Thursday, December 24, 2009

Holiday Cheer

'Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the farm
Not a creature was stirring, trying to stay warm;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

The horses were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of mango slices danced in their heads;
And having finished the chores, I in my cap,
Had just settled down for a long winter's nap.

When out in the field there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a giant draft horse seeming to float in the air.

With his big fat belly and enormous toes,

I knew in a moment it must be Brego.
Released from his stall and dashing in the snow
He was running and bucking and looking to show.

More rapid than eagles his hooves they came,

And he snorted, and neighed, and I called him by name;

"Now, Brego you are too big to call this play!

You scare me I will be crushed where I lay!

When you leap in the air and jump the wall!
Now settle down, before you kill us all!"
Then Brego stood still with a twinkle in his eye
And he answered me back before leaping to the sky.

"All our time together, you have wanted to run
And jump and play and have so much fun.
Now I enjoy going fast as much as you do
and jumping so high to the birds we flew.

So why now do you get way too scared?
It seems like just now, we've finally been paired.
So relax just a little and in time you will see
I am an equal partner and you can trust me.

Just now I was practicing to be light as air
So I can win at dressage with little care.
And the running is good for building my heart
Remember how boring it would be to pull a cart."

His eyes -- how they twinkled! his big goofy ears how merry!
His coat was all dappled, his nose like a cherry!
I smiled to myself, remembering the time
He saved a jump distance, a mistake that was mine.

And then there was the time, he took care of my dad
carrying him softly with all the skill that he had.
And of course, he saved me when I hurt my back,
moving carefully home to keep me in the tack.

"You are right, my big man" I said with a shout.
"You've taught me so much, you are the best mount
For all my adventures, I am sure that is true.
And there is no doubt, how much I love you.

But get thee to bed, before we miss St. Nick.
And in the morning, you will have a special gift.
We will play together in the driven snow
And package our adventure with a giant red bow."

Then with glee, he turned 'round in the snow,
And I lingered at the window to watch him go.
He had a broad face and a giant round belly,
That shook, when he played like a bowlful of jelly.

He sprang to his stall, with a neigh loud and clear,
I am so lucky to have a horse so dear.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he dove out of sight,

"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night."

Friday, December 18, 2009

See ya, 2009! Don't let the door hit ya on the way out.

What a year. What a freakin' year. I am going to be so happy to see 2009 in the rear view mirror, and pray, dance, and sacrifice to the rain gods that 2010 is drier and we see the beautiful sun. Remember that 80% cloud cover in June? Remember that record precipitation in June, July, September, October and now December?

What a freakin' year.

When we last left our hero, Brego had just had his first, and hopefully only, set of shoes pulled because he wasn't adjusting to them. The leading theory now is that the equipack was too hard and hurt his sole. If I try shoes again in the future, it will not be with a pack.

Regardless, Brego snapped back to normal within a few days and we ended up going clear at the Groton House Fall Classic and placing 4th after a fairly disastrous dressage ride. Bucking in the left canter does not endear yourself with the judge, but he was foot perfect cross country. Despite the heavy rains, he did not slip on course and I felt like our stadium round was the most even and "hunter-like" to date with good distances, nice tempo, calm and easy.

We started foxhunting and Brego continued to improve foot wise, to the point that I would take him to almost any of our fixtures and not worry about it being too hard on him. He was sound, sound, sound and very happy to be following the hounds again. Too happy, it seems, because at our opening hunt, he was so explosive in his, er, exuberance that I had to retire early for fear of endangering the field. He bucked me out of the saddle (although I managed to stay on), bolted and almost ran over my field master. He was just out of his mind in a scary way that I've never seen in him before.

His Lyme titer came back borderline positive (like most horses in New England), but after that display of athleticism, I decided to treat. Unlike Andrea, who is either brave or stupid, I do not laugh when my horse rears (nothing but love, Andrea, but you are crazy!).

During the month long treatment, I was galloping Brego one Wednesday on an old carriage trail, about a 1/4 mile around, nice and cleared and good footing in all weather. It is a 30 minute walk hack through the woods from my house. I do carry a phone with me for safety, but my SO was away working with the fox hounds that morning. Anyway, we did our two 5-minute trot sets and had just started the first canter set and I suddenly felt very sharp pain in the middle of my back. I fell forward and couldn't breathe for the pain. I managed to utter "whoa" but was otherwise largely unable to gather my reins, steer, or sit up. Brego came back to a halt immediately and stood (fresh out of a gallop). I determined my back was not getting better after a few minutes, so I laid on his neck and asked him to walk home. He walked the 30 minutes home perfectly, picking the right turns in the woods, with zero input from me. He carried me home as gently as you could ask, navigating a stream and some steep hills without a single trot step or jar. When I got home, I lined him up to a stone wall and he stood perfectly while I took 2 minutes to get on the ground, hanging on his side. I put him away and went to the emergency room. Lumbar sprain and muscle spasm. I was riding the same way I have for years. Brego did not trip or slip or pull on me to cause it. I did not hit the back of the saddle or anything else. Who knows? But Brego's maturity and calmness during the whole ordeal showed me that my boy was back. And since the treatment, he's been nothing but a very fun, safe horse.

Not the best picture, but it makes me laugh. I call it "Air Brego" (top rail is 3'3") and I secretly wish that my ass looked that small in the saddle. Maybe in 2010...

While I was injured, I asked Andrea to ride Brego in the New England Hunter Trials. She already wrote up her very polite comments. What she failed to say was that Brego started warmup like a complete cow and she had to literally whip him into shape. She didn't say it, but I know she was thinking that *I* was the crazy one for wanting to event this slow, lazy, fat, pompous fool. But when she finished the ride, after 12 minutes on course, she was all smiles. Watching someone of Andrea's ability ride my horse was the best thing that could have happened to me. She handled his minor challenging outbursts like a pro and from the ground, I could see them for what they were: minor. He *feels* huge when he gets all humped back and high, but he is not really doing much more than breathing so it helped me relax that my death was not impending. She also gave me some very honest tips and appraisal of where Brego was and where he needed to be to compete Novice. Although they did not place well, I am eternally grateful to Andrea for that gift.

My back healed 100% and the rest of the season involved twice weekly foxhunts, a lot of drinking from my flask, and farm work. Brego completed enough hunts to earn his "Hunt Horse" certificate so now he's the Real Deal. Or something like that. :) Brego's feet continued to improve and now I think I've got the right maintenance routine for them to handle the climate here in New England (did you see me knock on wood there, because I just knocked so hard I think I broke my hand). I intend to compete in eventing barefoot. Next summer will be telling as to whether I can keep him comfortable for foxhunting as well.

Brego in the snow. Not pictured: His manly "Ruby" blanket.

Now, under the first foot of snow, Brego will have all of December off. My goal is to not let him get as out of condition as last year so I will being skijoring work with him January. I am also going to work on ground driving again, with the ultimate goal of getting him safe in harness again. We have logged the back acreage, and so after a couple of years, he will have better turnout and grass most of the growing season. My money is still tied up in the farm, with the need to buy lime, seed, and fencing for those new pastures ($$$), but I intend to get to some recognized USEA shows next year, and I want to compete in one jumper show as well (for grins).

I am not going to formalize any goals, however, because 2009 taught me that sheer will is sometimes not enough when the weather, the farm, and the job pull you in 10 different directions. Brego and I will just work to improve, have fun and make every outing the most it can be.

What a freakin' year. At least I learned a lot and Brego and I are none the worse for wear. My horse is a gift and the big lesson of 2009 is learning to appreciate him even though things don't work out the way you planned. Good boy, my Big Man.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Search for the Perfect Hoof (Solution)

Since I have gotten some excellent leads on good hoof products, I thought I would write up what I already know or have researched. My readers can then extend the search, armed with data.

This is Brego's right front foot right after we pulled the steel shoes. You can clearly see the nail holes in addition to his enormous and quite healthy frog. (An old barefoot trimmer I cliniced with once remarked while looking at Brego's foot: What do you call a frog that's bigger than a frog? A toad!) Brego's foot measures 7.5" to 8" across and it is wider than it is long, which is the challenge to fit. Most conventional hoof products (boots, shoes, etc) are longer than they are wide. Right now, Brego would wear a size 8 shoe. That is a tremendously big shoe, and very hard to find in "sport" models.

We live close to Meader Supply, which is one of the foremost suppliers of Draft and light horse farrier supplies, so we have access to a boggling array of options. Unfortunately, most do not fit. The most common draft shoe is called "Scotch Bottom Shoes" and they are falling out of favor in the driving community and are completely inappropriate for sport. They encourage big hitch action and not the kind of movement I need for eventing or hunting. My current farrier calls them "archaic". The biggest challenge is understanding not only the needs of a big foot, but also the needs of a sport horse, who must have a comfortable breakover, minimal weight swinging on the fetlock, and excellent traction. In short, I need a performance option for a light horse, in a big horse package.

As for boots, I have tried all the major names. The following boots do not come big enough, or they have the wrong shape for Brego's feet (longer than wide): Renegades, Easyboot Gloves, Easyboot Epics, Marquis, etc. Brego does fit in a pair of Boa Boots, but they are bulky and he tends to slip. They are for walking only.

The following composite shoes do not come big enough: Eponas, Smoothwalkers, Flex Step. I ordered a pair of Hoof-Its and they were too small, but there is a larger size to try, so we may be ok there. If Brego fit in Eponas, I would buy them in a heartbeat. I love the traction options and the mesh insert is perfect to prevent balling in winter.

I have also tried Super Fast glue epoxy, glue on pads with Adhere, Sole Guard, and other "pour on" options. One tube (at $30) is enough for one foot for one fast hunting ride, so they quickly get expensive.

However, Brego has been sound barefoot for 8 years and now that the incessant rain has stopped, he is sound once again. I rode him at a rocky fixture at a hunt on Wednesday and he was fine. I pulled back to hilltop after the stirrup cup to save his feet, but he finished the ride just fine. After a long, foot-tiring ride, I do pack him with Magic Cushion and put him in his Davis soaking boots, which do thankfully come big enough. So there is a possibility, with correct conditioning and cooperative weather, that Brego can work over most of the terrain in New England.

I have written up a post including his original feet when I bought him and described the trimming philosophy before. I also have xrays of his front feet to show what's going on inside.

That does not mean there is not more to do or to learn. Brego has sported a pretty significant "splat" flare since I bought him at 3. It is one of the things that you can't really get ahead of without doing something drastic, like rasping a lot of his hoof wall straight. And every time I have done something drastic, he is uncomfortable. I think for his long term health, however, we need to get his foot more upright. This will lead to more concavity of his foot and allow him to be even more comfortable over rocky terrain. So, each winter, while he is resting in soft snow, I will work on the flare. This year, it has already gotten significantly better, with continual treatments of "White Lightening" to sanitize the white line to help it grow in tighter, pulling his foot up stronger. The 60 days of rain really set us back, but the hope is to get his foot nice and tight, and not wider than it is long, by the end of next year. That would probably put him in a size 7. Still too large for most products, but I think better overall.

The CBC came back completely normal, so we can eliminate EPSM, Anemia, and other horrors from possible causes of distress last month. The Lyme titer should take a week or so to get back.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Quick Update

I am not immune to the tremendous outpouring of support. I really appreciate each and every comment. I have a quick update on Brego, since so many people have pinged me privately to ask if he is ok. I am relieved to say that he is doing very well!

We pulled the steel shoes and found close nails on both fronts. The farrier came out that evening, was very professional, and helped us to glue the shoes back on to see if it was the weight of the steel or if it was a close nail that was making him look strange. There was some question because normally being quicked causes three-legged lameness and Brego was just not lame. Anyway, he did much better with the glued on steel shoes so we feel like it was the nails that were causing the issue. The farrier was floored at Brego's pain tolerance, but I was not surprised. That horse has tremendous heart.

The steel shoes fell off after a single ride, but I got the evidence I needed so I didn't mind the cost and effort of gluing them back on.

Since his steel shoes were off, I took the opportunity to order him some composite shoes. It was hard to find some that came in his size, but I found a brand and ordered them and lo' they are too small. So, I've been riding Brego barefoot and over the course of a few days after the shoes were removed, he was back to 100%. To finish up the investigation, I had a chiro out and he passed just fine. She did not find any issues up front. His left his is a bit sticky as always. I am going to up his lateral work to strengthen that left hind.

On Wednesday, I am getting a blood panel drawn and a Lyme test just to finally and conclusively say it was his too-tight nailed shoes. I rode him at the hunt barefoot on Saturday over a less rocky fixture and he was foot perfect, keeping up in the gallops, jumping 3' coops and even leading the field twice over fences when the master begged off. Such a star!

To help him with the increased load from hunting, I've added electrolytes to his breakfast and I just finished a full body clip. That horse has a lot of surface area!

Tomorrow we go cross country schooling, Wednesday it's back to hunting, and there may be a show or two before the end of the year. I am still willing to try properly fitting and nailed steel shoes to help with the rockier fixtures for hunting, I just need to coordinate with my farrier whom I still respect and trust.

Whew, now we're all caught up. I am still slow on the blogging, but I wanted people to know that Brego is doing very well and to thank you for your well wishes, thoughts, and prayers. I have learned a ton through this experience, both about Brego and myself. Brego continues to be challenging to fit, but he is willing to work and has so much heart. He amazes me daily.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Once Again

Ok, once again I am in the position to defend my actions and decisions regarding Brego's discomfort. I urge everyone who reads this blog and thinks they know the whole story to reconsider.

Jennifer and others, please do not think my decision to take my matters private have much, if anything, to do with you. It's totally acceptable to challenge, it's not acceptable to make assumptions. I get emails every day from people who say more damning things than asking if my horse is rearing because he is uncomfortable. For whatever reason, people think some pretty horrific things about my character because I have the audacity to ride my draft horse as a sport horse. And I get to hear about it. All the time. So much is said outside of the realm of this blog, and that's the price you pay for having a public presence. Which is something I mean to correct. Out of respect to my readers, I wrote the last post letting them know I was working on some issues and that I would be out of contact. I did not just fade away and let people wonder if Brego is ok. I decided to be honest.

Secondly, Brego is not chronically sore. He is not suffering sitting in my pasture. He is not moving as well as I know he can. Which is not OK, but there's a big difference between where he is and *suffering*. And please do not assume I have given up. The implication that I am not pursuing treatment due to not wanting to spend money is beyond ridiculous. I have spent more on this horse than some people make as an annual income, getting custom tack, custom treatments, all to make him happy in his work. I have an appointment with a chiro, xrays are planned, I am working with my farrier whom I trust. I have looked into draft farriers and been worried about the "big hitch" shoes. Walking and trotting in a straight line, Brego is totally fine. How many farriers in the US can claim they shoe drafts for sport?? Do you really think that someone who shoes the big hitches in scotch bottom shoes understands the breakover at a gallop, the twisting of tight turns on the hunt, or the impact of jumping? Do any of my readers live in the area, have interviewed draft farriers and know what kind of expertise is available to me?

I obsess over ever detail of my horse and his way of going. His current situation is so subtle that most people would not see it, which does not make it right, but I think should lessen the hysteria that I am doing nothing but letting him rot in a field.

I am being very active to make Brego feel 100%. I am just not doing it publicly anymore, because no matter what I say or write, I cannot win. And again, this is not directed at the people that have the courage to sign their names to their comments, but those who attack for no other purpose than to erode my confidence in my ability to care for my horse. I find it quite remarkable that when we are doing well and winning, I hear nothing but positives about my care and ability to maintain my horse. But when he gets foot sore due to a ridiculous year which is affecting thousands of horses in the area (read COTH or Equisite sometime), then all of a sudden I am too cheap, stubborn, ignorant, vet-hating, quitter, etc, to care for my horse.

A little benefit of the doubt goes a long way.

No Progress

After almost three weeks, Brego has not adjusted to the shoes. He is not lame per se, but not comfortable striding forward and is reluctant to hold the canter. I have been away for work most of the time, so I am relying on my SO to ride, longe and report back.

We've decided to pull the shoes asap and reevaluate. Although Brego was perfectly sound on turf barefoot and would have been fine at most eventing venues, he was not sound over rocks which means hunting was uncomfortable for him. I am now concerned that because of the aggressive trim to fit his hoof to a shoe, he may not be comfortable even for eventing until his foot can grow out. I can keep him comfortable around the farm in boots if need be, but there's a high likelihood that hunting, and eventing, are done for the year.

There are a couple of options I may investigate, such as nail-on hard plastic shoes, in case it is the hard concussion of the steel that is bothering Brego. I am also looking into a hoof casting material that will work as well as the epoxy but have more longevity.

Regardless, this is a devastating time for me, to have come along the entire year and not been able to keep him comfortable barefoot. And now, even shoes are a problem and I am frankly nearly out of options. If he cannot stay sound barefoot in the North East for whatever reason, I have some very hard choices ahead.

As a result, I have decided to stop blogging for the near term. The hard choices I face are very personal and I am loathe air them publicly. No matter how much I try, people always misunderstand and I don't need projected guilt added to my own.

Thanks so much or your warm wishes and for being great readers. I hope to return in the spring, a new, drier year, with much better news.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


Today I rode Brego in the arena before making any changes to his feet. I wanted to see if I could feel what I felt yesterday on the hunt in a controlled environment. I was really dismayed when we fired up the trot and it was there: the rocking, the stiffness, the unwillingness to go forward.

I took Brego back to the barn and rasped the breakover on the shoe more to the outside. I didn't do a complete job (hard work on a hot, humid day), but I did enough so that if there was a breakover issue, I would be able to tell.

I headed back to the arena and asked for a trot. He was much improved! What a relief!! His right fore seemed to be back to normal but now his left was wonky. He also was able to soften down and didn't feel like he was jackhammering his legs. Whew.

So now Brego will get a couple days off and his breakover will be improved in my absence by my incredibly dedicated SO. It's back to work out of state for the week. When I return next weekend, we have another big hunt day. I am sincerely hoping that his shoe issues will be resolved, that I am not torquing his legs with every stride, and I can enjoy the rest of the hunt season without incident!

Tally ho!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

First Hunt of the Season

Today was my first hunt of the season. The cubbing season officially started on Wednesday, but I was out of town for my new job. As a result, I had not ridden Brego all week. In addition, Brego was shod on Tuesday and the farrier put Equipak on his soles. I was a little nervous to see how he would be in the shoes, without work, and seeing the hounds for the first time this year.

I was right to be nervous. The first 20 minutes of the hunt were filled with squabbles and fights about how he should listen to me and not just run up through the pack. I was keeping a tight hold on his face and he finally reacted by rearing straight up. Not a levade, a full fledged rear. Since we were on the side of a hill and in the midst of the pack, I stayed centered and let him come down. He never felt out of balance or I might have taken more drastic action. As it was, I had three long seconds to think about how completely surreal the whole experience was.

He had one more outburst and then we hit our first open gallop. After he blew off some steam, he settled down and I stopped holding onto his face and he stopped retaliating. The rest of the ride, he did very well, but it was very hot and humid and he tired quickly. The rest of the horses tired as fast so we all retired early. He jumped well and honestly and aside from his mental resistance at the beginning, he was otherwise a good sport. He is a very dominant horse, and I was wondering if a week of not seeing me would go to his brain. I don't tolerate rearing, so I am hoping that this is an isolated incident.

As for the shoes, I have mixed feelings. He felt off, not right, not striding forward at all. Of course, riding at top speed in a hunt over crazy terrain is not the best way of assessing way of going. I am going to ride him tomorrow in a more controlled environment and see what I can feel. He felt like he was rocking from side to side at the trot, and over exaggerating his action, like he was trying to move with flippers on. The farrier put the breakover on the shoes in the middle and he likes it on the outside, so I am going to see if I can rasp/wear in a breakover for him where he is more comfortable. I was also riding him in bell boots for the first time in his life and he might have been objecting to those floppy things as well. I will ride without tomorrow and see if he is improved.

We did cross one rocky stream and he was fine, so the shoes are doing their intended purpose. But I am not thrilled with how he feels in them. Maybe he is getting used to him. Before the hunt, I rode him on a polo field (i.e., very soft ground) and he felt like he was trotting on concrete, very harsh, no suspension. That worries me, but it's too early to really say. I should know more after my ride tomorrow.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Turning Point at the Pace

On Friday, Brego and I had a jumping lesson in the neighbor's jump field. He was a bit naughty, running and bucking, but he has an excuse. For the last week, we've been stumping and grading his pasture, so he's been in a tiny pen. One thing I have learned over the years is that Brego needs his turnout to play and the way he plays is by kicking up his heels and running. If he doesn't get his turnout, he plays under saddle, which is a lot less fun for Daun.

Anyway, he jumped very well, very strong, even overjumping the smaller fences. He was perky to the fences, forward, ears forward and then would blast off the ground. I've said it before, but I really think he enjoys jumping. I got some good instruction on my leg and my balance and riding from a safer position, but mainly the lesson was to get him out and jumping before....

Today we went to our second hunter pace. The course was over 10 miles long and very rocky, as in mind-blowing rocks everywhere. I put the epoxy shoes on Brego plus some sole guard to cover his soles from all the rocks. When your foot is 8" wide, there's still plenty of exposed sole to get poked by a protruding rock, even with protective "shoes" around the perimeter. The whole epoxy and sole guard application took about three hours to apply and cost $90 in materials (I did the labor myself). Ouch.

Brego started strong, but halfway through, he lost the sole guard from his right foot. Then he lost half of the epoxy border from his left hoof. And then it all went downhill from there. We were five miles from home, in the deep woods, and we were suddenly barefoot in the worst terrain we have ever ridden at speed over. Brego was a soldier and we got home safely and he even jumped gamely two hours into the ride, but I could tell he was foot sore and I was really upset. We finished with the slowest time and dropped our team to dead last. That is unfortunate, but the worst part is how bad I felt asking Brego to work. He was never three-legged lame or gimpy, but I can feel him and he was uncomfortable.

Riding a foot sore horse is NO fun, and it's unfair to ask him to work under those conditions. So I have resolved to put steel shoes plus a sole pack on him for the hunting season. I have a good farrier, whom I trust, that works with Hobby and she's never looked or moved better. Three months of not worrying about Brego's feet during the hardest work of the year is worth the money to me (and shoeing a draft is twice as much money as my Thoroughbred).

The plan is to get him shod this week and see how he likes shoes. This will be the first time he has worn them his entire life. Then we will pull them for the winter and reevaluate in the spring. Maybe it was the record rainfall and less than ideal pasturing situation. Maybe he really can't stay barefoot in the North East. Maybe he can't stay barefoot with the increased workload. I don't know, but I do know that he is too good a horse to keep gambling with solutions that can come off at any time. Boots don't fit him and I have tried the synthetic epoxy route, so now it's time for shoes. It's not a decision I make lightly, but I think it's a good one for what he needs to be comfortable as he works.

On Monday, I start my new job. I will be out of state for four weeks for training before I start working out of my house. I will be back on the weekends to hunt and tend to the farm, but I will miss riding during the week. And I will miss Brego.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Dressage Show Videos - Arabian Show

I have finally uploaded the videos from last weekend's dressage show. I appreciate your patience as it takes over 2 hours per video to get it downloaded from the camera, edited, rendered, uploaded to Vimeo, etc.

In rewatching the videos, it appears that by the second test (four warmups and an hour of waiting), Brego is moving forward per say, but he's really strung out and needs to be better balanced. He's a good boy, trying hard for me, but I was wrong to ask him so much, when instead I should have focused on the quality of the work instead of go, go, go. It's a good lesson to learn, and if I had stopped chasing him so much, my position would have improved and I would have been able to ask for more balance.

The judge astutely commented as such in the general remarks: "Lots of activity but needs more half halts for balance." I interpret her notion of half halts as "balancing" instead of "go and whoa".

Regardless, enjoy the videos, and good boy Brego for giving such an amazing test considering the circumstances! There's almost a stretchy trot in there in test 3! Woot!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Brego and the Arabs

The Arabian show at the fairgrounds was a big success. The dressage classes were small and had a variety of competitors, from Friesians to Thoroughbreds to Arabians. There were a lot of last minute cancellations and most of the volunteers were running the Arabian Breed classes at the same time, so we ended up without a ring steward for dressage. And that's where things started to fall apart.

After the third rider, the ride times were abandoned since there were so many time gaps. So people scrambled to go early, but there was no well defined order of go. And without a rind steward, people were forced to ask the judge when they might go, and since she was overwhelmed with, oh, judging, things sometimes got out of hand. Couple the timing chaos with a horse that flipped out and needed to be aced, but no one was sure if it was legal (albeit not advisable), so there was an ensuing argument with the judge. Sigh.

The good news is that Brego won his Training Level 2 test with a 67.1%. We scored three 9s for trot work, a definite first! Brego was forward and relaxed, but I felt like we were not well put together, like we ran the pattern, but didn't show a good presentation. Then for Training Level 3, I ended up warming up four (FOUR!) times before we actually got to go. By that time, we were both hot, thirsty, and sick of dressage. I was on Brego's back for 1.5 hours!

Brego put on a brave face and was definitely forward through the test, but I was really frazzled. The Training Level 3 test is always bizarre, but I managed to make it not flow at all. Brego broke in the left lead canter, most definitely my fault and then I blew the halt at G. We were riding the training tests in a long arena and I halted at I. Yea, I. As in, I didn't know that letter existed, as much as I live in training level and the short arena. Oh well, it was only 2 points for an error, coupled with our 4 in the left canter. We ended up with 61.7% which is a completely decent score, regardless, and placed 2nd.

I will get the videos up soon. It was not my nicest riding, but I can't fault the big boy for not going forward. He was a very good sport to put up with the confusion and the constant warm up, now sit for 10 minutes, warm up, now sit. He was very tired by the end and we still had to hack home, a 30 minute walk from the fairgrounds.

Brego will get lots of rest and I am going to bump his feed back up. He's in pretty consistent work now and can use the extra calories.

Friday, August 7, 2009


I just had to share. Green horses don't stay green forever. Even acknowledging that fact, progress often catches me by surprise.

I went down to the fairgrounds to do a short gallop to loosen up the big boy and get him into a "forward" mindset before tomorrow's show. I went by myself *gasp* so I was a bit nervous. Brego was looky for his mare-friend, but otherwise perfectly behaved.

We got to the big open field and I did some trotting in circles to check the brakes, steering, and balance of my ride. All checked out, suspension felt good, so I asked for the canter and headed out over the 20 acre front field. Brego settled into a nice open canter and I found myself relaxing.

No leg, no pulling, perfect self balance, he kept the same tempo in this steady, glorious canter. There was no squeak from my saddle, no huffing and puffing from either myself or the horse. I am finally strong enough to keep myself up in two point without touching the saddle, letting my legs, hips and back absorb his huge stride. There was silence. No, not quite. I could hear each individual footfall. ba-da-dum ba-da-dum ba-da-dum.

Normally, Brego requires riding in the canter. He requires leg to keep going, or hands to slow him down, seat or chest to balance. It's a lot of work. But today, he required nothing from me but to enjoy the flight.

It was. Flying.

Repost: The Brego Identity

I ran across a thread in an online forum which pondered whether Brego was in fact a full Percheron or if he was a Thoroughbred cross. The implication is, of course, that his talent is the result of the light horse cross and I was glossing over that fact to promote him (and myself, I dare say). I got a good chuckle from the debate. Anyone who has seen Brego in person has no doubt of his lineage.

In the interest of full disclosure, here is a repost of my original discussion Brego's breed:

Of note, is the fact that when that was written, Brego was some kind of crazy orange/brown from the sun in Texas. Since moving to New England, he looks like any other black horse, which is consistent with the Percheron breed.

Here's a post where I show pictures of his feathered feet and hooves. And here's a conformation shot, showing his plow horse-like short canon bones. If anyone has any light to shed on the Big Boy's history or background, I would love to do more research!


Dressage Lesson 11: Bring on the Pain

We've been blessed with sunny, warm weather all week. I think it's been almost 7 days since it last rained. Unheard of!

Yesterday, I took advantage of the dryness and took another dressage lesson. It was warm and the humidity was low, but Brego was not engaged. It felt like we've had a major regression where he was heavy in front and he felt like he was about ten feet behind my leg. I wormed him on Wednesday morning and I wonder if he was feeling a little under the weather.

So instead of working on the tests for tomorrow's dressage show, we just worked on getting him thinking forward. It ended up being a marathon dressage lesson, just over an hour, and we only took one walk break. The rest of the time was trotting, transitions, canters, halts, turns on the haunches, shoulder ins. I was amazed that instead of getting tired, Brego got softer and more forward. I was exhausted, however!

We ended with some really nice canter work and then I had to call it a day. My trainer was very impressed that Brego even knew some of these moves, even though we did not execute them to perfection. I told her that I have schooled turn on the haunches from the beginning because it disengages his locked shoulders and gets his weight back. The exact exercise was performed trotting a 20m circle. At twelve and six o clock on the circle we reversed direction by transitioning to a walk and performing a walking turn on the haunches and then trot off immediately. Brego did exceedly well at this exercise, with nice crossing over in the front on the turns. I thought it would be too much to ask on that sized circle, but he did very well and it got him stepping up under himself nicely. We also did lengthenings on the long side of the arena and collecting to a volte in each corner. All the transitions worked their magic and we ended up with nice work.

My homework today is to take him for a short gallop to get him thinking forward and then the show is tomorrow. I will not be riding the tests in advance, unfortunately. I will watch videos and try to visualize our ride instead. The ultimate goal is forward so I don't want to drill the tests. I will be tweeting our progress through the show.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Big News #3 (Con't): USEA Article

Great news! In addition to USEA publishing an article about Brego, the author has graciously sent it along and given me permission to post it on this blog!

So without further ado:

USEA Eventing Percheron Profile

If you enjoy the article, please contact the USEA and tell them they are doing a great job!

Big News #3: Brego in Eventing USA, USEA's Magazine

A dear reader found the article before I had a chance to post this, but the Big News #3 is now out in the wild.

Brego is profiled in the United States Eventing Association's full-color, glossy magazine: Eventing USA. Those who are members of USEA will receive the July/August issue as part of your membership!

Three cheers for the USEA for their heartfelt work to promote the lower levels of our sport as well as putting together a beautiful article on the Big Boy. It was a distinct pleasure to work with them through the process. If you enjoy the article, please make sure you thank them for all their hard work!

Prepping for Dressage Show

This Saturday, Brego and I will be competing in the Open day of the Arabian Horseshow across the street at the fairgrounds. I can't tell if I am excited because we haven't shown in awhile, or because we will likely be facing off against Arabians (the very mental image makes me squeeeee with delight!). Lest someone read too much into that comment, please realize my beloved childhood horse, Ben, was a purebred Arabian. Regardless, I am excited.

Coupled with a week of sun (unheard of!), our rides have become downright joyous. We've been practicing on the turf of the fairground's parking lot (the best drained field in all the land). Sunday morning we had a nice dressage ride, working on the left canter transition. Yesterday, we just hacked, trotting and cantering around the 50 acre field. Brego was feeling good and strong, and I wanted to let him stretch out between our dressage sessions.

Someone asked in the comments what I did to keep Brego interested and willing in work. I've thought long and hard on this topic, and I think there's a couple of things at play. First, I am lucky enough to have a bright, intelligent, playful horse with no previous abuse history (that I can ascertain, anyway). Brego, himself, is always up to something. While my old TB mare can stand around flatly in a pasture and just enjoy the sun, Brego is always getting into something, exploring or destroying, depending on his whim.

So I take that observation with me under saddle. I try not to do repetitive tasks, but take a little bit of progress and then move on. I keep my rides relatively short, aside from necessarily involved conditioning rides. If he's good and on the aids, we're done in 15 to 20 minutes. Usually, our rides are 45 minutes, but we walk often so I can scope out my SO riding. He gets rewarded for short, dedicated periods of focus. Also, as a ostensible eventer, we also switch up what we work on. Some days we hack and go fast, some days we jump, some days we work on dressage, some days we play, some days we longe, some days we swim, some days we skijore(??). I think this variety keeps things fresh. Personally, as a rider, I like the variety for myself. After a week of nothing but dressage, I start to pick apart Brego and myself, looking too much for that perfect transition or that perfect cadance or what the hell is wrong with my hands?? I need to clear my head. Finally, due to our current farm, I have to hack out to every arena or riding area. Even the neighbor next door requires a short hack through the woods to get there, so there's always a period of down time, on the buckle riding, warming up and cooling off.

Riding is the hardest thing I have ever tried to master, and I will never master it. However, as an adult amateur, riding must, first and foremost, be fun. Brego is a very fun horse to ride, if I give him an opportunity to be himself and enjoy his work with me.

Friday, July 31, 2009

The End and The Means

My recent dressage lesson video prompted some interesting comments. Many thanks to those who take the time to write in. I read every comment, even if I don't always have the time to respond.

I wanted to write up my thoughts about how I train my horse in the discipline of dressage. I should note that these are my opinions and thoughts and I do not actually have the skills or body control to ride as perfectly as I would like. Furthermore, I realize that much of what I believe is currently unpopular with the competitive dressage set. But there are some principles that echo throughout all my training. Despite my best efforts to confuse and befuddle, Brego very much is the product of my training. The happiness in his work and his willingness are cultivated very carefully. I cannot take credit for his talent, but I can take credit for his everyday work ethic and his progress through the exercises.

It is no secret that I fancy training methods that improve the movement and gait of my particular type of horse. I ride a horse that has a natural carriage very much on his forehand. I am not so lucky to buy a horse that was born half trained with an uphill, floaty trot. But that does not mean we are doomed to plod around on the forehand. I have done extensive reading, watching of videos, and, dare I say, experimentation on my own forgiving horse to see what works best for him to help him carry himself.

A horse Brego's size, when asked to do the heavy work of dressage or jumping, should be encouraged to unweight the front end, to free his shoulder and allow maximum shock absorbency on his front legs. His obviously powerful hind end should be slowly and carefully built up to carry more of his weight in balance, to give him more power through his back, and increase his agility. To be light and nimble, he must have his weight back.

To this end, I have been most successful in practicing principles esposed by the "classical masters" of dressage, namely Baucher, La Guérinière, Oliveira as translated and executed by Phillippe Karl. I find his teaching style very approachable and his examples clearly illustrate some of the physiological issues about how and why horses move through their gaits.

I ride Brego in plain nose cavesons, loose enough for him to graze in his bridle. I use french-link or double-jointed snaffles for everything but cross-country or foxhunting. I will not use a flash, crank, or figure-eight nose band. My goal is to make Brego's mouth comfortable and relaxed in his work and if he is gaping, gnashing or lolling his tongue, then it is a training issue for this particular horse (knowing he does not have a physical condition) I must correct, not mask through equipment.

I do not punish anticipation. I have heard in many dressage circles that the horse must not anticipate the next movement. If I am schooling simple changes on a figure eight and Brego anticipates the change in bend in the middle and perhaps changes early or lightens in the bridle in anticipation of the transition, to me it is because he is mentally engaged. He is thinking about the problem, the intent of the exercise, and he is showing initiative and a willingness to please. Good!!! Brego is not a robot, and especially while hunting or cross country, I want him a thinking, eager equal. I need him to be there helping to keep us safe.

I do not school perfect 20 m circles. I introduce lateral questions early and often. Why is a shoulder in a 3rd level move??? It is critical to strengthening the inside hind and moving the shoulders. How can you achieve straightness, one of the most critical dressage tenants, while trotting 20 m circles without lateral exercises? Perhaps Brego is just not that talented of a horse, but until I taught shoulders- and haunches-in, there was no hope for straightness. He has strengthened through the lateral work and with his strength, comes his ability to move straight. Does he do the lateral movements to perfection? No, but rebalancing and strengthening is still gained through the attempt.

I do not keep my hands low and fixed. I agree greatly with Phillipe Karl's write up on the critical roll of the hands to communicate and encourage the correct weighting and bend. Modern dressage confuses the end with the means. Yes, a schooled horse should be presented (FEI level) with a fixed and low hand showing his or her understanding of the questions, self carriage, and light response to aids. Keeping my hands fixed and driving Brego into them would not invite any suppleness through the poll or the throat, instead he would learn to lean on them, a weight I am unprepared to carry.

In the same vein, I do not drive with my seat. I do not pump. The ultimate goal is to lighten Brego's front end. Driving with the seat is riding "down" not riding "up". A nicely balanced horse is a "nice place to sit" with a gait and cadence that "carries" you. The rider should not be compelled to push the seatbones down and forward, which invites the horse to hollow the back to evade. Certainly, it does not raise the back to carry you. I have been guilty, once or twice, of fixing my hands, leaning back, and driving with my seat and the response was immediate and drastic. He rounded his neck and went immediately behind the bit, dropping his back. In shame, I must admit that I did the move almost as a punishment, a "Hey, listen to me!" move when he was blowing off my aids. Paul Belasik describes using his seat as a weapon until the poor horse he was riding reared in protest and collapsed in an exhausted heap on the ground. That is not to say that one should not have a following seat, but a driving seat pushes a horse and does not lighten a horse.

I strive always to lighten my horse which is why I do not increase leg pressure, I train him to respond to less and less pressure. I also do not school in spurs. I will wear nubbin spurs at shows to get a little extra attention from him, but I do not school in them. People use them with great success, but I personally do not have the leg control to not deaden my horse to the aid with them. I realize this about myself and so I make the choice appropriately. In fact, the last few months, we've worked almost exclusively on lightening the aids, until at the last lesson, I squeezed lightly and he bounded into a trot, or rolled into a canter departure. This is the ultimate goal. Riding a well schooled horse should take very few muscles. :)

Finally, I do not force a head set. I don't use draw reins. I don't see-saw on my horse's mouth to get him to tuck his nose. I ask for softening, I ask for a mobile jaw, and I release. I ask for him to push from behind and he carries himself.

I am not a particularly talented rider and I am certainly not a dressage expert. I am a training-level rider on a training-level draft horse so everything said herein should be evaluated with a healthy dose of skepticism. But I start with the premise of "do no harm" and everything I do is geared towards the longevity of my mount. A light, responsive, happy horse is a good mount. It's worth taking the time to get him there.

Luckily, I have found a talented dressage trainer who agrees with my principles and is happy to guide me on my path. Measure progress, not perfection.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Big News #2

It's taken a long time to get to be able to post this, but I have Big News #2.

I have resigned my position in Portsmouth, NH, and will be working for a new company out of my home. So I will be able to ride on my lunch break, get early morning lessons, watch Brego romp from my office window and not suffer through my daily 1.5 hour commute (gas + tolls + emissions).

This also means more time for blogging, and my personal silence on this blog will be lifted. I have one more item of Big News in the next week or so, stay tuned!

But in the meantime, can I get a "Hell, Yea" for lower carbon footprint!?!?!?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Dressage Lesson 10

We were very crafty and got up early to take a dressage lesson from our neighbor/trainer before the rain started again. I was concerned that Brego would be tired or sore from our gallop ride yesterday. Instead, it seems to have stretched him out because he was very forward (for him) and relaxed today.

So today we worked on introducing long and low, the hint of suspension (still a far off dream) and canter transitions. We have a little Arabian dressage show in a little over a week, so I wanted to try to refine some of our transitions. Brego did very, very well and seemed eager to stretch and work through his back.

A note on the video: My reins are too long. Period. I have no idea why my trainer did not scream her bloody head off at me. What the hell have I been doing to get this nasty habit? She mentioned they were long, but didn't correct me until I got them under control. I completely need to fix this. Secondly, my equitation is horrendous. Whenever you start to wince watching me ride, just focus on my big, beautiful horse doing everything right, ponder for a moment how such, er, unusual riding can warrant such an amazing result, and then vow to never ride like me. mkay?

The video is published without sound intentionally because the cinematographer and my neighbor's husband were having a delightful conversation on how to trap the fox eating my chickens and I did not deem it horse-appropriate. My apologies.

Those who suffer through the whole video will be treated to a delightful walk-canter transition, completely unintentional. I was asking for a shoulder in. Or at least, I thought I was. I am sure I asked for the canter and Brego, being the very intelligent and sensitive animal he is, transitioned nicer than I ever get when I think I am asking for it. That's horses for you. It just tells me I am off balance when I really ask for it, perhaps throwing myself at him or dropping my left shoulder.

Dressage Lesson 10 from Eventing Percheron on Vimeo.

Despite the slow summer and wet conditions, I am very pleased with the progress Brego is making this summer. This is just more foundation building up to our show season next year.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


My close friend from Texas was in town which only means one thing: Hooligan Riding. We've been friends a long time and are very horsey friends at that. I get to see her once a year when she stops by on her way to family stuff in Canada. We have to get a year's worth of riding into one day.

Today, I think we just managed it.

It's been raining every day, but today dawned bright, sunny, and warm. We packed some extra sole guard on Brego's wet feed and tacked up to hit the trails. We rode the 4 mile loop but took extra time at the gallop track on the way back. Today it earned it's name: Gallop Track. I must say, that although Brego is a big ol' drafty boy, and I am certainly handicapping him as a rider over my tiny friend, Brego caught up to the Thoroughbred mare in a dead gallop. That boy can haul.

We ran several laps, up hills, down hills and the horses were just amazing. I even got two very nice right to left flying changes ON PURPOSE for the first time. His left canter is sticky so we have not been successful in getting a flying change in that direction. I was thrilled.

After much running around, we walked them back towards home. We walked through the subdivision down the road and just happened to be walking back by the fairgrounds. I looked out over that massive flat turf field, nearly 1/2 mile from edge to edge, and convinced my friend to go for one more gallop.

She agreed so we walked to the end, turned around, and slowly worked them up from a canter to a gallop. Then I ducked behind Brego's ears and told him to "show her!" He has a whole other gear, folks. I watched that Thoroughbred mares hind end pumping up and down in her gallop, clods of dirt flying into my face, and Brego gained. Just when we got a length away, my friend pulled Hobby up slowly and we blew past. It was amazing and exhilarating! Brego has never felt so good.

Sometimes, you just need a big pipe cleaner to show a horse how fast they can go. Tomorrow, we have an early morning dressage lesson, so we'll be back to being "proper" and all that. But today we we rode. Already my thighs are telling me they were not amused by the amount of two-point I held in my gallops.

It was worth it.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Honest Scrap Award

Thanks so much to Cathryn, SolitaireMare and wolfandterriers for nominating me for the Honest Scrap Award!!

  1. I tend to prefer Lagers over Ales. In summer, I like a nice wheat beer or a pilsner. Fall is my favorite time because of the annual emergence of Pumpkin Beer. Yum!
  2. Like some of my readers, I have no TV or radio in the house. I do listen to NPR on my commute. (Can I personify stereotypes any more?) In general, I hate all the commercial interests and advertising in modern media. I do have high speed internet at home and have been known to go to movies (only if beer is served in the theater).
  3. I wrote my Master's thesis on the social impact of great, culture-defining structures and how they express our very humanity, e.g., Eiffel Tower, Golden Gate Bridge, Great Pyramids. The earliest example I cited was the curvilinear ruins in Malta. One of my life's goals is to visit Malta. Also, the Pharaoh Hound is the national dog of Malta! Connections everywhere....
  4. I am a total Mac snob. I love developing on Mac OS X and I could not live without my iPhone. So while I sometimes come across as a Luddite, I prefer to think of myself as a discriminating technologist who ultimately chooses Nature over Machine.
  5. I have few very close friends, but I am fiercely loyal to those I have. I tend to be private and reserved around strangers, but I would do anything to help my friends. I love and cherish them and they mean the world to me.
  6. When I was younger, I played the violin... poorly. So I switched to percussion and became a nationally recognized timpanist despite being somewhat tone deaf. I gave up music when I went to college.
  7. I have the noble distinction of sleeping with a professional hockey player. The very definition of kewl.
  8. I cannot cook. Horrid. I ruin rice. It's that bad.
  9. Despite a rather scholarly upbringing and education, I do enjoy mind-numbing entertainment. Exhibit A: I own an XBox360 that I play games on when I can find the time. Exhibit B: I thoroughly enjoyed the Transformers 2 movie in all its inanity. Sometimes, you just need to take the starch out of your collar.
  10. I am recruiting minions to hike the Appalachian Trail with me within the next six years. Comment below to apply!

Thanks to everyone who thinks often of this blog and thanks to those who awarded me this honor.

Brego and I have had a nice series of rides. He is shaping up well for the dressage show in a couple of weeks. My close friend from Texas is spending the next week with us and we will be doing plenty of horsing around. She is one of my oldest horsey friends and we always ride like hooligans when we get together. I can't wait to go kick up our heels (oh, and show off Brego's new halt-canter transition ont the right rein! Woot!)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

With the Sun Comes Riding

The pesky upper level pressure system has moved off of New England and so we're back into a normal weather pattern after a month of rain and 80% cloud cover in June. That's enough to stifle even the sunniest personality.

As the ground has dried, Brego's feet have improved. His winter flare is mostly grown out and with it comes nice, thick hoof wall all around his sole. I am so glad we took this disastrous summer to build up good wall, even if we lost some riding because of it, so that fall Hunting season and next year will be all the better.

I've been riding as often as I can, sometimes in boots, sometimes barefoot on turf. Brego feels sound, but tight through his back, which I attribute to not enough quality dressage work. The other day, during a walk hack around the fairgrounds, basking in the clear, dry, sun, I was overcome with love for this stupid horse. He is often a pain, often a trouble maker, but he's just such a good soul. He can sit in a tiny pen for a month and then walk calmly across a huge open field. I could feel his happiness and appreciation of just being out. This break from showing has been good for my perspective. Constant showing, especially a horse as "special" as the Brego can really work on your psyche. He will never be good enough, I will never be good enough, blah, blah, blah. But on beautiful days, on the back of a solid, willing animal, he is perfect. One day, when the showing is behind us, I look forward to many open miles with him.

I am getting close to revealing some big news, not much longer to wait. But I do have some minor news. The fairgrounds across the street are hosting an open Arabian show that will have one day of open breed dressage. Oh that's right! I am totally going to ride my draft horse across the street and compete against Arabians in dressage. I can't think of anything more fun!! (well, maybe if they had a jumping class.... Snap!!!) So I am working on getting us at least presentable for that show in early August.

Also, cubbing season starts August 19th and I am counting the days, nay minutes, until we follow the hounds. We have a lot of conditioning work to do between now and then, but I know we will both be mentally ready. Last night, I took Brego over a couple of low verticals set at two strides and focused on my position. He jumped so well, so honestly, that I had to remind myself that it has been over a month since he last jumped. We kept the session short, but the boy has forgotten nothing. I am crossing my fingers for a very fun fall.

I was able to get my lower leg under control over the fences, but I felt stiff and locked in my knee to keep my toes pointed forward. I need to film myself and see if I am sacrificing my position in other areas by trying to keep my leg fixed in the ideal position. At this point, I am happy I at least have some control over my leg, even if it is not ultimately the way I want to go.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Finding a snorkle to fit Brego

Thanks everyone for the tack advice. I've been reading the suggestions and doing some research. I've had plenty of time to do that because, despite a brief appearance by our favorite star yesterday, it is raining once again. And by rain, I mean thunderstorms with hail. Just awesome.

It comes as no surprise that the Hunter Pace for this weekend was canceled. My main horsey excitment will be going to Groton House to cheer Andrea on. I am hoping to borrow a little of her mojo for when I do return to the competitive scene.

I've had a few questions about the epoxy "shoes" I tried on Brego, so I thought I would answer them here instead of the comments. First of all, I have had one experience with them and it was positive, but I do not consider it an overwhelming body of evidence. I put them on a couple days before the hunter pace and removed them a couple of days after. In my experience, they would not have lasted for three weeks as they mention on the web site. But I did not use de-natured alcohol to thoroughly clean and dry the hooves prior to application. And I did run my draft horse over 12 miles of intense terrain at speed. So different applications, different horses, and different level of effort may have different results.

I was happy enough with them to use them again if we had the hunter pace this weekend, especially considering how wet Brego's feet have been from the rain.

Since I am on relatively light duty on the blog, I would like to request that if you have any questions for me, please ask and I will answer them. In the past, I have been too busy to respond to everyone personally, but I promise to be better (at least in the short term). I wish I could share more exciting news, but I am in a bit of a holding pattern, both with the weather, and with the other Big Things. Please hold... :)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Upping the Bit

I apologize for the relative silence of the blog, but big things are still afoot and Mother Nature has decided my show season needed a hiatus. It's been raining copious amounts, 18 of the last 22 days. We are way beyond TWICE the normal amount of rain for June. Despite Groton House putting on a great show last weekend, I was secretly happy to have scratched.

Regardless, I have snuck in some rides between the breaks in the deluge and Brego is feeling really solid. I think he is also enjoying the time off enough to look forward to work. Yesterday, he was so stir crazy, I had to let him gallop around the pasture, as muddy as it was, just to take the edge off enough so I could safely lead him into the barn. If nothing else, the mud is teaching him to be sure footed over sloppy terrain.

I had the good fortune of finding a draft-sized jumping bridle, sans flash noseband, at a local tack show. Wonders never cease. I snatched it up before the mirage evaporated before my eyes. I also bought Brego a continental gag with a 7" waterford mouth piece to help with his running strong cross country. With the reins on the large ring, the bit will behave the same as our long lost, and much beloved, waterford Baucher. I've been a fan of the waterford mouthpiece to stop leaning into the bit. Moving the reins down the bit rings will add more gag action, but also more poll leverage. I think it's a good compromise. Since I have a dedicated jumping bridle now (bringing my total up to three), I will use the continental gag on the hunt bridle, the egg-butt snaffle on the jumping, and the dressage will continue to have the loose-ring snaffle. Whew.

Now, I only need to find that third saddle for foxhunting. Oh, and open-faced leather jumping boots to fit Brego. Oh, and that properly fitting dressage coat. Oh, and dress boots. Oh, and a tweed....

We have a hunter pace scheduled for this weekend. I have no idea how the footing will hold up, but I will likely apply the epoxy to his hooves on Friday. Good hunting, everyone!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Exciting News #1: Brego hits the airwaves

It's no secret, I've long been a fan of the Horse Radio Network. It's the best source for horse news, with fun commentary, for on-the-go horse-crazy peeps. So I was beyond delighted to be approached by Glenn to talk a bit about the Big Brego on the Eventing Radio Show.

If you've ever been wondering about the sound of my voice (and I know you have) or how often I can gush about Brego in a single, run-on sentence, wonder no more. Click the logo below to be taken to the show notes where you can subscribe to the podcast, watch a video of Brego, or listen online.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Back To Work

We got a break in the rain (3 inches in four days) and headed to the fairgrounds. Brego's feet are wet and he's definitely not comfortable over gravel, but he was perfect on turf. He was actually also mentally excited to work, very responsive, no resistance. We did a lot of trot work, working on straightness and correct inside bend, with just a little bit of canter. His canter departures were crisp and balanced. It was very pleasant to get on him after more than a week off and both of us be excited for the work.

So I would like to claim that he is over his stone bruise or whatever ailed him, although his feet are too soft from the rain for any long distance work. So the current plan is to get back into the grove in the arena or on turf and possibly revisit the Vettek SuperFast epoxy for the Hunter Pace at the end of the month (June 28). Even though the territory is not exceptionally rocky, the distance, coupled with the copious amounts of rain, leads me to be cautious. I will probably follow the same protocol as before: Put epoxy on a couple days before and remove it a couple of days after.

When it rains, it pours, and there's no getting around mud in New England. My choices to keep his feet dry are limited to keeping him stalled more often, something I am loathe to do. I truly believe that 24 hour turnout is best, barring extraordinary circumstances, especially for big, hardworking joints. When the ground is wet, his feet will get wet. Hopefully, we can get to a happy place where he is comfortable over most terrain, under most circumstances barefoot, even when wet, and I can use the epoxy to protect his feet for those times he's just not up to the task. As always, adjusting to the new climate will take time and I am constantly learning and tweaking my maintenance program to keep both horse and rider as comfortable as possible.

In other news, Brego has reached minor celebrity status with upcoming interviews in some wonderful horse-themed publications. I will post more information on these exciting developments as the content is published publicly. Most long time readers know that when I am quiet on the blog, big things are afoot. Hold tight, we have some fun times ahead!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

On the Mend

Brego appears to be on the mend from his foot soreness. There's been no abscess or other physical manifestation of healing, but he's been more comfortable playing in the pasture. It's been raining and his feet are soft, so he's not rock sound, but he was sound in the arena when I longed him today. In fact, he looked pretty darn good. He was naughty, of course, kicking up his heels on the longe after so many days off. But I think he'll be happy to go back into light work.

Tomorrow, if the rain stops, I will ride him in the arena and then boot him for a ride out. His feet are definitely soft from the rain and I don't want to set back any recovery by riding him over rocks. I can't wait to get back on him and see how he feels. It's been a long, distracting week and I am ready to be with my horse again.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Hits Just Keep On Coming

All last week, I logged my small farm. It was long, grueling, dangerous work and while I was busy wrestling with trees, Brego was safe in his sacrifice paddock. He was taking a break, a well deserved break.

I began to notice at the beginning of last week that he was foot sore in his front right. Since I was too swamped to consider riding, I packed his feet in Magic Cushion, booted him, and let him rest. By the end of the week, the pasture was logged and cleaned up, the fencing rebuilt and he was turned back out to walk around. He appeared better.

Last night, I attempted to take a lesson in the neighbor's outdoor jump field. Brego was not right. He was certainly not head-bobbing lame, but I could feel some harshness in his gait. He felt flat, resistant, ears back, stabbing with each stride. He was still sore. I checked him out thoroughly: no heat, no elevated digital pulse, no obvious injury, perhaps some softness on a spot on his sole. So I suspect he has a stone bruise or is brewing an abscess.

He was so subtly off that it took some serious convincing of my trainer that there was even a problem. Of course, she listened to me, but she questioned if he was just resistant getting back into work after a week off. But I could feel it, something not right, not his usual self. And it's important to listen to those little feelings, because pushing a horse who hurts will ruin his body and his brain. Mentally, he will grow to resent work which is supposed to be fun. Physically, he will start compensating with other parts of his body, maybe getting stiff and out of balance. Just a bad deal, all around.

Whether a stone bruise or an abcess is not catastrophic, especially in a year already so full of other responsibilities that I can barely find the time to ride. So I scratched Groton House at the end of the month. I scratched a small Jumper show this weekend. Brego will get more time and turnout to see how he feels, with maybe light trail work in boots to keep him moving.

Meanwhile, I have lots of distractions in my Other Life to occupy me: the farm, the job, the garden, the pasture, tractor maintenance, trailer maintenance, the list goes on and on. Brego is the horse I will be riding in 20 years, raising hell and having fun. He has the time now to heal and get back to 100%.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Pictures and Video

Here are the pictures and video from the show.

Our last fence, fence 15, and I felt like we were just hitting our stride.

Schooling Show 5-31-09 from Eventing Percheron on Vimeo.

All Good Things

... must come to an end. And by end, I mean a pretty spectacularly bad show.

We arrived on time, warmed up for dressage, Brego was nice and forward in warmup. We had a throng of spectators, mostly 13 year old girls, that ooohed and ahhhhed. He did well.

Then the actual test was in an indoor, that is stifling and sucks the life out of you. My one goal was to keep him forward. The ring was running 20 minutes behind which really irks me. You have ride times for a reason. It completely messes with your warmup to peak your horse, prepare to enter, and then have to cool your heels for 20 minutes. Uhg. He did a reasonable test, although we broke to a trot from the left canter. But it was good enough for second place after dressage, with a 37.6. Not our best performance, but adequate.

Then cross country was a disaster. People were falling off left and right, major refusals at the water and the bench. The course was held many times and ran behind by over 45 minutes. Again, I warmed up Brego and he peaked and then I had to cool my heels for 45 minutes.

Anyway, we went on course and Brego was way too forward and looky over the two first logs. He was perfect in warmup so I was confused and figured he would just settle in. At fence 3, a bench, I felt him lock on. At three strides out, I knew our distance would be fine. At two strides out, I still felt good and started taking my eyes off the fence to line up the next one. Then he stopped. I was shocked. Brego has never refused a fence on course. I circled him around and took it at a trot so I could drive it and he way over jumped it, very spooked about this bench. Then a long downhill to a birch ramp. The red flag had fallen down and was suck in the middle of the fence (Major Problem #1). Brego took a hard look at the flag and stopped, helped along by the Aussie which ran out under the fence and yapped at him (Major Problem #2). I circled around and he took the fence fine. I considered retiring after the water, he was way too weirded out. He went fine through the water, and our next coop was fine so I decided to continue.

So we headed down a steep hill. I made him trot down the hill because he was too strong (yes, I will bit him up next time). We got to the bottom of the hill and started to get our gallop stride down and then I saw the next fence was knocked down. It's a railroad tie fence and the top tie was off the pile and POINTED BACK AT THE CHEST OF THE ONCOMING HORSE!!! Major effing problem #3. I hauled my horse to a stop and started waving at the jump judges sitting in the truck halfway up the hill. It took them over three minutes to get out of the truck and come fix the fence. When they approached, they commented "Wow, how did that happen?" Gee, I don't know, that's the fence you are SUPPOSED to be monitoring.

Meanwhile, Brego is amped and jigging, trying to get back up the hill. He knows the course and knows he is almost done.

So they finally put the fence back up so it's slightly less of a death trap and I trot Brego over it to make sure we don't knock it down worse. Then a fast gallop up the hill to finish over three more fences.

So total bizarreness cross country. Brego really doesn't refuse. In fact, the last time he refused a fence was, oh, two and a half years ago. Something got into his head and scared him and I worry that it was the completely trappy course. Of the 11 people in my division, only THREE got around without any jumping penalties on XC. This is supposed to be a schooling show, nice and inviting.

Then for stadium, I walked the course. Ten fences with a ROLLBACK to a SKINNY. Are you kidding me? Beginner Novice, people, not Grand Prix. Major Problem #4. Plus, the arena was shortened by a third, due to rain, and there were massive puddles, so the lines were all messed up. It was a very tight course. I considered jumping the first fence and retiring, especially since the rider who was ahead of me (and had a fall at the water on XC) fell off at one of the walls and possibly broke her leg. Where was the ambulance? Oh wait, no ambulance. Major Problem #5.

I decide to just see how it goes, but I was not about to ruin my horse's confidence on such a trappy stadium round. We went in and he was way too forward to the first fence, but then seemed to settle in nicely. We even jumped the rolltop and all the walls without too much drama. All his canter work helped with the rollback and he didn't worry about the skinny. At one point, I forgot the course and he thought we were going around a fence and I pulled him to it at the last second and he still managed to clear it. Then we chipped into the combination and he added to get out, but he saved my butt and we went clear. So couple his obvious heroics to go clear in stadium with his strange stop on XC, and I am very confused.

So somehow, with 40 jumping penalties, we ended up sixth which is just a testament to how insane the course was. When I turned in my penny, they had lost my dressage test, so now I have no idea what the judge thought of Brego. Major Problem #6.

The whole show was amateur hour. Horses were flat out galloping around the ELEMENTARY course, riders were way out of control. It was just some very scary stuff.

So I have one more show in June at Groton House and I might just quite with that. It will be a great course since they also run recognized. I am not a big fan of these trappy, bush-league courses. Plus, I have a lot of homework to do on my riding before we head out there again. Brego and I need to work on control at speed, no matter how much he loves to run and jump. And I need to get him better distances in stadium so he doesn't have to be a hero.

Pictures and video coming soon, I just had to get this off my chest.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Show? What Show?

Even as I wish Andrea the best of luck this weekend, I am preparing for my own little show. Tomorrow will be the first three phase of the season, a little schooling outing just down the road.

It's been raining nonstop since Tuesday so my last ride on the big boy was Monday afternoon. We hauled out to the show facility and schooled cross country. Brego did well over fences but he was very strong in the gallops and I had to pull some evasive maneuvers, employing a pulley rein or two, to keep us safe. I was happy he was happy to be out, but not happy with his disregard for our own mortality.

I had planned on riding him heavily all week to take the edge off, but the rain had other plans for us. I became even more concerned when Brego started jigging, about to jump out of his skin, while leading him to and fro the barn.

So the plan for today, aside from filling out medical armband records and scrubbing tack, is to take advantage of the break in the rain and go gallop him. I never gallop the day before a show, but in this case, I would rather him be too tired than too much to handle, especially for a dinky schooling show that doesn't even keep time.

I am opting at this time not to bit him up. I will continue to run him in his egg-butt, french link snaffle. I sincerely hope I do not regret that decision.

My ride times for tomorrow are:
Dressage: 9:50 am
XC: 11:50 am
Stadium: 12:20 pm

I will try to tweet our progress. Have a nice weekend everyone!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Back in the Arena

Brego got two days rest after the big hunter pace while I worked on the farm. Today, we went back to work on dressage. It's been awhile since we've done dressage and neither one of us were excited to be back in the arena. But we have to pay our dues in dressage to be balanced and obedient enough to have fun cross country.

Brego started stiff, but more forward than usual. I was sure to be very clear with my leg aids, so I didn't fall back into the nagging trap. He did very well, consider he's had a couple days off. To mix things up a bit, I worked on him just responding to my legs from sidepass to turn on the forehand to turn on the haunches to reinback to walk to shoulderin. I would change his bend or his direction every few steps which has a lightening effect on his front end. My former dressage trainer used to say that you want your horse so balanced it feels like you're perched on top of a big exercise ball: he could go any direction at any time. Brego is not quite that balanced, but he was very obedient to my leg and moved instantly in the direction I indicated.

I also concentrated on not collapsing my inside shoulder on circles which is a terrible habit I have. And miraculously, when I sat up straight, he stopped dropping his own shoulder into the circle as well. I really shouldn't be surprised when I am taught again and again by my horse that my riding is the issue, but it still amazes me that he can be at once such a sensitive creature and a giant meathead. It's all about expectations, I suppose.

We're due for a string of beautiful dry weather so his foot adhesive is off and we're gearing up for the schooling three phase on May 31. I plan to go schooling on the cross country course early next week. Tomorrow, we will be doing dressage, but I am going to ride down to the fairgrounds to the big turf arena in the parking lot and see if that gets us more excited. I do love dressage, but the rush of the hunter pace is still pounding in our hearts.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Belated: Jumping Lesson

Last Wednesday, I had an excellent jumping lesson with my neighbor/trainer. It was our first jumping lesson of the season and first with my new trainer, so I was nervous that we would do poorly. As always, I was worried that a "This horse should not be jumping" verdict would come forth from a professional.

As always, I need not have worried.

The theme of the lesson was "forward". Specifically, go forward away from the fence. Be quiet to the fence, allow him to think about it, then bam go fast after the fence which sets up the impulsion for the next fence. This is very much in line with the work that Steuart Pittman taught me about riding cross country fences.

We also trotted the fences. One thing I love about my trainer is that she is big on fundamentals and not rushing through training. One valuable skill a horse must have is to be able to be forward enough to trot a large fence. Needless to say, this is something I have never worked on. I use Brego's canter to propel us over the fence and never school from the trot. This is a big hole in our discipline and ability. My trainer means to plug the hole.

So despite my skepticism, we trotted fences. And of course, the key to trotting fences nicely is having a forward trot (which is why I have been so unsuccessful), so the real lesson of the day was about getting a forward trot when I asked for it without any resistance. Once we had the trot, the fences were easy.

So the video is somewhat boring, nothing earth shattering, a bunch of trotted fences. But the quality of the work is what makes me happy. Brego just worked well.

First Jumping Lesson of 2009 from Eventing Percheron on Vimeo.

At the end, my trainer agreed that Brego loved to jump and he should be jumping. She thought they were easy for him and he could trot 3'6" with no problem. She did not want us to rush up the training scale because she thought Brego had enough quality as a jumper to teach him properly and slowly so he would go farther.

As for my form, she said I was loose and I tipped forward but she was not too concerned about it, there was time to work on it and I was in no danger of killing myself. I got a big green light to jump at will at the hunter pace. It was a very positive lesson.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Extraordinary Hunter Pace

Today was perfection. The weather was great, sunny with a cool breeze. The countryside was the deepest shade of emerald, my eyes couldn't drink it fast enough. Dogwoods were in full bloom, scenting the air as we rode by. And of course, the hunter pace was the most fun I've had in months.

Brego was beyond good. He actually enjoyed the ride, getting out and stretching his muscles. We rode the 12 mile course in 1 hour, 40 minutes, and 38 seconds. Optimum time was 1 hour, 40 minutes even, so we placed first out of seven teams.

The footing was at times wet and slick and then dry and rocky. We rode the course mostly at a trot, but had long stretches of gallop. Brego jumped every fence I pointed him at, including some three foot coops, with ease, out of stride. He did not chip, hesitate, tap, or look. He was absolutely foot perfect. At one point, I was riding second on the team and the lead horse stayed on the trail and gapped a coop set just off the trail to the left. I asked Brego to leave the trail, line up, and clear a 3' coop and return to the team all in the space of four strides. He responded without hesitation, leaving the leader and never questioning the fence. Such maturity for a green horse!

We also managed to master forward. And when I say that we have mastered forward, I mean that at mile 10, I asked for a canter and he leapt forward with so much enthusiasm, I had to bridge my reins to bring him back to me and we had to complete the ride at the trot. He was just too fast at the canter.

It was a perfect ride, on a horse loving his job and finally shaking off the boredom of winter. This will be a very fun summer indeed.

As for his feet, I can say that the Super Fast "shoes" were great. They held up reasonably well, with one chip coming out of the front. That was most likely an application error where his foot was not dry enough before applying the adhesive. He felt comfortable in them, obviously unencumbered, and his stride felt normal. I am very impressed with the technology and I will certainly use them again. He did have one or two ouchy steps over very large rocks, but considering how much galloping on gravel and stones we did today, including the usual wear and tear of a fast 12 miles, I could not ask for more. They protected his feet but didn't get in the way. The mud was so deep in spots that boots would have never made it through, they would have been sucked off.

I am just very happy to have options where I can offer him relief when his feet are not up to the challenge, but allow his feet to improve when they are. It really is the best of both worlds.

As for the rest of the season, Brego is showing me that he loves to run and jump, so we're going to try to squeeze in the Groton House schooling three phase in June. Still no recognized events for me this year, but I will take him out on course every chance I get. He's coming back faster, stronger, and jumping better than we finished last year, and I consider that somewhat miraculous.