Welcome to Bit of Honey Training LLC

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

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Cole the Jump School Master

Just yesterday while I was jumping Highboy Jasi asked if she would ever be jumping that height.  I responded, yes, and probably sooner than you think.  Today she got to do her first 3'3" oxer with Cole.

As Jasi, my working student, has progressed in her riding at Bit of Honey Training, she has ridden many different horses here.  Today I pulled Cole out of the pasture to work him for the first time in many months.  I rode him on the flat then jumped him a little, and when he had sufficiently proven to me that he did indeed miss his day job I let Jasi ride him over the grid of jumps.

I got some video, which can be seen here:


Kim H. was here today and got these amazing photos.  What would we do without our resident photographer?  This blog is infinitely more interesting thanks to her photographic contributions!

This photo from just prior to takeoff shows how high this fence was for Cole the Connemara who stands at 15.1hands.

I love this last photo of Cole, I swear he is smiling because he just loves jumping that much, and he adores teaching the next generation of riders how to do it well.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Highboy Jumps the Corner

What should have been a sedate and mannerly warmup was in actuality a presentation of Highboy's ridiculousness.

I stayed on, and once he was focused on the task at hand he morphed into a jumping machine through the bounce grid with an oxer at the end.

Today's goal was to get Highboy jumping a corner.  I set up a barrel with poles on it that then were propped up by jump standards. The goal is to have the horse jump over the poles.  I started with the barrel lying on its side and the poles pretty close together.  To make the exercise more difficult I turned the barrel upright to make it higher, and the next step would be to separate the jump standards to the poles are farther apart.

Highboy took care of this new obstacle with no difficulty.  Some video can be seen here:


Because the lighting in the arena was a little rough with such bright sun and then deep shade in the same photos, Kim H. got some really excellent artsy shots!

I absolutely LOVE the photos which include Miles the border collie.  He is such a staple in my life, going everywhere with me and always ready with an encouraging bark.

I enjoy my animals so much, and I'm so grateful for Kim H. and her willingness to take photos of me and my horses.  I wax sentimental as I ponder the humble beginnings Highboy had here at Bit of Honey, then contrast them with his phenomenal jumping abilities.  I'm very fortunate to have the life I do.

Rain's Jump School

We had an excellent jumping lesson this afternoon!  Jasi rode Rain, Kim H.'s horse over cross rails and through a jumping grid.  They started out with a nice warm up on the flat, with Jasi concentrating on keeping her back straight, soft, and not hollowing it out.  Rain is such a cute mare and Jasi rides her so well!

Next was warming up over the crossrail at the end of the arena.  I had Jasi ride a figure eight using that half of the arena, and hop over the crossrail in the middle each time she changed direction.  This is a great steering exercise as preparation for the grid.  It's a good way to keep a horse slow and focused as well because the horse was jumping towards the wall.  The horse has to listen to the rider to see which direction they will turn after the jump before they come to the wall.

This grid was a series of four jumps.  They were each about 9' apart, which creates something called a bounce.  That means the horse lands from the first jump and then immediately takes off for the next jump, with no strides in between.  As the jumps get bigger you have to leave a little more room between them for takeoff and landing, but a series of four bounces is a fun exercise to teach the horse footwork and to teach the rider to stay balanced over the horse.  The rider's upper body should be still, with the ankles, knees, and hips acting as shocks to absorb the horse's movement.  When done correctly the rider looks totally still from the waist up, while the legs and joints take care of the horse's movement.  In this exercise the way Jasi rode it, the rider's only job is to steer and control speed.  The horse is responsible for all the footwork.

It only took a couple times through the grid each direction and Rain understood the game.  We raised the last fence to a small vertical and Jasi cantered her through, and by pressing with her leg just a little as forward encouragement, Rain hopped through the entire thing, foot perfect!  This was such a fun lesson with an athletic mare and a very natural rider!

Some video of Rain and Jasi can be seen here:

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Did Highboy Shrink into Walsh?

Saturday was fun around here!  I did an exercise with Highboy that I've been wanting to work on for ages, and I finally had a chance to do it with help here setting fences.  Kim H. took photos, Sara set jumps for me, and Alice rode Beauty in the arena with us. 

This exercise is one that works incredibly well for getting horses to use their haunches, sitting and rocking back on their hind end to create a really powerful spring over the jumps.  I also find it makes sluggish horses much more responsive to forward cues while jumping.  Highboy is full of nonsense and can be very hot and silly, but one of the things he struggles with is FORWARD.  He has a long history of prancing sideways and up and down, but forward motion is not an automatic thing for him. 

For example:

But the shenanigans are not limited to messing around in the round pen at liberty - he also has some impressive sideways and vertical maneuvers under saddle.

This ride was no exception, he always has to express that he's full of beans in the warmup.

The exercise we did Saturday is a simple one.  I set up a jump in the middle of the arena, so we would be jumping it going across the short side.  It starts out as a ground pole.  I walk over it with the horse in one direction, then halt, turn around, and walk over it in the other direction.  Then Sara raised it a hole.  On this particular set of home-made standards, to raise it one hole is to raise the jump by 6".  I proceeded to walk Highboy over it once in each direction. Then Sara raised it again, by another hole, and we walked over it each direction.  Gradually as the jump gets bigger the horse must jump it, not just step over.

This continues until we are walking over a jump that is the height of the standards.  As the jump grows larger, the horse has to rock back on his haunches more, becoming more powerful as well as light in his front end, so that he can spring over the progressively larger jumps from the same speed out of the walk.  I know the exercise has been a success when I can feel the horse coil up underneath me like a cat ready to pounce.

Because Highboy loves jumping, even on his own with no rider, I knew he would like this exercise.  Sure enough, by the end I had him walking over not just the blue jump where I established the exercise, but also walking over the 3'6" oxer and the 3'6" vertical in other places in the arena.

It was great fun to look through these photos and see the concentration in Highboy's face when he was really thinking hard about how to jump such a large fence out of the walk.

While we were occupied with this in the arena, the new pony was watching from the other side of the fence. 
I've started calling him Walsh, because the leather halter I have that fits him has "Walsh" engraved on the buckle.  It's probably an old brand (it's an old halter that was given to me), but the pony doesn't seem to care what I call him as long as I say it in a nice voice.  So Walsh it is. 

He wanted to come out to ride next, so after Highboy was cooled out I tacked up little Walsh. 

We did a quick warm up, just to show Sara, Alice, and Kim H. how nice his gaits are and how great his dressage is coming along.  Then we began over the same exercise he had just watched Highboy do.  This 13 hand pony sure has hops!  The incredible bay jumping pony begs the question, did Highboy shrink in the wash?  Or did Highboy shrink into Walsh??  (My working student is the queen of pun-ny humor and will appreciate that.)

It is actually MUCH more difficult for me to ride a small horse like Walsh than it is to ride a large horse like Highboy.  On a small pony my weight is a much more significant fraction of his weight, so I need to stay absolutely balanced in the saddle.  Because there is not much real estate beneath me, there is literally very little room for error.  Small horses are quick to turn and move, necessitating my balance be really spot-on for a successful ride.  I use a visual where I imagine myself as a lego person, tiny, compact, and sitting immediately behind myself.  This helps me to get my center of gravity lower and move with quick small movements of a pony.  Fortunately, despite Walsh's small size he does carry me well and is balanced and strong enough to handle me over fences.

If I get off balance, it throws us both off balance and makes it extremely difficult for the pony to do his job. Here is a perfect example of me getting ahead of him (which is extremely easy to do when you're atop such a petite mount!) which messed up his balance and made him stop just as he should have been taking off.  I could hardly punish him when I knew it had been my fault, and here at Bit of Honey mistakes don't earn you punishment, they just get you another try.  We proceeded to try again, and he did really well, jumping this fence that was quite large for him, out of the walk.  Or out of the catwalk as it feels when you're aboard!

The stopping photo does make me think he could be a reining pony, too, though.  Sliding stops?  No problem!

One more interesting photo I want to share is this one of Highboy on landing.  Notice where his feet meet the ground, and how much hyperextension there is in his fetlocks (where the arrows point).  This is an example of why you want your horse very sound to do this type of work.  During takeoff tt strains the body, you can check out any of the horse's butt muscles to see how hard the hind end works.  On landing jumping also greatly strains the front legs especially the lower joints.  This is why I wait to start horses jumping until they are close to fully grown, usually ages six to seven.  I'll do lots of ground poles and walking over small cross rails with them when they are younger to give them the idea, but I don't pound on their bodies with bigger fences until they are physically able to do it.  I also am careful to give them plenty of rest days between jumping sessions so their bodies can recover and grow stronger. 

Miles, my assistant coach the border collie, agrees with this philosophy.  He was there helping us all day with the exercises, barking encouragement whenever needed.