Welcome to Bit of Honey Training LLC

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

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Weekend Update

Recent happenings at Bit of Honey

  • Obie went on his first couple trailrides, once by himself and once with a buddy.  Obie marched around like a champion who's been doing this every weekend.  He also had a great lesson with his owner on Sat. am.  Next up:  conditioning gallops on the farm!

  • Cole taught a few beginner lessons, and we decided he should be a poodle for halloween.  

The vision for Cole's halloween costume.

  • Tao went jumping, and did a riding lesson with his owner. 
  • Highboy had a couple field trips to the neighbor's arena and had another ride

  •  Major developed a sudden lameness, which was caused by a hoof abscess.  The bacteria snuck into his hoof during last week's mud and wet, and then proceeded to have a party.  Enough pressure built up inside and caused his his foot to really hurt, so the vet came out and removed his shoe, then pared out the tract where the bacteria had entered, allowing it to drain.  Major immediately felt better and you could see the relief in his eyes.  We'll reapply his shoe this next week, so he is still good to go for our clinic in Nebraska in November with Jane Savoie, an internationally renowned olympic dressage coach.
  •  Fergie went on a ride around the neighborhood and she is now sprinkler -proof.  She mastered the skill by walking on the road past the farm; she now marches under the irrigation system when it's turned on. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Little Pony That Could

Tao is such a great pony, he is game to try anything and eager to please.  Here are some of his jumping efforts from this week.
This photo group is interesting because you can see that the horse's topline changes over the fence, he looks like a see-saw from his head to his tail, but the rider's body angle doesn't change.  You can tell by looking at the angle of the rider's body compared to the straight line of the barn behind them.  To lie down on the horse's neck over the fence (as seems fashionable in recent seasons) actually does the horse a great disservice by throwing off his balance while he's taking off, in the air, and landing.  It's better to stay out of his way and maintain the correct equitation, so that he can do his job without the rider interfering.
This one I love because his eyes are closed, like he's just trusting that this will work out.
Brave athletic pony!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Dressage Pyramid

from http://www.usdf.org/about/about-dressage/dressage-training.asp
As a result of recent conversations, I feel like a blog post is necessary discussing the theory of the dressage pyramid.  The word "dressage" simply means "training".  The theory in training is actually quite important if you are trying to develop a sound and physically able athlete.  For example, one of our barn favorites, Fergie. 
Lady Fergie (as I call her) at her first show competing in Intro Test A, where she received praise from the judge for her steady rhythm.
Fergie came to me needing some Bit of Honey Training.  While people had tried to teach her lateral work, there were some big steps that had been missed in her foundation training.  Fergie and I sorted out her preferences for tack and made sure she was comfortable in all her equipment, and then began her work at the bottom of the dressage/training pyramid.

Long before I ask a horse for any kind of contact with the bit I want to make sure they are moving in a steady rhythm at all three gaits:  walk, trot, and canter.  Once she had a steady rhythm she began to relax, then look for a connection to the bit and to feel for my hands.  Occasionally she now stretches and creates some impulsion in a few of her strides before she physically needs a break and to rest, focusing again on rhythm and relaxation.  This is great progress for her particularly because she has also been a rehabilitation horse.  She needed muscle development and flexibility due to her having broken her withers as a youngster and the consequential scar tissue that developed.  When she first arrived we wondered if she would be physically able to do the things we'd like of her, but she has proved a very willing and happy horse, and tries her best to do everything we ask of her, as she is able.  We never ask for more than she can do, and anything she offers us above that is really commendable on her part. 

This process sums up the several months of under saddle training Fergie has had here, and it also illustrates EACH RIDE.  When I first get on a horse, or when I first have Fergie's owner get on her, I tell her not to worry about being straight, or going deep into the corners, or even steering at first.  The only thing that matters at the beginning of each ride is that the horse finds her rhythm.  Once that is established she will start to relax, and then look for the rider's hands through a connection to the bit via reins.  As her warm up continues she will add impulsion, and then steering suddenly works better to achieve straightness with that connection to the bit, and ultimately the horse will achieve some kind of weight shift onto her haunches, which is collection. 

So not only is the training pyramid a philosophy for training a horse through a lifetime, but also a guide for training the horse within each ride. 

New Business Cards

The new business cards arrived today.  While I've had my instructor certification for a year now I finally got around to updating the business cards with the Centered Riding logo.  The photo on the right is me riding the cross-country phase of eventing with Major before I retired him from jumping. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Obie's First Horse Show

 Today was Obie's first horse show.  At home he has been schooling up to 2'8" and we just introduced oxers this week, but for his first show we kept to the 2' division so he could feel confident and inspect the jump decorations without nerves about height of the fences.  He did really well in the warm-up, I'm pretty sure it was his first time riding in an arena with that many other horses, all going different directions and jumping at the same time and cantering every direction....  It was a lot for Obie to look at, but he just took it all in and thought it was great entertainment.

His flat classes were exciting for him, especially when the whole group cantered together at the same time.  There was some finagling for a spot on the rail amongst the ponies and little girls, but he did quite well for his first time ever in this environment.  Then, in his first hunter class he was an absolute rock star.  He needed two courtesy circles at the beginning to get his rhythm, balance, and lead, but then he proceeded to absolutely nail the whole course!  He got all his correct leads, got his distances, and got to the very center of each fence like he'd been doing it for years, nevermind the fact that he just seriously started jumping two weeks ago!  He was a little strong to the fences, but that's ok since the eventual goal is to get him eventing and I don't mind a little strong to the cross country fences. A video of his first round can be seen at http://youtu.be/fFoMG1n8O4g

His second round over fences was a little faster, since he was getting fatigued and had been at this for a few hours already.  Though he missed a couple leads we were able to correct them and he did hop around his course really confidently.  The video of this round can be seen at   http://youtu.be/0EqB_EbEIzg   Since he was getting tired and we had been doing so well we decided to end there, with a super positive experience.
Marching to the arena in the morning like an old pro
Lots of patting during the inspecting of the jumps during warm-up

Good, brave Obie!

Jumping a little big in the warm-up, he's still learning how to gauge heights
We couldn't ask for a more beautiful setting

Hey, Ma, did you see how well I'm doing??

We love this snuggly boy
an example of the Halloween fence decor

Puppet Photobomb

Friday, October 18, 2013

Animal Photos

 Z looking dignified with a bridle

Highboy looking less dignified

Extreme close-up

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Western Dressage Pas de Deux, or Drill team?

We had some fun riding lessons yesterday, and it came up again in discussion that we now are starting to collect a bay of every breed.  We have Highboy the thoroughbred bay, Billy the Quarter Horse bay, Khreed the Arabian bay, and Fergie the warmblood bay.  It gets a mind to thinking....  could we put together a demonstration showing what bays of every breed are capable of?

Discussing our bay collection

We started by riding the two shorter horses together, practicing riding the Intro Test B as a pair.

Practicing walking together

Then we did some trot work side-by-side.  Turns are hard!

Khreed is on the L, Joyce's new horse.  I'm riding Billy on the R

We can't ask for a more beautiful setting in which to compose our mischief!

 It was a little rough, but the horses were really well behaved.  We need to do some fine-tuning to get them traveling as a unit, but if we were to add in Highboy and Fergie we would have a quadrille!  I guess the next questions are:  since Billy and Khreed are in western tack do we call this a western dressage pas de deux or a drill team?  And once we add in the tall english horses what kind of music should we set it to?  Get ready, the Bit of Honey Quadrille may headed to an arena near you!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Collection, Head Position, and Body Mechanics

Meet Oberon, or "Obie" for short

The most important things with regard to a horse's body mechanics while riding is that he is balanced, stepping well under himself, and pushing from his haunches.  I never aim for the horse's head to be in a certain position, because if he is using his haunches correctly his back will lift, and his head will naturally fall into the position where he is most comfortable and balanced.  By not interfering with where he puts his head, you have a good barometer for how he is using his haunches.

Notice how during this lengthening and stretch his haunches are rotated somewhat to allow his hind foot to step well under his hip joint.  This rotation is what causes his back to lift, and his head to stretch down.

When a horse is first learning to move with a rider he carries approximately 60% of his weight on his forehand, leaving 40% for his hind end. You can see this in the height of his withers compared to the height of his buns.  Imagine a teeter totter with your horse's forehand and haunches on each end:

Green horse weight distribution at the trot - approximately 60% on the forehand, 40% haunches

The horse's engine is really his haunches, and so as the horse moves up the levels in any discipline, the goal is to have him carry more and more weight on his engine.  So for front/hind you would go from 60/40 to 50/50.

Approximately 50/50, this is definitely a more level topline, comparing height of withers to haunches.  This photo has lines drawn in to show how cantering positively affects his balance, showing that he is putting more weight on his hind end for more thrust forward, since the haunches are lowered as they work as the horse's engine.  Because of this he is also showing more reach with his hind leg underneath his body.  Canter work is excellent for getting the horse to use his buns and lift his back, just because of the rolling nature of the gait.

Then from 50/50  to 40/60 with the haunches weighted more heavily.  Depending on how far into dressage (the word "dressage' means "training") the horse goes, the airs above ground show the horse carrying his weight exclusively on his hind end, plus leaping in place using just his haunches.  The process of asking or reminding the horse to incrementally shift more weight to his haunches is called a "half-halt".

This photo shows Obie not quite at 40/60, but definitely more "uphill".  It has the line drawn to show how he is carrying more weight on his haunches than his forehand.  He is trotting in this photo

The balance of weight front to back is often referred to as his "frame", his level of "collection", or how he is carrying himself.  If not constricted, the horse's head position is an indicator of how he is using his hind end, since he will put his head wherever it needs to be to keep himself comfortable and balanced.

Often people will try to "set" the horse's head in a certain place without addressing how he is traveling or using his haunches.  In this way you may achieve a certain head position, because he can put his head someplace without using his buns.  However, this causes tension, jaw pain, flexion at the 3rd cervical vertebrae resulting in hypertrophy or overdevelopment of the neck muscles, sore back, trachea or air-pipe restriction, any number of problems that will manifest themselves eventually as soundness issues.  There are many terms for this artificial headset.  One term is "false collection".  The horse's head position may appear to show collection, but he's not actually carrying more weight on his haunches so it's a false collection.  Other terms to describe this headset is "in the bridle" or "behind the bit".

 This photo shows false collection, and the artificial headset Obie had been taught before his current owner got him.

An example of "false collection", or "in the bridle" or "behind the bit", where he is not engaging his haunches or stepping underneath himself with his hind leg.  In fact you can see his hind legs trailing behind his haunches.  His head is behind the vertical, and his neck is flexed at the 3rd vertebrae rather than at the poll. 

These photos are of Obie with a comfortable, relaxed head position.  He has a history of curling his neck, flexing at the 3rd cervical vertebrae rather than at the poll to evade the bit, so these photos show great progress with his relaxation level.

comfortable, relaxed head position with his face in front of the vertical
Note how well he steps under himself with his hind legs when he can stretch and reach forward with his head

This photo shows his head in a relaxed position, face in front of the vertical, stepping well underneath himself with his hind leg, and balanced front to back as shown by the parallel angles of his cannon bones. 
Not to be overkill, but this is an example of some of the physics I see when I look at a horse and rider.  Parallel lines for opposite pairs of legs, face slightly in front of the vertical, straight line from the bit through the reins to the rider's elbow, a straight vertical alignment of the rider's ear, shoulder, hip, and heel.  There are many other things I look for as well, but this is an abbreviated example with a lot of lines!
An interesting article on the consequences of a hyperflexed headset and how it affects a horse's breathing and bloodflow.  http://www.thehorse.com/articles/29302/artificial-head-neck-positions-effects-on-horses-breathing

Monday, October 7, 2013

Highboy's First Ride

Today was Highboys' first ride off the track!  He has finally gained enough muscle and strength to be able to carry me, as I'm sure I'm the biggest person to sit on him since flat racing jockeys don't get much over 110 lbs.  We were lucky to have a friend there to record the day and Highboy's antics!

Frolicking on the lunge line #1:  http://youtu.be/oV-uc3VQvGg

Frolicking on the lunge line #2:  http://youtu.be/NI6s8bTKQCc
 To start with I lunged him at the walk, trot, and canter and changed directions several times to keep his attention.  We were at the neighbor's arena since she has great sand footing in her arena that drains faster than my place, and there were other horses around, dogs, cattle, tractors, other cars....  lots of distractions for my baby horse.  But after some frolicking and "yeah-hooo!" on the lunge line he was ready to get down to business, sort of. 
When mounting I pause before swinging a leg over so that the horse has a moment to adjust to my weight and see me out of both eyes up above him.
 I started by asking him to walk a bit, which resulted in some backwards walking until he realized he could go forwards.  It was exciting for him to be in a relatively new place and off the line, so the walk was fairly prancy to start. 
Are we sure we have Jockey Club papers, or did I finally get the anglo-arab I've been talking about for so long?
The walk settled down pretty well once I was able to get his attention back on me.  I find with the TBs, and especially the ones who have raced, that they make much more progress in learning by engaging the brain.  This is a little different than some methods, which focus on tiring the horse out by getting him to run or go faster.  Particularly with a horse in the process of building his core strength and coming back from such rough condition it's more important to me that he learn things with his mind, rather than push him hard with his body.  I asked him to bend, turn, stretch, lengthen and shorten his stride.  He figured it out pretty quickly, and by the end of the ride was actually working off of my leg fairly well and looking for contact with the bit!

Testing out his stretch

Much calmer walk!
Trotting was another little adrenaline surge for Highboy, considering how many distractions there were for a baby brain.  His head was high, his steps were small and quick, but eventually he settled into a rhythm and began to relax. 

Once he really engaged his brain and was settling into the work he was pretty tired, mentally.  I've noticed with the hot horses, that when we do exercises that strain the brain they sweat around their ears.  I affectionately call this "brain sweat".  Highboy only had brain sweat today, but he was starting to get fatigued which we could see in his stride length.  We quit while we were ahead, with a nice trotting figure eight, then let him walk for a bit on a loose rein to settle and cool out.  He looked mentally exhausted, but seemed proud of himself for all the praise he earned during his ride!

One last look at the action on the other end of the arena

Conferencing about what a brave, good boy he was.  I'm sure here I was telling him he did it "just right".