Welcome to Bit of Honey Training LLC

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

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Training Philosophy

I came across this quote today and thought it summed up my training philosophy pretty well.  I do love each of these horses I'm so fortunate to work with.  Often I'll hear someone say that they "like a horse to be this way or that way".  While I definitely prefer that a horse has manners and won't, say, run me over when he gets distracted, it is really important to me to teach each individual horse in such a way that he keeps his own personality, rather than mold them all into something that responds the same way in each situation.

For example, Tao the haflinger who lives here thinks with his lips.  To really process an obstacle course he needs to snurffle all over it, sniffing, rubbing it with his lips, and then tasting it.  Same goes for new equipment and new people.  If he doesn't understand something, his first inclination is to stop and look at the human handling him.  This is how he tells me he doesn't "get it", and I need to explain it better, or differently.

Samson, my warmblood, requires a lot of personal space.  He doesn't mind being rubbed on the face, but generally he doesn't let people or horses touch him anywhere on his body, and he very rarely touches anyone else.  (He lets me do what I need to with him, though, he is willing to cooperate with me.) 

Major, one of my thoroughbreds is exquisitely sensitive to touch, whether that is tack and pad fitting, patting, or grooming.  If he doesn't like the curry being used, he will turn his head and stare at first me, then the curry.  If I don't listen he'll gently stomp a foot or take the item with his lips and shake it.  When he does like the grooming, he'll stretch his neck out as far as he can and lean into the brush.

June, a Quarter horse mare who was with me for a few years was all business.  She didn't want to be snuggled, groomed, or hand-grazed.  She wanted to come out, get to work, and when work was done be put straight away. 

Each of these horses is SO different, but I love each of them as they are perfectly themselves.  Tao and his snurffly lips, Major and his expressiveness, Samson and his respectful space, June and her work ethic.  I suppose if I liked every horse to behave a certain way, I would stick to only one breed and the horses who would succeed at my place would fit in that mold.  However, if all my horses ended up cookie-cutters of each other and I only loved the ones who fit the mold, really I would only be loving the reflection of myself I found in them.  This is part of what I enjoy about working with so many breeds, sizes, temperaments, and kinds of horses.  Each one teaches me how to be a better trainer and how better to communicate with them as individuals. 

Party Crashers

We had 16 party crashers show up at the jump painting party yesterday - elk!  They were in the neighbor's field just west of my place, and came from the south, through the fence, and continued north then west in the field.  There were 3 adults with big sets of antlers, and at least 3 calves with them.  We see elk occasionally in that field, but I've never seen that many at once! 

3 of the calves were on the left side of the fence, all the adults came through first

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Jump Decorating Party

Today we had the annual jump painting party here at Bit of Honey Training.  We had about a dozen people, who brought everything from paint and grubby clothes to snacks and hors d'oeuvres.  We painted:

  • 12 standards (6 pairs)
  • 1 mounting block
  • 18 wood poles
  • 8 wood blocks
  • 10 pvc poles with colored tape

The jumps look amazing.  The party really illustrated how fun this group of riders are and what a supportive community we have in Bit of Honey Training.  My only regret from the day is that we didn't get a group photo of the people!

But here are the jumps...

"Before" the jumps were in varying states of needing paint
"After" new paint jobs and nearly finished tape jobs

The blues for standards

The reds for mounting block and standards

The wood blocks (I use these to elevate sides of the poles for PT work, as makeshift cavalletti, and there are holes in them for all the flowers when we use them)

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Rehab Videos

Yesterday Dr. Landes came by to give a rabies vaccination to a new horse in for training (rabid skunks in the area!), and he happened to arrive as I was working with Highboy.  It was only his second time lunging in the arena, previously his very short lunging sessions were in the round pen to help him get the idea of how to do it.  I haven't done very much circle work with him because his body just isn't at a point yet where he can tolerate excessive (for him) bending on the circle, so most of the work we've done has been in straight lines in hand.  Anyway, Dr. Landes was so surprised with how much better Highboy is moving after only a month of his new lifestyle, that we decided Dr. Landes would come back the following day to take some video so that we can more thoroughly document the process and have something more visual to show to people when they ask what we do with the horses in rehab. 

This first video is of Highboy today, lunging in the arena prior to wearing any gear:

This second video is of Highboy today, lunging in the arena with the theraband on his haunches, and a proprioceptive dangle on his right hind.  Notice how much more he moves that RH, taking bigger steps both vertically and horizontally, and the stretchy theraband encourages him to alter his posture to a more normal position, lifting his back and engaging his core muscles and haunches.  I led him over the poles at the end of his session so that we could see how he currently works over poles when tired.  Normally I wouldn't continue to ask him for this when he is fatigued, but I wanted to get a baseline on video.

This third video is a short look at the carrot stretches I do with the horses.


Historically, Highboy has had a much easier time stretching to the L because the muscles on that side were stronger.  Today in a new development, he stretched quite well to the R and had to invest more effort to the L.  That is good, at this point in his rehab we want to see changes, since they show that we are making progress and his body is starting to adapt to the work we are doing.  Subtle alterations to the program are now in order, such as stretching equally L and R instead of the extras to the R.

Here are some fun photos that we took today, too.  Highboy is turning into quite a character.  He reminds me of a younger Thai, who was an OTTB I had several years ago.  My only regret with Thai was that I wished I had gotten him younger.  He came to me as a 10 year old.

Dr. Landes and Highboy feeling pleased with the progress that has been made in only a month!  We have a long way to go, but we're well on our way!

When Dr. Landes folded up the tripod it made clicking noises, similar to the clicker I've been using to train Highboy.  This made the tripod VERY interesting as a potential treat dispenser.

Tasting Dr. Landes just in case that tripod meant goodies were forthcoming
Absentmindedly rubbing ears during a conversation - I think he likes it.
Me and my boy

Just in case we don't have enough smooching pictures....
A parting shot:  have you ever noticed how people tend to look like their animals?

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Highboy's Rehab Continues

I want to begin with a caution to those following Highboy's progress on the blog:  Therabands and proprioceptive dangles can be deleterious to rehabilitation if used incorrectly or inappropriately for that particular case.  It's best to seek the guidance of your veterinarian and rehab specialist before attempting this work at home.

That said, Highboy has been making good strides (pun intended) with his rehab.  Because of getting kicked in the leg last week while wrestling with his new friends, and the subsequent subcutaneous infection that followed, Highboy has been on a modified therapy schedule.  He was having his swollen leg treated with hydrotherapy twice a day for 15 min each time (cold water hosing).  I painted a topical antibacterial solution onto the area once daily, letting it sit for a half hour while he hand-grazed, then hosing it off to avoid any skin irritation.

As part of his hand walking to reduce swelling, we worked very lightly at the walk over a long series of ground poles.  At the beginning of the week Highboy could walk through the grid of 10 poles 3.5 to 4 times before he started hitting his hind hooves on the wood.  By the end of the week he could go 5 or sometimes 6 times through, which in rehab terms is a great improvement!  We also made several excursions down the country road we live on, practicing leading from the left and from the right, and doing some alpaca desensitizing.  It was high adventure the first day, but gradually Highboy is acclimating to those funny looking noodle-necks who charge the fence whenever we walk by because we are the most interesting thing they see all week.

I also applied a support pressure wrap at night to the swollen leg.  Highboy was funny the first time I did the wrap - he INSISTED that it must mean the leg is broken and he can't possibly walk on it!  He held it in the air, nuzzled the wrap, and STARED at me like I was missing the obvious.  Finally he figured out that he could indeed walk with his lower leg wrapped and after a few days of wrap changing he was fine.  I had to chuckle at him and ask what kind of track horse doesn't know about having his legs wrapped?  Silly baby horse.

Since that has resolved, we are now back to working on improving his gait, particularly traveling to the right and with his right hind.  Today we did some light round pen work using the therabands and proprioceptive dangles.  For a band I prefer to use Saratoga wraps (used in the cross country phase of eventing competition with porter boots to protect the legs).  The bandage is basically a long elasticized polo wrap.  I fasten it to the surcingle on both sides and across his haunches to encourage him with posterior pelvic tilt and extension or "reach" of the hind limbs.  It gives just enough sensory feedback to influence his gait, and has fabric on one side so the horse's skin and fur isn't chafed like with traditional rubberized therabands.  The proprioceptive dangle that I use is a cat collar with a break-away buckle for safety, with a bell attached to it.  It increases sensory input regarding that limb to increase mobility and awareness of where it is in space.  Neither of these tools should be left on the horse if he is not directly supervised and under control.

To give an idea of how detailed the procedure is for this type of work, we went 2 minutes to the R with the theraband on his haunches mostly at the walk with small amounts of trotting (6 ot 7 strides at a time).  Then I added a proprioceptive dangle to the RH pastern and went another 3 min. to the right, walking and trotting.  We then turned around and went 4 min to the L.  Then another 5 min to the R.  There was one pole in the round pen which he cleared consistently, with some exaggerated steps once the dangle was on his pastern.  The theraband influenced his stride well, encouraging him to engage his haunches and take longer steps rather than using the short-strided "stabbing" motion he was using before.  Highboy's reaction to this first introduction of the dangle was great - he took larger steps with regard to height in the flight phase of his stride, and increased the length of his step.  He took longer steps more underneath himself, stepping much further into his front hoof's print both while walking and trotting.

There was a little playing when going to the R, partly because Miles the border collie kept trying to play "Hup-dog" with the lunge whip, and partly because Highboy finally realized he CAN stretch that RH forward and out to kick!  It's really nice to see him enjoying his therapy.

After we finished in the round pen we returned to the hitch rail for some documentation photography, and once he was untacked we did his carrot stretches.  We stretch laterally to the right and the left, twice as many to the right as to the left because it's his harder direction.  Lastly we stretch for the carrot between his front legs, and today he started really reaching back toward his belly!  He loves these games, and since being on the ulcer medication he is much happier to partake of treats and goodies.  It makes therapy much more fun and interesting for him when we involve food.  I find horses become quite mannerly about treats when every single treat is earned with something challenging like stretching.  If they want another carrot, they start to bow or stretch independently while they hope you notice.  I very rarely get mugged for treats when I use them this way, and it greatly increases the horse's enjoyment and interest in the tasks.

Highboy at the hitchrail.  The white wrap is the saratoga bandage used as a theraband, and it's a little hard to see but there is a dangle on his RH pastern.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Centered Trail Riding

Today I went with a friend and client, Carol, to Eagles Nest for some troubleshooting on the trail.  We planned to work on keeping her horse from jogging when he should be walking, and keeping him straight on the path rather than weaving on and off the trail.  It was a great ride, cool and dry, with our two wonderful grey geldings, her horse Shambhu, a 10 year old Connemara cross, and Major, my 16 year old OTTB.
Carol and Shambhu

The jogging when he should have been walking was a simple fix.  Shambhu would usually speed up when he was going up or down slight inclines, because it is easier for a horse to do hills with a little speed for momentum.  We fixed that by having Carol lean back when going downhill, and lean forward when going uphill.  This effectively rebalanced Shambhu so that he could use his haunches more effectively, and walk with a steady pace instead of scrambling for speed.

This is what Shambhu thinks turning a perfectly good trail ride into a lesson!
Wandering off the trail wasn't too much of a problem today, Shambhu was pretty focused with Major leading most of the way.  However, usually if a horse is wandering off the track and it's not based on footing or avoiding an obstacle (like rocks), changing the rider's eyes from hard, pinpointed vision to a softer, more peripheral gaze will usually fix it.  This is the case when Shambhu goes off course in the arena over ground pole courses, and when Carol "softens" her eyes he flows straight through his lines.  I suspect we will have the same result with this technique when it is used on the trail.  Something to experiment with next time!

Major and me
Some other things we worked on were bridges, water, and controlled stretchy trotting on the straightaways.  Major had his usual big long trot and Shambhu rushed into the canter a couple times to keep up, but Shambhu also got some very nice stretches where he really lifted his back, engaged his haunches, and then stretched his neck out.  Dressage, centered riding, and trail skills all in one ride!

My token picture of Major's ears on the trail

Friday, August 2, 2013

Larimer County Freedom Horseshow

Today we were at the Budweiser Events Center judging the therapeutic riding horse show.  There was an obstacle course with a seaside theme, a timed event including pole bending and shooting a beachball through a hula hoop, and of course general riding skills classes.  Here are some fun pics of the day!

Setting up the obstacle course
Course included picking up a lei, matching sea creatures in baskets, "surfing" through a maze, touring a sand castle, fishing, weaving through starfish cones, and finding buried treasure!

Member of the costume class, Royalty!

Costume class veterinarian
Costume class dinosaur with a Flinstone aboard!
A complete costume class - the hardest to judge!

Rebecca and I are the ones dressed as waiters, I'm on the left


Highboy resting after a long day of lip wrestling

Highboy has been busy WWF Horse Wrestling with his new friends through the fence.  Although he was alone in his pen all day, when I got home this afternoon from the show he had a swollen left front forearm.  He wasn't too lame, but he wanted to be sure that I noticed his injury.  When I took him out to groom him, every time I'd step back and look at him he would look at me, then point that left front toe, and tap the swollen part of his leg with his nose.  Just to make sure I didn't miss anything.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Twas the Night Before the Freedom Horseshow!

Two of my working students who helped out as ribbon runners at the show last year
Tonight I'm taking a few moments to reflect and feel grateful for all I have.  A wonderful husband, beautiful horses, great clients, and a special place to live and work.

Last year at the Freedom Horse Show, I was the judge for a group of riders who have dealt with their disabilities by riding horses.  They have learned from these animals just as I have.  I have been very fortunate to have made a mostly full recovery from my own brain injury, largely thanks to Cecil, my thoroughbred who passed away this spring.  I do remember what it was like to be in the wheelchair.  There are few things as humbling as needing a team of three people to help me go to the bathroom.  I remember only being able to walk assisted by a walker or my husband.  I remember my dog being SO EXCITED that there were TENNIS BALLS on the feet of the walker!  Having been where many of these riders are, it is perspective building for me to judge this show.  I evaluate the riders against their own goals and abilities, and not the abstract perfection of a "10" dressage score.

The dedication of the volunteers, the coordinators, the assistants, the parents...  all of these people work together to make a show like this possible for the riders.  It is a chance for them to show off what they have learned and accomplished over the year, to display skills they have worked on, and to have a crowd cheer for them while they ride the horse with whom they have spent so much time.  I feel honored to be asked to judge this show, and I'm looking forward to a great day tomorrow in the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland.