Thursday, September 07, 2006

Bernice talks about her Thoroughbred, Honor Part I

We received a letter from Bernice last week in which she describes her experiences with her horse, Honor, thus far in the journey. For those of you who regularly follow Bernice, some of the information her may not be new, although she does expand on her earlier information.

August 25, 2006

I will be the first to admit my dear Honor is one of the most unsuitable horses to have purchased for a long ride! She is finicky, a “Miss Princess”, a high-strung Thoroughbred of Native Dancer lineage. She is hard to keep weight on, has a heat cycle that taker her to near unmanageability and is a challenge for me everyday. I sit here looking at her with a fly mask on and mosquito netting wrapped around her, picketed by a front leg, calmly eating thick, thick Minnesota grass, having now traveled with her nearly 1500 miles, I smile and am so very proud of her.

When Honor first came into my life, when we first laid eyes on one another, when I first ran my hands down her back, along her legs, as I listened to her breathing, she was a sorry sight to behold. To be perfectly honest, I do not have any idea why the first horse I looked at and the first ad in the paper I respond to, I have to go and say “yes, I’ll take her.” Perhaps it was just her poor condition that would not let me walk away from her…rain rot on her legs and back, worms, lice, terribly thin, standing there nervous, cold in the pouring down rain and ankle deep mud. Honor, I have come to learn, hates the rain on her back. Some horses seem to mind it not at all. She gets fussy, huddles down and is most uncomfortable.

I like to think of myself as a competent horsewoman. I take pride in my skills and seek always to improve my skills and relationship with the horse. But nothing, no horse has ever posed more of a challenge.

The background information I do have on Honor is like this. She raced as a 4-5 year old -- lost, lost, lost -- was sold to a good farm as many are, sold to another good farm, got passed around (the last being “She’s too aggressive around the other horses. We can’t keep her.”). A horse trader in Washington had picked her up for a nickel or dime, put a little -- very little -- time on her and “turned her around.”

So what did I know about Thoroughbreds, let alone Thoroughbreds off the track? How did I know the problems that would come with a horse that has been trained to pump up, pump up and spring like a loaded sling shot? She has no ground manners. She still has a hard time standing still when she’s nervous. She paws until I put hobbles on to make her stand. When she’s in heat, she can throw a tizzy around other horses.

The first night in the stall where I’d brought her to begin training she rocked back and forth, back and forth, then circled round and round, repeating this over and over until hunger got the best of her. She could not stand to be brushed, nor wanted her legs handled. She wouldn’t eat and acted like she was in heat -- always.

So the first step, of course, was to address health issues. This was the 1st of February and I had 3 months to not only resurrect this horse, but get her trained for a long ride. So I moved into the stable! I knew I’d need to work with her all day. She needed to hear my voice at night, she needed handling and lots and lots of contact. I did an extensive worming program that I carried out over a 2 month period. I brought in good orchard grass hay. Her feed was mixture of corn, oats, flax seed, sunflower seeds, wheat germ oil, sea salt, vitamins, carrots and apples. I don’t think Honor has ever been abused. She doesn’t behave like a horse that has been beaten, but rather like a horse that’s never been disciplined.

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