Welcome to Bit of Honey Training LLC

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

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Fason's Successful Trip to Colorado State University

As I've been working with Fason he has learned that I want him to do things differently than the way they are done on the track.  I want him to stand quietly for mounting, I want him to reach his neck forwards and lift his back, tucking his pelvis beneath him to lengthen his entire topline.  Here is a photo of one of my students with her horse and some arrows drawn in to show this lovely topline stretch. 

Fason can't do this yet, but this is what we're aiming for.  Fason is starting to understand that this is what I'm asking him to do, and he understands that I want him to stand still while I mount.  However, he has really been struggling to do these things.  Mounting has become so stressful for him that he will even trot in place anticipating me climbing on, and then try to burst forward once I'm aboard.  Because I've taken the time to introduce these strange ideas to him carefully, I know that he understands what I want, but he has been sore and these particular things hurt.  I also have noticed he is grumpy for grooming his haunches and back, and just seems painful.  His right hip has been higher than his left as well, causing the back of my saddle to list to the left and exacerbate the problem.

I had my regular veterinarian come out and evaluate Fason, and he discovered Fason's pain is likely originating from his sacroiliac joint causing muscle pain throughout his haunches and back.  He referred me to Colorado State University for a pelvic ultrasound to get a better look at what is going on inside Fason's sore behind. 

Today was Fason's CSU appointment.  We arrived a few minutes early, got checked in at the front desk, and then gave the head veterinary student the medical history.  The students and then the attending veterinarian did brief physical exams, comparing notes to give the student a chance to develop her eye and fine tune her assessment.  Fason was quite popular in the large intake bay area, his presence and height drew everyone's attention, then he won them over with his gentle demeanor.

After doing their cursory trot-out and exam for their records, the veterinarian and students concurred that we indeed needed to do a pelvic ultrasound to see if we could locate the source of Fason's pain.  We adjourned to the ultrasound room, a small space for so many people, with large stocks in the center to restrain the horse.

The ultrasound veterinarians were wonderful, they carefully assessed all the various portions of Fason's anatomy from inside his body (they went in rectally) as well as externally by placing the ultrasound probe on top of his haunches. 

The images showed that Fason has some bony changes in both his left and right sacroiliac joints.  These are the parts of the body where the bottom of the vertebrae in the spine meet the pelvis.  He also has an curious anatomical difference in a ligament on his left side, which is probably not clinically significant, but was interesting to appreciate on the ultrasound.  These joint changes are a relatively common problem with the big english style horses, and the issues we found with the joints often respond very well to an injection of steroid to quiet the inflammation and pain killers to ease the discomfort. 

We did inject Fason's SI joints, which is done by first sterilizing the area with some extensive scrubbing.  One person even said they were sure they might just rub the orange right out of his coat! 

Once the area has been cleaned and sterilized, the long needle is placed into the joint area guided by the image from the ultrasound probe.  We got to watch on the screen as the needle was placed precisely in the right location, then the medications were injected through the needle.

We discussed Fason's prognosis, which is quite good.  We of course need to watch and see how he responds to this treatment, but we should see some significant improvement anywhere from the first three days to two weeks.  Ideally once his body has broken out of that pain and inflammation cycle and his core muscling is stronger to stabilize him, his body won't have such continued wear and tear on the SI joints.  Some horses can have one of these injections and with proper rehabilitation such as what I do here at Bit of Honey Training they may never have a recurrence of the problem.   I work with Equine Medical Services to provide acupuncture and manual therapy, Connective Touch Equine Massage for massage and kinesiotaping, and I do very careful and thorough physical therapy.  Because of this the veterinarians were very positive about Fason's outlook towards getting comfortable and even going on to compete in eventing. 

Fason was a champion (he enjoyed his sedative, too), and everyone just adored him.  They ooo-ed and ahhh-ed at his track record of 78 starts, marveled at his $90,000 won in racing, and that he raced so long while staying sound.  I discovered that the ultrasound veterinarians were big OTTB fans and they both said they would be cheering for us when we get to Kentucky in October for the makeover!  It is great to have access to such good diagnostics like this ultrasound right here in town at CSU, and such a relief to know that the big guy still has a bright future ahead of him once we get him comfortable. 

Saturday, April 23, 2016

First Saddle Club Show of the Season

Today I loaded Highboy and Monty into the trailer and we headed just up the road to the Rockie Mountain Saddle Club horse show.  These are always fun, nearby, and inexpensive so I love to start the season there.  Highboy stood tied at the trailer for the day to meet the people and see the sights, just getting some horse show mileage. 

I also coached one of my clients today, it was her first show and her horse's first show.  I had them sign up to ride in english equitation and english pleasure.  Equitation is judged on the rider's position, style, communication with the horse, and accuracy of the pattern ridden.  English pleasure is judged on the horse and his way of going as they ride in a group on the perimeter of the arena.  Both classes went well and they brought home two ribbons!

Monty did well today too, winning his show hack class with his brilliant extensions and collections (and the only true hand gallop to be seen all day).  He won his hunter hack class as well, and took home various ribbons in the other flat classes and showmanship.  He thought the whole scenario of "hurry up and wait" was a little strange, but he's become accustomed to bizarre human conventions and was willing to work with me.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Gearing Up for Thoroughbred Show Season

As things pick up around here in preparation for show season, there are some fun adventures in the works and some unfortunate changes taking place.  The next fun adventure on the agenda is a trip to Fort Robinson, Nebraska with Highboy.  I've wanted to go trail riding at Fort Robinson for years, since some very good friends of mine first told me about it when I first moved to Colorado.  It's was an old cavalry base, and now it's miles and miles of trail riding with cabins you can stay in and stalls for the horses in the barns.  I'm excited to go with some friends and clients in a small group the first week of May, weather permitting. 

In March Monty had a very thorough physical exam and soundness evaluation and has been cleared for any and all athletic endeavors.  I'm eager to start competing him again this season.  We'll start at beginner novice level just to get him into the swing of things, and hopefully move him into novice for the bulk of the season.  I had been planning to ride Monty in my lesson so I could focus on my own equitation and position that day, but he threw a shoe while we were out hacking in the back forty the day prior. 

Therefore, Highboy had to step up and act his age so I could ride him in my lesson.  Physically 7, mentally two.  We compromised and I treated him like he was a four year old.  Highboy is recovering more quickly from hard rides, so I'm hopeful this is a sign he is nearing the end of his growth.  I rode him hard at horse expo in March, and he recovered nicely after a day off, and I rode him hard last week when I took a dressage lesson on him and he was a butt head.  It was the day before a spring storm moved in and it was cold and windy, but there still wasn't a sufficient reason for the ridiculous amount of bucking and leaping around which he demonstrated.  Fortunately he got himself together and we ended on a good note.

Fason is having some continuing back pain and soreness through his haunches, even after being thoroughly treated for ulcers and having some let down time here at Bit of Honey.  Because Fason still is struggling with standing still to be mounted despite the fact that he does understand what I want now, I had the veterinarian come out to assess him.  I also have found that Fason's right hip is higher than his left, causing the back of my saddle to list to the left and my lower right back to be sore when we're done riding (and Fason is sore in the same places I am). 

When Dr. Landes performed a thorough physical exam on Fason we found the majority of his pain was likely originating from his pelvis and the sacroiliac joints.  He was sore around his withers as well, but that may be secondary, and as Dr. Landes so eloquently phrased it, "We can only chase one demon at a time."

This diagram from one of my college text books shows the sacrum in yellow and the ilium of the pelvis in orange.  Where those two bones meet is called the sacroiliac joint.  There is one on the left and one on the right.  When a horse has a lameness issue or pain in their back you want to be sure to rule out problems lower down in the limb, because often lameness issues stem from the parts of the leg that are closer to the ground.  When I bought Fason I had a veterinarian perform a thorough prepurchase exam on him, and there were no issues with his movement or flexion tests.  That would  indicate that his legs were fine at that time.  That vet did note some back soreness, but I find most of the horses who come to me from the track are a bit body sore just from the rigors of racing so I wasn't overly concerned about it.  Yesterday Dr. Landes carefully evaluated Fason as well, and was able to narrow the origin of the pain down to the pelvic region by ruling out lameness and other issues. 

The next step is to get an appointment with a specialist to ultrasound Fason's pelvis to collect more information.  This area is tricky to visualize on ultrasound and requires experience with the equipment and looking at this particular portion of the body.  With as sore as Fason was on physical exam with Dr. Landes, I have to take a moment to appreciate Fason's excellent temperament and be grateful that he has been letting me ride him at all.  I'm glad I noticed the slight abnormality in his gait from the asymmetrical pelvis, and I was able to recognize he is in pain and not merely grumpy about mounting.  I don't have any detailed information yet about Fason's prognosis or likelihood of competing in Kentucky in October, I want to make sure I'm proceeding carefully so I get him the best care for his long term soundness whether that includes a cross-country trip to compete or not.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Fason's Riding Video

I got a short video of Fason riding this morning.  We didn't capture the dogs on camera while they were racing Fason from the other side of the arena fence, but it's a fun video all the same.  Fason is learning to use his haunches differently in order to make tighter turns and smaller circles, and he has a nice walk, trot, and canter both directions.


Cosmo Returns to Bit of Honey

When I came home from the horse expo last month I brought an extra pony home with me.  About a year ago I leased Cosmo from one of my clients to use for riding lessons, and now Cosmo is a permanent resident at Bit of Honey Training, available to teach the smaller students about riding!  He has a great background, starting life as an Amish driving pony, then learning english riding skills at a hunter jumper barn before he landed with my client.  Now that he's here, he will be doing lessons and hopefully my shorter working student will be able to spend some time this summer putting mileage on Cosmo so he can do some pair paces and schooling shows. 

Cosmo's first official lesson was last Saturday with Josie, and here are some of my favorite photos from the ride. 

You'll notice that Cosmo is wearing a noseband with the reins attached to it.  All my lesson horses teach without a bit, that helps them to differentiate whether they are to be teaching or learning.  This one worked ok for a short first lesson, but I need to find one that is a little smaller circumference for Cosmo's little face!  He is just a wonderful pony, he nickered at Josie every time she approached him with a new brush or grooming tool as she prepared him for the ride.  We are going to have a great season watching these two progress and begin showing!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Running With the Little Dog

Today Fason and I went to the arena to work a little.  We started with lunging.  Fason and Forrest the new border collie have developed quite the friendship.  Forrest likes to dart in and out of the arena, and then race as fast as he can past Fason when he's on the lunge line.  When Fason is loose in the arena, epic games of chase ensue!  Mostly the horse chases the dog....  Today I captured some of their fun!

Of course, it's too much to ask a horse NOT to play with the cavorting dog, so I also got to watch a little of this:
Once everyone had settled down and Fason had found his focus, I sure had to mop the drool off my chin as I watched his extended trot, noticing how uphill and balanced he is (another perk to having a ten year old horse just off the track).

Fason's gaits are so springy, fluid, and natural.  I really have not done much schooling with him so far, which means this is all raw talent, good nutrition, and lots of playing with his friends as they all go running up and down the hill in the paddocks.

I also incorporate a lot of obstacle work into lunging so that the horse has to think and not just run in circles, so Fason had to deal with the tires and the poles in his circle.

Fason hopped over them, and then went over them in his big floaty trot in what I'm dubbing a "hover trot" since he looks like he's levitating when he does this over obstacles.

The poles are no problem, he has figured out how those work.  He's fine walking, trotting, and cantering over them on the lunge line or free in the round pen, and he's doing well going over them under saddle too.

Fason is really doing well with his lifestyle overhaul.  There are lots of little things that he insists I'm doing wrong, though.  The mounting block is a challenge for him, since a jockey would be tossed aboard as the horse walks or jogs by.  Fason is very sure that I should be hopping aboard as he walks or trots by me when I'm standing on the block.   As a result, we spend a lot of time with him walking in progressively smaller and smaller circles until he stops and stands quietly.  Then I pat the saddle and tug on the stirrups, which starts him walking again because he's sure he should be at least walking when I mount.  This sweet guy keeps giving me these looks as if to say, "Kim, I've been doing this my whole life and you're doing it wrong!"  When he finally stopped and let me mount and held still while I did it, of course I lavished praise on him and he quizzically looked at me over his shoulder saying, "I mean, I CAN stand still, even if it is the wrong way to do it, if that's what makes you happy?"

I got some very nice trotting from him, really starting to swing a bit, especially when he and Forrest are racing, one on each side of the arena fence.  His walk is huge and swinging, and he is really starting to relax and develop his stride.  I stupidly overestimated his comfort level because he is just so good about everything.  I had the thought that we should go out and ride around the field in this ground covering walk.

It would have been fine except I asked him for too much too fast with opening the gate.  All my horses are gate trained or in the process of being gate trained, so that I can open and close the arena gate while I'm mounted and go in and out.  Poor Fason stood quietly by the gate, but when I leaned over, grabbed it, and lifted I totally surprised him and he jumped into the air, spun around, and gave a little kick at the gate.  Fortunately I had one hand on his neck while I'd been reaching for the gate with the other hand, and I went with him instead of getting dumped.  We took the next fifteen minutes to redevelop that quiet relaxed and rhythmic walk, stopping near the gate each time we went by so I could lean over a little and wave my hand so Fason could figure out I meant no harm.  I surely spent a huge amount of time apologizing to him, too.  Fortunately he's a very forgiving soul and is still willing to work with me.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Vet Day and Fencing Repairs

After I fed all the horses this morning I went out to the west pasture to catch three of the horses for their veterinary appointment.  The west pasture is approximately ten acres, and can make for a long walk to halter a horse who doesn't want to be caught.  Fortunately, my horses are wonderful and easy to apprehend. 

The neighbor's llamas were turned out to play in their west pasture first thing this morning.  It made for a fun hullabaloo to see my horses go galloping across the ten acres to greet the llamas over the fence line.  This happens regularly, when the llamas are let loose my horses simply must rush over to say hello and catch up on the news of the day.  The ponies all crowd the fence visiting with them, Samson is more reserved and watches from a distance away, snorting in apprehension as he still doesn't quite believe they are not noodle-necked aliens. 

The horses were still at the far end of the field as I made my way down to their gate on the other end.  About halfway there I hollered for them, and I called Tao the Haflinger by name.  He immediately turned and began hustling towards my end of the field at a brisk trot with his bushy white mane tumbling around his face and neck.  He was first to the gate, so I haltered him and took him out, then the rest of the herd realized I was there and they all came running.  It's really a humbling feeling to see my previously occupied horses turn away from the most interesting thing they will see all week to hurry over to see me. 

All four dogs were involved in today's 2016 spring veterinary appointment for the horses at Bit of Honey. After the dogs each received their rattlesnake bite vaccines they demonstrated our impressive circus act where I say "Dogs, sit" and everyone sits in a row. Then each one is called by name and comes forward to get a treat. Thank goodness we have Miles to keep everything veterinary in order, I don't know how we would keep track of everyone's vaccines and dental work without his supervision. Thanks to Dr. Landes with Equine Medical Services LLC we can wrap up another big spring appointment as a success.

I was fortunate to have help from a couple friends with the veterinary appointment, catching and presenting horses to the vet for whatever vaccines and dental work was needed.  When we were done and after the vet left, we set to work trying to reassemble the arena.  This week we had 50+ mph wind here on Tuesday, and 25 mph wind Wednesday, and the wind had actually blown down my wind break fence.  It had also somehow lifted up the corner of the heavy metal panels straight into the air, and blown down the entire long side of the arena. 

One of the solid wooden windbreak panels was actually lifted up into the air, thrown about fifty feet away, and crashed into the metal panel fencing at the other end of the arena.  I'm glad no one was in the arena for that!

It took some elbow grease, some power tools, and some attention to physics to get the wooden panels and the metal panels pieced back together, but we got the walls put back where they were supposed to go.  Forrest the new border collie was very dedicated in his efforts to cheer us on and stayed right with us the whole time.  Miles was resting in the garage after a long morning helping with the vet appointment, and Mahzi the dog was taking a nap in the shade in true Labrador fashion.  Thank goodness for the young border collie and two good human friends!