fason ended up with a hoof abscess two days before we left, so he had to stay home.  The night before expo is always a time of reflection for me, and I paused to feel gratitude for my many opportunities, fancy horses, good dogs, and functional equipment.

It was a very full weekend.  Dewey performed in his encore exhibition as part of the 2016 Equine Comeback Challenge, I was interviewed by 9 News and The Fence Post newspaper, and Highboy did dressage and jumping with the Retired Racehorse Project clinic sessions.  We arrived Thursday morning and got settled in.  Dewey was a ham in the barn and in all his interviews.

We had a stall guard set up so he was contained in his stall but could hang his head out to greet his adoring public.  He spent most of his time nodding at pedestrians and schmoozing with the folks who stopped by to admire him. I couldn't let Highboy have a stall guard for socializing because he kept trying to rearrange the display table and lip wrestle with strangers.

We had to wait a little while for some arenas to empty out so that we could ride in them as preparation and exposure to where we would be presenting. 

After riding, Bit of Honey Training hosted a pizza party at the tack stall for the Equine Comeback Challenge trainers and events organizers.  It was fun to meet the other trainers in person!  We've all seen each other's names online as we got ready for the Challenge, but it was great to actually meet everyone. 

Once the horses were tucked in for the night, I locked the tack stall as always and we adjourned to our hotel.  As a barn dog in the big city, Miles was pleased to have a soft cushy bed to sleep on!
Then Friday morning dawned much earlier than we would have liked, so off to the barn we went.  Dewey had his pattern class at eight am as the first horse to go, and he did pretty well.  His right lead is difficult for him without a cavalletti to help him with a jump-start, but he did the best he could so I was proud.

This was the ranch riding pattern class, but it almost looks like we could be halting for a dressage test.  Dewey got lots of pats for being good, and he got a chance to schmooze with Mariah, the brains behind this whole operation of the Comeback Challenge. 

 Later that morning I also rode Highboy in the Retired Racehorse Project's dressage clinic session.  Highboy was still excited about being in a new place (imagine a frat boy on spring break - party on!) so he was pretty wound up.  Steuart Pittman was presenting the session as the president of the RRP and he liked Highboy, so I let him hop on and take Highoby for a spin at the end of the dressage session.  As a fellow event rider, he appreciated my very flat cross country jumping saddle, made for two point position over fences.  Highboy is not far enough along in his development to be ridden in a dressage saddle, his back is not mature enough to have a rider take a deep seat with him.  So I ride him in this saddle that is more similar to an exercise saddle from the track.

Some video of Steuart riding Highboy can be seen here:

Saturday was the trail class for Dewey, which I had expected to be his easiest phase of the show.  Dewey is normally a very calm and level headed horse, which makes him perfect for disproving the stereotypes of OTTBs being hot and difficult to handle.  Because of his lovely temperament, I often forget that he is only four years old.  This trail class was a good reminder that sometimes a young horse misplaces his brain, and Dewey seemed to have forgotten his just outside the arena gates that morning.  Despite being absolutely solid about backing, turning, sidepassing, and cantering at home, he insisted that he had no idea what I was talking about when I asked for those maneuvers in the trail class.  It wasn't a big deal, because horse expo is a great place for a youngster to make these mistakes.  He did go over the bridge nicely in the beginning!

After trail class was over we took some photos of the entire group of Equine Comeback Challenge trainers from this year.

I spent the rest of the day visiting with old friends, clients, and we spent the day shopping at vendors (miraculously I did NOT spend all my lunch money on tack or this flattering chair!) and enjoying a catered lunch hosted by the Colorado Unwanted Horse Association.

Sunday dawned with much anticipation regarding my freestyle with Dewey.  First I had to ride in the RRP jumping clinic session with Highboy, where he demonstrated just how scopey his is and how incredibly well he uses his back over fences to create an ideal bascule in the air with his body shape.  We didn't get many photos of it, but I can attest that he was fabulous over fences.

 Then it was time to hustle back to the barn and get dressed for our Wizard of Oz freestyle!  I was Dorothy, Dewey was the cowardly lion, and Miles was Toto. 

Walking around the barn and show areas in this costume was very entertaining!  We attracted stares and comments, prompting my oft repeated statement of "We do it all for the photos!"  A colleague of mine did her freestyle to music from Grease, while she was dressed as Sandy and her horse was decorated as Greased Lightning.
Once it was our turn in the arena to perform, we started our act by doing a little flat work, redeeming ourselves with nice turns, backing, and some trotting of a serpentine.

Then we jumped over the rainbow, and did our canter work as Judy Garland's voice from the movie sang about finding somewhere over the rainbow.

Gradually the music shifted to some munchkins encouraging us to follow the yellow brick road.  The well known chorus of "follow the yellow brick road, we're off to see the wizard!" played and we used this opportunity to parade down the yellow tablecloth yellow brick road.

Lastly we took a victory gallop around the arena, to show the crowd just how cool racehorses are.

Video of the whole performance can be seen at:

They asked us to stay until the very end of the freestyle so that they could get good group photos of all the competitors presenting that day.  Dewey took a little nap outside the arena and Miles enjoyed the sunshine while we waited for them to finish the other freestyles and calculate the scores for the folks who were competing.  During this time I was interviewed by The Fence Post newspaper, and the article should come out tomorrow. 

After they announced the placings for the Comeback Challenge I had to hustle back over to the barns with Dewey, hand him off to my friends who were there helping me, do a very fast wardrobe change myself, and grab Highboy so we could return to the Events Center for a conformation assessment with the RRP.  Highboy received glowing reviews on his conformation and way of moving.   My favorite part was when Steuart took a good long look into Highboy's face and declared he looked like a gangly goofball teenager with a sense of humor.  That's about as accurate as it gets!  It's true that he is not the horse for everyone, but he is the perfect horse for me.

It was a great weekend in Denver connecting with old friends, showing off my OTTBs, and performing as Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz.  I am incredibly grateful for the folks who came and took pictures, especially Kimberly Hale Photography.  My working student, Jasi, was really the behind-the-scenes star.  She cleaned stalls, fed horses, ran around the show grounds, managed to find a great deal buying a pair of breeches for herself, and never once complained about the long days, short nights, or the excess amounts of slobbery horse kisses.  As I declare every year, it takes a village - and I'm grateful for mine!

The press release with the information about how the Comeback Challenge turned out can be seen here: