Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Year In Review

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

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

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

Goals for 2008:

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 22, 2008

Reindeer Games

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

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

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

Brego likes to lay in the snow.

Getting up from his ice therapy.

Making the trek to the water trough.

Saucy mare still kicks up her heels.

Playing in the snow.

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

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Blizzard Brego

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

Brego is chillaxin'

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

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

Very unhappy mare

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

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Schooling in the Indoor

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

Percheron Schooling Dressage from Eventing Percheron on Vimeo.

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

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

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

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

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

Let It Snow...

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

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

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

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

After a good hike, covered in snow.

Absolute beauty.


Gratuitous gorgeous horse shot!

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

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

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Dance

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

Ice Storm Beauty...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 14, 2008

All is right in the world

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

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

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

Sent from my iPhone

Saturday, December 13, 2008


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

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

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

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

Sent from my iPhone

No power

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

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

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

Send warm thoughts my way, oh and coffee :)

Sent from my iPhone

Friday, December 12, 2008

Major ice storm

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

Welcome to New England!!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Good Ride and Plug

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Three Rides

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Somewhere in New Hampshire...

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

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

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

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