Welcome to Bit of Honey Training LLC

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

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Training the Horse Training Dog

We've been having some issues with Rizzo as she adjusts to living here and becomes more confident.  When she first arrived she decided I was her person, which was fine, and she stuck close to me all the time.  She even would get anxious when she couldn't get to me, and became really vocal if someone other than me had her on a leash.  The separation anxiety was both a blessing and a curse!

Rizzo also had not been properly crate trained by her previous two adopters (yes, she was returned twice to the rescue).  It appears that they would stuff her in a crate when they were leaving, but never really taught her that it was her safe place, a private bedroom, and her refuge when she needed some "me" time.  By the time I got her she was extremely anxious when confined in a crate, even destroying a wire one, shredding any bedding I would put in her plastic one, and making terrible torturous noises at an ear splitting pitch.  This would go on for hours, and while Miles could get her to be quiet, once Miles was gone she had no one to give her rules and structure when alone in the crate.

We combated the noise by letting her hang out loose in the heated garage at night, and she was fine with that.  She had a fluffy dog bed made from my old barn jeans on a bench that she snuggled into each evening, and she seemed quite content with that setup.  However, being loose and being such a bouncy dog, she would also hop up onto the cars in the garage when they were parked there.  We didn't want scratches on the cars, but we didn't want her screaming, either.

I did some brainstorming and recognized that Rizzo seemed to feel safest when she was up high.  She has many cat-like behaviors and traits, and this is one of them. 

While we're in the barn, her preference is to nap on the top of the hay stack while I'm tacking up horses, and she often can be found hanging out on the top of the big round bales stored outside.

Rizzo recently taught Pascal how to climb to the top of the bales as well, and now the two of them enjoy romping around at heights hitherto uncharted for dogs of this small stature!

To tap into this love of heights, I decided to stack the dog crates on top of one another.  Perhaps part of Rizzo's anxiety at being confined in the crate was that being so low to the ground she didn't feel safe with no escape from potential or imaginary threats at ground level?  To make the height and new location extra fun, I positioned the dog food tub in a way that she can hop up on it and then into her crate, since she really loves jumping around at heights.  Perhaps she was a skydiver in a past life.

I also took her favorite dog bed from the bench (seen here just outside the kennel behind the crates) and placed it in her crate.  Putting her bed there created an association of safety and comfort in the crate, which also felt safer since it was now up high, and all her meals and treats are given to her in the back of the lifted crate.  How could she resist a kong toy filled with peanut butter and kibble, placed on her favorite bed, lifted up to a safe height, and with an open door so she can come and go as she pleases?  It additionally gives her a spot to escape Pascal's constant poking and requests to play.

After wiring the kennel in such a way that the mesh can't be pulled away from the bottom of the frame, I placed all the tasty treats in their designated locations, put both dogs in the kennel, and voila'!  Rizzo now likes her crate and will happily go in to eat dinner, escape Pascal, and there is no stressful vocalization.

Our next issue as Rizzo gains confidence is that she has begun wandering.  When Miles was here he made it clear that she was to remain in the barn or with me, that was her job.  Now that Miles is gone, and Pascal has arrived as a partner in crime, Rizzo has gotten bolder.   Unfortunately they are too close in age to really have the mentor/protege' relationship, and the dynamic has become one of two puppies acting as stupid kids having fun rather than focusing on the task at hand.  The reason I have these dogs is to help me train the horses, and if they are running around at the neighbors' properties they're not helping. 

When I was working at vet clinics we would always caution people against getting two pups from the same litter, precisely because of this issue.  They tend to bond to each other and do things together instead of with the human.  I'd hoped that Rizzo and Pascal were far apart enough in age to avoid it, but no luck.  As a result, they each have gone into individual training with me.  Once each dog is extremely reliable on their own with commands and responsibilities I'll return to training them together, but in the meantime each dog has a day (or half day) with me while the other hangs out in the kennel. 

So far this is working really well.  During Pascal's training sessions he sticks close by me, or hangs out in the barn waiting for me to return with a horse.  He likes all sorts of training treats, so watches me closely and tries all kinds of good dog behaviors to earn attention and goodies.  Sit, down, c'mere, this way, watch it, up, leave it, are all commands he seems to have figured out and consistently responds to.  The only difficulty with him is that it's hard to get things accomplished when I'm continually interrupted for puppy snuggles.

Rizzo also is making good progress, though she's returned to on-leash training for the time being.  When doing barn chores she is tethered to me by attaching her leash to my belt, or when I'm handling a horse and the leash is a safety hazard she is tied out of the way to the wall of the barn, arena, or stall.  I've also gotten my remote training collar back from being repaired so we have begun aversion training regarding the cats, the road, and the property line.  It's a very effective training tool when used correctly as negative reinforcement in conjunction with positive reinforcement, though it can be disastrous if used incorrectly.  Getting the timing just right can be tricky, so I don't recommend these collars to people unless they have been properly trained by a professional on how to use it.  That includes introducing it to the dog with assessing the proper stimulation level for that individual animal, and correctly applying the training progression. 

The gist of the remote collar training process is that I have Rizzo on a 30' line so she can wander around and make her own choices.  If she goes near the fence line on the edge of the property I call her back, then give her a treat (so far the favorite is a small taste of American cheese).  If she doesn't come right away I can reel her in with the line.  If she is ignoring me because she's overly distracted and aiming to go through the fence, I use my remote and hit the button that causes the collar to vibrate at her throat.  She is such a smart and sensitive dog that this acts as plenty of stimulation to cause her to avoid the fence (or cat, or road) and return to me, her safe person, for a treat.  We have been on several long walks, and after receiving a vibration at the fence when her nose crossed the line, or when she lifted a paw to cross it, she has definitely decided it's safer and better to stay well within our side of the line. 

This has worked well for teaching her to avoid the cats, too.  A couple brief sessions during which she got a vibration when she darted towards the cats has helped her realize that it's much better to come to me and have some cheese when she's tempted by a cat, rather than press forwards toward them and become uncomfortable. 

There are many additional settings on the collar, but I almost never use anything other than the vibration.  Especially on a sensitive dog like Rizzo it would do so much more harm than good to use the stronger settings, and it would completely derail the positive associations she has with me and working outside.  An intelligent dog will also figure out that there is one set of rules while wearing the collar and that those rules may not apply without the collar, so it's extremely important to use this training tool consistently and in a way that the dog never connects the vibration to the collar, but only believes the fence/cat/road is causing the discomfort.  That's why it's much better to learn to use one of these collars from a professional in lessons rather than think the collar itself is a "fix all".  It's only as effective as the trainer using it. 

Gradually Rizzo will return to off leash work as she resumes sticking with me reliably, and eventually both she and Pascal will be working together off leash.  This is a process, however, and the most important piece is keeping both dogs confident, enjoying their work, and looking to me for instruction rather than each other for entertainment.  I do love these dogs, and I know the amazing potential they have to be excellent horse-training dogs.  That's why it's critical that I train them correctly so that they become reliable and helpful, and thankfully during winter months I have the chance to do it!

Monday, December 9, 2019

Sports Psychology Tip: Question Suggestion

I've done sports psychology clinics with Daniel Stewart in the past, and received loads of good information from them.  I regularly use a book he's written that has equestrian cross training exercises, which address both the mental and physical aspects of riding.  He writes a monthly article for the United States Eventing Association and I thought December's subject was particularly applicable based on conversations I've had with my clients recently.

Daniel Stewart's Tip of the Month
Question Suggestion

Keeping your mind focused on what’s productive (like transitions between dressage movements or fences) instead of what’s destructive (like worrying about the crowd) is one of the most important skills any rider can learn. While it’s a skill that can require a bit of practice, it’s one that can be learned quite quickly - as long as you know a trick. The good news is that there is a trick, and that trick is called question suggestion.

The idea behind question suggestion is that asking yourself leading questions like, “What can I do to relax?” is much more effective than simply telling yourself what to do like, "Quit freaking out”, because self-directed leading questions stimulate your brain to search out their answers. For example, asking yourself, “How can I stay calm before a show,” might lead to answers like, “Take a few relaxing breaths, think of a positive memory from the past, and listen to a calm song before mounting.”

Question suggestion works because it allows your focus to shift from problems to solutions and from the past to the present. It also creates purposeful and intentional thoughts instead of allowing your mind to randomly lock onto something it shouldn’t (like who’s watching you). Self-directed questions do this by stimulating your mind to search for solutions to problems instead of allowing your mind to be consumed by the problem itself.

Here are a few tricks to creating your own questions suggestions:
  1. Ask yourself questions that begin with “how” because they tend to direct your attention towards solutions. For example, “How can I remain calm?” can be answered by, “Say a motivating motto like, Keep Calm Ride On.”
  2. Avoid questions that start with the word “why” because they tend to direct your answers towards the problem. For example, “Why do I always get so nervous?” is often answered with something like, “Because everyone’s better than me!”
  3. Never answer your questions with the words “I don’t know.” You can avoid this by pausing for a brief moment after asking your question (so your mind can find an answer). If you rush your response, you may not have time to find the answer.
  4. Consider asking yourself questions about how you look and/or feel. For example, “What do I look like when I’m confident?” or “How do I feel when I’m relaxed?” Once you’ve created the picture in your mind, change your body language to match it.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Triple Bounce Grid

With the impressive snow storm we experienced last week, and the following day's ground blizzard, we have had immense snow drifts all over the place.  I still can't get my tractor to the arena by the usual route without getting it stuck, and the drift between the barn and house was larger than my four horse trailer.  However, we are fortunate to have the covered portion of the arena, and so in that half we set up a bounce grid for some fancy footwork. 

So far I've taken Raven through it as cross rails in a figure eight pattern working on lead changes, and I was impressed all over again with how handy and maneuverable this little mare is.

Highboy went through as cross rails to start, and he was so quiet and well behaved that he was then allowed to do the exercise with the middle fence quite large. 

This is how I regularly need to do Highboy's jumping training.  Since he loves it so much his reward for doing it quietly and in a civilized manner is to to go over something bigger.  The pole coming down was my fault - he's just too big to get that distance and can't get his front feet out of the way quickly enough.

Silver and Gillian also schooled the exercise today, and did it quite well!

Thursday, November 28, 2019


Thankful for Docs Bit of Honey, who taught me to listen to the horse's opinion, and for that I named the stable and training facility after her.

Thankful for Thai, who taught me the importance of tack and saddle fitting because he would buck like the 17.1h bronc he was until it was correct, and then he was a stellar 1.4m jumper.

Thankful for Cecil, who was never afraid of my walker. This is the horse that got me out of the wheelchair and back in the saddle after a catastrophic brain injury.

Thankful for Highboy, who reminds me to PARTY, run, and jump!

Thankful for Raven, who is my mirror. She shows me who I am by being herself: intelligent, intense, strong, precise, sensitive, doesn't suffer fools, and an incredible athlete.

These are my heart horses.
Facebook post from cromwellandlucy
Once in every equestrian’s life, they will meet a special horse.

This horse wont necessarily be a Badminton winner or dressage champion. They won’t always carry multiple titles or be the most talented with the best breeding.

Very often, these horses are nothing more than ordinary. They might have the odd lump here or a strange marking there. They probably won’t tick all the boxes for conformation and they will probably have some character “quirks” that not everyone will be able to see past.

You don’t find these horses, they find you. They can come to you by accident or hide in plain sight. They are the one rescued from the meat man or the one in the last stable at the dealing yard. They are the last horse you go to see before you give up searching or the scruffy three year old stood in a field of mud. They are the horse you never even knew you needed.

People will raise an eyebrow when you say this is your “best horse”. Not everyone will see what you see and that’s ok because this horse will be special to you. They will unlock little things inside you and make you feel more at home than you’ve ever felt anywhere else in your life.

They may not always be easy, in fact they might be anything but easy, but it doesn’t stop you loving them. I’m not saying the will follow you round the arena with no lungeline, or that you can ride them tackless down the beach... but you’ll have your own connection that is hard to describe and even harder to explain.

There is no rhyme or reason as to why this horse is so special. You don’t have to have won at every event or defied death together to validate your relationship, it just happens.

You won’t feel this way about another horse. Sure, there will be ones that come close and it doesn’t stop you loving any other horse just as much as this one, but this one is special. This is your heart horse.

Some people stumble across their heart horse early on in their life, others wait a lifetime to meet, but somewhere out there is a horse that was made for you, so if you haven’t met them yet... be patient, they will find you.

They might not always be the horse you want, but they will always be the horse you need.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Snow Day

We've had our first big snow of the season, resulting in about 16" of white stuff for us, and about 35" of white stuff for one of my clients who lives in the foothills.  It did blow around at my place, so we had some pretty deep drifts (like to mid-thigh), as well as some spots that were covered with just about an inch.

When we got up and realized everything was cancelled for a snow day we decided to take the dogs out to play in back.  Kasey and Mahzi have started realizing the routine Kim H and I have of going for a walk in the back forty on weekends when Kim H. is off work.  Now if she comes up to eat breakfast with me in the morning the dogs are pretty sure it means party time.

It was deep for puppy Pascal, but he did his best to keep up with the big dogs.  I had to pause and tell him how smart and brave he was and how good he was to try so hard to keep up!

Rizzo is such a great jumping athlete.  It makes me wish I had more time to train her for dog jumping competitions, but I can barely keep up with my horse jumping competitions, and she doesn't seem to care if the show is all about her or not.

Mahzi is such a chill dog.  It's hard to believe she was such an intense border collie when she was younger.  Two years, 30 lbs, and a decision to retire as a house dog doing guard work have made for a happy life for this lab. 

Next we turned out horses in the fields, round pen, and arena to play.  Thankfully we have good footing under all this fluffy white powder, so it worked out well to let the horses play together.

While they all look like dark bays, we actually have several different horses here.  This first photo is of Beauty, who is actually a blue roan when she sheds out.

 This next one is Beauty running with Raven.

Rain is our rockstar lesson horse with the blue eye.

Raven again, and all three girls together.  They can only be turned out in a large pasture as a group, otherwise there are too many hierarchy discussions among these strong willed mares.

 Note running in the round pen, and kicking up his heels.

Highboy and Dewey got some turnout time in the arena and made the most of it playing together.

Highboy rests his chin on my head often, probably to remind me that I'm actually quite small next to him.  I also imagine he's expressing ownership and stating, "This is my human.  There are others like her, but this one is mine."

While the geldings were playing I spent a little time with Pascal and Rizzo in the arena.  I adore these dogs.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Cross Country Clinic at GEMS

Just before this big snowstorm and in between smaller storms we managed to sneak in a Bit of Honey Training cross country clinic in Deer Trail, CO at the Great Escape Mustang Sanctuary.  I'd been there a few weeks prior for a pair pace so I could see the course and check it out with my own horses, and discovered that it was perfect for introducing people and horses new to eventing and jumping.  We had such fun, everyone pushed themselves and learned new things, and left more confident than when they arrived.

We will definitely be returning to GEMS for another clinic next spring/summer, and I've got to be sure to get a good group photo of everyone.  

I like to do some unmounted work in the mornings before we begin riding, to help everyone get into the right mindset and help loosen up the human bodies.  GEMS had a great little classroom with room for all of us to work on putting equal weight in both feet.  On the first day we initially took care of paperwork.  

Then we practiced "landing" from a jump by hopping off the bottom stair of a mounting block and landing equally in both left and right feet.  We also focused on landing evenly from toe through arch to heel.  The biggest difference we noticed in each other was landing with ankles, knees, and hips bent versus straight legged.  The sound of the landing was very different, much quieter when the joints/springs were engaged.  Also it didn't rattle our teeth when we landed and allowed joints to absorb that impact!  We also did a "shake out" to loosen up muscles (and brains) and help our bodies relax before the first riding session.

Our unmounted work on the second day centered on sports psychology.   My degree is in psychology, anatomy, and neurobiology, and I'm fortunate to use my education every day with what I do.  We practiced and discussed the difference in our bodies when using direct focus with our eyes versus more peripheral vision.  Then we addressed how we sometimes use a critical eye towards our horse and his performance, and even more commonly towards ourselves.  I encouraged everyone to give a name, a label, to that negative and critical voice in their heads.  Some of the identifying titles were The Judge, The Critic, Mean Girl, among others.  I encouraged each rider to set that awful voice aside, and give themselves as much grace as they give their horses.  It was a somewhat emotional unmounted work session, as everyone has that negativity in them, and it can be challenging to set it aside.  However, each person did a great job identifying and dismissing their inner critic.  It's a lifelong skill we develop over years of practice.

I took some time to adjust tack and make sure everyone was safely attired for our activities, and then we headed out to the course!

Since there were so many clinic participants, after sorting through thousands of photos and editing the best ones, I've decided to organize this post by individual horses' photos.  We had everything from a long yearling, a three year old, a four year old, teenage horses, all the way to Rain who is twenty and still is sound and loving cross country jumping.  And of course many photos of my dogs assisting.

These are of Dewey, or Doit's Cat, an eight year old OTTB owned and ridden by Sara.  They are new to eventing, and are working on finding their courage outside of the arena since their arena work itself is quite good.

This lovely gelding is half paint, one quarter friesian, and one quarter percheron.  His name is Harbour, and he's just four years old.  His owner and rider is Pam.  It was a great accomplishment for them to participate in this clinic since they are so new to each other, and to riding at Bit of Honey.  I adore Harbour's quiet brain, and his thoughtful way of working through each task.

Ladd is a fifteen year old arabian gelding owned and ridden by Carol.  They do a ton of trail riding, so this clinic with a "trail-riding over logs" twist was right up their alley.  When I found Ladd for Carol a couple years ago I got him started cantering  under saddle as well as jumping, and discovered he loves it.  Add in the interesting terrain of cross country and these two are a happy pair!

This buckskin gelding is a three year old warmblood with just thirty days under saddle.  The sweet kid has terrible allergies to timothy and sage brush, so it's been a challenge getting him going comfortably.  However, Miles is a totally honest and earnest baby warmblood, and seemed to enjoy both his warmup with me as well as his ride with his owner Michelle.

Obie is a friesian/paint cross I worked with many years ago.  He's a sweetheart and has continued doing low-level eventing with Michelle, who also owns him.  It was great fun to reconnect and see how Obie is doing now that he's a teenager.

Rain is our lesson horse, a twenty year old paint mare I put under saddle when she was ten.  She is owned by KimH. who rode her in this clinic.  It was super helpful to have my schoolmaster in attendance so that when another horse (or rider) needed confidence Rain could demonstrate and lead the way.  It was a stretch for KimH. to do this clinic as well, and I was so proud of her for communicating with me about what she needed, and asking questions so that I could clarify things for her and make the instruction more helpful.

Silver is an eight year old OTTB as well.  He's been with me in training since May and this was a great trip for him.  His owner, Gillian, rode him and did a wonderful job handling his ex-racehorse jitters.  Once he settled into the routine and realized this wasn't that different from riding at home he performed like the rockstar jumping horse he is.  I was proud of him, but I was really proud of Gillian's riding and the fact that she can get the same athletic performance out of him.

Zora was by far the youngest of our clinic participants.  I found her for Amy back in July, and we thought she was about two to three years old.  When Dr. Landes come to do her fall dental, however, we learned that she actually was about eighteen months old!  She's a draft cross, likely mostly percheron, and is a really huge baby.

Since I was running this clinic as a laid back introduction to cross country, I was pleased that Amy came to expose the filly to this kind of thing.  I'll eventually be putting Zora under saddle and this type of field trip is really good for youngsters.  Baby horse sure did have a good time, as evidenced by her in-hand shenanigans during which she laid down and rolled in the mud, laid down to graze, hopped in and out of obstacles with great panache, and generally told everyone that this was a super fun horse party.

Lastly we have the shots of the dogs.  There are few things as nice as sleeping in my horse trailer with my pups, enjoying late night and early morning snuggles with the cutest critters at the clinic.

Rizzo was focused and determined to help me teach.  She does still experience some separation anxiety when she can't get to me, but if I have her on leash she's content to sit or lie down at my feet if I don't ask her to go help a horse.

Rizzo was a little stressed during the session I taught without her and Pascal at my side.  The folks auditing and watching the clinic had her on her leash, but she wouldn't quit talking.  Finally my friend Pat picked her up and snuggled her himself, and that apparently was the only time she quieted down during those two hours!  She must have sensed Pat's a kind person and kind of a softie.

Pascal came with us too, and he was much more easygoing about being passed from person to person if he wasn't with me.  This is all good life experience for my young border collie mix, since his natural tendency is to be shy and withdrawn and situations like this force him to interact with all kinds of people (and different types of dogs who live at GEMS) and build his confidence.  I'm well award of how border collies can be stand-offish and reclusive with new people and situations, but Pascal getting so many traveling trips at such a young age will serve him well in adulthood with his social skills.

Pascal did find this stick that was really wide around, but he carried it in his small puppy mouth the whole weekend, putting it down occasionally to partake of a beverage from a puddle on a large wood obstacle.

I stayed in my trailer with the dogs near the horses, but the rest of the clinic participants who were from out of town stayed in the cute "tiny house" cabins on the acreage at GEMS.  They were also treated to an early morning sighting of the GEMS resident mustang herd of 27 horses.  It was a good setup, but definitely better suited to warmer seasons' events.

It was a great weekend, which we will be doing again likely as a three day clinic in warmer weather.  Keep an eye out for the 2020 Bit of Honey Training clinic schedule!