Welcome to Bit of Honey Training LLC

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

Friday, December 3, 2021

Raven Jumping Issues

I'm suspicious that Raven has something going on with her teeth again.  She really isn’t jumping well.  She’s flatting ok, but refusing even small crossrails again.  I videoed the whole ride today.  Over thanksgiving Jasi showed me how to edit video and add commentary (ah, youth!) with my iphone, so I created this video today that explains what I'm feeling and seeing in Raven.


I sent it on to Dr. Landes so he could see what I'm trying to describe.  Raven's just not "right".  Her natural jump form is incredible and she's always been confident and powerful over fences.  For her to be stopping at jumps is highly uncharacteristic of her.  Watching the video has been immensely helpful, I can see that even when she has loose reins she's doing odd things with her head on landing.  I also noticed in the warmup video that she bucks when she tries to move her head and slide her jaw, but it catches.


You can see over this blue crossrail that she has a loose rein, but she's still holding her head up and twisted on landing.


Over this orange cross rail she jumps really flat through her back - almost hollow with her back dropped rather than lifted in bascule.  She's lifting her legs to get over, but not using her trunk/torso at all.


Then again on landing she lifts her head way up.

We did some work over the verticals, too.  I was able to get her to be obedient and jump the fences I asked for, but she never really jumped WELL.  It's frustrating, as she's normally such an incredibly athletic and eager jumper.  Hopefully we can get it sorted out again with her teeth next week.



Friday, November 19, 2021

Ferriana and the Hourglass Gymnastic

Ferriana and I worked a bit on the hourglass gymnastic this week.  She was doing well getting three strides in where she was supposed to (as opposed to Highboy who charged through as if to merely prove he could do it in two).   But the more complicated task of the multiple poles in the line in the middle of the arena were good practice for her, too.  The first time through she scrambled a little to get the footwork, but in true Ferriana form she learned from her first try and nailed it the next time through.


Here is her video, such a fun mare who is really a powerhouse.  Here she is working the straight lines in the middle of the arena:



Here she is doing the bending lines at the ends of the arena:


I like to introduce these exercises in portions so that the course isn't too overwhelming for the horses at the start.  It worked out for videoing with the pivo, too.

Hourglass Gymnastic

Last week I did some pole work to help the horses develop better canter rhythm and adjustability in the canter.  This week I made the exercise slightly more difficult to push them a little and help them use the skills they'd practiced the week before.

This is the diagram I used to set the fences.  Everything was relatively short in height, since I wanted the horses to work on striding not power.  This is a nice exercise to use for practicing bending lines as well as straight lines.  Between each set of two fences the horses should have put in three strides.

"Should have put in three strides" was the tricky part for Highboy.  He loves to go fast, so he kept insisting on doing the middle line in two strides.  Here's the video of him charging through and doing the line much too fast.  He can get away with it because of his size and stride length, but it's difficult to control and honestly not safe to be bombing through courses like that, especially cross country where the jumps are solid.


As he did it the other direction he couldn't decide whether to jump the second obstacle or just step over it (the pole had come down and was on the ground).  He compromised by stepping over with his front legs and jumping with his hind legs.  This resulted in some humorous footwork, a maneuver I like to call his Tennessee Walker impression.

To slow him down and get him to do the line in a more civilized manner I added a bunch of stuff to the center line.  It now looked like this:

This setup pretty much forced Highboy to do the line in three strides, because he had a pole or a jump to go over as part of each stride.


Highboy makes me laugh, because he has zero difficulty with this more complicated footwork.  It's as if he says, "Oh, I'm totally capable of doing it correctly and in the requisite three strides, I just choose to do it in two to make it more exciting.  If you're going to make it more interesting with extra jumps and poles I'll do it in three, otherwise I'll just spice it up myself."

Highboy is totally capable of being quite a nice horse, it's just getting him to choose civility that's the hard part.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Evening Mash

I often sit with Highboy as he eats his evening mash while I wait for him to finish.  Once he's done I usually put him back out with his friends to eat from the big round bale overnight, but I do enjoy my quiet evenings in the barn as he works on his mash.

Monday, November 15, 2021

Engagement and Collection

I'm always on the hunt for a good way to explain dressage concepts such as collection.  Teaching these ideas is tricky because the terms can mean different things in different equestrian circles.   For example, in some disciplines collection is the same thing as shortening the horse's stride, extension is the same thing as lengthening the stride.  The perspective I'm coming from is more of a classical dressage view, in which collection means far more than shortening the horse's stride length.  

To create collection, first we have to create engagement in the hind end.  What is engagement?  It is increasing the bending of the joints of the hind legs including the fetlocks, hocks, stifles, and hips.  Think of a human doing a squat, and how there are varying degrees of the depth of a squat.  As a human squats and the joints of the leg bend, their butt lowers.  As a horse squats, the joints of the legs bend, causing their haunches to lower. 

Horses have the same anatomy as humans, positioned slightly differently as they travel on four legs instead of two.  But engagement in a horse is like a human squatting.


One useful way to create engagement is with cavalletti.  Raised poles, or even just ground poles laid out in succession can have tremendous effects on the horse.  

In this first photo, you can see that Ferriana is really bending the joints of her LH leg.  The poles encourage her to lift her feet higher, which creates the bending of the joints/engagement.

Once the hind legs' joints are flexing more, the horse will start to drop their haunches.  This dropping of the haunches causes the horse to carry more weight in their hind end, which can also be described as shifting their balance towards the hind end, lifting the front end and withers (called collection).

In this second photo I drew in a yellow line where Ferriana's withers are, and a green line where her haunches are.  You can see that her hind end has dropped visibly compared to the front end.  So this photo shows true engagement (bending of joints in hind legs), and the resulting collection (more weight carried in hind, less weight carried in front).

Here's another way to look at it.  If the front half of the horse is sitting on one side of a see-saw, and the back half of a horse is sitting on the other side of the see-saw, the weight distribution would look like these diagrams:  

A horse naturally carries more weight on their front end, so when the horse is first learning to ride the balance of the see-saw is more like this:

As the horse's training progresses, we gradually ask them to carry more weight in their hind end with exercises such as pole work or cavalletti, getting closer to this:

As the horse continues to get stronger you can ask for more engagement in the hind end, with more flexing of the hind leg joints, which lowers the haunches, thus moving weight to the hind end and allowing the front end to lift, like Ferriana has in the yellow/green line photo.

This works on all kinds of horses.  Ferriana is a warmblood, and she's very naturally able to become collected because of how she is built and her conformation.  However, with systematic training and progression (just as a human weight lifter would gradually increase the weight they carry in a squat) any breed can be taught to do it.  

Here is a photo of Raven, a thoroughbred, with extreme engagement in her hind end.  Bending the joints of her hind legs this much is like coiling a spring.  She is carrying all her weight on her hind legs, so that her front end has actually lifted off the ground, which has to happen in order for her to jump the fence in front of her. 

 So her diagram of weight distribution from this photo would look more like this:

 You can also think of the coiling of the springs like this:


As Raven sits, the joints of the hind legs bend, the muscles flex, and the spring is loaded for her to push off and jump!

Here is a photo of Ferriana, with lots of engagement in her gait over the poles:

And here is Raven, a thoroughbred for whom this type of movement is slightly more difficult because of her conformation.  You can see with proper conditioning and exercises she can do it very similarly to Ferriana:

Highboy has an even more difficult time with it due to his large size and conformation.  Here is a photo of him cantering over the poles to create engagement in his hind end at that gait.  You can see the joints of his LH leg really flexing as it's the leg bearing weight and getting ready to push off.  The joints bending include his fetlock, hock, stifle, and hip:


Dressage is the systematic training of the horse to progressively carry more weight on their hind end.  Just as there are varying amounts of weight that the hind end carries at any moment, there are varying degrees of collection.  But the whole thing starts with more flexing of the joints of the hind leg, or engagement.

Centered Riding in Competition

Recently I submitted an article I wrote to the Centered Riding organization regarding how I use CR in competition as both a rider and as an instructor.  I am currently a level II instructor and have been certified with CR as an instructor since 2012.  CR has been so useful at shows over the years that I felt strongly about adding my voice to the newsletter regarding how it has benefited both humans and horses in our area!

Here is my submission:

At Bit of Honey Training LLC, as a certified Level II Centered Riding instructor, I actively compete and coach at USEA and USEF eventing competitions as well as local schooling shows.  I compete my personal horses and client owned ones, with Centered Riding keeping them sound through the years.  When teaching, I use Centered Riding basics at competitions to give my students confidence as well as increase their safety.  Centered Riding has been critical to the entire stable’s success over the years!

I am currently located in Northern Colorado and compete at Area IX events.  I ride my own personal horses as well as client horses who are for sale and in training to find good homes.  Centered Riding has been critical in this endeavor because using the Basics has kept the horses sound, which is particularly important in our area where the ground is significantly harder and galloping cross country can take a toll on horses.  For example, breathing correctly to rate a horse’s speed on course allows for much softer riding, and eliminates the need for tie downs or stronger bits which can interrupt correct biomechanics and cause a multitude of joint issues in the horse.  Using a deep belly breath to slow down, and the more invigorating pilates breath to increase stride length provides the fine-tuned control one needs to get around a cross county course safely.  I have horses well into their teen years who are still happily and soundly schooling and teaching at preliminary level and above as they have been ridden with Centered Riding basics for years.  Because we use correct biomechanics through the Basics with these horses, most of them are also able to do their jobs barefoot, which is extremely uncommon in our area!

When coaching at events I’ve found soft eyes to be immensely helpful to my students.  Anyone who has been in the warmup at a horse trial can easily recall the bedlam that is multiple horses jumping, with riders yelling to call out their fences, coaches yelling to their riders, and horses running in all directions.  Most of the time the warmup is more intimidating than the actual competition tasks of dressage, cross country, and showjumping!  Reminding my riders and helping them return to soft eyes in the warmup keeps them calm and balanced.  This allows them to be safer, avoiding potential collisions with others by using their peripheral vision effectively.  Soft eyes will also keep them returning to their right brain, which coordinates movements, calming them and their horses.  Warmup is much more helpful when the horse and rider are calm, balanced, and focused, and soft eyes help develop that.

My riders also have benefited, particularly on cross country, from having their feet grounded.  This one piece of bodywork has incredible effects!  Cross country jumping is definitely an adrenaline producing activity, largely performed using various degrees of two-point position.  Having their feet grounded before they begin their rounds enables my riders to have a more balanced two point because they are more aware of their feet beneath them.  This proprioceptive advantage also makes them safer, because more stable feet mean a more stable and balanced rider over all types of terrain. 

We are fortunate here in Northern Colorado to have schooling horse trials available in addition to the rated shows, and using Centered Riding played a huge part in the success of one of my client’s mares in the 2021 season.  She is a very complicated mare, a hot intelligent Hanoverian who is for sale but started her competition career late due to covid restricting our show schedule in 2020.  She competed at a series of local horse trials in Fort Collins, CO at novice level, and at the end of the season came away with Reserve Champion for her division!  One of her best scores was her 8.5 in dressage for her halt, performed correctly because she was taught Centered Riding style breathing halts when she was started under saddle. 

Centered Riding has been critical to the success of my horses and riders, keeping them sound in mind and body over the years.  Breathing, soft eyes, and grounding feet are only three examples of the many ways Centered Riding benefits competitors and their mounts.  When people at competitions ask about Centered Riding and what exactly we’re doing, I describe it as teaching the Ultimate Finesse Ride.  It allows my riders to accomplish so much more by doing so much less, and preserves our sound, happy horses.  


Grounding a student's feet prior to her cross country jumping round.

Show jumping with Ferriana at Moqui Meadows Horse Trial in Greeley, CO

Cross country jumping with Raven at Sunrise Equestrian in Fort Collins, CO

Showjumping with Highboy at The Event At Archer in Cheyenne, WY


Dressage with Ferriana at Sunrise Equestrian in Fort Collins, CO

Monday, November 8, 2021

Highboy Loosening School

Highboy went on a fairly long trail ride this past weekend with me, and he worked hard with quite a sweat.  He had Sunday to rest, and so today, Monday, I took him out for a hack to loosen him up.  When I do these loosening rides I let the horse carry himself however is most comfortable, and as the ride goes on the horse gets softer and has more swing in his stride.  Highboy was no exception, and had a good easy workout.

I try to compare Highboy's hind legs' movement from the video.  These two photos show him with similar reach and stride length in his LH and RH at the trot, which I like to see especially after a hard ride like the trails he did Saturday.



I'm especially pleased to see how much Highboy is reaching under himself with his RH leg at the canter.  Historically his RH hamstring is tighter than the L, so I'm pleased to see this much range of motion in that limb.