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.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Dressage Lesson 5

Now that Brego and I have a new understanding of forward, or at least, "move off my leg and I won't nag you to death", it was time to move on to more complex work today in my dressage lesson. It was a very challenging lesson consisting of haunches-in and leg yielding, both of which I have never really done. Needless to say, Brego was a complete neophyte as well.

We began haunches-in work at the walk and I figured out the coordination required to ask for it and what it should feel like when he offers in return. As usual, Brego is a lot smarter than I am and as soon as I could get my act together, he willingly obliged, moving his haunches to the inside. We then tried it from the trot, which I found to be even easier in some ways. I guess he tends to be balanced back better at the trot instead of his very heavy pleasure walk.

My trainer then taught me how to use haunches-in as a balancer coming out of a corner and a prelude to a canter departure, which made his departures much snappier and more energetic. At his last dressage show, both of his canters earned a "flat" comment. The biggest "lightbulb" moment was when my trainer taught me how to use a half-halt with the outside rein to help bend him properly around my inside leg, coupled with the outside leg aid for the haunches-in. Sounds confusing to my newbie ears, but it made a huge difference and I could feel it. It made his walk to trot departures even better and his canter departures not quite so icky. We still have a long way to go, but hopefully next week's dressage show will show some of this new learning.

We finished with leg yielding off the centerline. I am sure it was not even close to correct, but again the leg aid plus outside half-halt made a huge difference and I started to feel the pieces come together. Oh, and I also finally drove my trainer insane with my piano hands, so I also worked on "thumbs on top!".

Snooze alert: Mostly unedited video from the lesson.

The trace clip did not seem to help him much today during the lesson. He was still drenched with sweat at the end so I might move up to a blanket clip next week. We have a lot to do in the coming months and I don't want him worn down and getting dehydrated from excessive sweating.

And in other bright news, I found a black wool hunt coat and canary vest at a local tack shop. Oh, wonder of wonders! Hunt attire in Austin, Texas!! So I snatched both up and the hunt coat is nice enough I can wear it for low level dressage. So now all I need are white gloves and I shall be (mostly) correctly outfitted for the upcoming activities.

Still Not Black

I wrote earlier about the contents of Brego's SmartPak. Well, I have succumbed to vanity and also added Blackenall. His trace clip picture really highlights just how browned out he becomes. I need to curry out his dead summer coat and see what he does with his new vanity supplement. He's been on it a month and he's shinier than ever, but I haven't seen much improvement in the color of his coat. I will keep him on it through the winter to see what his spring coat looks like before passing too much judgment, though.

Current SmartPak:

I am also experimenting with adding Progressive feeds to their existing diet. I am mixing in both the Grass Formula and the Envision 26% fat feed. Envision has soy and flax as the fat sources and might have a higher Omega 3 content as opposed to the Omegatin which is corn-based. The Grass Formula is a balancer and has higher minerals and vitamins.

Current Feed:
I am going to be bumping up his feed in the coming weeks as the grass gives up for the year. He will go up to 4 lbs twice a day plus an extra 2-4 lbs on days he works. Right now he is on 2 lbs twice a day with no extra feed on work days. Although he looks good and is shiny, I want him to have more muscle. The usual problem with putting muscle on drafts is that people don't feed them enough because they don't want them to get fat. The way their metabolism works though, at least this is how Brego works, is that he will cannibalize muscle before you ever see a rib. So even though I can't see a rib, or even feel one honestly, he looks not quite as filled out as he should be for his breed, so I will up his feed with increased work and see what he does.

At some point, I will settle on a feed. It's a pain to get five different ingredients and mix it up. Brego eats better than I do!!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Long Awaited Update

My apologies to everyone for not posting regularly. There is no need to worry, Brego is doing very well. I have been very busy starting a new job. I write software for a local company and starting at a new place is always time-consuming and stressful. But we're entering prime showing season, so I promise there will be lots of updates.

Brego continues to improve since our last dressage lesson two weeks ago. He has a new "Go" button installed and I experimented with a drop cheek waterford bit. It might be a good cross-country bit, but neither Brego nor myself like it for "finesse" work, so it's back to the french-link egg butt. I just never saw the intended benefits and it caused him to stiffen his jaw in turns. Oh well, live and learn.

Tonight, Brego got his first ever body clip. It's been unseasonably warm (like 90 degrees) and he is in full winter coat mode. So I gave him a conservative trace cut, in preparation of all the activities we have planned. Since it was also my first ever body clip, I was pretty nervous it would be a debacle and Brego would overcome with embarrassment if we ever left the farm. I used half a carton of dried mango strips to condition him to the noisy body clippers so I was able to get the job done in about 2 hours with no twitch or tranquilizers. What a good boy! We even got interrupted because the farm was hosting a big event and dozens of well-dressed visitors toured the barn and stopped to admire Brego. He put on his hungriest face and was a total ham.

After all the clipping, I had Brego try on his Halloween costume. We're entering a show next weekend with a costume class. I won't give away what we're going as yet, but I took a picture as a sneak preview.

Here's a rundown of our activities, so stay tuned, I am about to make up for my long silence with lots of Brego-vision news!

  • October 20 - Dressage Lesson, Where to Go after you have Go?
  • October 21 - Cross Country Schooling
  • October 27 - Indian Creek Schooling Show, Jumping/Dressage/Costume class
  • November 2-4 - Eventing clinic in Dallas with Rainey Andrews (woohoo!!!)
  • November 10 - Brego and Daun go foxhunting. Yep. Foxhunting.
  • November 17 - Dressage Fall Formal show
It's a busy month, plus I am trying to put together a Halloween costume, proper hunting attire, and proper dressage attire. Anyone have a large wool Dressage coat they want to loan me??? Darn, horse clothes are expensive!

Friday, October 5, 2007

Dressage Lesson 4

Brego and I had another illuminating Dressage lesson today. Every time I go, I discover new and exciting things about how I ride that I never realized. Today I realized that I nag Brego every step of the trot to keep him moving. It's been unseasonably warm and he's already growing his winter coat so all he wants to do all day is hide in the shade. Work is very far from his mind.

Well today we had to work and we worked and we worked on him moving forward of his own (semi-) free will. There was a moment, one long side of the arena, where he maintained a very forward trot and my legs just hung and I was at peace. Then it all fell apart. But for that moment, I saw a future where I didn't have to work so hard to keep him going nicely.

The other big breakthrough was that I throw my hands away when asking for an upwards transition and that my core muscles are, er, nonexistent!

This lesson was back to basics since I am a couple of weeks out from my next show, and I really appreciate getting the basics correct. I want to be a better rider, and by extension, make Brego a better horse. Eye-opening lessons like these make it possible to reach that goal.

Since Brego did so well, and no good deed goes unpunished, after the lesson I took him to a local park and we went out on the hill country trails solo. This was our first big ride out without a companion and I was interested to see how Brave-o (as I like to call him, willing him to be so) would do. Not surprisingly, he did very well and he was motivated enough by the Great Outdoors to trot forward down the trail without me even needing to nag. My trainer would be very proud. We ended up cantering some hills and generally acting like hooligans to stretch out those compressed dressage-y muscles. Plus, I suspect his condition is faltering since he's been partying these last two weeks: checking out hot mares at the beach, enjoying some R & R while I interviewed for a new job, etc. It was good to get the ol' heart ticking, even in the heat.

So all in all, we're getting back into the swing of training, just in time for some fall shows and a super duper November clinic with Rainey Andrews! Woohoo!

Monday, October 1, 2007

Surf's Up

Nicole provided another cool shot of Brego trotting through the surf on Sunday morning:

Thanks, Nicole!