Welcome to Bit of Honey Training LLC

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

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Shambhu's Photo Shoot

Shambhu had a visit from his photographer friend yesterday and he did a blog post about Bit of Honey!  Check it out at


A great shot of me and Jen with Shambhu while his owner looks on with saddle tree molds in the foreground

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Bo's Happy Ride

This is consistently my view from on top of Bo.  I'm still riding him in the bareback pad because saddle re-fitting doesn't happen until tomorrow.  Generally his ears are forward and he's lengthened out his neck to a more relaxed posture.  Tacking up is a little complicated for now, but it's getting better.  Since Bo has so many negative associations with saddling from years of ill-fitting equipment, he does a pretty impressive dragon imitation.  Historically, he will pin his ears and bite the air, or me, when he sees the saddle, pad and girth approaching.  I've had pretty good success with changing this reaction by pairing the equipment with treats so he thinks saddling is a good thing.  However, the timing of the treats is quite precise, because I want him to associate the treats with the saddling process, NOT with his biting.  So goodies are only dispensed when he has his ears pricked forward towards me and the saddle.  It requires close attention to his posture and demeanor, and if there's any doubt about whether he's going to think the treat was a reward for being a dragon I don't give it.  Intermittent reward is a powerful motivator, so it's better to skip a goodie rather than accidentally give him a treat for being aggressive.  This is one of the reasons I'm glad his owner was willing to leave him here for me to work with, I wouldn't want her to have to fine-tune this behavior herself and risk reinforcing the biting.  But something had to be done to change his associations with tack.

He now starts his rides pretty comfortably, and though his trotting begins a little short-strided, once he realizes that the tack doesn't hurt he actually stretches his back, lowers his head, and takes longer slower strides instead of his habitual "sewing machine" trot.  Mostly I'm excited about the relaxed head and floppy forwards ears. 

Bo is attentive to what is going on around us, here I think he's greeting a client who pulled up and parked her car on the other side of the fence.

Miles the border collie is always encouraging, and likes to spend his breaks in the shade of the trees or a barrel.  Sometimes he encourages Bo to use himself more naturally by taunting him, running just out of reach in front which gets Bo to lengthen out his topline as he snakes his head towards Miles to tell him to get out of the way. 

This is an example of the stretch Bo does when he's "tracking" Miles who is just visible at the top of the photo.

Mirror, Mirror, On the Wall....

Last week I spent some time at my neighbor's arena to take advantage of her good footing.  I rode several horses, including Billy the quarter horse.  He had been to this arena before, but he always likes to take some time to visit with the horse in the mirror on the wall. 
Billy doesn't recognize that the horse he is seeing is himself.  All he sees is another horse that looks friendly, who mimics his own movements.  Other horses, upon seeing themselves in a mirror, will get cranky, because they see the horse in the mirror being grumpy.  I've even seen horses attack the mirror image because the horse in the mirror wouldn't back down.  Billy is kind of a jovial fellow, and so he just thinks it's a curious phenomenon to see another friendly soul in the mirror.

The first time Samson saw himself in the mirror we were there with another horse that he knew from my stable.  He didn't think too much about the reflection until he realized that he could see his friend, Missy, both behind him and in front of him in the mirror.  He also was a little confused when he noticed there was two of me.  He spent a lot of time staring first at Missy, then at the "Mirror Missy", as well as Kim, and "Mirror Kim".

Though it is a little confusing to Billy why the horse disappears when he checks it out lower down....

Friday, May 23, 2014

Shambhu Trots

Today I hauled a few horses over to my neighbor's to work in her sand arena that drains faster than mine.  Shambhu was one of the horses and he did great!  He started out a bit tense and worried that the saddle might hurt (because for a long time it did from his injury).  I walked him around while riding and then he realized that he didn't hurt after all!  We actually picked up a little trot and he started that tense with his head high and taking tiny quick steps.  However, after a lap or so he realized that he could swing his back and take longer steps with his hind legs,  He started to breathe more deeply, then began dropping his head to really lengthen out and stretch his back.  It was the nicest trot I've ever gotten from him, including prior to the injury.  It's so satisfying that he can come back from such a significant injury and feel better than he did even before getting hurt!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Throwback Thursday - Garmin on Patrol

Throwback Thursday

Monday, January 12, 2009

Go on - Git!

So as if we haven't had enough to deal with amongst the throes of the holiday season, we've had a good cold snap and the marsh on our property has frozen. The cattails leftover from last summer are all brown and sagging. They unfortunately had grown up over our west property line fence and now that they are brown and saggy they have dragged the fence down with them. I didn't realize anything was amiss until we got this hard freeze and the cattle who are normally turned out on the farmland to the west of us decided to stroll on top of the ice, over our sagging cattail inundated perimeter, and greet my horses over the one remaining strand of fenceline separating my horses from the marsh. Apparently no one told my horses that they have quarter horse bloodlines, because they are absolutely convinced that these large black angus cattle are merely masquerading as herbivores, and at a moment's notice could morph into equine-eating machines.

Since Owen is out of commision recovering from his surgery and my horses were useless against this foreign threat, tonight it was up to me. I marched out into the frozen marsh wielding my plastic pitchfork, reasoning that if a 1500 lb cow can manage to stay on top of the ice my hulking frame certainly shouldn't crash through. I shouted; I waved my weapon; I attempted to strike fear into the heart of every bovine present. They nonchalantly moseyed slightly further west.

Having evicted them from our property, I proceeded to inspect our perimeter fence and made the discovery hitherto presented. Realizing I was no longer the threatening menace as I initally presented myself, the cattle determined the dead cattails were more appealing than I was foreboding and all came back over to eat.

I'll try it again tomorrow with backup humans to help me repair the fence. Hopefully I won't wake up in the morning with 30 cattle knocking on my door for breakfast. If that's the case Cecil might just have to cowboy up, find the quarter horse within, and get tacked in his jumping saddle to herd them back onto the farm. Go on - Git!


"Go on, git!" revisited 

originally posted on Dec 26, 2009

For those of you who remember my post this time about a year ago - the marsh has frozen over once more and I woke up this morning to our pasture hosting a herd of the neighbor's cattle. 5 out of the 7 horses living here were in an uproar because of the close proximity of the horse-eating machines masquerading as herbivores. I did my best to quiet the horses (served breakfast) and then proceeded in 30 mph winds to escort the cattle off our property. This should have been significantly easier this year, because I have a 7 month old border collie (Miles) to assist me by lurking 50 yards behind me and growling menacingly at the cattle. Once in a while he would try to bite the whip I was carrying. He did not chase, herd, corral, or in any other way tell the cattle they ought not to be eating my pasture. So much for the herding dog and large game. At least he shows the same deferential respect to my horses. On the other hand, I did have a good bit more assistance from Tally, the new dog living in the barn with Miles. She's a 2 year old hound-mix who arrived from the humane society this Christmas, approximately 20 lbs of menacing vocal talent. She expertly ran semi-circles around me and the cattle and then with an almighty bay sent the cattle to the far side of their own farm. Not bad for a little hound. I've given up on frozen marsh fencing repairs - we'll just give the cattle the "go on, git" for the next few mornings until the marsh melts and the fence pops up again.

Miniature Jumping Cow Pony on Border Patrol  

originally posted on Thurs 2/27/2012 

As reported in blog posts from years past, the neighbor's cattle frequenting our pasture in the wintertime has become an annual occurrence here.  The marsh freezes, cattails fold over the barbed wire fence, and the cows just step right over on the frozen water and come on by.  This evening Owen declared he was going out to send them home because they were eating my large round bales of really nice quality horse hay.  For reference, because cows have several stomachs and are ruminants, they can eat almost any kind of forage and gain weight.  Horses, with one stomach and a delicate digestive system need very high quality (translate: expensive) grass hay, especially the thoroughbreds whose metabolisms run fast anyway.  So I was MAD that these cows were basically eating all my lunch money.

The three horses living in the pens by the big bale were not concerned, they stood quietly discussing the cuisine with the cows as though they had invited the cattle over for a little dinner party.  Cecil, however, was frantic.  He was prancing around his pen which is further away from the cows, and snorting as loudly as possible, in a fit from his bovinaphobia.  Garmin, who lives with Cecil, just watched observantly.

Owen released the border collies from the barn.  Belle immediately bullet-ed out to the hay stack to move the cattle back.  Miles, a little less focused, came over to say hello to me and then went to join Belle.  They succeeded in moving the cows to the far west corner of the pasture.

In an unprecedented act, the younger cows, about a year old, decided there was no reason to move away from a dog.  After all, a cow weighs hundreds of pounds and the dog only about fifty.  Approximately three of these cows turned around and charged Belle.  She was astonished, this retaliation was totally unanticipated!  Keep in mind that Belle grew up in a small back yard in the town of Loveland on a cement pad with chain link fence.  She had never seen livestock until she arrived here as a 6 year old, and discovered her affinity for herding.  She tried valiantly to get them back on course, but despite her best efforts they stared her down and chased her halfway back to the barn.  One dog down.

Miles, meanwhile had discovered that I was wielding at long whip in order to make noise and move the cows back to their property.  Miles and the whip have a gleeful history together.  When Miles was a puppy, a friend and her 5 year old daughter house sat for us.  The daughter, a budding animal trainer herself, taught Miles a game she called Hup-dog.  She would tie a string of baling twine to the end of a long stick, then wave it in the air, spinning around and shouting "hup-dog!".  This action would quickly provoke Miles into giddy ecstasy causing him to launch himself into the air to snap at the string.  My friend's child has long since forgotten this game, but Miles has not.  Any time a whip comes out he is there, ready to pounce.  No matter if I'm working a young horse or trying to move cattle from on foot, he is there to help.  He never would even consider going after the animals with aggression, just the whip in his game of Hup-dog. The attraction of the whip quickly turned Miles from determined border collie on cattle alert into goofy puppy playing Hup-dog.  So that was two dogs down. 

When I looked back to see where Owen was in terms of back-up, he was standing right next to the horse's paddock, jaw dropped in awe as he watched Garmin the pony rear back onto his hind legs, and leap over the fence from a stand-still.  He jumped out of his own paddock, and then jumped INTO the pasture with all of us.  Garmin had a literal good roll in the strewn about hay, then began to run around determining the next maneuver for cattle escorting.  We may have been down two dogs, but we had gained a miniature jumping cow pony on border patrol.  The only thing missing was a bright cape and jumpsuit with an "S" on it.

Over the course of the next half hour our little team succeeded in replacing the cattle back in their own pasture beyond the marsh and doing a temporary fix on the perimeter fence line.  The only casualties were two pairs of wet shoes (though Kim got high boots for Christmas so no wet socks at least), Belle is still a little shook up about being charged by a bovine, but Miles is blissfully oblivious to the certain danger they faced.  Garmin followed me back to his pen, where I am planning to raise the fence height (this is the fourth time he has jumped out for various reasons best known to him).  The horses settled down to continue their supper, sans cattle.  We'll see who is invited to the dinner party tomorrow night.

Sunday, May 18, 2014


Shambhu is a Connemara cross (similar to Cole my lesson horse).  He had an injury about six months ago where he pulled back while tied and strained his psoas muscles as well as creating tears in the connective tissue in his neck.  After that he developed gastric ulcers.  He is fortunate to have an owner who adores him and was willing to give him the time, medication, and rehab he needed to heal.  After lots of correct physical therapy he has been cleared to come for training done Bit of Honey style, to reintroduce him to riding and get him going under saddle once more.

Shambhu's saddle no longer fits him, either, so we'll have him fitted for a custom trail saddle so he and his owner can both be comfy on their long rides.  In the meantime I have a jumping saddle that fits well, which he likes and is fairly relaxed wearing as I tack him up.

Once he was dressed I put him on the lunge line so he could experiment with his body and the saddle to make sure he knew it wouldn't hurt him.
We got some very nice back stretches on the lungeline with him lowering his head and reaching well under himself with his hind legs.  I actually think he is moving better now than when I met him, more fluidly and comfortable since having all this time off with his owner doing very equal work on his right and left sides in his physical therapy. 

Then we headed over to the mounting block to see what he thought about carrying the weight of a rider on his newly recovering back.
I love this photo because you can see that Shambhu is explaining to me that he's not sure if this will hurt, and he would like me to be careful.  I'm also telling him that I promise not to ever hurt him, and that we'll just see how this goes.  If he wasn't comfortable or ready for me to mount, we didn't have to do it yet.  He fortunately was his usual compliant and willing self and was ok with me climbing on to ride, pain free!
From the horse's right
 While it looks a little funny, this is something I do whenever I'm starting a horse under saddle, or restarting them.  It's an easy way for me to put some weight on his back while still giving myself a good way to exit if he moves or gets upset.  I'm pretty flexible, so after I pat the saddle and drape my arm across it, I just lay my leg across the saddle.  (As an interesting side note, this is best done in stretchy pants.  Most every pair of jeans I have owned have been dispatched when the butt rips out of them while I'm doing this.)  This way I can just lift my leg off if there is trouble, and the horse gets used to the heavier weight of my leg. This also gave Shambhu a chance to tell me how much weight he was comfortable with on his back:  an arm, a leg, or all of me.  If he walked away, pinned his ears, or tossed his head it was his way of saying he wasn't ready yet.  Since he did nothing more than pay close attention to me, I knew it was ok to mount.
From the horse's left
and I'm up!

we're all smiles

Miles works with me for some extra encouragement, and he makes us look fast.

Bo's Physical Therapy

I had a friend who took photos of my work with the horses yesterday.  She took some excellent shots, and here is an update on Bo and his PT.

Bo eagerly waits by the gate for his turn to come out and play.  He has a long history of poorly fitting saddles, and he's accustomed to them being painful, even when placed gently on his back.  Because of that, he used to look grumpy and angry all the time because he was painful, and he was trying to tell the humans around him that what they were doing to him hurt.  He pretty firmly associated saddles with pain, so he would toss his head and bite the air when he was being tacked up.  His current owner has been wonderful and done everything in her power to make him comfortable, including buying a saddle for him which fit 2 months ago.  Now that he's had quite a bit of rehab the shape of his back has changed dramatically and that lovely new saddle doesn't fit anymore.  So we'll have Jen from Happy Horse Tack Shop come out and find him something else from her vast collection that will work better.  In the meantime I need to work on tacking and equipment with him to help him learn that it no longer hurts when he is tacked up so that he can stop making faces and being angry and nervous when getting dressed to ride.  I began with my fairly benign bareback pad with a big western pad underneath, cinched loosely.  You can see in these photos that he is concerned about what moving will feel like while he wears this.  Indeed he started out with quite a stilted gait, anticipating pain if he were to move more naturally as he now does without tack.  However, after some coaxing on my part and reassuring him that it won't hurt (and if it does all he needs to do is tell me and I'll change it) he was willing to give it a try.  Once he realized that the bareback pad wouldn't hurt him, he began to really move.  Ears up, reaching with his hind legs well underneath himself, he even lifted his back and almost stepped into his front hoof prints with his hind feet.

Leg circles, taking his hoof in gentle circles, 8 times clockwise, 8 times counterclockwise
After we were done with the small amount of lungeline work I took him back to the hitch rail for his carrot stretches (left, right, and reaching down between his front legs).  I rubbed down his hamstrings with liniment and did his leg circles (to increase range of motion for abduction) and hamstring stretches on both hind legs.  He really enjoys his massage, he will actually sway and lean into my hands for just the right pressure.

Then gently easing his hoof forwards, and he will place his foot gently on the ground when he is able
 Bo is realizing that I will never hurt him, and nothing I do is written in stone.  If something doesn't agree with him or is uncomfortable, all he has to do is tell me and I'll change it.  The goal is to get him comfortable and pain-free, and we are very nearly there.  We have resolved most of his issues, his hamstrings and the pain-related behaviors are the only things left now.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Teaching in Eagle at the Rescue Rendezvous

Aside from Grace finding her forever home, the weekend also included teaching a bunch of Centered Riding lessons to participants at the expo in Eagle.

Grounding the rider's feet

 Discussing two point position

Grace and I got to present ourselves to the auditors with Dominique and Rawley, who also rode in the Equine Comeback Challenge in Denver in March.  Rawley was a little nervous about the crowd, so I spoke most of the time about how we trained the horses using positive reinforcement techniques.  Grace was not phased by the sounds system at all this time!  We had a super sturdy bridge to use in our demo, and I rode Grace over poles and discussed bitless riding. 

Enjoyed myself!

Grace Gets Adopted

Last weekend I had the pleasure of teaching up in Eagle, Colorado, at a small horse expo called the Rescue Rendezvous.  It was hosted by Mountain Valley Horse Rescue, the organization that gave me Grace back in January when I put her under saddle.  We had a wonderful time and everything went smoothly until the car ride home when we got stuck on I-70 for a few hours because of accidents in the snow storm.  At home we got 10" of snow, but in Eagle we only had rain right up until we left.  However, the expo was a lot of fun!  I was able to teach Grace with a volunteer named Marleen who had been working with Grace.  She then adopted Grace after their riding lesson!  The painting of Grace also sold to Marleen at the auction on Saturday night. Marleen has an english riding background, and she is from the Netherlands.  She's been in the US for quite some time and volunteering at MVHR where she met Grace.  They plan to do some lower level dressage and trail rides together.  A great team, and I'm so proud to have been part of Grace's journey!
Grace introduces me to Marleen