Welcome to Bit of Honey Training LLC

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

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Camping at Jack's Gulch

I was able to go camping with some old friends last week at Jack's Gulch, up Poudre Canyon off of Pingree Park Road.  We've been there before, but this was our first trip in Sally and Ned's new rig.  I particularly enjoyed the "cooled" seats.  I don't like heated seats because they always make me feel like I have to pee, but the cooling feature was great!

We got to our campsite Thursday evening and got most of it set up.  Miles and I stayed in our two person tent (well, one person, one border collie), and Sally loaned me a great mat that kept most of the dirt out.  

The table was already there, and the second day we put a tent over it because there were thunderstorms and some rain in the afternoons.  Miles did run and bark at the sky and chase them off for us.  Such a great dog with superpowers to control the weather.  Sally was concerned that he had lost sight of me and was running away out of fear, she had forgotten he takes his storm chasing responsibilities very seriously.

We did a lot of riding and hiking with the horses and Judy, Sally's great dane.  There was napping as well after the long rides.

Ned and Sally have a very festive gooseneck trailer with colorful drapes hanging all over.  Miles and Judy had to come to an agreement about sharing Judy's dog bed, since we could hear gunshots and Miles' safe place is the horse trailer when he gets scared.

Our first ride was Friday morning.  I rode Gigi, my friend Linda's chestnut morgan mare.  I've loved this horse for many years, she's just perfect for these kinds of trips.  Steady, quiet, and willing to go anywhere. 

Sally rode Rosie, her bay morgan mare.  She also ponied Casper, a three year old gelding who is Rosie's colt.  Sally has owned Rosie for twelve years, since she was a yearling.  Sally then bred Rosie to a great stallion in Wyoming and got Casper, who she's owned his whole life.

Here is some video of all of us headed down the trail.  Sometimes the Morgan March just needs to be supplemented with some trotting!

Back at camp we ate plenty of good food, and Miles made some special requests for people food.

Our ride on Saturday morning was great fun.  Sally has tons of experience driving horses, she was even the president of our local driving horse club several years ago.  Rosie pulls a cart and has even completed a Combined Driving Event (like the three phase eventing I do, but done driving horses with carts or carriages).  Casper is learning the ways of being a good driving horse, especially off-road, and as part of his life experience Sally ground drove him on our "trail ride" the second day.

Casper is doing so well with his ground driving, to be able to do this outside an arena or controlled area is really great for someone his age!

I rode Rosie and ponied Gigi, who was very pleased to be out with her friends and not having to carry me plus a saddle and saddlebags!  Both mares were excited about Rosie wearing the saddlebags, because I keep them well stocked with horse cookies and I dispense them randomly while we're riding and also when we stop to rest.

Our goal for this ride was to take the horses to a river down the mountain a little ways.  Casper has schooled water in the neighborhood where these three horses live, but a wide river is different than crossing a shallow irrigation ditch or puddles in a driveway!

I did get some videos of the brave baby horse moments.  He is such a thoughtful horse, he was incredibly reasonable about the whole thing.

I forgot my camping chair in Ned and Sally's trailer, and they told me they are holding it hostage until our next trip.  Hopefully we get to do it again soon!

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Ferriana Begins Ground Driving

Ferriana is still coming along well.  She is still the queen bee of her universe and only occasionally deigns to accommodate us mere mortals with her compliance, but at least she and I have reached an understanding about personal space (you don't try to squish me, I won't smack you).  After her recent dental she was all ready to begin wearing a bit and start ground driving.

The first session trying a bridle went well.  I tacked her up and took her to the round pen (keeping everything familiar so I only add one new element at a time).  Once we were there I put her bridle on with one smooth motion before she had time to object.  I put it on over her rope halter and let her think about it for a moment before I gave her a cookie.  It's good to have the horse associate a bit with something nice like a treat, and it's not a big deal for me to clean the bit after we're done.  A fair trade for good behavior!

Once she was wearing the bridle in addition to her saddle and breastplate I lunged her in the round pen.  She LOVES jumping, and soon after she's warmed up she does her best to edge our lunging circle to the small jumps on the side of the round pen.  I'm fortunate that my round pen is a 100' diameter so I have plenty of space to do both flat work and over fences work in the same session without needing to set up and break down jumps. I was really pleased that she accepted the bit so readily and immediately went to work doing what she loves best - jumping.

Over the next sessions Ferriana and I began to introduce ground driving.  I do this by attaching one long line to the halter as usual, and the other on the far side of the bit, through the surcingle ring, and around her haunches.  Then we lunge one direction.  So if she's circling to the right, I hold in my right hand the line directly attached to her halter.  The other line in my left hand is going around her haunches, through the ring on the left side of the surcingle and attached to the ring on the left side of the bit.  To go the other direction I have her halt and wait standing quietly so I can reorganize lines in the opposite arrangement.  This allows her to get used to the lines, one at a time, along her sides without any new cues coming through the bit.

Once that was going smoothly, I set up the long lines through rings on each sides of the surcingle, to each side of the bit.  This allows me to begin some basic steering work with Ferriana.  It's important to do this with a surcingle so that I have rings to hold up the lines and prevent the horse from stepping on the ropes which would yank on her mouth.  Some people do ground drive using a saddle with stirrups instead of surcingle with rings, but I prefer this method as it's less likely that the lines will get tangled in additional tack.  A horse as smart and reactive as Ferriana will remember any mishap, and she's not a forgiving sort.  Therefore it's in all of our best interests to do this correctly.

Her first actual ground driving experience went really well!  She very quickly determined what we were doing, and didn't kick at me when I gave her cues using the reins (a common reaction from horses when beginning this process).  When I first introduce this to a reactive horse I'm very careful to make sure I stay to the side or significantly behind her, just in case.  The solid foundation of groundwork helps the horse not to panic when I add the new gear.

The only hiccup was Ferriana wanted to go faster and jump the jumps while we were ground driving, so I had to make sure I'd lowered everything down to ground poles to decrease the temptation.  Once this mare realizes that she needs brakes and steering so that I can ride her and she can do much bigger jumps, she's going to be all about this riding thing. 

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Saturday Riding Lessons

This morning we did a couple riding lessons, one with Alice on Beauty and one with Gillian on Silver.  Alice was working on counting strides to get the correct distances between jumps, as well as changing leads over a jump.  These things are both important for accurate course work over fences, and I happened to already have a couple exercises set up in the arena to address these. 

The first was a simple cross rail set up in the middle of the arena so that you jump it across the arena.  First you jump it at the trot or canter, circling several times to the right.  Then you do it several times to the left.  When your horse is reliably landing on the correct lead for the direction you're going, then you switch to doing it as a figure eight pattern.  There is some finesse for helping the horse and rider to get the balance and bend correct so that the horse changes leads in the air over the jump.  A simplet way to make this happen is to keep a very regular canter rhythm and have the rider change their gaze so they are looking in the new direction one stride before the jump.  That lets the horse know which way she will be going after they land, and when the horse is relaxed and thinking she automatically changed to the new correct lead to make the turn easier for herself.

Then, to help the Alice learn to get various distances between jumps, I had a couple lines set up in the arena.  The distance between the two red cross rails rode as five canter strides, and it gave us a chance to help Alice remember that you count the takeoff stride, not the landing strides.  So when counting out loud she jumps in and says, "land, one, two, three, four, five" where five is the takeoff for the second fence.  I set a couple ground poles at appropriate canter stride distances to help Beauty and Alice get the correct five strides, and I had Alice halt in the corner of the arena after the second fence to make sure Beauty wasn't rushing through the exercise.

Next Alice and Beauty cantered through the green line of fences, which were set at a distance that could be done in either four or five strides, depending on how long a stride Beauty had at the canter. The shorter her stride, the more strides she can fit in between jumps. The longer her stride the more ground she covers, and so fewer strides fit between jumps.

To help them get the five stride line I had them come into this line at a trot, then proceed at a slow canter between jumps.  Coming in slowly helps the horse to settle and the rider to feel how the five stride line feels.  Next I had them enter the line at the canter, and squeeze a little with her calf as she landed.  That encouraged Beauty to take longer canter strides between the jumps, and got them through in a four stride line.  The key to this type of work is to set the horse up before you enter the line, that way it all goes very smoothly.  If you wait until you're in the line to decide whether you'll do it in four or five strides it can get kind of hectic, and it stresses out the horse (and the rider!)  It's always easier to make corrections to the pace early rather than at the last minute.

Lastly we put the whole thing together with both lines, one at each distance, and a lead change. 

It went so well!  Because we created this course slowly and let Alice and Beauty accomplish each element individually, when they rode the whole thing all the pieces came together and they had a beautiful round.  It is so satisfying to see all the parts come together!

The next lesson was with Silver.  I've got his saddle situation sorted out again, and while we're waiting on some flocking adjustments to his jumping saddle we're riding him in my dressage saddle with a very similar tree.  I got on first and warmed him up for Gillian, and he was amazing.


Next I put Gillian on Silver.  She mounted after I punched some additional holes in the stirrup leathers, and while we're on the subject let me put in a strong recommendation for the Herm Sprenger leather hole punch.  It was expensive, but WELL WORTH the money for the time and effort it saves me.  It's no problem at all to add extra holes in english stirrup leathers, bridles, billets, even western stirrup leathers and latigos!  It's one of my better finds and I'll probably have this the rest of my life.

Anyway, once we had accommodated for my ridiculously long leg and made the stirrups four inches shorter Gillian got on Silver.  Because it was a dressage saddle and she's used to riding in a jumping saddle we made some very minor corrections to her position, which allowed Silver to really engage his core.  Consequently his trot became very springy, and he traveled straighter with much more lift in his back.

I was very pleased with how the two of them rode today, and extremely happy with how quiet Silver was and how confident Gillian was riding him.  It's always a little bit of a head game with a retired racehorse when you're trying to get them to settle mentally and use their bodies differently than when they were racing.  Silver is Gillian's first OTTB and she's doing all the right things with him, from having him in training with someone who has restarted many retired racehorses to making sure his tack fits him correctly.  With tack that he likes, Silver is an incredible quiet and confident athlete.  If the tack isn't right he makes sure to tell us!