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.

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