Monday, October 26, 2015

Suki and Nikki Settling Well at the New Barn

It has been a difficult month since we lost Ripley.  The house is so empty.  I work from home, and though Cecil and Bentley (our cats) are always nearby, Ripley's absence is palpable.  I am so used to turning around to look at him sleeping in his bed behind me.  When I go outside to put out bird seed, bring in the trash can, etc Ripley always joins me.  Bentley has been sleeping in Ripley's bed every day, so I can tell that he misses his friend.  They would often run to the door together to greet us when we arrived home. Ripley had a long, happy life and we were lucky to have him in our family.  It is always so hard to lose our pet children, but they complete our families, fill our hearts and make the world a better place just by being here.

During this time I have moved Suki and Nikki to a different barn.  It is a little further from my home, but with an indoor arena we will not have to stop training all winter as we have been forced to do the past two winters.  There is also  lovely outdoor arena and a round pen.  The care is excellent, and Jen (barn manager, her family owns the farm) was one of the vet techs that treated Suki she was at New Bolton.  So I know the girls are in capable hands!  Moving is always a bit of an adjustment, but they have settled in nicely and are being exposed to all kinds of new things!

I need to have  bit of work done on my trailer so I asked Janet at the barn to transport the girls.  I also enlisted the help of Louise, since as many of you know, Suki has not been the best at loading onto a trailer in the past few years.  I was less worried about Nikki because the last few times she has walked right in with little hesitation.  My plan was to give them both a little acepromazine to "take the edge off" for loading.  Louise brought a friend with her (always good to have additional troops!).  Jackie said that she would be willing to load Suki because without any history she thought she could get her to walk right on.  I was all for it since I knew I might anticipate that she might NOT walk right on!  Another boarder was hand grazing her horse near the barn, so I asked her if she could move more toward the arena since Suki can be difficult to load and I wanted as few distractions as possible.  It was not a boarder that I knew well, and she seemed annoyed by my request.  REALLY?  I mean I asked nicely.  She did move though.  The plan was to start with Suki, because as with other things that the diva finds not to her liking, if he anticipates that something is going on, she becomes difficult.  I was sent to the tack room to wait.  From there I heard a "thud, thud, thud, thud".  She did NOT walk right on?!  Well, she did, but came back out.  After a bit of time had passed I heard the thudding again.  It was Nikki.  They changed gears, and decided to put Nikki on first.  She pretty much walked right in.  Suki was still being difficult so I joined in the fun.  Suki does not respond well to some of the traditional methods of persuasion, like a lunge line behind her butt….she panics.  Ultimately we boxed her in and I tapped her with a broom, Jackie led her, Janet was in the trailer with grain, and Louise guided her from the other side by lifting each foot.  THEN she walked on.  No nervousness, didn't try to back out again….just walked on quietly.  This is her game.  She never seems upset, just doesn't want to do it!!  Then she gets bored with the game and walks on.  We will be working on loading so that she can begin attending events, like summer camps for burn survivors, shows and hopefully book signings!

When we arrived at the new barn Suki and Nikki calmly walked off the trailer and into the barn.
Since then they have settled in nicely, adjusting to the more lively atmosphere of this barn.  There was not a lot of activity at our previous barn, so often when the horses were in they would likely not see anyone for many hours.  Here, there are more people riding, midday change of turnout for some horses, water checked, etc.  So even if the girls are in they see a lot!  When they come back to their stalls in the late afternoon there are usually people riding or grooming….always something to see.

Suki and Nikki were a bit nervous in the wash stall initially, as they had not been in one for quite awhile.  But they got used to it pretty quickly.  Sometimes they push forward on the cross ties to watch a horse in the indoor or perhaps to try touch to another horse as they pass by.  They are getting used to the dogs as well.  It is so good for them as I can see now just how sheltered they were!  They saw tractors, and sometimes other people but not often enough.

I have been working Suki and Nikki in the indoor, and while they had been a bit nervous at first, they are doing great now!  When there are noises and activities outside they react, but quickly come back to focus, and have eased into not reacting much at all.  I love this barn!  Everyone that I have met is really nice and while we may ride in different disciplines, there is sensibility.  I won't elaborate on that comment.

I boarded at the other barn for 5 years and it worked for awhile (obviously!).  But because it isn't really full service I often had to go twice a day if a sheet or blanket needed to be pulled off or changed due to temperature fluctuations.  I won't anything bad to say about that farm.  Different barns offer different services, etc.  And that is fine.  I just needed something more.  And an indoor.  In fact, I wasn't even going to say that much, but then I heard that rumors were being spread that I had already left my new barn.  That made me angry.  I am loving my new barn and though it is further away, I don't have to go every day and especially not twice a day.  That is a tremendous relief and enables me to focus on other things as well as my horses and riding!

Okay, I also love that Fito leads Suki and Nikki to and from the pasture together!  They walk so calmly with him. So funny.  I love it!  When I have Suki out of her stall Nikki calls to her then calls REALLY loud as I am walking her back down the aisle.  Suki calls to Nikki once after we leave then again on the way back.  I have noticed that Nikki doesn't bang her stall the way she used to.  Perhaps she does at feeding time, but since they are just outside the feed room They are the first stop for the feed cart.

The area in which I live has been experiencing some crazy temperature fluctuations.  We have had a killing frost, a few snow flakes and temperatures in the 70sF!  So yes, we are back to the blanket dance!  I love the cold weather but I must admit, that early killing frost got the last of our local corn.  Fisher's has the most AMAZING sweet corn!  They plant in such a way that we typically have fresh corn (picked that day) well into October.  But not if we have a killing frost.  I do have some in the freezer though!

Suki and Nikki had a bit of an experience with wild turkeys last week.  Apparently when they first saw the turkeys they were afraid and ran around their pasture.  Then the turkeys decided to take a stroll down the driveway which borders the girls' pasture, so Suki and Nikki followed them down the fence line next to the driveway.  But THEN those big birds took flight, sending the girls into a tizzy again!  So funny.  I have had one other experience with a wild turkey, while riding Jenny in a field a number of years ago.  We were just walking quietly along in tall grass (Jenny hated to hack, so having her out and somewhat relaxed was quite an accomplishment!) when we startled a turkey who quickly took flight.  As they are not graceful when they take off, and quite noisy, I found myself back at the barn, feeling Jenny's heartbeat against my legs!  Needless to say I was not able to get her back out into that field.  We made some progress when I was able to get her out along the dirt road!

The next challenge for Suki and Nikki was to cross the stream in their pasture.  Each morning when they are turned out they walk down to the stream to take a drink.  Until last week they had yet to cross it.  Then I received a text from Jen that they were on the other side of the stream!  The big question remained: would they cross back on their own!  They did, with Suki splashing through and Nikki jumping it.  Now they cross the stream regularly.

A few weeks ago it was time for fall vaccinations.  Nikki is always great about these things.  Suki…well, she gets a bit worried.  Jen H is well aware of how difficult Suki can be about medical treatments, but Suki has really improved about everything but new barn, new vet, who knows?  i explained the best way to do it for minimum worry.  She was fine.  Yay!

The girls were also great for the farrier.  It was the farrier who has been doing their feet for several years, but of course I was concerned that they would be nervous in the cross ties.  They were both perfectly behaved.  It is always nice to get a positive report!

The best news is that the wound on Suki's back has completely healed so it is back to wearing a surcingle to make sure it is okay, then saddle and riding her again.  She was great about the bandage which managed to stay on in spite of rolling.  That allowed me to only have to change it every couple of days.  The last week that she was wearing it I was not applying any ointment to the area.  It was simply for padding.  Some people have chastised me in the past for using a bandage for extra padding, but it is the best way to protect such an area when you have a horse that revels in the joys of rolling.  I stopped padding it last week and even with rolling (Suki has been wearing clothing even on warm days(just a fly sheet and only when she was outside)) it looks great.  Back in business!

Yesterday we tried a little experiment with painting.  Well, with Suki painting.  Suki is going to be doing hoof print paintings.  Armed with non-toxic, water-based acrylic paints and canvas on cardboard Jen I set to work.  Suki was actually pretty cooperative which surprised me somewhat (I really need to learn to trust my girls!).  Suki doesn't wear shoes so I was thinking that I would get a print of the rim and frog.  But the hard back of the canvas didn't leave enough of an impression.  So we are going to try a different method.  back to the craft store for supplies!

Stay tuned…….

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Suki's wound is healing nicely, and RIP Ripley

While putting gas in my car today I saw that the adjacent cornfield had been chopped down and the mountains in the background were beginning to take on a different color.  Autumn on its way.  Though you wouldn't know it from the steamy weather we are currently experiencing!

9 September 2015
Suki and Nikki worked well this morning but I did shorten their sessions given the humidity.  I started with Suki, leaving a much confused Nikki standing in her stall!  She started nickering to Suki as we passed by her stall on our way out of the arena.  As I was closing the gate of the arena Nikki gave one more call, followed by V who was still out in her pasture.  Suki answered back before I could tell her not too, then ll of the girls settled down.  Nikki likely eating hay, V grazing near the fence and Suki got on with her work.

The wound on Suki's back is healing nicely, but still not quite ready for a saddle pad and surcingle.  So we continue to work in just the bridle lunging and doing work in hand.  We need to keep the training moving forward and continue increase fitness and muscle tone.  Suki seems to enjoy having a job so I know it is beneficial to her mentally as well.  Hopefully this will be a short setback and I will be back in the saddle in a few weeks.  But until then we will continue to work on steering (from the ground), transitions and in hand lateral work.

Since it was already quite humid I lunged Nikki for only a few minutes to let her stretch before I got on.  She worked well through transitions and after a few medium trots I let her stretch down and finish.  Both girls needed showers after that (as did I!), before happily settling into their stalls for the day cooling in front of their fans.

10 September 2015
I managed to get a quick work in with the girls this morning before the rain.  Tomorrow it is supposed to still be raining in the morning so we won't get to do anything in my available time frame.  With heavy rain predicted over night they will have to stay in because of Suki's bandage.  That will make for some grumpy mares by morning!

Wound looking better!

12 September 2015
I guess the cool air agrees with Suki and Nikki!  53F this morning when I arrived at the barn.  Nikki had a huge spring in her step which I promptly used to my advantage.  Another instance when shoulder in and half pass in my bad direction are corrected by the good energy and ease of movement off my leg.  I had a bit of a yahoo moment when I asked for a canter lengthening, but Nikki actually came back pretty readily with just a slightly stronger half halt!

Suki called to anyone who would listen on our way out to the arena and started her lunging session with a few head twirlies before settling down to work.  But then it was brilliant!  Tons of suspension and great lengthening and shortening of stride.  I would have loved to have been riding that!  The wound continues to heal and so far (knock on wood) it has not reopened.  The padded bandage is doing its job.  I am still able to get 2-3 days before having to change it.  It's such a difficult area for a bandage.  In addition I had been moisturizing that entire area so that created challenges for the first bandage.  Now I am careful to give the tape area a wide berth as I am moisturizing so the bandage will continue to stick.  This, of course, will require some "catch up" moisturizing once we are finished bandaging.  I can already see that it is becoming quite dry under the bandage adhesive.

15 September 2015
Temperatures and humidity are climbing this week, but mornings are still cool.  With the sun on the arena it warms up quickly and the biting flies seem to have multiplied!  But we get the work done then Suki and Nikki spend the day standing in front of their fans.  Such a hard life! I brought Isaiah with me to do my afternoon bandage check.  Suki must have liked the way his hair smelled.  She kept following him around her stall snuffling his head!  Then he went over to Nikki's stall and as soon as I opened her door she licked his face….TWICE!  so funny.

16 September 2015
Bandage change today.  Looks great!  Dr. Mike was right (of course!).  The skin is healthy now, not like when the burn was trying to heal.

19 September 2015
Once again Suki's bandage was in place after her night outside.  There were bits of grass stuck in the surcingle closures so I know there was some rolling going on!  When I removed the bandage it looked even better than last time!  I forgot to take a photo….  I could probably get away with putting a surcingle with saddle pad on at this point, but I don't want to rush anything.  She is still working, and this should be healed pretty soon, as long as the bandage continues to stay in place when she rolls.  Fingers crossed!  Suki and Nikki had some lovely work today, especially through the trot poles!

20 September 2015
We have had a bit of a rough morning.  For the past two weeks Michael and I have been taking turns sleeping in the family room with Ripley since the trip upstairs has become too difficult for him.  Michael was downstairs with him last night and came upstairs to wake me at around 3 AM.  Ripley had asked to go out but after going to the bathroom he became too tired and had to lie down.  We got him up and helped him walk in with a towel under his belly to help stabilize him.  We put him in his bed (tonight he couldn't get up on the couch) and his breathing was quite labored.  Just yesterday morning he was outside while Michael did some yard work.  During the past two weeks since we learned of his lung mass, he has actually done quite well on his meds.  Even counter surfing to get the cat food!  But Saturday afternoon he started to decline.  Quickly.  By evening we knew that Sunday we would probably have to take him to the vet to be euthanized.  But as we sat on the floor next to Ripley at 3 AM it was obvious that it would be cruel to wait until later in the morning.  Michael and I carried Ripley out to the car.  I covered him with blankets.  He seemed so cool to the touch.  Isaiah was awake now as well (had he not been I would have awakened him before Ripley went to the vet).  We said our goodbyes knowing that unlike two weeks ago, Ripley would not be coming home.  He fought the good fight, but it was time to let him go.  The cruelest of decisions to have to make (to those having to make that decision) but the kindest and best thing for Ripley.  So one month shy of his 13th birthday, our beloved Ripley is gone.

When Michael got home I went to the barn.  I lunged the girls and groomed them, happy to have a distraction.  But when I pulled into the garage I had to sit in the car for a moment.  As I stood in front of the door leading from the garage to the house I thought about how when I opened the door Ripley would not be coming to the door to greet me. So many reminders inside.  With tears streaming I turned the door knob.

Every day is a gift.
Ripley in the snow with Isaiah.  February 2015
Ripley and Bentley enjoying the afternoon sun

Monday, September 7, 2015

Suki's training is going great! Oh wait….surprising set back

The start of school seems to signal the start of autumn.  Well, except that in my part of the country the weather is still quite summer-like.  I have noticed a few yellow leaves floating to the ground, making me wistful for cooler temperatures!  We have had several lovely cool evenings and even a few crisp mornings.  Am I craving ice and snow?  Not so much.  But colder days with horses snugged in blankets and me wearing sweaters again.  I am making slow progress knitting a sweater I designed but I am confident it will be finished to wear by December.  Okay, January!

We are also enjoying some of the best fresh produce that the Oley valley has to offer.  I believe I visit Fishers Produce in Oley at least twice a week!  They have several varieties of their own sweet corn, plus the usual produce, which is anything but usual!  On numerous occasions I have been  fortunate enough to be shopping at Fishers when they bring in just-picked eggplant, peppers, kale and lettuce (earlier in the season).  Doesn't get much fresher than that, except when I pluck them out of my own vegetable garden!

Tuesday, 1 September 2015
With several teleconferences and three new projects, my best bet to get Suki and Nikki worked today was lunging and long lining.  This was also Isaiah's first day of school (late start to the year for us!!) and the bus was a little late for pick up.  

The morning was already off to a bit of a steamy start, but I was eager to get the girls to work.  I usually start with Nikki but today I surprised them and took Suki out of her stall first.  Nikki, I am sure, was happy to nibble on her hay while Suki worked!  Suki looked stiff coming out of her stall so before I tacked her up we worked through some stretches in the aisle.  I am so pleased with Suki's progress with long lining.  Steering has improved substantially, and I continue to attain some softening in the jaw and relaxation across her top line.  Hopefully this will translate to when I am in the saddle!  I always start with lunging to allow Suki to work out stiffness and loosen, then add side reins for contact and pushing into the bridle from behind.  Then we go on to long lines to work on more connection and of course steering.  Today I got brave and asked for a halt from the trot on the long lines.  Just a couple of walk steps in between.

The humidity increased by the time I got out to the arena with Nikki, so getting her to move forward was a bit of a struggle!  Trot poles usually wake her up a bit but today I needed more!  I dragged a pole out to make her canter over and that worked nicely to get her moving.  Then we had some lovely trot work!

This evening I received the most hilarious phone call!  Mike Fugaro, the veterinarian who performed Suki's skin graft, called me.  He was one of the people I texted with the first photo of me sitting on Suki before I posted it anywhere.  Mike called to apologize….for calling me a "pansy ass" thinking I would not have the nerve to be the first person to sit on Suki after all this time!  So funny!  I did require a bit of a push from Louise to make it happen…..Mike and "Team Suki" (Sarah, Meagan, Becky and Kim plus all of the wonderful students) at Centenary were so amazing.  They were part of the village that enabled that ride.  
The rest of the week was a mix of riding or lunging Nikki and long lining Suki.  My timing is a little better now since I can get to the barn before 8 AM as opposed to after 9 when Isaiah was going to camp.  Some days I go midday instead, but with the heat this week that was not going to happen.  Our work was of a shorter duration, but I was pleased with how well they both worked.  Suki even piaffed one day in the long lines, which was fun.  Oh, I didn't ask her to, well, I guess I did, inadvertently!  

Saturday, 5 September 2015
I got up this morning with a big goal.  In fact, I woke up around 4 AM thinking about it.  So here it is 5 AM and I am sitting lone in the family room in the pre-dawn light.  Time to put the big girl panties on and get on Suki by myself.  Even if I just get on, walk around for 5 minutes and get off.  I just need to do it.  Now that I have made this decision I am tingling with  excitement!  This will be such a huge step.  But we are ready.  Well Suki has always been ready, now I am too!

53F this morning when I arrived at the barn at 6:30!  I actually had to wear my anorak!!  It felt great, and needless to say that Suki and Nikki were not waiting for me at the gate.  Nikki evidently enjoyed the cool air judging by her energetic lovely forward movement.  Even my wonkiness couldn't prevent a nice right half pass.  

I brought Suki out of her stall, and as I went to groom her right side…whoa!  What is THAT???

It is approximately 5cm long and appears to be superficial, but it will take time to heal.

My first thought was that she rolled on a rock or something.  John thought it looked like a bite.  But Nikki would NEVER be able to get that close.  I guess it could have happened with a horse over the fence, but still unlikely.  Very strange.  At this point it doesn't matter how it happened, it is there.  It was not there yesterday so clearly it happened some time between 10:30 AM Friday and 6:30 AM Saturday.  I don't think she could have done it in her stall before she went out Friday night, and also it looked fairly fresh.  I check Suki's back EVERY day and very closely after she has worn a surcingle or saddle.  The skin has never seemed like it was getting rubbed at all.  The location of the wound does not appear to be from the weight of a rider in the saddle.  And I would have noticed SOMETHING changing in the skin, given my thorough post work inspections.

I cleaned the wound and bandaged it.  Suki will have to go back to wearing a fly sheet for turnout.  Hopefully she will be okay in her stall during the day with just a bandage.  

I am sure that some people will think that it does not need to be bandaged, but the flies will get to it during the day and a fly sheet won't be enough to protect it from Suki's Olympic level rolling.  Hopefully I will be back in the saddle within a month.  I am just so disheartened by this set back.  Did I miss something?  I am so careful with taking care of her skin.  And the skin seemed to be pretty tough.  It has been so hot that I have not been putting a fly sheet on for turnout, but that has not been a problem all summer.  And on afternoons that weren't too hot I did put a fly sheet on for turnout because the sunscreen dries her skin.  Back to second trips to the barn to put a fly sheet on in the afternoon, unless the day will be cool enough for her to wear it all day.  As long as the bandage is in place in the afternoon I will just have to throw on the sheet.  That gives Nikki a break from living in her bell boots also.  Since I have to go back to the barn I can put her bell boots on also.  

I decided to lunge her anyway, just in a bridle to get her moving around and continue working.  We have come so far and worked so hard.  I feel like I have failed her some how.  Has it been too much?  Surely she would have told me if it was.  I know this girl better than I have known any horse.  It would be difficult not to given all that we have been through together.  We will weather this like we have everything else that has jumped in our path.  We will still roar.  It may just take a little longer.

Isaiah had his riding lesson so I rushed home to take him as the husband passed him out the door to me.  Time to work on the championship test for Interdressage.  All of those scores in the 70's qualified him.  Then on to hockey, but Michael takes him to that.  After hockey the two of them will be heading to the beach for a few days.  

Then, catastrophe number two for the day. Ripley, our 12 year old (13th birthday Oct 21) started to cough and gag constantly.  He had coughed occasionally, but now he was panting and stressed as well.  Then he coughed up blood.  I called the emergency vet and Michael took him.  My first thought was lung mass, given his age.  I hugged Ripley and said good bye and told Isaiah to do the same.  He ran into the house.  When I went back inside he was in the family room crying hysterically.  Two of our cats died when he was age 3 and 5.  He was upset then, but at age 9 this was going to be a hard one.  I sat on the floor with him and pulled him into my arms letting him just cry.  When he calmed down a bit we talked about what a great life Ripley has had and how we will always love him and have wonderful memories.  To distract him we went back to the barn to put on Suki's fly sheet.  It helped to have a diversion.

Michael called from the Animal Hospital.  Ripley has a lung mass.  But we could try several meds to keep him comfortable, so Ripley came home to us.  Ripley may have weeks or a few months.  By evening he had stopped coughing and was relaxed.  By midday Sunday he was back to normal.  No coughing, respiration normal, chewing his big rawhide bone, following me all over the house.  

Every day is a gift.  

Monday, August 31, 2015

Suki Continuing to Work Under Saddle and Learning About Contact Again

Sitting on Suki for the first time since the fire was so surreal.  A big goal, but not the end of the story.  In fact, just the beginning.  The beginning of what, I have no idea.  The next goal is to trot while sitting on her.  It is similar to starting a young horse under saddle yet also very different.  When you sit on a young horse for the first time they have very little history. Clean slate.  You bring them along slowly and carefully as they are prepared for a rider.  That first time you swing your leg over their back and settle in the saddle is sometimes unnerving for a young horse.  Suddenly you are physically at a higher level than their head,  and there are legs touching their sides with extra weight on their back.  When prepared thoughtfully for this day the reaction is typically minimal.  The handful of horses that I have started under saddle were quite nonchalant when I sat on them for the first time.  Suki, also, was quite unfazed when I sat on her the first time.  Of course this time we have history.  The training meltdown from when the BNT I was riding with pushed Suki to much as a young horse (yes, I knew better and should have questioned it).  Then Heather Mason to the rescue and finally helping us get through it.  Those months just before the fire saw so much progress, sealing our bond and partnership and a promise of a future.

Of course the fire changed everything physically for Suki, though mentally she seems to have come through with her usual determination.  The physical challenge of returning to the saddle comes with numerous complications.  The lack of hair on her back with just skin (scarred skin) between Suki and the saddle.  Lameness/stiffness.  Suki is 15 now and has some associated arthritis and perhaps unknown injury from her jaunt in the night with Whisby over several miles of roads and fields.  So this "first time" ride came with a bit of anxiety.  My greatest concern with sitting on Suki was her back.  How would it feel to her without that extra layer of hair?  Would the small amount of movement and extra weight cause harm to her skin?  Would she remember that she had experienced having a rider on her back?  So many questions, so many concerns.  I knew it was time, though.  Our preparation was appropriate and complete.  What was I waiting for??

One thing I noticed during that first ride was lack of steering, which is understandable.  It HAS been 6 years!  For the next ride I had Louise with me again, and I definitely was much less apprehensive putting my foot in the stirrup!  Louise led me around the arena, letting me out on the lunge a little at times while I tried to navigate up there a little bit more!  We also worked on walk-halt transitions….those all important brakes!  She actually did well with that.  Certainly better than the steering!  Suki was really very good about all of it though a little fussy in the bridle.  I have her in a very mild 3 piece KK snaffle, which is what she had been ridden in before the fire and also what I ride Nikki in.  She didn't fuss with it on the lunge without side reins so I believe it has to do with understanding contact again.  I am pretty quiet with my hands, plus I haven't even really taken up much contact.

Awhile ago I had started to work Suki in side reins to get her used to contact and to see how movement of the surcingle affected the skin on her back.  After doing that for awhile I stopped using the side reins, then moved onto the saddle.  I was so focused on how she reacted to having a saddle on her back again, and how it affected the skin on her back that I kind of forgot about the contact situation.  So after the first ride I added side reins to the surcingle again and moved her forward.  As she moved into the slight resistance of the side reins she set her chin briefly then relaxed into a soft contact, a flash of recognition and relaxation in her eyes.  It was so lovely to see a flicker of the old Suki, looking like a dressage horse, relaxed and soft, moving forward.  Of course she currently does not have the strength to maintain this so we keep the sessions short, to rebuild muscling and strength.

Following the second ride I started using long lines again.  I had learned to use long lines at BHF and found it to be a great training tool.  Using long lines as opposed to lunging actually allows you to feel both sides of the horse's mouth, and for the horse to feel contact on both sides simultaneously, as they do with a rider.  Admittedly, I am a little rusty with this….  For the first attempt I lunged her for 10 minutes in side reins then switched to long lines.  Suki patiently stood while attached the long lines into place then proceeded to untangle them (I believe she was laughing at me silently, judging by the bemused look on her face!).  Of course once I got that all straightened out we proceeded at the walk.  In a circle at first than moving around the arena a bit.  Of course there were times that she almost walked up onto the grassy hill beside the arena.  I was able to guide her quickly away before could march up the hill to the grass!  There is a fence around the entire arena, so the hill is inside the fence which would have kept us from getting into TOO much trouble….but it was preferable to stay away from that area.  I didn't walk behind her this time because we are both acclimating to the long lines again.  Well, me more than Suki!  I tried to a bit more steering by doing true bend counter bend on a large circle.  That worked fairly well as I was able to get a bit of movement and feel on her mouth.  A little fussiness in the bridle, so I am going to have to rethink the bit for sure.  She had her teeth done in May, so is not due for a recheck until November.  It's not terrible.  Suki is not grabbing it and grinding and such.  Just not quite as soft and accepting as usual.

Continuing with this post I am sitting outside with a glass of wine, enjoying a lovely, cool early evening.  probably the last for at least a week, with temperatures expected to rise just over 90 with humidity.  A doe with her twins just walked across the hill above my house, pausing briefly to consider me then continuing to graze without concern.

Nikki is working reasonably well, but my crazy schedule has limited our time to lunging, with riding days thrown in whenever available.  Since I lunge as a training tool, incorporating transitions, exercises and trot poles into each session, it is a thinking, working training time.  When in the saddle Nikki has been relaxed for the most part, but she gets a little temperamental during her heat cycle.  I was trying her off the bi-weekly depo injection, but she definitely needs it!  For me I have been working on sitting straighter in the saddle as I tend to collapse a hip, which lends to my difficulty in right half pass.  Uggh!  I think I need some lunge lessons to focus on me!

Friday was a lovely, cool morning!  Final presentation for client in India at 7 AM went beautifully.  Feeling much more relaxed.  Several new projects starting but that BIG one is finished except for any questions that may arise (these will be relatively easy to address).  I couldn't get to the barn until midday, and the humidity is definitely climbing.  I worked Suki first, lunging in saddle and side reins.  Stiff to start with reasonable improvement.  Canter work was nice though it started with a big buck and squeal….then head toss and leap that would have made Jenny Any proud (she was the queen of airs above the ground!  Some days I miss her so much my heart aches).  I laughed when she did this because it seemed to be less disobedience and more like uncontrollable joy (though I was thankful to have not been sitting on her back at the time!!!  So silly and such fun.  Of course then I growled at her to make her listen!  Suki went right back to work.  She just needed to express herself!  I always put Suki through trot poles and today I asked for a halt right after.  The first time she had 3 or 4 walk steps, but next time halted on a dime.  Then she turned her head to look at me, head cocked, ears forward.  so funny!

Nikki was a little nervous to start, though I don't really know why.  She relaxed after a few minutes on the lunge.  I decided not to connect the side reins and to just do a brief stretchy warm up before getting on.  I was already hot from working Suki and Nikki seemed ready.  She doesn't need a long lunge warm up.  I mainly do it to allow her to stretch her legs and through her back.

Long lining Suki continues to progress, fussiness decreasing, my skills improving.  The steering is
getting better and I am trying to soften her mouth (long distance!).  We are a work in progress.  There is no hurry, though I realize to many that seems I am moving at glacial pace!  It feels like that  to me as well, but with hectic schedules that is reality.  Ironically, once school starts for Isaiah (tomorrow, Sept 1) I think I will be able to get back into a better routine.

Each time Suki wears a saddle or surcingle I check the skin on her back.  So far everything seems to be fine.

Sunday was another cool morning so when I arrived at the barn at 6:15 the girls were not running to the gate!  I set the trot poles again hoping they would make their way down the field, which they did.

I rode Nikki first and she was initially distracted by the mare in the field across from the arena (the one who nearly killed us during last week's ride!).  V came running across the field as I led Nikki from the barn, but the settled to eat grass fairly quickly.  She called to Nikki a couple of times but Nikki did not answer.  This was a major improvement over last week when the mare was running and screaming, and Nikki was a little crazed!  But this week was much better and Nikki settled nicely into her work.  She was a little too on the forehand for the right lead canter so I did several transitions between trot and canter to set her back on her hind end.  This resulted in a really lovely canter to walk transition, which I finished with

Suki had great lunging/long lining session in the arena!  We worked quite a bit on changing direction and taking the right rein, which is my weakness.  I have the short lunge whip now, because on Friday while I was setting the trot poles, Miss Suki was standing on the tip of the rod portion of the lunge whip.  Not realizing this I tried to pull it along with me and SNAP!  I forgot to buy another while at the tack shop on friday afternoon.  And I LOVED my pink lunge whip!  We did a bit of trot, though I did not change direction while she was trotting.  I asked for some counter bend and true bend in each direction though and accidentally got a bit of shoulder in!

The most important thing is that we are making progress.  I will be getting on Suki again this week and we will continue to work on steering.  I will be moving the girls to a new barn toward the end of September.  The barn manager was one of Suki's nurses while she was in ICU at New Bolton, so that is a fun twist! There is a round pen which I am looking forward to using, and an indoor arena so we can train through the winter.  Change is always difficult, but I am excited about making new friends and not having training limited by weather conditions (unless of course I can't get there because of weather!).  We have been at the current barn for several years so I will certainly miss the friends that I have made while there.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Suki's Big Day: Back in the Saddle!

Monday, 3 August 2015
So today I decided that Friday will be the day that I get on Suki (with a little persuasion from Louise!).  It is time and I believe she is well prepared.  This week I will lunge Suki on two days then before I get on.  Louise will be at her head and for moral support, and Jenn will be there for moral support and to take photos.  My very good friend Beth was supposed to be present also, but scheduling might be tough since she lives 2 hours away.

Monday is typically a day off for Suki and Nikki, so today I just groomed, massaged and did stretches with them.  That time is very special to me.  I love how they both breathe on my neck when I pick their feet and when I dig around their grooming boxes.  When I turn my face toward them we touch noses.  Sweet horse breath.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015
T-3 days.

Buggy and warm.  I rode Nikki and she was diving at her chest to get the green head flies.  Then shaking her head violently when they landed on her forehead.  Not fun, though I can't blame her!  But we worked through it and had some excellent lateral work.  I really considered some of the comments made by Arthur Kottas as I worked Nikki through shoulder in and half pass.  Not brilliant, but good.  And actually excellent at times.  When I dismounted we worked on turn on the forehand and haunches in in hand.  Nikki was very responsive, with only an occasional step back, which I corrected immediately.  A few steps of baby piaffe and we were finished.

Full tack for Suki.  We are in go mode.  She seems really ready, so I just have to prepare mentally.  We worked through transitions, stirrups banging at her sides and trot poles.  Mounting block work was good in spite of the bugs.  Suki continues to be more interested in the tall weeds by the mounting block than anything I am doing!

Wednesday, 5 August 2015
T-2 days.
Okay.  I think I want to use something to take the edge off Suki when I get on her.  She seems fine, but it has been 6 years since I sat on her.  Today I gave her a tube of Ultra Chill to see how it worked for her.

I gave Suki the calming paste then rode Nikki.    She had some beautiful canter work, so clearly something is going right (at least today)!  It is hot and buggy again, but not unbearable.  I needed to work both of them so I kept the ride fairly short.  It was quite productive, and that’s what counts!  

Tacking Suki up one hour after giving her the calming paste, I don't really notice anything different in her mood or behavior.  She is always pretty mellow during the "getting ready" process.  Walking out to the arena Suki lifted her head when the mower at the top of the field caught her eye, not in nervousness, just acknowledging its presence.  But that is how she has been behaving anyway.  Warming up she was quite a bit stiffer than she was yesterday, but once she loosened up the stiffness was all but gone.  I kept the work simple.  Just a bit of walk/trot for about 15 minutes.  At the mounting block Suki stood quietly, no different than any other day.  My confidence was wavering.  I know that calming pastes don’t work on all horses but I was really hoping that it would make a difference in Suki.  Just to help ME relax more about climbing aboard!  Suddenly I realized that I had not put any weight in the stirrups.  Hmmm, that could be a showstopper!  So I leaned all of my weight into my hands on each stirrup, with no reaction from Suki at all.  Maybe it was the paste, maybe it was just Suki!

Thursday, 6 August 2015
T-1 Day
Tomorrow I will sit on Suki for the first time since the fire more than 6 years ago.  There are so many emotions running through my brain as I drive to the barn.  Excitement, anxiety, overwhelming joy.  A fellow boarder uses 25mg of acepromazine in tablet form prior to going out fox hunting, so I asked her if I could try it on Suki.  I wasn't planning on working her today because with tomorrow's adventure that would be four days in a row for her.  Janet said that it takes approximately 45 minutes to take effect, so I pulled Nikki's mane, cleaned tack, then took Suki out of her stall.  Immediately I noticed a difference.  She seemed very relaxed as I put her on cross ties.  To test her level of relaxation I decided to try to pull her mane.  She hates this!  Nikki falls asleep during it but Suki body slams, throws her head, etc.  I only do her mane when she has been sedated for something or with another person at her head bribing her with treats.  Today, I was able to pull her mane!  Oh yeah, this will be good!

Friday, 7 August 2015
Well, today is the day.  I tried so hard not to be nervous as I dressed in breeches, prepared to ride.  My original plan was to ride Nikki first, but the timing wasn't working out and I think I was just too keyed up, which would not have made for a good ride.  So I groomed Nikki, gave Suki the ace and cleaned my tack.  Suki seemed fairly chill when she came out of her stall so I went through my usual preparation with Louise and Jenn standing by.  I lunged her briefly then went to the mounting block.  Janet was also there, having come to see her horse just at the right time!  To keep the routine the same I performed the usual mounting block exercises: snapping the stirrups, leaning over her and patting her on all sides.

I was really nervous, having no idea how Suki would react as I swung my leg over her back and sat down.  Louise stood at her head holding the lunge line and gave her some sugar cubes.  I took a deep breath and put my foot in the stirrup.  Suki did not tense as I swung my leg over and sat down.  Another deep breath and Louise led us away from the mounting block.  As we walked along Louise reminded me to speak to Suki as if on the lunge.  Of course I know this, but it left my brain completely!!  We halted for some photos and I took in the moment.  So surreal.  Sitting on Suki, six years after the fire.  They warned me at New Bolton (and rightly so!) that I would likely never ride her again and I accepted that.  When the worst burn on her back would not heal I resigned myself to that fact.  Then, Dr. Mike Fugaro, who I knew from when we were at Heather's and who guided me through the recovery process, offered to take Suki at Centenary College.  He teaches there and is the veterinarian for the equine science program and the equestrian team.  Mike performed a skin graft (pro bono!) and I paid to board Suki at the college.  Team Suki (Becky, Sarah, Meagan and Kim) and Equine Studies students helped with the care, treatments etc.  The skin graft was the turning point.  Once it healed,suddenly the possibility of riding Suki again became a reality.

Louise disconnected me from the lunge line.  As I stood there and took another deep breath, the tears came.  The hopes, the dreams, and here I was.  Sitting on her.  All we did was walk.  I took a little contact and she fussed slightly, so the next step is to add side reins.  Steering seemed to not be great, but  that was probably due to lack of contact.  No hurry.  First step conquered.  So much support from all over the world, for me and Suki, just a girl and her horse.  Thank you…..

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Training Update for Suki and Auditing the Arthur Kottas Clinic

Yikes!  Time flies when life is crazy busy!  With that bear of a report finished (until the client requests changes, additions, etc) I have a few days of breathing room.  Once again with my busy schedule and the hard footing in the arena I have had to slow down a bit with working Suki and Nikki.  Important to protect those legs!

As much fun as it is to have Suki working in full tack it is quite time consuming to do this with two horses on an abbreviated schedule!  I have found that some weeks it is easier to alternate the days they work. Some days the horse that doesn't get ridden or lunged has a stretching session or in hand exercises without tack.  Other days the non-working horse just gets groomed.  It still rounds out to a busy week, but then neither horse is rushed and I am able to focus on each one's work.

Not that I am complaining about having to put a saddle and bridle on Suki!  It is something  never expected to happen, and I am thrilled!  There is so much support from all over the world, which I find heartwarming.  I think there is just something about Suki that has gives her this instant connection with people…..even those who have never met her.  Sometimes, when I am having a bit of a tough day (for whatever reason) reading comments about Suki's FB posts just makes me smile.  How can we fail with so many people cheering us on!

With Nikki I am trying to work on attaining more collection and showing a clear difference between working, medium and collected.  To achieve this I have been changing out a variety of exercises to keep Nikki from being bored and to focus on different aspects of the gaits and transitions.  Overall I am pleased with how Nikki is working.  I am disappointed in myself for not having as much time as I need or want to make it better.  Often our rides are shorter than I would like, but I try to make that time as productive as possible.  We have had some humid days with the green head flies in attack mode.  In fact this past Friday (31 July) I cut my ride really short.  The green heads were landing on Nikki's chest so she was diving at them with her teeth.  Landing on her face so she would shake her head trying to get them off.  Tenacious little buggers.  A twitch of the skin does not usually get them off.  Following her shower, Nikki loves to be towel dried and have her face rubbed.  I put the entire towel on her head and rub.  She loves it!

Suki is progressing nicely and I know that it is time to get on.  So I have to plan.  She is very nonchalant about going to the arena and working.  Saddle: no problem.  Flapping stirrups: who cares?  Mounting block: piece of cake.  Leaning and lying over her back: time to nibble on the grass by the mounting block.  So I guess at this point it is a bit of my own anxiety.  I lie over her and pat her right side and she seems to not be bothered by it.  So it is just that next critical step….swinging the leg over and sitting in the saddle.  Yes, I have anxiety about what she will do…..but I also worry about the additional weight on her back, and how that will feel to her, which of course affects how she reacts.  We are still using the treeless saddle most kindly loaned to me by Louise.  The new saddle pad, so generously sent to us by Ecogold seems to work beautifully!  So comfort wise I think she seems fine.  Thank you Ecogold!

It's funny, I am always really sensitive about putting on the bridle.  Suki still sometimes has issues about her ears, so I am ever so careful about putting the bridle over her ears.  This morning I was not even thinking about it.  I was hot and sweaty from riding Nikki, tired from my long day yesterday (Arthur Kottas Clinic) and I just put the bridle on Suki.  One-two-three.  While I was securing the throat latch I realized what I had just done.  Very cool.  She really is becoming just like any other horse (well, in the getting ready aspect!).  Today's work was amazing.  She was hardly stiff, and the recent rain gave us a bit softer footing so I did not even see any foot soreness.  After lunge work we did a few turns on the forehand and haunches then finished with the mounting block.  Of course it is easy to say this now, showered, a glass of wine at my side and watching the birds attack the feeders, but had I been wearing a helmet I probably could have gotten on.  Though no one was there and I do want someone at her head!  Woulda, coulda, shoulda!

I received another generous gift recently also.  Suki wears several different fly sheets of varying weights, and three of them are Weatherbeetas.  We often struggle with her staying cool underneath them on hot days.  Although she is inside during the day, even with a fan Suki doesn't wear a sheet inside.  But going out at 4 in the afternoon it is often still quite hot.  On the hottest days she just wears sunscreen.  Weatherbeeta very kindly sent Suki a CoolKoat fly sheet.  It is surprisingly cool underneath and fit nicely into her rotation.  Another problem is that the moisturizer on Suki's back makes the fly sheets dirty and oily on the inside, so I have to wash them frequently, making it necessary to have many options available as at least one is always out of rotation due to being washed or repaired!  So many thanks to Weatherbeeta!

Isaiah also had another dressage show on July 26.  He did a great job and received good scores and feedback from the judge.  And two blue ribbons to add to his growing collection.  The first test was better than the second and Isaiah referred to the second one as "horrific".  It was not horrific!  Because of the location of the arena, horses had to enter from the side then trot around the inside of the arena to go down center line.  During the second test Rusty considered making an exit but Isaiah quickly corrected him and prevented that from happening.  It was nice to see him respond and prevent.

I was unable to attend the Andreas Hausberger clinic at Waltzing Horse Farm due to difficulty finding an acceptable place to stay (I am already looking for next year!) which actually turned out to be fine because work was busy and I would have had to do some work in the evenings while away.  But another opportunity to audit a clinic given by a Spanish Riding School (former) chief rider just 2 hours away so I was able to attend one of the three days.  The Arthur Kottas clinic was held at Four Winds Farm in Bridgeton, NJ.  Horses were clean and braided and riders were dressed appropriately.  Very nice.

Arthur Kottas-Heldenberg was a member of the Spanish Riding School from 1960 to 2002. In 1980 he was made Chief Rider and was the youngest person to have held this post in the 400 years of the School's history. He is a trainer and instructor of the highest international repute who has successfully trained riders and horses up to Olympic medal standard. His classical schooling methods do not rely on the use of force by the rider. The following quote from Arthur Kottas-Heldenberg, helps summarize his training philosophy, “ If the horse enjoys his work, then it will always have fun. You have to keep them very happy, so the horses are not thinking, God, I have to come to the school again. No, no, if they could talk they have to say, I like to do it, take me there; I’m ready. A horse in piaffe, enjoying the moment of suspension, and its own strength and lightness. You know, they are still animals, and you have to remember that.” (excerpt from AK biography page)

Mr. Kottas began the session by explaining that he was not there to criticize, but to help.  He stressed the importance of the horse as a partner and how the rider must "invite" the horse to work.  "You must love the horse."  Amen!

So rather than get into individual rides and commentary, which might hurt feelings (though I would just be repeating what was said during a lesson), I will address common themes throughout all of the lessons, and specific comments without identifying.  I must also preface this with saying that I was not in the saddle.  I give the riders credit for going up in front of such a dressage master.

AK stressed the importance of rider fitness.  Overall he observed that many riders were not really fit.  "You expect a certain fitness level from your horse so you must also be fit as the athlete rider."  Many people only ride one horse each day so fitness must come from off the horse training.  AK was appalled if someone said that they only ride 4 days a week, but for some that is really the best they can do.  He wants horses ridden 6 days per week so if you are unable to do it yourself enlist help.  Best to ride horse 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the afternoon.  I completely understand his points, but some of those expectations are unrealistic.  Okay, but fitness, good seat and quiet hands are not an unrealistic expectation.

A few riders had some difficulty with sitting the trot.  AK pointed out how tight their backs are and therefore were not absorbing the horse's movement.  He asked several riders to do turn on the forehand, because he feels that this is a good indication of how much the horse has been trained to the seat and leg.  And working on TOFH and turn on the haunches can be used to help the horse understand seat and legs for lateral work.

Another common theme was level of the horses.  Several horses were said to be at 3rd level, but AK felt that they did not have the collection to compete at that level.  This was obvious in watching the horses being worked.  He feels that too many people say "Oh, my horse can move sideways so he is ready for 2nd/3rd level."This is a very common theme in the US, especially in schooling shows.  Part of the problem is that I think people get bored.  They are tired of doing 1st level so if they sort of have the "tricks" down they move up.  But it goes hand-in-hand with the fact that anyone can call themselves riding instructors, which is not the case in many European countries.  That said, we do have some amazing trainers/instructors in this country.

Okay, so back to the collection issue.  Several riders were asked to do simple changes of lead which led to some difficulty. Many were unable to perform very clear walk steps before asking for the canter in the opposite lead.  As AK pointed out, if you can't do this the horse is not ready for flying changes.  This was also demonstrated by some pairs.  The changes were not clear or correct.  When asked to do a simple change they had some difficulty achieving the very clear walk steps before asking for canter again.  Without that collection during the walk steps, the canter depart was late (or through trot steps) with the horse's hind end out a little behind instead of stepping under.  Working through the simple changes rider was able to make her horse understand what the intention was.  The rider told AK: "He always does this."  Of course AK is not accepting this as an excuse, because the horse "does things" because he/she is asked (perhaps inadvertently) or does not understand. This was demonstrated by a rider who could not keep her horse in the right lead canter on a 20m circle.  He kept switching to the left.  Her comment too, was "He always does this."  AK pointed out that she kept moving her inside leg back so the horse perceived that as asking for the change.  The rider didn't realize that she was doing this.  AK was getting a little frustrated with her, which I understand.  However, habits are hard to change in an hour!  As a rider we intellectually get what you are telling us and we may be able to do it for a few minutes before reverting back.  So it is frustrating for the rider as well.  When I rode Lion (a schoolmaster at BHF) he did the lead switching thing on me from time to time.  I was slightly shifting my seat, which for Lion was enough to say "flying change!"  I'll bet that on the second day of the clinic the rider was more prepared for that.  I had originally planned to attend the clinic for two days because it is nice to see how the riders and horses progress.

Lengthening of stride at the canter.  A couple of the riders were able to achieve this fairly well.  Most just went faster.  But again it came down to the horse being too far on the forehand and unable to get the big push from behind, necessary for a true lengthening.  AK Had the riders count strides down the long side in the regular canter.  For the medium there should be 4-5 fewer strides.  That really helped the riders feel it and you could see the improvement as they sat more to get the push they needed to actually lengthen the stride.

Hands were another big issue.  AK felt that the majority of the riders had busy hands and that a problem he sees quite often is riders thinking hands before seat.  Seat and weight must be first.  Improper balance of weight in the seat and stirrups will prevent the horse from having appropriate bend and step.  Again he went back to the busy hands and balancing off the hands.  Too much inside hand observed in shoulder in and half pass.  He doesn't think that many people understand the importance of the outside rein.

AK stressed the importance of time spent on the lunge to develop an independent seat and to properly learn to use weight to influence the horse.  He asked several people how often they read about dressage and watch videos.  Both instructional and competition.

Overall it was a great experience, but I enjoyed watching Andreas Hausberger a bit more.  AK talked about himself a fair amount, which AH didn't really do.  AH was also more engaged when auditors asked questions, and had each rider tell a little about themselves and their horse. He also did some in hand with just about every horse, demonstrating the benefits of this type of work.  AK did not do this with the riders at all, with the exception of one rider who had apparently requested it as part of her lesson.  She did not attend on Saturday so I did not see that work.  The caliber of riders was higher at the AH clinic, so perhaps some of the arrogance I was observing at the AK clinic was frustration.  AK did compliment riders when they corrected something appropriately or rode a piece well.  And he was kind at times.  He even joked occasionally.  But let's face it, training can be harsh as well as a reality check.  It would have been interesting to see the next two days of the clinic to observe changes that the riders made.  Kudos to the riders for putting themselves out there and riding with someone of AK's caliber.  It is most likely that they have never before ridden with anyone like that.  He is an excellent instructor and his corrections and requests were easy to understand.  It is always a treat to be exposed to someone of that caliber and observe their training philosophies and process.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

A Milestone Reached, and a Goal Delayed

Summer marches on and we have been rewarded with the first local corn.  At Fisher's I selected one of their own, Sugar Pearl, and was not disappointed.  Sweet, popping kernels, one of the benefits of summer and living in the Oley Valley.  I filled a basket with beautiful local produce, fresh baked bread and headed home to make grilled veggies and shrimp.  Yumm!

It is hard to believe that it is July already.  Isaiah was not thrilled when I informed him that in 7 short weeks he would be going back to school (I am so mean!).  

Sunday, 28 June, 2015
Isaiah rode in a schooling dressage show today off the farm.  His times were late enough that I was able to get in a ride on Nikki and work Suki in hand before we had to leave for the show.  It was a cool morning, perfect day for a horse show.  And a beautiful morning for me to ride, especially after yesterday's day long rain.  I did manage to ride yesterday as well but Isaiah's lesson was rainier than my ride!

Nikki was nicely forward, clearly enjoying the cooler air as well.  That always makes lateral work have more expression so I even managed to get a nice bit of half pass.  Well, to the left was very nice.  To the right a little sticky, but that was more my fault.  Nikki loves to lengthen stride at the trot across the diagonal.  So today I asked for a medium.  I held with a brief half halt as I made the turn and with a slight touch of my leg she launched into an amazing medium!  Nearly propelled me out of the saddle it was so big!

Short on time I decided to do a bit of in-hand work with Suki.  I haven't been ding quite as much since I have been getting her used to wearing a saddle and bridle every day.  This was a good opportunity to focus on lateral work and moving away from my hand which will become my leg.  

Isaiah's show went well, with his first test (Intro A) being better than the second test (Intro B).  He went off course in the second test (turned right instead of left after his first center line, but mad a nice recovery after that.  At the end of the test the judge spoke to him (as they do at schooling shows).  After the first test she told him that his free walk could have a bit more energy.  He responded "I was thinking that as well".  Out of the mouths of babes!  She was very kind and encouraging, praising him for a job well done.  He won that class with a score close to 69%.  After the second test she told him that she knew that he was upset about going off course, but said "There is not one rider here today who has not gone off course at some time.  It happens."  He finished second in that class with a 65%.  It was tough to be the "show mom" instead of competitor, but fun to watch Isaiah and see how serious he is!
Waiting to go in for the test
Isaiah and Rusty: a job well done!
Tuesday, 30 June, 2015
A bit of a rainy morning, but not bad enough to put me off working the girls!  Work is insanely busy and I need my horse time to maintain sanity.  Rain is better than green head flies!  Nikki made her airplane ears face, but worked well and without complaint.  Such a drama queen about the rain!  It was a good day to work on canter transitions because it kept her mind off the rain.  By the time I brought Suki out the rain had stopped.  After some work in full tack on the lunge I took her to the mounting block again.  None of this seems to faze her, so I ask myself what am I waiting for?  Why not just swing my leg over and sit on her?  Ah yes…..reality check.  I haven't added stirrups to the saddle or contact to the bridle.  Oh and I am still not sure how the treeless saddle will feel on her back with the added weight of a rider.  I am over thinking this, aren't I???  Even Suki looks at me like "What are you waiting for?"  Could she be more ready for this than I am?

Thursday, 2 July, 2015
Several teleconferences and other work obligations make today a short work day for the girls.  Twenty minute lunge and in-hand work for each.  Nikki was a little lazy to start, even pinning her ears once or twice until she got motoring along.  She probably needed a second dose of Mt Dew (or Red Bull) just like I did.  I woke her up trying to do the spiraling in and out on the lunge (this is work intensive for the ground person but well worth the effort).  Then something startled her on the way back to the barn, causing her to passage next to me.  Where was this energy in the arena??

Suki started off our session by flicking me in the eye with the tip of her tail.  Oh yeah, that feels nice!  This was after she tried to suck a carrot out of my grooming box while I was wrapping the lunge line.  Yep, never leave the children unattended (or on a long lead length!).  She worked well, and I realized that I should have had in long lines once I was in the arena and starting work.  I decided to change things up a bit and work up the long sides of the arena.  This worked well, even asking for a bit of leg yield.  Then she stepped on the end of the lunge whip causing me to nearly fall.  I was feeling like a "housewife rider" for sure!

I returned to the barn later in the day to dress Suki in her fly sheet for turnout and Nikki in her pink bell boots.  On warm days I alternate between sunscreen on Suki's back and putting on her fly sheet.  The sunscreen enables me to let Suki go out without a fly sheet on the very hot days, and option not previously doable.  But the sunscreen dries out her skin, so I don't like to do that for too many consecutive days.  There is a lot of planning to keep Suki comfortable.  I probably overdo it, but in spite of the fact that she has fully recovered, and for the most part just like other horses, she does not have hair on her back and that needs to be considered in routine care.  But it does seem very routine to me now.  Suki gets groomed like other horses but we just have to add skin moisturizing to the mix.

Sunday, 5 July, 2015
Busy day at the barn!  Fortunately I had finished riding Nikki before too much of the craziness started.  By the time I got Suki out to the arena there was someone riding and someone lunging.  I will give Suki  credit for holding it together though.  In fact, she could have cared less that anything was going on in the arena.  I don't usually like to work under those conditions but sometimes that's life.  I only did 15 minutes, but Suki was focused and on task.  Her only departure from that was when the two horses in an adjacent field walked up to the fence.  I was just about finished when she started to lift her head and not pay attention.  So I kept her going for a few more minutes and she settled back to work nicely.  Nikki called to Suki as we walked back into the barn (I think she wanted her breakfast.  You would think she would be used to working before breakfast then waiting for it!).  I finished Suki's work with big stretches and nearly fell over when she stretched her left hind so far back!

As I resume writing this post I am sitting outside in the early evening enjoying a cool breeze and a glass of wine.  The birds in the feeders do not seem bothered by my presence and in my quiet solitude I was rewarded by the sight of a mom and her twin fawns on the hill!
So as I approach July 9, 6th anniversary of the fire and my goal date to sit on Suki, I realize that the goal will be delayed.  My current project for work has me crazed added to taking Isaiah to and from his variety of camps.  The school bus is much easier!  

I have yet to add stirrups to the saddle.  And I am certainly harboring some anxiety.  I don't want to hurt Suki, and I don't want to get hurt.  So far Suki has been completely fine but I am worried about her back.  Less about the burn area than about her back….musculoskeletal.  She had a back problem from a fall in the round pen (not with me! at the BNT I was working with.  It happened while I was away).  Once that was assessed and she had her back injected all was fine and training resumed beautifully!  I think that just sitting on Suki and doing walk and light trot will be fine, but I suspect she may need her back injected again.  Scheduled appointment for an evaluation.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015
Suki is getting so much better about having her bridle put on (wow, what a grammatically poor sentence!!).   I have putting it on in her stall because sometimes as I bring the bridle up over her ears she gets a bit nervous.  The past few times she has put her head right into the bridle.  I'm sure this stems from all of the treatments on her face and head during the first few months following the fire and the loss of the tips of her ears.  While I am able to put on her halter and groom her face and head, I imagine that the closeness of the brow band and head stall probably worries her a bit.  I do not think that it is caused by discomfort, because once the bridle is on she is fine.  

As I closed the arena gate after walking through with Nikki a bee stung my left hand.  Didn't even see it!  Nikki was amazing today in spite of the heat, humidity and bugs.  Nicely forward and coming back to collect immediately when asked.  I kept the ride short but even my eyelids were sweating when I was finished!  Nikki's face was sweating as well.  Going back through the gate I said to Nikki jokingly,  "Let's see if I can do this without getting stung!"  Then BAM!  Stung again as I unlatched the gate.  UGGH.

Suki had the day off with just stretches and spa treatment.  She will work tomorrow.

Thursday, 9 July, 2015
So.  Tonight at midnight is when I got the call from Bobbi that the barn was on fire and Suki and Whisby were missing.  I can still feel the clench in my heart when I think of that call.  The hours of waiting, and the call that Suki was critically injured.  Just 8 hours before I had kissed her on the nose and told her that I would see her tomorrow.  Who would have thought that "tomorrow" would be in ICU at New Bolton and she would be facing the fight of her life.  I don't care what the naysayers think.  I know in my heart that I did the right thing by saving Suki's life.  Following the experts advice I knew that complications could change her fate and I needed to be ready to make the decision to euthanize her if it came to that.  I was prepared to make that decision, but I was also prepared to give her the chance to live.  So though today did not go as planned and I was not sitting on her back, Suki and I had a quiet celebration.  I worked her in full tack and stood next to her on the mounting block.  When we were finished I wrapped my arms around her neck and told her how brave and wonderful she is.  Then she and Nikki had extra gummy bears to celebrate.  I will sit on her another day.

We have had such overwhelming support over the past six years that it would be impossible to thank everyone individually.  I still get teary when I think about that night, but it has subsided a bit and doesn't come on quite so easily.  

Saturday, 11 July, 2015
Driving into the barn driveway this morning I looked towards Suki and Nikki's pasture as I always do.  And what did I see?  They were lying side by side!  I stopped the car and jumped out to take a picture, because I knew they would not remain that way once I walked into the field!
After I parked I walked through the barn and to the gate of their pasture.  Still lying down enjoying the cool morning air!  Even when I walked up to them they did not get up!!
Finally I got them up, but not before they performed a tandem rolling session (phone in pocket, of course, so I could not get that on video!)

Great ride on Nikki, beautiful lateral work.  Going through the trot poles I could feel her back lift nicely as she pushed from behind.  Then I even attempted a few steps of half pass at the canter.  Okay, this was a little sloppy, but it was a first attempt and a great effort!  After that her collected trot work was really nice so I finished with stretchy trot serpentines.  

I worked Suki in full tack and did a lot of sharp transitions.  I like to make sure that she is focusing.  She was a bit stiff at the start but then worked out of it.  Then I started the transition work.  Walk-trot, trot-walk, canter-walk, walk-canter.  Good stuff.  The first few walk to canters were slow but then she was fine.  Mounting block work continues to go well, though she gets impatient after the third pass to the mounting block.  I feel like she is saying "Just get on already!"  But the bugs are a little worse at the mounting block also.

Sunday, 12 July, 2015
The girls were snoozing together again this morning!  Is this a new trend??

The humidity was low again this morning, but even as I mounted Nikki at 7:15 the warm sun started to heat the air pretty quickly.  Fortunately the flies were not so bad!  I decided to keep the work simple today with big loops at trot and canter.  It gave me a chance to do a little counter cater with Nikki and keep the work fun.  Nice stretching at the end.

I added stirrups to the saddle for Suki today, and she did not bat an eye as they bounced along while I lunged her.  It took a little longer for her to work out of her stiffness so perhaps I over did it yesterday.  I kept the session short with big trots and canters.  At the mounting block I leaned against her and moved my hands along her opposite side as if a rider was on her back.  Then, because I was still wearing my helmet from my ride on Nikki I laid over top of the saddle with all of my weight off the mounting block and onto Suki's back.  I got off the mounting block, gave her a sugar and wrapped my arms around her, again telling her how brave and wonderful she is!

I find it so surreal to be tacking her up to go out to the arena.  Now I just need to get on….