Welcome to Bit of Honey Training LLC

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

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Dewey and the Obstacles

I'm so happy that I'm feeling so much better!  I've started feeding the horses myself, I only need help with lifting heavier things like water buckets, and I've delegated cleaning paddocks.  But I'm doing well enough that I moved some of the obstacles to the round pen so I can work with the horses at liberty on them.  The perimeter of the arena isn't fenced in yet, so until I can do horses on the end of a rope and I'm riding again, I'll be working in the round pen a while longer.

The Equine Comeback Challenge will be an obstacle course with a variety of things Dewey will need to demonstrate.  To prepare him for this I set up a small cross rail jump and a rope-style gate using a lunge line and jump standards.  I brought a bunch of lightweight pvc poles into the round pen so we have a box in which to practice turning and a chute of poles to practice backing.  I also have a piece of plywood to use as preparation for working over a bridge.

Dewey and I went to the round pen, but I didn't get any photos of him.  He was a little overwhelmed by all the new stuff, and wanted to stay close to me so I could explain things.  Any photos I would have taken would have been extreme close-ups of him asking what to do next!  He was very brave, ran around a little, sniffed everything on his own, then came over to me to see what exactly we were going to do with all this new stuff.

I walked him (still at liberty, no halter or ropes) over to the cross rail and he followed me right over it at the walk.  We did that several times from both directions until he was doing it confidently.  Then we walked over to the poles laid out in a box pattern, and he followed me in, did a very nice pivot on his haunches to the right, and walked out with me.  We went to the chute, which was just two poles set up parallel to each other.  We walked in, halted, and then I backed him out straight.  Once we were done with the poles we meandered over to the rope gate, and I let him sniff it while I wiggled the rope.  I then unhitched the rope gate, Dewey and I walked through, and I hitched it to the standard again.  We did this a few times from both directions, draping the rope on Dewey's body so he gets used to that feeling, too.  Lastly I jogged a little and hopped the cross rail, and Dewey went right with me, trotting over it as well.

I love how Dewey is so tuned-in to me.  He is sensitive and truly wants to do things right, so he pays really close attention to me whether he is wearing his halter or not.  I love to see this in a horse, that kind of sensitivity is wonderful, especially when it's paired with an earnest desire to do the right thing.  When things happen to make him nervous, he simply looks to me for reassurance and support, always making sure he is checking in with me.  If he wants to be this obedient when I'm on the ground, once I'm on his back he will have an even closer connection to my cues.  It's a great indicator that he'll be responsive and light as a riding horse.

One other fun thing we started is playing with a mailbox. I haven't attached it to a wooden pole yet, so I can carry it around with me relatively easily.  This morning I put a couple handfuls of cookies in it, then took it into Dewey's paddock with me.  He initially gave it a good hard look, but as soon as he smelled the cookies inside it he snurffled it all over with his eager horse lips.  I opened and shut the door a couple times, and gave him a cookie.  I carried the mailbox away from him, and he followed me.  I rested the mailbox on the top of the metal fence, and Dewey reached up and grabbed the door with his lips and opened it to get at the cookies still inside!  Highboy came over to his side of the fence to participate as well, while Cole just snorted and stared, insisting that it was a horse monster and Dewey should be more careful!  Dewey ignored Cole and just played with the mailbox.  Next time I'll put a magazine in the box as well and let Dewey mess with that some. 

Free Jumping Highboy

Highboy was turned out with his buddies and wouldn't stop harassing the ponies, so I took him to the round pen to mess around.  I had set up some obstacles in the round pen for working with horses at liberty, one of which was a cross rail on the perimeter of the round pen.  Highboy went directly to the cross rail and checked it out from both sides, then started running and jumping it all on his own!

Once he figured out how to canter over the cross rail I set it up as a 3' vertical, and he didn't hesitate but leaped over that, too!  I also had a modified gate set up by tying a lunge line to another jump standard.  Highboy got cocky and jumped just the rope, the height of the 4' jump standard!  He was doing it all on his own with no cues from me (what can I say, the horse loves to jump!), so I was able to get some video of him being super athletic.  Then I got an app for my phone so I could take stills from the video.

His first jumps over the cross rail were very cute, he wasn't sure how high or wide he had to leap to make it over, so he over-jumped quite a bit in the beginning.  It was awfully cute as he thought through the process of "how big do I need to go?"


Then I changed the jump to be a vertical, so the top pole went straight across, about 3' high.  He just kept running and playing, leaping over the jump as he went!  

Just for fun, he slid to a stop, spun around, and then jumped it the other way.  He says he could be a reining horse, too, you know.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Sneak Peek of Small Cross Country Jumps

On my walk today the dogs and I took some photos of the new jumps.  My giant logs are not yet set up in their final locations because they weigh up to 3000 lbs., so I need my log supplier to come maneuver them with his heavy machinery.  However, in addition to those we have some very small approachable fences for schooling that he was able to place using just the delivery equipment.  These jumps are friendly enough that I suspect I'll often be heard declaring, "Miles the three legged dog can jump it - so can you!"

The dogs also say thanks for getting them such fun stuff to play on, and they have dedicated themselves to being good cross-country jumping dogs to set an example for the horses.  I love my snuggly dogs!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Liberty Work with Dewey - Positive Reinforcement and Dressage Prep

Yesterday I did my best to clean up Dewey and make him photo-worthy.  It took about forty minutes of currying, brushing, wiping with a damp cloth, and hosing off his legs before he started to look reasonable.  I had friends here to help me with picking out his feet and putting on his boots since I can't bend over or lift anything yet.  We went to the round pen, Dewey behaving like a quiet gem the whole way there despite not having left his paddock for a month!  Definitely no more need for a chain with him.  Once I turned him loose to free lunge, he burst into action playing and running.

Then we started to play with some of his tricks and in-hand liberty work.  I'm teaching him at liberty (with no ropes or halters) for a couple different reasons.  The biggest one is because I had back surgery at the end of December, and the doctors said I can be walking around, but not bending or lifting, and I definitely have not yet been cleared to have 1000 lb animals pulling on me via lead rope.  I can teach Dewey a significant amount with him loose in the pen with me, and this way he won't tug on me nor can I inadvertently pull or re-injure myself. 

Another reason I'm teaching Dewey at liberty is because I find this builds a lot of trust between horse and human.  With him totally loose in the large space with me, if he doesn't want to participate in my human nonsense he has nothing coercing him into staying near me.  This allows him a format in which he chooses to partner with me, and because he consciously makes that decision he really owns the training.  By that I mean he decided he WANTS to learn from me, therefore he is much more active and interested in the training process than if he was working to escape something uncomfortable as in the common "pressure and release" paradigm. 

In technical terms, "pressure and release" is called negative reinforcement.  Forgive me my inner science geek - my degree is in psychology, anatomy, and neurobiology and I love to talk shop.  Dewey is learning and performing behaviors because they are fun, he gets praise, and he is earning little tidbits of cookies.  This method is called positive reinforcement.  Many studies have shown it is most effective when creating lasting behaviors.  In my experience this has usually been the best way to teach, though I do use other methods as well when the situation necessitates it.  I've found the horses respond so well to positive reinforcement that it makes training easy, the horses like it, and I'm all about doing things the easy way. 

With regards to treats, I don't end up with biting or getting mugged for goodies because Dewey understands that he has to perform some specific behavior in order to turn me into a vending machine.  Those behaviors include bowing, smiling, stretching, trotting or cantering next to me in rhythm with my steps, lining up at the mounting block and standing still, among other things.  Since he doesn't know which act to perform unless I give him certain verbal cues, he pays super close attention to me so he knows which behavior will earn him a goodie.  Because he is still young and has a short attention span, he does occasionally get distracted or sometimes he needs a victory lap or recess of running in order to be able to focus again.  I let him have these breaks, and then he's ready to focus again in a few minutes.  Because everything is so much fun for him with all this interesting stuff to do to transform me into a treat dispenser, he really enjoys his work and has very low stress levels.  He also learns that I am trustworthy, and he can begin to generalize this to other humans as well. 

Dewey is getting the hang of smiling and doing his side stretches.

In pretty much every photo that was taken, my legs are in the same position as Dewey's.  Even when I'm not looking at him or facing him, we are matched, stride for stride.  He is mimicking me, because it's easiest to follow my cues (thus earning praise) when we're in perfect rhythm.  Among other reasons, since rhythm is the very first tenet of dressage training, I also consider this liberty work really good preparation for riding and especially dressage. 

I do a lot of transitions with Dewey, so on the ground I will jog and then halt, or canter and halt, and he matches me.  Transitions have the effect of making him load his haunches with more weight so he can take off with me right away or stop right away.  That in turn causes him to activate his abdominal muscles and infraspinatus muscles, creating a "lift" in his back, also called "roundness".  These are basic pieces of education about using his body a young horse needs in order to learn to balance himself, which he can do much more easily without a rider.  Dewey has grown a lot in a short period of time, and is still acclimating himself to his longer limbs and bigger body, so this is time well spent in teaching him how to balance himself. 

Interestingly, as he gets stronger I will progress to doing things like trotting in place, and he'll stay next to me, also trotting in place.  Eventually we will canter in place as well.  These are the beginnings, really the foundations of the upper level dressage work such as piaffe, passage, and canter pirouettes.  Being able to transfer weight onto his haunches and control his body in a balanced way will also help him if he goes on to do jumping, turning at speed, or riding up and down steep hills on technical trail rides.  Because of the time it takes to properly develop his musculature so that he can sustain these movements, Dewey won't be doing upper level work under saddle before we get to the expo of course.  However, I'm laying the foundation for him to go any direction in his future endeavors in his forever home.

Dewey's in hand canter work is coming along too.  Mahzi the dog is always trying to help, and Dewey was a little excited about competition for his cookies, so it started a bit too rowdy.  Dewey found his rhythm, though, and settled into the groove really nicely!

 Mahzi watches carefully so that even when I'm not actively giving her cues, she sometimes does whatever trick I'm teaching the horse.  Including bowing!

Dewey takes a well deserved bow!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Announcement for Dewey

Exciting news!  Through the Equine Comeback Challenge, organized by A Home For Every Horse, Dewey and I have been paired with Dressage Today Magazine!  Keep an eye out for us in upcoming issues and on the facebook page to see how Dewey progresses through the training pyramid.

Sunny Afternoon Naps

I was outside visiting with my hay guy who was making a delivery, and got these fun pictures of the horses.  Napping was the order of the day, and Fergie was even talking in her sleep, nickering and softly whinnying.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Farrier Visit for Highboy & Dewey Practices His Tricks

Yesterday morning the farrier came out to trim Highboy, Garmin, Cosmo and Rain.  My ten year old student, Phoenix, was helping me since I'm still needing to go easy after back surgery and I couldn't have horses pulling on me.  Highboy, however, is a bit too much for Phoenix and needs more psychological management.  I handled Highboy, and I had him go first.  It was crazy windy.  I went to his paddock and haltered him, then brought him into the barn and tied him to wait for the farrier to arrive.  Highboy was dancing around, pawing at the ground, generally exhibiting behaviors consistent with a young horse who desperately needs to go back to work.

I am still not in any shape to wrestle with him, or even try to make him stand still, so I ignored him while he fidgeted.  The farrier arrived.  I stood off to the side and said very clearly and sternly, "Highboy, I am not able to mess around with you today.  I really need you to STAND QUIETLY for the farrier so we can get this done."  Astonishingly, Highboy paused in his antics and turned his face to look at me.  He gave a loud sigh and blew his nose as if to say, "All right, but don't get used to this."  Then he put his head facing forwards and stood like a rock for the farrier to do everything.  It was Highboy's best appointment ever.  The only time he had a lapse in memory was when the farrier was rasping a front hoof, and Highboy was sorely tempted to pull off the farrier's hat.  I reminded Highboy that even that sort of shenanigan was a no-go today, and darned if Highboy didn't just look at me again with a disappointed sigh, and then go back to standing quietly.

Later in the day after I'd rested I went out to play with Dewey in his paddock, and he is super excited about all the new tricks he's learning.  Cole must have told him the secret to getting the human to dispense cookies is to do the tricks as fast as you can.  I asked Dewey to stretch left then right, and he did.  Then I bent my knees to ask him to stretch his head down between his front legs, and he did a super deep stretch right away, like he had been practicing all this time I've been reading in the house!  Of course he got some cookies, and then we did it all again with me standing in different places.  He is a quick study, and kept looking at me as if to say, "yeah, I understand, when do we do the hard stuff?"

I had brought my camera out to take photos of Dewey doing his tricks.  However, he's crusted in mud, Highboy has ripped Dewey's blanket in a couple places, there are small bite wounds on his neck from all the WWF horse wrestling he and Highboy do over the fence, his mane needs to be pulled and bridle path clipped.  I couldn't bring myself to photograph him looking like such a ragamuffin, so when we were done playing I went back to the house without any photos.  Maybe next week I'll be feeling up to giving him a thorough grooming and then we can carry on with the paparazzi side of training. 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Feeling Better

I'm definitely feeling better, I've been out to play with the dogs and walk around the last few days.  The dogs and I meander out to the logs and Mahzi climbs around a bit while Miles coaches from the ground.  Periodically I'll call them back to me for treats to reinforce their recall.

Mahzi is turning into quite the daredevil athlete.  She will not only climb onto anything I ask her to, but she's started leaping from log to log and catching some air in between.

Inside his paddock I started teaching Dewey carrot stretches in preparation for bowing, and Cole was watching from his pen.  So Cole began bowing - front legs totally apart, forehead on the ground to demonstrate, insisting that HE should have some of the cookies!  It remains to be seen if Cole will explain it to Dewey or if he'll just try to hoard all the cookies for himself.

 I also took a leisurely stroll through the tack room fondling all my favorite saddles in anticipation of riding.  Sigh.  At least they are all clean, conditioned and ready to go.  (One of my nervous evenings before surgery I went a little nuts with the saddle soap.)

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Selfie Wednesday

To entertain my narcissistic side, I took a bunch of selfies with the horses this morning after the dogs and I went for our walk.  It's so nice to feel so loved by so many!  They were all very smoochy and friendly about seeing me since it's been so long.  Clockwise from the top they are Dewey, Darby, Hope, and Highboy.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Kim's Recovery

It's been two weeks since surgery for me, and I'm doing ok, a little stir crazy. I'm mostly lying around reading and spending too much time on Facebook.  I can stand and walk a little now, 10 to 15 min at a time. People keep telling me to treat myself like a rehab horse. I can't wait till I can sit for a while, I have all these ideas for blog posts but can't sit at my desk yet for very long. This post is a race to type everything I can before the leg hurts!  I have concluded that I must be part border collie or thoroughbred, since Highboy and Dewey and the dogs are eager to go back to work, too.

To answer some frequently asked questions:

Were you hurt in a glamorous horse accident?:
 No, the surgery was not due to an injury, I'm blaming this one on genetics.

What did the surgeon do (don't gross me out)?
I had back surgery to remove arthritis from the lower vertebrae in my spine.  Essentially the tunnel that the nerve runs through had become too narrow for the nerve to fit, due to arthritic changes filling in the space and irritating the nerve.  I had weakness and pain all down my left leg, I couldn't sit or walk at all without heavy pain meds.  In layman's terms, they basically rotor-rootered my back so the pipe is clear for the nerve to run through.

How is recovery going?
A little rocky at first, there were some complications with recovery necessitating that I return to the hospital and stay there for 2 days and a night.  Once my pain was under control I went home on oral meds, and had a follow-up with  my regular doctor to address the other issues.  I'm still expected to make a full recovery, but it likely won't be the short month the surgeon predicted.  That's ok with me, as long as I make a full recovery.

What do you need?
Mostly I've been asking for reading recommendations.  Those who have visited me have generously brought me all kinds of books and DVDs, so I am well stocked with a variety of reading material.  I'm always open to new suggestions, I just avoid horror and monster-type books.  Since my stomach and system are still in an uproar I'm only able to eat basically toast and applesauce, so we don't need any more food.  Owen does the cooking normally so we're good for meals. 

I have called in reinforcements for cleaning paddocks - on one of my very short trips outside to visit Highboy and Dewey I was appalled at how my normally tidy and tightly run ship seems to be sinking in frozen horse manure.  I have saintly friends who are taking care of feeding, water, and blanketing for me, and very saintly friends and neighbors who are coming to clean paddocks for me when things thaw out a bit later this week.

Nase the house dog is enjoying all the time lounging around the house, and he's happy to have the comfy chair in the living room since I can't sit in it yet. 

Thank you to all of you who have supported me and continue to do so - it's a tedious road back and I'm so grateful I'll get there.