Welcome to Bit of Honey Training LLC

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

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Bijou Springs Pair Pace at Dawson Butte

The Bijou Springs Hunt held their annual pair pace today at Dawson Butte Open Space in Larkspur.  A large group from Bit of Honey went, but we were lacking in the photography department due to the layout of the course through many wooded areas.  It was a very fun course, though!

I took Monty first in the Novice division (jumps up to 2'11").  Up here in Wellington there aren't as many trees as in Larkspur, so this was Monty's first opportunity to go galloping through changes in lighting, as we went from sun to shade and back over forty jumps on course.  He took a good look at a few changes in lighting and jumps he hadn't seen before, but once he got the idea that this was just a fast trail ride over jumps he was all in!  He booked it around the course, carefully and quickly picking his footing in the tricky spots with roots, downhill jigs, and then he soared over every single one of the fences on course.  He loves this kind of thing, we have a good time doing just fast trail riding closer to home.  This was merely a slightly more complicated version of a run at Soapstone.  Monty did great and came away with a cool third place ribbon.

Cosmo and Jasi rode the course at the Beginner Novice level with Carol and Shambhu, and even got ribbons themselves!  Jasi was the team captain and they went under the team name The Bit of Honey Bees.  This was the first pair pace for both of them and they all did great.

Next I rode Rain, the athletic paint mare, in the elementary division.  We were planning to go much more slowly so that she could have a good experience and come out of it confident.  I got her tacked up and we headed out on the nearly three mile walk to the warmup area and start box.  There was a turn in the sandy service road, with a rotting log which surprised her.  Unfortunately, I hadn't taken enough time to re-calibrate my own body and riding settings, and I was still in Riding a Thoroughbred mode.  Thoroughbreds tend to bolt or jump in the air when they spook.  Not so with a compact Quarter Horse type.  They tend to do more of a "duck and spin" maneuver.  I anticipated incorrectly, which resulted in an unplanned dismount as Rain threw her head down and spun away from the log.  It felt somewhat comical.  I was calmly sitting aboard the horse, then without any notice I was suddenly standing, both feet on the ground.  She just simply spun right out from underneath me!

However, this random gravity check did cause my air vest to deploy, but AFTER I'd landed squarely on my own feet.  Rain was fine until the pin on my vest pulled and I instantly puffed up with a bang and a striking resemblance to the stay-puff marshmallow man.  She darted away from me, I lost my grip on her reins, and she then took off at top speed.

I saw which way she was headed (into the fields afar), and I began my trek to relocate my mount.  Some friends had been riding behind me and saw the whole thing, and did comment on how I should have gotten a ten for being able to stick the landing!  They offered to go try to catch Rain, but I figured once Rain calmed down I'd be able to grab her so I sent them on their way to the starting gate.

I hoofed it along a sandy road, then into a vast field with grass that came up to my waist.  It crossed my mind that I was well dressed for this hike.  If there were rattlesnakes in the tall grass I had my high leather boots on so I should have been good even if I encountered an ill-tempered reptile.  At one point I found myself in what appeared to be the driveway of an abandoned house.  There were some rough looking windows and a cock-eyed ladder up against the side of the house, but no one appeared to have been around for some time.  I continued on. 

Finally I made it to a marsh and I squelched my way over to the fence line where Rain had finally stopped and decided to have a snack on the lush green grass growing there.  I called her, and as soon as she saw me she hurried over, looking relieved that someone had come to fetch her from this barbaric wilderness.  I led her back to the original service road that should have taken us to the start of the ride, and I placed my air vest on a t-post to give it time to deflate.  Then I climbed aboard Rain a second time, and we continued on to the start box.

After our foray into uncharted territory Rain didn't need much warm up before we headed out on course.  A quick ten second countdown to go, then we were off at a cautious trot.  I rode Rain conservatively because I wanted her to feel confident, especially after our pre-course detour.  We trotted and walked, and by the end of the ride she had figured out what she was supposed to be doing.  That's half the challenge with the horses, just teaching them how to play the game.  She trotted over some of the lower fences (all were optional).  She was startled by the photographer on course, who was lurking ominously in the shade, but once Rain realized it was just a human she was fine and we continued on our way.  She even gave me a nice little balanced canter over the last three fences at the finish.

Once we were done riding the two mile course, we joined back up again to the service road and headed back to the scene of our earlier indiscretion.  We passed the log successfully without even a second glance, I picked up my vest where I'd left it in the field, and we made our way back to the horse trailers.  Rain's owner was anxious today, and so I initially just expressed how well Rain did on course, especially once she understood the task.  Later in the day, once everyone had settled down in chairs near the shade to eat some lunch I divulged the fact that I had indeed experienced a perfect ten landing when I had my unscheduled dismount.  I figured Rain's owner was going to hear about it from our mutual friends, and I wanted to be the one to explain how it had all gone down.  Rain's owner reacted well to the news, and expressed gratitude that SHE hadn't been aboard!

As we drove home from the show the whole group of us laughed and generally enjoyed the tales of the day.  I usually say "I didn't fall off, so it was a good day", but this afternoon I'm claiming, "I stuck the landing, so it was a good day!"

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Note at Liberty

This week I worked Note for the first time with tack on, including a saddle and bridle.  I discovered that he really loved his job racing, and he was excited to get back to it!  He thought the tack meant going out for a gallop, and he was pretty confused when I explained I wanted him to just mosey around on the lunge line and over obstacles.  He had a hard time with this idea, so after he had gotten himself a bit worked up in the arena, we adjourned to the round pen and I pulled all his equipment off and we did some liberty work to get him to settle.  He follows me around nicely with no halter or leadrope, walking and trotting next to me, always just in step with my stride.  Jasi took some excellent photos of us together.

When I sat down on the mounting block to give him some unstructured time, he came right over for a snuggle.  I guess he forgives me for being a strange human asking him to do a job very different from the one he performed which made him so successful in his career at the racetrack. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Highboy's Hops

I've known for a long time that Highboy misbehaves to amuse himself when he's bored.  I also know that the more complicated the angle, the bigger the jump, the trickier the footwork, the better he rides.  That's why at the saddle club he creates such drama over a six inch flower, because he needs to do it for entertainment since a regular cross rail should be more complicated to be interesting.

Today I was jumping Highboy in the arena, after a brief warmup at the walk, trot, and porpoising (Highboy's entertaining version of a canter).

My eleven o'clock riding lesson showed up and was willing to set fences for me.  Jasi was here as well and asked if she could photograph Highboy's shenanigans.  I had a course set in the arena, which could be taken from many different directions and made as simple or complicated as I needed it.

I had done the course as ground poles and cross rails, and Highboy felt he had mastered that.  We raised a couple of the jumps to about 2'6", and he decided that he should experiment over those.  He played with jumping them high, jumping them low and long, all kinds of body contortions.  I asked my jump crew to raise them again, hopefully to a height that would cause Highboy to pay attention.  We put one at about 3'3", and another at 3'9".  Finally, something Highboy was interested in!  He just launched himself over the sunflower fence set at the greater height, easily clearing it even without having to fold his limbs very much.

When I sent him through the line on the other side over the tree jump, he stepped over the crossrail, then rocked back on his haunches and jumped the bigger fence.  Upon landing, he assumed the demeanor of a football player who has just scored a touchdown.  He spiked the ball, jumped up and down in the air a few times, and did a little victory dance.  What can I say, the horse loves to jump!

In the photos you can see the focus he has, and the laser beam vision he gets when he locks onto the next fence.  He is always calm and thoughtful on his approach, it's just the after-party that gets out of hand.  Hence my face in this landing photo as I brace for the celebratory bucking that will ensue.

It's not a big deal to me, I'm glad he enjoys his job.  I have full confidence that he is going to outgrow his touchdown tendencies.  After he has cleared a new type of fence or answered a technical question well and he understands the principles behind it, he does settle right down.

I am also really pleased with my position in this photo, despite the fact that we missed catching a bunch of the horse's body.  My stirrup leather is perpendicular to the ground, my heel is down, there is a straight line from my elbow through the reins to his mouth, my eyes are up, and my back is parallel to Highoy's back.  A great position, especially considering I knew he was going to start frolicking once we landed!  Most of the time I'm my own worst critic when I see photos of myself riding, but this is one to be proud of.

Despite jumping in the morning, Highboy was still put out that I took Fason out to the back forty acres to ride with Jasi and Cosmo.  If he had his druthers Highboy would be the horse I ride all day every day.

Fason did well out in the field, this was his first time out there mounted.  I've ponied him from Tao the haflinger out there several times, but today I rode him while Jasi schooled some of the cross country fences with Cosmo in preparation for the pair pace this weekend.  Fason did well, but when Jasi and Cosmo trotted an approach to a log, then Cosmo gave a little hop over it, Fason was sure that we were all going to run and play together!  He was pretty disappointed when I said we were only out to walk around and step over the small logs.  It was good for him, though, because I want him long, stretchy, relaxed, and swinging in his walk up and down hills and over small obstacles.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Note Checks Out the Bit of Honey Circus

The time has come, as it does for all the retired racehorses here, for Note (Jockey Club OneForNothing) to be introduced to the Bit of Honey Training circus. It's not dignified, it's not traditional, but it sure is fun!

This morning Note and I went to the arena to putter around and play with some of the Bit of Honey Circus paraphernalia.  I lunged him a little both directions at the walk and trot and found him to be very quiet and tractable.  He lunged over the poles and the tires with no trouble, clearly he remembered from last week what was to be done with that stuff.

Next I took him into the covered portion of the arena, where I keep the extra toys.  Today we worked with hula hoops, pool noodles, and pinwheels.  Note is a very reasonable horse, and as I find with many of the track horses who have significant racing records, nothing much bothers him.  When a horse spends years at the race track, they get used to all kinds of things.  Machinery, other horses, commotion, strange noises, they are exposed to all kinds of things and learn that it's no big deal.  Note is definitely of this variety, because he didn't have any reaction to the orange pool noodle, even when I flopped it all over his body and even between his front and back legs.  Next I took out the hula hoops, which have beads or something inside them to make a little noise when they turn.  Note was interested, but had no concern about them.

So I hung them around his neck and lunged him a bit more.  No reaction other than putting his head down, which then made the hoops tumble off over his head.  He would then stop and look at me as if to ask, "Are you going to replace those?  Or should we move on to something else?"  We next went to hand walking over jumps while wearing the hula hoops.  He paused briefly to investigate the pinwheels on the ground, but then calmly walked over all the obstacles. 

The most interesting part of today's session for Note was the neighbor's llamas.  This was his first opportunity to get a good look at them from the arena, since he can't see them from where he lives in his paddock.  He was interested, but not at all concerned or stressed about them.  This horse has a great head on his shoulders.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Fason Gets Out to Play

This morning Fason came out to play!  He has been spending his time in his large paddock with a hill, sometimes with Tao the haflinger for company and sometimes with just Highboy over the fence for lip wrestling entertainment.  Fason has had quite the series of treatments to help with his sacroiliac pain, and I suspect I may have even overdone it by removing too many of his compensating patterns too quickly.  Fortunately he seems to be doing very well now and the current challenge is getting him acclimated to his newly functioning body.

After grooming him and discovering he had no body soreness at all (hooray!) I took Fason to the arena and let him play a little on the lunge line.  My working student is quick with a camera and captured some of his frolicking.  I swear this horse does not know how to take a bad picture, and every time he would circle me on the line he would shoot Jasi a look that said, "Hey, just watch THIS!"

I love these photos of him playing and feeling good, seeing him really sit and then jump in the air tells me he is using his muscling much differently than when he arrived.

Fason is at a great weight, even to the point where I can affectionately call him a "fat thoroughbred" because it takes such careful effort on my part to get these guys to ideal body condition.

Lest anyone think he is a hot head, Jasi did also get a great number of photos of him being very sedate and well behaved.  He likes to think through things, especially the bridge in the arena.

I love the photos of me and my dogs working with Fason, they capture perfectly a typical morning here at Bit of Honey Training.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Sponsorship Available for Matty's Trail

Have you been wanting to participate in the exciting changes happening with retired racehorses at Bit of Honey Training? We can now offer the prestigious opportunity to sponsor a very special retired racehorse!

There are some great track people making an effort to get Matty's Trail, or Tomas as he's called on the backside, to Bit of Honey Training. Currently he is a trainer listing with CANTER Arizona. He is a spectacular war horse who is 11 years old and has won more than $250,000 racing over the course of his career. His racing owners did their best to provide a soft landing for him after his running days, but those good folks passed away suddenly. Now he is trying to get a spot here at Bit of Honey Training through the good people who sent Note (JC OneForNothing) to me.

As a sponsor you get attention and recognition on the Bit of Honey blog, as well as the illustrious title of either a Wildflower, Clover, or Alfalfa Honey Sponsor of a spectacular retired racehorse as he makes his way transitioning into the sport horse world!

Take a look at Matty's Trail CANTER listing then contact Kim Leonard, bitofhoneytraining@gmail.com for more information regarding sponsorship opportunities and how you can be a part of this exciting change from racehorse to sporthorse!


Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Note Goes Back to Work

This week is Note's scheduled return to working life.  He has had several weeks off in a stall, then a small paddock to heal from his gelding surgery, and now he is ready to gently start back into training.  We began this morning by heading to the arena to work on lunging.

Note was very excited to be out of his paddock and headed to do something fun, especially if it involved stomping one of the dogs.  Fortunately the dogs understand about young horses, and they stayed carefully out of range of the flying hooves.  Note walked and trotted to the left, and seemed confused about circling around me to the right, but figured it out relatively quickly.  I didn't work him very hard because he is only just coming back into work from a fairly invasive abdominal surgery, and I want to condition him properly so there is no trouble with the surgical site or muscling as he gradually gets fit. 

Once he had the idea of the voice commands I use for walk, trot, and reverse, I held him on a slightly shorter line and we messed around with some of the obstacles in the arena.  He had no trouble or even hesitation with the bridge, but the poles and tires were puzzling to him.  What was he supposed to do?  Go around them?  Stop in front of them?  Walk between them? Bite them?  Such a conundrum.

The dogs are a big help with this process.  Note watched me and the dogs walk over the poles and tires, back and forth, several times before he decided to try it himself.  He took his time, sniffing them and planning out just where to place his hooves.  When he finally did go over them it was without any fanfare, he just sedately walked over each item and then looked at me to ask what was next? 

I love to end these first training sessions with the horse wanting more, that way they are very interested to see what fun thing I come up with next time.  Note quietly walked with me back to his paddock, ignoring the mares as we passed them, and only gave himself a cursory glance in the mirrored horse trailer as I reached in to grab bug spray.  He is really settling down and transforming into a nice gelding now that he doesn't have testosterone coursing through him demanding his constant attention.  It will of course take more time for him to really adapt to gelding life, but he's off to a great start!

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Centered Riding Clinic

The instructor update clinic to keep my Centered Riding instructor certification current went really well.  The week long clinic began each day in a cute farmhouse at the Humble Ranch in Steamboat Springs, CO with unmounted work, discussion of theory, and consulting on different ways to present information about the basics of Centered Riding.  The basics are Centering, Grounding, Building Blocks, Soft Eyes, and Clear Intent.  There are so many ways to teach these things both on and off the horse, it is always great to get new ideas that might work for different types of people.

Another exercise done off the horse is called Swing Your Partner.  In these photos you can see that folks are paired up, one is the "horse" the other is the "rider".  They they walk around the arena altering different aspects of their posture and energy levels, and using their theoretical inside reins and outside reins.  It's a great exercise to illustrate a multitude of things that we do as riders, and it gives us deeper insight into how our horses perceive those things.

Each exercise has a short wrap up summary at the end so everyone can compare notes on how the experience went for them.

Next came bodywork and riding instruction for the instructors.  This is an important part of the clinic so that the instructors can get some guidance on their own riding, as well as have some bodywork done on themselves.  Instructors also ride as an evaluation, to demonstrate that they can practice what they preach.

Our main supervisor for the weekend was Vivien, the corgi.  She made sure everyone got to where they needed to be on time, and attempted to play with Monty. 

I was pleased with how my rides went, both the ones where I was riding and where I was teaching.  I got to teach a woman I worked with two years ago last time I updated my instructor certification.  I wish I could pack her and her horse up and bring them back to Wellington with me, because they would fit in SO WELL here at Bit of Honey.  The horse is a draft cross, and the rider is an adult amateur, a perfectionist like all of us.  She and I clicked so well, I enjoyed teaching her tremendously.  She was a great sport about letting me experiment with her a bit with some new techniques I've acquired, and we had a fun time watching her horse become a swingy, free moving mare with forward impulsion.

Dewey and Monty were a hit at the clinic.  The first day all of us instructors introduced ourselves while sitting in a circle, and I ended up going last.  There were several folks who have had a typical off-track-thoroughbred experience, and were a bit soured on the breed.  When I went last to introduce myself I explained where my barn is located, gave a little history regarding my education  and experience, then happily declared my intent to help all those I meet understand what sweet horses the OTTB athletes can be. 

I certainly accomplished my goal; within a short period of time I was fielding questions regarding how I can possibly have such quiet horses?  What do I feed them?  How do I manage them?  By the end of the clinic another instructor declared to me, "The next horse I buy will be an off track thoroughbred, and I will be buying it from you.  You surely have a knack for picking the good ones."  I felt vastly successful, not just because I recertified as a Centered Riding Instructor, but because I was able to change some good minds regarding my favorite breed.

Dewey showed he has a sense of humor, and everyone was amazed when word got out that he has only recently turned five.  If I could have a barn full of horses just like Dewey I'd be all set!

Tao the Haflinger was also quite popular.  We did have a little trouble with him the first day in his lesson.  The arena was divided into two sections by poles and cones so that two lessons could be happening concurrently.  At a very tender age I clicker trained Tao and as a result he loves to pick up cones with his mouth and carry them around, as well as go over jumps, even if they are just poles on the ground.  There was a small amount of confusion while he sorted out whether these humans would transform into vending machines if he performed all his tricks in quick succession. 

The last day I ended up teaching at the same time as Tao and Carrie were in their lesson on the other side of the arena.  As the last part of my student's exercise I had her riding figure eights over a ground pole while performing walk/trot transitions.  When we stopped to wrap up at the end, Tao came careening across the arena, aiming directly for my pole!  One of the other instructors realized that Tao was just trying to aim for the "jump" as he thought he should, and as soon as the pole was put away Tao went back to calmly circling his own side of the arena.  He is such a smart pony, and I'm thankful for a group of instructors who also realized he was demonstrating his eager-to-please nature, and not being disobedient.  At any rate it was a good pop-quiz for Carrie to manage his overachiever tendencies!

The clinic was overall a great success.  Good friends, good food, good horses, and a good week.