Sunday, September 30, 2007

Brego Beach Bum

We headed down to the coast for a fun beach camping vacation. The intent was to soak up the sun, play in the surf with the horses, and hang out with good college buddies. Most of those things even happened! Of course, not every thing goes according to plan which is why a healthy sense of humor and a masochistic delight in irony is always important.

The trip started innocently enough. Alyssa and I loaded up her mare, Hobby, and Brego, grabbed the dogs and groceries, and headed to the coast. Our original destination was Magnolia Beach in Port Lavaca after reading about it in a cool article online. Wisely, we called the day before to discover they did not allow horses on the beach so we quickly adjusted the plan to head to Corpus Christi and Padre Balli Park instead. We called ahead and they said horses were welcome.

After four hours on the road we arrive at the park where we were promptly told that horses were not allowed. Alyssa informed them that we had called ahead and the story changed, horses were allowed, but we needed to be extra careful and clean up after ourselves. We had already planned to pack everything out so we were in good shape. We then spent the next hour and half driving up and down the beach trying to find a camping spot where

  1. The truck would not get stuck in the sand
  2. The trailer would not get swept out to see with the tide
  3. The horses could be highlined on flat ground, not on the side of a dune
  4. We were at least 20' from the main thoroughfare so our horses did not get hit by drunken teenagers in their Hummers cruising the beach on a Friday night.
I drove my 22,000 lb rig down that beach twice, and had to execute emergency three-point turns to get us out of wet sand. The truck was in 4x4 low and was really working hard to keep us moving. I can't say enough good things about my truck. Its abilities seem to always match my stupidity!

Unable to find a suitable spot, we gave up and parked in the primitive campsite off the beach. It turned out to be ideal, because it was protected from the ocean by dunes, so when the storms hit, we had some semblance of a wind break. Oh wait, I skipped ahead.

Thus parked, Alyssa and I tacked up and hit the beach. The horses were shocked, to say the least. The ocean is big and loud with large crashing waves. Both horses first attempted to drink the ocean water. They really didn't get it. There was quite a steep learning curve to convince them that the ocean was fun! By the end of the first ride, we were just happy to get their feet wet and call it a night.

We woke up Friday morning to a flat trailer tire. During the trip, the simulator on the wheels of the trailer had fatigued the tire stem until a hairline crack developed. The tire deflated during the night and I was very thankful not to have a blowout on the interstate. So Friday morning was spent changing the tire and calling around for a new stem for the deflated tire. Just the first of many hiccups of the trip.

Around lunchtime, Nicole and her husband, Brian, arrived. They are old college buddies and they brought their two horses to join the party. Since their horses had traveled all day, we spent Friday evening playing with the dogs in the surf and hand walking the horses down to the beach to get another view of the waves. Brego was so excited about the water that he rolled twice and played chicken with the incoming waves. Nicole's horses did well, but Hobby was not going anywhere near the water. We went back to camp and had a big juicy steak and plenty of beer, very smug about the fact that everything was going according to plan.

It was rainy and gross Saturday morning, but Nicole and I decided to brave the weather and get at least two of the horses more comfortable with the beach. So she went out on Engima, her Andalusian mare, and I took Brego. Both horses did very well and I ended up cantering and galloping Brego through the surf. We were pretty happy with the outlook of the weekend, since we had two of the four horses already pretty steady with the beach environment, which included not only the waves and the relentless wind, but also the unwashed (literally) masses of people who do all sorts of scary things on a beach, like set up horse-eating billowing tents, or cast giant whips, er, fishing poles, into the ocean.

Around lunchtime on Saturday, the first storm hit and dropped over an inch of rain on our campsite. We got flooded out, with low lying areas around our trailers under 3 inches or more of water. We decided to wait it out in my trailer, watching movies and enjoying the AC. Around 4 pm, it looked pretty grim. My NOAA weather radio predicted more storms and 60% chance of rain on Sunday. It was beginning to look like our wet ride Saturday morning would be it for the entire trip. We grudgingly packed up our campsites, ready to head for home instead of suffering through more rain if there was no chance of riding.

Literally as we were pulling our trailers out of the park, the weather broke and we made the decision to turn around and chance another night. With our busy lives, we don't get an opportunity to get together and ride like this often, so we have to seize it when it comes. We turned our rigs around and chose a campsite which was on higher ground. We quickly unloaded the horses and tacked up and hit the beach. Hobby and Alyssa were stills stressed about the water. Brian was pretty unsure, trying to operate the camera to film Nicole while controlling a very hyped up horse. Brego seemed to take it all in stride. We got a fun ride in and then headed back to the trailer.

We did not bother unhooking the trailers in the event we had to evacuate before the next set of storms, so we made a quick dinner and drank adult beverages in my trailer until it was time for bed. NOAA was still predicting more storms after midnight and rain all Sunday. NOAA was partly right, it did rain again Saturday night, but Sunday turned out to be gorgeous. We were glad we stuck it through because the Sunday morning ride turned out to be the best. Everyone was relaxed and finally at peace with the crazy beach scene. Alyssa had one of her most beautiful canters on Hobby to date. Brego was listening and not pulling me around. Nicole and Brian were playing in the surf.

We got back to camp very happy and finally ready to come home. It was then that we realized that I had left the driver's side truck window open and it had rained about an inch of water into my truck, saturating the dash and the delicate leather seat. Uhg, what a mess. Most of the electrical stuff on the truck still worked, although the AC unit kept going nuts. The trailer brakes were working though so we decided to push for home with the windows open and hope the rest of the dash dried en route. For the second time this weekend, the truck came through for us and carried us all safely home, tired, sunburned, but happy.

Like all adventures, the trip was a test of sheer will. With all the little glitches and the terrible weather, both humans and horses had to brave it out to still call the weekend a success. If nothing else, this trip provided plenty of stories to share around the campfire on the next time we can all get together for another try.

Photos here.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Back in the Saddle

After last week's confidence debacle, I received an invitation to school on Saturday with two very cool ladies at Pine Hill in Bellville, Texas. It was just the opportunity to get back into the swing of things and regain some trust in the big guy.

Brego did very well. We not only schooled most of the Beginner Novice fences and a couple Novices fences as well, but I jumped a nice bank out of the water. As the grand finale, I took Brego on a tour of three fences back in the woods by myself. It was time to really see if our trust was rebuilt. So I left the security of my companions and we cantered down the sandy path into the woods.

After the first fence, I felt something on my right arm (my crop arm) and looked down to see the legs of a spider which was so huge that while it's body was on the underside of my arm I could see its legs wrapped around my arm from both sides. Needless to say, I flailed. And while I was flailing, I dropped the reins and smacked Brego in the neck repeatedly with the crop as I tried to fish around in my vest and shirt to see where the monster had gone. Good ol' Brego, sensing that his mom was in mid seizure, slowed and halted and waited patiently while I cursed and swatted all over my body to rid myself of the spider. I finally regained my reins (and my senses) and we continued cantering down the path. Nothing says love like ignoring a thudding crop and realizing mom was out of sorts and slowly taking care of her until the killer spider was gone, while we were alone. In the woods. My Brego was back.

So we continued our romp through the woods, had no trouble with the fences and came out onto the field with a flourish. He finished up over a brightly-painted blue roll-top which he had not schooled, just to show me he wasn't scared of jumping anything cold.

He was tremendous. My position has definitely suffered from me being uncomfortable. I am resorting back to my old habits of turtling and jumping over my hands and pivoting from my knee. I've already got the call into my jumper trainer. She knows the work she has cut out for her.

But first, we will take a little while off from the jumping and schooling. We have a camping trip to the Gulf planned for next weekend. It will be a well-deserved R&R for both of us.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Discretion is the Better Part of Valor

Brego went to his first ever show this weekend and competed in all three phases of combined training. It was a very big thing to ask of a horse who has been in serious training for a few months, but he always seems so sensible, so I knew he would do well.

And overall, he did very well. We arrived Friday night, so he spent two nights in a strange place. It was his first ever dressage test, jumping course, and cross country course. It was my first ever dressage test, jumping course, and cross country course. Surprisingly, he was the second youngest horse at the entire show. Greenie mistakes were made by both of us, but I would have to say that Brego out performed me on Saturday for dressage and jumping. And it was my turn to pick up the slack when he finally had enough before our cross country round on Sunday.

Our dressage test went pretty well. It was not the best ride we've ever done, but considering the show environment, and the scary judge in the pavilion at C, he certainly put in a reasonable test. We scored a 44 (or 56% for dressage aficionados). The judge's comments were very fair and constructive with an overwhelming theme of Brego being on the forehand. I was happy with both the test and with the comment sheet. It was so wonderful to read what the judge was thinking.

The jumping round was a little crazy. There was no schooling in the ring before hand so we were coming in cold. Brego sucked back from fence 1 and then I cut the corner to fence 2. We sort of started to hit our stride for fence 3 and 4. I thought fence 5 was well setup, but Brego boggled it, or at least, he disagreed. He did an impressive series of flying lead changes before fence 6 (too bad it wasn't dressage) and ended up with a hard rub from his hind legs. The pole stayed up though. After fence 7, I started to feel pretty ill. Five fences was the longest course I had jumped so far and I was beyond done with this adventure. Which explains why Brego had to save my butt on fence 8 and 9. I took him to the outside for fence 10 and then, once again, completely stopped riding for the final fence 11 and Brego managed to squeak over it at a 45 degree angle or something. So much for setting them up for him. He really showed his class and honesty to be given such a poor ride and still come out clean. Especially since this was the first time he had ever been asked to do something like this before. He got lots of pets and scratches and cookies. He was the hero of the day.

And then there was Sunday.

Midway through warmup for cross country, Brego decided he was about done with the show. His buddy was calling him from the parking area. He was tired, undoubtedly sore, and just sick of jumping over things. He exploded without warning into a big buck-and-fart and half hearted bolt across the arena. One trainer commented to me that she felt the earth move. Har dee har har. A pulley rein brought him back and we continued our warmup until he tried it again, with less enthusiasm, but enough to spook me. Finally as we were exiting the warmup area to go on course, he went completely behind the bit and just started pulling me where ever he wanted to go, jigging, spinning, snorting fire, etc.

In case you haven't noticed, he's a big and strong horse and I admit, he scared me. He's generally very good natured, but when he pitches a fit, I feel ill equipped to affect a positive outcome. To this point, all his problems are rider problems. If something is wrong, I fix myself and we go on our way. But this was a horse problem. He was done and he knew how to get out of my hands. Of course, I did not wear gloves and my reins were slick with sweat so I felt even more uncomfortable. Oh, and the girl on course ahead of me had about 4 refusals at every fence so Brego got to watch a horse galloped hard and then punished at the fences with a frenzy of kicking and hitting and it added to his already elevated energy. Thanks, crazy girl!

We made it out on course though, but I decided to throw out my carefully constructed and gorgeous game plan and trot the course. I could give him no opportunity to get away from me, especially since the path headed for the trailer during two parts of the course. And cantering him out by himself when he had already proven that he was in no mood to humor me was a recipe for a Very Bad Learning Experience.

So much to everyone's utter boredom, I trotted most of the course. I even walked one part to regroup before turning towards the barn. Of course, super jumper Brego cared not at all about trotting the itty bitty fences. The only fence he looked hard at was the first one I attempted to canter with him, and my position was so weak that he had every excuse to suck back.

Let's just say it was a learning experience.

Things I learned:

  1. A 1500 lb horse that goes behind the bit and lugs forward does not have a good set of brakes. You are riding a runaway freight truck at that point.
  2. Brego, in all his wisdom and patience, is a green horse and is entitled to green moments.
  3. Riding a jumper course is completely different than a hunter course. That is, it requires some input on the part of the rider. This rule is also known as "Thanks for saving my butt, Brego".
  4. Even rubber reins are slick when your palms sweat because your horse tried to kill you in warmup.
  5. You always ride in spurs, even when you think your horse has energy, because they are a tool to keep him from dropping behind your leg, and behind the bit, and lugging you like a runaway freight truck.
  6. Brego doesn't need a lot of warmup to perform, but he is fitter than he acts, so too much warmup is better than too little.
  7. Brego is a very honest jumper and he tries very hard, he's just green (and his rider is, too).
  8. Eventing is only for the brave. It's not supposed to be fun yet, right?
  9. We, as a team, are not ready for a recognized event, but we're on the right track.
So I am going to pass on the November 10th Pine Hill show and start going recognized next spring. We need miles and I need serious lessons. We ended up finishing on our dressage score (because there were no time faults on xc) which was more than I had hoped for. And ending up 3rd (even out of three) on a 44 is no small feat. We were only 3 points behind the leader. It was just a rough ride for both of us and I think we can only go up from here!

The videos are somewhat embarrassing, but they are an accurate representation of where we are in our training, so I posted them:

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Show Prep

I decided to roach Brego's mane before the show. The constant need for braiding was becoming tedious. Plus his mane was getting really frazzled and burnt from his sweat and the sun. It's been really warm the last two weeks and his mane turned bright orange. Yuck.

I think he looks pretty nice with a military cut. Plus, no braiding! Woohoo! Now I can focus on memorizing my course instead!

I practiced my dressage test yesterday and we did pretty well. I am not sure why my arms are spasticly moving so much, so I have a call in to one of my trainers to critique the video and tell me how to stop it. It's a little, er, distracting. This test shows some of the big improvements we've made since the last time we attempted it. Notice how he picks up the canter on time, if not early, instead of two letters too late. He also seems to be rounding down nicely through most of the test, even with the scary horse eating barrel in the corner. And his halt is crooked but he sticks it. I think we will have a decent showing. I am not expecting super results, but anything below 50 would be a pleasant surprise for me.

We leave for the show tomorrow so I will try to have an update on Sunday or Monday.

Wish us luck!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Ride Times are Posted

The ride times for this weekend's show have been posted. I know a couple of people were going to try to make it out on Sunday for the XC round. They will have to get up pretty early, so no fault if people are a no show. :)

Brego's rides:
8:35 Dressage
11:15 Jumping

8:30 Cross Country

Looks like a lot of fun and I am hoping for a very positive experience. My only goal is to not get eliminated!

Directions and information can be found on the Indian Creek Farm website.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Barrel Breakthrough

Third day is the charm, apparently. After three days of schooling Brego over the barrels in the chute, he finally seemed to understand that were not the fire-breathing, horse-eating monsters from the deep he thought they were. He went over them once in the chute today and then after a short flat ride I trotted him down a second time. This was the first time I had ridden him over barrels since he freaked out on Saturday and refused to get 30' near them. He trotted down and calmly jumped them without looking.

So I think this demon is slain.

I set up a coop in the chute yesterday and although Brego looked hard at it, he never refused and did not have the same irrational "barrel" fear of them. So I think he's fine on solid fences again. One less thing to stress about before the show.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Brush with Fame

A while ago I wrote up a conformation critique of my handsome boy. Then, when Fugly was asking for personal submissions, I sent it in. I wanted to see if she agreed with my assessment, but I also wanted to make the point that some aspects of conformation are related to conditioning and (im)proper trimming/shoeing. Well I woke up this morning to find that Brego has made the front page of Fugly!

The writeup was very kind and the comments were even better. Someone check the time, because Brego's fifteen minutes are starting! :) He already knows he's very handsome, I will have to make sure all this doesn't go to his very large head. Go, Brego!

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Jumping Lesson, Redux

Brego and I had our last jumping lesson before the show this weekend. Our focus was on balancing Brego for turns and assessing his striding. He did very well and I caught most of the fun on tape. (I apologize in advance for my grand movie editing experiment).

One hiccup was that Brego is deathly afraid of barrels. I suppose he has had a terrible barrel-racing incident in his past. Anyway, we might see barrels as fences next weekend, so I wanted to school them. Luckily, all of that footage made the cutting room floor. He sucked back from the barrels and we had refusals and fences knocked down. General Mayhem. All very uncharacteristic of Brego. He ended up jumping the barrels in an acceptable fashion but I have committed to schooling him over them for the rest of the week. I am also going to scrape together any other funny looking jumps I can as well.

The weather outlook looks good for the show, so we're full steam ahead for the rest of the week.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Dressage Lesson 3

Brego and I had our final dressage lesson before the show on September 15th. He did really well, of course. Turns out the boy has some talent. If only his rider would get on board!

The big theme today was outside rein and how much I don't use it to support him. We spent some time at the beginning just getting him warmed up and going round. He was out of work this week due to rain so we needed some remedial "get off my leg!!" moments. My trainer was very patient though so after some good tips, we moved on to practicing the test I will ride in a couple of weeks.

The first run through was pretty poor. I couldn't get the left lead until two letters too late. And I had trouble with my corners. But we broke it down movement by movement and my trainer helped me understand how it should be ridden. It was very informative.

For some time, I had used his "draftiness" as an excuse for him being heavy and unable to turn. One of the big lightbulb moments I had today was that I was the reason he was struggling to turn. When I fixed my outside rein and got my weight balanced, he had a really nice canter departure and could easily canter a 20m circle. So the pressure is on me to fix my riding. Sure, he'll never be as light as Merlin, but he's certainly capable of much more. If you ride your horse like he won't make the movements, then he definitely won't. If you ride your horse to help him make the movements (or at least, get out of his freakin' way), he will really surprise you.

So it was an excellent lesson, but pretty tiring, so I am going to let the pictures and videos speak for themselves. I know what I need to focus on the next couple of weeks (outside rein, more impulsion, NO CLUCKING), but the good news is that Brego just gets better and better.

Trotting - Working on him softening down
More Trotting
More successful trot
Trying to soften through a downward transition
Left Canter
Right Canter
And we're finished