Welcome to Bit of Honey Training LLC

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

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Billy's Time at Summer Kamp Kim

This spring we had a clinic here at Bit of Honey during which Billy the quarter horse was a bit unruly, unceremoniously dumping his rider in the arena.  After assessing the circumstances we determined that he was upset because his buddy was out front in a paddock while Billy was having to work in the arena.  Billy is rarely separated from his friends due to how their place is laid out, even when riding.  Unfortunately this has resulted in some naughtiness from Billy falling under the label of Herd Sour.

To combat this and remind Billy that he still has the responsibility to work even if his friends aren't nearby, he came to stay at Bit of Honey for two weeks of Kim's Boot Kamp this summer while his humans were out of town on vacation.

I initially put Billy out in the large paddock with a group of horses.  He rushed over to the fence to talk to Highboy (they are the same age and have been friends for five years).  After that Billy determined that Sara the 28 year old arabian mare was his new best friend, and they could not be separated.  Billy wouldn't let me catch him, always keeping Sara between us.  The first time I took Billy out to ride it was a rodeo complete with screaming from both him and Sara in angst at being separated.

Realizing that Billy's misbehavior was entirely related to being herd sour, I determined that he could not live in the paddock with the herd for his time here.  I put him in a paddock by himself, sharing a fence line with other horses but alone in his paddock without any roommates.  Initially he and Sara acted inseparable, pacing the fence together for hours, but after a few days they gave it up and returned to polite indifference.

His rides began more exciting than I'd like, with lots of whinnying and bolting and spinning in protest of riding alone.  He was in full training for his two weeks, and that means he had a LOT of work to do.  I took him out most mornings, rode him hard, and praised him for good behavior.  We did a lot of dressage, worked on lead changes over small fences, and jumped through the gymnastic grids I had set up for the week's riding lessons.  By the end of his two weeks here he was moving forwards with good contact in the bridle, and I even got a nice walk out in the front fields with him on his last ride.

It's a testament to the simplicity of a quarter horse brain that simply going to work in a structured program with firm directions can turn a horse around in just two weeks.  Hopefully Billy will continue to behave himself at home, and the herd sour business will abate as he continues to be worked hard and mentally stimulated. 

These photos are of one of our training sessions in the round pen, free lunging over a crossrail.  Even  the quarter horses like to jump here at Bit of Honey!

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Raven's Gridwork

Today I continued Raven's gridwork.  We started with a little walk, trot, and canter each direction and hoped over a large cross rail to warmup.

The line is still set up as a series of bounces, so there are no strides between the jumps.  The horse lands and then immediately lifts off again for the next jump.  I started with all five jumps as 18" verticals, and Raven trotted in then cantered through.  We did it from both directions.

Next I raised the second and fourth jumps to 2'6", a comfortable height for Raven but large enough to make her think and respect the fence.  The first, third, and fifth verticals were left at 18", and the ground poles at either end stayed on the ground.

We did that both directions.

Lastly I put fences two and four back to ground poles, and raised fences one, three, and five to 2'6".  We trotted in, cantered through, and did it from both directions.  I love what this exercise did to strengthen Raven's haunches, her core, and sharpen her footwork.  This is essentially a triple combination, a gymnastic introduced at training level eventing.  While it was tricky and Raven was getting tired, she did it well and showed great improvement in her jumping form.

I love these exercises.  They are good for the horse's core strength and footwork, give the rider a chance to focus on her position, and are super fun to ride!  I was really proud of Raven for thinking her way through the grid, as well as improving her form so much.

We also had some spectators, including Dewey and Sara who were riding with us.

Miles was helping today as well, more with Dewey and his pre-ride lunging.

He also enjoyed a good roll in the sand and then settled in to watch the jumping action.

Rawhide watched from his paddock, and Billy did as well.

Billy wasn't as taken as the rest of us with Raven's athleticism.  He just shrugged and said, "So what?  I can do that, too."  Z the cat is getting quite elderly, she's at least fourteen this year.  She's definitely showing her age, but still eats and snuggles and is friendly.  It's an impressive feat for a barn cat to reach this ripe old age!

Friday, July 20, 2018

Bouncy Mares

I've been playing with different gymnastic lines in the arena over the past couple weeks.  Today we had a grid of five verticals set up with a ground pole on each side of the exercise.  It actually started out with a ground pole (green), then one vertical, then all the rest were ground poles.  As the horses got the idea of entering the grid and cantering through and out I gradually raised all the blue jumps to be 18".
These videos were taken at the end of the ride, so the horses were getting tired by then.  They all still tried, though, which says a lot for their work ethic considering it was about 90 degrees by then.  Grid work over multiple bounces like this is very challenging for a horse, because it requires a lot of core strength and thrust from their haunches. 

June and Joan

Alice and Beauty

Rain and Jasi

Me and Raven

Rawhide in the Field

The past week or so I've been riding Rawhide in the fields.  He's still getting some work in the arena, but he seems more relaxed riding out so I'm doing that to help him enjoy his job as a riding horse more.  Wednesday this week after I'd ridden him a little in the arena we then opened the gate and headed out to the front field to hack around.  He was quiet enough that I could take this video from his back, even with the new phone I'm still adapting to myself. 

Feeling confident in Rawhide's progress, today I took him straight out to the field to hack.  I had my phone on my belt clip playing music.  He was doing so well and riding so quietly that I decided to take another video, this time leaving the music going. 

I didn't come off, but it got exciting real quickly.  I'm not sure if it was the music getting louder when I removed the phone from the belt clip, which was a new stimulus for him.  It could also have simply been the click from the phone snapping out of the clip that set him off.  It actually did set him off, in that we took off in the pasture.  I was able to get him to circle, and brought him down to the trot, and we just did twenty meter circles in the field until he calmed down enough to go back to walking on a loose rein. 

Rawhide is genuinely trying to be good, but he is so far behind the average twelve year old horse in training and exposure to things that he reacts much more dramatically than one would anticipate.  I'm pleased with his progress because his big spooks are getting more infrequent, but when he does spook it's still big. 

I remind myself that he's really only had just over a month of riding experience, since he arrived here just 35 days ago.  For a horse who arrived with the kind of baggage he did, this is still remarkable progress in a short time frame.  There is much less tension in him and he's less inclined to argue with me.  He can walk, trot, canter, halt, back, open gates, and ride over any number of poles in the arena.  He's been on a long trail ride, and many short rides out in the field, alone and with other horses.  He will pick up his leads at the canter, and will go over the logs in the fields in a mannerly way at the walk.  For a horse who didn't know how to carry a rider in a balanced way at the walk a month ago, he's doing pretty well. 

Rawhide does get aggressive with other people at feeding time, though he's no longer aggressive with me if I feed him.  He arrived with this food aggression.  I'm pleased that he no longer does it with me, but he has yet to earn anyone's trust because of him charging the fence and aiming at other people.  Fortunately I still have more time with him to try and get his startle reflex and the aggression on the ground decreased, and hopefully the knowledge and respect he and I have shared will transfer over to other people. Onward and upward from here!

Friday, July 6, 2018

Rawhide's Long Ride

Today we took a group of horses out to ride at Alice's amazing property in Livermore.  I rode Rawhide, Jasi rode Miss Pea, Joan rode June, Alice rode Sloane, and Joyce rode Khreed.  We were out for a couple hours riding all over the property, up and down the giant foothills (in other parts of the country they would say we were riding in the mountains).

All the horses did well, but we were mostly interested in how Rawhide would behave.  All the other horses are proven trail horses with many miles of experience, but Rawhide is so new to riding that we were a bit careful with him to make sure this was a positive experience. 

I started out early in the morning with him, introducing him to the inside of my trailer.  My trailer is great because I can open up the front stall and lead the horse into the trailer then out the front.  I began with cookies on Rawhide's trailer training, and I had his grain for breakfast set up in the front of the trailer.  He was tense, but was obedient and followed me right in, had a few bites of breakfast, and then I led him out the front.  We went in and out this way at least half a dozen times, with all the windows open so it seemed very bright and inviting to him.  Then I let him in the back, turned him around, and led him out the back.  The trailer is very large inside so we had plenty of room to do this.  I generally don't recommend allowing a horse to turn around inside a trailer unless there's substantial room.  Rawhide absolutely refused to back out down the step, and I didn't want to start an altercation with him since we had our big ride planned for the day, so I allowed him to exit this way.

When I was confident that he would behave and I was sure that he was relaxed, I put him away to finish the rest of his breakfast with his roommate, Garmin, in their paddock.  An hour or so later I reloaded him, put the other horses in as well, and we departed for Livermore.

At Alice's place we tied the horses to the sides of the trailer and proceeded to get tacked up for our ride.  I dressed Rawhide in all the usual accoutrements for trail riding, including rope halter under his bridle, saddle bags, spare leadrope, water bottles, the works.  I lunged him in the field in which we were parked so that we could keep with his routine from home.

He behaved on the lungeline so I didn't need to do it for very long.  Of all the riders I mounted first, and I tried to walk him around the area while everyone else got on.  Rawhide was anxious, and felt very "bunchy" beneath me.  Usually when I feel a horse get this tense it's a precursor to some kind of explosion, so I diffused his nervous energy by having him turn and walk in different directions.  It worked reasonably well, he didn't explode, but he was sure ready to fight with me when I wouldn't allow him to get immediately behind the other horses.

He was trying to do this because all his previous trail experience was as a pack horse on hunting trips, where he was tied to the horse in front of him and they would walk nose-to-tail carrying the heavy stuff.  Rawhide is smart, wanted to do what he was familiar with, and got mad at me when I wouldn't allow him to do it.  Thankfully he and I have enough of a relationship that when I quietly insisted that this is a different job with different rules, he was willing to give my way a try.

We did have an episode later on the ride when I wouldn't allow him to get nose-to-tail with Khreed (this is a safety issue to ride immediately in the kick zone, and besides it's rude for a riding horse to put his nose in a stranger's behind).  When I didn't allow Rawhide to get right behind Khreed, Rawhide began to hop up and down a little, and then run sideways back towards the barn.  I mostly ignored this behavior and continued steering us in the direction I wanted.  I also asked everyone else on the ride to ignore him and continue in the direction they were already headed.  When Rawhide realized that he was a lone horse headed into an open field by himself, and he realized he was getting no reaction from me, the other humans, or the other horses, he gave it up and decided to just go where I asked him to.

We covered lots of different terrain, including hills, valleys, rocky areas, and even a wooded spot along the road.  Rawhide on the whole did well, but there were some significant spooks sideways when something would startle him like a well-concealed rock in the tall grass.  I was able to settle him down again after each spook, but he sure is quick when he darts sideways.  He also got pretty tense when I pulled out my water bottle for a drink at one of our stops.  There were ice cubes in it making scary noises as they rattled around while I drank, and he raised his head straight up to watch me out of the corner of his eye.  He tensed all his muscles, ready to bolt.  I was able to talk him down, and even got the water bottle put away and a cookie dispensed to him from my saddlebags.  I was grateful it didn't end up being more exciting, but he is definitely a sensitive animal. 

After we had been riding for a few hours we headed back to Alice's house.  We rode on her property nearly the whole time - such a huge property and a fun place!  We untacked and tied the horses at the trailer with water and hay bags.  Alice then treated us to amazing potato salad and chicken salad, and she even had cupcakes for us!  

It was such a fun day, and a great experience for Rawhide to go out with quiet seasoned animals to learn how to do trails as a riding horse.   The little guy has a long way to go before I can deem him quiet and safe, but you have to start somewhere!