Welcome to Bit of Honey Training LLC

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

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Introducing Val

This month I have a new mare in for training.  Her name is Valentine, Val for short, and she's a 14 year old Holsteiner.  When she arrived she was very green, having had only some laid back walk/trot rides under saddle.  After tack fitting (bit, saddle, pads, and girth all needed to be changed from the equipment with which she arrived) her first training session with me was in the round pen as usual.  That gave me a safe environment where I could assess her understanding of voice commands, as well as evaluate her gas, brakes, and steering under saddle.  

I discovered that she was incredibly smart, and not particularly interested in praise.  She had the mindset of, "In my fourteen years I've never needed to know what you're teaching me, why should I bother to learn it now?"  With some carefully timed horse cookies and some work on my part to establish myself as NOT a doormat, she decided that maybe riding with me was worth taking seriously after all.  

Because she's so intelligent it didn't take much to teach her the voice commands I use (walk on, trrrrrot, canTER, whoa, back) and she listens fairly well to weight shifts and breath cues now that she knows what they mean.  She's not a particularly spooky or hot horse so she has made good progress in just these first two weeks.  She is a bit out of shape so we've been gradually increasing her workload.  By the end of the first week we had three gaits in the arena, and had gone for a hack out in the back forty with Rozie on another horse for moral support. 




Val has also spent SIGNIFICANT time tied up after her rides.  This was necessary for her to learn that it's much easier to just quietly eat from the hay net and have a drink of water from your bucket while tied, rather than have a temper tantrum insisting to go back to your paddock.  The longer the tantrum, the longer she gets ignored.  I mean no one touches her, no one talks to her, no one looks at her.  Once she quits stomping around, kicking, pawing, and generally making a scene, then and only then does she get to go back to her paddock.  Totally ignoring her is critical.  She interprets any attention as good, so acknowledging her in any way when she's misbehaving reinforces the bad behavior. 

She's smart, and doesn't really want to work very hard, so it only took a day or two for her to decide to cooperate and be polite when tied.  I sure got some crusty looks from her during the process, and some impressive mud splatter-painting on the side of my trailer.  It reminds me of the bumper sticker I've seen which says, "my window's aren't dirty, that's my dog's nose art".

This series of her face while wearing a cooler after a particularly hard workout cracks me up.

 
"Hey, Kim, are you going to put me away or what?"

 "Uh, Kim?  I said I wanted to go back to my paddock....?"
 
Talking to her reflection:  "Do you believe this?  This human has a special brand of nonsense."

Today we worked in the arena a little, then we headed out to the back fields with the dogs to try for some more forward work with longer strides.  All was well as we trotted out to the far end of the back forty.  When we got to the southwest corner of the property we did some trotting and cantering in an arena-sized circle to help her realize she could have this nice impulsion while doing arena type exercises.  Once she was a little fatigued, we continued on our loop of the field at the walk to cool out.  She did fine until we turned north again at the fence line, and then for some reason known only to her she bolted while bucking.  I was balanced as she took off, so thankfully I was able to shut that down right away.  I did have a few words with Val to express that sort of thing is absolutely not acceptable (literally, I said to her that it wasn't acceptable), then we returned to the scene of the crime and practiced walking through that turn in a civilized manner.  The dogs were wondering why we took so much time schooling that particular turn, but they waited politely for me to finish the lesson.  Then all of us headed back to the barn and the rest of the ride was quite unremarkable. 

Val is definitely a warmblood, in their typical way she wants me to push her with my leg and carry her with my hands, but I don't ride that way.   I want her to take responsibility for her own balance and not rely on me to hold her in a frame, so we do lots of riding on a loose rein, working to firstly establish her rhythm.

This is the dressage pyramid I work from.  I start at the bottom and work my way up the pyramid over the course of a horse's riding career, and also within each ride.  When warming up a horse I begin with establishing a rhythm at each gait.  With a horse as green as Val, often that's all we do in a session is practice each gait and try to get her to stay at the same pace.  As her ride goes on, she starts to relax with the rhythm.  While she's not there yet, eventually with enough rhythm and relaxation she'll begin to lengthen her topline and reach for the bit to establish a connection with my hands through the reins.  

With a more advanced horse I'd begin each ride this same way, and as the horse offers steady connection, I'd ask for more "push" from the hind end to create impulsion.  Then when the horse is really pushing with the hind end and lifting her back, we check to make sure the horse is straight through its spine, both laterally and longitudinally.  Lastly, we spend a little time in collected work, which happens in two ways.  One is with exercises that encourage the horse to flex the joints of the hind legs more, like lateral work or smaller circles.  Doing these maneuvers the rider must sit a bit deeper, and lift her chest.  This shift in balance takes the straight, round frame of the horse and rocks it back, so the whole picture changes to lower the haunches and lift the front end, like an airplane taking off.

This will be the training progression for Val, but it's important to remember that every horse needs rhythm under saddle, and it's MUCH later in the horse's training that they do any collected work.  You cannot get true collection without everything at the base of the pyramid, and if a person tries to cheat by tying the horse's head into a position that mimics a collected frame, you won't have the core muscling or hind end muscling required to be truly collected.  This always results in injury and arthritic changes, particularly at the base of the neck, the lower back, and in the hocks.  It makes sense to work the horse in a systematic dressage pyramid not only to keep them happy and be correct, but to keep them sound.

Here is a video from Val's fifth ride here.  With just a couple additional rides she's already looking different, it is super fun to work with the smart horses!

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Funny Things Heard in Lessons

I was considering recently some of the odd and funny things we say and hear around the barn.  Because of my slightly different teaching style, heavily influenced by my Centered Riding background, over the course of lessons we have developed a bunch of little phrases that help recall how a certain maneuver is supposed to feel.  Some of the things said over the last week include:

"Point your belly button over the rainbow!"  
This is in reference to getting a horse to turn towards a rainbow colored jump, accomplished by swiveling one's hips so that the belly button aims for the fence.  This has the effect of getting the horse to turn using his hind end, so the turn is more balanced.
 

"Turn left at the mattress"
I have a mattress from a futon in my arena.  We use it for desensitizing horses to walking on different types of surfaces, and this one is great because it is full of foam, not springs.  That way if a horse's hoof were to tear it, there's no danger from metal.  When not in use, I have it leaned up against the side of the wall, but it's a handy visual for where to turn when jumping courses or working through patterns.

"Roll your center down and back"
This is a phrase that helps riders shift their weight so that their center of gravity drops lower in their body.  It comes from imagining a ball of sorts sitting in the bowl of your pelvis, and rolling the ball backwards and dropping it lower results in the rider shifting the pelvis towards a posterior pelvic tilt, which then causes the horse to shift weight to his haunches.  It's a quick easy way to half-halt (more on that later).

"Go over blue towards the llamas"
My jumps are color-coded to make it easier to give directions when jumping multiple fences, and my next door neighbor to the south has a large herd of llamas.  It's handy to give riders directions in reference to them because everyone immediately knows which way is towards the llamas. 
 

"Make your fruit bigger!"
This is in reference to the Fruity Centers riding lesson I teach frequently.  This idea helps riders to change the tone in their core, without creating tension.  It comes from the idea that the ball in the bowl of your pelvis is a piece of fruit.  What size would you say it is when you first start riding?  Apple?  Peach?  Grapefruit?  As you ride, play with changing the size of your fruit.  What happens when you shrink it down to grape size?  What about blueberry?  Or grow it until it's watermelon sized?  It's a fun exercise, and shows you how little you need to do with arms and legs to influence a horse's speed and quality of gaits.



"Head towards the iceberg"
A friend of mine had a GIANT block of styrofoam blow into her pasture last winter, and she brought it to me to use as a puissance wall.  I haven't gotten around to cutting it into blocks yet, so for now it sits in the corner of the indoor arena and everyone refers to it as The Iceberg.
 

 What other funny things have you heard around the barn?

Saturday, November 7, 2020

Saturday Derby Course Lessons

This weekend we put all the pieces together from the gymnastic exercises we've been doing for weeks.  Tight turns, shifting weight, staying in a balanced jump position, bending lines, drastic speed changes, all kinds of technical things.  My riders have worked really hard to master these things in individual exercises, and today I set a course that put it all together.  

This diagram is from a hunter derby type competition.  Instead of brush as obstacles near the ends I used the barrels, which still made for tight turns.  To just go out and ride a course like this as written is very tricky.  I like to set up my riders so they can finish the course successfully by the end of the lesson, so I break it down into pieces.  

First I had them individually ride the outside line of three fences (1abc) which were ground poles to start, and ride through the turns in the obstacles (2, 3, 4).  

Next time through they repeated this, and I added on the diagonal line (5abc). 

Third time through we repeated everything they'd done so far, plus added the second set of obstacles (7, 8).  

Next time through repeated everything so far, plus the bending line ((8, 9).  

Lastly they rode the entire thing, including the last time through the barrels (10, 11, 12).  

Doing it this way breaks it down into manageable chunks so the horses and riders can calmly and confidently accomplish each section, and by the time they've done the whole thing it's all very familiar and easy.  To increase the difficulty I have them do it faster and/or over larger fences. 

The first lesson of the day was Joan with Sam, and Alice with Beauty.  Rozie was here helping and videoing, and she even ran the barrels portion of the course on foot for us as an example.






 

This video shows the course as we introduced it, as ground poles at the trot.


This video shows what it looks like once we raise the jumps to crossrails.
 

 Beauty was awesome, quiet and conservative with her jumping efforts as always.  Alice did an incredible job of changing speeds to get the distances between jumps and then slow down to a collected jog to get through the barrels portions.  

My dogs of course were here helping as moral support and running the course with the horses.  They tend to just work with the horses they know from helping me ride in training rides, not lessons.  So they always want to help Sam, Dewey, and Silver, but when it's Beauty's turn (who I don't often ride), they just watch her do her thing and take a break.


 


 

 Speaking of breaks, Highboy was enjoying spectating today.  While moving big round bales this week one of the bales burst its hay twine, just snapped and the bale exploded.  I tied it back together as best I could to get it into a paddock, but there was a good size pile that I wasn't able to reattach.  Rozie raked most of it into Highboy's paddock, and today he used it as an edible mattress.


Back to the arena, Dewey had a fun time with the course.  He and Sara are better every time they work together.  It always impresses me how much better Dewey jumps when fences look substantial enough for him to feel it's worth some effort.



At the end of their ride I did have Dewey and Sara do the final bending line of the green to the blue, and they really nailed it this last time.  It makes such a difference when you can master the elements individually.

 

Silver was made for a course like this.  I had him and Gillian work their way through the course the same way as the other horses, and then we raised the fences and had him canter through the lines.  I'm so impressed with them, we giggled that Gillian had to channel her past self as a western rider to get the barrel portions done cleanly and balanced, and then Silver just smoothly carried them over the jumps.   

 




This was a super fun course that all the horses did really well.  It's so fun to see all the pieces come together and have my riders go through a fairly complicated course with totally calm horses who are happy doing their jobs.  It's also fun to see how athletic they all are, because this is much harder than it looks!

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Animal Updates

 

In horse updates, Silver is coming along fabulously.  Gillian has been riding him more and he's just getting lighter and lighter in his gaits.  Jumping skills continue to improve, he has become quite adjustable and handy especially in tight turns in courses. 

 

Ferriana and I have been fiddling with saddle fit.  I've tried having some flocking removed from her jumping saddle in an effort to minimize the back of the saddle lifting when we jump, but it actually exacerbated the issue.  So we replaced the flocking.  These two photos are of the back of the saddle popping up when we were jumping small fences.  Amazing how much it lifts when she rounds her back! 

 

Dewey is doing well.  He is mostly recovered from his chest injury (more on that later, it's quite gory), and had a trace clip done for winter riding.  It's especially helpful with the weather so warm currently - he gets very furry and it takes forever to dry him off if he's sweat hard.  With the trace clip, however, I do blanket the horses if it's going to be cold.  If I remove fur it only seems fair to replace the warmth if he needs it (with a super cute otter blanket, too!)  Unfortunately, the front of the blanket seemed to rub the nearly-healed wound, and then some bacteria snuck in.  Within a day or two he had a fever and was lethargic, and his chest was quite swollen.  We started antibiotics and anti inflammatories, which made him feel much better and brought his fever as well as the swelling down.  So in the meantime he goes naked unless he really needs pajamas for warmth.


 



 


Sam is doing great.  I had my working student, Rozie, warm him up for Joan the other day, and it was such fun to see him happy, forward, relaxed, with a new rider.  Rozie had fun with him and it's always good to get on a variety of horses to learn how to adjust your riding for different types of gaits.  In jumping lessons Joan and Sam have really been clicking, they go around together even in really challenging courses.

Beauty and Alice have had some really nice rides recently.  We are all working on our turns and balance over twisty jump courses, and it's super fun to see Alice and Beauty really put the pieces together.


 

Pascal and Rizzo have really matured.  Pascal still has a bit of "am I going to be obedient or am I going to be my own dog?" in his adolescent puppy brain, but Rizzo is now all business.  They both stick close to me and are very focused on their work.  While I'm grooming and tacking horses they do take breaks to chew on sticks and scraps of horse hooves together.  Currently Pascal's favorite game is tug-of-war, where he pulls on me while he's leashed and I'm teaching lessons.

I had an emotional moment yesterday when I was moving hay bales with the tractor.  Miles used to help me with this particular barn chore.  I'd open a gate and tell him which horses to watch, and he would make sure no one snuck out while I was moving a round bale into the paddock with the gate wide open.  Yesterday I called Pascal and told him I needed help, and he came right over.  I then opened the gate and pointed at Dancer and Dewey (the two most likely to escape that day) and told Pascal not to let them out.  Pascal proceeded to usher them away from the gate, and then he came back and ran semi-circles around the gate to ensure no one doubled back to sneak out.  It was such a Miles move I nearly cried.  I miss that dog so much, I've never had an assistant trainer as good as he was.  But it made my heart feel good that Pascal is doing his best to fill those big doggy paw prints.


I have a photo of Miles with a similar expression on his face at the same age as Pascal.  Looks like I definitely have a "type"!  Tricolored and intense!

And I have an intense Rizzo photo, too.  I love my dogs.  I wouldn't get anywhere near as much done without them.