Welcome to Bit of Honey Training LLC

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

Friday, May 31, 2019

May Grid Work

This week everyone has been working on some gymnastic jumping through a grid.  I've been doing it with Silver, who is a thoughtful gelding and figuring things out quickly.

He's so athletic it's tempting to push him too hard too fast, but I'm staying slow and careful with his training progression so we preserve his thinking and his confidence.  These types of exercises also teach him how to find the best distance (or takeoff point) for each jump.  You never know when you'll need your horse to save your butt when you mess up a distance, and it's great when they can make up for your mistakes and are comfortable doing it.  You can see Silver thinking and improving just in the progression of these three videos.

I've also been teaching this gymnastic grid during riding lessons this week.  Joan and Rain had a blast, you'd never know that this sweet mare is 20!

Alice and Beauty did a great job being steady through the grid as well.  I'm super proud of the progress they've made this spring!

The last one to work through the grid was Sara and Dewey.  Not too shabby for a horse who prefers to eat and nap and a rider who hasn't done much jumping in years!

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Rattlesnake Bite

Just over a week ago Highboy was bitten by a rattlesnake.  Because I know we have these snakes in our area, when the vaccine for bites was introduced in the veterinary community I had all my horses and dogs vaccinated.

Everyone here has been vaccinated for 6 years, and no one here has ever had a vaccine reaction.  The first time a horse is vaccinated it's an intramuscular injection in the pectoral muscles of the chest, and they get a booster one month later.  After that the vet gives them boosters annually in the spring as the snakes are starting to come out of winter hibernation.  The vaccine stimulates the body to create an immune response to the venom because it recognizes it as a threat.  If the horse is bit later and venom injected into the body, the white blood cells will recognize it from having "seen" it before in the vaccine.  The body can then launch an attack on the venom and destroy it before it can do too much damage to the animal.

We suspect that the snake came out  in the warm weather, then when it rained and snowed again it probably took shelter in Highboy's hay.  He may have gone to get something to eat and the snake bit him then.  Highboy was fine on Sunday morning when he ate his mash for breakfast, but when I went out to ride him an hour later his nose was swollen and he had a large wound that looked necrotic. 

 However, because Highboy was vaccinated he didn't have a systemic reaction.  Yes, his nose swelled up, but normally a horse bitten by a rattlesnake will have many more issues.  The entire face will swell, and even through the neck will get quite large.  The horse will usually run a fever, they can have tremors, difficulty breathing, increased heart rate and lethargy.  Highboy had none of these. 

One of my geldings who was not vaccinated, Samson, was bitten a couple years ago.  It was the most venom my vet and CSU had ever seen injected into a horse. His face swelled up until he looked like a hamster and I couldn't even get a rope halter on him because it was so large.  I had to create a makeshift halter using a very soft rope so that I could handle him.  As his difficulty breathing gradually increased it became clear he wasn't going to survive, so we euthanized him to spare him the ordeal of dying painfully from the rattlesnake bite. 

I'm convinced that with the size of the wound and how much tissue died and sloughed off, Highboy he must have also been hit by a significant amount of venom.  There's no way to know if it was the same snake of course, but I'm so grateful Highboy had the vaccine and that he had such a minimal response to the venom.  Just one week later his nose's size is totally back to normal, and the areas where the tissue was destroyed are coming back with healthy pink granulation tissue.  He has been in good spirits this entire time, and eating well through the whole process.  He is one lucky horse.

Big thanks to Dr. Landes with Equine Medical Services for administering these rattlesnake vaccines for us, and for being so supportive through Highboy's ordeal.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Silver's Second Jump School

The arena was a little drier today so I was able to do some more gymnastic schooling with Silver.  He doesn't have much experience over fences, but he's super game to try anything I ask him. 

Using the poles to help him figure out from where he should take off, I was able to start him over the gymnastic with a cross-rail.

You can see him scrambling a little to figure it out, but it doesn't take many repetitions before he's confidently approaching the jump and hopping right over.  After that I had my jump crew raise the fence to 2'6" to see how he handled it.  Once he figured out that it was higher - no problem!

We also did a very basic course of cross rails to help him settle between fences and stay calm and confident, as well as help him realize he needs to use his butt to keep his balance.

He was such a good guy, and I'm really enjoying him.  Onward and upward!

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Note the Fire Breathing Dragon

Note is a funny one.  He can be sweet as pie with me, and even gentle and affectionate.  However, he also has a temper and is sorely lacking in the social skills department with regard to other horses.

This makes sense, since he was a cryptorchid stallion until he was six he probably didn't have much interaction with a herd, and so likely never learned how to play nicely with others.  I get it, I've handled many stallions and I'm well acquainted with safely addressing those behaviors.  However I do wish that he would chill out so he could have more friends.  Highboy tolerates him pretty well, but Note gets pushy even for Highboy's taste.  The two of them get turnout together on occasion, but I'm always careful to bring Highboy in before he gets too worn down by Note.  I don't have any other horses that can go out with Note.

I've had to rearrange the herd a little this week because of the nonfunctional status of my tractor early this week.  I needed it to move big round bales, so Highboy and Note have been together while Silver was in the paddock where Highboy usually stays.  This is what Note did sharing a fence line with a new horse:

You see Highboy greeting Silver in a friendly way, and Note behaving like a fire breathing dragon while Silver stands just out of reach, wondering what on earth Note's problem is.

Dolly Bottoms First Ride with Huck

Today Huck and I headed down to the arena with Dolly Bottoms to do some ground work and have her ride him for the first time.  Huck and I had to do the usual targeting before she mounted of course.  Targeting is when Huck touches various parts of the doll with his nose to earn a treat, thus learning that the new stimulus isn't so scary because it's a type of odd looking vending machine.  The term "targeting" is from clicker training, which I do a lot of here especially with complicated horses or horses with difficult histories.  Most of the time if there is a negative association with people, tack, or riding I can overcome it with clicker training and utilizing large amounts of positive reinforcement.  This is probably because clicker training is uncommon enough that most horses haven't experienced it before, and so have no prior negative associations with the idea.

Huck still has a very large and dramatic spook in which he does the quarter horse "duck and spin" as I call it.  He'll drop his chest almost to the ground to take a hard look at something, then spin at stunning speed to get away from it.  He is pretty good with the pool noodles now, but Dolly Bottoms was a whole different beast.  I can always tell what a horse is paying attention to by where his ears are pointed, and Huck mostly pointed his at Dolly Bottoms.

By the end of our training session Huck was standing so I could give Dolly a leg up, and he was ok with me draping her over his neck, saddle, and haunches.  He never really got comfortable, but he quit the big spooking.  A nice feature of Huck's is that he will always look to me for help if he's afraid.  After he spooks, he stands as close to me as I'll allow.  Sometimes he just trembles, but he believes me when I say he's safe and he waits for me to remove whatever is scary to him.  I did get one photo of him with his ears up at the end, too!

This concerned face with the tense eyelids is how Huck shows he's worried.  However, he eventually realized he was ok and stood on the bridge while Dolly was draped over his saddle.

I may spend another session just on Dolly mounting and riding while walking around.  That would allow Huck to build his confidence with this floppy rider by repeating something he's already successfully done without me adding in anything new.  Next comes lunging with Dolly aboard, so that Huck can learn he's ok with a "rider" aboard, even while he's moving and the rider is moving.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Inroducing Dolly Bottoms

Years ago when I was starting young horses under saddle regularly I had a rider who happily put all the first rides on my youngsters.  Her name was Dolly Bottoms, and she was the only one allowed to ride without a helmet because her head was full of stuffing.  She was a stuffed doll a friend's daughter had outgrown playing with, and I'd put a pair of my jeans on her and stuffed the legs with plastic shopping bags to give her some body.  As the years went by she began to look quite rough.  Then one of the barn cats elected to mark her as barn cat territory in a very aromatic way, and so she retired from service.

Now that I have Huck here and he's needing super thorough restarting under saddle, I've made a new Dolly Bottoms.  This one is very close to a full size human, and I'm eager to see what the horses think of her!  She still will be the only one allowed to ride without a helmet, though.

Dolly Bottoms' components ready for assembly (dog and Kong not included): 

She consists of pool noodles for skeleton, plastic shopping bags for bulk and muscling, jeans, boots, and shirt for body, and a sphere with a smile drawn on it for a head.  Her hair is strips of fabric I quickly added at the last minute, and she's wearing an old pair of holey boots that are no longer waterproof. 

As Dolly stands propped up in the mud room waiting to head outside for work she's startled a couple souls already!  Mahzi the guard dog was a little freaked out that there was someone slouching on the counter, and Dolly surprised Jasi when she came in from feeding horses this evening.  It is a little disconcerting to see out of your peripheral vision a person standing perfectly still in the mud room...

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Huck and the Pool Noodles

Huck the quarter horse is making some slow but steady progress.  Because of his unknown history I'm being very thorough with him in doing all the groundwork I'd normally do with a horse who's never been ridden.  When we come across something that Huck declares he's never done before, I take a little more time to introduce that. 

Pool noodles have been one of those things for Huck.  While I don't care at all if Huck ever decides he's cool with pool noodles, I do need him to be calm about things dangling by his sides while he's standing and moving.  Riding does involve my legs on his sides, and my torso above him, so I need him to be reliably calm with that kind of stimulus.  Pool noodles are an easy way to get Huck acclimated to things dangling on his sides, and no harm done if he kicks them or they bounce around a bunch.

It's taken several training sessions to get Huck to a point where I can actually fasten the pool noodles to the saddle without him ducking, spinning, or bolting.  Now he does flinch, but he stands quietly and allows me to fiddle with the stirrup leathers to attach the styrofoam.

Happily, today Huck not only was ok with the noodles attached to him on both sides, but he also was comfortable lunging while wearing them.  Sometimes with a really intelligent horse like Huck, every new and different thing is difficult.  This is because smart horses don't generalize well.  They are intelligent enough to notice even small differences in things, so "Just because the pool noodle is safe on me while I'm standing, it may not be safe to have on me while I'm moving."

We're making good progress, though, and each time Huck trusts me enough to let me do something new and weird with him it's a step closer to him telling me he's ready for riding. 

Silver Rides Out Back

Silver is coming along really well.  He has settled in to Bit of Honey life incredibly quickly, and seems to enjoy living on Planet Thoroughbred at Kamp Kim.  He and Dewey spend most of their spare time lip wrestling over the fence, and Silver gets along with all the other horses well, too. 

Today I did a little rearranging of the herd to make sure everyone has access to a big round bale of hay since my small squares haven't arrived yet.  I ended up putting Note in the small paddock which curves around the side of the barn and shares a fenceline with Silver.  It was hilarious to watch Note arching his neck, posturing, baring his teeth, double barrel kicking in Silver's direction to assert dominance (Note didn't get the memo that he's a gelding, as he was castrated later in life).  Silver waited, JUST barely out of reach on his own side of the fence, and occasionally tilted his head towards Note as if to ask, "You ok dude?  I'm good, not sure what you're so upset about....  You need a minute?"  Then Silver yawned and wandered away while Note was still pitching his fit.

Yesterday I rode Silver while I taught the group jumping lesson, and took Silver over a few easy fences to see how he liked it.  He's traveling really well with no difficulties his hind end, and cruised through the cavalletti and cross rails.  He had never cantered to a fence before, and so jumped the red crossrail a little bigger than it needed to be taken, and the second time darted past.  It was a simple fix, though. 

In those situations I calmly stop the horse, back them up to where they went off course, and redirect them straight over the jump.  At this stage of training the horse is going over very small jumps that are easy to walk or jog over.  It's a good way to help him realize that skipping a fence he was aimed at is not an option, but it's not scary to just go over it straight and slowly, either.

Today Silver, Miles, and I headed out to the back forty.  Silver has been riding in the arena, round pen, and in the front pasture up and down the hill by the road, and it was time for him to head out into the great wide open back fields.  He thought it was pretty fun, he calmly walked out back following Miles.  After inspecting west pasture loafing shed for rabbits, Miles headed back to the barn.  At ten years old and with only 3 legs he's a little limited on mileage now.  Silver and I continued on, trotting a little in the far back field and then walking back to the arena to do a little work on tracking right. 

I'm really excited about this horse.  He has such a good brain, and is calm and interested in everything I introduce to him.  Plus he adds a nice splash of color to the herd of bays currently living here!

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Bit of Honey Circus May 2019

We had such a fun time at the Bit of Honey Circus this weekend!  In attendance were new friends, old friends with new horses, youngsters and seasoned circus-goers.  We had quarter horses, thoroughbreds, a fjord, paints, palominos, and some flashy colors among them all! 

The main highlights for each session of the circus were to:
1 - Be safe (we all wore helmets and were careful never to wrap ropes around limbs)
2 - Have fun (how could you not with a tunnel made of pool noodles and a yellow brick road?)
3 - Horses and humans are to leave the circus more relaxed and braver than when they arrived.

I explained to each group that I don't care if your horse never walks over a tarp in his life.  This is a zero pressure environment.  What I want during the circus is for the horse to learn how to handle new things and to enjoy seeing new stuff.  I also want him to learn that you are trustworthy and he can follow you anywhere. If he walks over a tarp in the process, cool.  If not, as long as he leaves braver than when he arrived we have had a successful day!

We had a wonderful time despite some cold wind, and if you'd like to join us at the next one later this summer let me know and I can add you to the guest list!