Saturday, May 31, 2008

All the Buzz About Brego

Even though Brego looked like he was slicking out, after the conditioning ride yesterday I could tell he was carrying some extra hair. So I brought out some new blades and clipped the big boy. There's a lot of surface area on that horse.

It took about three hours, but I removed three shovelfuls of clipped hair. I also took the opportunity to re-roach his mane. We don't have any impending shows, except maybe this hunter jaunt, so I was buzzed it pretty rough. He looks a lot better though, all close cut and you can see better muscle definition.

A couple things about this picture, which was taken in mid clip. His mane was not done yet. Yes, he is really that shiny. I blame his diet. And yes, he is that brown. *sigh* He's faded pretty fast from even a couple of weeks ago. He also wanted to show his supreme boredom after standing in the cross ties that long with his dangling lower lip. It's almost like he's part marsupial with his lip pouch, waiting for me to stuff it full of cookies. You know, 'cause that's the way he rolls.

That is the best picture though, because you can really see his coat bizarreness. Along the top of his back is a year old hair that is left from his old saddle-shaped patch. Then below that, you can see the outline of the flaps of the "saddle pad" which had more hair and so did not bleach in the Texas sun. Around the saddle patch, you can see his dead, truly yellow hair which was badly damaged by the sun in Texas. Then along his neck you have new, less damaged hair. But at his shoulder you can see some prominent fading spots where it is a lighter brown. The horse is freeky deeky.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Jumping and Conditioning and Hunters, oh my!

On thursday this week, I took Brego for a spin around the new outdoor arena. It is so huge and so soft and comes complete with many fences and combinations. I was in heaven. Brego however, was already bored.

I was sharing the arena with another rider who was schooling 18" and I didn't want to wait and then raise all the fences. So I decided to focus on my canter and just adjust Brego around the course. Maybe throw in some roll-backs. All with the safety net of knowing you really can't blow an 18" jump.

Well, apparently, Brego can. Instead of adjusting, Brego would not even bother picking up his feet. I swear, of the 10 or so lines or combinations I worked on, he had a rail almost every trip. And let me tell you how embarrassing it is to be riding a draft horse who drops rails at 18".

But no matter, I worked on trying to adjust the canter, staying soft, and not driving to the fence. Finally, when someone asked me what was wrong with my horse (because on the last trip he actually landed on a pole. Like he was aiming for it. ), I asked them to raise the fences to 2'6". Brego never dropped another rail, even when we blew a corner and he had to leave super long to take off when I asked. The big guy had to sit up and pay attention.

So once again, I vow to never school tiny fences.

But we got some good work done. Most of the combinations are set up on pony strides, so two of them were a perfect half stride for Brego. Do it once long, do it once short, etc. I set him up to start on the right lead, squeeze two strides into a one and a half and exit on the left lead. Then a rollback to another fence at 90 degrees followed by a bending line where he either had to change along the line, or get his right in the air. Finally the outside two lines were an easy 4 and then a short 6 or long 5. We did it in 5.

So it was fun to get some technical stuff strung together. If I can focus, Brego is about 70% at getting his leads in the air. I do simple changes if he doesn't.

Today was our conditioning ride. We worked all over the farm, around and through the arenas, down the logging roads, jumping up and down a 2'6" bank if it happened to cross our path. We planned to do 2 five minute trots and 3 three minute canters. Brego did it all fine, although he was started to get really tired and stiff necked on the last canter. After a ten minute walking cooldown, he had mostly recovered.

So I feel like his fitness is improving. My own riding is getting stronger. It was more comfortable for me to stay in two point during the canters and I feel like my balance was less wobbly.

After the ride, I chatted with the very fun barn girls and I am considering joining them next weekend at a local hunter show. Those of you who know me personally know I used to do hunters through college and vowed to never do it again. There's something so... contrived... about the schooling hunter show circuit. I mean how many blue ribbons does one need at 18" cross rails?? Anyway, I think Brego and I might rock out that hunter show (there's a little puddle jumpers jumper class at the end of the show that I might shoot for if I can stay awake that long). If nothing else, I will give all the Hunter girls a good laugh with my tail-less wonder!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Tagged (Again)

Beckz over at I Will Jump Sweet Jumps tagged me again with the latest round of internet viral propagation fluffery. I am still planning my revenge, but in the meantime...

Name 4 jobs you have had-
-Stable Manager for Paso Fino farm in Houston, Texas
-Lead groom for polo guy in Austin, Texas
-Writing software for big company
-Turn coffee into lines of code

4 ways you know you are living your life with purpose-
-I have a purpose?
-I still count the minutes until I get to see my horse. Every day.
-I am still learning
-I know my (soul sucking) job does not define me

4 things you do to take really good care of yourself-
-Stay away from processed foods
-Get adequate sleep
-Quit drinking coffe once a year
-No soda. Ever.

what are the 4 events that have most formed how you live your life today-
-Going to Cornell (i.e., getting the hell out of Texas)
-Going to Oxford (i.e., gettng the hell out of the States)
-Meeting my MUCH better half
-Finding Brego in someone's backyard and kinda liking his goof ball charm

what are the 4 things you do to keep your motivation up to work out and eat healthy or what are 4 careers you have considered-
-Seeing Becky Holder look Ab Fab at Role 2008
-Exercising a draft horse every day, I know exactly how he feels...
-Not getting any younger
-Too much to do to slow down

Name the 4 people that have been the most influential in your life-
-My advisor at Cornell who convinced me to go to Oxford
-My friend/trainer/horsey friend who is rude enough to tell me all the things I need to work on :)
-My MUCH better half for loving me for who I am, not who I will be
-Brego for loving me even when I am a jerk and I am wrong

4 reasons for staying away from refined sugar or 4 foods you will not eat-
-How I feel after a soda is reason enough
-Pasteurized Milk

4 reasons you blog-
-I couldn't find ANY information on drafts as "sport horses" when I got started
-I am so focused on what I need to do, I don't reflect on what I have done. Blogging helps me look back.
-Inspire others to love the horse they have and not go chasing the next big Warmblood
-Keeps me honest about my approach and motives. I get lots of feedback, positive and negative, when I screw up.

I refuse to pass this along, but my heart is in the right place. :)

Longe Session

I had my trusty riding buddy longe Brego while I rode without hands. The objective was to find my seat and relax my legs down along my thigh. I ended up feeling the best and most relaxed when I crossed my arms behind my back. Wow, did that find my seat bones quick.

It's amazing how you just keep reinforcing bad habits. I had no idea how much I was bracing from my hands to my knees. My whole body was full of tension. It wasn't until I could release it all and just move with Brego, without worrying about steering or holding up that ginormous noggin, that I could see just how bad it had been.

I have always been a "strong" rider, whereby strong does not mean good, it means strength. Some might refer to it as "Brute Strength". I don't mind working way too hard, apparently. Letting it go and just riding was really illuminating. No wonder Brego was bracing, we were battling it out with every step of every ride.

This first part of the video which shows the longing was pretty bad, due to fixed camera on a tripod. I just included it to give people a reference of what we did. I don't expect for anyone to see anything of quality, especially after youtube mangles it.

After the longe session, I took him for a spin and tried to stay soft and relaxed. I kept my hands lower and stiller and although I still have a tendency to "puppy dog" them, I kept them soft. Brego responded by settling into the contact more, and I found myself almost reverting back to holding up his head again. I had to catch myself. I would raise my inside rein to tell him to pick his head up and then we would go back to me trying to be relaxed.

In the video, I can see that when I got bouncy again was when I was trying to get him to do something he was resisting, either pushing him forward or bending in a smaller circle. Everything would get tense with exertion. I can see where we got in the habit of just struggling around each other. Like I said, it was very illuminating.

Relaxing my arms had an interesting effect on my leg. I tried really hard to feel my knee slide into my post, but I think the biggest difference was just relaxing. My leg was stiller.

So Brego wasn't the most dashing horse in the world without me pushing him every step of the way. We were both more relaxed and quiet. We'll get back to brilliance in a more cooperative, sustainable way. I think in time, if I can learn to use my "inside voice", Brego will learn to be less deaf to the noise. And then we will really start to make progress.

In the meantime, I need get a conditioning ride in this week and try to get another longe session in over the weekend. Oh, and there's a new huge outdoor arena, complete with jumps, we need to try out. And of course, I NEED to get him out cross country schooling...


After the ride, while Brego was hand grazing. I was checking his tendons, crouching down by his forelegs. We were alone and he was happily munching on some clover. I suddenly dropped my head against his leg and hugged him tight. He is such an amazing creature. I don't know what I would do without him. They are so fragile and so fleeting.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Dressage Schooling

It was another warm day in Maine. I am beginning to think the brochure lied about the mild summers. It was 78 with 27% humidity today, so actually quite pleasant unless you were working. And unfortunately I had a cord of wood to stack, which I think officially makes me a New Englander.

Anyway, I opted to wait a couple of weeks for Brego's next body clip because he seems to be slicking out and it still gets into the 30s at night sometimes. So he got to work in the indoor in some heat and he definitely was feeling lazy. After stacking wood, I was feeling pretty lazy myself.

I decided to start back into small lateral schoolings after focusing on training level stuff for the show. Brego will collect fine, but he lacks the strength and elasticity to really show off laterally. For now, of course. So I would ask for a shoulder in at the walk which is easier for him and if we got two or three good steps, he got rewarded.

At the trot, probably because of my bouncy hands, he tends to brace so it is a lot harder to get him supple and balanced enough for the lateral stuff. Plus, I am still a neophyte at dressage, so I am sure I am not riding him perfectly either. A little like the blind leading the blind here.

Regardless, I think he was more supple with his jaw since the show and although he was not over-full of energy or brilliance, he tried everything I asked and I can't hope for more. We will both improve with schooling. I put together a video showing some of the stuff I worked on. You will need a microscope to see some of the movements, but I thought it might be useful to see how little things turn into great things (in a couple of years). As I like to say, measure progress not perfection.

I am still trying to track down a place to cross-country school, so if anyone knows of any place near the New Hampshire/Maine border, please send me a note.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Poor Pace At the Hunter Pace

Another gorgeous weekend, another fun time with Brego. On Saturday we trailered across the Maine-New Hampshire border to attend a Hunter Pace hosted by the Wentworth Hunt. The pace was a little over 10 miles long and the optimal time for Hilltoppers was 2 hours 10 minutes.

Without knowing the time, or even how fast usual hunt fields go, I set out with two Thoroughbreds on my team. I knew there would be some fences on course. I knew that they maxed out at 3'. And I knew that my one goal of the day was to get Brego forward to fences he has never laid eyes on. I have to tame the looky loo monster before I get eliminated on cross-country from him burying himself into the base of fences. Any loss of forward momentum, once presented, counts as a refusal.

So we set out at a forward trot and I have to say, Brego just kept trotting. The Thoroughbreds had trouble keeping up with his stride! The two other riders were on horses that were much less settled and calm about the whole thing, so we kept cantering to a minimum to keep everyone quiet.

The fences were off the trail a bit, so sometimes you would truck right past them and then notice a coop off in the woods and have to circle back. Not ideal for teaching "FORWARD, now!" Brego was extremely looky. Most of the fences were simple coops, although a couple of them were decorated with tires or other spooky things. I got him over everything though, even some pretty large 3 footers. There were a couple one strides I skipped because we are no where near ready to school combinations in the field.

Brego did get better towards the end, but there were so few jumps, I can't honestly say we have this problem schooled. Over the 10 miles, we had about 3 honest refusals and 1 runout I can only blame on myself and the tree that smacked me in the face on the approach causing me to duck to the side. Brego followed my weight.

So the homework that came out of that is more cross country schooling, which is, of course, the one thing I cannot do at home. I must find a spot, trailer out, and pay a schooling fee. Brilliant!

As far as the pace was concerned, Brego finished the ride tired, but with some gas still. He power trotted the full 10 miles, it seems. He was sweaty, while the Thoroughbreds were dry, so he might be ready for another body clip. And we finished the ride 40 minutes under time. Oops. I never pushed him on. During the short walk breaks, I would simply pick up my reins and off we would go again. So trotting, he can go for days. I need to start conditioning the canter.

He was a good boy, especially considering he worked so hard but stayed handy, all in his double jointed egg butt snaffle. I saw a lot of other horses jigging all the way in elevator gags. What an exhausting ride! I also suspect that Brego's one true calling is foxhunting. He is so much fun to take out since he never loses his brain and is very careful. Once I fix his confidence so he jumps forward readily in the field, he will be a wonderful hunter. I chatted with the Hunt Masters after the ride and got the scoop on capping and membership. If you think I won't be following the hounds through the fields in my canary vest this fall, you're dead wrong!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

A Little Love

I am so thrilled to be given the "I Love Your Blog" Award by Beckz over at I Will Jump Sweet Jumps. Her exploits never cease to inspire me to ride better.

I would like to pass the love around to one of my favorite blogs. This blog literally makes me laugh out loud with every entry. The subject of the blog is super cute and it's so original and fun. So I award the "I Love Your Blog" Award to I Is Roxie!

Minor Brego update: We had a nice soft ride tonight. I am really trying to focus on him relaxing his jaw and bending through his neck. This included some in hand work and then some softening at the walk and trot. Finally, Brego carried a new rider today, my usual riding buddy left her Thoroughbred mare to try out Brego. He has a lot to teach newer riders about how to ride a bouncy trot and how to feel balance. All your angles need to work with you to keep you in the saddle. When his 1500 lbs cascades out of balance, it's hard to miss. Anyway, he was a good boy and showed off for the new rider and I was very proud of him. It was also nice to hear from a rather exhausted rider at the end that I make him look easy. That's what it is all about. :)

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Miles To Go

Looking at the weather for the week, I decided to get right back into work after the dressage show to take advantage of dry evenings before the rain the latter half of the week. Monday, we did a little jumping session, where I worked again on my foundation. I posted the canter, trying to really standup in the saddle at the top of my post. Most of my trots were double posting. I also did a standing balancing exercise relayed to me verbally by my trainer in Texas.

Both Brego and I spent a few minutes get reacquainted with my weight being more forward in the jumping saddle and my legs squeezing high on his side, especially in the canter departs. But we figured out the saddle switch without too much trouble, yet another skill required of eventers.

I ended the jumping session by taking Brego over a single 3' oxer. The approach was lacking in impulsion, but he rocked back and sailed over it with very little effort. He was also mentally forward and never thought twice about it. Just a safe, honest jump, compensating for my inability to get him moving on the approach. Brego jumps pretty round, and I definitely am still not as tight as I should be on the bigger fences, but I felt more secure in general.

Tonight, I focused on conditioning. I planned on doing 3 five-minute trot sets, with three-minute walking breaks, followed by 3 three minute canter sets, again with three minutes walking between. I ended up dropping the last canter set based upon Brego's recovery (or lack thereof) during the walk breaks. He's been in work for three solid days, and probably due for another body clip so he's suffering from the sunny, dry warmth, but I am still concerned about his conditioning.

To me, conditioning is still the biggest question mark around being successful at our first recognized event later in the summer. Dressage is pretty decent, he's proven that the height of fences (2'7") is no problem. It's getting around the course with enough gas to be both safe and lower the risk of injury that is still unknown. A horse his size needs not only his heart and lungs to be working, but his legs and tendons need to be up to the challenge as well. As his fitness goes up, the risk of injury goes down. I don't think it's possible for him to be too fit.

So I am going to start really focusing on more time in the saddle every ride, more active rides, and dedicated conditioning rides twice a week. It will be hard to fit in with my full-time work schedule (darn work always getting in the way!), but I think it's something I need to do to protect Brego from the wear and tear of even the lowest level of eventing.

As for the 10 mile Hunter Pace this weekend, we are in the hilltopping division, so I plan on taking our time, lots of walking and trotting, and just riding forward to the fences. Oh, and as always, having a blast!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Dressage Show Success

This past week I have been remiss in posting because I fell victim to a fun bout of food poisoning. Yay! As a result, Brego got lots of time off, and my dressage show became less and less of a priority over, say, eating and not passing out. Oh, and getting to work.

Regardless, Sunday turned out to be a beautiful day in New Hampshire, and we went a' showing sans schooling or practicing. At this point, my goal was to stay in the saddle and stay in the arena. I am very happy to report that Brego won his first blue ribbon! The "Always a bride's maid, never a bride" curse has been lifted! We won our Training Level Test 1 class and placed second in our Training Level Test 2 class. Three cheers for the big Brego!

It was also a good day, because I was obviously not feeling my strongest and even had several dizzy spells during warm up. And Brego was such a good boy and did not pull any of his warm up hijinks he has relished in the past. He was a complete professional and won the hearts of the show organizers and many of the spectators who commented on the appropriateness of his show name: Quite the Casanova.

The farm where the show was hosted was incredibly beautiful and the judging was a little tighter than I was used to in Central Texas. This is definitely a horse-knowledgeable slice of the world, with better judging and stiffer competition, even in the training levels. How I just need to find the trainers to help me to the next level.

Now we both get a couple more days off, but not too long because... [insert excited squealing and jumping up and down], we are signed up for our very first Hunter's Pace next weekend. Woohoo! I feel like I have finally arrived in horsey heaven. We NEVER had an opportunity to go to a pace in Texas. Now, there are more activities than we have time for. I can't wait to see how Brego does over the 10 mile course. No fence will be over 3 feet so I am hoping to jump most, if not all, of them. Ahhh... to much horse sport, too little time.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Dressage Practice

A day after starting to figure things out jumping, I was back in my dressage saddle, trying to find my position again. I only have a few riding days until our first show of the season, a dressage show, so I wanted to run through a test to see where we are. Unfortunately, I forgot the tests from last year, so I had to make it up based upon the location of the other riders in the arena. The other riders were very good sports as I careened around, and waited patiently for me to finish my faux test in a corner. I really love this barn!

Anyway, Brego was fun and energetic. I have just started adding a 30% Protein Triple Crown feed to his mix to help him keep up with the work and maintain weight. I can't believe I just said that, but he has honestly gone down a couple of girth holes. Anyway, maybe it's the new feed or maybe it's getting more fit, but he was very easy to ride. So although the test I rode in the video is not the most spectacular he has ever looked, I am very happy with it because it was so easy to ride. He stayed in the canter without my usual lower leg death grip, something I am very much trying to unlearn.

Tomorrow, we will go for a long trail ride. Monday and Tuesday we will work on the actual tests, if I can remember them. He will get Wednesday and Thursday off due to work commitments on my part. And then it's going to be show time!

I am hoping to scope some trainers during the next two shows. I have not finalized any trainers in my area yet, but I am on the hunt.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Getting Better

I would very much like to thank the wonderful readers who posted some very supporting comments regarding my last jumping entry. I was feeling pretty down and it helped to read the opinions of those who have followed our story.

I also put a call into my jumping trainer in Texas and had her review the videos. She had some good advice and exercises to work on. So I gave Brego a day off and then we got back into work. My trainer advised me to try the following exercises to get my weight back, my hip supple, and my lower leg forward and stable:

  • Post the Canter
  • Double post the trot
  • Jump grids with arms forward in a superman pose
  • Some bizarre exercise without stirrups but leaning forward 45 degrees (I admit I didn't try this one).
  • Stand up out of the saddle
I did the other exercises though and they really helped! I spent a lot of time just trying to figure out what causes me to put my lower leg back in the first place. It appears that it is a response to both Brego and my conformation and him falling behind my leg.

This is a picture of me in the saddle with my leg relaxed. I drew in the gap between his side and my leg. My calf is mostly on the saddle flap, so beneath the flap, I have no contact with his side.

To put lower leg on, my knee comes off

In order to put my lower leg on, I have to take my knee of the saddle. Or, as I more commonly do, bend my knee and bring my lower leg back, while turning my toe out. Couple this habit with another bad habt of driving towards the fence whether Brego needs urging or not and you can see why I stiffen my knee and pivot about it. I have removed my entire base of support, my lower leg, by attempting to get leg on before the fence.

So it appears to be something I will have to work hard to unlearn. I shortened my stirrups 1 hole and got to work. The posting canter really helped my balance. Watching the video, my leg looks stable and useful, my upper body looks balanced, and although I am not driving Brego or picking him up, he is cantering very nicely around n a balanced fashion that is correct for his conformation. That is what it looks like. It felt horrible, however. I felt like I had nothing holding me to the horse (since I was not in a death grip with my lower leg), I felt like I was completely leaning forward and laying on his neck. Funny how perception works.

I then jumped a couple of lines with me focusing on putting my leg forward and off Brego and staying back. I consciously tried to stand up out of the saddle. I thought about water skiing and I asked my photographer to shout "Water Ski" at me before the fences. It seemed to work. I look much more stable over the fences in these lines, although I am not quite staying up. I also tried to throw my reins away in the superman pose, but it never quite worked out. I apologize for the upper body convulsions.

It was interesting that even without me driving and fussing before the fence, Brego managed to keep his wits and jump, although we had more chips today than last time. But he needs to learn to carry himself to the fence and not be nagged, so it's good to go through this together. When I put together a small course, with a roll back, you can see Brego doing one of his amazing "Not Quite Jumping, But Leaving The Rails Up" saves. He's a good boy.

My final course was better, I felt like it was getting easier to "water ski". I put the oxer in slow motion in the video so you can see the difference from last time.

So I am very encouraged. It seems my bad habits are solveable. And a day of rest helped Brego to get over the fences with very little effort on my part. He was active and trying, even with low fences, and his canter was relaxed.

Tomorrow we will do dressage in prep for the show next week and we will see if we can jazz him up a bit!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Honest Truth

I had my trusty photographer out to film a short jumping session today. Brego did well at dressage yesterday, but due to some inherent stubbornness from both horse and rider, we worked a little longer than usual. So of course, Brego was tired and heavy for jumping today.

I set up a one stride and an oxer and worked on holding one hand out to the side to get my upper body to behave. My lower leg, however, does not come close to behaving and my position is very loose. The video does not lie.

Honestly, I am not thrilled with my riding, but I promised to post the bad with the good, so here it is. I even added slow motion so you can enjoy every jiggle and wobble. *sigh*

The only good news I can think of is I have five more weeks of jumping work before our first jumping show. The bad news is that I have one week before our dressage show and the flatwork is not exactly inspiring either. It's amazing how weak a couch potato like myself can get without riding for six weeks.

Oh and the other good news is that I am damn lucky Brego is such an honest and good boy.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Forward Jumping

After conditioning sets on Friday, I suspected Brego would be tired, but I wanted to go ahead with some short jumping work. I really need to improve the strength of my position riding the new powerhouse.

I carefully felt all four legs prior to tack up. Cool and firm, no swelling. So I checked his back and tacked up. I am not going to let anything slip anymore. A causal attitude works against the horse.

I took an extra long warmup at the walk (about 30 minutes), until Brego's back was really swinging and he was moving forward into contact without urging. It was cold and rainy and everyone was a little tight. I was to really listen to him. Then I asked for the trot and boom-boom-boom we had the most gorgeous huge trot. This was the first really forward trot I had in my jumping saddle and I was very focused on keeping my balance and staying with him. He was really lovely.

At the canter, he was tired, but not dragging. I decided to jump him over a 2'9" vertical twice to see what kind of horse I would have at the end of a ride. Tired, but not exhausted. I came around to the right and he locked on and we just nailed it. A nice full distance, great round form, cantered off as nice as could be. I got dislodged a bit, but I corrected it the second time around. The second fence he got closer and mostly cantered it, which is a response I expect when he is more fatigued, so it was a good exercise.

His jumping is great, he tries well. I just need to get stronger. I am going to start some cross training, because until Brego gets more fit, he will get two days off between serious rides, and I need all the work I can get. So I will check on him Sunday and Monday, bearing apples, but he gets to rest. Then back to dressage on Tuesday. I want him fresh for dressage to keep bad, lazy habits from creeping back in.

I am loving the new barn more and more. Something I didn't consider, however, was that at a busy barn, there are lots of people around, just hanging out, resting between rides or after lessons. And Brego is a bit of a ham, so there was anywhere from 4 to 7 people watching my ride yesterday. Most of the riders are hunter riders, including one experienced trainer, and I do not have the equitation to play in that game. So some pressure to not completely blow it, and of course my loose position makes me cringe. People were very supportive and kind, however, so I just need to focus on my horse, my ride, and where I need to improve.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Always Give Them the Benefit of the Doubt

Last week was the week to really get back into a riding routine. I had it all planned out:

  • rest monday
  • dressage tuesday
  • jumping wednesday
  • rest thursday
  • dressage friday
You should know that just the fact of me planning the week is a sure sign none of it happened quite that way. But it was still a great week and we had some good rides.

I kicked back into formal jumping with the old Jimmy Wofford trot pole exercise. It was a good exercise to move Brego forward without the "dressage frame". For whatever reason, mostly related to my riding, I am sure, he is never as forward in the jumping saddle as in dressage. He did ok after the first few times where he tried very hard to step right on the poles and snap them like twigs. He finally remembered that he was supposed to step AROUND the poles and suddenly his life was easier. A perfect example of cause and effect.

I then set up a 2'6 vertical with a small gate and just wanted to canter it basically on a circle working on rhythm. You count the strides out loud and the goal is to let the rhythm of your voice help you stay consistent during the approach and landing of the fence. The first couple times coming around on the left lead, we chipped and overjumped, literally throwing me out of the saddle. When he launches 5 feet into the air, I am not strong enough to keep my position.

Then after a couple more fences, he started not being able to turn, jumping sideways, just really terrible stuff that I thought we had covered. I was very frustrated, thinking the time off had made him completely green to jumping again. I was rusty, too. It was just gross, I had visions of buying a proper jumper and just doing dressage with Brego. In dismay I hung my head during a rest and noticed that my saddle was crooked, leaning literally 4 inches to the right.

Ok, so a couple of things I did wrong. I tacked up Brego and did my girth tightening ritual and put the buckles right into their worn grooves on the billets. I did not check my girth after warm up. My own balance is not what it used to be, especially on my left side which has always been a problem. I failed to take into account the fact that Brego's body might have changed over the last two months. And then I was a jerk and blamed Brego for not turning to the left and jumping poorly when I was hanging off his body unknowingly.

I felt instant shame, as I should. And much love for the big guy who suffered under my blame when I was completely at fault. I straightened my saddle, tightened the girth properly and lo! he was instantly balanced through the turn, straight on the jump, and leaving at a proper distance.

To the right he was perfect, so we called it a day. And please believe, I will never forget the valuable lesson I learned.

The next day, Brego walked up back sore. Shocker there, eh. So he got two days off until he no longer showed signs of discomfort. Then I looked at the weather and saw rain over this weekend, so I knew if I wanted to get any conditioning rides in, I needed to do it Friday night. I like to finish my three day rotation with conditioning, instead of starting it, but I figured it was more important to get it in than to put it off.

We aimed for three 5 minute trot sets and two 3 minute canters. This time, I was working on a packed dirt road that wound up and down a large hill, so maybe 75' change in elevation over a half mile. It was certainly more hills than we ever saw in Texas. The other good training lesson I was working on was moving forward at the canter over new ground. Brego is a true looker and he will need to move forward over an unschooled cross country course. So I wanted to see if he could stay forward along the road which has many fun things to look at including children's playsets, a machine shop, a small cemetery with granite pillars, buddy horses in another field, etc. And I did the ride solo, so it was just me and scaredy, er brave, Brego.

The heart and lungs were no problem. Brego completed the sets with good recovery and did not get overly tired. He did suck back looking at all the new horse-eating things, but he at least kept in a trot and I was able to control his bend away from the objects and keep him moving forward. He dropped behind my leg often, but responded to the urging forward. For our first conditioning ride of the season, I was very pleased. He will only get better from here and I think I can get him moving forward mentally as well as physically.

At the end of the last canter, I couldn't resist taking him up a 2'6" bank along the road. It was a good test, we've ridden past the bank a few times, and now at a canter I pulled him off the road and rode him forward to it. Without questions he jumped it, leaving so long and so powerful that I got jumped out of the tack again. Right in front of some hunter girls who frown upon that sort of thing. Sigh. My riding is not what it should be, but Brego continues to pick up the slack and was very brave. I then came back down the bank, slowing to a trot to let him think about it. We have not cantered off banks before, so I did not want to start schooling at the end of a conditioning ride. He jumped right off, no problems.

So all in all, the week did not go as planned. But I am learning how far I need to come, and how kind and generous Brego is all over again.