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.