Monday, December 31, 2007

Back from the Mountains

I hope everyone had a safe and happy holiday. Brego and I enjoyed our week and a half on the road, visiting two very beautiful parks. There was not a whole lot of "eventing-related" activities, so I will just skip to the pictures, for those who are interested.

Cedar Lake Pictures

The rest of this post is largely ramblings from a week of brain rot and reading bad fiction, so feel free to skip it.

Despite the optimism of the weatherman, it rained enough while we were at Cedar Lake to seriously limit our riding. We got one good day of 10 miles of rocky trails in. Brego did fine, but then ended foot sore. I had wanted to buy him some boots before we left, but had trouble finding any that *might* fit. I had hoped if his feet stayed dry and he was rested, he would do ok. I absolutely believe horses need foot protection when they are asked to work outside their typical acclimation. Brego rides on rocks at home, but the mountains provided a different kind of rock, almost mini boulders, which gave him more trouble than the flatter, smaller rocks he's used to. Also, it's always wet in the mountains, the fall leaves soaking up the moisture, so his feet became softer and softer as the trip went on and riding became impossible. I have since ordered the only off-the-shelf boots which might work and if they don't, it's off to custom boot land.

Like all good trips, I learned some interesting things about my horse. We're entering our third year together, and Brego is definitely changing as he matures and comes into his own, so the horse I thought I knew finds new and exciting ways to surprise me. For example, he's been camping many times a year for the last few years. In fact, for the first two years I had him, that was all I did with him: trail riding and camping. He has learned to stand tied to a high line for days at a time, going out on long, rigorous trails, and relaxing the rest of the time. One of the parks we went to last week had pens for the horses and so a highline was unnecessary. I thought this would be a good thing for Brego since he would be able to move around more freely and the pens were large and spacious. I was surprised to see that Brego hated the pen, he would push against it and clamor the gate. He much preferred to be picketed out on the side of a hill than stand in a level pen.

Brego has been on pure pasture board since I have owned him, and even for a couple years before that, so the notion of a stall for him is very confining. He's had to be stalled a couple times for health reasons or weather, but it was 12-24 hours at most and he was returned to turnout. He definitely does not like blatant confinement.

So partly though this observation, and through other clues, I began to see that Brego was restless. He was no longer content to stand and munch hay most of the day. And when we got three days of rain and couldn't ride, he became downright boisterous, tossing his head and being naughty during his thrice daily in-hand walks around the camping area. He was quite a handful, always obedient, but brimming, almost trembling, with energy. Not exactly the laid-back, take-it-all-in-stride drafty I had known. His feed was even reduced to compensate for the relatively lack of activity.

Since it was cold and wet in the mountains, we packed up early and headed to our favorite Texas park, McCown Valley Park on Lake Whitney. The weather was warmer and the trails are pure sand so we could move out and burn off all that energy. After an 8 hour trailer rider, Brego came off the trailer about to explode. Instead of being tired, he was ready for fun. So I decided to longe him to see if I could get him to calm down for the night. He certainly made a spectacle on the longe, bucking, farting, his "saddlebred" trot, all just exploding out of him. When Brego decides to cut loose, it's very impressive. But if you happen to be standing on the other end of a cotton longe line (at least wearing gloves), it can be pretty scary. But to his credit, he never pulled on me and even though he kicked out and bucked, he never came into the circle either. He would toss his head and kick and squeal. Although he never threatened me, I made sure I had the whip ready to reinforce my space just in case. He is a big dominant horse, and I need to be very careful to never let him know he's bigger and stronger than me. He eventually got his ya-yas out and then stood quietly overnight on his beloved highline.

We then hit the trails. His feet had dried and the trails were sandy and we had a great 12 mile ride with lots of trotting, and an occasional log to jump. His condition held up well, not even breaking a sweat in the 50 degree day, and he finally got enough exercise.

So to sum up, Brego likes his independence. Even with less food than his usual ration on this trip, he wants to continuously move about with untold energy. Also, he is strong and powerful, but still very much eager to please. His strength is not just physical, he has a very strong presence and force of mind. He is maturing in many ways, but still just a baby in others and needs playtime to blow off steam.

As for me, it took quite a bit of courage (and a beer) to get on him after seeing what he was capable of on the longe. I have a healthy sense of self preservation and have been scared by him a couple times in the past when he has erupted large. He's never done anything malicious, but even a playful buck from him can send you flying. I found that letting him blow off steam on the longe and then immediately moving into some more advanced work under saddle brought his brain back to me. He was full of tension at first, but he worked down and became more relaxed and pliable. He was all business, like a good boy. This was a good lesson for me on how to handle him in the warm ups at shows, where he is apt to want to play. I love him dearly, but I am not an overly brave person. I don't look at wild, high horses and say, "I want to ride that!" The key to us being a working partnership as he gets more fit and more powerful, but not quite mature enough to control his brain, is building the confidence I need to stay with him and bring him back to me. Only time will tell if I can successfully do that.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Brego Claus

Brego and I would like to extend all of you warm holiday greetings. Brego has been very nice (and only slightly naughty) this year, so he has his hooves crossed for his greatest wish: all the dried mango slices he could eat. There is no sweeter gift on earth, according to him.

I hope you and yours have a wonderful holiday and I will post again upon my return from the Ozark mountains with lots of pictures. I am putting together a post about Brego's feet as well so look for it in early January 08.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Found: Outside Rein Connection

I learned a lot at the clinic in Boerne this weekend and I think I am on the right track to encourage Brego to stretch out over his topline. Obviously, getting a good stretch is more than just throwing the reins away and sitting balanced, it's about the horse seeking the outside rein connection. That pesky outside rein again... I am sensing a theme.

So we worked on moving off the leg (again! never enough with Brego) and asking for and answering the outside rein connection. There were some pretty challenging circumstances to overcome (see below) in order to focus on relaxation and connection, but I think I was able to get what I needed to work on it at home. The clinician was very thoughtful and acute. She was respectful of my goals with Brego and listened for my input. I thought she had a great eye and wonderful feel and was very positive about Brego in general.

More photos here.

Now on to the challenging circumstances. It was completely my oversight by not checking the conditions of the footing before hauling out of town. I made an incorrect assumption that the farm had a covered arena as the weather has been pretty terrible for the past week. When I arrived, both of their gorgeous (non-covered) arenas were underwater and we were working in a pasture on the side of a rocky hill. Next time, I will call before I haul. Knowing my goals of relaxation and stretching, I would have likely stayed home and worked with my excellent regular instructor than try to fight the distraction of Brego slipping, sliding, tripping, and falling into holes every lap around the pasture. To their credit, the good people at the clinic were very accommodating and helpful, but it was a lot of money and time to spend in pretty horrible footing. I would have rather sacrificed my fee and not risked Brego's confidence, especially since he started refusing to canter the second day and when I pushed him into it, he promptly slid on all four feet. Not fun. I do hope I get a chance to ride at the farm again though, because it was really lovely!

Secondly, I understand that I am working on training a green horse and that I am also pretty green to dressage. I acknowledge that although Brego should be fine in distracting situations, he is actually the worst in warmup rings with lots of activity. He's young and I get nervous. I also knew that I wanted to work on exercises that require a great deal of focus and relaxation and have everyone involved (the rider, the horse, and the clinician) have their complete attention on what we were doing. Knowing all this, I signed up for two private lessons, even though there was a cheaper option to take semi-privates. My first ride went as well as could be considering the footing. My second ride, however, consisted of 20 minutes of instruction while another horse cantered around the arena in the opposite direction. Picture a very tight and wet arena filled with jumps so we are using just the perimeter of one end of an arena with several jumps to negotiate around. So two times a lap, I got the distraction of having a horse heading straight at me and since the footing was poor and the arena was tight, occasionally the horse came quite close. It was pretty distracting, and I could tell Brego was bothered, but I try not to be "that kind of person" who whines about everything. The real problem though was that the clinician stopped my lesson and got on this horse and left me standing for 20 minutes, just as we were starting to get some nice relaxation. In fact, we had just gotten what we wanted to the right and was about to switch directions to the left. By the time she got back to me (an arena change and potty break later), Brego was cooled out and mentally checked out and I was pretty done myself. So the lesson here is: Next time I will speak up, because I can't expect other people to respect my lesson. I know the limits of my horse and myself which is why I make a point of taking private lessons and paying for them.

Despite all this, though, Brego did very well. I think he is really starting to understand the outside rein (well, more like I am starting to understand it) and he is seeking the connection if I can be sensitive enough to answer him. I am going to try to see my regular dressage instructor some time this week to go over these improvements and get her input as well.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Wanted: Long & Low

I've been reading an interesting book about the anatomy of a horse and how Rollkur and other hyperflexion techniques are antithetical to the desired loose swinging back of a well schooled dressage horse. I've never even been tempted to try such a technique on Brego, mainly because he suffers from going behind strongly and really encouraged front to back riding in his early days. The last thing he needs is more front to back.

I am happy to say he is getting much better from behind, and is learning to elevate and support his weight. However, a huge hole in his training is going Long & Low. According to this book, this exercise is critical to allow his back to loosen while strengthening his neck. If he is asked to elevate too quickly, i.e., before his neck is properly built up, he will use his back to carry my weight and will tighten and over strengthen his back muscles. One side effect of this is non-parallel canon bones as the movement through the back is shuttered by the tense muscles. A brawny horse like Brego needs it more than the average horse, because he will bulk up his back and lose some of that elasticity and "shwung" he currently exhibits. In other words, improper strengthening too soon will make him a worse mover. Not something I want to experience!

I have attempted Long & Low a couple of times in my completely uneducated way. I have been pretty unsuccessful, but I think it's so important, it is the one thing I want to work on at the clinic this weekend. We may not get it completely, but I want to understand how to work on it properly by the time I leave.

The clinic will be at Kinswood Farms and I hope it dries out enough to get some good work in. They also have a xc course, but I will ignore that siren song until I learn what I need to keep Brego loose and happy through his back.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Bending in the Rain

It's been a long week of rain and cooler temps. I was able to go out and do some work in hand on Tuesday and we worked on properly backing using his back. I was asking him to drop his croup and take big deliberate diagonal steps back instead of hollowing his back and stepping back, butt high. He did it correctly the second time I asked, so I gave him a cookie and put him away.

Yesterday, I was finally able to ride, but only up to a trot due to wet footing. I was really interested to see if we would have any "bending" discussions or stiffness in the arena. I am happy to report that Brego seems to have learned something from Sunday's exercise and the issue never really came up. He was pretty loose and flexible the entire ride and it was actually very pleasant. No leaning on the inside rein at all. He was not as forward as I would like, but still pretty balanced. I focused a lot of my outside rein connection and not throwing the rein away which is one of my really bad habits. He did occasionally feel uneven behind, but I trotted him out and couldn't see anything. I have decided to get films taken of his hocks when he gets his dental done in January, just to get a baseline, since this year will be a big jump in his training.

His walking shoulder in to the right is getting pretty darn nice, a nice 30% angle for a couple of steps before I ask him to walk on. His shoulder in to the left is still not back, I have to do more corrections to get him to do more than just bend his neck and try to run through. But in general, the shoulder in work was 25% easier and lighter.

He's been stealing some food recently so he looks a little porky. I decided to do two 10 minute trot sets, at a reasonably medium trot, to see if I can burn some calories. It was too dark to leave the arena and too wet to do any canter work. He trotted fine and I even asked for a couple steps of shoulder in at the trot to break up the tedium. He did great to the left, really understood what I was asking. To the right was so poor, I had to bring him back to the walk and reinforce the shoulder in at a more manageable speed.

Most horses are pretty one sided when they are getting started, so his issues are not surprising at all. What might be interesting is I recently underwent some Craniosacral Therapy myself. The therapist said that I was completely blocked on my left side and had limited sacrum movement. Hmmm, just the side Brego is stiff on. Coincidence? The therapist said I had received some blunt force trauma to the left side of my head at some point and it had wedged my skull and spinal column joint so I had limited mobility. She was able to "unstick" me and I have noticed some subtle improvements in the way I walk, comfort while driving and laying on my side. It will be interesting to see if me being more even helps alleviate some of Brego's one sidedness. The only thing I can say so far is our ride was very "pleasant" and non-contentious, even with some advanced (for Brego) lateral work.

I am going to a clinic in Boerne over the weekend and taking two private lessons with a trainer from Louisiana. I have decided to work on dressage for both my sessions, so hopefully we will get some good training to continue us down the path. Also, I can't wait to get back together with my regular dressage instructor and show her some of the things we've been working on. With the holidays, however, that will have to wait until January.

(I know lots of people are interesting in conditioning. I am doing some more reading over the holidays and will come up with a condition schedule to start implementing in the spring. My first event is going to be April 5th, so that gives me plenty of time to get him tuned up once spring hits.)

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Counter Flexion

I had some good friends visit Brego today and give me some tips for how to deal with his resistance in corners. My arena is not really fenced and on one corner in particular, Brego would like to run out and visit his buddies in the field next door. So the typical ride involves some minor disagreement about Brego bending softly through the corner, staying forward, and not popping his outside shoulder while singing "La la la, I can't hear you" to my aids. The disagreements have occasionally escalated into more of a pulling contest, not something I am very proud of. Pulling on the inside rein never works, it just causes Brego to stiffen his jaw and neck as a defensive posture and spin out his hind end, shifting his weight forward.

I was at a loss of how to solve this problem, and my dressage instructor has been a little under the weather, so I was talking about it with a good friend of mine and she volunteered to come down and help out. So she rode him through the corner, felt immediately what I did, and started trying to get him to soften his inside jaw, with varying success. She did manage to break through, however, and the magic ingredient to this gourmet meal was "Counter-flexion" through the corner.

It is important to me and Brego's training to fix him from back to front, so I wanted an exercise to do in the corner which would shut down his outside shoulder, and take away his locked inside jaw without disengaging his hind end. I think it's really important to keep that inside hind moving under and working and it allows his weight to come back. Counter flexion was the key, because I could isolate and eliminate his strong inside jaw, by physically shifting his shoulders to the inside, holding it for a couple of steps, then asking for straight, then back to a pure bend. It is sheer genius that my friend was able to show this to me, and really improved Brego's lightness off his forehand and resistance to moving through the corner.

This is where we started. I would like to turn left, but he wants to keep going right. He bends his jaw to a point, but then starts pulling and I pull back. His outside shoulder has popped out and my pulling up and back makes it worse. I am behind vertical. His hind end is flagging out somewhere in Oklahoma. He is overbent and has broken his poll to haunches connection, losing power. His gaping mouth illustrates how much we are not communicating. Gross all around.

I've tried to put together some pictures of this breakthrough. Unfortunately, the video did not come out.

Here's a correct bend to the right, tracking right:
Here we are still tracking right, but now he is bending left. Notice how his left front is almost crossing over his right front. Both his shoulders have been shifted to the inside. For this to be possible, he has to balance back on his haunches and stop leaning on my hands to resist through the corner. It's not just about bending his head to the outside, it's about relocating his front end and asking for a bend, keeping the haunches to poll connection.
When he would stiffen his jaw in the circle, I would ask for a counter bend for a couple steps and then shift him back to a pure bend, again through a couple of steps. It was a deliberate shift in his balance back and forth and I would also briefly move my inside bend hand forward and drop contact for a fraction of a second to ensure he was not leaning. It was amazing how much he self carried when I took the hand away in the bend. I would then reestablish contact and ask for him to straighten and then pure bend again. And here we have a much nicer walk as a result. He is more elevated and lighter on the front, not to mention more responsive and engaging that inside hind to push off.
Next we moved on to the trot. He found it much harder to counter bend at the trot, understandably, but it had the same lifting and lightening effect when he did. Both the pictures below are counter bending.

And then working back into the pure bend. A nice forward trot where his jaw is supple and his hind end is engaged. Not bad for 20 minutes of (hard) work.

Lesson learned: Work smarter, not harder. I cannot win a pulling contest, but I can change his bend and move his shoulders. I am so thankful to my friends who helped me to crystallize my thoughts on how Brego was moving and for giving me another useful tool for my tool box.

Updated: I've done some reading and it appears I've made a couple of errors today which I wanted to illustrate. First, in a counter bend, your former inside rein becomes your outside rein and you should not diminish contact with your outside rein through the bend. That allows the horse to pop the outside shoulder, albeit, the new outside shoulder. So my misguided thinking that it was keeping him from leaning on the outside hand was not correct. Secondly, in a head-on photograph above, his head is tilted and this is also a fault. If he were correctly counter bent, then his head would be vertical and gently flexed to the outside.

Which begs the question: How did this counter bend work? Since I believe it was the movement of his shoulders which affected the most good, and proper counter bending does nothing but flex the neck to the outside, was I doing an incorrect left shoulder-in while tracking right? It would appear so, and in doing so, letting his (former) inside hind leg off the hook, so to speak. So the next time I ride, I am going to see if it is the counter bending or the shoulder movement which he respects and makes him rock back. I suspect it is the shoulder movement, since this is the same "trick" I used with my dressage instructor to improve his canter. If I am correct, then doing a properly bent shoulder-in on the circle will have the desired effect.

In other words, is his stiffness the result of a stiff neck, or resistance to bending through the turn because his weight is not balanced back and he doesn't want to work the inside hind? Hopefully, I will be able to figure it out without resorting to more classical errors!

The good news though is that I am going to a clinic in San Antonio next weekend where one of the session will be dressage, so maybe I can get my questions answered there. I don't know if I will be able to ride with my regular instructor this week before I go.

A Hot Day's Fun

It was another 85 degree day here on Saturday (yes, in December), so I spent the morning body clipping Brego yet again. He has been sweating in the field. Then we hit the trails and had a relaxing ride through the baking Texas Hill Country.

At the end of the trail ride is the much anticipated gallop track. I had Brego going at a pretty good clip, but as we rounded for home, we both lost some steam and he dropped back into a canter just in time for the photographer. So the pictures were not nearly as exciting as I had hoped, but they're still fun! He may not look like he is going fast, but please note the excess reins flying back. Also, I look terrified in the pictures, but I wasn't. The only thing scary about that ride was how out of shape I am, my quads were burning.

The results from the poll so far show that readers want more pictures and video and I am happy to oblige. One limiting factor though is that I work a full time job and by the time I go out to ride during the week, it's too dark for capturing images. I do ride in a lighted arena, but sometimes I wonder if a full moon might illuminate things better. So I will try hard to get some good pictures and video on the weekends, when I can ride under the full blazing sun.

Since it is winter and I am limited on what I can work on during the week, I am not going to try to push Brego's fitness up a notch and just hope to keep him at this baseline and work on suppling instead. He galloped fine, but we both were more tired than we should have been afterwards. So there's a wakeup call for the spring. Over the next couple of months, I will hope to ride 4 times a week, where 3 rides will be dressage for 45 minutes or so and then one trail ride or schooling. I hope to spend one night a week working Brego in hand to up his responsiveness. So from a conditioning perspective, he's not getting much work. The dressage is working his topline right now, but not his heart and lungs. That will have to come when I can ride for longer in the spring.

I am also going to try to take better pictures of Brego's feet to chronicle his trimming progress. He is doing really well barefoot, traveling miles over rocky trails without a problem. But we still have flares to fight and some unevenness in his heels. It is one area of his care that I have not detailed a lot on this blog, mainly because I am not the primary person who trims Brego. I will get some pictures (and perhaps a guest blogger!) to start including hoof care into the blog.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Winter Training

Although the weather indicates otherwise, the lack of shows on the horizon signals the beginning of winter. Since I am currently enjoying how lateral schooling is elevating Brego's canter, I am planning on focusing on dressage through the winter. I would also like to save Brego's legs and only jump as a refresher until about mid-February.

Brego's calendar of activities looks a little thin for the next couple of months, with maybe an odd clinic, dressage lesson, or schooling day here or there. I am taking the boy camping for a week in the Ozark mountains over the holiday break to get back to our rustic roots. So that is something to look forward to, at least.

Then the mid term goal is to go to our first recognized event at Pine Hill on April 5. Hopefully, a schooling show will pop up before then to serve as a pipe cleaner.

In the meantime though, I have put up a poll to see what people are interested in seeing more of on this blog. It's been up for 6 months now, with a little over 50 posts, and I would like to refine the content to stuff people are more interested in. I started this blog as a journal for myself, to keep track of training, and to also chronicle things I get asked about a lot on online forums, like feed. Since there are a couple of regular readers however, I would love to actually provide more information that is useful instead of whatever rambling subject about Brego that comes to mind (and there are many). So feel free to vote in the poll and comment if you have more specific suggestions. Without the excitement of shows and other activities, I can try to fulfill all requests over this winter.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Cross Training is a Good Thing

This post is all about why it's a good thing to leave the arena and enjoy your horse. We had another unseasonably warm day, up to 84 degrees here. We decided to head out to a local park to just go for a nice walk instead of schooling lateral moves in the arena. I've been focusing a lot on dressage recently, and I admit, I tend to obsess. So it's good to remind myself why exactly I bought this big boy to begin with: him and me on the open trail.

We had a good 5 mile ride, across some pretty steep terrain. It was good to see that all the arena work has not made Brego go soft. He now has the fitness to really tackle hills and loved being outdoors. His Thoroughbred hunter-princess companion, however, seemed slightly insulted that she had to trod upon an unmanicured surface for so long.

Anyway, it was a great ride on a warm sunny day and really nice to take a break from the tough stuff, mentally and physically. We did have a little too much fun at the end, however.

At the trailer parking there is a field which has a mowed 1/2 mile track around the perimeter. I decided to just canter Brego around it, you know, to work on that lovely balance. As we got started, the strides just got bigger and bigger. Brego saw the open field and just begged to be let go. (This is the same horse who just "outgrew" his winter blankets) Well I let him go a bit and we go galloping down the track. Somewhere in the middle of the long side is a railroad timber jump, about 2' high. We were going at a good clip, so I opened my chest and sat up a bit to steady him and he listened and took the little jump in perfect stride. Ah, bliss! This is what cross country is about!!

We kept going on the track and as we turned for home, I really let him go. I think foxhunting has taught Brego the meaning of speed. He tore down this track with no urging, just loving his own power and speed. He definitely gave me incentive to keep him fit so he can manage such speeds without risking his legs over much. This track has excellent footing, even more reason to leave the arena more regularly.

Some drafts love to plow. Some drafts love to run. I am glad I got a runner.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Bulging Out At The Seams

Brego is starting to mature into his hefty self at a ripe ol' age of 7. I don't have any papers on him to know his birthday, but I was lucky enough to get him accurately aged at 4.5 and have thankfully kept track as time goes on. I am not thrilled about him bulking up, because I will get to make some tough decision about his jumping career. On the other hand, though, I am glad Brego is growing into his genetic potential. I can throw an eventing saddle on him, but at the end of the day, he's a draft horse, and he should never look like a Thoroughbred.

So good for porky Brego.

However, his blankets have started to look like some pop diva, way past her youthful prime, at her unfortunate return to the stage. In other words, a little tight. No one wants to see that. And since his body clip is almost grown out, and it's a balmy 70 degrees here in Texas in December, he will get clipped again and will need to be blanketed on the off chance we get some winter weather here.

Last winter, I bought him an 84" WeatherBeeta Arion (now discontinued) in medium weight, an excellent blanket with lots of features I enjoy. This year, the blanket has started to look a little, er, tight across the chest. Also, since he is clipped, I wanted to get a plain turnout sheet as well, for milder days. And maybe a heavyweight. Oh, and I need a cooler because he is still an active sweater. You can see where this is going.

Turns out, it's really hard to find a blanket much bigger than 84" off the shelf in all the popular brands, and those that you do find are cut for some mammoth Thoroughbred who is long and skinny, not broad through the chest, barrel, and butt like my guy.

Enter, Schneider's "Big Fella" line of blankets. It still makes me giggle to type "Big Fella". They've got sizes that go up to "Elephant" and they are cut to be broad. I bought a turnout sheet for my "Big Fella" and it is backordered, so I couldn't check the fit. I then ordered a heavyweight and hoody in 84", and it came in yesterday (very fast shipping). It's really well built, has some nice features, and an excellent price point. I am happy to say, it was made to fit Brego. So, unless he grows more (please, don't grow more), I will not need to venture into scary 87"-90" land.

I also bought an 84" Rambo Newmarket cooler so Brego wouldn't feel left out from the Cool Event Horse clique. It's what all the hipsters are wearing this season. Unfortunately, Schneider's doesn't make a "Big Fella" (hee hee) fleece cooler. The Rambo fits adequately, but it's too snug in the chest (and non adjustable, duh!) for long term use due to rubbing. Since I have the heavyweight "Big Fella" though, I should not need to double its use as a liner and it's fine for just cooling him out. Somewhere along the way, I also bought an 84" non-"Big Fella" fleece cooler from Schneiders and that didn't come close to fitting Brego. It now dwarfs Hobby who looks like a little sister waiting to grow into her big girl clothes.

Someday soon, I will replace the WeatherBeeta medium weight with another "Big Fella". It's time to stop denying Brego needs to shop at the Big & Tall store. That's ok, there's just more of him to love.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Shout Out

I am all about supporting the local community, especially when it's a community of horsey people. A ton of work goes into every show, schooling or rated, and I get to just show up, pay my fee, and take my ride. My thanks go out to the organizers, volunteers, judges, and professionals who make each show possible.

I was really thrilled to see some excellent photographs from the Fall Formal show photographer, Cheryl Stephens! I bought 4 pictures from her to be framed and proudly displayed and she was kind enough to send me these excellent digital copies. Plus the service was friendly and very personal. All photos are copyright by Cheryl Stephens Photography.

You can see Brego's complete album as well and pick out a few pictures to hang on your wall. You know, because it's the totally hip thing to buy random pictures of a horse you don't even know. It's all about the art, people! :)

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Holy Butt Dapples, Batman

I finally got to see my boy during daylight hours today and he has exploded into a serious rash of dapples. Must be that new diet!

That is one greasy fat horse! :)

(I admit it. I have a thing for butt dapples.)

Those of you with a good attention to detail will notice the lovely spur rubs on Brego's sides. Yep, spurs are now banished until such time as I can control my leg. Even though I wore tiny nubbin spurs, there is no excuse for a rub, body clipped or not.

So sans spurs, I rode. Brego did exceedingly well without them. His "go" was maintained through a squeeze of the calf. Some of our lateral work required more leg, but I can fine tune that. In general, I am happy to be rid of the spurs, since they should never be used for forward anyway. Now I can focus on improving my leg without inadvertent rubs.

For having over a week off, Brego did awesome. Normally, even with a few days off, it's back to square one with asking him to listen, and move off my leg, and bend, etc. Today, he must have felt great, because it was like we never took a break at all. He was listening and moving off my leg and did reasonably well with bending. It was really great to be riding. Even the short time off made me really miss his big trot. I felt right at home once we started out across the arena.

Ah, and being the oh so clever person that I am, I found a 7" loose ring for $25 shipped to my door from So now I get to check the sizing on a "throwaway" bit before shelling out for the Kangaroo bit in the UK. So between my 6" KK and my soon-to-be-delivered 7", I will know whether he will be more comfortable in a 6.5" or a 7".

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Big Mouth

Well Brego's new 6" KK Ultra is too small. Some days, I just want to cry.

I was so excited to go out to ride, having been off for more than a week. Then I had to work late, then I got stuck in traffic for an hour, then I forgot his (new up-sized 58") girth, and then the bit was too small. It's so small, I can't even ask him to suck it up for me for a couple of days to check out how he responds to the copper alloy. The risk of his big lips getting pinched is too great. The boy must be growing or something. Good thing I am seeing the saddler again on Saturday.


So now I am going to shell out the big bucks and get a 6.5" or a 7" Kangaroo bit from the UK. Merry Christmas to me!

When people ask me the number one problem with eventing a draft, I have one answer: tack.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Check out with the Chiropractor

Every quarter, I take Brego to my vet to get checked out and visit the traveling chiropractor. My vet is very good, but the chiro is pure genius. I get chills watching him work, seeing the obvious enjoyment in Brego's face, and knowing that tomorrow Brego will move noticeably better. My chiro is also very knowledgeable and opinionated in all things equine, including not just osteopathy, but dentistry, hoofs, saddle fit. He's worked all over the world, for some very big name riders, so I trust his opinion a lot.

Last time I saw him, he said Brego was "fine" but he wanted to see him bigger. After my dressage instructor freaked out two weeks ago about how big he was getting, I thought that he just might be big enough for my chiro. I was also concerned that all the heavy work Brego has been doing this fall would tell through his joints and I would get a lecture. I did get a lecture, but it was not quite what I expected.

I got there just in time to see the horse ahead of me get worked up. My chiro gave a tongue lashing to the poor Andalusian owning people, about how the saddle didn't fit, he had poor teeth, his jaw was a mess, his sacrum was a mess, etc.

Yikes! What would he say about my perhaps not quite big enough, hard working boy?

The first thing the chiro said to me was "Is this the horse you brought before?" Surprised, I said, "Yes, you've seen him before." I thought for sure he would have remembered Brego. My chiro has remembered individual cracks in horse's hooves before. He looked him up and down and said, "I had to look twice, I can't believe how much he has changed." He then went on to comment on his musculature, his coat, his conditioning, how it has all improved and congratulated me on making such a difference in a short amount of time. This is very high praise!

He took pictures of Brego to compare to the originals since he couldn't believe how good he looked. He told me that what things he did find in the exam were typical of any horse in work, nothing to be worried about, just bring him back to maintain him. He made a point of telling me to keep doing what I was doing, Brego was looking great. Oh, but he could be a bit bigger. :)

That's when I dropped the bomb that Brego was jumping. To say he was disappointed would be an understatement. He then gave me the lecture about how he was too heavy, it would crush him, he's not meant to jump. I told him I was jumping 2'6". Then my vet jumped in to say that was not very high. My chiro wavered and said, "Fine, it's good for his brain, but no higher!" Well, there ya have it. Doctor's orders. We are officially capped at 3' (which is a bit higher, but come on, Brego canters around a field bigger than 3' without jumping anything).

He also gave me some good tips on trimming Brego. His feet are a constant issue since they tend to be very flat. Although he is completely sound barefoot, he still has a lot of flaring from two years ago. Finally, I asked that they measure his height, since he seemed larger, and draw a new coggins with his new show name, all ready for the Spring 08 season. Brego measured out at 16.3 3/4 hands. Which means he's grown, either skeletally or muscularly, about 2 inches since I have owned him. Go, Brego!

It was a relief to a get a clean bill of health after Brego's recent back stiffness and to get validation that the diet and conditioning program were working well to get him fit but not overdoing it. The last thing I want is to tear him down when he is still pretty young. Brego will get another day off and then we'll start some light hacking. Perhaps I will even get to finally try that KK Ultra bit!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Eyes Wide Open

EDITED: The context of this post is extrapolated from the discussion and work of others online. Specifically, the compiled list of eventing fatalities was referenced from a discussion thread on the Chronicle of the Horse Forums. All references to the list should include the original citation. Please also note that this post was originally uploaded 11/24/2007 and considerable discussion and energies have taken place by all interested parties. The information contained within it should be considered dated.

I haven't ridden since the last dressage show, letting both Brego and myself unwind. I have been using my "riding" time to study up on the cerebral aspects of the sport, read some interesting dressage books, and generally try to enrich my knowledge of horses.

But then I saw this thread of Chronicle of the Horse announcing Eleanor's death. There's been a lot of discussion on the event forum there about the deaths this year during competitions. Although I tend to consider upper-level eventing and what Brego and I do as different sports, 11 deaths in a year is seriously sobering.

What is going on? Is it the demise of the long format, the infusion of of warmbloods, more technical courses? In this post, someone details what they have found researching.

A list of eventing deaths from August 2006 - November 2007:

Sherelle Duke (IRE), 28, 08/20/06, Brockenhurst (UK), Advanced HT, rotational fall, horse fell on rider, head injuries

Mia Eriksson (USA), 17, 11/04/06, Galway Downs, CCI**, Fence #19, rotational fall, horse fell on rider, ruptured aorta

Kim Hyung Chil (KOR), 47, 12/07/06, Doha, Asian Games CCI*, Fence #8, table (1.08m in height), rotational fall, horse fell on rider’s head and upper body

Amanda Bader (USA), 32, 02/17/07, Ocala, Preliminary HT, Fence #13, table, rotational fall, horse fell on rider, head/neck injuries

Amelie Cohen (FRA), 30, 03/11/07, Fontainebleau, Novice, Fence #7, rotational fall, horse fell on rider

Jo-Anne Williams (UK), 34, 04/18/07 Sapey ODE, Novice, Fence #8, ‘bench-style obstacle’, horse somersaulted, rider thrown clear, displaced aorta (inoperable), also reported as head injury

Julie Silly (FRA), 17, 05/05/07, Novice HT, Jardy, ‘straightforward fence’, rotational fall, horse fell on rider

Elin Stalberg (SWE), 19, 07/21/07, Bollnas, CCI** or CIC**, 3rd last fence, corner, rotational fall, horse fell on rider

Tina Richter-Vietor (GER) , 32, 08/04/07 , CIC** Schenefeld , Fence #2, ‘easy-type’ fence, rotational fall, horse somersaulted and rider ‘catapulted out of saddle’, broken neck

Anke Wolfe (GER), 40, 08/15/07, Neu-Wulmsdorf, Novice HT, final fence, rotational fall, horse fell on rider

Maia Boutanos (FRA), 29, 09/01/07, Moulin-Coulandon, Novice HT, Fence #5b, ‘fall of horse and rider’, ‘obstacle not fixed’ according to regulations

Eleanor Brennan (UK), 20, 11/17/07, Ocala CCI**, Fence #18, table, rotational fall, horse fell on rider, head and chest injuries

(Note: in this list, the European Novice is the equivalent of our Prelim level)

The killer is rotational falls, at speed, over Prelim or higher fences which cause horses to land on the rider's head and chest. Rotational falls occur at the lower levels, up past 3' or so, but the speed is not as big of a factor and the rider is thrown clear or the horse lands on the legs and pelvis. And of course, the table fence, which killed Eleanor, is strikingly present in the list.

A lot people want answers, and of course, I want the USEA to address it, or at least admit there is a problem. Eleven deaths all due to a similar fall is not a statistical abnormality. While I do not believe we can lay the blame solely at the demise of the long format, there is a certain amount of fallout from the way courses are built today. I think Denny Emerson said it best in his post on Chronicle of the Horse:
There will be some rule maven on here who can correct me if I`m wrong, but I`m pretty sure that the speeds of 520 for prel, 550 for int, and 570 for adv have been the same since I started eventing in 1962.
But the x-c courses are very different than "back when."
Nobody who has been really "in the sport" for say, 15-20 years, will argue that many, if not most x-c courses have become much more technical.
This past summer someone was describing some advanced track they`d just watched as being like "a three mile Hickstead Jumping Derby over solid obstacles."
But the way horses generally get faults in jumping derbies is by having the rails fall down, not the horses.
As horses have to be slowed down and set up to negotiate technical questions, it then stands to reason that, in order to make time, the riders will "book" at the fairly straightforward ones.
Even our very greatest, Bruce, Mark Todd, Blyth Tait, have missed and had crashing falls, so what chance does a mere mortal have to always get the right distance on a horse that is "flying low" at high speeds, often tired, to make the time?
Sure, you say, the rider doesn`t have to make the time, he/she can slow down and ride better distances from better balance, but good eventers are first and foremost competitive people who want to do well.
I know, partly because I am one, and because I`ve spent the last 45 years in close proximity to thousands of them.
So if we are determined that we want more technical xc courses, and it seems we do, then I think our speeds may well be outmoded.
Heck, we`ve already done away with the heart of "speed and endurance", why not go the rest of the way and try lowering speeds by, lets say, 20 meters a minute, to 500, 530, and 550 for the 3 upper levels?
It might not be the answer, but at this point, we better try something, probably a number of somethings, if we want this sport to survive.
The way it`s going now has got to change, and fast, or some outside entity will change it for us, which might not be the worst thing in the world if we are found to be unable to police our own sport for the wellbeing of its participants.
I am way past thinking "It`s just an accident, and accidents will happen."
Not like this, not this many, no way.
For many reasons, I have capped Brego's competitive jumping height at 3'. I will not ask him to compete higher than Novice in eventing. But after reading about the upper levels of the sport, and I am not even going to start talking about horse deaths which is a much larger number, I think I might cap myself as well. Everyone told me at my first eventing clinic that I would outgrow Brego's abilities and need to get a proper eventer. Well, what if I don't want to outgrow them? Three foot solid fences is still looking pretty big to me and we have so much to learn to even get to that level of competition. By the time we get there, eventing may not even exist in its current form, having been sanitized into jumping derbies + high level dressage by the public outcry.

I don't have any answers. The only comfort I have is that I trust my horse, and I know we can be partners for the foreseeable future, with no pressure to move up to where the consequences of a mistake are too grim. Everybody be safe out there.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Fall Formal Dressage Show

Yesterday, Brego and I (and some of our closest friends) went to the Central Texas Dressage Society Fall Formal show. Overall, it was a lot of fun and we all did very well. As the day wore on, however, it became obvious that Brego was definitely tired of showing. I have decided to scratch Pine Hill in two weeks and so the Fall Formal will be the last show of the season. We both need a well earned vacation.

The day started early, with Alyssa riding at 8:42 am. I did not ride until 1:40 pm so there was a lot of standing around as the day got hotter and hotter. I was worried that Brego would be sapped by the time I got around to riding, and I was not feeling so hot myself so I considered scratching and ending the season early. After longing him to see if he was still stiff through his back and determining that he was actually moving very well I went ahead and rode just to get another "experience" under our belt and hopefully chase the "warm-up demons" away. I was not expecting anything miraculous since both of us were so ambivalent about the show.

I was pretty glad to have low expectations after our Training Test 2. Warmup went relatively uneventfully which is reassuring. It seems that he is getting less rambunctious with all the other horses cantering around him. It also helps that I longed him first, a practice I mean to continue in the Spring. We then sat around for 10 minutes before going into the arena for our test, which is a big mistake. Brego went to sleep. Then when he realized he had to work again he was resistant and sluggish. He even broke from the canter during one of our circles earning our first 4 for a movement! Woohoo! It was a good lesson for me to learn because everything that happened in the test was a direct result of our pre-class preparation.

We got a 30 minute break and then I went in again to warmup for our Training Test 1. This time, I really focused on forward forward forward, instead of "please don't buck and kill me". I also did more leg yielding exercises and basically treated warmup like one of my lessons, where he is always "on" by the end of the hour. I also took him directly from trotting in the warmup right into the ring, with no standing around. When I went in for our second test, he felt more alive. I was really happy with the test. I felt that he had improved greatly in quality, he was more precise in his transitions, and more consistent with contact. We only ended up scoring 1% higher than the earlier test, and I attribute that to the fact that feeling like your horse is moving better doesn't alway look like he's moving better, especially when you've mastered the art of making your horse look easy.

So the net result was favorable. We scored 65% for the first test (Video: Training 2), even with our 4, and placed 2nd out of 10. We scored 66.1% for the second test (Video: Training 1) and placed 2nd out of 4.

In all other ways, the show was a resounding success. Brego behaved in warmup. I successfully got our best show performance (in feel, if not in looks) out of him. He came out of both tests without heavy breathing and no sweating, a testament to his increased level of fitness. He did one stride of the miracle canter in warmup and then I regressed in my riding and he followed me back down. The rest of the competitors and spectators were extremely kind and generous and gave Brego lots of pats for being a good boy (even when I was mad at him). People were genuinely impressed with his ability and I didn't get any Dressage Queen vibes at all, which is really wonderful. Friends came out of the woodwork to read for me, give me tips, and cheer me on. It was a great day.

More Photos

So now we will rest. Brego will get one ride this week with the new KK Ultra bit I found locally in 6" (Wonder of wonders!!) to see if his head explodes from the copper. He has a chiro appointment next Sunday and then I plan on some nice long camping trips to decompress.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Biting Nightmare

Brego is not an easy horse to bit. In fact, most of his bits have come from the UK, an expensive proposition. My dressage trainer would like to see him in a loose ring, instead of his egg-but snaffle, so I am once again on the hunt for a new bit.

But it gets a bit more complicated. Brego has a low palate so he requires a double-jointed snaffle, or a French-link type snaffle. Additionally, he has in the past had a strong reaction to bits with copper inlays directly on his bars. His mouth swelled up and he had trouble chewing for 12 hours. I put in an emergency call to an equine dentist. Not a pretty sight.

So I need to a find a double-jointed loose ring snaffle, preferably with no/low copper, oh and it must be 6”. Yea, good luck. I am leaning towards attempting to get a Kangaroo brand or Herm Sprenger brand alloy, even though they do contain some copper, to see if he can tolerate a copper alloy. Hobby really loves her Sprenger loose ring, and I want to try it for Brego. As long as it’s not pure copper directly on his bars, he might be ok. He has gone in a French link, where the center link was pure copper, with no ill effects.

Unfortunately, I don’t know of anyone with a 6” that I can try, so I will probably end up buying one, having it shipped from England, and praying his head doesn’t swell up from the copper alloy. What else would I do over the Holiday Season?

If anyone knows of a bit “renter” with a loose ring, double jointed, 6” Sprenger or Kangaroo alloy bit, please let me know. I would love to “try before I buy”.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Dressage Lesson 6

I just had the most amazing dressage lesson. I know I know, I always say that, because each lesson blows my mind in some way. But this lesson was truly bordering on miraculous.

It didn't start so well. Earlier this week, Brego and I had a fight. It started as a disagreement on bending, which escalated into an argument over turning in a circle, and ended with a drag out fight. And even though it ended on my terms, no one wins when you fight your horse. The net result of the fight was that Brego was understandably defensive during our next ride and we spent a lot of time in Remedial Land, working on simple bending. I am actually pretty ashamed that I lost it on Brego. It is a complete failure as a rider. But, I promised myself I would publish the good, bad, and ugly on this blog to paint an accurate picture. And it doesn't get much uglier than that.

So tonight started with me explaining to my very patient trainer how I fought my horse and pulled on his face and now he's having trouble yielding his jaw. Super. So we get started and he's off on his left hind. Super. We pull the saddle and check his back and yep, it's tight on the left. My trainer gives him a little massage and we longe him a bit and he works out of it. We decide to focus on deep topline exercises to ask him to stretch and if he got worse, to call it a night and scratch him from the show on Saturday. Along with the fight shame, I started to feel like I had been pushing Brego too much. He was breaking down, it was all my fault. So, strike two.

He ended up working out of his muscle cramp well and we worked on leg yielding at a walk to help him stretch out laterally. Minor breakthrough there: Say I am leg yielding to the right. I would cue with my left leg, but then I would lift my left hip and put my weight on my right hip, thus blocking Brego from actually moving over. If I weighted my hips equally while cuing with my left leg by letting it grow long and half-halting with my right hand, then he moved right over. Was it the most straight and perfect leg yield? No, but it was major improvement.

We then worked on cantering, where Brego would push through the outside shoulder, ignoring my inside hand. I have to admit, I am a little bit fuzzy on how this all went down, but after much confusion on my part, I managed to relocate his shoulders to the inside, which forced him rock back and balance himself and then, for one complete 20 m circle, I was riding a Baroque master. I don't know what it looked like, but he was elevated in front, I had no weight in my reins, and he was holding himself on this perfect bend on a perfect circle and all I could do was sit quietly and scream "This is not my horse! This is not my horse!". It was a miracle, pure and simple.

I then worked on the other lead and was able to reproduce the canter at about 80%. Again, miraculous, but not quite the same level of sheer difference. I was just floored, completely beside myself and I kept babbling to my trainer, "This is amazing!! This is not my horse!!" And she calmly said, "This IS your horse. He's always been capable. Now he knows enough to give you a nice place to sit." And that sums it up perfectly. He was no longer lugging and falling and crazy out of control around this tiny circle. He was up and balanced and the circle seemed huge and all I had was a nice place to sit. I still don't quite believe it, and I am sure it was only 30% of what real balance feels like. But it was a whole new world.

To go in one week from fighting over a simple turn, to this feeling of effortless sitting is almost too much to bear. I just hope we can capture one ounce of that canter for our dressage test on Saturday. I am going to check Brego tomorrow and if he's sore, I will scratch. But if he's well, we're going to see if we can take this new act on the road.

Then he will get a week off and a work up by his favorite chiro/osteopath. Hopefully, he will be feeling better by Pine Hill on December 2nd. But if not, no big deal, he's done enough this year and we can rest up before the spring season.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Adventures in Hunting

The adventure began after battling rush hour in Austin. I hooked up the trailer, loaded Brego, and headed out for Brenham. A good friend from Dallas was going to be at Pine Hill in Belleville for the recognized event, and she was gracious enough to let me crash on her rented ranch.

The sun had already gone down by the time I got out of Austin, but I have a trusty GPS unit in the truck that helps me find the turns I need. After a couple hours, I left 290 and turned onto a rural road and my GPS unit said only five miles until my destination. And that's when the road ended. To be fair, there was a gravel road that continued on, but it was not thrilling to be bouncing along it with my "non-rural" LQ trailer behind me. After a couple miles down, crawling along, I noticed that I had not passed a single place where I could turn around. Wonderful. So I pressed on. About 4 miles down the road, I came to the wooden bridge. A bridge that I decided I couldn't drive over. It was pitch dark, the middle of nowhere, 4 miles down a single lane road that I could not turn around on, and all that went through my head was the "Deliverance" banjos. This was rural.

I studied the bridge and decided that since the creek was only 6 feet below, Brego would survive the fall if my trailer crashed through it. Plus, that's what insurance is for, right? I creeped across it and to my great relief, the bridge did not crash. After my heart rate slowed near normal, I continued down the dirt road, praying that I would find the ranch, my friend would be there, and I hadn't gotten the weekend wrong. This was not the kind of place to be stranded.

I finally came to the correct ranch and, although all the lights were off, I drove in and parked next to the arena. My friend arrived 15 minutes later, much to my relief, and I got Brego settled down into a pen. I stayed next to the pen in my trailer all night. There was not another horse in sight, so I knew Brego would be nervous all by himself. The night passed uneventfully.

I woke up and a heavy fog had rolled in, adding to the already growing nerves for both of us. I had to take the same cursed dirt road and wooden bridge out to 290 in order to make the meet. The trailer made it over intact once again. This time, I got pictures!

I arrived at the meet and was warmly greeted. I got Brego ready to go and hopped aboard. He seemed surprisingly relaxed for all the activity. When the hounds were released, he hardly spared them a glance. As the horn was blown, he barely flicked an ear. Hmmm, I thought, this is either going to be the best ride ever, or the worst.

I settled into the back of the second flight and we had a very pleasant hike around watching the 10 1/2 couple hounds work the fields. For about 30 minutes, we rode quietly, walking, some trotting. Then we hit an open field and the master of second flight mentioned something about trotting. Suddenly we were in a dead gallop. Now, to be honest, I thought that I have galloped Brego before. Wow, was I wrong. I didn't even know that Brego had this extra gear. He was tearing across a field, an unmanicured, overgrown field, and I am not so foolish as to think I am anything other than a slightly terrified passenger at this point. But, to his credit, Brego is no fool himself and chose his path very well, even at Mach 3. I remember being particularly impressed about how he avoided this gaping chasm in the ground where I had only just gotten a glimpse of it before it was beneath us.

We had a couple more nice runs and then retired. I did jump a little coop twice, but it was not anything particularly spectacular. Brego did his typical look look look chip jump at it. But I had to give him some credit. By all accounts, it was him that kept us safe today, not me.

I had a complete blast and can't wait to get back out there. As I anticipated, Brego did get upset when horses in the first flight galloped past him, but the hounds and the horn were not a problem. I wonder if he would do better in first flight, because then he would be in the thick of things, and not watching other horses gallop while he had to stay walking calmly.

As I drove home, a tired boy in tow, I reflected on how amazing this whole journey has been. I bought Brego in August if 2005 to be a trail horse. He did not much more than walk down trails for 2006. In March of 2007, I got an english saddle and started jumping him. He went cross country for the first time in July. He performed his first dressage test in September. And now he has fox hunted and we're off to another dressage show next weekend. That's quite a lot for a young horse to do in a single year. And yet, he does it with such obvious enthusiasm and playfulness. I am truly lucky to have such a willing and game partner for whatever adventure I can conjure up.

Early this morning, as I was getting ready to head to the meet, Brego suddenly got agitated. He heard something in the fog I could neither see nor hear. After a few moments, two black horses trotted out of the mist. They were the old Percheron team the ranch owners used to pull their wagons for their guests. They had come to see the interloper. I untied Brego so he could visit with them and as they touched noses, I was struck by the scene. Brego was magnificent, arching his neck, puffing his chest, trying to look tough for this little meeting. The old horse touching noses with him was probably mid twenties, an old black Percheron. Although he was obviously well cared for, his back was a little swayed, his joints a little angular, a little too much white around his eyes. Right before me was Brego today, but there was also Brego twenty years hence. And I was suddenly a little sad.

Our time with them is so fleeting. All that a person can ask for is one Good Horse in a lifetime.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Prepped and Ready

I got the trailer ready this afternoon for my solo trip to foxhunting country this weekend. During our short ride, Brego was listening well, so that's a relief. I am pretty nervous to take him out with the hounds. His one behavioral issue is getting amped up by running horses and going nuts. Well, I'm about to see how much he can keep his brain together as the field runs around after the hounds.

I will leave for Brenham after work tomorrow and stay the night with friends. Then up early Saturday morning to make the meet, and hopefully get some longing in before it's time to go... just to reinstall his brain.

I also tried his brand-new breast plate I had custom made for him by my favorite local saddlery, Capstone Saddlery. Like all of his tack, I couldn't find anything that would fit the big boy. The new breast plate was made to match my Borné Saddle and it's so gorgeous. I will get pictures of it this weekend and include it with my hunting trip report.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

The Un-Clinic is a Big Success

As I was making final preparations to leave for the clinic in Dallas early Friday morning, I received an email from host Allison Freeman saying that Rainey Andrews, the super-star clinician I was so eager to ride for, was in the hospital and the clinic was officially canceled. Rainey is going to be completely fine, no need to worry. She just wasn't up to teaching this weekend.

Although the clinician was MIA, Allison extended an invitation to all of us to come be her guest and use her facility as open schooling. Food and accommodations would be provided, just as if the clinic went on. Well, only a fool would pass up an invitation to ride at Cedar Creek Farms, Allison's little slice of heaven on earth, for the weekend. So we loaded up and headed to Dallas.

We got there just before dark and settled the horses into the posh temporary stabling. We met up with the other 10 riders who decided to come hang with Allison for the weekend and had a great dinner. We made plans to ride in two groups the following day: the beginner novice crowd (including me) and the novice and above crowd.

Saturday was a perfect day with gorgeous weather. We did our morning ride in the covered arena and worked on combinations and turns. Brego and I had a lot of trouble with the turns in that arena, and it really exposed some areas we needed to improve. After the arena session, two other riders took Brego for a spin just to see what he was like. The rider who normally rode a huge warmblood liked him, the rider who normally rode a pony did not. Brego is an, er, acquired taste.

After lunch, we hit the cross country course. Brego did water and banks like a champ. I jumped him over hutches and coops and anything that looked like it was beginner novice level. He never missed a beat and I even started to get that "taking a fence out of stride" feeling. He obviously started to feel how much better life would be if he would jump out of stride instead of chipping every fence, because he really started moving out.

After the ride, four of us took out the 4-wheelers for a little dash around the huge property. It was a blast, tearing around the dirt roads and 200 acre hay fields, crossing bridges, and moving through cow herds. What a beautiful peace of land. We got back just as the sun was setting to a picturesque view of a hot air balloon floating above the barn. After washing the road dust down with a few beers, we tucked in for Wurstfest where brats were served, appropriately, on a stick! Great times!

Sunday morning, we took the horses out on a long hack to the back of the property. It was good "foxhunting" training because we cantered down a dirt road as a pack and Brego was very much listening. It was a great relief since we are going out hunting for our first time next weekend. He also seemed to have plenty of gas, thanks to his new diet and fancy body clip. He had been working hard all weekend in pretty warm temps and never even really broke a sweat anywhere but under his saddle. He loves the body clip and I love it as well, so easy to keep clean and he needs so much less after-ride care.

We then rode up to yet another schooling area, where I took Brego over his first ever corner. And it was a narrow as well! I am so proud of him for being able to lock onto a fence that is only 4 feet wide and jump it without hesitation. That was the fence where Brego finally moved up to make a proper distance. I can honestly say that he has never moved up to a fence before, he always sucks back and chips. I think my little boy is growing up... He is starting to see the fence and think about it. And the trickier the fence, the better he does. Cross rails are sooooo boring. Brego wants to jump crazy narrow corners in the shade with only three strides of an approach because we are cantering through a dense forest!! He's turning into a bit of an adrenaline junkie.

We finished up back on the cross country course where I took Brego over some scary barrels. I think it's safe to say he is completely over his barrel phobia. I then took him through the water again and then got a lead off a training-level drop into water. He wasn't particularly graceful, but he was very brave. In fact, his uncanny ability to jump anything and everything I put in front of him won the hearts of all the riders. He may not be cleaning up in the placings, but his honesty is priceless.

Brego did well, but the real lasting impact of this un-clinic was the riders. Every single person, no matter what level, went out of their way to be helpful and generous. I think I got a wonderful tip or bit of advice from every single person there, and when I remembered to do what they said, my riding really improved. We missed Rainey for sure, but it was a very productive weekend nonetheless.

More pictures

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Only Half a Yak

I trimmed more of Brego's yak-like hair yesterday into what is commonly referred to as a blanket clip. This is his last chance to keep any hair at all on his body. With the near record heat, he's been miserable, even with his trace clip. He also is so thick bodied that even when it gets colder, his muscling keeps him warm.

I've got various weight blankets coming from Smartpak so I can dress him appropriately if I go full body. I will make the decision today after my ride.

Tomorrow we leave for an eventing clinic in Dallas. I am very excited to see what Rainey Andrews et al think of the improvements we've made in the last 5 months. At the last clinic in June, I told her that next time she sees me, I will be riding a different horse. I think she took it to mean, you know, a proper eventer. I, of course, meant a different Brego!

Not to mention, the hostess with the mostess, Allison Freeman promises a weekend of fun on the theme of "Wurstfest". Bratwurst and German beer, here I come!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

One Costume To Rule Them All

Brego ended up being the spookiest horse at the show... in a good way! The much-anticipated costume came off with a scream as we ended up stealing the show in our Ringwraith costume.

My friend has an gray Andalusian mare and we decided it would be fun to enter the group costume class at the October 27th Indian Creek Farm schooling show. We decided to recreate the "Flight to the Ford" scene from the Fellowship of the Ring. Alyssa worked tirelessly on the costume and when it was all put together, Brego and I made quite an impression. Everyone wanted pictures of Brego. Two horses spooked and wouldn't come near me and one little boy got scared and started crying. Ah, Halloween, how I love thee!

More Pictures

The costume was such a success, I was hoping to find a venue in which to scare people on Halloween, but I can't think of some place safe to take Brego. Ah well, maybe next year.

October Schooling Show

The October 27th schooling show at Indian Creek Farm was at the top of my list of all time favorites. Indian Creek deserved many kudos for a well-run and professional show, with lots of personal touches to make the whole day special. They provided iced-down bottled water at each arena plus a cauldron of apples and carrots so every horse got a great reward for their performance. I know Brego and Hobby were kept in apples for the entire day courtesy of Indian Creek. I cannot wait for their Spring '08 show season.

It's been a month since the last show and everyone showed marked improvement, not only in the ring, but during warmup and tied to the trailer for a long day. Brego had only one greenie spazz moment during warmup, so I count that as improvement. I think the atmosphere of the show really gets his heart pumping and seeing all the horses galloping and jumping makes him want to run around. After a couple of forward trot laps, however, he wisely decided to conserve his energy and he got down to business.

I entered him in a 2'3"-2'6" jumping course and it turned out to be quite tricky with a rollback and some tight corners. It was not the kind of course I would prefer for a Percheron, but I was interested to see how he would do. The course consisted of 10 fences and the first 6 were the "Power" phase where you had to go clean. Then after your sixth fence, if you went clean, the clock started on the "Speed" phase and you had to jump the last 4 fences timed. Fences 8, 9, and 10 were set up as a type of serpentine with a pretty sever rollback between 8 and 9 and a mild 180 degree turn to fence 10. It was pretty tricky for our second jumper course ever.

Brego went clean (but a little sloppy) during the Power phase so we turned on the speed for the last phase. Really pushing him forward made his balance and jumping come easier. He nailed all his lead changes during the Speed phase, where he was too glommed up during the Power phase to manage it. We even got the very tricky rollback at fence 9. He came around well to fence 10 and just took an extra peek which caused him to drop the rail from getting too close. The fence headed straight back towards the ingate and both of us lost our concentration, having successfully negotiated the hardest part of the course. What a heart break to pull a rail! Oh well, in the end Brego proved he can certainly turn it on and make some turns and we ended up placing 3rd (out of the adults). The course ended up claiming lots of faults as there were rails and refusals everywhere.

I had about 40 minutes between the jumping course and my dressage test, so just enough time to change my gloves, my whip, and head to warmup. Last show, I don't think I warmed Brego up enough, and this show, I think I overdid it. He was listening well, but tired and it was still warm at 3 pm. He just wanted to go back to the trailer after his wonderful jumper round. I couldn't blame him at all!

We performed the Training Level Test 1 and I think he did very well, much improved from last month. He was more forward and active, and his canter departures were not as flat. He was not as straight though and despite having been working on controlling his haunches, he spun out on a couple of circles. I am very happy with the test and with the judges comments. She said, "Great pair with so much potential. Work to keep drive off haunches and over back and not coming to forehand. Good luck!" I couldn't agree with her more. Brego has shown me he has a lot of potential, in several venues, and I couldn't be more proud.

We ended up tied with the highest score in my division: 63.48. We took second because our Collective Marks were not as high as the other rider, but it makes no difference. Brego performed well, scored well, and was generally a lot of fun at this show. At one point, as I was holding Brego and working with Alyssa and Hobby, a gaggle of girls came up and loved on Brego for a steady ten minutes. He soaked it all up and really turned on the charm as they played with his nose, forelock, ears, basically anything they could get their hands on. They wandered away still crooning over Brego and never said a word to me the entire time. Brego speaks for himself. :)

Complete Set of Photos

After all that hard work, he then had to suffer fools for the costume class...

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Elaboration on Go Button

A reader asked for me to elaborate on the “Go” button I have worked on with Brego. It all started a couple weeks ago during my dressage lesson where my trainer finally had enough of me nagging him around. I was in the habit of just keeping leg pressure on at all times and if I ever released then he would slow immediately. It was making him sullen and not expressive and teaching him to completely ignore my aids. Plus, she wisely made the point that if it was that hard to get him to trot, how could I ever have enough energy to do the fun stuff like Half Pass? Point taken.

So we worked on me being very consistent with my aids. Since Brego is green, I needed to not only cue him distinctly, but also to give him a little warning that a cue is coming. Since he is already not forward, we didn’t want to use a half halt as a “pay attention, something is about to happen” cue, so we worked on my stretching my legs down to get a good calf contact prior to squeezing him forward.

If he ignored the squeeze, which he inevitably did, then I quickly gave him a stiff kick with both legs. I wear tiny little nubbin spurs so he can feel my heel, but it doesn’t hurt him any more than just a naked kick. After the stiff kick, we regrouped, and I very consistently stretched my legs back down and squeezed. If he again ignored me, he got another kick. I think it took three repetitions for him to understand the squeeze means go NOW, you will not get asked again before I kick you. He’s one smart cookie.

After that session, it is just a matter of being very consistent. When we are in the arena, he must maintain a working gait, walk or trot, even if he’s resting on the buckle. If he starts dragging his butt, then he gets the squeeze and he knows to move out. It has taken much less squeezing to reinforce that he is responsible for his own gait. Now I can trot whole laps around the arena with my leg loose, and he does not need to be reminded. The canter is still a work in progress because I honestly don’t canter him as long as I should, so he is always looking to transition to a trot after a few strides.

Each ride starts with me reaffirming the reaction to my leg aids. It is my fault I have not been consistent so a lot of this work is retraining me that when we are working, I have to be fair to him and give him every opportunity to respond correctly. There has been only one or two kicks in the last 5 rides or so. So it’s definitely phasing out.

The other thing that was important was then when I stretch my legs down, to not lean forward and cram my toes down, it was all about opening my hip up and letting my legs grow long. This way, the small stretch did not interfere with his or my balance.

I hope this writeup helps. It’s been very informative for me to work on this and it’s making a huge difference in the enjoyment level of our rides, for both of us.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Cross Country Schooling

I took Brego down to Indian Creek Farm in Spring Branch, Texas for some cross country schooling. We're only two weeks out from an eventing clinic, and I wanted to make sure there were no cobwebs in the XC gears before we showed up in front of Rainey Andrews.

With no appreciable rain in a month, the ground was very hard so I kept the time on xc short. I did try out the new and improved "go" button in the jumping arena. I must say, it was much less exhausting to get him around a course without nagging and holding his enormous head up. His balance has improved tremendously in a month and I love the new comfy forward canter. (Of course, he's not truly forward at this level of his training, but measure progress, not perfection!)

So after a lengthy warmup in a cushy sand arena, I hit the course. The main objective was to school ditches, which is something Brego has never seen, and to jump the Scary Wall. The Scary Wall is not big, or particularly wide, it's just made out of telephone poles and rock. It's solid and not the kind of fence you want to hit out of stride. It's definitely a rider fence though, because it has good lines and makes sense to horses. It just scares me to death. So I decided today was the day we were going to jump the Scary Wall.

First, to build some confidence, we schooled a little ditch. Brego looked long and hard, but by the third time, he was jumping it well from the trot. I decided not to attempt it from a canter and to save his legs for... the Scary Wall. But before that, I needed even more confidence. So I took him over a brightly painted blue coop. It's amazing that he is already getting used to cross-country fences. Even though he's never been schooled over this particular fence, he was so ho hum, I could tell he was thinking "just another coop".

So with all that confidence (hubris, even?), I cantered across the field from the coop to the Scary Wall. Brego enjoyed his little sight seeing tour of the field, past the big white barrels and along side the horses playing in the next field. He was really cruising around enjoying the sights until he happened to notice the Scary Wall right in front of him. I guess he actually saw it about two strides out. You know, I never knew a Percheron could do a reining sliding stop before. I guess Brego has many talents. Luckily, my own subconscious desire to stay as far away from the Scary Wall as possible kept my position back so I was not surprised by the stop, even though this was Brego's first true "Holy Sh@#t!!" stop.

So I circled him around and tried to present it again, this time with feeling, and not letting it sneak up on him with all the other distractions. It was hard to emote that I really want to jump this fence when I really don't. But Brego took care of me and cleared it on the second time by a nautical mile. By the time the Scary Wall picture was taken, we were on our fourth or fifth jump and he's already bored with it. Not me. The visions of a rotational fall off that itty bitty wall still play in my mind. Eventing is such a mental sport.

So in the end, we did very well. Both objectives were fulfilled and I don't think for one second that the stop at the Scary Wall was Brego's fault. One of the many things I need to learn is proper presentation. Show hunter experience doesn't really emphasize jumping unschooled questions that make your blood run cold.

It's interesting that in both pics, I have reverted to some strange hunter position except with some egregious faults: I am ducking, my leg is back and my toes are out. I mean really, check out that crest release! Yikes! At least I am not trying to fly away with my chicken wings. Also Brego's truly bizarre jumping form is apparent. He likes to get deep and then spring up and over a fence, losing some momentum. You can see it in the warmup picture over the oxer if you notice how high he is in relation to where he took off from. Also, he hasn't really learned yet how to stow the rear landing gear. He just jumps everything high enough to drag his fully extended legs over it, and splats down on his front legs. He won't stay sound for long over big jumps with that form, so I am going to experiment with gymnastics and spreads to see if I can get him to thrust forward more and clean up those hind legs. I would love to see less "jamming" of his front feet on the landing.

But these are all smallish nits and easily fixable as we both get stronger. The coolest thing is that Brego is schooling some "real" cross country questions with a very fun and honest attitude towards the work. I couldn't ask for more from this fish out of water.