Saturday, August 30, 2008

Ware Bees!

Well, dear readers, Brego's true calling may not be setting the world on fire in Eventing competitions. It may just be riding to the hounds.

Today was our second hunt ever, after a fairly quick trip with a hunt down in Texas last year. I had heard good things about the territory so I was really excited. Big field, stone walls, pre-Colonial Farm house. Ah... this is why I moved to New England.

We arrived an hour early in time to see the "foxes" go out and lay the scent. This hunt is a drag hunt, so no live foxes are harmed in any way. Brego stood quietly, munching his hay. They announced that there would be no second field. They were going to field first and then hilltoppers and hilltoppers would be slow since there were a lot of green horses and riders. So I had to make a choice. Go big or go home, right? I decided to go first field, 'cause you know, that's how I roll.

They released the hounds, called them in and then we were off. And by off, I don't mean strolling along looking at the pretty fields. I mean full gallop across the fields. Brego was up and ready to go, he was very strong and I ended up with a bridge in my reins, holding him with every last sinew in my back. After a couple of runs, he calmed down enough that I could ride more comfortably. He was a total star, jumping everything, even some big fences (about 3'). Most of the first field gapped a lot of the fences, especially the skinny coops, but Brego was dead on. It was so cool to be riding in the middle of the field and watch horses split around a coop like a rock in a stream and then lock Brego on and he just sails over it. Honest, honest boy.

The day was going pretty darn well, and I was very pleased that I had chosen to go first field when we were stopped at a check and the hounds disturbed some ground bees. Before I could even understand what was happening, the field master was shouting "Ware bees!! Run!! Go fast!!" We were off. Brego had bees on his neck and head and I was stung right above my eye, on my neck, my shoulder, and my stomach. But even through the mad dash through the woods being chased by bees, Brego kept it under control, no bucking no rearing. When we finally stopped to make sure we were all still with us, I looked down and swatted the bees stinging Brego's leg. He stood immobile, a perfect soldier.

The day concluded after a nice tea. I had so much fun, it should be illegal. Brego had zero trouble with slipping, even in some deep mud. He cantered through and then eventually started jumping the boggier places. He kept up with the hounds and handled them moving all around him and underneath him on the wooded trails. He stood perfectly during the checks. We stayed with the field just fine and we even rode behind the field master for awhile. Then his completely professional response to the bees just blew me away.

The only thing I will change next time out is our bit. I am going to put him back in the baucher waterford and see if that gives me just a bit more stopping power for the beginning of the ride. I did NOT pass my field master, but we came darn close if not for some serious pulley rein on my part. The boy LOVES to go!!

I do not know what I have done to deserve such an amazing horse, but I must have been a saint in a former life. He is wise and experienced beyond his years and takes each new adventure with contagious enthusiasm.

Friday, August 29, 2008

All Weather Tread for Brego

In general, Brego does well barefoot. He has been conditioned since I have had him to travel over rocks and uneven terrain without shoes. When we were in Texas, almost all of our rides out involved rocky terrain and Brego did pretty well if kept in reason. For example, I could ride him walk/trot on a 12 mile trail ride over rocks and he would be fine. But if his feet had been soaking in mud for the two weeks prior, it was time to break out his #7 Easyboots.

In the semi-arid climate of Central Texas, you could very easily never ride in mud. The occasional times that it rained enough to cause excessive mud, you could scratch or, better yet, the entire show would be canceled. Thus, I rode for two great years without ever negotiating mud.

Then I moved to New England. Where it actually rains. Sometimes daily. As I am discovering, the barefoot program that worked in Texas may not work so well up here. The jury is still out, but as with all things horses, I am continually learning.

The biggest problem I am facing up here in regards to footing is traction. Brego is still fine over rocks, even with all the wet weather. He is not foot sore or gimpy when we ride out, which is, admittedly less than we rode in Texas. But in the mud, Brego will slip behind.

The kind of mud up here is thick and deep. It's not a thin, watery mud that you can strike through and find purchase on something solid underneath to push off. It's all slick, all the way down. Brego, with his free swinging rear legs, slips in the mud. It could very well be that he is barefoot. Even a flat shoe would offer some grip, I would think. Would it be enough grip in the thick mud to stop him from sliding? That's a big question I have.

Brego might also be slipping because he is honestly not trained to negotiate footing. When all you do is ride on dry, packed earth, it may take some adjustment to center your weight a bit more. Or he could be slipping more because of the way he lands on his hind feet. He swings his rear legs through, in typical cow hocked fashion, by swinging his hoof to the inside, very close to the opposite leg. Then as the foot travels forward, instead of swinging it back out for a nice, even flat landing, he keeps his foot to the inside and places the outside of his hoof wall on the ground first. As his weight transfers onto the hoof, the inside of the hoof comes down to make contact with the ground. So he's not traveling square. This seems to be a breed-specific "feature". I've seen lots of Percherons do this. Being bred to be base-narrow and walk in a furrow has a lot to do with this, I believe.

Landing on the outside of hind foot, sometimes worse than others

This inside travel also has ramification on his hoof development. The outside of his rear hooves are extremely flared and must be trimmed every few weeks to keep his wall from being pushed up on impact and flaring worse. I am of the opinion that you should not correct this type of conformation flaw with shoeing, even if it might be possible. Brego is what he is, and sometimes corrective shoeing will transfer the stress up the leg to his hock or his hip. With his hoof wall being stressed, I can monitor it and he is sound and uses the rest of his hind end well. Of course, I can't predict the future, and he might go lame in 4 years no matter what I do because of this conformation. Such is the nature of horses.

So, knowing that he has such uneven travel, and knowing that his hoof wall is doing a pretty good job and handling that stress and keeping it from impacting the rest of his leg, I am loath to put him in flat shoes permanently. I can't image what might happen to his fetlock if his flared wall was held immobile by a steel plate as he added weight. The double impact of first the outside of his hoof and then his inside might be exacerbated by a non-forgiving shoe.

As a quick aside, I don't believe that all shoeing is evil, but I believe that poor, uneducated shoeing will wreck a horse. I almost lost a mare to ignorant shoeing before I educated myself enough to put a stop to the increasingly debilitating shoes. She went barefoot for seven years and now, as she gets older, she needs simple flat shoes to be comfortable again. Fair enough, I do what is right for that horse. Brego is 95% fine without shoes. The missing 5% is traction. I am not about to mess with the 95% goodness by putting shoes on him until I have exhausted all other options.

So what are my options? Assuming that Brego will not magically learn to travel safely in mud and will need some sort of assistance to compete in New England, what can I do?

Option #1: EasyCare, the fine people who bring you Easyboots, makes a "extreme" boot meant for sloppy conditions called the Easyboot Grip. This boot sounds perfect for what I need. Just slap some boots on his hinds when needed during a competition and the rest of the time, his hooves can rest and keep doing what they are doing. One small snag in this great plan: They don't come in sizes big enough. The Grips only go through #3 and Brego is a #7 up front, probably #6 behind. I contacted EasyCare and they do not have any plans, that they told me about anyway, to make them in bigger sizes. Phooey.

Option #2: Take an existing pare of Easyboots and drill and tap them for studs. All the benefits of studs, without the nailing of a shoe. Right now, I only have Easyboots for Brego's front feet, but his hind feet need the traction. So he would need to be sized and they would need to fit PERFECT to avoid slippage and damage to Brego from a loose boot. I would need to drill and tap the studs (oh yea, buy some studs) and educate myself on when to use studs. This is not such a bad plan, except I hate the Easyboot clasps. EasyCare is supposed to come out with a new clasp, call the Edge, which does not use the little metal cables to secure the boot. I would much prefer the new clasps, less danger of catching on a fence or getting damaged and broken by a rock. But again, when the Edges come out, they may not be in a size big enough for Brego.

On to Option #3: Shoes for Shows. I can put hind shoes on for big shoes, have them tapped for studs. Then after the show, have them removed. There's a couple of big question marks around this option, above and beyond the "traveling" issue I outlined above. Getting a competent farrier who will shoe drafts and do what I want is one. I have not been impressed by the farriers around here. I've never seen so many toed-in, paddling, heel stacked horses in my life. Plus, most farriers will want to put on front shoes, so that would be a battle. I've already been lectured by a farrier that it is IMPOSSIBLE to keep a draft barefoot. That was a fun conversation... No really, I just want hinds. Then there is the question of how will Brego handle the shoes? Probably fine, but he's never been shod in his life. So I would probably need to put them on in enough advance of a show to get them off if he is troubled.

All these thoughts have been running around in my head before I went to the big recognized show. I had some trouble with slipping at schooling shows and I was pretty nervous about how Brego would do barefoot. I watched most of the rides of the day, from the training-level big Thoroughbreds, to the Beginner Novice-level ponies. Some horses had flat shoes. Some horses had shoes with studs. Some horses were barefoot. Everyone had trouble with the wet footing. I saw horses with studs slipping in the mud, front and back. Brego slipped on course once during show jumping. He did not slip at all on cross country, which was pretty wet. But I was very mindful of the footing and so we went an appropriate speed through the wet parts. (So maybe I have a rider education problem??) So all in all, I think he fared as well as the other horses.

So do I really have a traction problem? Or is an occasional slip to be expected and horses and riders learn to just move on? Remember, I have never ridden in mud before, so I am not sure what is normal. Since Brego did so well at the show, I am not pressed to solve this problem today. However, I am going to start working towards Option #2 with the Easyboots that are currently available. The upcoming Autumn will tell me more about whether Brego and I will adjust or if we have a real problem. If Option #2 does not work, I am on to Option #3. I don't mind putting shoes on for a show, but I don't think I am to the point that I will put shoes on Brego permanently for traction. Now, if he started being foot sore, then that's a different ball game.

Everyone tells me that I must put shoes on for the winter in New England, must have borium. But I have met several riders who ride their horses out all year round barefoot. Like all things, it depends on the horse and the level of work. So I need to find a solution that works for both of us and keeps Brego as sound as possible for as long as possible. As always, I reserve the right to change my mind, and my course, at any point. :)

Working on the Stretch

After two weeks off from Dressage, I wanted to work on some bending exercises to keep Brego's mind fresh on the idea. I don't have any major events coming up, so I don't want to drill things, but just keep his neck moving and remind him that he can, in fact, bend his neck while moving.

At the walk, we worked on bending down and reaching for the inside contact. The emphasis is on the outside stretch. You can definitely feel the difference between Brego turning his head to the inside (bad) and stretching the outside of his body, forming the bend (good). It's very cool stuff, and one of those little nuances that non-dressagies (such as myself) live in blissful ignorance of.

At the trot, I had to reinforce my leg quite a bit at the beginning. Brego's natural trot is something akin to a western pleasure job, so we spent a few revolutions on Big Trot When I Say NOW. Then the bending/stretching at the trot is much harder for Brego. I don't know if it's a breed thing or not, but when he trots, he sets his jaw and is on rails, straight and steady. Of course, he's not really straight, if he can't flex his poll, but he sure is on rails.

So we worked on the same bending exercise in the walk but at a trot. To the right, Brego is really getting it, the outside left stretch seems easier, and he really steps under with his right hind. I definitely need to get video of him doing this.

To the left, he had a lot more trouble unlocking his jaw and I had to alternate between high hands and low hands, playing with my fingers, to coax him to relax. We ended on a nice 15 m circle to the left where he had half the brilliance he had to the right, but he was at least not totally locked. Progress!

I also worked on shoulder-ins at the walk where I used the bend to weight his individual hind legs, looking for uneveness on that right hind. He did really well both ways, and I even dropped my inside hand briefly during the movement to prove to myself he was in an honest bend. I feel so, I don't know, so Kyra. :)

Anyway, no canter work, but some nice soft trot work and a pleasant refresher on some dressage fundamentals. I am very pleased with how he did after not thinking of bend for two weeks and I was thrilled to feel him forward and even and using his hind end.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Rock The Vote

It's time to cast your most important vote ever! I have put up a poll asking what you, valued reader, would like to see more of on this blog. I am but your humble servant and would like to know in which direction to take the blog. Since the last poll in Dec '07, Team Brego has grown in readership by oh, about 1000%.

In fact, here are some fun stats about this blog:

  • Inception Date: July 9, 2007
  • Number of Posts: 167
  • Unique Hits: 13,830
  • Current Subscribed Readers: 64
  • Current Subscribed Email Readers: 19
  • Highest Readers: 72

Here's an updated wordle:

As always, if you have a specific request, please post it in the comments and I will reply as soon as possible. Thanks so much, you all make it worth while!

Conditioning Track

We got a nice ride in yesterday on the new conditioning track. Three 5-minute trot sets and one 2-minute canter. Brego came off fine and rearing to go, but I want to tone it down for a bit to see how he bounces back.

My riding buddy was having a quarrel with her TB about the spooky farm equipment around the track. Brego and I just cruised on by. It's times like this that I really appreciate his brain. He's not the fastest runner or the highest jumper, but each ride is that much more pleasant because he is so settled.

I am going to do some light dressage today to keep up with the bending work and then Brego gets tomorrow off.

I am already practicing my "Ware hole!" for Saturday!!! Can't wait!!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

So Far, So Good

The weather has definitely improved. Clear, sunny days with just a hint of crisp fall air. This is going to be a very fun Autumn for Team Brego.

Brego loves the change in the weather. Nothing saps him more than humidity, and with the dry air and reduced temperatures, you can see the relief on his face. He got a bonus day off yesterday because I was on the hunt of yet another elliptical trainer (stupid craigslist junk). So today, when I pulled him out of the field, he was coasting on three full days with no work. His right hind leg felt exactly as he left.

I tacked him up and we just went for a ride around the farm. The amazing barn owners had mowed down a field as a track so I would have a place to condition him outside of an arena. I can't believe how lucky I am to be at such a wonderful barn where my every desire is met. Although most of the riders there are hunters, they indulge my bizarre whims to help me improve in my sport, letting me put out dressage letters, mowing out a track for my conditioning, not panicking when I jump up their landscaping like it's a bank, etc. Eventer's paradise.

Anyway, Brego and I just played around in the fields, walking and trotting. I brought him into the arena only to let my jumper trainer watch him trot and canter. He felt lazy and stiff through the neck, but even. He looked great from the ground.

So another week or so out of the sand and, if his leg remains unchanged, I will start jumping work again. I am still working on the chiropractor, I do want him looked at no matter how good he is moving. Better safe than sorry.

I don't have any shows coming up, so we're taking a break from the dressage and jumping and just working on conditioning and riding out. This weekend, I will be riding to the hounds in New Hampshire, second field if The Brego is up to it (I can gap the fences if needed). Then next weekend, I have another clinic with Steuart Pittman. It will be cross country on turf, so I am sure Brego will be in good shape by then. And then, in mid September, I've got a little schooling 3 phase, which is very little pressure.

So now is the perfect time to build back up and get our bodies and brains excited about work again.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Conditioning, My Opportunity

I wrote a little bit ago about how conditioning was very problematic for Team Brego. I include myself in that team, of course. But let's start with the brawn, shall we?

Brego is getting more and more fit. As just one measure of "fitness", I used to have trouble getting his girth on the longest hole in the billet and may shorten it to two holes throughout the work session. Now I start at 4 holes up on both sides and tighten to 5 holes on one side. And still, I can feel nary a rib on that boy and his withers are as round as ever.

As is typical for his breed, his trotting ability far surpasses his cantering ability. I have to make a concerted effort to work at the canter, and can typically use trotting as a recovering phase. In fact, when I researched conditioning about a year ago, I ran across an anecdote where a rider outfitted her Percheron with a heart monitor and was able to record a faster recovery at the trot than at the walk. So this is a great piece of knowledge that I can use on long courses: go fast and then let him trot and he will bounce back better than if I keep him at a slower canter the entire time.

Regardless, the long term goal is to take Brego through Novice. The height is not a problem, it's the longer courses. They are usual not run too much faster than our current level, so that's a plus. I was not happy with Brego's condition at the last show, and I know I need to improve before our next big push. Which means dedicated conditioning sets, heavy in trot, but I have to push him at the canter to improve. He can trot all day, but his canter takes too many muscles and he needs to get more efficient. The recent rains have made it very difficult to get out of the arena, especially to work at speed. I am hoping that after haying, a big field across the street might open up and I can work him over there.

Now for the brains... I have also mentioned recently that I thought my weight was interfering with my riding. There's no question I have gained 30 pounds since my fighting weight when I played hockey in college. I also work a 50 hour a week job and commute two hours a day and try to ride 5 days a week, so there's not a lot of extra time. As Brego gets lighter and more advanced, it takes less strength to ride him and so I am burning less calories every ride. I did take a heart monitor one time and I burned 600 calories over the two hours that I groomed him, tacked him up, rode in my jumper saddle, cooled him out, carried a couple of buckets. When I ride dressage, it's much easier and these days, most rides are easy.

So right after the post where I confessed my weight was a problem, I picked up an elliptical trainer off of craigslist and now I use it late at night, rain or shine. Thirty minutes, 4-5 days a week, and it's already making a difference. In just two weeks, I feel much stronger and at the last show, I completed the whole cross country ride in two point and with plenty of gas. I fully intend to make this part of my program and I can get a nice burn up and burn down in just 30 minutes a day.

Balanced, toes forward, following release. I could be more open with my upper body.

I can also see/feel it in my jumping position. Even through Brego's weirdness on Friday, I felt more secure in the saddle and my toes were forward. I felt like I fell on his neck less and had more strength in the air. Through experimentation, I have begun to suspect that my squatty, toes out position over fences was the position I assumed which took the least muscles. It was all balance based and allowed me to hold on without using my thighs or calfs or abs. All heels in and hamstrings. So now that my thighs are getting more fit, I feel like I can grip with the inside of my leg and use my thighs more effectively. I can use my abs to support my upper body through the jump.

Of course, it will be wonderful if I can finally get some show clothes which don't make me look like a walrus. But the primary goal is to get off Brego's back and make it easier for him on the courses.

Update: I checked Brego's right hind leg today and it was cool and tight. Very little difference between the right and the left. I could find no heat or swelling anywhere from hip to hoof. I palpated every inch of his body, even his boy parts, and could not find any sensitivity. I probed and prodded his back, looking for a reaction. Nothing. Using two hoofpicks, I ran them down his bum, from his hips to his croup and got the expected reflexive action. No popping of the hips or anything or favoring one side. I held his hoof to his stifle and flexed his hip up and down and it was nice and loose (That boy's leg is HEAVY!). His sacrum looked balanced, not depressed. I then trotted him and could barely run fast enough for his big trot. I found a faster runner and had him trotted and he was even, his hips swinging evenly, the arc of his legs even. I even asked for a canter in hand and he popped into a right canter as neat as you please, even though the runner was leading from the left.

So I officially have no idea. He will continue to get time off, I will continue to hunt down the chiropractor as soon as she can come. If he continues to look as good on Monday, I will just do a couple of trot sets to keep some condition on him until I can get him looked at. No sand, no jumping, much more careful work to bring him back. Otherwise, he's as sound as ever and I have no idea how else to proceed.

There's Something Rotten in Denmark

.. or Maine, as the case may be. I am officially stumped.

Brego came off the show very well. His right hind swelling is down to almost nothing, no heat. He got Monday off, then Tuesday we went for a trail ride. We trotted and cantered. He felt stiff in front, like his shoulders were tight, but otherwise fine and worked out of it. All the jumping at the show would stress the shoulders, I imagine.

Then Wednesday we went for another hack, again mostly walk but some trotting and cantering and he felt really strong.

Thursday we went back to dressage. He felt resistant to bending at first then got more supple as we worked. He felt even and nice, needed his usual encouragement to get going at the beginning of the session. Towards the end, I went out to the outdoor and did big canter circles where I let him canter however he pleased and focused on my position, trying to get my weight down through my seat, trying to keep my leg from swinging. It was a lot of cantering, but no tight turns, and no urging, he just cantered around. The outdoor has a fine, sugary sand that when it's dry gets very tough for horses. There are a couple of areas where it is deep. So, to sum up, a lot of cantering in sandy footing.

Then I talked with my jumping trainer. He is really jazzed about Brego and wants me to enter him in a jumping classic in a couple of weeks. As in, mini grand prix, prize money, the whole works. I would need to school 3'3", but he thinks he is ready. I, personally, don't believe that either of us are ready for a truly technical course and I also think Brego is not as conditioned as I would like. So I am pretty sure I am going to say no to the jumper classic.

However, I wanted to see how he was jumping after the show. He was so forward at the show and had a nice rhythm. So I set up some fences and on Friday, we jumped around in the outdoor (sugary sand). He warmed up fine, getting all his leads at departure cues. But then when we started jumping, he would switch in front but not behind and crossfire. This is highly unusual, but more unusual is that he did is probably 50% of the time. He would switch so he was always on the left lead behind, even if it was the wrong lead and he correctly switched to his right up front.

He trotted out sound, he looks even in the canter, he was powering over 3'3" oxers, he would switch to the right lead at the end of a line when the turn was coming, but down the straight of the line, he would cross fire.

You can see in the video that he is on the correct, right, lead approaching the 3'3" vertical. We get too deep, which is totally my fault, and another reason why I say we are not ready to take on the jumper world. He lands on his right lead up front, but his left lead behind, so he changed his lead behind. He switches up front to his left lead completely after two strides then is fine down to the oxer. He stays on his left lead over the oxer then over the green vertical he switches to his right in front but stays left behind. Then two strides before the second green, he switches up front to be both on his left. Then over the second green, he switches completely to the right, both front and back.

So he will take up the right lead behind, but he often chooses to go left, while his front goes right and then later switches back to left. That's a lot of lead changes and pretty unusual for him.

His right hind was clean last night, no heat, swelling went down to basically nothing with work. No heat in his hocks or stiffle. I am so confused why he would cross fire so much, and always favoring the left lead behind.

I did some research and cross firing can be anything, from back pain to suspensory. The strange thing is he only does it when he switches leads, never on the flat and never during departures. I also read it could be fatigue and I guess if he really favored that right hind for the two weeks before the show, he could have lost more condition than I thought and now with two full canter work outs in a row, in the sugary sand, he was favoring the left lead. It could also be the footing which is hard on the horses, because he did not cross fire at all during the show, on turf, or during my dressage session Thursday, which was in a different arena with more forgiving footing.

I am completely stumped. I have a call in to the chiropractor and I have scratched my weekend activities (local schooling 3 phase) until I get to the bottom of this. I will get a vet out and ultrasound the right hind depending on what the chiro says. But without lameness, it's hard to pinpoint. He is trying to tell me there is something not quite right, and I am listening, but not sure what to do. Definitely no more work in the sand, but I guess more time off until I get the pros out to look at him.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Video - Kingsbury Hill

Many thanks to all my great readers who cheered me on and supported me through the show. I really was encouraged by all the well wishes. Many people in my Other Life do not understand what the show meant to me, but I know from all the comments that you understand. So thank you!

Today Brego and I went for a long hack through the woods alone. We ran around, trotting and cantering logs, and then just walked on the buckle. I learned a lot about both myself and Brego during the show, the least of which is how great he is outside the arena. I had forgotten that. I am going to try to get out more, at least twice a week. I am also putting together another couple of blog posts that go into more detail about some of the things I learned at the show, specifically around shoes and traction and, of course, conditioning.

And Mae, there will not be another recognized show this year, but I have lots of fun activities planned for the fall! Hint: Cubbing season starts soon!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Show Report - Kingsbury Hill

As some of you may have noticed, El Brego de Orro and I took a trip to New Hampshire last weekend to participate in the USEA-Recognized Horse Trial at Kingsbury Hill. It was our first recognized event, having several schooling shows under our belt, and I knew it was going to be a nice step up in both difficulty and competition.

For the previous two weeks, Brego has been in relatively light work because of a small swelling on his right hind fetlock. He was never truly off on it, but not quite his usual self. As a result, he had minimal work and even less conditioning. The Thursday before the show, I had a jumping lesson and my trainer, who is always very conservative, recommended I scratched the show. Brego was completely sound, but seemed tired and not his usual self during the lesson. It was a hard decision. Was my desire to complete this show, to finally go recognized, to FINALLY earn the title of this blog: The Eventing Percheron, overriding my good judgment about my horse's welfare?

I knew, deep down inside, that Brego felt good. I could see it in his expression and his big goofy sense of humor. I could tell by the way he pulled me into the trailer, ready to go, at out last outing to school cross country, that he wanted to do something. He was sick of the arena, the endless dressage.

So I decided to try.

We packed up and left on Saturday to make the three hour drive to the show grounds. On the way, we hit a nasty storm complete with blinding sheets of rain and penny-sized hail. The wind was strong and I was worried about a tree falling across the tiny, winding New Hampshire back road. The truck did great, hauling the big trailer up the hills in near blackout. Finally, we got through the storm and found we had missed a turn when I was focusing on simply staying on the road. We ended up driving an hour out of our way, but finally pulled into the event barn. Kingsbury Hill is a very appropriate name. The entire show was held on the crown of a pretty good sized hill.

The hilltop view from Kingsbury Hill

We unloaded Brego and put him in his stall and then set up our trailer for overnighting. A few people were already there and everyone was very nice. I got Brego bedded down and then headed out for the first course walk. The rain had just come through and the course was drenched. It looked tough. It was pretty long, 16 fences on a double track winding between two main fields. The fields looked like they would drain. The paths through the woods looked very slick. On the first course walk, I just focused on where I would go, the order of the jumps, and the start and finish.

I tried, weakly, to control panic.

About an hour later, I walked the course again. This time, I looked at the terrain, at the footing. The course started to make more sense. I started to see how the terrain was a challenge unto itself. The first half of the course winds its way down the hill to the lower field. Then the second half, you come back up the hill, including a very steep incline before a large bank at fence 13. Then the last three fences are on the flat, a mad straight dash to the finish. I identified Brego's bogey fences, the ones he would look at. The maxed out flowerbox with bright purple flowers, big and bold, at fence 7 and the tire jump, with giant tractor tires as standards at fence 14.

I then walked the show jumping course, which was situated basically on the side of a hill. Where the course was was relatively flat, but right below the course, in warm up, was steep and wet. The stadium course consisted of 8 fences spread out like a hunter eq course. Nothing tricky, nothing spooky, no rolltops or coops. It flowed pretty well and was not too tight. I felt better about stadium, if the footing would hold. The grass was long and it was very wet. I just hoped the sun would shine bright before my 1 pm stadium start.

I few more cookies for Brego and then bed time. I watched the women's marathon at the Olympics live in my trailer and got inspired about my piddly 5 minute cross country course. I went to sleep, dreaming of gold.

The morning of the show was gorgeous, chilly, crisp, surprisingly not humid. A stiff breeze blew across the top of the hill and really help to keep it cool and dry out the wet. Brego was demanding breakfast as I scrambled to get him braided, get my competitor's packet, memorize ride times, optimum times, allowed times, speed times, so many times, but never enough time. We tacked up for dressage and I hit the warm up ring. To say it was busy is putting it mildly. It was a circus. One woman, with the best seat I have ever seen, rode out a rodeo I couldn't believe. Every two seconds I was calling out "inside", "outside", "inside" as we wove in and out, trying to get bend, trying to relax, but not too much, still must have energy. Brego's canter felt really good, so I moved out to the dressage arena.

When our time came, before I entered the ring, a kind lady called out for me to fix my coat collar. I asked her to help and then she told me I couldn't have my whip in the ring. Silly kind lady, I was not there for the championships! I was there for our first event ever! So in we went and didn't muddle things too badly. Brego was late to pick up his left lead at K, but otherwise he was very prompt. I was too busy, too urgent, but he graciously ignored me and did his job. The halt was not square, but it was at X dammit and that's all one could hope for.

Otherwise satisfied, Brego made it back to his stall to the rest of his breakfast, lots of cookies, and sudden recognition from the other competitors. Everyone was very kind to this point, but standoffish. Aside from a couple of overheard comments about 96" blankets (everyone is a comedian, eh?), no one had paid us any heed. But after dressage, people started to come up, ask about Brego, engage with us. We were becoming one of them.

I took at look at the scores and we had a 39.5 after dressage, tied for fourth.

I walked the cross country course a third time and this time I focused on my plan. Brego's conditioning was not the best, and that leg... it was wet and a long course. I planned on trotting Brego during two points in the course, both through the woods. I even planned to walk him through some of the deepest mud. The open fields, where the largest collection of fences were situated were drying out quickly, so I could make my pace there and get some nice gallop fences. But I must protect Brego in the woods, where it was treacherous. Optimum time was 4:48 and I knew that was tight. But there it was. That was my plan.

During the 4 hour break between dressage and stadium, I watched the training-level riders tackle the show jumping phase. The first four horses slipped and had rails. Everyone had time faults. The course looked a lot more sneaky than I thought. These were big scopey horses with shoes and studs. What was poor barefooted Brego going to do? I started to get really nervous.

At noon, I got dressed for cross country and tacked up for stadium. Because they were running one after the other, I could wear my cross country gear during my stadium round. I made it down to the jumping warmup and it was a mess. Sloppy and chewed up from countless other warmup rides, Brego was slipping at a walk. I watched horses go in warmup and then in the ring. The footing in the ring was definitely better. So I needed to preserve his confidence for the ring. I gently cantered him over a few jumps and then just kept him loose on at the walk, asking for leg yields occasionally, asking him to check in with his brain.

Then it was time to jump. We entered the ring and I asked for a big trot up the hill between the jumps, how was the footing? Did he slip? No, that was ok. I heard the whistle, smiled at the judge, and asked for the canter, right rein. Brego did a mini spook at something on our left, so strange, not quite sure, so I asked again. And up and into the right lead and he was on fire. He was ready to go. We screamed through the start flags and I got back enough to get our first jump. Then he was cruising to the natural poles at two. I braced back and sat tall and then we both saw the distance together and nailed it. So incredible to have him in front of my leg for once.

He cruised around that course, looking hard at fences and then lifting over them while searching for the next one. I was riding crazy, using my weight, my arms, anything to keep the balance, keep him going, but not... too... fast... I had to really steady him for the downhill verticals. MUST PROTECT THE VERTICALS. and found myself laughing at this brilliance. He was so "on". We sailed through the last combination and when the announcer said something about a Percheron and going clear, I just erupted. It was not the prettiest bit of riding, and I am sure we looked a little half-crazed out there, but dammit if Brego didn't just light up on that course and carry me away with him.

I was pretty ready to call it a day. You can't top that performance. The spectators were at once amazed and incredulous about what they saw. Many of them called out to me: "Good riding!" "I love your horse!" "What IS he??" I replied, "He's a Percheron!!" and everyone turned and commented to their neighbors. What a rush.

I ended up tied for first after that stadium performance. The footing had claimed more victims.

I had fifteen minutes before cross country. Brego could lay down and refuse to move another step, and he would still have surpassed all my wildest expectations. But he recovered well and seemed to be enjoying the crowd, the atmosphere. He was ready.

Finally we got called to the start box for cross country. I rehearsed my plan in my head. Strong out of the box, left lead to 2, right lead to 3, easy over 4 then trot to the big field. Big bold canter over 5 through 8. Then easy canter over 9. Trot then walk through the mud, pick up the canter before 10. Trot the rest of the hill then right lead to 11. Trot up the hill to 12 and then up the steep hill, must canter that, to the bank at 13. Then finish strong at 14, 15, 16.

The timer counted down and wished me a nice ride. I looked at her for a second or so more, then remembered, this is it! Fly, you fool! I clucked to Brego and we were off! Strong out of the box! Too deep to 1, must control the strong part. Nice lead to 2, got it to 3, feeling very strong, a little too strong. Over 4, now trot. Brego sank into a big trot. On the way out to the field, trotting through the woods, we passed the previous riding walking back. She had fallen off and was eliminated. She was a good rider and a better horse and they didn't make it. What the hell was I doing? Brego, can we make it?

Stick to the plan.

Out of the woods, into the field, left lead to 5. Oops, wrong lead after 5 and the turn to the right is down a hill. The footing... can't bring him down too suddenly, let him figure out the lead. He's not figuring out the lead, ok big turn, make it wide so he can counter canter it, can't risk a simple change. Ok, back on track over 6. Now on to the bogey fence, the big purple flowers on the big box. Line him up, up and over, he didn't even look at it. He's strong, really moving now, ears perked, looking for 8. There it is a whole field away, go Brego! 8 is big, looks bigger from this speed. He's got it, be still and let him find it. There! Up and over, now he's really trucking.

Need to slow it down for 9. We're headed back into the woods. It's wet, slower. Good, 9 was no problem. Trot now, and walk through the mud. Good boy for having such a good brain. Got through the mud, now up the hill. We are starting the climb, must save him for the end. Canter 10 then back to the trot, still climbing. Trot 11 then canter 12 and now we get to it. The steepest part of the hill crowned by a huge bank. Ok canter and go, come on, almost there. The bank is big, I can feel it takes a lot out of him. That was 13, just three more, come on, you can do it! Tired now, we're both tired, but there is the finish, you can see it. Just line up for the tires at 14, another bogey Brego doesn't mind, and then a small log at 15. Then it's just the maxed out rolltop at 16. No problem! Check the watch, cross the finish! We're over time, but not by much, but who cares??? We did it!

We did it!

We did it!

Brego got a slow cool out with water and a leg rub. He owned that course, made it his own. I have never felt him so strong, but when I really needed him to listen, to come back and rest, he did. Twice during the trots he asked to canter, and both times he heeded my gentle "Not yet".

He absolutely did everything I asked of him, perfectly. The only thing I can fault him is that he missed the left lead at K in our dressage test. Which is such a small nit, compared to the magnitude of his effort and how much he enjoyed the jumping phases and carried me with him. There's no doubt, he finally "gets" cross country and he couldn't get enough of it.

As for me, I am more proud of our final 3rd place finish with 4 time faults than I would be with a win. We were first after stadium, but I had a plan and I knew my horse and I knew what he would need. If I had pushed him around the course to make time, he would have been too tired. He needed the trot breaks, I could feel him recover. The improvement I could have made would be to get the correct lead after five so I could have made a safer and smaller turn. But there was not anything else I would change. I rode to my plan and I rode for my horse.

There were a lot of nice horses there and even better riders. We were not the most polished team, or had the best technique. But we rode for each other. Brego trusted me when I said go and I trusted him to keep me safe. And I felt it, that feeling on cross country when things are clicking and your horse is hungry and each fence rolls under you smooth like the last. I finally felt it.

And I love it.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Brego wins third!!

Live updates - xc

Jumping clear cross country, maybe some time faults. Results soon

Brego was very sound and strong xc. A real pro and couldn't ask for

Sent from my iPhone

Live Updates - Stadium Result

Double clear stadium!
Cross country in 15 minutes.

Sent from my iPhone

Live Updates - Jumping Plan

Gorgeous weather. Jumping course is riding slick and tight. Horses
sliding all over the place. Time us very hard to make. The plan is to
go slow and try to go clean to build Brego's confidence before xc.

Sent from my iPhone

Live Updates - Dressage Score

I peeked at the scores and Brego is currently tied for fourth in a
field of 18!! Go Brego!! We have a score of 39.5 .

Third course walk done. It looks easier and easier. Right now I think
a clean stadium round will be my biggest obstacle.

So many very nice horses and I an having a blast. Many thanks to all
my online buddies who have stopped by to introduce themselves!!

Sent from my iPhone

Live Updates - Dressage Test

Dressage test went well! I felt like it was medium. Not our best but
not our worst. Brego felt awesome in warmup but as the excitement
started to wear off ( for him!) he went behind the leg.

I am going to try not to learn my score until I am all done. I am
nervous enough without worrying about standings.

Four hours until we warmup for stadium and then xc is run after that.

Sent from my iPhone

Live Updates - Morning

Up with the sun. Brego got a half breakfast and I am desperate for
coffee. Tack up at 7 and then Dressage at 7:48.

Sent from my iPhone

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Live Updates - Arrival

Brego is tucked into his stall and already making friends. We drove
through rain and hail to get here but the sun is shining now. First
course walk done. Course looks big but fair. There's a bank and a
ditch. Show jumping is on long grass on the side of a hill. Welcome
to the big leagues!!

Sent from my iPhone

Live updates - Mobile Blogging

Hi all! I am going to be sending live updates to the blog throughout
the show, reception willing.

Current update: Brego got a bath and is smelling very flowery. We'll
be shipping out in the next hour. Brego's leg looks the best since
the swelling began and he is in a very good mood. Now it's just a
matter of monitoring his condition in the summer heat! I feel like
we're going to Rolex!! I need to remind myself that this is a 4 minute
beginner novice xc that Brego can probably do in his sleep. ;)

More this evening!

Sent from my iPhone

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Conditioning, My Nemesis

Although Brego continues to be sound, his loss of conditioning from his time off showed up today during our jumping lesson. He was not lame, just sloooooow and not wanting to work. It doesn't help that my instructor likes to talk so in the one hour lesson, I got exactly 7 minutes of me working on film. I am not kidding. So during all the talk breaks, Brego is walking on a loose rein, going to sleep. Then I kick him into a canter, we pop a fence, and it's back to nap time.

It was getting so bad, that my trainer thought Brego was too exhausted after five jumps to show in, oh, 3 full day's time. So I asked for one more set of jumps, this time with enough prep to wake him up. And he did just fine, making the distances and getting his leads in the air. So Brego might be tired, but he's not exhausted. He just needs some extra motivation.

I've decided to push on to the show. Without Brego being lame, it's hard to justify not showing up and giving it a try. We ride early so it won't be too hot. And we run cross-country after dressage and stadium so if Brego runs out of gas in stadium, I can save us from impending disaster cross country and retire. I can also assess the footing and if it's really poor, just do dressage and stadium.

I am going to trot him out tomorrow and then he gets Saturday off, save for the three hour trailer ride to the show. Then Sunday, at 7:48 am, I will be turning up the center line in our first recognized show. We're not quite where I want to be, but it's time to just go out there and ride.

Almost There...

Another sunny day and another GOOD day as we approach the show. Brego's leg continues to improve, almost no swelling now, I really need to feel for it.

We worked today on more dressage, working forward and attempting the bendy stretch at the walk. He's starting to get it and, of course, the key is my outside rein. If I can keep it still and appropriate, he will push into the stretch. Otherwise, it feels like a hollow bend.

I still feel like we are both a little rusty. I am not sure what is up with my swinging leg. I will need to talk to my new dressage instructor about it. Otherwise, I am trying not to change too much before the show. I want us both relaxed and comfortable and if I focus on all the things I am not doing right, I think I will get more tense and Brego will start to resent it.

I put together a short video of us today. It's not too exciting, but it at least shows that Brego is still alive and kicking and looking pretty good on that right hind. He is such a good boy and really tries, even when I changed the rules of the game for him. For example, I am really focusing on not letting him drop his inside shoulder after the downward transitions. He thinks it's time to chill in the center of the ring after a canter, because that's exactly how I have ridden him for oh, two years now. So now I am asking for him to keep his track and balance and the game has changed. Good thing he is a quick study!

Dressage Practice - Trot and Canter from Eventing Percheron on Vimeo.

I have another jumping lesson tomorrow. We are going to work lightly, but on accuracy, so I can protect the verticals at the show. I want to make sure Brego gets plenty of rest as we approach the show because his conditioning is not where I want it to be and I don't want his hind end to be tired like it was for the show a month ago.

Monday, August 11, 2008

One Day Closer

We are taking it day by day and today was a GOOD Day!! The wraps came off this morning and Brego's leg looked great. The swelling is almost completely gone and there was no heat. So Brego got an ice pack for 15 minutes for good measure and then back out to the field to his buddies.

When I arrived this evening, he was in good spirits. He was slightly back sore from the work yesterday but his leg looked good and he was chatty and interested. We went to work on dressage and I attempted to bend him into a stretch as I learned yesterday. Wow, we've got some work to do there! I also worked on my position in the canter and it is much harder on the big boy. He's not as consistent or balanced as the schoolie and his stride is quite large. We had a pretty solid work out and then I performed the test for the upcoming show, working on memorization. Not great, but not too shabby. The goal of this weekend is to complete, not to compete, so I am just hoping for some consistency among all the nerves.

After the stretching work, Brego's back was better than before the ride. He did not react to my poking and prodding of his back. Good dressage is supposed to be like a good massage, working the muscles out and lengthening them.

Brego gets another poltice tonight after all the dressage work.

Still no word on the event itself. It rained today and will tomorrow as well, but then is supposed to clear out for the rest of the week. Fingers crossed.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Night And Day

Today was a day without rain and I am happy to have it. I got up early for my second dressage lesson of Dressageapalooza. Still cynical from yesterday, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I had heard good things about this barn, so there was a little more hope.

I arrived and was lucky enough to watch the instructor teach the lesson before me. This woman was very good, professional, quick with praise and criticism, and very sharp. She was working with a mare who dropped her head too far behind due to being ridden in draw reins as a youngster. I hate to be so categorical, but you can tell a lot about a dressage instructor by their attitude to draw reins. This instructor seemed to be in line with my personal beliefs, and I was relieved.

The mount for the day was a good ol' fellow, a 25 year old draft cross who looked a little long in the back. I checked him thoroughly while tacking up and he look fit, good eye, very inquisitive. And his back was not sore. Woot!!

I got to use my saddle and it was not a perfect fit, but the instructor got a different pad for it and corrected it immediately. Horse's comfort comes first. Excellent.

We got started. Although this horse was a draft cross, he was very different from Brego. He was obviously well schooled, and I found my leg aids too loud for him. He was obviously a little older and not quite as springy, but boy was he cool. This old man jumped to life and when I could quiet my outside hand and sit straight, he gave me some gorgeous moments.

The instructor was very detailed, she taught me a lot of theory around biomechanics of the bend. How you can't just focus on the bend, you have to focus on the outside which is stretching. The stretch was what was hard about the bend and horses that are stiff on one side are usually stiff to bend AND to stretch. It was a lightbulb moment.

We worked a lot on asking the horse to bend as a stretch into the bit and then asking him to balance there. I was not to adjust his balance by force, just ask for the stretch and let him balance. It was really neat. The horse also had amazingly crisp canter departs, illuminating another area where Brego and I can definitely improve. I also found I tend to relax my belly in the canter instead of sitting straight with my abs and sinking lower. I could definitely tell on this horse when I got it right. Brego's canter is so bouncy, it is very hard to ride, even for my former instructor, so it is harder to work on my seat and I end up clenching with my thighs. It was really cool to ride this horse's canter and feel my weight sink and my sternum grow tall.

So all in all, very successful and mind blowing, just how I like my dressage lessons. I want to understand dressage, not just ride it, and this instructor answered all my "why"s in ways that made a lot of sense. I am so happy to have found a great instructor. She is keen to meet my horse. I could tell by the way she talked about my challenges that Brego just might surprise her. Not that he is a horse up to her level, but that he is not your typical plow beast and can carry himself. He gets it, even if he is not strong enough to execute it all the time.

I am going to see how this week goes and then take another lesson, either on that awesome schoolie or bring Brego along. I am going to shoot for dressage every other week and jumping every other week, so I get a lesson a week. I don't have the cash to take two lessons a week from the two disciplines, so I'll just have to make do. Both of these instructors are so great, that I usually have plenty of homework to work on over two weeks.

After exercising my brain, it was time to exercise my fun. So we loaded up Brego and headed out to UNH to school cross country. The UNH course is very pretty, winding through woods on double track roads, breaking out into clearings of gorgeous grass. Most of the fences are maxed for their level. There's a lot of questions from light to dark and back to light as you weave in and out of the trees. It's a tough course, in my opinion, not unfair, but certainly rewarding confident riding.

From the two weeks off, neither Brego nor I were quite confident enough and we had some greenie refusals at the water, for example. The footing was also hit or miss, 90% would be dry and then you would hit a slick swampy area with tall enough grass that you couldn't tell it was wet until you heard the squish. Brego slipped a few times, but seemed to recover fine. He felt rock solid on his leg, but definitely out of shape for the work (both physically and mentally). We schooled pretty hard, over some spooky fences and then went back and did the whole course.

A Novice Log. Miracle of miracles! My toes are forward!!

Once separated from his horse buddy and convinced he was really on course, he did great and got stronger as the course went on. He just starts soft and not convinced we should really be doing this. I am glad we schooled before the big show, to see how his leg does and to get him back into work. I think it would have been quite unpleasant to take him out there next week after not going cross country or doing much jumping at all for a month.

'Cause that's how he rolls...

After the schooling, Brego was tired but jogged sound. He had worked hard and I pushed him, but he was in a good mood and really chatting me up. He was also all about relaxing and rolled in the sandy parking lot. Making himself at home, that's what he does. I then wrapped his hind legs for the ride and to take any heat and swelling off.

In the sunlight it's good to see... he's still brown.

The big test will be tomorrow when the wraps come off. If his leg is unchanged after the heavy schooling and he jogs fine, he will probably be good to go. And then it's just the weather to worry about. We'll take it one day at a time.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

The Real Lesson

Such is the nature of horses. They give meaning to the beating of your heart and then, just as quickly, break it.

Today was a very up and down day for Team Brego. I've been watching the eventing dressage coverage of the Olympics online and getting jazzed about my Dressagapalooza weekend: two lessons with two higher lever horses. I really miss my dressage trainer in Texas and I was looking forward to getting back into the cerebral training that comes with thoughtful dressage.

But first, out to ride my boy and gather my things for the lesson. I started early and headed out to the barn. Brego got Friday off due to such heavy rains that a local recognized event was cancelled due to flooding. The weather only looks slightly better for next weekend, my recognized show... but I am getting ahead of myself.

Brego was off yesterday, and after our pleasant ride Thursday where he was feeling quite strong, I expected a refreshed and eager face to greet me in the field. Brego was certainly in a good mood, but his right hind leg was swollen from fetlock to hock, much worse than I have ever seen it. Quelling panic, I brought him out. He walked fine on it. Palpated negative. I was expecting the small puffiness to have retreated, not take over his entire leg!! Did he slip in the mud from the torrential rains? Brego is on full turnout and although the field is well drained, it does get muddy when the rain is falling, before it has time to drain away. Did he get kicked?

He jogged fine, so I decided to see what a little light work did to the swelling. I tacked him up dressage and we did some walking and trotting. After 15 minutes, his leg was mostly normal, although the puffiness that we have been battling was still there at the base of his tendon. He felt completely fine, even, solid. My grounds person and riding buddy said he was tracking even, pushing even, looked just like normal Brego at the beginning of a ride. I dismounted and checked his leg again and it was noticeably improved, so I decided to give him a full ride.

He did great. We are not about to set any records, but he was moving very well for the light level of work he has been in for the last two weeks. I decided I was going to go to my dressage lesson and come back and check his leg again. I gave him 1 gram of bute to see if the residual swelling disappeared during the couple of hours I would be gone.

So off to my lesson. Now, I should preface this tale with the comment that when I researched barns, I made it very clear what my level was and that I wanted a higher level horse, who executed movements properly, to learn aids on. I was not an "up-downer" trying to navigate Intro B. I have a perfectly nice Training level horse who schools first and second, I needed a confirmed second level horse. The owner of the barn where I was to take me dressage lesson understood and said she had a Oldenburg cross who was doing 3rd level movements. I also disclosed my weight and height so she would not choose a pony for me. We agreed on a time and we were set.

So I arrive for my lesson and my instructor is, oh, about 17. Not a big deal, lots of younger folk know more about horses than I do (*cough* Beckz *cough*). She was teaching a small child how to "jump" cross rails on a horse so obviously uncomfortable that he could not use his back at all. Again, fine, this was a lesson program, things are not always ideal.

I waited for her to complete the lesson and the she had me sign a waiver, etc, and talked to me as if I was a complete horse novice. "First we're going to get your horse from the field. Then we're going to groom it." Fine again, this was obviously not the owner and maybe didn't get the memo that I OWN a horse for whom I do most care.

Then we go and get the horse. The Oldenburg Cross doing 3rd level, remember? This horse was a wreck. He showed every rib, and his hips protruded. He was ancient looking. He walked so slowly, even I was surprised (for those who don't know, Brego is the slowest walker on earth). Ok, fine, some dressage horses are misleading at first glance.

Then I started grooming him. Using a simple curry comb and body brush, I brushed the caked on mud off his back. The horse almost buckled to his knees. The instructor was standing right next to me and I looked at her to see if she saw it. She stared blankly at the horse. I did it again, this time brushing to his hip and again he violently flinched. I turned to her.

"He's sore."

"Yea, he's a bit back sore. We'll pad him up. Go ahead and brush him."

I turned back to the horse and tried again. He buckled again.

"Are you sure? He seems pretty bad."

"Yea, he had a big jumping day yesterday. We'll give him some bute."

I turned back to the horse, and more gently brushed his sides, barely touching his hair. Then I saw a big sore. A girth gall, angry and red.

"He's got a..."

"Girth gall, yes. We have a sheepskin for him but one of the girls keeps taking it off."

I walked around to the other side. He had a girth gall there too.

I stood back and really looked at the horse. He was skinny. He had no topline. And he was in pain. How on earth does this poor horse do 3rd level movements????

At this point, I asked if I could just come back later. I was not going to ride the horse. Of course, I have no intention of ever going back. And the sight of that poor guy made me sick.

The instructor was very nice and said sure, no problem, we could arrange a time when he was feeling better. Or I could ride another horse, but this one knew the most so I might not enjoy a greener horse. I kindly declined and got the hell out of there.

Seriously. There are no words. I know it's a lesson barn, but that horse could never do dressage. As she led him away, he could not even track up. He was in so much pain he could not extend his left hind leg. Tough jumping lesson the day before, eh? Just gross.

I headed back to my barn to love on my horse and tell him how much I love him. His leg was still only slightly puffy, so I hydroed it and jogged him for my trainer. Totally sound, and yet the puffiness remained. There's no question he has strained his leg at some point. I also found a small cut on his fetlock which was infected and with all the mud had caused the rest of the swelling up to his hock this morning. I cleaned it thoroughly and hopefully the infection will not return. I left Brego today with a third round of hydro, and a poltice. He was in an unusually good mood, loving the attention and cookies and THREE visits from mom!

And now comes decision time. I am past the point of getting any refund on my entry fees for the big show next weekend, whether I scratch now or next Friday. There's a better than even chance that the event itself will be cancelled due to rain. The weather here is unbelievable. But even if not, the footing may not be great and there is no way I am going to take Brego out in bad footing again even if he is sound on that leg.

So the current plan is to see how it goes this week with normal work, including a cross country schooling tomorrow. If he stays sound and happy, I will entertain the thought of showing. If it rains too much, no way. If the swelling goes back up, no way. If I haul all the way there and it's muddy, no way.

So it's looking like big show which I have been working for for 16 months may just have to wait awhile. Which is heart breaking. But! My horse is sound and will NEVER end up like that poor lesson horse today, sore and drugged and sad. And that is what eventing is all about. Learning that fact is the most important lesson of all.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Deep Breath Before The Plunge

Maybe it's the impending Olympics, whose eventing events I will be watching online, every frame, or maybe I have been listening to too much Tolkien on my daily two hour commutes, but there is an energy building. It's almost here...

Show time!

The largest distraction from my horse in my Other Life, my job, has finally released. We shipped our damn product and now I can get back to a regular 40 hour work week. Which means more time to spend with Brego. And not a moment too soon, since we have the big recognized show in, say, 9 short days.

Brego's leg is pretty close to perfect. There's still a little wind puff type swelling, but I can't get anyone at the barn, trainers, etc to get worried about it. When I went out today, I just couldn't stand the thought of working in the indoor, torrential rain or not, so I went for a hack. A real honest to goodness hack. Due to daily afternoon showers, I have not been out on a hack in several months. But today was the day, show or not, to get reacquainted.

On the way out, exploring, we had a riding buddy to show us the way. She generously showed us to the open gallop fields, which when they are dry, will be my new favorite spot, and then booked it back to the farm for her lesson. Brego and I were left alone to wander. My dopey trail horse, following head to tail, suddenly went on high alert. He was up, but soft, with an immense power and energy that felt contained (again too much Tolkien) by his trust in me. He wanted to run screaming back to the barn. But he stayed because I wished it and we explored the fields in a buttery sitting trot in a perfect baroque frame. I do, deeply, love this horse.

The weather is terrible, the trails are mud, the bugs are maddening, but he still finds a way to be gorgeous, miles from home and all alone. Just for me.

It was the tonic we both needed. He felt so good, I am confident about getting him back and ready before the show. Tomorrow we will return to the indoor, because more rain is forecast. And then over the weekend, I have two dressage lessons on different horses and Brego and I are scheduled to school at UNH. One final cross country schooling before the big show. There's much to do: Reread the rule book, polish tack, dry clean show clothes, learn my dressage test, shave Brego, stay calm, stay calm, breathe, stay calm. The dress rehearsals are almost over. I am officially accepted into the show, although I do not have a ride time yet. Things are about to get very exciting.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Brego Back in Black, er, Brown

Over the course of the week, my generous riding partner had been icing Brego's right hind leg in the morning while I was at work. The puffiness improved. By Friday, other people at the barn kindly thought I was nuts: Brego's leg looked fine and people could not feel much of a difference between the "injured" leg and his other hind.

So I rode him around bareback at a walk and we worked on bending and circles and generally getting back into a work frame of mind. He was reluctant to work, but after I insisted, he did really well and was actually feeling pretty good. I did not push him at the walk, letting him choose how much to push from behind. I couldn't feel anything off. It was nice to have a bareback day where we wandered around the farm and basically hung out. Working full time and preparing for shows, we don't do much hanging out anymore. Maybe that's part of the problem...

On Saturday, his puffiness was noticeably reduced, almost completely gone. I tacked up with my dressage saddle and we went for a spin. We did a long, stretchy warm up at the walk. When I first asked for the trot, he felt so stunted, I immediately asked for spectators to watch him. He was just jogging stiffly around, was he lame? No, everyone said he was even, just not moving forward. So I asked for more trot and then bam, there he was. Brego was back! He felt strong and even, but his top line was stiff. He had trouble softening down. He is not the kind of horse to use his topline properly walking around a field, so it takes a little more work to get him to use it after a break.

I rode for about 20 minutes, mostly trot, and ended with him nicely stretched. Not nearly as consistent than before he took a break, but when he got it, he felt good. I only cantered him enough to check him both ways. He felt flat but ok.

So I will start working him back up. He was off for only four days so I am sure he will be back to normal soon. I am also investigating getting a good chiropracter to see him this week to make sure all residual kinks he might have acquired if he favored the leg are gone. I never saw him off on it walking around, but you never know.

Finally, I have two dressage lessons next weekend on other horses. I have chosen two different trainers and barns so I can get a feel of who I would like to continue with. Both horses are more advanced than Brego and both instructors have much experience, so I am looking forward to it.