Saturday, August 25, 2007

Jumping Lesson

Brego and I had a jumping lesson this morning and the goal was to work on small courses with turns and bending lines. The height of the fence is no problem for Brego, but being back and balanced enough to power through a corner without dislocating my shoulders is a feat yet to be mastered.

We ended up with a very successful lesson, culminating in a 5 fence course with two 180 degree turns and finishing over a 3' oxer. He even threw in some automatic changes, if I didn't lay on his neck too bad. The best part of the whole lesson was that Brego saved my bacon twice when I completely blew it for him (and he left the poles up). It's that kind of heart and kindness that makes me think Brego is a really special horse. As much as he is conformationally ill-suited to eventing and with as little jumping experience he has, he never gives up and takes good care of me.

My riding had improved since the last time I had jumped. My trained watched the videos I posted and had plenty of advice for me. But during the lesson today, I seemed to have fixed a lot of what was wrong. She even commented that as the ride got more complicated, I did even better. Something about forcing myself to be effective when a big, heavy, tired Percheron is barreling down towards a 3' oxer... There is definitely still something amiss with my right knee, but that's the knee that's been giving so much trouble recently. The x-rays came back clean and I ice it after every ride. So hopefully as the knee improves, my weird one-sided stiffness will work itself out as well.

So I think we're in good shape for the show in three weeks. The current plan is to get another dressage lesson next weekend and one more jumping lesson before we go to the show on September 14th. In the meantime, he gets some time off and hopefully a mini-camping trip for everyone's mental health. The heat and intensity of the workouts are too taxing for his current fitness level. I want him fresh and eager in three weeks, not burned out and sore.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Alternate Career for the Eventing Percheron?

Inspired by a post on Chronicle of the Horse, I brought an exercise ball out for Brego to play with today. He sort of got it...

Video of his first attempted pass.

At least he could have a fall back career if this whole eventing thing doesn't work out!

Jumpity Jump Jump

More jumping training yesterday. We worked on canters between two 2' fences set on a circle at 3 and 9 o'clock in the arena. It was very hot and humid and the footing in the arena was pretty deep so all in all, very tiring work.

Brego did well and we worked on maintaining a quality canter between the fences and I attempted to correct some of my more glaring jumping faults, like poor release and falling back in the air. I was only mildly successful so I am really grateful I have a jumping lesson this Saturday.

We finished up jumping a 2'10" jump and Brego did wonderfully. He had a lot more impulsion and power than during free jumping and didn't even flick an ear at the fence. He's very brave, just not very coordinated yet. He cleared everything with ease until he tripped and we nearly had a crash. He hit the pole both with his front legs and his back legs and nearly rolled on himself. I managed to stay centered or else I would have been a goner. Miraculously, everyone stayed up, including the pole (he knocked it down later just to prove it could be done!). I trotted him out and he was fine, but the next time over the fence he over jumped by about 3 feet. Poor guy, just not overly coordinated.

He worked hard under hot conditions so he gets another day off, then a light hack on Friday. Saturday it's my lesson with my jumping trainer.

Additional video.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Ugly Is As Ugly Does

Since I am addicted to the Fugly Horse Blog, I decided to see just how, er, lovely Brego is. Here's a marked up photo of him taken today for those playing along at home (Click on it to get a big enough version to see all the lines drawn).

What I see... Nice shoulder, pretty even build, not downhill. Nice neck meeting chest, although topline of neck is weak. Back at the knee. Way off on his back legs, stands under himself. Ok pastern angle (maybe too long on the front), very sloping croup, short canon bones. Cow hocked, short neck, big head. And I hope his back doesn't get one inch longer! :)

All in all, I think I'll keep him!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Free Jumping

To get Brego back into the swing of jumping, I spent the morning putting together a free jumping chute and letting him work out the jumping kinks unencumbered. And there were lots of kinks to work out. Putting it delicately, Brego is "enthusiasm-challenged" these days. It's hot and humid and he doesn't really like me chasing him around with a longe whip. Which is unfortunate, because it's darn good for him and his, er, dominance issue.

After a rousing session in the round pen, just working on walk/trot transitions interspersed with his predictable bucking temper tantrums at said longe whip, we attempted the chute. The course was a three jump gymnastic with a leading 9' canter pole. Each jump was a one stride. The first two jumps were set a 2'2" and the last was an oxer that I eventually raised to 3'1".

So Brego figured out how the chute works pretty quickly: You trot away from human with the longe whip (occasionally throwing in a buck to show your displeasure at being chased), jump over a few piddly jumps and then stop and eat luscious grass and a nice big cookie at the end. Not a bad way to earn a living.

Short video of the first two fences set up.
Angry Brego makes down all three set at 2'2".

After the first couple of times through the chute, it was very obvious that the original spacing between the jumps would only work if Brego was a pony. They were set according to a 12' stride ala Wofford's excellent treatise on the subject. Brego has something like a 14' stride, even bigger if he's really moving forward. And one of the fun things about being green is that you can change your stride every time through the chute and the silly humans can never set it just right for you. So at the beginning, when Brego was full of himself and still interested, the distances were too short and so I pushed them out to 21' between fences instead of the 18' described in my handy book. Towards the end, when the heat really set it, he was reaching to make those distances, so I brought them back to 20'. Finally, when I raised the final oxer to 3', he setup for it more, and the distance was tight again.

Anyway, I managed not to kill or maim him during this exercise and he did get more proficient towards the end. Although I will be the first to agree that he needs lots more work of this sort to really use himself properly. And it would help if I could work him out of his sulking phase, he looked downright angry most of the time. Even at 3', he was jumping ok, but he was not really pushing off from his hind end with any power, just sort of popping over the fence. And there were plenty of sloppy knockdowns. But at least he proved that 3' doesn't phase him in the slightest, and it is the highest I would expect him to compete at, so now it's all about refining his form and strengthening his hind end.

I think I will ride him this week over a small course and see if I can get a little more impulsion out of him. And then he'll be back in the chute next week to nail down those distances.

More still pictures on Flickr.

Friday, August 17, 2007


It's about a month out from the show and we got a break in the heat so I decided to do some conditioning work to see how far Brego was from being able to complete a Beginner Novice course. We did two 5 minute-trot sets, 3 minutes of walking between. Then 2 two-minute canter sets finishing up with a nice little gallop across the field. He did wonderful, although he was confused why he needed to continue cantering for that long and kept asking to stop. A little leg on though and he finished fine, sweating even less than during our normal dressage workouts. So I think he'll be good to go.

I saw this fun video of a very athletic horse at a Baby Novice in Fair Hill and I was a little intimidated. Brego has some jumping work to do before we go out there and run a course. He can definitely do the height, it's barely above a canter stride, after all. It's just I don't know if his baby brain knows he can do it. I am hoping for a really inviting course at Indian Creek next month, but I am very worried we might have to jump The Wall!

Methinks we might start back into jumping once this bout of rain from Tropical Storm Erin has passed...

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Countdown Begins...

Indian Creek Farms has published their September schooling show bill and Brego's entry went in today. So in a month's time, Brego will be making his Beginner Novice debut. It's a schooling show and not USEA-rated, so the pressure is off and it will be just one big positive experience and learning opportunity. I am so excited to see how he does on a real course.

I am also very appreciative to Indian Creek Farms for providing such a lovely facility for a schooling show so close to my home barn. Many thanks!

Anyway, I have decided to start him back into jumping slightly early in prep for the mid-September show. I will start free jumping him in a couple of weeks and then school a couple times a week over fences until the show. His fitness over a full course is of some concern since the heat has made us both super lazy. The bright note is that his dressage continues to improve every ride (now that his rider has lessened her interference with him). But the most important thing is that he competes safely and happily in accordance with his ability. I anticipate a lot of trotting through cross country and definitely simple changes through jumping.

I've got show nerves already!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Second Dressage Lesson

Brego and I had our second lesson today. The theme of this lesson was: If the rider isn't balanced and straight, the horse has no chance. The good news was that I had done my homework well and Brego was responding much better, had more impulsion, and was better balanced. The bad, but perfectly understandable, news was I still have so much to learn to be a better rider.

So the big realization today was that I weight my left seat bone a lot more than my right. So we spent a lot of time focusing on me trying to be straight and even. The biggest help for me was to focus on which way my belly button was facing. Even if we were circling to the right, I always had my belly button facing slightly left. Once I was able to get my belly button facing the correct direction, it forced my right hip to be less stiff and I could land evenly on both seat bones in the saddle.

Trotting and circling.
More trotting, trying to get straighter.

A lot of Brego's one sidedness stemmed from my own stiff right side. It was amazing when I could really focus on being straight how much easier he was to ride and how much more forward and willing he was. Duh! Dressage is so good for me.

We did work on canter departures from a trot. In an effort to "help" Brego depart, I lift my hands really high to pick him up, while cuing too strongly with the outside leg. This forced him into a haunches in instead of a shoulder fore and made him lose his balance. Then, just to make his life as difficult as possible, I would lean forward and push this forehand back down, making it nearly impossible to rock back and depart properly. Go me!

If I could keep my hands down and supportive, leg yield with my inside leg to balance him and then verbally say "canter" as I cue with my outside leg, he did really well. My homework is to work on getting the canter cue cleaner for him since he really didn't understand it without the verbal reinforcement.

My trainer then got on Brego and worked on his moving off her leg at a walk. Wow, she really got him into shape quick. I guess that's why she makes the "big bucks" as a pro. Brego looked really awesome when she was riding him. He had nice elevation, was very soft, and she corrected his pulling enough to really let it sink in. When I got back on him, he was definitely lighter. Of course, it takes two to pull, so I know I am a big part of that problem, but it was very helpful to see her work with him and see him respond. She mentioned he was very willing to do what you asked, he just didn't really understand. His biggest problem is being green and not knowing much, not that he's resistant. This is major progress from even six months ago when he was very resistant to anything that even closely resembled work.

All in all, my trainer was very positive, which is one of the reasons I think I learn so much. Even when I got mad at Brego when he was trying to smash me into the rail trying to canter, she was very calming and helped me see it was mostly my issue and how to correct it. I wish she could follow me around and help me smoothly get through life's more frustrating moments! Anyway, she seemed very upbeat about his prospects and really liked his canter. She was also very positive about a small dressage schooling show for him if I can find one in the middle of summer in Texas.

I am going to spend another 10 days or so working on the things I learned today and then come back for a lesson in a small dressage arena. I hope we're ready by then for the dreaded 20 m circle!

Regardless, just looking back to March of this year, we've come a long way!

Friday, August 10, 2007

More Flatwork... Again

We're not quite half-way through August and we're on track with our dressage work. Although it's very challenging and rewarding to work on balance and bending, I am beginning to look forward to September when I will be jumping again. I like to mix it up before Brego and I get too bored.

I am not progressing much past practicing what I learned in my last dressage lesson until my trainer gets back into town. I am committed to giving Brego the best chance at being successful and I think I need professional help to make sure I am not going to make him tense or unwilling.

I had someone take some pictures and, I have to admit, my riding is poor. My upper body is sloppy and I can't seem to get rid of my Puppy Dog Hands of Ineffectiveness. But hey, this blog would be pretty boring if everyone was perfect. No wait, it wouldn't because I would be going to Rolex, baby!

In addition to my riding, Brego is still fighting sore feet from the two months of mud and thrush earlier in the summer. He's been dry for two weeks and it looks like his feet have made some long term changes for the worst. His sole is pretty flat and thin and not as concave as it had been. So even though we ride in a grassy pasture, he's still not 100% confident on his feet. It's just going to take time for him to grow back the thick sole callous he needs.

Here's some poor quality videos of Brego walking, trotting, and a wobbly shoulder fore. Additional still photos are on flickr. Just remember, measure progress, not perfection!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

The Eventing Draft - Super Teacher

Brego took a break from our regular flatwork routine to show a special buddy of mine a good time on Sunday, August 5th. My friend is a 10-year-old girl named Hannah who happens to be the proud owner of another Percheron I used to have. She's really advancing well with her horse, so for fun, I wanted to see how she did with Brego.

Brego is not a kid's horse! Heh, even most adults I know don't want to ride him. He's a fun, easy-going guy, but when he is done working, he's done and he is strong enough to pitch a major fit. Hannah handled him well, however, which just goes to prove that kids make the best riders (I supposed because they are made of rubber). She did a nice walk/trot session and ended up trotting some poles in two point. Way to go, Hannah!

The day would not be complete without a pleasant stroll back to the pasture, toting a very cool little girl. Hannah got full marks for bravery, and Brego go full marks for being very patient and not being an adolescent punk. Maybe some day, he'll make that Novice level packer I dream of.

Don't worry, he returned to true form on Tuesday by really testing me when I asked for him to balance in a 30 m canter circle. Oh the horrors! Ah, if only I had the power over him that little Hannah does...

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Dog Days of Summer

August has arrived and with it: Sun and Heat. I am thrilled about the Sun because at least it's not raining (as much). But the heat can be severe and I have to be careful and not overwork Brego. He tends to run hot, being a big-muscled and dark-colored horse, so I have to be even more vigilant.

Luckily, I have plenty to do which does not involve canter sets or other wind conditioning programs, which are on hold at least for this month due to the heat. I had decided after our last successful cross-country schooling in July that I would not jump Brego again until I had spent some time on dressage and getting him stronger and more balanced. I want him to learn to jump correctly, using his back, and not just canter over fences as they get larger. So far so good, the plan is working.

Since my last dressage lesson, I have had two excellent rides working on Brego moving off my leg and being balanced in shoulder-fore. It's really crazy how fast he learns because when he stands around with that droopy lip, he really doesn't look all that smart. Each ride, however, brings progress... noticeable progress, so I think he's really smarter than he looks!

Anyway, I intend to "stay the course" with nothing but flatwork for August (with more dressage lessons scheduled) and then reintroduce jumping using a free jump chute in early September. I hope to get him balanced and fit enough so that he can free jump up to 3'. Then, I want to be schooling 2'9" with me in the saddle regularly with him before we attempt our first Beginner Novice event (max jump height for Beginner Novice is 2'7").

And speaking of showing, Indian Creek has not posted their September schooling show schedule yet, but I hope to go to one of their schooling shows before tackling a recognized USEA show. I need to know we will not get Eliminated before I shell out the entry fees for the big time. After my next dressage lesson, I also want to try for a small dressage schooling show just to get some miles on Brego. He's been camping, schooling, and some play-day type shows, but he needs to get used to the hustle and bustle of a real show, especially if I expect him to listen to me enough to canter a 20m circle!

But it hasn't been all work... my Dad stopped by for a visit last weekend and Brego got lots of deserved attention. My dad has been taking me to lessons since I was five years old and has always been part of my horsey life. Although he doesn't quite understand why I would ever want to jump Brego, he is at least starting to admit that he's handsome! Progress!