Friday, March 19, 2010

Gradually, then Suddenly

Spring appears to have arrived in her typical fashion, gradually then suddenly. The garlic and other bulbs are up and we're getting sunny, 60 F degree days. Not much to complain about, really.

And so a curious thing happened. I rode Brego two days in a row: a rare feat not seen since last November. And somehow in that time, our rides turned from casual hacks to Working With A Purpose.

We rode our first conditioning ride of the season yesterday. As I always do, I assume we start with zero. Brego looks, to my eye, better off than he was this time last season. His feet are much better, more concave and harder, and he's not named Tubby McFatNeck. All good things. So even though I start from zero, my zero is still a work out. We did two 8 minute trot sets and one 1 minute canter set. He recovered in under 3 minutes of walking, so I know I hit the sweet spot. Not too much work, but he did break a sweat.

The big goal of this season is conditioning. Last year, he was almost perfect (after treating for Lyme) that the only thing I could ding him for was his conditioning, and that is 100% my fault. So this year, I am mixing things up a bit. I am going for longer duration trot sets first. Last year, I increased quantity, not duration of trot sets, maxing out at a measly five minutes. My final conditioning set of last season was three 5 minute trots and three 4 minute canters (at Novice Speed). This year I want to finish at three 15 minute trots and three 5 minute canters. That ought to do 'er.

I am also reevaluating feed. Brego has always been on a high fat, low starch diet to minimize the risk of EPSM. However, a friend passed along an article about feed and performance written by a man who trains Thoroughbred race horses. Brego is not a thoroughbred, by any stretch of the imagination, but he doesn't exactly fit the draft profile either. He's not 2500 lbs, he is not massively muscular and his workload doesn't involve slow, continuous work for 8 hours (which is ideal for the slow burning fats). In every respect -- lifestyle, work level, even body size -- he is a warmblood-ish sport horse. He is only Percheron in breeding, in other words, and so this year I am going to experiment with feeding him less like a draft and more like a sport horse. That is not to say I am going to throw some sugary sweet feed at him, but I am going to up his carbs (for fast burn, high intensity work) and see what he does.

My most common complaint last season is he "ran out of gas" at the 4 minute mark on course or in hunts or in conditioning sets. And that is very typical of a horse running out of fast burning fuel. He would recover fine and then we could go again, once his body had pulled in some fat. So I want to make sure he has the fast burning fuel he needs. I might even play with glucose loading before a big show, if I feel like he is doing well. I had him tested for EPSM last fall when we were diagnosing the Lyme problem, so I know he is negative. I will give him a year of eating more like a normal sport horse and then I will test him again in the fall and see how his body is handling the change in diet.

I am not planning on a lot of shows this year, due mostly to the farm and work monopolizing my time. But I am shooting for riding a minimum of 4 days a week. We have the first show of the season, a schooling dressage show, at the end of April. I intend to ride the Groton House classics and I hope to meet up with Andrea at UNH in October for our big recognized show. I've schooled there and it's a tough course, in my opinion. Then a fall of foxhunting and a winter of skijoring. We actually didn't get enough snow this year for skijoring, I was only able to work with him twice the entire winter. Oh well. There's one truth in New Hampshire and that is winter will come again.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Cross-post: Wind Storm 2010

I haven't been doing much riding, but I have been doing MUCH living! Some of you may have heard that New England was hit by a fairly big storm last week. At the peak, 1 million people were without power.

The animals rode out the storm just fine, but my nerves were a little frayed by the end of it. Brego was very brave and sane and for that I am always thankful. Things could have been much worse.

I wrote up my experience on the farm blog. If you want to hear about the closest I have ever come to a full out panic, check it out.

I hope everyone else is safe, warm, and doing well. I should be back in training by the end of the month, once the snow goes away!