Welcome to Bit of Honey Training LLC

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

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Full Day with the Ponies

Today I finally had a break in the weather - only a little breeze and it was almost above freezing!  I was eager to take advantage of the day and got most of the horses worked.

Here are some highlights:
Raven and Rizzo the dog went with me to the arena first thing this morning to keep me company while I set fences.  We now have three gymnastic lines to work on, but they are set in such a way that I can do coursework using them as well.  Raven and Rizzo mostly ran around and played, but Rizzo made sure to jump a few fences while I was arranging poles.

I had a lovely quiet ride with Silver, taking him through angled lines of fences on a loose rein and having him come right back to a balanced frame with steady contact in the bridle as soon as we approached a corner.  You know the horse "gets it" when his jump course rides like a dressage test that just happens to have some jumps in it.

Sam is doing so much better on his ulcer medications.  In the past month or so when he was expecting his mash and while being tacked up for rides he had started weaving.  Traditionally this is considered a vice, a side-to-side rocking motion with the horse shifting his weight from one front foot to the other when anxious.  However, in my experience I've found this type of behavior presenting at these particular times to be linked to abdominal discomfort, and generally not a behavioral issue or vice.

Despite free feeding timothy hay, anticipating a meal (called the cephalic stage of digestion) causes the stomach to produce more acid and can make the horse uncomfortable.  The anticipation of riding can do the same, especially since the horse isn't eating when he's riding so there's no food going in to buffer the stomach acid during the ride.  I was suspicious of ulcers causing Sam's discomfort and consequently his weaving, so we started him on an ulcer medication.  I noticed a difference within the first three days, and now that he's been on it over a week he's so much more comfortable!  The weaving is almost entirely gone pre-meals, and it's dramatically less pre-ride.  He'll be on this medication for a month or two, then I'll switch him to an ulcer preventative as well as continuing to feed him alfalfa with his mash since it contains more calcium than beet pulp and his regular grain, and calcium is a buffer for stomach acid.

Jury (or Lucky as he was called before he started rolling his eyes at me and acting offended when I called him that - hence the name change) has decided I'm a good security blanket.  I introduced him to my hay guy, Lyle, who was here today.  Jury would sniff Lyle's hand and he took a cookie from him, but that was as close as he would get.  I was pleased when I approached Jury and he stood quietly while I haltered him and scratched his shoulder.  Jury definitely looked to me for confidence and safety.

I led him out of the paddock and tied him in the barn for grooming so he could practice standing tied with the commotion of Lyle unloading and stacking square bales.  You could almost see the hamsters running on the wheels in that horse's head, but once he figured out that Lyle literally drives the food truck, all of a sudden he wasn't so scary.

I took Ferriana to the round pen to do a little free jumping, and I set a series of cavalletti as well as a 3'3" vertical.  Pascal, my new puppy who is now about five months old, is convinced that he should be running and playing with the horses while they're working.  He's still figuring out his job.  So Pascal was on the lead rope at my side, and Ferriana was at liberty in the round pen. She's accustomed to this type of exercise, since I started her jumping this way before I ever rode her.  She knows to go inspect the fences and distances, jumps the course, then comes to me in the middle for praise and a cookie.

I'm well aware of the talent this mare has, especially for jumping.  However, today Ferriana showed me a new level of athleticism.  On two occasions she took the vertical jump at seriously twice the height it at which it was set.  Not only did she clear a likely 6' height, but she demonstrated a maneuver that you generally only see in truly elite upper level jumping horses.  When her haunches were at the apex of the jump, she would give an extra little kick in the air with her hind feet.  This would guarantee that she wouldn't hit the pole (if there actually had been one that high).  It's exciting to see her do that, and makes me even more eager to see how she'll come along this spring!  I'm anticipating some super fun jump schools and horse shows.

Not to be outdone, lastly I took Highboy to the arena to free jump.  He and Pascal ran around together, the small puppy's legs churning as fast as possible in an attempt to keep up with the tallest horse's stride.  Once Pascal was tired, Highboy came into the middle of the arena to see what we were going to do.  I walked and jogged around a little, with Highboy matching my strides.  I then hopped over a crossrail myself, and he followed jumping it exactly how I'd done (left foot first).  The next crossrail I jumped with my right foot first, and Highboy did the same.  The last one was kind of tall, so I just walked over it taking a huge step with each leg.  Highboy waited until I was done clamoring over, then he walked over it in exactly the same way, taking huge steps with one leg at a time.

It's so fun to see Highboy easily recall all the skills he learned with liberty work when he was a youngster.  I got him as a four year old, he was a long-term rehab project.  We did a TON of ground pole work, cavalletti, clicker training, and in-hand exercise while I waited for him to heal, grow up, and be sound enough to start riding.  It was all time well spent.  Those years of gradual conditioning and "playing" have preserved his fun personality and taught him how to use his body independently, without me needing to create or hold him in a frame.  Plus it's still fun to revisit the liberty jump work now that he's eleven years old and can jump 4' fences out of the walk.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

CSU Schooling Jumping Show

This year we attended the CSU schooling jumping show.  Carol rode Ladd and Linda rode Sidney,  while Silver and Gillian came for the field trip experience and to acclimate Silver to the horse show environment.  We had such a great time!  The weather was quite warm, a refreshing change from years past when we wore ALL our clothes all day at this show!  I suspect the good weather was also why there were sixteen horses in the ground pole division and it took nearly four hours.  Everyone and their baby horse was there to practice going off the property.  The crossrails division went more smoothly, and we were so proud of our horses (and humans)!

We arrived early in the morning in an effort to have at least a few minutes in the warmup arena before the chaos of green horses and little kids arrived.  I got on Silver first since he was excited to be on a field trip, and he warmed up really nicely.  A little "up" to begin with, but settled in right away and even hopped over some cross rails with balanced canter and lead changes.

This photo of Silver doing some self-motivated impromptu lateral work makes me laugh - I look like my deep breathing has put me into a meditative state while the horse is so excited. It reminds me of this Thelwell Pony cartoon:

Apparently the meditative breathing worked, because Silver settled in well and had some very nice moments.

 Gillian even got on him and cooled him out in the warmup arena before the show started.

Silver mostly came along for the experience, so he hung out the rest of the day and watched the action.

Linda and Sidney did the ground pole division as a confidence booster for both of them since this was their first show together.  It went incredibly well and Sidney the old pro was calm and Linda had a blast.

The crossrails division came next.  Linda and Carol both rode in those classes and each took home some ribbons by which to remember the day!

Carol is so fun to have at these shows.  She just loves to do it, and is all smiles when on her horse.  She bought Ladd specifically for doing this type of stuff, and both she and the horse really enjoy it.  It was especially fun to hear people commenting on her rides saying things like, "Wow, that horse is SO CUTE!  Look at his tidy little knees!"  When her round was over I mentioned to them that he's sixteen and has only been jumping for just over a year they smiled and said they remembered him and his story!  They had seen him at the Bernie Traurig clinic we attended months ago an were impressed with how much Carol and Ladd had improved since they'd seen them last!

I love these photos of Carol and Ladd consulting about the course.  I have my riders write down the course in whatever manner is most helpful to them - list the colors of the fences, write down directions, or draw the course map.  Apparently Ladd was going to be backup navigator just in case.

The "around the show" photos also are fun.  Thank you so much to Kimberly Hale Photography for the fun shots and spending the day with us.

We were all at the wall writing down the course.  We could have just taken a photo with our phones to look at later, but I find people remember the courses better when they have physically written them down and then gone to the arena to visualize where they are headed.

We had such a fun group.  From left to right we have Silver, Gillian, Ladd, Carol, Kim L, Sidney, Linda, Sara, and Kim H.  Not pictured is Tim, Linda's husband took the photo.  Thank you to the village that makes these fun days possible.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Problem Solving - Bucking

I often tell people:  I can ride bucking, and I can ride spinning, but I'm terrible at riding them both at the same time.

Today I was able to get on most of the horses, and Ferriana was my last ride of the day.  She warmed up well, it's satisfying to see her balance improving every time we ride.  She was wearing the dressage saddle which we hadn't worked in for a couple weeks, but it still fit nicely.  I check tack and equipment really regularly because it's so important that the horse is able to comfortably do the athletic things I ask of them, and also because I have several horses who turn into broncs if the equipment isn't fitting correctly.

We worked on circles, turns, and switching from traveling straight to on a curve in both directions. For canter work we first picked up the right lead (her easier lead), then the left.  We took a little walk break and gave some cookies to Rizzo the dog who was helping with the ride.  Then I picked up the trot again and Ferriana resumed her rhythmic gait.

When I asked for a left lead canter again she picked it up fairly easily, but kept losing her balance in the corners of the indoor arena.  To help with this I added a little inside leg and stabilized her by grounding my outside foot and supporting with my outside rein.  Each time she'd lose her balance I'd get a HUGE buck, like heels over her head airs above ground.  I began thinking through all kinds of possibilities, trying to figure out why she didn't do it earlier in the ride.  Was she getting tired?  Was Rizzo running too closely and causing the bucking in play?  Was the saddle not fitting as well as I thought?  Was she sore?  Was my body fatigue and the soreness I could feel coming after a long day of riding affecting her?

We tried several times to hold that left lead canter through the corner with the same results - a giant buck whenever I tried to help stabilize her.  I then tried a right lead canter, which was somewhat better, but still when I tried to help her balance she'd launch her hind feet into the air.  At one point she bucked hard enough that while I remained seated (see my disclaimer that I'm pretty good at riding bucking as long as there's no spinning), my cell phone was tossed right out of my pocket and landed in the sand.

At this point I decided something was wrong and I wasn't going to figure it out from the saddle.  Before I got off I trotted Ferriana a few times each direction asking her to really stretch and loosen up, which she did.  This made sure she didn't associate my dismounting with the bucking (it would only take one incident and this mare would very quickly realize that bucking was very effective in getting rid of riders).  It also allowed me to rule out some types of pain, since she wasn't bucking at the trot and was comfortable.

Once I was on the ground again I put her on the lunge line to have her canter each direction without a rider.  I wanted to see what she did in the same situation, just without me aboard.  She did this quite nicely, taking each lead easily and successfully cantering a twenty meter circle both to the left and the right.  There was no bucking, no playing with Rizzo, it was generally very civilized.  I took a deep breath to stop her and have her come in the middle of the arena with me, which she did happily.  Ferriana nuzzled my hand, and when I tilted my head to tell her she was a good girl I caught a glance at my left boot.  The zipper that runs along the back of the boot had worked its way halfway down my calf, and the zipper pull was sticking straight out away from my leg.

That explained everything.  Each time Ferriana lost her balance, I'd add a little left leg to help her shift her weight back to her right hind.  Normally this works great, but with the zipper coming undone and the pull sticking straight out, essentially I was spurring her with my calf by poking her with the zipper!  Of course she bucked - she rightly was trying to tell me there was no need to spur her, she understood just fine what to do!

I'm grateful it wasn't a more involved process to determine the issue.  It could have been saddle fit, the dog, attitude, lameness, cold moving in...  anything, really.  It would have been very easy to blame the bucking on bad attitude or naughtiness, and if I'd done that I would have completely missed what Ferriana was justly trying to tell me.  Thankfully all I need to do is be more vigilant about the zippers on those boots and the problem is solved. 

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Tack Room Reorganized

For a couple years I've had an eye out for tack lockers, but it's hard to find them in the size I wanted for less than $1000 each.  It seems like my tack room very quickly becomes a storage facility for clients when there aren't clear boundaries for how much space a person can take in the barn. Additionally, I wanted lockers for the clients so we didn't have to worry about dust and cats getting into their stuff.  Mice aren't an issue since I have such good working cats, but occasionally they are overzealous in their tack room adventures and equipment gets scratched.

In my internet searches I finally came across the "Slim Jim Cabinet" rubbermaid lockers at an office supply company called Uline.  They weren't too expensive (though shipping from TX was!) and so I bought a bunch. 

On several of our nasty windy days I assembled and installed the lockers in the client side of the tack room, with the saddle racks going clear through the cabinet to anchor into the wall behind them.  Rizzo and Pascal the dogs helped by keeping me company and moral support, and Pascal made sure to assist by touring the inside of each locker as I installed bridle and saddle racks.  He did attempt to take my drill a few times, with a quick nod in my direction as if to say, "I"ll be right back, Kim, I just need to drill this real quick".

It was awfully cold on some of those windy days, so I gave Rizzo an old holey horse blanket to snuggle in that was just about ready to be thrown away.  She also has her own carharrts jacket that she wears on cold days.  She and Pascal have such similar color, and now that they are about the same size it can be a challenge to differentiate which body part belongs to whom in some of the photos!

Here is the "before" photo of the tack room, when I'd dumped everything on one side so I had room to assemble and install the lockers.  It sort of looks like Dover exploded.

And here is the "after", with lockers assembled, installed, and blankets hung.  The feed area also got reorganized, so there's actually space to get in and out!  Now each boarder has a locker, and they are welcome to store anything that fits in the locker.  If it doesn't fit, it goes home.  Each locker easily holds two saddles, two bridles, two saddle pads, a grooming tote, helmet, and boots for each horse. 

Riding Schools

Winter is that tough time of year when the wind often deflates all hopes of riding.  I can do cold, I can do snow, but wind is a totally different beast.  Over the past couple weeks we've been able to sneak rides in here and there, and despite irregular riding schedules I'm pleased with how the horses and riders are doing!

I've set up some tricky coursework in the arena, involving lots of turns both in the air over fences as well as on the flat.  I call this one the cloverleaf, since we ride that shape as we go over the jumps.  Silver and Gillian have gotten quite good at it, even getting accurate lines to the fences and correct leads after landing.

Carol and Ladd have been doing well, too.  Since they haul in for lessons they haven't had a chance to do as much of this exercise, but figuring out the turns and lines is the same skill whether you're doing it fast over big jumps or slowly over small ones.

Joan and Sam are getting along so well, and he has really improved her riding.  He's a very different type of horse than what she was accustomed to riding before she bought him, but we can't ask for a better mind than Sam's!  He also takes incredibly good care of Joan over fences.

Kim H and her mare, Rain, started work on this exercise this weekend too.

Raven loves her job, and so I switch it up for her when she needs to be challenged a little more.  We do the course faster, over slightly larger jumps. and add in some additional fences.  Last week I was able to snag some gigantic nutcracker soldiers at a craft store on clearance after the holiday, and since they are for indoor/outdoor use I set them up in the arena as jump decor!

Sara has been using Shambhu in a couple riding lessons and that is going really well.  It's nice to ride a different horse occasionally so that you can realize that you do have the skills and techniques needed to accomplish the task, and to fine tune your own horsemanship.  Then when you've been able to feel with your body how things are supposed to be, you're able to go back and recreate that sensation with your own horse.  There are lots of perks to riding a schoolmaster!

Ferriana is coming along nicely, and despite us doing a lot of long walks and hacking out in the fields, whenever we resume arena work it's like no time has passed.  She's smart enough to remember everything and pick up right where we left off.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Coyote Ridge and Rim Rock Trails

Shambhu, Carol, Raven, and I all went for a "town ride" in Fort Collins this morning.  We wanted to hit the trails since we were feeling a little stir crazy, however many of our favorite places were closed because of wet and icy trail conditions.  So we headed to the Southwest section of Fort Collins to Coyote Ridge trail head.  I'd been hiking there ages ago when I was in college, but had never gone with horses.

I figured we would have plenty of company since this is a heavily trafficked trail in town, and I was right.  Before we had even mounted the horses, a bus pulled up and unloaded approximately twenty elementary school age kids.  They were all dressed identically in matching black jackets with white stripes, and something about the uniformity of their presentation freaked out poor Shambhu.  He didn't do anything naughty, but he sure froze and stared at them with great angst.

We then started out our ride on the even and flat groomed trail near the parking lot.  Right off a cyclist came barrelling towards us as fast as he could pedal.  I don't know if he had earbuds in or what, but he never seemed to hear Carol and I shouting or see us waving to have him slow down, and when he finally looked up from the smooth path immediately in front of him he was within twenty feet of us.  He then grabbed his brakes hard and squealed the bike sideways towards us, spooking Raven who is relatively new to bicycles.  She leaped into the air and shot sideways, and the cyclist resumed pedaling madly to speed past us.  I don't know what happened to this guy's manners, but they were sorely lacking this morning!  There were signs all over the trails stating that both hikers and cyclists yield to horses.

After that initial drama mostly everyone else on the trail was wonderful.  Hikers, cyclists, runners, and little kids all stepped off the trail to let us pass or to let Raven check out the bikes.  They talked to us which helped the horses realize they were people, not monsters.  The first group of hikers that stopped were making small talk, and Raven sauntered right over to the woman, put her nose near her face, and asked for a cookie!  I quickly corrected her, and thanked the woman for her patience as I explained Raven is new to trail traffic and was asking if she had anything tasty to share.  Fortunately the woman laughed and wasn't bothered by Raven's indiscretion.

Most of the six mile ride was good footing, however there was one section of trail that stayed shaded all day due to hills, and that part was icy.  Raven has become my "go to" horse, and that's partly because she's so sure-footed even in difficult terrain.  She carefully and confidently made her way up the hill, never putting a foot wrong even when her hoof would break through the crust of snow.  The only other technical aspect was a very rocky segment near the top, but I think I've got one of the only Thoroughbreds with excellent feet and Raven just marched up with near disregard for the rocks and stones.

Once we were near the top and the viewpoint we spotted the large group of kids who had previously disembarked from the bus in the parking area.  Carol and I took Shambhu and Raven just off the trail so they could watch the herd of kids as they came down.  There were about four adults with the group, and they had several kids with each of them so they came down in small clumps.  The adults who had the kids with them made them walk so as not to scare the horses, but there was the occasional kid who took off running from a back group to join a front group who had selective hearing and neglected to walk as they'd been told.

Fortunately Raven has seen lots of kids, noisy dogs, and other small quick moving creatures so she wasn't too concerned.  One little boy, probably about eight years old, did slow to a walk, crouched down, and slunk towards Raven with his hands out in front of him like he was going to grab her.  Raven merely stood there and looked at him with disdain.  When she didn't react he then jumped towards her and clapped his hands to see if he could get a reaction.  Raven didn't really respond, but I sure did....  I was pretty loud and clear declaring that wasn't appropriate and it might scare a horse.  (Which was probably his plan to begin with).  He mostly ignored me and continued down the trail.  All the other kids were pretty good, and we made sure to thank them and the leaders for walking towards us.

Once we turned around and headed back towards the trailer Raven was ready to kick into another gear.  She did behave, however, and even slowed down when I asked so we could wait for Shambhu, who is careful but less confident going downhill on ice with a drop-off on one side.

Back at the trailer we untacked, liberally dispensed cookies to the good ponies, and headed home.  It was so great to be off the ranch and on the trail, and as a bonus Raven was totally fine with bikes and was ignoring pedestrians by the end of the ride.