Welcome to Bit of Honey Training LLC

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

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Touch A Prince and Miles with Tablecloths

Tablecloths were the order of the day for horse training skills with Touch A Prince.  I expose my horses to all kinds of bizarre things in the name of The Bit of Honey Circus, including tarps and tablecloths.  I had three handy in the tack room.  One was black plastic, one was white plastic, and one was fabric in yellow and black plaid. These three things appear very different to a horse.  Because horses see through their eyes on the sides of their heads, they don't have much depth perception.  A horse would see the black tablecloth as a dark hole.  The white one is usually less scary, they don't perceive it as a step down but sometimes a step up.  The busy pattern of the plaid can be jolting to a horse, since they see black, white, and shades of green and yellow.  The bright yellow with the contrasting black lines will often startle a horse.

I commonly see all types of reactions with horses who have not been tablecloth-proofed.  Because it's critical for picnics that a horse learn to stand on tablecloths I went through this routine with Touch A Prince.  I jest, I doubt in his trail riding future Touch A Prince will need to work on tablecloths.  But it does serve the purpose of determining how nervous he will be with new things.  I am in the throes of planning a wonderfully fun freestyle to be performed at the Rocky Mountain Horse Expo in March as part of the 2016 Equine Comeback Challenge.  Part of this freestyle will require that he is completely comfortable walking on things like these tablecloths. 

Fortunately, I have Miles the border collie.  He is completely accustomed to working on different surfaces, including tablecloths.  He goes first, walking then sitting, and sometimes lying down on the items to show the horses that they are safe.  Miles also has an elaborate history of stealing food from picnics at the table outside, so he is more than happy to work with this food presentation decor'. 

When Miles was a pup, just big enough to hop onto the bench at the picnic table and just smart enough to reason his way through things, he commenced his reign of edible thievery.  One of my working students, who was about twelve years old at the time, was eating a sandwich outside at the picnic table with me and several of my clients.  She had one half of her sandwich in her hand, the other half sitting on the table in front of her.  Miles came up behind her, and tapped her on her left shoulder with his wet dog nose.  When she turned her head to look at him, he quickly dove to her other side, stealing the unattended sandwich in a flash of fur and doggies smiles.  He then merrily bolted for the barn with his prize.  His various attempts at procuring human food extend to pizza slices, cupcakes, chips and dip, and his favorites: coffee and diet sodas.  Because everyone loves a caffeinated border collie!

Touch A Prince was not phased by the new stuff at all.  In fact he walked all over the tablecloths even before Miles did.  This bodes well for the freestyle I'm planning.  I did ride him in the plastic mullen mouth bit today, and he was ok as long as there was absolutely no contact with his mouth.  If I tried to cue him with the reins at all he got tense and stressed.  Once I realized he had decided he didn't want this bit I removed it and put his hackamore back on.  It was like hitting a switch, he instantly became the quiet relaxed horse I normally work with.  I feel fortunate that he trusts me enough to tell me when he has changed his mind about a piece of equipment, and happy that he is so confident around new things like a variety of tablecloths!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Touch A Prince Bitting Investigation

The acupuncture has continued to help reduce the nerve pain in my left leg, and today was my best day of 2016 so far!  I went out to the horses this afternoon in the near sixty degree temperature (in January!) to turn Highboy out with the gelding herd for some romping and playing.  Within minutes he was sweaty and happy.  Dewey wanted to go out to play, too, but he had to wait until this evening since he goes out for turnout with the herd at night.  It's all part of teaching the young horses how to behave themselves and be mannerly in a group. 

While Highboy's friends carefully ignored his desperate efforts to engage in horse wrestling, I took Tough A Prince out and groomed him.  Winter at the big hay bales is treating him well, he has gotten quite plump.  It's fun to see a nicely rounded thoroughbred butt!  It's one of the nice things about having an adult horse who doesn't feel the need to grow an inch taller every month and run around in his paddock constantly.  After I groomed him I was able to put my very lightweight jumping saddle on him.  He was just a little cinchy, and once he realized we were back to the old routine he settled down just fine.  He also looked good in his leather halter with his shiny new Equine Comeback Challenge nameplate, but he wasn't interested in holding still enough to model it for photos this afternoon.

I did remember the very difficult time Touch A Prince had with the bit when I rode him before I was laid up with back problems for the month.  I wanted to experiment a little today to see what he thinks of a totally different kind of bit.  The first bit I tried on him is in the bottom of the photo.  It had three pieces in his mouth, and he despised it.  The second was a regular eggbutt snaffle, the middle bit in the photo, with just two pieces in his mouth.  He tolerated this better, but still hated it.  Today I changed it up, and I tried a mullen mouth eggbutt snaffle, as shown in the top of the photo.  There was only one solid piece in his mouth, and it was coated in white plastic.

Before riding I did do a brief oral exam on him, just to make sure I wasn't missing something obvious.  I felt the bars of his mouth, the section where there is no teeth and where the bit rests.  One of the excellent equine veterinarians I worked for would always do this type of oral exam when we did a prepurchase appointment.  Carefully feeling the bars of the horse's mouth will reveal whether the horse has any injuries there, including ulcers, lacerations, gum irritations, or even bone spurs.  I also take a good look and feel of the tongue.  It's surprising how often I find tongues with abrasions, old scars, or even large damaged areas.  These issues generally come from putting harsh implements in a horse's mouth.  Fortunately there was nothing wrong with Touch A Prince's mouth. 

I had a very different horse today than I did the previous rides when I had tried bits.  He let me place this plastic bit in his mouth, and he made quite a show of rolling it around on his tongue then swishing it side to side like a rinse with listerine mouthwash.  I suspect he was testing it out to see what it felt like from all angles.  After a minute or two he decided that it was acceptable.  His mouth then became totally quiet and he walked sedately down to the arena with me with his lips closed and relaxed.  I also had brought his hackamore bridle with us just in case after a few minutes he decided he didn't like the bit after all. 

I was only able to ride for about fifteen minutes before my leg went from tingling to hurting, but most of the ride Touch A Prince was happy with that bit in his mouth.  I did just a little bit of leg yielding at the walk to both the left and the right, and when I had a shorter rein he did brace against my hand and nod his head exaggeratedly tucking his chin a few times.  This maneuver of jerking his chin towards his chest is called getting "behind the bit" in dressage terms, or "in the bridle" in western terms.  Either way it's something a horse does when he is trying to avoid the bit contacting some part of his mouth. Because he was mostly ok with the bit I don't yet know if he is doing this out of habit because he thinks it is expected of him, or if this bit bothers him, too.  He never tucks his head like that when I'm riding him bitless, so that is something I'll investigate further. 

I suspect he is extra sensitive, and the shape of the bars of his mouth may be ridged in a peak that just makes anything touching it hurt as soft tissue is compressed against a blade-like bone shape.  That would fit with what he has told me so far regarding bits.  A mullen mouth bit sits directly on the tongue, and doesn't really hit the bars of the mouth unless the horse has a very thin tongue or the bit is pulled on in a certain way.  I have a few more types of mullen mouth bits I'll let him test out, and ultimately his opinion is the one that matters.  If he decides he likes one we'll use that, if he absolutely doesn't want anything in his mouth, then we just go bitless.  In the meantime I'm grateful he's so well behaved and quiet with me as I work back up to more active riding. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Open Up Wide and Say Ahhhhh

Today's blog post is all about horse teeth.  I have found some great photos online this week for equine dental issues and information.  This first one is of a horse tooth that was removed, root and all.  The horse was at Model Farm Equestrian in Liverpool, England.  They took a young horse with a tooth root abscess to the vet to have it extracted, and after the tooth was pulled they took a photo to show people what the whole tooth looks like.

The part above the black line is what you would see if you opened the horse's mouth and looked inside, the part below the black line would be below the gums.  The root is really long on young horses!  On an older horse who had a tooth extracted the root would be much shorter, because as a horse ages and wears down the tooth by grinding it against food (and other teeth) it wears away.  The tooth will continue to grow (or "erupt") into the horse's mouth over the course of his life, replacing the tooth that was worn down.  So if this tooth had been removed from someone older it would have looked more like this photo from a 28 year old horse:
This photo came from http://www.equineelders.org/frequentexams.htm

Where in the horse's head does all this tooth fit?  It is an amazing system to accommodate so many large teeth, but a necessary one so the horse has enough tooth with which to eat over the course of his life.  This picture of a skull shows where those teeth and their long roots are stored in the upper and lower part of the mouth.

For those who need a little more perspective on how that looks, here is another image from Equus Magazine Nov 2006 that gives a better idea of where those teeth are stored when you look at a horse's face.  Notice how far back into a horse's mouth those teeth go.  The back tooth root goes all the way up near to the eye socket.

This last set of images I find extremely helpful to explain why you should do at least semi annual dental exams on young horses.  There is a misconception in the horse world that only elderly horses need to have their teeth examined and filed, or "floated".  I much prefer to have my young horses tended to early so that training goes more smoothly (more on that later) and then when they become elderly they don't need to have extensive dental work done because we addressed and thus prevented the problems early on in life.

If you look at the bottom right image of the horse with the normal mouth, you will notice that the teeth line up evenly. There is some roughening where the top teeth would meet the bottom teeth, but overall things look pretty even.  That is how you want the horse's mouth to look.  A young horse loses his baby teeth and his adult teeth come in at different times.  Because of this, each tooth begin to wear by grinding on the opposing tooth at a different time.  If the mouth is maintained with proper filing to reduce sharp points and keep things level, the mouth with stay looking mostly like the "normal" image. 

If the young horse doesn't have his teeth tended to early in life, the varying arrival times of the adult teeth can create the pattern you see in the top left image, called a Wave Mouth.  It's named for the wave-like shape you can see further back in the oral cavity.  Another issue that can stem from neglecting the young horse's teeth early on is the Step Mouth, seen in the bottom left image, where one tooth has gotten longer than the others, creating the shape of a step in those grinding teeth.  These abnormalities all make it very difficult for a horse to chew, and cause dramatic problems with bitting and riding, especially if you want the horse to reach his head and neck forward and down.  The Overbite seen in the top right image is partly genetic, partly maintenance.

All of these dental issues affect a horse's riding and training.  Unfortunately, riders often will overlook dental issues, not realizing that the horse' bottom teeth must slide smoothly against the top teeth in order to comfortably put his head down.  If there is a wave mouth, an overbite, or a step mouth, and you force the horse's head down, he must open his mouth so the teeth can get around each other and his jaw doesn't get locked into place.  When the mouth opens, the humans will often put a noseband on the horse in an effort to teach him to keep his mouth shut.  For example, as in the case of a dramatic overbite which has made significant hooks at the front and back of the mouth, it's not physically possible for the horse to put his head down with his mouth closed because his teeth are blocking the sliding of his jaw preventing it from moving.  Additionally, tying his mouth shut may even be forcing sharp teeth into sensitive tissues in the mouth, creating pain. 

There are many other things that can go awry in a horse's mouth, but these are the most common ones I see as I work with veterinarians on dental issues.  Thankfully a good equine veterinarian can resolve them if they are caught early and maintained, so next time you are wondering why a horse is high-headed or acting up, have the vet take a good look in his mouth.

For more information on fitting a bit to a horse's mouth you can watch this excellent video, which has thorough information presented by a veterinarian.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Touch A Prince and Kim Ride Again

I'd like to offer up a hallelujah for effects of the acupuncture treatments!  Yesterday I had my second treatment to address the crippling nerve pain I've been dealing with in my left leg which has confined me to bed for the past month.  This treatment was not as intense as the first.  The doctor used fewer needles and didn't leave them in nearly as long.  I still felt pretty heavily sedated afterwards, which the doctor said was unsurprising because of the old brain injury I have.  I had pins and needles all down my leg the rest of the day and I had to sleep for several hours after the treatment, but otherwise felt the same.  The doctor promised that the next day would be a good one.

This morning sure has been good!  Some friends came over to do the morning feeding for the horses, and helped me get back on a horse.   Because he is such a solid citizen, I decided to ride Touch A Prince for my first ride of 2016.  I groomed him a little, which felt like a giant victory to me since I haven't been able to lift my hands past my waist without debilitating pain for a month.  Sara cleaned his hooves for me, and I put the bareback pad on him as well as his hackamore.  I skipped the saddle because I can't yet lift even the postage stamp sized jumping saddle, but the fabric bareback pad worked fine.

With a little help from my other friend Kim I climbed on his back, then Touch A Prince and I walked down to the arena.  He was so well behaved, just moseyed around the arena once each direction. He did bobble a little when we walked past a deeper spot of sand in the arena, he really wanted to roll.  I caught him before he got all the way down, though, and we finished our lap that direction.

Because he had been so well behaved when he obviously wanted to roll, after I carefully dismounted we removed his tack and let him play in the arena.  He rolled and rolled in the sand, then bucked and ran all over.  We three humans watching took a moment to appreciate his benevolent good sense, feeling grateful that he was so quiet with me in my fragile state when he was actually so full of beans.

Some video of Touch A Prince rolling can be seen here:

Now that I'm horizontal back in bed, I'm very tired.  I definitely have some tingling down my leg, and some muscle spasms in my lower back on the left.  But what a dramatic improvement from before the acupuncture.  A week ago I wasn't even able to stand for two minutes, and after two treatments of acupuncture to directly affect my nerves and nervous system, today I rode Touch A Prince to the arena and for two laps around.  He is such a good citizen and I'm so pleased that there is finally some change in my body in the right direction.  Perhaps I may yet avoid a second back surgery and we can still go represent OTTBs at the horse expo in Denver in March.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Get the Most Out of Your Riding Lessons

Periodically I come across articles that list ways to get the most out of your riding lessons or how to be a good riding student.  It always strikes me how different things are here at Bit of Honey because most of the suggestions in those articles are not what I would recommend for lessons here. I think that is partly because of my instructor certification in Centered Riding and how that encourages a very experiential teaching method, and partly my own preferences for teaching and learning.  I want to put forth my own guidelines for riding lessons here at Bit of Honey Training.  These may not be the best advice to use at another barn, but they will help substantially here.


1.  Ask questions.  I have a reason for why I do the things I do in a certain way, and I'm always eager to explain.   Information usually sticks better when you know the "why" behind the procedure or technique.  Plus, if I don't have a good explanation and reason, it means I should probably reconsider how I'm doing something to ensure that it is, in fact, the best way to do it.  As an instructor I am never threatened by questions, I see them as a sign of genuine interest and effort on the part of the student.

2.  Give feedback.  If you are nervous about trying something, tell me.  If you are genuinely afraid of cantering through a gymnastic, I always have ways to modify an exercise to make it simpler or less intimidating.  However, if you are at a point in your riding where I'm sure you can do it, I may tell you "it's OK to be scared, do it anyway".

If something doesn't make sense to you, tell me.  I have a dozen ways to teach any one concept, and if one explanation or technique isn't working for you, I guarantee I have another way to get the idea across.  I also have  wonderful network of colleagues who teach differently than I do, and I am happy to refer my clients if I think you or your horse might learn better from one of them.  Ultimately I want you to learn and succeed!

If some part of your body hurts, tell me.  Usually if there is a loud muscle or joint saying ouch, something needs to be adjusted in your position.  Most of these things are simple fixes in the form of slight angle changes in your torso, legs, or limbs, and I'm pretty good at identifying and making those corrections.  However, I'm truly a terrible mind reader, and I need you to tell me if something is painful so we can fix it.

3.  Do your homework.  If you have your own horse this may look like exercises to work on during your rides in the time between lessons.  If you are using a lesson horse your homework might be various stretches, or even some visualization practice.  At your next lesson report back on how it went, and if there were any difficulties or things with which you need help. I also want to know what you enjoyed and what worked well!  That gives me information about what types of things help you most.

4.  Set up a lesson schedule that is a good fit for you.  I have some students who benefit most from riding in three lessons each week so that they can be closely supervised and small corrections in their riding can be made early and often.  I have other students who do better with one lesson each month so they have plenty of time to practice and make the most progress in between lessons.  Others prefer once weekly lessons.  You have to determine what makes the most sense for you, your horse, and your wallet.  Of course I'm happy to be part of the conversation and advise you if you aren't sure, there are many schedules you can use to get better at riding.

5. Practice positive self talk.  So often we berate ourselves or our horses for little mistakes.  What rider hasn't said to herself at some point, "Don't be so tense!  You'll never get it if you keep bouncing!"  A better way to phrase this would be, "I'm getting better at relaxing.  I am making progress at sitting the trot."  These small adjustments in the way you talk to yourself and your horse make a big difference in what type of brain chemicals your body produces, which then affects how well you ride.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Acupuncture and a Happy Reunion

I am currently mostly bedridden, the nerves in my leg are still unhappy.  I'm spending my time taking an online course that would be much easier to work through on a computer rather than my tablet and phone.  While I am waiting for specialist's offices to call me to schedule more appointments (don't call us, we'll call you) I have been pondering my situation and how I would handle me if I were a horse.

It seems cosmically appropriate that I, as a horse trainer who accepts difficult rehabilitation cases, would be a challenging neurological case myself.  Keeping in mind all the factors with my past medical history, if I was a horse that had arrived at Bit of Honey for care I would be trying a variety of modalities.  Two of those (yes, I have seen the dentist recently) would be acupuncture and e-stim to try to address the nerve pain.  If I have an angry nerve why not directly address the nervous system?

I talked to my regular doctor about it and she agreed it would be worth a try especially as I wait and wait for these additional tests and appointments.  I had my first treatment (with a human acupuncturist) yesterday and it was rough.  To keep things appropriately vague, my nervous system is really tightly wound and reacted very strongly to this first treatment.  Knowing how the horses who really need it sometime respond, I felt proud of myself for not kicking anyone during the treatment.

Afterwards I went home and ended up sleeping for just about twenty four hours, Owen woke me up for necessaries.  This afternoon I have incredible muscle soreness, but much less nerve pain.  I'm going to continue the treatments in hopes that they will be effective, remembering some of my horses who have responded so positively,  but only after multiple treatments.

The big perk to this story is my evening.  While feeding tonight, Owen noticed a couple braided tail bags had come loose. He helped me get outside and I replaced not one, but three tailbags.  My favorite part was when we walked into the biggest paddock, and I called the geldings.  They were all in the far corner eating with their faces buried in their big hay bale, but when they heard my voice all five horses' heads snapped to attention.  They all turned, and all of them cantered towards me, hay bellies swinging with every stride.  There are few things that make me feel so loved as the herd rushing to me in a happy reunion.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Small Victories and a Jolly Ball

Small victories!  I was able to hobble outside again this afternoon to give Highboy carrots.  It was somewhat treacherous getting to his paddock as Miles and Mahzi were loose and very excited to see me and the carrots.  On the lawn the snow had melted slightly and then refrozen to make patches of slick crust.  I somehow managed to get the carrots all the way out to the horse without falling and without the dogs stealing them, despite their best efforts to wrest them from my grip.

I felt okay, still having zings down my leg with pins and needles in my leg and foot, but not the incapacitating pain.  It was supper time for the horses, and while Owen was preparing mash I hobbled my way into the barn to visit Touch A Prince.  He has learned the food routine, so he turned away and went to wait outside politely for his mash instead of coming to the gate to say hello.  When he realized I didn't have dinner but had come to visit he hurried over to greet me and have his ears scratched.

Next I made it into the tack room and wistfully ran my hands over the saddles and pads.  My side of the tack room feels a little like a ghost town or a neglected attic, basically none of my equipment has been moved since I put it away after that last ride a month ago.  Of course Owen is out feeding and checking on horses, and clients are still coming and riding their horses, so its not entirely full of stagnant air.  I just miss being in my barn.

In the tack room I found a baby blue jolly ball that a client dropped off since her horses weren't interested.  I picked it up and brought it to my nose, noticing it had some kind of tasty scent to it.  Mahzi was very interested and tried to take it from me but I held on, thinking Highboy might like it.  As the dogs and I hobbled back out to Highboy's paddock all the horses stared at me asking if I was bringing something fun to them.  Highboy was eager to get his teeth on it as soon as he saw it.  I offered him the handle and he immediately put his mouth on it for inspection. Just then Owen appeared with the evening mash. It created a difficult decision for Highboy, new toy or soggy delectables?  He compromised by biting the handle and giving the toy a good last shove with his nose, then turning to eat his mash.  I tied the ball to the fence for him to play with after dinner.

I don't know why I've been granted this reprieve and the ability to hobble outside, but I sure am grateful for it.  More tests should happen this week and second opinions, then hopefully I'll have a better idea what can be done to resolve this nerve pain.  In the meantime I shall lie horizontally in bed, imagining Highboy and his friends in the big paddock happily playing tetherball with the new jolly ball tied to the fence.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Hobbling Outside With Horses

To amuse myself while I am bedridden, I downloaded an app called My Horse onto my device.  I can pet my bay horse, give him carrots, ride him over practice jumps and turn barrels with him.  It killed some time last night but made me miss my real life terribly.  A cute app but a poor substitute for a fuzzy Thoroughbred.

As a distinct and clear blessing from on high, after nearly four weeks bedridden, for no apparent reason, my leg hurts less today than it has been.  I got my own food from the kitchen this morning, and this afternoon I was able to hobble outside to give Highboy a carrot.  It was just like the little app game, he walked straight towards me and nuzzled me over the fence, I gave him a carrot and rubbed the white on his face.  He also gave me some horsey smiles.

Despite many tests and doctor appointments there is still no official word on what exactly is causing the nerve inflammation nor is there a good plan yet for how to fix it.  This coming week there will be more tests and second opinions.  But my entire month is better for being able to hobble out to see my real life horse and give him a real life carrot.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Uncomfort Zone

In my internet wanderings I came across a wonderful graphic that illustrates why I do my best to never push horses into fight or flight reactions.  My degree is in psychology, anatomy, and neurobiology, so when the human and animal psychology worlds overlap I get excited.

I got this image from TheEmotionMachine.com  It is a human psychology website, but I couldn't resist using this image as it applies so well to animal learning, specifically equines with their strong flight instinct.

Let's take for example a horse who is learning how to be brave around plastic bags.  Cole, my lesson horse, has always had a phenomenal sense of self preservation.  He is a steady instructor now, but when he was a youngster the sound of a plastic sandwich bag crinkling was enough to launch him to the far end of the arena in terror.  In the context of this diagram, the sound of the plastic was in the purple zone.  It would push him past his sensitivity threshold and into the fight/flight reaction.  No good learning is accomplished past the sensitivity threshold.  The body produces so much adrenaline, cortisol, and other stress induced brain chemicals that the horse only concludes is that the situation was very dangerous and scary.

There are several different ways to get a horse over something scary that is way out of his comfort zone.  One method is called "flooding" in behavioral psychology terms.  For a human this would be like putting a person afraid of snakes in a locked room with them and leaving him there until he feels like he's not afraid anymore.

In horse training vernacular, flooding is called "sacking out".  It involves some variation of overwhelming the horse with the scary stimulus while not allowing him to escape until he is exhausted and gives up.  In our plastic bag example this could look like tying the horse with a halter that won't break, to a solid hitch rail that is immoveable, then rubbing him all over with plastic bags until he no longer reacts.  At that point the human usually concludes that the horse is bag-proof.  Another setup might look like tying plastic bags to his tail and leaving him until he calms down.  Some horses tolerate this reasonably well and actually are ok with the bag after a session or two in this manner.

Unfortunately, with this technique it is also quite common for a horse to injure himself in an effort to escape and survive what to him feels like a life threatening situation.  Tying him solid actually does a disservice to a horse, because a horse's muscles are so strong that if the equipment doesn't break during his struggling, his muscles can actually contract so hard that they break off pieces of bone where they attach.  At that point the horse may either stop struggling or go entirely into what I call self-destruct mode.  I often have horses come in for training or rehab with injuries like this, who then also associate humans with fear and pain.

To return to our diagram, this flooding technique sends the horse past the sensitivity threshold in hopes that he will realize plastic bags are not scary.  Because this can backfire, convincing the horse that plastic bags are not only scary but but do hurt, I like to desensitize a horse using a different technique.

Since Cole was never going to go near a plastic bag if I let him stay within his comfort zone, my goal was to get him to periodically go from his comfortable zone into his uncomfortable zone for a little while, then retreat back to his comfort zone before he gets tense enough to move past his sensitivity threshold.  One way I did this was by only feeding him out of plastic bags.  The bag was still scary, but less scary because it was delivering food.

At first Cole would get uncomfortable at the sound of the bag, even though it contained breakfast.  He wasn't panicked and trying to jump out of his paddock (purple zone), but he was definitely uncomfortable (red zone).  Once the food was delivered and the bag had retreated, he eventually went back to relaxed and eating (yellow zone).

 It's worth noting that despite being incredibly food motivated, Cole was terrified of his food for the first few days and actually skipped meals at the beginning of the process.  As we persisted, though, he gradually returned to the comfort zone more quickly. The learning occurs in the transition from the red zone to the yellow zone, when he goes from being uncomfortable to comfortable.   Making positive associations with scary stimuli is one way to do this.
Another way to get the horse to be braver around plastic bags would be to use an "approach and retreat" method of desensitization.  This technique could look like a loose horse in a round pen with a human holding a plastic bag on a stick (yellow comfort zone).  The person would bring the bag closer to the horse, causing him to become nervous and perhaps lift his head and snort (red uncomfortable zone).  The person then pulls the bag away from the horse, allowing him to relax (return to yellow comfort zone).  As this is repeated, the horse begins to realize that the bag is not dangerous, and eventually overcomes the fear of plastic. 

The timing of the approach and retreat is very important.  The person must be able to read the horse's body language and recognize when she has pushed the horse just into the uncomfortable zone, and be able to retreat before the horse crosses the sensitivity threshold into fight or flight.  This ability to read the horse's body language correctly and respond accordingly with the timing of her own movements is often referred to as "feel".  

I use a combination of techniques to teach a horse to be brave.   Which system I would recommend to owners varies depending on the horse, how sensitive he is, the human, and how accurately she can respond to the communication from the horse.  

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Better Than Bonbons

I have been so well supported these past two weeks by the Bit of Honey crew.  Today was a huge blessing from a great group of my people.  Some of my friends from up the road at Mountain View Arabians came over and joined the barn regulars here in a fiesta of paddock cleaning.  They not only cleaned all the loafing sheds, but picked up my new wheelbarrow from the feed store and changed blankets on the horses who were in need of wardrobe adjustments.  

Highboy of course was quite pleased to see a group of fun humans entering to clean even his pen.  One of his many favorite activities is tipping over nearly full wheelbarrows to see the humans jump up and down in frustration.  This smart group of horsewomen thwarted him, though.  One person haltered Highboy and held him out of the way while the others scooped manure in a flurry of activity.  I of course was in the house lying in bed, but I imagine Highboy was trying to get everyone to snap their fingers, Mary Poppins style, insisting "And SNAP!  The job's a GAME!"

After the paddocks were cleaned, the crew took a few photos.  Despite being on the other side of the fence, Highboy naturally tried to be a camera hog and steal the show.  

Lastly my friend haltered Touch A Prince for me and brought him up to the front door so I could give him a carrot.  He was such a sweetie, gently following her around the front of the house and standing quietly on the cement so I could come out and pat him.  I have about two minutes upright before the pain becomes totally overwhelming, and I spent those two minutes with Touch A Prince nuzzling me and asking where I've been for the past two weeks.  It was nice to be loved on for a minute before I had to return to horizontal.

Very large thanks are in order for all the help so far, to Owen, Sara, Kim, Rebecca, Alex, Mark, Amy, Sally, Sarah, Trisha, Meghan, and Brianna.  Many others (even non-horse people) have offered help and for that I'm also grateful, it's a tricky thing making sure the horses are attended to in precisely the right way.  I'm overwhelmed with awe that so many people have been willing and eager to help me.  

The last thing the Mountain View Arabians folks did before they left me with spotlessly clean horse paddocks was give me a box of chocolates.  I can now honestly say that all I do is lie in bed and eat bonbons.