Welcome to Bit of Honey Training LLC

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

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Jump School at Lory

This week we took advantage of a beautiful Wednesday and went to Lory State Park.  I have big plans for this season for Highboy competing, and part of making those plans come to fruition includes getting him out and schooling cross country in as many places as possible.  I want Highboy to see enough different kinds of new things to jump over that he will be confident in competition jumping over just about anything.

Our day went well, with some of the jumps looking like this first photo:

But some of the landings, particularly while we were starting out and Highboy was full of beans, included his trademarked touchdown party.  He may moonlight under the name Twinkletoes.

Bucking and kicking out in celebration is Highboy's favorite part of jumping, and since we got it on video I was able to take some entertaining stills from that.


There were great moments, too, including Highboy figuring out how to get to the base of a jump.  This is really important especially when we are jumping cross country.  He is big enough and scopey enough that he thinks he can jump obstacles from anywhere and still clear them.  He sometimes tries to leave out entire strides in front of a jump, leaping too early and jumping much too big.  Because he is athletic and I'm able to ride it, at the lower levels he can get away with it.  However, as he progresses to more difficult questions on course that require more precise footwork as well as bigger fences, it's not going to be an option to just leave out strides and count on straight guts and athleticism to carry him over.  If he misses a distance resulting in hitting a fence, it becomes a safety concern since the cross country ones don't fall down.  So the focus of this ride was to help him see exactly where I wanted him to take off.  Part of this is done by steering him exactly to where I want, part of it is having the right canter in place as we approach each fence. 

I also did a little work with him cantering between groups of jumps.  He would jump a couple in one area, then canter away to another spot where we would jump three or four more.  Mostly this went well, though we did have one spot where he stopped hard to take a last look at the jump and we ended up nearly high-centered.  That's right, he jumped and landed with his front feet then stopped, having left his hind feet on the first side.  Fortunately he's long legged and was able to scramble over after pausing to think through his predicament.  Another good reason to have leg protection on him. 

Tao was teaching Joan how to do some smaller fences.  Tao is quite careful when on the trail or jumping cross country, and is famous for his "slow motion" jump.  He's a thinker and needs time to process an obstacle, so sometimes he approaches slowly, then pauses.  He sits on his haunches, gradually lifting his front end over the fence, then slowly his hind end follows.  I got some cute photos of them from video as well.  

Joyce and Khreed did a good job over the smaller fences, too.  They are currently working on taking their arena jumping skills out of the arena, to use over jumps in the field.  It's hard to remember that "eyes up, heels down, leg on," works just as well outside, as long as you remember to do it!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Soft Eyes, Corners and Skinnys

The jumping exercise for this week is all about steering.  The heart of this challenge is all about whether you can keep your gaze steady, while using your peripheral vision to engage your legs for steering, in order to keep your horse straight on the path you have chosen.  In my riding instructor certification, Centered Riding, we call this particular basic Soft Eyes.

A quick example of soft eyes can be performed by first picking a doorknob to stare at.  Look at it super hard, focusing on the tiny highlight of light on the metal.  What do you notice in your body?  I always feel a bit of a headache caused by the immediate muscle tension in my neck and jaw.  I also feel my shoulders rise up.

Next, aim your eyes at the same doorknob, but soften your gaze so that you can also see the screws holding the doorknob in place.  Soften your eyes further until you can see the entire door.  Soften your eyes even more until, with your eyes still aimed at the doorknob, you can see most of the walls in the room where you're sitting.  What do you notice in your body now?  I feel everything get more relaxed, my shoulders drop, and I feel more balanced when I use my peripheral vision this way.

This Soft Eyes technique is an incredibly important part of learning to jump corners and skinnys.  The crux of these types of fences is:  can you see the whole obstacle with your peripheral vision (as well as the next jump coming up), while keeping your horse on a true course exactly where you plan to ride over the jump?  The center of the jump is your doorknob, the other fences and parts of the obstacle are the walls in the room.

The way I introduce jumping skinnys and corners using soft eyes is with the following exercises.  It's next to impossible to do them correctly unless you are able to control your vision, particularly by softening your eyes. 

Step 1:  Blue diagram
The black dot is a barrel or small wooden block, the dark blue lines are poles, and the light blue circles are the path through the obstacle.  The poles are slightly raised off the ground by standards on one end and the barrel on the other.  The goal is to have the horse go over the point of the angle, and we start by having them go in the direction drawn at the walk.  We start like this because, as with all jumping exercises, it's best to start slowly over small obstacles.  Once the horse and rider have the technique down we increase the speed to a trot or even a canter, we raise the jumps, and/or change the angle.  This first step is easiest to start with, because the poles sort of funnel you into the point you want to be jumping.

This first step was fairly easy for Highboy, he just had to wrap his mind around jumping the small barrel instead of jumping the center of a pole as he had previously been taught to do.

 Step 2:  Blue Diagram
This second diagram is nearly the same as the first, but you can see the arrows point to going over the jump in the opposite direction.  This second way is harder because jumping the point with the poles arcing away from you mentally invites run-outs.  That's why this direction comes second.  

This was much harder for Highboy, because visually it doesn't seem "right" to the horse to jump a narrow obstacle and land in between standards.  We had quite a few comical tries as he learned this part.

It was important when Highboy missed the jump or started to run out that I caught him and corrected it right away.  If I let him go all the way past the jump he might have learned that he can go around something I've told him to go over, and I never want to teach a horse that it's ok to run out the side of an obstacle.  When he dodged the fence I stopped him, backed him up to where he went off course, and then redirected him to the path I had originally designated.  Eventually he got the idea and had a perfectly straight, centered jump over the middle of the obstacle!

Step 3:  Red Diagram
The next step in the Corners and Skinnys lesson is to go over the same shaped jump with two standards, a barrel, and two poles, but do it going across both poles at the same time.  I start out with the poles relatively close together in an acute angle and the jump set low so if the horse messes up footing and it all comes crashing down no harm is done.  The horse learns to jump it both directions, and as he gets better at it I raise the poles, make the angle wider, and have them jump it at faster speeds.

This was easy for Highboy, since we have done it before.  He instantly remembered the task from last time we schooled corners.

Step 4:  The Pinwheel / Green Diagram
The pinwheel is set up with a barrel in the middle, four poles set in a cross pattern, with standards on the far ends of the poles to raise them.  This can be jumped in a multitude of ways.  You can go over any one of the four poles, jumping between the barrel and standard.  Or you can jump across the whole thing diagonally, going over the barrel in the middle.  This is a later step in the Corners and Skinnys lesson plan because your steering must be accurate so that you are clearly guiding your horse, who is listening carefully to you, over the selected portion of the obstacle. 

By the time we got to jumping the center of the pinwheel Highboy understood the day's task:  aiming straight.  He cleared the pinwheel from all angles and even leaped over the center going across the diagonal of the obstacle.  This horse likes to think about his jumping tasks!  Even though none of the jumps were over 2' today, it was technical enough to keep him interested in the task at hand so I was able to teach him some new skills without a lot of pounding on his joints or body.  My goal in jumping training is to teach the horse and rider how to do all the difficult technical things when the jumps are small and they are going slowly, so when the jumps get bigger and the speed is faster it's all the same skills they already know.

This is how I set up my arena for the exercise, with all three types of obstacles.  This way I could teach one idea, then another, and revisit the previous ideas to keep the horse thinking.

Weekend Rides

Injured Casper, Concerned Guardian Fason

We had a bit of a scare this weekend when Baby Casper, now eight months old, somehow managed to get himself caught in the fence.  He should make a full recovery, but in the meantime he needs some special attention for his left eye and right front leg.  Even though Casper was the one who was injured, Fason was probably more upset because it was HIS BABY that had been injured.  

As soon as Casper had been attended to by the vet and returned to his paddock, Fason immediately went into concerned guardian mode.  I don't want Casper moving around too much since he needs to rest from his ordeal, so I have Fason out in the pasture with Note and just sharing a fence line with Casper.  Fason is pretty sure his place should be IN the paddock with his charge.  

Friday, March 17, 2017

Luck O' the Irish

Happy St. Patrick's Day!  Highboy sported some new bright green polo wraps during his ride today to celebrate the holiday.  He was happy to initiate some practical jokes with his friend Darby on our ride, too.  Highboy and I had an incredibly good dressage ride in the arena first, then we headed out to the back fields with Joan riding her gelding, Darby, while ponying her mare, Sara.  Joan and I generally do this a couple times a week, with me on a variety of horses depending on who needs the ride out back.  Darby and Sara usually sedately plod along like the good trail horses they are, no matter which horse I'm riding.  Except Highboy.

When we left the arena to go walk in the fields Darby was striding out as a man on a mission.  He wanted to out-walk Highboy, despite the fact that Highboy's legs are nearly a foot longer than his.  This was ok in the beginning, because Highboy was preoccupied watching our neighbor's horses meander out to their field after finishing their breakfast. 

Things changed once we went around the northwest corner of the back field.  Suddenly Highboy couldn't see the neighbor horses, and with him it's out of sight, out of mind.  Darby became his new focus.  Highboy began to take longer and faster steps, quickly closing the distance Darby had worked so hard to create in the lead.  Once they were neck and neck (still walking), Darby began to jig a little.  This is highly out of the ordinary for him as mostly he prefers to shuffle along looking at the scenery and smelling the flowers.  Highboy gave Darby the side-eye look down his long face, and then Highboy squealed.

The squeal is the first auditory indicator that Highboy is about to become airborne, similar to the revving of a plane engine just prior to takeoff.  He tilts his head towards his buddy, in this case Darby, then squeals, and then three or more hooves leave the ground.  There is a brief moment between the squeal and the launch when I can sometimes circumvent the acrobatics, but today it was not to be.  Highboy kicked out with both hind feet, then landed and propelled himself into the air with all four hooves.  I growled at him a bit which at least got his attention, and we resumed walking.   Highboy was just waiting for the next opportunity to challenge Darby to a drag race.

Highboy repeated these shenanigans at least half a dozen more times between the west perimeter fence and our return to the barn.  Each time he would approach Darby, Darby would scuttle forwards at the trot, Highboy would squeal and leap.  Eventually Darby got irritated with not being able to settle this argument and he took a couple frustrated swings at elderly Sara who he was still leading. 

It was a circus of nonsense, as so many of Highboy's rides are.  We did eventually make it back to the barn, so all's well that ends well.  At least Highboy enjoyed himself.

It must have been a good day for shenanigans, because Note was silly today too.  He started out fine, standing politely for grooming and tacking up, walking nicely down to the arena, standing quietly for mounting.  He even walked off in a mannerly fashion.  Then for some unknown reason, maybe it was Miles the Border Collie's attempt at a leprechaun practical joke, Miles stalked and pounced on an orange cone. 

Those cones are in the arena all the time, and the dogs almost always ignore them.  Emphasis on the "almost".  Today Miles felt the cone needed to be caught, so he pounced on it, snarling and barking.  He lifted it up and began running around the arena shaking it hard enough to snap its neck if it had one. 

Note does all of his training rides with the dogs in the arena, but he has never seen the dog go after and kill an orange cone before.  He felt this was just cause for concern, and he began jumping and bucking, kicking out at Miles.  He didn't seem scared, though, so it's hard to say whether he was defending himself from a predator, or playing with the dog. 

I quickly dismounted and put the cones out of reach of the dogs.  This is yet another example of why it's so important to learn to do moving dismounts so I can safely get off even if the horse is in motion!  Next I put Note on the lunge line to get his ya-yas out, but he proceeded to race in circles around me, kicking his heels over his head nearly every stride.  When I asked him to halt he would slide to a stop, sit back on his haunches to spin in a western-style rollback, and take off galloping the other direction.  After a few minutes of this I could see he was only winding himself up further and we weren't going to get a tired Thoroughbred this way.  So I stopped him and then set up three ground poles in the path of his lunging circle. 

I like to use this kind of technique when I have an incredibly fit or hot horse.  He must slow down so as not to hit the poles or stumble on them, and it works well to get his brain engaged since I know I'm not going to physically tire him out.  If the three poles hadn't worked I would have set up more, or raised some of them off the ground so he would have had to focus not just on the distance between them but also the height.  Since I can't make him physically tired I go for mentally tired.  Today I had with me the luck of the Irish, and it worked.  Note put his brain back in his head, slowed down to a measured trot, and worked his way through the poles in a civilized manner.

Once he had demonstrated he was willing to work with me in a thoughtful way, I mounted again.  However, Note was still looking for an excuse to be silly.  Some pigeons obliged him by dive-bombing us, initiating a few good bucks.  I'm not sure how today's pigeon predicament came to be, because this morning I also had both owls perched in the rafters of the arena.  But the pigeons were still remarkably brazen.  In the end I did most of Note's ride in the outdoor half of the arena just to avoid the conflict.  Sometimes you have to pick your battles. 

Note eventually settled under saddle a little and I got a few good topline stretches out of him with a couple nice hops over the crossrails.  When another rider joined us in the arena he behaved himself well.  I do have to acknowledge that Note hadn't been ridden for four days because we have had 40 mph wind here, so in balance it was still a good ride.  However, I sure would like to talk to Miles about why he chose today to go after that cone, as well as have a talk with the owls about why they allowed so many pigeons to join them in the indoor!

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Highboy's Saturday Jump School

I love this horse.  We've had some great dressage rides recently, and it makes a stunning difference in his jumping.  Good dressage especially affects how I'm able to adjust his stride length as well as his ability to push off his hind end over the fences and balance around corners.