Welcome to Bit of Honey Training LLC

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

Saturday, March 30, 2013


Cecil had a wonderful ride at the dressage schooling show.  Because he (and I) have jaw problems, TMJ dysfunction, I normally ride him without a bit, using a hackamore that is basically just reins on a halter.  He rides exactly the same whether he has a bit or not, riding bitless just keeps his jaw more comfortable.  However, most competitions require some kind of bit, and dressage requires a snaffle for his level.  Cecil only wears his bit at shows because it's required, and he hadn't had a bit in his mouth since last fall when he last competed.  No matter for C'est Cecil, he warmed up nicely, and rode his eventing dressage test for a blue ribbon and excellent score.  While riding I communicate with him using weight shifts and breathing with the occasional leg cue, so the reins, noseband, and bridle are just for fashion anyway.  Two summers ago I told an olympic coach in whose clinic we were riding that Cecil and I rode in the somewhat loose fancy figure eight noseband "just for fashion".  He chuckled and said, "at least she's honest".  The judge this weekend said we were a nice pair, and that Cecil rode a very nice test, high praise from a dressage judge.

cantering on a long rein in the warm up

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Cecil Sagas and a Tale of Tao

Cecil Saga
Today was spring veterinary day at Bit of Honey Training.  All the horses had their teeth checked and dentals performed if needed, and various other issues were attended to.  (We use Equine Medical Service and Dr. Landes, as he is the best around for hand-floating dental work and is very thoroughly educated and experienced with rehabilitation, which we do a lot of here.)  Prior to his turn, Cecil spent quite a bit of time showing off and playing with Cole over the fence.  We could see it all from where we were doing dentals on the other horses.  Cole and Cecil have this system of WWF horse wrestling, Cole picks up the rubber feed pan and smacks Cecil on the head with it over the fence.  Cecil then turns his butt to Cole, so Cole hits him with the feed pan, then Cecil squeals and kicks, and they both run the fence line, lip wrestling when they come to a halt.  They even added in some mud wrestling by splashing in the water tub together and trying to grab each others' lips underwater.  Honest.  This happens all the time. 

When we took Cole out for his dental work, Cecil was left almost alone in the pens.  His other friends were still waking up from their sedation.  Cecil my drama queen threw himself on the ground, rolled around a great deal to smoosh the dirt into his sweaty fur, and then laid there.  He would periodically look up and whinny, then sigh and lay his head down.  One of my clients was worried about him, and went over to check on him.  He continued to look forlorn and whinny periodically, she described it as a "damsel in distress".  She said he very seriously stared into her eyes saying, "oh, I am so alone, in need of assistance!  Perhaps a cookie.  Yes, a rehabilitation cookie might help me regain my strength...."  When it was his turn, I walked to the gate and opened it, calling Cecil.  Immediately he sprang to his feet, scampered over, and shoved his head into his halter.  He marched right out, ready for his turn. 

Tale of Tao
Tao is the resident haflinger here at Bit of Honey Training.  He is a smart guy with the draft horse temperament, and recently has been doing quite a bit of trail riding.  His name is Tao (the Tao of Pooh) because he is such a thinker, and would dabble in philosophy if he had library access.  His "big spook" is truly something to behold.  When he comes across something crazy scary, like the big neighbor dog charging him aggressively, Tao gradually comes to a halt, and stares at the monster to assess the danger.  (We have dogs here, so he is very familiar with riding with dogs, however this particular neighbor dog is very confrontational).  If he decides it can be dealt with, he will carefully continue walking.  If he decides it cannot be dealt with, he very subtly shifts his weight, turns gently around (he would be whistling nonchalantly if he could), and gradually walks towards home, hoping the rider didn't notice the course change.  He's a good sport, even if you have to tap him on the shoulder to re-aim him down the trail, and he'll go as directed, just wanted to let you know that it's against his better judgement. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Cecil Sagas and Alfalfa Allergy

I've discovered I'm allergic to alfalfa.  Hay is somewhat scarce this time of year as we await the first cut of spring, and particularly because of the drought in our area.  I've found a source for hay other than my usual supplier (who I still adore and will continue to use as long as he is selling his fabulous timothy!), and this new hay has a percentage of alfalfa in it.  I've never had trouble with allergies to hay before, but there is nothing else I can blame this one on...  I lean over to pick up a flake of hay, and immediately my head fills, my throat feels narrow, and my nose starts to drip.  Then the coughing and sneezing.  I don't feel better until I've changed clothes, and preferably showered.  My poor sweet husband, who lives through this constantly with the timothy I usually feed! 

On a happier note, we are excited to be attending a schooling show at Triple Creek Ranch in Longmont this weekend.  It will be the debut performance in western dressage for both Kildee the AQHA mare and Billy the AQHA gelding!  Cecil, my main squeeze, will be schooling his dressage test with me in preparation for the eventing derby at the end of April.  The weather should be beautiful, and we're hoping for enough sun to wash the winter hair off!

Cecil LOVES to travel, and LOVES horse shows.  I have not met too many horses who truly enjoy field trips, but Cecil sure does.  If he knows there is a space in the trailer he is RIGHT THERE at the gate, STARING at us until we put him in the trailer.  Once at the show he often stands, (posing for his close-up perhaps?) head up, assessing the situation and acknowledging his adoring public.  When we haul to a trail head for a ride in the open space he always looks a bit disappointed that there is no paparazzi.  This weekend will be right up his alley.  He even had a phenomenal ride this evening, light on his feet, soft in his halt/canter transitions while working only off of my seat.  He says he is ready to start the season!


Saturday, March 23, 2013

New Owner Recommendations

Have you ever felt like you don't know enough about something to even ask the right questions?  I felt that way when I was investigating applying to graduate school, researching mortgage lending, and choosing my religion.

Recently I've had a few people ask about buying their first horse, and what they should know in order to be good stewards of these magnificent animals.  This is a great question, and one EVERY person should ask prior to purchasing a horse.  There is SO MUCH to know about horses and taking care of them.  I learn new things daily!  This post discusses some basics I like to address in these preliminary conversations, and while these are good basics, it is important to remember that specific recommendations within all these topics will vary between horses, between disciplines of riding, and between humans.  The most accurate prediction I can make is that any horsey question you have will be answered by 12 different people in 12 different ways.  They will all be correct, for some kind of circumstance.

New Horse Owner Recommendations

First of all, get some horsemanship instruction, and riding lessons.  Learn how to take care of a horse, what they eat, where they live, learn their body parts and how to explain what is where.  Learn what is involved with feeding, cleaning up, what is normal and what is sickly, what a horse requires mentally and socially, figure out what kind of riding you want to do.  Discover IF you want to ride, and if not, what kind of activity you'd like to do with your horse.  There are many fun things to do with horses that don't include sitting on their backs!  Learn how to navigate the treacherous aisles of the feed store, and above all, learn how to handle a horse safely.  

 Line up your professionals.  If you are brand-new to the horse world, you will need a veterinarian, a farrier, and a trainer/riding instructor.  There are many ways to select the people who will make up your "team", but that is a topic for another blog post.  We'll call that one "20 Questions", though maybe we should call it "120 Questions".  But in the beginning, know that you will need these three people.

Provide adequate equine living quarters.  Your horse(s) will need somewhere to live, and there are several options to consider.  A boarding facility, a pasture, your backyard if it's big enough and equipped for a horse....   Get someone knowledgeable to go with you to assess potential living sites for your horse.

Feeding.  A horse will generally eat about 2% of their body weight in forage/hay daily.  It varies depending on breed, metabolism, the horse's job and workload, and many other factors.  But generally plan on the horse needing 15 to 25 lbs of good quality grass hay daily.  A salt block and unlimited fresh water should be available at all times.  Some horses need additional nutrition, so plan accordingly. 

Cole snacking

Other things to note:
  • Upon entering the horse world, understand that EVERY horse person has an opinion on EVERYTHING equine.  Every horse person will tell you her opinion is absolutely right.  In time you will come to form your own opinions about what works best for you and your situation, but in the meantime choose someone knowledgeable, of whom you are comfortable asking questions, to help you in the path to horse ownership and guide you through all the waffle and loud voices 
  • Understand that horses are expensive, dangerous, and a LOT of work.  If you don't really love the lifestyle that comes with them, they are not worth it.  Learn about this lifestyle before you commit to owning a horse.  

What are some things you'd like to know about horse ownership?  Looking back, what would you tell your past self about getting into horses, i.e. "I wish I knew then what I know now"?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

How To: Learn the Pattern

One of the questions I'm asked frequently as we head into show season is this:  "How do I memorize the dressage test?"  There are many many ways to learn your pattern, whether it is a short showmanship or equitation pattern, or a longer reining pattern or dressage test.  In this case, the variables affecting which is the BEST way to memorize it include the learning style of the human, and the learning speed of the horse.

Here are some ideas for learning OFF of your horse:

Find a large room in the house, and make a pseudo-dressage arena by sticking post-it notes with the dressage letters on the floor.  I use my kitchen because the sticky notes stay there on the floor pretty well.  Then, holding your printed copy of the dressage test, ride the pattern on your own two feet, in the arena you created on the floor.  Enter at A at whatever gait is specified, then halt at X.  Do your salute (I always end up saluting the dog as he watches me do this from C).  "Ride" through your test, beginning to end.  Once you have been through it, ride just the first few maneuvers several times in a row.  When those are committed to memory, add the next few maneuvers to the first few.  Eventually you will have your entire test memorized in reference to the letters on your kitchen floor!

This works well for visual learners, as they can see the copy of the pattern in their hand, and see the dressage letters on the post-its on the floor.  For kinesthetic learners the motion of "riding" the test in the kitchen is particularly effective.  For auditory learners I suggest reciting the dressage test as you ride it in the kitchen.

Additional ideas are to find a video of your test online (youtube can be particularly helpful) and watch someone ride it.  Or draw an arena with letters for reference points on a large piece of paper, then using your pencil, draw the test several times from start to finish.

I use quite a bit of imagery as part of my meditation, riding the test thoroughly in my mind each night before I go to sleep.  When I have been particularly nervous about a show, I will often start the imagery early in the "mental video" by picturing loading the horse into the trailer the day of the show, and go though everything: arriving at the grounds, tacking my horse and fastening all the buckles, riding the warm-up, all the way through riding the test itself.  If my mental picture goes awry, like my imagination "sees" my horse spooking at the judges stand, I pause the image, rewind it to where things were going well, and replay the mental video, making sure that things go smoothly this time.

Suggestions for learning ON your horse:

As an auditory and kinesthetic learner, something I have found to work particularly well for me is to ride my lesson horse, or another horse with whom I am NOT competing, and have someone call out the test to me at home.  I ride through the test twice with a caller, then try to ride it without the caller.  By the third time through, the horse usually knows the test better than I do, and starts anticipating and can correct me if needed.  This is why I do it with a horse who is not competing at that test because I don't want him anticipating in the show ring.  But it helps me to learn the test at home.

Once at the show, about 10 min. before my ride time and after my warm-up I give the printed copy of the dressage test to someone standing around (preferably my groom or someone cheering from my barn, but you'd be surprised how many random people are willing to help you with this!) and recite it to them having them correct me if needed.  This cements the test in my mind, and then I am ready to ride!

Don't ride the test from start to finish with your competition horse.  He will learn it faster than you and anticipate the next maneuver when in the show ring.  Ride movements in different orders and in different places in the arena so he will become familiar with the maneuvers without anticipating.

When practicing off of your horse, be sure to engage all of your senses when picturing the ride in your mind's eye.  Smell the hair polish, feel the stick of the saddle leather on your breeches, see the braids in your horse's mane, hear the soft padding of your horse's hooves, and taste that bit of salt on your lips. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

Day 3 Horse Expo - Problem Solving

 The third and last day of expo focused on jumping problem solving.  Fortunately both horses were cooperative and attentive mounts, so we didn't need to solve any problems specific to them.  So we went through some general exercises for resolving the most common jumping problems:  refusals and running out (or, stopping at a fence because of lack of impulsion and running past the jump instead of going over).  The first exercise we worked through was called "The Zipper" because of the back and forth through the course.  For the purposes of this session we focused on steering, as running out is almost always a steering issue on the rider's part.  It can be rooted in other problems as well, including lameness, fear of jumping because of having been over-faced, or pain, so it is important to rule out medical issues before you address this particular behavior as a training problem. 

The top right corner is the layout for "The Zipper", though the angles should be about 90 degrees with as many poles as you like.  Standards in each corner so each jump pole can be raised individually.  The higher the fences, the faster the pace, and the more accurately you attempt to ride the circles the more difficult the exercise. 
 The next common problem we addressed was refusals, or the horse just stops in front of the jump.  Again it is important to rule out physical ailments and pain before assuming it is a training problem.  We went on to demonstrate and work through an exercise that will increase a horse's impulsion without increasing his speed.  We discussed energizing the rider's center of gravity to increase the horse's impulsion, to the point where it feels like the rider is mounted on a cat sneaking up to pounce on a mouse. 

This exercise involves walking up to a set of ground poles, and walking through them.  Gradually the center poles get raised, one hole at a time, until the horse is jumping quite high, though still from the walk.  The ground poles on either side of the fence must be gradually moved away from the jump as it is raised.  The distance from the ground pole to the jump is the same as the height of the fence.  When the horse gets the hang of this exercise he generates quite a bit of thrust as he takes off, and the series of pictures pasted into a filmstrip style show just how much Cole was pushing to clear this fence out of his walk.
Jumping out of the walk

Discussion of the three seats in riding:  two-point, half seat, and full seat

Feel free to leave any questions in the comments section of this blog, or contact Kim Leonard through the website!

Day 2 Horse Expo - Jumping Courses

 These photos are from day 2 of Expo.  We did a small group lesson with Cole, Bit of Honey Training's lesson horse, and Alek the Fjord who joined us again.  Our courses were set by the phenomenal jump crew.  Unfortunately most of the action photos came out too blurry, but here are some stills of the discussions and exercises.
6a and 6c , the left side of this illustration, were the two diagram exercises we worked on Day 2

Ramona working on some Centered Riding techniques
 Ramona had a lot of tension in her neck and shoulders.  We used some Centered Riding techniques to loosen and release the muscles in a very passive way.  Doing this allowed her horse to soften and swing through his shoulders as well.  When we work with horses we are simply working in a mirror.  As we improve our own body mechanics and mental state, the horses improve!
Feel free to leave any questions in the comments section of this blog, or contact Kim Leonard through the website!

Bless the Jump Crew

These are a collection of behind-the-scenes shots of my stellar ground people.  The teaching sessions went incredibly smoothly thanks to the work of these ladies!  They measured distances, hefted standards and poles, arranged courses, lunged and hand walked horses, and did it all with a smile! 

Horse Expo Day 1 - The Blender

Ramona and Alek working through "The Blender"

This is the diagram for riding "The Blender"
 The first day of teaching at Expo was a great success!  We were able to do a private lesson with a new friend, Ramona, and her Fjord pony, Alek.  Ramona had done all of Alek's training, starting him under saddle 1 year ago as a 5 year old and now starting him over small fences at 6.  They have a great relationship, he tried so hard to do everything she asks and to do it correctly.  He also had some go-go gadget lips!
Alek the horse smooching on the ground crew
Discussion about beginning fences

Working through a simple gymnastic
Ex. 5a is the one Ramona and Alek worked through in these photos

Warm-up over trot poles
Adding a vertical

Some of our group, L to R Ramona/Alek, Kim Leonard, Sheridan/Cole, Bri, and Rebecca
Feel free to leave any questions in the comments section of this blog, or contact Kim Leonard through the website!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Twas the Night Before Horse Expo

Kim teaching with Cole at Expo 2012
Twas the Night Before Horse Expo and all through the barn the horses are clean and the ponies are warm!  Today was so much fun.  Packing the trailer and teaching lessons in fabulous weather (hold on - snow for the weekend!).  I love going to expo because it is great fun to ride and teach in the giant arenas, we meet all kinds of fun people, and of course plenty of tack shopping!  Come join us - we'll be in the barns and the events center at the National Western Complex.  More info at  Rocky Mountain Horse Expo.  So we'll be signing off the internet for the weekend starting tomorrow morning, but we'll have some great photos and posts to document the trip when we get back!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Unicorn Tail

Unicorn Tail!
One of my favorite things this time of year is that the tails come out of the braided tailbags in which they have been sequestered since fly season ended.  Cole always has a particularly impressive glossy white, long, thick tail when we remove the tail bag.  So much so that we dub him the "unicorn tail"! 

Meditation, Horses, and Retraining Your Brain

Kim and Cecil having a "now" moment
Many of us have trouble feeling calm, being present in the moment amidst stresses of life.  I have always found my calm with the horses.  As prey animals, they are hard-wired to pay attention to what is going on in their immediate surroundings.  Imagine a horse in the wild, standing around brooding on the insult an older mare said to her days ago, completely oblivious to the predator approaching in the tall grass.  The preoccupied horse wouldn't live to reproduce.

This is also helpful with training, as horses pay such close attention to what we do with them every time we do anything with them.  Many people find their "now" when they are with these horses, because interacting with them can be so all-encompassing.  I also suspect that their "present-moment" nature can be contagious if we let it, and being aware of what is going on NOW can make other human concerns fade into the background.  I recently had a friend ask how to find that calm in her daily life when she is not able to quiet her mind or be around her horse.  She already does focused breathing and meditation, and still struggles with being present.

I shared with her how I find my "now", that feeling of focus, flow, in the zone, whatever you choose to call it, when I am NOT with the horses.  The way I bring it into regular life is to incorporate it into my meditation. I recommend that once your breathing is quiet and steady, picture/imagine yourself walking out to greet your horse, the feel and weight of the lead rope in your hands, or the texture of the mane in your fingers, and visualize the whole visit between you and the horse. Whether that includes a ride or not is up to you. Keep it detailed, use all 5 senses. This helps bring that feeling of "present". Once you can reliably get that "feel", pair it with a short phrase or word. I use "BE HERE". Eventually the phrase will be linked to the sensation in your brain, and you can summon it with the words. Make sense? Just retraining your brain.  Be sure to use a phrase/word that has meaning for you.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Horse Expo Prep and Cecil Sagas

Today was incredibly busy!  We have to seize nice weather every chance we get it this time of year.  In preparation for teaching my jumping sessions at Rocky Mountain Horse Expo  I started with a saddle fitting ride with Kildee (who is still for sale and will be coming to Expo with us, her ad can be viewed on Dreamhorse.  She will be taking appointments and showing off while in Denver.)   

Cole got a thorough grooming, resulting in white hair carpet at the hitchrail, a jumping ride, and then a bath, much to his chagrin.

Garmin got cleaned up and fitted with a brand new grazing muzzle.  He wasn't sure about it, but when he realized the hole in the bottom is the perfect size for cookies he no longer had objections.

Darby and Joan had a riding lesson and did fabulously, they are coming along well with increasing Darb's engagement and swinging through his topline using transitions. 

I cleaned some tack in preparation for our travels this coming week, and Cecil began to call from his paddock.  All day I had been putting him off, telling him "I see you, I hear you, I won't forget!"  He really wanted to come out and ride, and was feeling very ignored.  When I finally got to a point where I could go get him, I stood in the gate and called him.  Normally my horses come to me when I call them by name.  Cecil just stood at the water trough.  I called him again, and he just stared at me.  Clear as anything, he was saying, "I hear you.  I see you."  And still he stood, not coming, giving me a dose of my own medicine.  Finally I used my hand signal and asked him again to come to me, which caused his roommate to approach me, thinking it was now his turn to come out and play.  Cecil noticed this attempt to usurp his ride, and THEN he hustled over saying, "well, I didn't mean I didn't WANT to come out, I just was trying to let you know what it's like to be put off."

Get your weight down in your seat by relaxing key muscle groups

Do some simple stretches before you mount your horse.
  1. Place the balls of your feet on the lowest fence rail and sink down into your heels to stretch your calves.
  2. Put one hand on the wall of the tack room at a 45 degree angle and lean forward until you feel the stretch across that side of your chest and in your armpit to loosen the pectoral muscles. Then repeat on the other side.
  3. Roll your shoulders by bringing them up to your ears, then push them back, then push them down repeating several times slowly.
These stretches (and many others) will loosen key muscle groups in your body. This allows your weight to flow further down through your leg, thus giving you more security in the saddle, making your horse more comfortable (where you’re tight, he’s tight!), and giving you a more fluid ride.