Welcome to Bit of Honey Training LLC

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

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Dewey's First Bit of Honey Ride

I'm finally feeling enough better that I could get on Dewey!  He has been ready to start riding for weeks, but I was waiting for the go-ahead from the medical professionals before I returned to the saddle after my back surgery at the end of December.

I went out to halter Dewey and I found him lying down in his paddock in the soft snow.  I couldn't resist, I took a photo of him just as he made a skeptical face asking why on earth would I take PHOTOS of him while he's napping?!

After grooming and tacking up we went to the covered arena and lunged first - it was cold and Dewey was FRESH!  The dogs merrily jumped around, Miles barking encouragement, Mahzi eagerly climbing all over the mounting block in anticipation.  Once Dewey had his yee-haws out of his system and settled to work pacing himself carefully over poles on the lunge line I figured he was ready to ride.  We began working at the mounting block, having him step up to it and stand in the correct position for me to mount.  While we were doing this the dogs for some reason decided that there simply MUST have been a rabbit in one of my pvc jump poles.  They had cornered a rabbit in there before, and although I checked and there were no rabbits in them today, they still were all wound up about catching a rabbit during Dewey's first ride at Bit of Honey.  At least it gave Dewey something entertaining to watch while I fiddled with stirrups, the camera, reins, among other things prior to mounting.

Since Dewey had track training before he went to CANTER Colorado last summer, I knew he had been sat on by at least an exercise rider, even though he never made it to his first race.  Nevertheless, I like to start from the beginning and not assume a horse knows things.  All the time we have spent in preparation for today was well worth it.  Here he has learned to stand quietly, to steer and stop using a bit while ground driving, and he knows all the voice commands.  As a result, when I climbed aboard the only new things for him were leg and seat aids, and carrying my weight.

Miles the border collie immediately abandoned Rabbit Watch 2015 to come help me in case I needed him to guide Dewey.  Mahzi my border collie/lab (and Miles' protege') came over, too.  I asked Dewey to walk using my breath and a little seat cue, and he immediately stepped out, with only a brief sway to accommodate for my weight.  Miles walked in front of us and just off to the side, acting as my leader so if Dewey got confused he would know what to do.  We walked in a couple large circles to the left and then to the right, and then did some stops and starts.  We walked over the poles and only had a little spook when Mahzi (who is only a year old) pounced on the pole one last time for good measure to try to flush out a rabbit.  My favorite part of the ride was during one of my practice transitions.  To cue Dewey to go into the walk from a halt I took a quick breath as though I were blowing out a birthday candle and Dewey then blew his nose and started walking.  A few steps later I exhaled with my whole torso to tell him to halt, and he took a deep deep sigh and stopped.  His breathing even matched mine!

At the end of our very brief ride in the 14 deg. air we stood in the middle of the indoor arena for a minute.  The dogs lined up next to us, sitting attentively.  Dewey stood still, quiet and relaxed and turned his head to look at me as if to ask what was next.  I patted him on his neck and haunches, and then I dismounted.  It was a wonderful, uneventful, successful first ride!

Friday, February 27, 2015

Dewey's Big Spooks and Training Concepts

It occurs to me that I have a couple fun stories about Dewey that I haven't shared yet.  Both of them are in regards to Dewey and the biggest spooks he has exhibited as he's been here.

One of them occurred when we were on our way out to the back pasture, ground driving towards the logs that will soon be cross-country jumps.  They are set in the pasture in such a way that you have to walk up a little hill before they become visible.  As I was ground driving Dewey towards them, we got to the top of the hill and suddenly they appeared, lurking on the horizon.  Dewey was understandably alarmed, and while he tried to keep his composure he was pretty sure they were predators crouched and waiting to pounce!  Since I was behind him holding the reins, he figured he was going to be the first to get eaten.  He started to spin around in circles, trying to determine the best way to escape.

When I saw that I wasn't going to be able to straighten him out using just my reins I literally dropped everything.  Dewey was looking around nervously wondering what he should do next.  I oriented myself so that I was between him and the logs so that he would see me as a safety barrier between him and the horse monster.  Then I called him to me like I do when he's at liberty in the round pen.  He gratefully hurried over to my side and took a deep breath putting his head near me.  He calmed down immediately once he realized I was in control of the situation and I would protect him.  He let me untangle my long lines from around his body and rearrange the reins.

Once I had him settled and listening to me as his protector I sent Mahzi the dog ahead to approach the logs in front of us.  She went up to each log and either jumped it or climbed up on it, which showed Dewey that the logs were safe and not predators after all, since Mahzi didn't get eaten, and she wasn't even nervous about approaching them.  This is one of the reasons I use my dogs so much with the horse training.  Since Dewey is used to Mahzi working with him all the time he sees her as friend and companion (they even play tag together - chasing each other in the round pen), not a predator, and so by bravely approaching something she can prove to him there's nothing to worry about.  I may or may not have been able to lead Dewey close to the logs on my own, but by having my dog trained this way, and my horse trained to do what the dog does, it works out quite well.

My other story about Dewey spooking is from just this week.  I had another potential buyer come meet him and we worked down in the covered arena.  I lunged Dewey like usual to start, letting him get his wiggles out before I really ask him to think hard about something.  He showed the woman that he has plenty of "forward"!  The trick is to channel the energy for good instead of evil.  Once he was warmed up the woman and I got to talking about him and how even when he's being a silly baby horse he's pretty well behaved.  He will jump around a little on the lunge line and frolic and run fast a couple times, but I don't need a chain on him and if I ask him to stop he comes right to a halt and looks at me.  I don't mind him playing because at this point in his training that's what the lunge line is for.  He knows he has an acceptable outlet for his energy, because if you try to simply bottle all that up and never let it out the horses develop all kinds of stress-related behaviors. 

While we were standing and talking in the middle of the arena, the snow on the roof began to shift.  I recognized the sound:  crackling and squeaking comes with the sliding of large bunches of snow melting above us.  Dewey stood at attention, listening as well.  Then the snow began to squeal and roar, sliding in huge amounts down the angled roof and crashing to the ground on the open side of the covered arena creating huge drifts.  I again positioned myself so that I was between Dewey and the snow falling, in that protector position.  I talked quietly to him, and his "big spook" was to toss his head in the air and take a tiny little jump to the right, away from the snow.  Once the snow was mostly done crashing to the ground, I sent Mazhi over to the pile.  Usually she is right by my side so that she can fulfill these assignments.  

That dog LOVES the snow.  She came to me from Arkansas through Mountain Pet Rescue just a few months ago.  Weeks ago it was hysterical to watch her play in her first snowfall as she pounced and burrowed through, tunneling into drifts and emerging with snow caked to her face.  When this vast amount of white fun landed on the ground she was more than eager to go digging and romping through it.  When I sent her over to the snow, Dewey watched her, and then eagerly followed me over to the pile as well.  Dewey even pawed at the snow and stuck his muzzle in it just like Mazhi.  A few more bunches of snow slid and fell off the roof nearly landing on Dewey, but because he was already calm and interested in the phenomenon it was no big deal.

I have found using my dog for this kind of training works quite well.  However, if I don't have the dog with me there are a lot of other ways to keep a horse calm and looking to me as the protector.  How I accomplish this also varies depending on the horse.  Dewey is an investigative soul and wants to check things out as long as he feels safe.  I've have other horses who absolutely would have a mental melt down if I asked them to directly approach something that was scary for them.  Those horses I distract with some kind of work, like circles or transitions or changing the bend of their body, something that will redirect their attention off of the horse monster and back onto me.  Once they can focus on me they tend to ignore the horse monster.

Dewey was calmly able to get back to work, happy and focused.  He made a wonderful first impression!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Name that Bay Contest

I got a new horse!  Of course, it's a bay.

Now we need to name her, but I need suggestions!  Once we have a pool of ideas we'll have a vote to decide on a good moniker.

But wait, there's more!  In college I studied a lot of anatomy and neurobiology, and that education has served me and my clients quite well in my post-degree life of horse training and riding instruction.  Recently I came across an excellent website  www.anatomywarehouse.com  that sells a wide range of anatomical models and skeletons.  They have everything from very affordable kids' stuff to doctorate level detail.  During my convalescence (and subsequent online shopping) after back surgery last month I splurged on some client education materials and the first of my models arrived today!

 To keep her insides clean there is a clear plastic lid to enclose her, which can be removed.
While she's not entirely anatomically correct (there are some major things missing like a bladder, some big blood vessels as well as reproductive organs) she has enough removable parts to give people a pretty good idea of what a horse looks like on the inside.  I especially like her removable bones.

We can also take out several internal organs to get a look at approximately what shape they are and where they belong (as well as how tack fitting can affect body parts!)  As a very tactile learner myself something like this would have been great for my early exploits into anatomy.  As an instructor I understand that the more learning modalities a student integrates into an educational experience the better they learn something.  Being able to handle pieces of a horse gives you a kinesthetic experience, looking at the parts is a visual experience, and listening to or talking about them is an auditory experience.  I'm excited to see what all this mare can teach! 

So send me your best ideas for names for this fine young mare and we'll have a vote on what to call the new girl!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Snowy Evening with Dewey

Dewey and I braved the cold and snow and made our way to the covered arena this afternoon.  I'm so grateful to have an area with awesome footing for when the weather doesn't want to cooperate with my training schedule!

First I took his blanket off, much to his chagrin.  I gave him a quick brushing, tacked him up, and on our way to the arena I tried to make him stand for some photos in the snow.  He told me that was ridiculous, and he is a three year old TB who has not been out to play for DAYS, and how could I possibly expect him to stand nicely for photos?  Nevertheless, he cooperated and I got some cute shots.

Then we made our way down the hill to the arena and we lunged a bit.  He had to frolic at the beginning as he always does, then he settled to work thinking about the series of poles I had set up for him. 

Videos of him working his young horse brain to organize ALL FOUR of his feet can be seen here (you may want to turn down your speakers since Miles the border collie is cheering for Dewey in the background):
Walking:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K_-ofYa5cJw
Trotting:    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HemICg_-cLI
Try at Canter:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xy9-C-zuV7E

Then we had to take a break to go over and see what Mahzi the dog was doing in the corner.  She is convinced that there are rabbits hiding under a pallet at the side of the arena, so Dewey went over to inspect.  Dewey is great with the dogs and Mahzi has helped him overcome some learning situations so he's always eager to lend a hand with whatever her current project is.

Lastly we played with the barrels a little bit.  The first time I introduced the barrels to Dewey he mistook them for a starting gate and bolted through them.  That was in December, but even though we are two months later he remembered that he was only required to walk through.  I got him on video going both directions:

I finished up my evening by feeding the horses and topping off water tanks.  It was cold, but a beautiful sunset.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Dewey is Officially on the Market!

I posted Dewey's sale ad on Equine.com.  I have had significant interest in him despite the fact that I haven't been able to ride him because of my back surgery at the end of December.  Those following his progress online know he has had a very thorough grounding in the basics and is ready to get going as a riding horse!  His first visit with a potential forever home was this afternoon.  It was windy, he was playful, but best of all he smooched on everyone there and was his usual affectionate self. 

Have a look at his ad:

If you'd like to set up a visit to come meet him before the horse expo, please contact me and we can get it scheduled.  He will stay with me until the horse expo in March, but will be able to go to an approved home afterwards.  If we don't have his new home lined up by the time we go to expo, he will come back to Bit of Honey for additional training, and to continue meeting potential new owners. 

Dewey loves to meet new people, and it will be great to have his forever home find him. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Dewey Tours the Back 40

This morning Dewey and I did our usual warm up in the round pen, then went to the big arena to walk around and practice stops, backing, and turns, then boldly headed out to the back forty to tour the pastures and see the logs!  This horse is so calm and sensible!  We walked around the back side of the indoor arena, and as we came around the corner Dewey could see all his friends in their paddock.  It was pretty windy, so they were all wound up.  Dewey stayed focused on me, and almost shot them a look saying, "don't you wish you were out here playing like me?"

After looking at his friends he got right back to work.
Here is a video of him practicing walking, halt, backing, and walking again.

We marched out to the farthest pasture to mess around with the logs. 
It was pretty windy, but I got some video of him walking through the field.  He did spook a little at a wind gust, but you can see that he really is very reasonable and steady.

We got to the logs in the back and Dewey was very interested and careful.  When they first appeared on the horizon he was a little nervous about how they just held perfectly still, lurking in the distance like a predator.  Mazhi went ahead of him to show him that it was safe, and she jumped each jump or stood on each log so that Dewey wouldn't be afraid.

I got two videos of Dewey mastering the logs that can be seen here:

When we were all done exploring in the back we ground drove towards the house.  We walked aound the house, around the yard, over the cement on the driveway, crossing the sidewalk a few times, and generally ignoring the horses that live in the front pasture who were excited about our walk.  Dewey was pretty tired mentally when we were done, it was a LOT of stimulation for a young horse to take in.  A very successful morning of work!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Dewey Meets the Tarp

I introduced Dewey to a giant tarp today.  There were wind gusts to 40 mph this afternoon, so we did it in his stall in the barn out of the wind.  I set him up for success by lying the tarp down, then putting some of his dinner mash in a little pile in the center of the tarp.   He could reach this pile by stretching his neck and lips forward while keeping his hooves on the dirt.  The rest of his mash I placed in his metal tub on the far side of the tarp.  This pile could only be reached by placing his front feet on the tarp.

My other horses who are all tarp-proof made quite a scene!  Even though they have all worked with tarps before they honked, snorted, and generally made a scene about this big crinkly object invading Dewey's space.  Who knows why they behaved that way, unless the wind just had them all wound up and they were looking for an excuse to jump around.  The other possibility, knowing that my conniving lesson horse was instigating the antics, is that Cole wanted to see if he could scare Dewey out of his mash thus allowing Cole to enjoy the feast.

Miles the dog was his usual helpful self, he sat on the tarp and showed Dewey there was nothing to be concerned about.

Dewey is so level headed!  He watched me drag the tarp into his stall, and then he watched me dispense his dinner mash in the two locations.  Despite his friends making a fuss he just logically and carefully thought his way through.  First he brushed his hoof up against the tarp.  It made a noise, and he retreated to the far side of his paddock.  Then he came back, and touched the tarp with  his nose.  It made another noise and he retreated.  He continued in this fashion for a few minutes, until he realized that he could access the middle pile of mash by engaging his go-go-gadget lips.

Once he could eat mash off of the tarp, lick the tarp, and bite the tarp, he decided he was pretty impressive, and he started to paw at it.  He only startled himself once or twice, and then he was stomping all over it to get to his mash in his tub on the far side.  I had folded the tarp so that he could still reach the feed with only needing to put his front hooves on, tomorrow we introduce hind feet on the tarp.  I left it near the gate to his stall so he can look at it overnight if he wants, and in the morning hopefully I'll have some fun video of Dewey thoroughly having mastered the tarp.  When I left him, Dewey was snurffling through the folds in the tarp just in case there was some way to encourage it to yield up a second helping of dinner. 

The next morning Dewey conquered the tarp! He must have thought about it all night because when I came out in the morning it had been dragged part way into his paddock. When I dumped his feed he marched right onto it for breakfast! Very anticlimactic - just the way I like it.
Uneventful video of his walk onto the tarp can be seen here:

Contact, Snaffles, and Leverage Bits

I have received some great questions recently, and I thought I would put them with my responses into a blog post. 

Q:  Why do we ride English with contact and western with a loose rein?  Do we only ride western with a loose rein on a finished horse? When training a western horse in a snaffle is the contact the same as English?

A:  Good questions. The short explanation is contained within the difference between a direct action and a leverage bit.  

Snaffles are direct contact (rein attaches to the ring directly at the mouth) so a hand movement directly affects the mouth. Ex: 0.5 lb pressure on rein = 0.5 lb pressure in mouth.

You ride a snaffle with contact so you affect the mouth in the smallest way possible. If you hold the rein with contact on the bit and just squeeze your fingers like you were squeezing water out of a sponge the horse can feel that.  Additionally, if you have contact and you keep your hands in the same place in space, but just turn your wrist a little, the horse can feel that too. 

An interesting exercise is to try this with another human for good information and feedback.  One of you is the “horse,” holding the bit in your hands.  Your friend is the “rider,” and holds the reins as though she were riding.  Have the “rider” do things like keep contact on the bit and just squeeze the rein, or turn her wrists.  Notice how the bit feels to you, and how it moves in your mouth/hands.  Then you and your friend can switch places to experience the action from the other point of view.  It is amazing how such a subtle motion on the part of the rider has such a dramatic effect on the bit in the horse’s mouth.
Another type of bit is a leverage bit.  Bits with a shank are leverage bits because of the pivot point that is created by attaching the reins to the shank, which is below the mouthpiece. 

Because there is a pivot point creating torque, any little movement of the hand/rein is greatly magnified in the horse's mouth. Ex: 0.5 lb pressure on rein = 5 lb pressure in mouth. With a leverage bit you should use just the weight of the reins to affect the mouth in the smallest way possible. You can do the above exercise with a shanked bit, too, noticing how much more effect the "rider’s" hands have on the "horse’s" mouth.  

Therefore, the way you use contact is not really a western versus english thing, but more closely related to which type of bit you use.  Both types of bits are used in English and western riding. A horse (and a human for that matter) should be proficient riding in a snaffle before they ride in a leverage bit. There are all kinds of variations on bits, bridles, and reins, which affect the action of the bit in the horse’s mouth, but this is the short explanation.

Let's look at another type of leverage bit.  This is a bit called a "Tom Thumb", and this photo series shows some of the effects it can have in a horse's mouth.  It's worth noting that any bit with a single joint in the center of the mouthpiece (leverage or direct contact) can have this nutcracker effect if the reins are held too closely together with pressure.

Q:  With all our use of negative reinforcement to teach moving away from pressure, how does the horse understand that we want him to be on the bit in a snaffle? Why doesn't that constant pressure make them irritated and confused? 

A:  The expression "on the bit" is sort of badly phrased - you want the horse propelling himself and his back/topline forwards and upwards using his haunches. When that happens, a consequence in the chain of events is that his head drops and he reaches forward with his nose, creating contact. You only use as much contact as the horse gives you. You cannot create contact with your hands or the reins, the HORSE has to create the contact he is comfortable with by using his haunches. The only way you have a chance of influencing how much contact the horse gives you is by influencing how he uses his haunches.  When he reaches for your hands you can gently return the feel like a handshake, which recycles the energy through your body back to his haunches. You are correct, if you constantly put pressure on his mouth with your hands he will become irritated and confused. However, if the horse initiates and sustains the contact because it helps him balance and communicate with you better, then he's not confused or irritated.  This concept is often called "back to front" riding, because you initiate the energy in the horse's engine, his haunches, and you see the effects in his front end.

Q:  What if the horse didn't create contact, do I leave a loose rein?

A:  Yep. It's a process and as he learns to use his buns he'll start to look for contact. It can take weeks of daily work- don't rush him! He has to build up muscle to do it. You can gently feel his mouth but definitely don't pull or hang on him.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Highboy Learning to Jump

Last weekend a friend got some great photos of Highboy playing over the jumps in the round pen.  This horse loves to play, loves to jump, and it is really fun to see him figuring out how to make his body work.  First he romped around the pen to get warmed up

Then he and Mahzi chased each other for a while.  First Mahzi barks and sort of pretends to chase him (she doesn't dare get too close), then Highboy chases her until she cries uncle and scoots under the gate to escape.

Then he began to play with the cross rail jump.  He would always make an alert face for the camera, then run to the gate to ask the photographer if she got a good one. 

First he jumps it high...

Then he jumps it low...
All normal activities for a young horse figuring out how his body works and what is necessary for jumping different types of fences.  Then I raised it to a vertical.  It's actually a horizontal pole parallel to the ground, but it's called a vertical because the horse needs to jump higher in the air with more vertical bascule or body shape to clear it. 

However, Highboy thought he would first investigate the pole to see exactly how much lift he was going to need.  For reference, this jump he is walking over is set to 3'3" high.   He's a high boy, hence his name "Highboy".

Next time around, up and over!

Once he had easily cleared it once or twice, he got a little lazy because it wasn't really challenging anymore, despite the fact that I had raised it to 3'9".  He would get a little sloppy with his legs, not tucking as tight because he didn't have to try too hard to do this jump.  This tells me that he is quite relaxed about jumping (which we already knew because he does it in the round pen unprompted), and I'm not concerned about the sloppy form at this point.  This is only his second time doing fences greater than small cross rails, and this is all a normal process of a horse figuring out how to do it, how much effort is involved, and where his feet and legs go.  Down the road I'll correct his form by doing gymnastics with him.  Those will teach him many things.  He'll learn how to gauge fences with a spread like oxers that are wider, how to compress his body and launch from a rocked back on his haunches position, how to see his distance to the fence so he knows where to take off from, and how to jump high or wide or small or fast or slow.  Through that process he'll learn to tuck his legs and arch his back really use himself well.  It always makes me smile to see the young horses figuring things out in photos, and they will give me something cute to compare to when Highboy is older, stronger, wiser, and jumping like a rockstar. 

After he was done playing he came to the middle of the round pen to snuggle.  I often say that this horse (like several other TBs I've had) is half thoroughbred and half black lab.