Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Year In Review

2008 was a wild ride. I started this year in Texas and 169 blog posts later, I am in New Hampshire, on my own farm. In January of 08, I was free jumping Brego to see if he could even clear a 3' oxer. At the end of 08, I showed him over 3'3" and regularly schooled 3'. In January of 08, I had my 7th dressage lesson ever and we were learning leg yields. Now, I am schooling walk-canter transitions. And if you really want to go back, this picture (March 07) continues to show how far that big horse has come.

Other highlights include the capturing of the most perfect moment (now my Blog header). Learning to gallop (now my blog footer). Our first blue ribbon (dressage). Our first blue ribbon (combined training). Questioning whether to continue with eventing with all the rider/horse deaths. Our first triple combination. Our first (intentional) flying change.

Pros and riders with big talent may bring them along faster, but I am very proud of the progress Brego and I have made this year. And at a young (read: immature) seven, Brego has plenty of life left to get us to our goals.

Goals for 2008:

  • Compete and complete a USEA recognized event. Done. First after dressage and show jumping but dropped to third after xc because of time faults. We went slow our first time out. NO JUMPING PENALTIES! Woot! Not even a rail in show jumping.
  • Get 70% or better on a training level dressage test. Didn't quite make it. Lots of 69.5% and first places at schooling shows.
  • Compete and complete a USDF recognized show. Nope. Didn't make it. I am still researching where they are in this region.
  • Join a Fox Hunt. Done and done. I loves me some fox hunting. Although we didn't get out much this year, I rode first/second flight and jumped. Brego was a star.

Goals for 2009:
I've got a couple of challenges for 2009. The last time we jumped a course, we had a pretty magnificent fall. I've got some rebuilding of skills and confidence to overcome. We had a fun injury to the left hock which appears to be completely healed but the residual weakness may not become apparent until we are back in heavy training. Finally, Brego is now at home without a proper training facility. We are able to school at the neighbor's property so hopefully it will not be too much of a detriment. So without further ado, what is in store for Brego, the International Horse of Mystery, 2009?

  • Qualify for the American Eventing Championships in Lamplight, IL. I need one more top five finish at a recognized event. This is a pretty competitive area so it will mean another event with no jumping penalties. Tough, but doable. Even if we qualify, I am not sure I can go, depending on work. But I will do everything possible to bring Brego to 'represent' among the likes of O'Conner, Dutton, and of course, Gogo. Plus, Max will be there with Karen and she loves the Brego. She will be so proud of us.
  • Compete and complete at the Area 1 BN Championships. We are already qualified, we just need to show up and ride well.
  • Get 70% or better on a dressage test. Left over from 2008. I think we can get there, even with Brego's unconventional gaits.
  • Compete in Training 3 and 4. So far, I have just done the 1 and 2 tests. Time to break out that stretchy trot.
  • Show Dressage First level. No score tied to this one. Just ride it and smile.
  • Compete in Jumpers Level 1 class. Do the Jumpers for real. No placing. Just ride it and smile.

I hope everyone has a successful and safe 2009. Keep loving the horse you have and they will carry you far.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Reindeer Games

The SO got some more pictures of the horses at play today. They both loved being out without their blankets.

Chase scene. The mare is behind the tree to the left.

Almost caught in the act. Note the pine branch falling from the open mouth.

Brego likes to lay in the snow.

Getting up from his ice therapy.

Making the trek to the water trough.

Saucy mare still kicks up her heels.

Playing in the snow.

I hope you enjoy the pictures as much as the horses enjoyed the snow.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Blizzard Brego

Brego is probably the happiest to see winter. He loathed Texas and heat. Originally from Canada, he could not stop from growing a yak-like coat. Now that a bona fide blizzard has hit New Hampshire, Brego was totally happy to hang out in the pasture. He was running and playing in the snow, bucking and kicking out. I never thought he was the kind of horse to run and play at liberty, considering him too lazy. Now I realize he just needs it to be below 20 F to really get his play on.

Brego is chillaxin'

I watched Brego play in the water trough, lick the snow, and then try to bite the icicles off of his whiskers for about 10 minutes. Then he would grab heavy, snow laden branches in his teeth and shake them until the snow fell on his head. Then he would eat the branch. Ah, the world is a winter playland.

It's been snowing all day, but the real wind won't pick up for another couple of hours. So I let the horses out to play and get some fresh air as long as they could. The old TB mare was less thrilled with the weather and when she finally asked to come in, I brought them both in, much to Brego's dismay. I swear, he is part yak (which explains a lot of our dressage challenges ;) ).

Very unhappy mare

The chickens, however, are not happy with the snow and are safely nestled into their insulated coop.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Schooling in the Indoor

I finally got some video of the progress Brego and I have made in the balance department. Of course, since there was a video camera present, the magical harmony of the previous ride was replaced with some tension. But I can't complain too much because Brego was still well behaved, he still tried his heart out. I think he might have been a bit tired from the work we did the last ride. He felt just a bit stiff in the mouth and neck. My riding could also have been a problem, since I always tense up for the camera.

Percheron Schooling Dressage from Eventing Percheron on Vimeo.

I've been listening to Jane Savoie on CD on my commutes and every section reveals at least 12 things I am doing wrong. :) But one exercise she mentioned sounded really cool so I wanted to try it. On the second track, perform a shoulder-in, to renvers, to shoulder-in then a straight halt. The hind legs should stay on the track as the front shoulders move to the inside, the outside, back to the inside and then straight halt. On the second track, it's very hard, since you don't have the rail on the outside as a crutch. I filmed our first attempt at it. In the video, the second track lines up with the post in the background, so you can see how far we stray. The video highlights three major things I need to work on: Rhythm,Tempo and Bend. Brego's bend to the right is delicious, but he is much more stiff to the left (or the renvers side in this case). Also, as he performs the movement, he loses his rhythm and the tempo slows. Now I say that "Brego is this or that", but more likely, it's me or my cues. So this is something I need to work on. But I thought the exercise was really good at manifying these flaws so I can work on them.

The walk-canter transitions are coming along nicely. They illustrate Brego is gaining strength and balance. Even through his frame is "low", he is powering nicely into the transition and staying balanced.

The final thing I am proud of is the final halt. Brego actually dropped his butt in the downward transition instead of falling on his forehand and stabbing his legs into the ground. The canter to trot is weak, but the trot to walk to halt is much improved. Woot! Notice that I am not focusing on where his head is at all, I am focusing on his butt and his balance. The head "set" or frame will come out of these improvements we are making in his balance. The most important thing is to keep that big body pushing forward from behind and staying off the forehand.

As for my riding, I look pretty weak and I am still not sure what to do with my hands. I feel like my reins drift too long and you can see that when I break contact to shorten them, Brego comes up in front. I need to fix that bad habit to help him stay more consistent.

All in all, not bad for some winter work. I am not ready to go out and do my Training 4 test, but we will be ready by Summer, so I am very happy.

Let It Snow...

Winter has finally arrived. Forget the ice, bring on the snow. You can ride in snow, and today we did. We got a foot of snow overnight with another foot on the way tomorrow. The snow was perfect, big dry flakes, gorgeous powder, so we had to go for a ride. Brego's bare feet did perfect. No balling or slipping, but the snow was pretty dry so we will have to see how he does through the winter.

Good morning, Brego. What do you think of your new, white world?

So far so good on the water trough. The spring is still running.

Early in the ride. We're both still clean.

After a good hike, covered in snow.

Absolute beauty.


Gratuitous gorgeous horse shot!

The key to taking a native Texan and putting them into a New Hampshire winter is clothing. I am wearing a water-proof, medium weight bib-style overall. Then I have a cotton shirt, a fleece and then a water-proof mountaineering jacked from North Face. I am wearing my Mountain Horse winter riding boots, insulated deerskin gloves and a Carhartt hoody. I was snug as a bug the entire ride. Never got cold or wet. In fact, when I was mucking this morning, I had to shed my cap and coat because I was sweating too much. This is my "medium weight" outfit. I have the heavy duty stuff still to break out, in addition to a quarter sheet for Brego, when it gets really cold. High today was about 16 F.

We didn't ride too far because it was tough going for Brego and he tired in the snow, but it was great to get out and enjoy the tremendous beauty of this place. I am happy to finally have snow, because many of the wet trails will now be passable again. Plus, if we can go for long, slow rides, Brego will get fit without too much impact on his joints. Good for brain and for body.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Dance

I admit it. I've been a bit down on the horse thing. On the riding thing. On the New Hampshire thing. The ice storm took the wind out of my sails about my quaint little farmette.

Ice Storm Beauty...

I spent the drive home today ranting to my friend in Texas about how I just can't *think* about riding. I lack the time and the enthusiasm. I can't get excited about the little nuances of my hip angle. I can't wax philosophical about the virtues of the outside rein. I just can't. Riding sucks right now. It's been a week since we've ridden and that was in the indoor. I feel like we are falling behind... behind what I don't know. My friend pointed out that I am still in the "Texas year round" mindset where winter is where you train the hardest because it's too hot in summer. I need to ease myself into the "winter is for relaxation".

Anyway, I was not looking forward to riding tonight. Brego with a week off is one feral, hairy monster.

When I pulled open the door to the indoor, it was empty. An arena to myself. I will longe, I thought. I haven't done that in a while and it might do my addled brain some good to let Brego get his ya yas out while I am safely on the ground.

I attached the longe line and sent him out. Now, you must know, Brego is the WORLD'S WORST LONGER. He never moves forward and he knows exactly how long that whip is and if you're an inch too far away, he mocks you with his lethargy. When you get close enough of the whip, he explodes into dominant displays which melt the bravest heart. I hate longing him. But tonight, he was different. He moved out into the biggest, lightest, most uphill trot I have ever seen on this horse. Period. With no sidereins to lean on, he was elevated and pushing from his hind end. I was frankly in shock.

He threw in a couple of head tosses and showed me his "stallion" pose, but it was just a game. From the ground, I could see it was a game. He performed some unbelievable walk to canter departs and never once pulled on the line or acted up.

And you think that's good... under saddle he was even better. He moved with me. He breathed with me. I collected him with my seat. I asked for transitions with my abs and he spun around on turn on the forehand and turn on the haunches with the slightest leg aid.

I seriously began to wonder if someone had swapped Brego out with a well-trained horse. But then, he knew me too well. He knew what I wanted and did it, light as a feather. I rode for 20 minutes and called it a night. A week. A month. He was too perfect.

As I walked him home in the cold, dark night, I choked up a little. This horse, who is often a pain in the ass and a bully and eats way too much and destroys way too much, is a gift. He is a mirror into my deepest feelings. In one hour, he removed all doubt about the move, the farm, the weather. We can and will accomplish everything I desire because he *is* a well-trained horse. He's trained perfectly for me. And tonight, we danced.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

All is right in the world

Power was restored this afternoon. Hundreds of crews from around the
country made the reconstruction go faster than expected.

I am just so thankful that everyony made it through. Horses, dogs,
chickens, and people. No one missed a meal and the only inconvenience
to the animals was a few frozen water buckets. We even ended up
hosting people who did not have a generator and are still without power.

So now... Time to regroup and reformulate a schooling plan. Get back
to normal. But first, one long hot shower...

Sent from my iPhone

Saturday, December 13, 2008


Through some creative wiring, we were able to hook up our trailer
generator to our house furnace so we have heat!!

Still no water, but no complaints here. Still thinking we are a
couple of days from getting full power restored.

To keep this blog on topic, we are going to try to run the electric
fencing off of the generator to keep big Brego contained.

And to answer Funder, I am posting from my phone. No Internet here!!

Sent from my iPhone

No power

Still no power. They are now saying perhaps a week until power is
restored. We officially ran out of wood so now we are borrowing from a
generous neighbor. Running the fireplace nonstop has kept the house
at 55 so we are lucky.

No power also means no well water. We are very thankful that the
animals still have running water from our trough. We've been
borrowing from them as well and sanitizing the water for drinking. I
knew that camping gear would come in handy.

Everyone has something to eat and drink so we can't complain too much.
Today's plan is to figure out why neither of my generators (2000w and
4000w) will power my furnace. If we can't get it to work, we'll be
sleeping in the trailer tonight.

Send warm thoughts my way, oh and coffee :)

Sent from my iPhone

Friday, December 12, 2008

Major ice storm

Major ice storm here. Power will likely be out for several days.
Brego is fine but mad to be in his stall. Fallen trees took out most
of our fencing but luckily no buildings or cars were damaged. It is
supposed to get down to 10 degrees here tonight so we are heating the
house with wood.

Welcome to New England!!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Good Ride and Plug

One of my dear readers is published in the December 2008 issue of Dressage Today. The author fondly known here as McFawn talks about her relationship with her older gelding who "just couldn't do dressage". Under the tutelage of a wonderful instructor, she learned that all the "can not"s were just words and she and her horse went on to show Second Level. I am very sorry to hear of his passing.

I highly recommend every one check out the article, because if there is one recurring theme on this blog it's: Love the horse you have and help him/her become the best they can, regardless of breed, age, or body style. Too many people chase the high dollar warmblood, when the horse they currently own and love has so much potential. Riding a horse like Brego has/will make me a stronger, more knowledgeable rider than riding a horse who tempis in his sleep. Well done, McFawn. You are an inspiration to me!

On a much smaller scale, Brego and I had a great ride in the indoor last night. Every ride I see 10% improvement which is just so exciting. Brego's right trot-canter departs are really getting smooth and balanced. Downward transitions still need work. His left canter still is a mockery of his right. But the shoulder ins at both walk and trot had some genuine bend and he was light. He also had retained some of the work from the last session where we worked on him moving forward with energy at very light leg aids. I find that when he works so well, he gets tired very quickly, so we definitely need to work on stamina on carrying himself properly.

I still feel like I am falling all over the place, but I am trying to be conscious of my position. I am getting stronger, but have definitely lost some strength over the last 6 weeks. Elliptical training is going well. Hopefully, I will get more video soon.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Three Rides

I was able to get three rides in this week. The first, on Tuesday, I already blogged about and how Brego was very well behaved considering his feral-ness. Thursday was an even better ride in the indoor. He was more relaxed and flexible and we got some good bends at the trot, which is a minor miracle. He did so well that I got to focus on my riding which is, um, feral. We're both so tragically out of shape and coordination. It's amazing how a little over a month will set you back. I am not looking forward to Spring if we don't stay at some consistent level of work through the winter.

Saturday, we hit the trails. We intended to do a 10 mile loop to the next town and back, but the weather turned cold and we were stopped several times by neighbors and cute kids so we did more chatting than riding. It's ok. We went a reasonable distance, walked up some intense hills that I would not walk down (they were so steep) and did a big 1/2 mile trot loop through some snowmobile trails. Brego did well but terribly out of shape.

Brego felt amped up, but I am beginning to suspect that it is more likely that I ride him in the butterfly hunt bit when we ride out which is quite severe and maybe, just perhaps, I might have a bit of a death grip, so he might be light in front to get away from the bit. So next ride out, I am going to be very brave, and ride in our loose ring snaffle. It's not like Brego runs when he misbehaves, he just performs airs above the ground in place, so a more severe bit may not be an asset.

Chickens and Brego. Brego's blanket is "Ruby", not PINK!

Today, Sunday, it is snowing and the SO and I are headed to Boston to take in the big city sights. So the plan is to do more in hand work in the dark on Monday and then back to the indoor on Tuesday.

P.S. I finally unpacked the elliptical and I am back on the "get fit" wagon.

So far so good on the water... no external heater required. Yet.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Somewhere in New Hampshire...

Today was the first time I have ridden since last Thursday. Weather, business trips, and oh yea, weather interfered with outdoor riding. So today we headed over to the indoor. I was expecting some major fireworks from Brego since he has basically gone feral. His antics during the snow were quite impressive.

But as usual, Brego continues to amaze. He was perfectly behaved, if perhaps a bit stiff. He was pretty hard mouthed and not really flexible, but that's to be expected with no work and cold temps. All in all, I was very encouraged. I've been on a bit of a "Fear Factor" slide with El Brego recently and we needed a nice, no nonsense schooling to show that we can get things accomplished in this brave new, snow-covered world.

"El Brego"... I do love that horse. Oh, and it happens to be my new New Hampshire license plate. So I can pimp my ride while pimping my ride.

(And to the smart bastard somewhere in NH that has "Brego" as a license plate: You are unworthy!!)

Sunday, November 30, 2008

First Snow

First snow of the year. Brego took it as an excuse to go running around, bucking and farting. Even the old mare got in on the games. They are predicting an inch of accumulation. And so it begins...

Mr. High Energy is sans blanket.

In other, more sunny news: Our dressagie neighbor also used to teach eventing and has an outdoor jump course, tucked away on her 30 acres. Of course, the ground is now frozen and the course won't be ready to go until next May. As in, half a year away, but hey, that's very convenient!

I need to pick up a winter sport... just thinking about not being able to school outside for HALF A YEAR makes my head swim.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Off Topic: Six Things About Me - Answered

My dear readers came up with some good questions, so here they are:

1) Sidetracked asked: How and why did you get into riding?
I've been into horses as long as I can remember. I can't remember why I loved them so much, they were just part of me. Neither of my parents are naturally horsey, but they cope as well as they can. I pestered my parents as a toddler. They said I started drawing horses before I had ever seen one in real life. So by age 3, they took me to my first riding lessons which were basically pony rides. By 5, they bought me my Ben. The rest is history.

2) DP: Tell us about your dogs!
While not phrased as a question, I always enjoy obliging The Penguin. :) I have four dogs. I got my mini Dachy as a good college dog because I lived in apartments. She turned 12 on Halloween this year. She is definitely a trick, not a treat. I have a Basenji/Lab cross from the shelter. He has some serious issues and was 4 days away from being put down (he had stayed 86 days without any interest). I got him for the bargain price of $20. I've had him for 6 years and we think he's 8. I have a Border Collie/Lab mix, again from the shelter. She's the cutest and best trained dog, but she also has abandonment issues. She's 5/6. I also have my one vanity dog: a Pharaoh Hound. She's a very cool dog, and I love her, but you really need to be into sight hounds to appreciate her. She can't go off leash and she'll chase anything into the next county. All four dogs are indoor dogs and they are on the "natural raw" diet. They are a lot of fun.

Mini Dachy

Basenji/Lab mix on the drive up from Texas

Border Collie/Lab mix

The Pharaoh Hound - Doing what she does best: Running

3) Serena asked: Trek or Wars?
Wars. No contest.

4) Leah: What is your software expertise?
I write web applications using the J2EE stack, mostly. All the way from databases to front end, like flex, Struts 2 etc. I love me some Spring and Hibernate. Also a big fan of Maven. I've taken on more of an architectural role and I need to decide my future. With near 10 years of experience, I either need to make the leap into architecture or find something else to do. I am pretty maxed at my current position and I've written the same web app three times now (three different companies). I need something new.

5) Laura: Have you done a lot of traveling?
Aside from my short time in England, I have not done much traveling. While there, I took advantage of my proximity to Europe and took a 20 day driving tour through Ireland, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Switzerland. Also, while playing ice hockey for Oxford, we traveled to games in Belgium and Germany. I really enjoyed my time abroad and I hoped my experience at Oxford would spring board me into other opportunities outside the US, but so far it hasn't happened. I interviewed with a company in London recently, but it was not a good fit. I would love to go down under and to New Zealand, and of course, back to the UK. I love it there and I miss it often.

6) Heila: What are your favorite books? Fiction/Non?
Fiction would have to be Lord of the Rings. Yea, I am a nerd. I read the trilogy at least once a year and listen to the books on cd on my commute. I am the reigning champion of Lord of the Rings trivial pursuit. But I digress. Non-fiction... Most of what I read is non fiction and I tend to find a topic and devour it. On my bookshelf are tons of books about horses, farming, reef aquariums, philosophy, some trendy Malcolm Gladwell... I guess my favorite would be anything by Lynn R. Miller. He is the editor of Small Farmer's Journal and writes about farming with horses and started me down the path to buying a Percheron.

Bonus) Sylvia: Are you married, significant other, want kids of the two legged nature, and have you lost weight?
First of all, Sylvia, you are my new best friend for saying that you think I've lost weight. I love you. Seriously.
I am married and have been for 5 years. My partner and I were married in Canada in 2003. We've been together about 9 years now. No kids. No plans to have kids. I love kids, but they don't really fit into the life plan and it's extra hard to acquire them when you're in this kind of relationship. As for the weight, I have gotten more fit and healthy, but still have a way to go in the weight department. I thank you for noticing though!!

Six Things About Me

I've been tagged over at A Bay Horse with the "Six Things About Me" meme. Thank you very much!

I sat down to write this post and went through the salient points.... I'm a total nerd (but you already knew that)... I write software for a living (but you already knew that)... I am originally from Texas (but you already knew that)... I am fabulously wealthy and attractive (but you already knew that... NOT!).

I couldn't come up with any new material, so I decided to turn it around. YOU ask ME six questions and I will answer them honestly. First six comments wins. Of course, the hope is that people will be so distracted by the American Holiday that no one will read this for weeks. :) Disclaimer: People seem to think I am much more interesting than I am, so let's try to keep the questions G or PG rated.

Now, there are a couple of blogs I have recently started following and I so I am going to tags those "new-to-me" people so I can soak up the facts.

Eventing-A-GoGo and New Pony, Have Bow -- You're IT!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

When it Rains

Remember that cute, spring-fed trough I had sunken in the ground? Remember that charming trickle of water which kept it full?

Well, New Hampshire had a bit of a flood today, we got about 5 inches. And the trough turned into this:

Please note the standing water on top of the gravel around the trough.

Thankfully, the horses have a (semi-) dry barn for the first time in their life. It will be the first night in stalls since the move. The pasture is so flooded that the horses would:
a) hurt themselves
b) wreck what little progress we've made on that pasture

Plus, after midnight, it's supposed to turn to ice. Yay!

But who's complaining? This beats a blizzard any day.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Satisfying Ride

The weather abated a bit so it was only 30F and 15 mph winds when we set out to ride to the power lines.  It took about an hour to get Brego forward into the bit and not jigging and behind the bit. On the way to the power lines, I took him to the fairgrounds were the ground was well drained and not frozen and we did some speed work.  He actually did quite well, never offering to buck or misbehave.  Without the hounds or the other horses, I had more of his attention.

We made for the power lines and it looks like there will be plenty of riding there.  The terrain is rocky and steep, reminiscent of Central Texas.  This is really good news because it will provide an area where I can keep Brego's feet conditioned to rocks.

A big, fat horse gets a chase body clip.

The picture of innocence

So it was a good ride, with some good speed work, where I had his attention.  He was so good, I didn't get a chance to work on my maniacal laugh.  :)

After the ride, we had dinner guests and one of the women wanted to ride, so I put her on Brego bareback to play around in the backyard.  It's amazing how that horse can go from demonic to teddy bear.  He was a perfect gentleman.  Horses need good work to be happy and feel self confident.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Hunting Interrupted

The early morning looked good, but by the time we arrived at the meet, the wind was up to 30 mph gusts. Trailer doors were being slammed open and closed again. The horses were high as a kite.

The ground was so frozen, I couldn't longe Brego to take the edge off, so I had to stare deeply into his eyes are try to read his mood. He was in a good mood. I guess I should have suspected something when he cantered up to me to get caught in the morning to go on the trailer. He NEVER canters up to me.

We decided to attempt the ride. So few members showed up, there would only be one field, but it would be slow and absolutely no jumping. The ground was too frozen and at 22 F and intense winds, no one complained one bit.

After I mounted, the horse tied to the trailer next to mine broke his bridle and spun around and around, held only by his halter buckled around his neck. Thankfully his owner had the presence of mind to not skip that critical safety step. Brego saw the commotion and levaded. I am not kidding. I threw myself forward all the same (high school dressage is not as much fun when it's not voluntary) and seriously began to reconsider the decision to attempt the hunt. I kept Brego moving in small circles. If he's moving forward, he can't be moving up.

Finally we set out. The staff took the hounds across the frozen fields and the field master took the members towards the woods to bypass the worst ground. Brego watched the hounds disappear and when I urged him to turn away and follow the field, he fussed, jigged, and generally acted pissed. He wanted to follow the hounds.

I got him sorted and then the field broke into a big trot to make for the woods. Brego took off after them, bucking, crowhopping, levitating. I told those behind me I was calling the hunt and performed an emergency dismount. Brego stopped and stood perfectly beside me, almost as if to say, what are you doing standing on the ground? We can't join the fun like that! I looked him in the eye again and there was no malice. His ears were pricked, his eye was soft, he just wanted to go. He badly needed to go, but I couldn't screw myself up enough to ride him out.

I decided not to fight something my body may not be able to handle, so I walked him back to the trailer. He was actually acting a little disappointed. However, I need to get him under control on my own time, not jeopardize the other members of the hunt with his antics. Plus, the weather compounded the issue x2. I can handle Brego being excited in 20 F. I can't handle Brego being excited at 20 F with winds blowing things around and every horse tuned like the strings of a violin.

I loaded him up and drove home. But there is some serendipitous good news! As I was attempting to back my trailer into my tiny driveway for the third (ok, fifth) time, the last neighbor for me to meet drove out of her driveway, saw us, and stopped. She's a dressage instructor and graciously offered us the use of her outdoor arena. Plus, she was on her way to a clinic in MA and she gives lessons, so I am definitely going to take her up on some instruction. I love me some good dressage. I was still in my fancy hunt kit and so we talked about hunting, eventing, performance horses in general. So nice to have so many horse people right next door.

As for Brego, he's currently having fun trotting around his paddock. Good boy, burn those calories. Tomorrow, when the wind is gone, we're going to make for the powerlines and go for such a ride as to finally satisfy him.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Stiff as a Board

It was 22 degrees when I headed to the indoor.  I clipped Brego in an abbreviated chase clip, down his neck and his chest, but not his belly or even back as far as his girth.  He sweats so much when he works, I worry about him getting a chill even though I use coolers, blankets, towels, and curries to help dry him.

He did well.  His personality is 100% back.  Playful, goofy, calm, content.  We worked a lot on keeping our rhythm through lateral work at the walk.  My riding buddy pointed out that he looked really stiff and was not bending, just moving sideways.  I took the time to go back and stretch him, both by the "classical" and "modern" methods.  :)

I like Phillippe Karl's idea about raising the bit so it pulls up against the corners of the mouth instead of down against the gums or the bars.  So on a circle, I will raise my inside hand almost straight up.  This introduces the bend, but also lifts the inside shoulder if Brego happens to be laying on it (because that NEVER happens :)  ).  But I also like the approach my last dressage lesson taught me which is to lower my hand down to my knee, and rotate the hand while gently pulling out, not back.  This bends the head, and for Brego encourages the stretch on the off side.  But be careful with the inside leg because he will collapse on the inside shoulder.

So a little combination of the two approaches and he was stretching down, then lifting up, and stretch left and right, then raise the chest, then back to a low stretch.  I then reattempted the lateral work and he did better.

Before the realization that he was so stiff, I would have said we were back to 80% of his performance before he got kicked.  But now I think he knows 90% as much, but his body is not ready, strength or flexibility, to do it.  Which is a solveable problem.  The important thing is that he is sound and happy about his work.

He did so well that as are going back to hunting on Saturday.  Hilltopping only, but I can't wait.  And I know Brego will be so happy to be back out there.  The highs will be in the mid 20s so I am scrambling to get my gear together.  And my flask.  You know, to help keep me warm.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Back to Work

Yea, it's 28 degrees. Fahrenheit. (-1.9 Celsius) That's below freezing, y'all.

But Brego and I are totally tough customers so I got my thick breeches and my winter mountain horse boots on and we walked across the street to use the neighbor's cozy indoor. I felt so hard core when it started to snow and then I got my ass into the barn and it was nice and warm.

Anyway, both Brego and I are out of shape. He's always been worse on his left and now it's exaggerated from the loss of conditioning from his left hock. The footing is deep so it's a lot of work for him and he was drenched with sweat in about 20 minutes. I am going to trace clip him soon so he can be more comfortable while he works.

Here is a video. You can see we're both a bit rusty. His left canter is much more inconsistent than his right. And you guys are totally jealous of my Don't-Shoot-Me Helmet. 'Cause that's how I roll.

Dressage Work from Eventing Percheron on Vimeo.

Even though we're pretty rough around the edges, it's nice to be back in work again. I think the footing will help strengthen Brego, but I am keeping the workouts short for the near term. I don't want to over do it.

As an aside, there was a cute western reiner mare sharing the arena with me and she totally schooled Brego on balance. And obedience. :)

Monday, November 17, 2008

Signs To Go

A front blew in yesterday which changed the weather from 65 and 100% humidity to 40 and 30 mph gust. Needless to say, the underworked horses were wired.

Brego scares me a bit when he is in that mood, not because I think he's trying to kill me, but because he is very big and pretty uncoordinated and it wouldn't take much of a misstep or crow hop to seriously injure me. I'm tired of falling and head injuries.

But the horse is not going to get better penned up in his 1 acre paddock, so we saddled up. The hope was to go for a long ride, but the ground was just too wet. I didn't want to brave going far from home, on unknown trails, with it so wet and the wind howling through the trees and little leaf tornadoes. I mean, the weather was insane. Perfect crazy horse weather.

I decided to just do trot sets up and down my neighbors gravel road to take the edge off and assess Brego's brain. He did pretty well, but he just wanted to go go go. So I asked for a canter and he crowhopped and then cantered in place. Well, my friends, it appears that hock is feeling better. It was too wet to put him through his paces, so we ended up just walking the trails. He was much better by the end of the ride, just needed to get out and stretch his legs and exercise his brain.

The current plan is to get him into the indoor twice this week, and if it goes well, and doesn't rain, then I will take him hilltopping next weekend. He needs a job and I think his leg is ready for some extended trail riding. His personality and mood have done nothing but improve since I have eased him back into work. The weather was pretty intense and he didn't willfully act naughty, just too playful.

Oh and my old barn owner contacted me and let me know that there were no horses with hind shoes in Brego's pasture when he got kicked. It is quite scary that a bare hoof cut him like that, but I am very thankful the damage was not worse.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Off Topic: Wild Turkeys

I apologize for another turkey post. Last one, I promise.

It's been raining for three days and I haven't made it back to the indoor, so there's not much to report on the horses. Brego seems less grumpy. Maybe he's getting used to the quiet. Brego's leg continues to heal. The gash now looks more like a scrape, still red and exposed, but not really weeping anymore. We took the blankets off my old TB mare and she has definitely been gaining weight, so that is a relief. Hopefully, we can continue the trend before it gets really cold.

Turkeys in the front yard

Roosting on the fence

The turkeys have decided they really like the property. They are almost constantly about, and although I do not feed them, they find plenty to eat in the pasture. There are eleven of them and one Tom that I can identify. They are HUGE. And no, I will not hunt them. I have nothing against it, but since they live here, I consider it entrapment. I plan to raise my own turkey next year and we'll see how that goes. Plus, I don't own a rifle :)

Wild Turkeys from Eventing Percheron on Vimeo.
Hey, at least Brego is in the video.

They have started roosting in my front yard along an old wooden fence. Then, around 8 am or so, they wander back to the pasture and start scratching. They stay away form the horses and Brego is pretty wary of them, always turning to face them. But so far, no challenges or squished birds.

At least the birds like the pasture

Since it is supposed to clear out today, we're going for a ride. I am hoping to make the power lines about a mile away which have snowmobile trails which lead north-south for about 30 miles. They may be too wet in the summer, but once it freezes, they may be passable. I am hoping for conditioning trails in the spring, to do my sets on.

My house also is sandwiched between two state parks, about 3 and 5 miles away. The closest one is not as nice, but it's very easy to get to and I won't have to ride on too many roads. The roads are pretty decent, 35 mph, and I bought reflective vests to wear if we do ride them. The other park is farther and nicer, but I haven't figured out how to get there yet. Lots of time to explore if we could catch a break on the weather on the weekends. Rains all weekend and clears out for Monday, then rains again Friday, rinse and repeat.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Got Hay?

This will be my first winter in New England where I am 100% responsible for the horses. Previously, I boarded and hay was included. So when it came time to think about hay, I figured 2% of body weight of the two horses would come out to about one 50 lb bale a day. Then I looked at my rail thin Thoroughbred and decided that I never wanted her to go without, so I multiplied that number by 1.5. And I decided that I didn't want to buy hay again until I could get second cutting, so next August up here, at the earliest.

So I bought 10 ton of hay. 500 bales of hay, if you average 40 lb bales. Timothy. From Canada.

And it all came today. Wouldn't you know it, 500 bales of hay takes up a lot of room. I am sure I will look back on this and laugh, but I seriously think I went overboard. Those that know me personally know I never half ass anything. And I can honestly say I did not half ass buying hay.

So now there's hay in my garage. I removed the light bulbs that would be close to the hay. I put down a layer of pallets over the cement floor. Then I put down a layer of cardboard boxes broken down to lay flat (I just so happened to have some moving boxes handy) to soak up the moisture from the cold floor before it ruined the bottom layer of bales. Then I started stacking. And stacking. And stacking.

When the garage was full, I started stacking in the loft in the barn. There's enough ventilation in the barn, in fact too much (I found a hole in the roof tonight when it rained). I got 100 bales in the barn.

Then I moved to the trailer. In my three horse trailer, I stacked the remaining 20 bales.

Lucky for me, the horses like the hay. Lucky for them, they will be in hay until, oh, January 2010. Unlucky for my twelve year old car, it will not be garaged this winter. It's only fitting, since the hay cost more than the car.

I will likely try to sell some of the hay since I really don't want to feed the horses hay that old next fall. But until then, bon appétit!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Indoor Arena and Manure Spreaders

I love it when someone does your work for free. I have been slowly acclimating to the natural rhythm of this little farm and part of the daily ritual is the March of the Turkeys. There is a rather large rafter, about 12 individuals, that comes through the farm every day. Two toms, three or four hens, and the rest young. Since the turkeys have discovered horse poop, they've been around about three times a day. They scratch and spread the manure in the pasture so I don't have to! Gotta love free labor.

Meet my new manure spreaders

I went for a ride in the indoor across the street. It's a good size, great lighting and good footing. My neighbor is very gracious and is letting me hire it out for a very reasonable hourly rate. I am going to be able to ride twice a week after work and hopefully get to ride on the trails on the weekends.

Brego did very well mentally. He hasn't forgotten anything and his lateral work at the walk was really good. His work at the trot was very stiff, but since it was one of the more recent things we worked on, I was not surprised. He felt pretty even at the trot and I got some nice big stretching trots. After about 25 minutes though, he felt tired so I just cooled him out at the walk. At the canter, he did not feel right at all, so after a few strides we went back to the trot. His leg wound is still open and actively weeping/bleeding. It's not gross or infected anymore, but he's still on antibiotics and it's not close to healing over. I know it still bothers him. I just hope there's nothing more serious going on inside the joint. Since he was noticeably better at the trot today, with only a slight hitchiness in his swing through, I am encouraged that with steady, easy work, he will strengthen and return to normal.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Baby Steps in the Dark

Brego continues to adjust to a much quieter life. He seems down. It's probably not easy to go from work 5 days a week and ruling a herd of 10 to hanging out with a geriatric (read: very non playful) mare and barely any work.

So I decided that until I could get the arena situation sussed, we were going to work, in whatever way we could. When I got home from my work tonight, it was already pitch dark. But I turned on every light on the property (even the trailer loading lights running off batteries), grabbed Brego from his "sulking spot" in the pasture and put his bridle on. We were going to work on some lateral stuff in hand.

I really want to move his hind end around, asking him to stretch his inside hind under in the shoulder in, getting the hips and hocks moving in a slow, low-impact way. We worked on my driveway which is asphalt bathed in fallen leaves. We went up and down the driveway at a shoulder in, then did a shoulder in on a volte to turn around. I made sure to get his jaw moving with bending at the halt (and some bribe cookies). He was AWESOME! I have never felt him so light in the bridle.

I couldn't help myself, I grabbed my helmet and hopped on bareback and we did it all again, up and down the driveway. He was so different form the other day -- light, compliant, interested. It was not a physical workout, but I hope I stretched him and he definitely gets points for his mental exercise. Not only did he work for me in the dark, on asphalt, with cars whizzing by, but he also did some nice shoulder in to haunches in transitions with no rail (on his good side). We also had some pretty respectable turn on the forehand and turn on the haunches. I made sure he REALLY stepped under on the turn on the forehand.

I am so jazzed. I can't wait to get him into an arena and see if he really is feeling better. I couldn't feel any real unevenness while riding from his hock injury, but with all the different aspects, it was hard for me to focus. I am going to try to get him to an arena before the end of the week and see how he is doing.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Spinoff: Five Acres Enough

The formal riding season has come to rather abrupt, but aptly-timed, halt. I am now in a position to focus elsewhere for the winter and have decided to begin work on a new venture. Brego is, and will always be, the focus of this blog (and it's important to maintain focus), but many pursuits only tangentially related to horses are now demanding my attention.

I have decided to spin off a new blog detailing the cultivation of my small farm:

Five Acres Enough

For those brave souls who read this blog to keep up with my current events but have no real interest or understanding of horses, you may wish to unsubscribe and see me on the new blog instead. I will be documenting my struggle to build a sustainable, and perhaps someday, horse-powered farm (or at least horse-inspired). At the very least, it will be interesting to see whether casting Brego in the role of a supporting character is enough to keep the interest high on the new blog. It's always just about The Brego.

A Toast!

Stacey sent a toast from The Jumping Percheron. Man, every time I see a video of her work with Klein, I am more and more impressed. When she moves back to the mainland, Stacey and I are going to have to enter a pairs jumping class and beat all the Thoroughbreds! Woot!!

Ahem, anyway...

Now I get to toast some of my favs. The theme of my toast is the friends this blog has brought me. I didn't know, way back when I decided to keep an online journal of my little horse and our little dreams, that I would meet such extraordinary people. So I toast the following people, not just great bloggers but people I would very much consider my friends in real life (if befriending people you have never met over the internet didn't have such a creepy vibe to it), in no particular order -- I don't play favorites.

1. Funder - You are so great. Down to earth and charmingly Southern (do I sound like a Yankee, yet?).

2. Maybe Mae - My cyber twin, your love of pumpkin beer sealed your fate as my bestest intraweb friend EVER.

3. Stacey - Back at ya, babe. Remember Brego and I when you are taking your victory lap at Aachen.

And to the rest of you:

"I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve."
-- J. R. R. Tolkien

Grumpy Brego

Watching Brego cart my dad and that cute-as-a-button third grader around, you get the feeling that he is the sweetest, calmest horse on earth. And in general, Brego is a good guy. But he is also exceptionally dominant. He's so good natured that most of the time he goes along willingly with whatever adventure you can conjure up. But catch him when he is in a bad mood or hopped up on acorns, and he is downright aggressive.

Brego is not convalescing well. We are at day 4 of the ten day antibiotics and his leg is now normal sized. The gash has stayed open and is healing, no longer smelling so bad. Brego has been pretty much out of work, and pretty much overfed (in an effort to put weight on my TB mare who dropped about 100 pounds last month, they've been on free choice hay). He also has discovered acorns. In small amounts, the tannin is not too dangerous, but they are very high in fat and protein. So Brego is hopped up on feed/acorns/hay, cooped up in a 1 acre pasture, missing his herdmates from the old barn, and today we got a cold snap.

Enter fire-breathing monster. I couldn't even tack him up in his stall, he was literally bouncing off the walls. So I took him out and longed him in a 20' space in my front yard. The usual bucking, rearing, head tossing, threatening ensued. I kept him going walk/trot/walk/trot until he transitioned obediently and without any attitude. I had a big whip and was not shy on using it when he entered my space. He doesn't want to be a bad guy, but he is just too big or dangerous to budge an inch when he is in that mood. Then we tacked up and went for a ride.

Once he got out on the trails, he was fine. Ready to go, but not dangerous. We travelled to the next town on some pretty amazing trails. The retired, ex-engineer neighbors have way too much time on their hands and way too much excavating equipment. You could canter down these trails, they were as wide as a car. We crossed a brook and found ourselves on a gravel road nestled between white plank horse fencing of gorgeous farm after gorgeous farm. Truly horse country.

We rode for about 2 hours, mostly walk, but some trotting and even a little cantering. He is definitely not "right" with that hock, and even when longing it looked hitchy too me. And he was short on it. But the boy wanted to go, so we went, and I let him go fast where the trail was safe. He came home sweaty and loveable and much happier for the ride. On such small turnout, he needs more consistent exercise, wounded or not. And I have definitely cut his feed back. He's been like this before, during the move from Texas, so I know what to expect.

He's trying to look all innocent...

This evening, we also met another set of neighbors, the ones with the indoor arena aka my new best friends. :) They are very kind and their arena is available for hire over the winter, so I can keep up with all my dressage aspirations. I have one more set of neighbors to meet, the dressage riders with the outdoor dressage arena. I am hoping to get along well with them as well. I figure a few bottles of wine, maybe a few dozen free range eggs in the spring, and I can avoid building my own arena for a couple of years. Good neighbors, and horsey-knowledgeable folk at that, are priceless.

Friday, November 7, 2008

First Hack

Today was warm, but no rain so I decided to go ahead and go for our first hack around the property. It was also our first ride since the big fall, but I was surprisingly unconcerned. It was also the first hack since the kick. Brego's leg looks almost normal, but the hock is very tight. He's been favoring it for some time now. So a slow walk through the woods and up and down hills is exactly what he needed.

It was nice to be back in the saddle again and Brego was eager to go. I can tell from his goofy, expressive personality that he is feeling better these days. We explored the back of the property, getting thoroughly lost, for about 40 minutes and then hacked down the road to the fairgrounds/farmers' market to work on bending on level ground. The boy was stiff and I was not much better. Between his leg and my knee, we were quite the walking wounded. Four good legs between the two of us.

It was quite warm so the walk back home up the steep hill got him sweaty. He got a nice cool down, a little in hand work to stretch his neck, and a snack in his stall before going back to his main job: brush hog.

This whole crazy adventure just might work out. The barn is pretty small and definitely not built like Fort Knox, but since I won't be storing food in it, I think the stalls will hold Big Brego. The property is pretty wooded, but the place across the street is drop dead gorgeous pasture, so I know what is possible. Of course, I can't afford the drop dead gorgeous property across the street, so I am pretty lucky to have what I have (as we all are in these crazy times).

Thanks for all the kind compliments, everyone. Seeing Brego out the window in the morning makes the last year and the big move from Texas worth it. I couldn't afford a place like this in the Austin area. It has been hard leaving my friends and familiarities behind for a better horsey life. And people definitely talk "funny" up here. But everyone is friendly, our neighbors are gracious and kind and it's starting to feel like we've finally come home.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Welcome Home, Brego

Moving is hell. Anyone who tells you differently is trying to sell you cardboard boxes. It's been one week since we closed on the farmette, our little 6 acres in beautiful New Hampshire. And I finally have time to sit down and at least take a deep breath. In the past week, all my belongings have been loaded on a truck from the storage facility, offloaded at the new house, the barn has been renovated, the fencing strung, appliances purchased, more barn renovations, the horses brought home, the trailer backed down our tiny driveway and one emergency vet visit. I am beyond exhausted and very, very poor and my bad knee has long since blown up like a balloon and given out.

But! This is what I see when I stand on my back patio:

Doesn't look like much yet, but it's going to be breathtaking.

Let's start with the barn. I mentioned before it was a former shed and just big enough for two small stalls and a small front aisle way. It's not ideal, but considering that Brego has lived out all his life and would again this winter in New Hampshire, I think he is lucky to have it. We got it cleared out and brought a pallet of stall mats in.



First we laid the mats. I had to run to the hardware store to get a circular saw big enough to cut though those mats. They are insanely huge and heavy. I opted to double them up in the stalls, so it was two layers of fun cutting those devil mats. We also got the kick boards and the center divider installed at the end of day 1.

End of Day 1

One day 2 we strung the fencing and got it wired up. I opted for the Jurassic Park-sized fence charger/energizer because Brego has been known to, er, disrespect fencing. This puppy could power a small New Hampshire hamlet. We only fenced one kidney-shaped acre. There are three more acres to clear in the Spring beyond the fencing. We added chew guards and the hardware to the stalls to round out the day.

On day 3, we brought the stock panels from the old barn home and the hope was to use the 10 foot gates as stall fronts. The barn turned out to be 4" too narrow so I had to do some quick rough out of stall fronts and run to Home Depot. My years of training as a structural engineer came in handy. We also brought the horses home on day 3. There was no rain in the forecast and the fence was "activated" so it was time, even if the barn was incomplete. It was during our departure from the old barn that the emergency vet call came about, but more on that later.

On day 4, we finished the stall fronts, and bedded down the stalls. This barn was finished out with my two horses in mind. Both horses are very respectful of stalls and each other, so I opted for the most open design I could, knowing they would feel confined in the smaller spaces. The only bars I put up were over the glass windows, for obvious reasons. Otherwise, Brego can hand his head outside of his stall to help him feel less cramped.

Finished at last!

Brego's stall

Just room enough for two

Center divider with board stiffeners and chew guards

Cute little barn

Pardon the blur, horses in the barn

The barn has electricity but no water. However, right next to the barn is a year-round spring/drain of clear, cold water from the top of the hill. We contrived a great plan to harness this water in a trough so the horses can get water and 1) we don't have to run a hose and 2) it doesn't come from our well. We sunk the trough in the ground to benefit from some geothermal regulation during the cold winter so we can save on deicing. We surrounded the trough with gravel to keep mud down. We can also dip buckets in the trough to fill their heated stall buckets.

The spring-fed trough next to the barn

View of the trough from the barn door

Redirecting the spring into the trough

The horses really like the water and have been drinking well. Now I only have to run a hose to hydro Brego's leg.

Which leads me to the not-so fun part of this week. During the move, I was a wee bit busy and Brego was a full hour away so I only got out to see him once a day to blanket, and sometimes not even then. So when I arrived to pick him up, I was alarmed to see that his left hock was the size of a volleyball. I ran over to him and put my hand on the hock and felt wetness. When I pulled my hand away it was covered in, well, puss. Nasty infected seepage out of a gash above Brego's hock. The infection was so bad, I could smell it. I called out that I needed a vet NOW and my wonderful barn owner called one for me.

I immediately hydroed the leg and it responded to the water, so that was some good news. The vet arrived in about 45 minutes and we jogged Brego. Luckily, he was sound. Stiff, but sound. The vet was somewhat amazed that he appeared to not be too bothered by this raging infection and then examined him. The cut was not deep but it was several days old and the result of a kick from a rear-shod hoof. Poor guy went unnoticed because my attention was elsewhere. The good news is that the joint was not affected from the original trauma and the infection had not entered the joint capsule. Thank goodness for small blessings. Brego is on 10 days of antibiotics and twice daily hydro treatments. His leg is responding, but I can tell it still bothers him.

So needless to say, the New England Hunter Trials are a scratch as is most of the remaining hunt season. We may come back and hilltop towards the end of November, but I am not eager to run hard and fast. Brego has lost a lot of conditioning his week, both from no work and the infection making him more sedentary. I think we're going to just take it easy and explore our new world. There are trails that come off the back of my property that go for miles between the small towns in the area. It's a perfect way to leg him back up, get him to stretch his legs, without taxing the hock. We got lucky with this injury, it could have been MUCH worse, so I am in no hurry to rehab him. We have all winter to relax and leg up before we start speed work again in the spring.