Welcome to Bit of Honey Training LLC

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

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Interview for the Thoroughbred Makeover

I was recently asked to do an interview regarding my experiences with Note and the Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover.  Here are my responses

Your Name:        Kim Leonard
Horse’s Name:  One for Nothing (“Note”)

How long have you been riding? What’s your discipline now? What appeals to you about your chosen sport?  I’ve been riding for 30 years, working as a full time horse trainer, certified riding instructor, and business owner at Bit of Honey Training LLC since 2007.  My riding instructor certification is through Centered Riding, which I explain as a nondenominational style because it works for every discipline.  Regardless of what type of saddle you use or breed of horse you ride, Centered Riding is useful and applicable because it helps you to change your own body to better influence your horse. 
My personal sport of choice is eventing, because training for all three phases allows me the greatest variety of experiences for the horse.  Combining the balance of dressage, the footwork of show jumping, and the conditioning for cross country creates an incredibly well rounded horse (and rider!). 

How did your horse do at the track? How did you find them?
One For Nothing was a six year old cryptorchid stallion who raced 44 times, nearly once a month through his racing days.  Over the course of his career he won more than $40,000, coming in first four times.  He retired sound, and I found him through my connections at CANTER Arizona in the trainer listings.

What do you like about TBs generally? Do you think of yourself as a TB person?
I am definitely a Thoroughbred person.  These horses have the ideal combination of traits which I look for in a horse:  athleticism, heart, personality, and sensitivity.  I particularly enjoy OTTBs because they come with so much life experience already having been exposed to so many situations and various environments throughout their racing careers.

What attracted you to the RRP?
I have always been a Thoroughbred fan, a love affair with the breed which began in my childhood when I had the opportunity to restart a dark bay mare called Fourth of July for a paint breeding farm where I worked in New England.  Now that I live in Colorado and since we have a track here in Denver I am fortunate to have access to great athletes coming off the track when they are done racing.  I discovered the RRP online when it began and had its first show at Pimlico, and I have followed it ever since. 

Have you worked with RRP before?
I have assisted with the RRP’s presence at the Rocky Mountain Horse Expo here in Denver, Colorado for the past three years.  As a trainer for CANTER Colorado I took CANTER owned Sweetpeacefuldream to the 2015 RRP Thoroughbred Makeover and competed in showjumping.  It was a wonderful experience, and possibly the first time a Colorado bred and raced Thoroughbred had competed at the Kentucky Horse Park.  

Have you decided what you are doing at RRP? If you have what are you doing/planning? If not – why not? What will help you make up your mind?
I am currently planning to compete with One For Nothing in eventing and competitive trail.  This is of course dependent on Note’s aptitudes and interests.  If he were to decide he hates jumping we would train for dressage instead, and if he decides he likes cattle we would get him to my neighbors’ place so I could start ranch work with him.  I have my own interests with riding, but my ultimate goal is to create a happy sound horse who enjoys his job of choice.

What are you looking forward to about RRP?
The experience of having a horse at the Kentucky Horse Park competing is incredible, especially considering the distance we need to travel to get there from Colorado.  The show grounds are historic, the photo opportunities are abundant, and there is nothing quite like a competition full of retired racehorses succeeding in ten different disciplines.  The camaraderie among trainers is great fun, and to gather a group of this caliber horses speaks volumes about what the breed has to offer the sport horse world.

What challenges do you already see?
As for my individual horse, Note required a long recovery from a very involved abdominal cryptorchid gelding surgery.  Once physically healed it was a little tricky to determine the right feed for his physical and psychological needs. 
There are the usual challenges with an individual horse of how best to communicate with him in his training program.  A racehorse like Note who loved his job running and was very dedicated to it can be challenging to transition to a slower-paced second career.  I’ve been fortunate to have worked with many OTTBs and have an extensive knowledge base involving the combination of good veterinary care including dental work and ulcer treatment/prevention, quality farrier attention, nutritional analysis, tack evaluation, and social needs.  All these factors play into creating a happy sound horse in his second career.

Does your RRP horse live with you or is it boarded?
Note lives at Bit of Honey Training LLC, my training facility where I also live.

What accomplishment (horse or not) are you most proud of?
The accomplishment of which I am most proud is my recovery from a traumatic brain injury.  In 2008 a quiet, well-trained horse I was riding slipped and fell and I was knocked unconscious.  I spent significant time in a wheelchair and then with a walker, and it was a Thoroughbred named Cecil who eventually got me back in the saddle.  Upon initially meeting me today, most people don’t realize I have had brain damage.  While I still have significant limitations, and need to compensate for the brain damage I sustained, I am fortunate to be able to ride, teach, and train these amazing horses despite having a handicap not easily visible to the public eye.  

What is your most treasured horse possession?
I have a collection of the halter nameplates from all my horses who have passed on.  I reuse the leather halters, but the brass nameplates hang on the wall in my office.

What’s your training plan for March and April?
March and April will be filled with long trail rides in the mountains here in Colorado.  Note is a thinker, and needs more stimulation than circles in the arena can give him, so 20+ mile rides in open space will be just the right thing for him.  He will still work some in the arena and over fences, but we will be revisiting the endurance days of my youth to condition him for the cross country phase of eventing as well as prepare him for competitive trail riding.

Monday, February 27, 2017

With a Little Help From My Friends

I am fortunate to have so many amazing animals here, and I want to take some time to mention a few details about how some of them have helped me become a better person.

Garmin is my blind pinto pony.  I love him because he reminds me that it doesn't matter where you started (on a feed lot where I rescued him), where you travel (to shows representing the barn in many states) or where you end up (blind in a paddock).  What makes your life great is having a friend by your side.

Among his many other roles, Tao the haflinger is Garmin's Seeing Eye Pony.  As long as Tao is by Garmin's side he doesn't worry about a thing.  They have been friends for many years and illustrate the importance of the herd and friendship.

Highboy is my personal eventing horse, my long term project, and the horse with which I intend to disprove all those who have declared he's not worth working on because he is so complicated.  I happen to love complicated horses, and Highboy is my perfect combination of athletic, complicated, with a sense of humor.

Walsh is my wonder pony.  He may be small, but he is mighty.  He makes me a better rider because his small physique leaves very little room for error in my lanky body.  He is incredibly sensitive and responsive, and reminds me how important it is to listen to my mount.

Fason is the best Uncle on the place.  After retiring with tremendous winnings on the racetrack, he is enjoying time off while raising some of the younger horses.  When my life settles down a bit I intend to get back to riding him, but in the meantime he reminds me that a individual has worth whether they are working in a traditional job or not.

Dewey is the Most Wanted Thoroughbred at Bit of Honey Training.  He is happy to be ridden by a variety of  humans large and small.  He is an incredible representative of the OTTB because while he was bred to race he really much prefers to eat and nap.  He also loves to perform his party tricks for anyone who gives the cues, and has been featured in several magazines with his incredible comeback story.  Dewey reminds me that an individual is important and can become famous, regardless of who has discarded them previously.
Note is my latest project, entered in the Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover in Kentucky in October 2017.  Note has taught me to look beneath the surface evaluation of a stallion needing an expensive surgery to see a kind dedicated worker who loves his job.

Z is my calico barn cat, who has been with me for 9 years, making her about 13.  This is a ripe old age for a barn cat, and when the dogs are put away Z always welcomes arrivals to the ranch with her kind face and loving head-butts.  Z used to host dinner parties with the mice in the shop at our old facility where they would all gather around the cat food bowl together in the evening.  I can only assume they were her friends, because when we moved to our current place Z morphed into quite the huntress.  I guess these newer mice count as a different kind of dinner date.

Sabbath is the resident dog-cat.  After arriving as a feral cat whom we didn't see for six months, one day he waddled out of his hiding place in the feed room and ever since has been one of the friendliest faces on the ranch.  Sabbath especially loves having his belly rubbed while he lies on the picnic table eating cheetos.  His amazing transformation teaches me that sometimes all someone needs is time, space, and a safe place to be himself.

Miles is my 9 year old border collie, the best assistant trainer I've ever had.  His favorite game is "hup-dog", where he leaps in the air desperately trying to catch the end of the lunge whip.  This is more commonly known as dog-fishing.  Miles seems to enjoy everything and reminds me to appreciate the little things.

Mahzi the dog and Dewey arrived at Bit of Honey around the same time.  They are good friends and can regularly be found playing tag in turnout, reminding me that friendship has no species limits.

Broetchen is my guinea pig and my blog writing partner.  She's the first one to hear these blog posts as I write them and edit out loud, and she's always quick with a squeek or hoot of support for my literary efforts.  It feels good to have an office friend when I need inspiration in essay form.

These are just a few of the animals with whom I share my day to day life.  It helps me to pause and reflect on what each of them represents and teaches me.  They make me a better human in each of their own ways.   

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Note's Progress

Note has been working hard with me this week, if learning to relax can be called hard work.  Today some friends got a little video of his ride this afternoon in which he walked and trotted both directions, trotted through a grid of cross rails, and did a little cantering both directions.  I was especially pleased with the cantering, we went all the way around the arena with him in a slow and relatively balanced lope without him getting charge-y or hot.  Before today we had only managed one side of the arena before he wanted to bolt, but today we went all the way around several times!

It is worth noticing that Note does have a commanding "wild eye" when he first gets started!

Once he is warmed up and he begins to change from the racehorse paddock prance into a slower and longer stride length he actually is quite nice to ride!

After briefly inspecting the cross rail, and with some encouragement from Miles the border collie, Note proceeded to go over all the little jumps in the arena.


Valentines in the Arena

Chester rode with Jasi this weekend and we discovered that the old man loves to jump!  Because he's 20 we of course won't be doing anything heroic with him, but he hopped over a couple cross rails very nicely, and then happily took Jasi through a grid gymnastic of in-and-outs twice.  It was hard to tell who had a bigger smile on their face, Chester or Jasi!


We also had a random gravity check this weekend, in which the rider was fine but took a minute to lie in the soft sand and recalibrate.  Mahzi my lab decided that this was the moment for which she had been preparing all these years - a human lying in the deep sand resting with her!  We couldn't help but capture the moment with her unfettered zeal for lying down.  As Jasi put it, Mahzi's slogan is "when in doubt, nap it out." 

Friday, February 17, 2017

Pasture Turnout

I can't ever get enough of watching these gorgeous horses running in the pasture. This is after Note went riding for an hour, then he was hosted off on our near 70 deg day.  Feeling good, Note ran around the pasture and got his friends Fason and Casper wound up.


Cosmo's Bikini Body Exercise Plan

Cosmo the pony has wintered well, so now he's getting some turnout with Highboy in the arena as part of his ambitious "bikini body" plan.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Introducing Chester

Chester, or "Menocal's Turn" as he is known at the Jockey Club, is a 20 year old Thoroughbred gelding who belongs to a friend of mine.  He was purchased to be a lesson horse in her program but currently isn't being used.  Chester came to Bit of Honey Training this past weekend on a lease so Jasi has a mount and can apply to ride at the Rocky Mountain Horse Expo in the Colorado's Most Wanted Thoroughbred competition. 


Chester is a really nice mover once he has been warmed up, and is an incredible example of what a thoroughbred can do even as an older gentleman.  Jasi adores him and I anticipate they are going to have great fun together in the next few weeks!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Note's Day Off

Note has been working hard the past couple weeks with me in the arena, and so today we just went to the round pen to play.  I turned him loose in the round pen, and he happily took a few laps cantering around and hopping over the poles.  He quickly got bored with this (hurrah for new food making him quiet!) and came over to visit with me and Miles.


Friday, February 10, 2017

Pair of Owls

I'm excited to announce that our resident great horned owl who lives in the indoor arena has found herself a mate! She has lived here for about a year, and when she disappeared for a week or two I was a little worried she was gone. Then she reappeared with a male. They stayed a few days, then left for a week or two. I suspect they are scouting out real estate for a nest, but they were back yesterday so I think a third showing of our arena is a good sign. Hopefully they will select our place and we might have owlets this spring!

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Feed Regime

Note is continuing to make good progress with riding training going slowly at the walk and trot.  Today was his third successful slow ride in a row.  I think I've finally gotten around the corner with him and now we are really on our way to a well behaved quiet horse.

Note has been a tricky one to work with for several reasons.  First he is smart and knew all the ins and outs of being a racehorse, including what was right and wrong behavior in that job.  Second he has a temper, and when he thought I was doing something the wrong way (and I was from a racehorse's point of view!) he would get mad at me.  This included things like standing at the mounting block and riding on a loose rein because he was used to being mounted while moving, and riding with strong contact with the bit.  Third he is dramatically changing physically as he develops different muscling, so tack changes have been frequent.  Fourth I have had to get quite specific with his feed.

While there are many facets of retraining a racehorse, the feed is what I want to focus on this evening because I'm counting it as my latest victory in unraveling Note's behavior.  Just like people are affected differently by different types of food, horses can react differently to different feeds.  For example, I have a good friend who basically lives on Diet Coke.  She drinks it all day long, and even right before bed and has no trouble getting to sleep.  I, on the other hand, drink a half a can of Coke at 1pm and I'm up all night.  We react very differently to caffeine! 

All my horses are free-fed extremely high quality timothy hay as the basis of their diet.  Along these lines of our caffeine example, I have had horses, including hot-blooded breeds like Arabians and Thoroughbreds, eating a lower starch feed brand for years and I've never had a horse get hot on it.  I have had great success with this recipe when mixed with beet pulp, alfalfa pellets, Platinum Performance Equine vitamin supplement, with stabilized ground rice bran and soybean oil for added fat.  Occasionally I do have a horse come through the barn who gets hot and excitable with the alfalfa pellets, but that's a simple one to eliminate. 

I was suspicious that Note was reacting to something in his feed because the horse NEVER ran out of steam.  I could have lunged him for hours and he would get extremely sweaty and lathered, but he never acted tired.  Normally when I see a horse who is struggling with his diet I see more of a "can't think" behavior.  The horse can't focus or process what I'm asking of him, he simply reacts and exhibits flighty behavior.  Note manifested this a little differently.  He could think just fine, though he had temper tantrums when things didn't go his way.  He would accurately think through and perform every tricky footwork exercise I would give him.  These included poles, tires, jumps, and cones, but he would be terribly frustrated when I wanted him to do it slowly.  He also DESPISED standing tied at the horse trailer, even with a hay bag, if he had gotten wound up.

After a few weeks in a regular work schedule, I had gotten Note so fit that no amount of lunging would tire him out.  He was like an energizer bunny, he never ever decided to stop on his own.  While he didn't seem to have any trouble focusing, I wondered if I could make some changes in his feed to help him settle.  First I took him off the alfalfa pellets because that's a usual suspect in these situations.  I didn't notice any difference in him after two weeks, which is usually enough time to notice some sort of change.  The actual complete impact can take six to eight weeks for full effect, but I can usually see some sort of difference in the first two weeks.  However, Note had no change with removing the alfalfa from his diet.  I couldn't remove all of his supplemental feed and keep him just on the hay, because even free-feeding he needed more calories to keep a good body weight with the work load he has in training.

Next I started researching non-structural carbohydrate (NSC) levels.  For the sake of this discussion NSC's are basically simple starches and sugars.  Just as a human would do better to eat whole grains (complex carbohydrates) rather than pixie sticks (straight sugar), horses also generally do better eating foods with lower NSC levels. 

I discovered that the commercial feed I was using had an NSC level of 38%.  This is okay compared to straight oats often fed at the track to racehorses, which can be up to 67%.  However, it could still be enough to make Note hot.  I began the process of switching him over to a feed that is specifically designed for horses sensitive to sugars, even horses who have metabolic disorders whose bodies can't process them and get sick with too much NSC.  This new feed has a 9.5% NSC.  I don't think Note has a metabolic disorder, but I do think he is as sensitive to NSCs as I am to caffeine! 

I made the change gradually.  The first week I split the old feed and the new feed half and half.  He was still getting his hay, beet pulp, and fats as usual.  The second week I took him off the old feed completely and fed exclusively the new feed with his usual beet pulp and fats.  It was a little hard for him, he didn't like the new feed as much.  I can't say I blame him, I don't like to eat broccoli as much as cookies, either.  We are now in our third week of the food experiment, and the proof is in our rides this week.  Note has not bucked at all this week, even on the lunge line.  He has not bolted, and has only startled a few times when a dog unexpectedly darts into the arena through the tall grass outside the fence.  He is now happily eating the new feed mixture, which means I'm going to vote success on this experiment! 

This is my feed room.  The white buckets on the floor are each horse's mash all dished up.  The really full one is Highboy's, he has the metabolism of a hummingbird and eats pounds and pounds of feed every day in addition to free choice hay.  The black plastic cans are filled with each type of feed:  beet pulp, Purina Strategy, Ranch Way's Sound Starch, alfalfa pellets. 

I am careful to keep track of each horse's feed by weight, not by volume.  For this reason I have a scale in the feed room as well.

I use different sized scoops depending on how much each horse needs, but I weigh each scoop of each feed.  For example, the beet pulp pellets are more dense than the strategy pellets, so the scoop of beet pulp weighs more than the same size scoop of strategy.  In addition to as much hay as he can eat, Note is now getting 3 lbs of beet pulp, 3 lbs of Ranch Way's Sound Starch, ground rice bran, ulcer prevention supplement, and soybean oil, all divided into two feedings.  If he continues to do well with this recipe I may try to reintroduce the alfalfa pellets because it is a great source of calcium and good for the gut to fend off ulcers, but one thing at a time. 

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Note's Quiet Ride

Thank goodness for small victories! Note and I finally had a slow and boring ride, just walk and trot with Miles the dog in the arena. No bucking, no bolting, it was even kind of a push ride to keep him in the trot. In horse training as with many other things in life, fast is slow and slow is fast! Good boy, Note!

 Some video of this blessedly boring ride can be seen here: