Saturday, December 31, 2011

Suki meets another burn survivor

The summer continued with concerns about Suki sweating under her fly sheet and rolling on the wound on her back. The daily maintenance was a lot of work, and while days would go by with healing and improvement, one hearty roll would rub the scab off. Each day the wound was cleaned with saline and dressed with ointment to prevent infection and decrease any itchiness. The itchies were truly the enemy. The ointments needed to be alternated, because while the steroid helped with the itchiness, it prevented epithelialization (new cell/skin growth).

The bandage consisted of non-stick gauze pads and 3 strips of Elasticon. Elastikon is VERY expensive when you are using it at that rate. Various generic brands were tried with little success. The burn never became infected, it would just open and bleed. We (Lori and I ) would debride it regularly, but it was just going to take time. Lori continued to be a tremendous help with the daily regimen. It would have been difficult to maintain such a schedule without help.

The highpoint of the summer was when Suki met Bill, an adult burn survivor. Because Lori was so active in burn survivor support, she often met and worked with people who were struggling with recovery. So when she asked me if Bill could come to the barn to meet Bill, I was thrilled. In addition to burns on his face and arms, Bill had lost most of his fingers in a fire by his camper. He was a little tentative when he met Suki, concerned taht he would not be able to feed her treats properly. But an offering of nicely chopped apples had Suki snuffling Bill and accepting his offering. He also wanted to try his hand at grooming Suki. Because the oval body brush has a leather handle, Bill was able to slip his hand through the loop and brush Suki's itchy spots. He spoke to her softly the entire time, and Suki leaned into him for snuggles and grooming. The interaction was heart warming, and their connection was apparent.

Bill spoke to us about his accident and injuries and expressed concern about Suki's recovery. I assured him that her pain had been managed well, and she was comfortable and happy.

At burn support group later that day, Lori said that Bill spoke about Suki and her injuries, comparing them to his own experience. It was the first time that he had opened up to the group about his own ordeal. The magic of animals and their power to heal......truly remarkable!

December 31, 2011
The last day of 2011. Another amazing year with many milestones. My son turned 5, Suki received a skin graft (you'll read about that in future posts as the story continues!!)
Nikki finally had her shoe fixed, and I had a lovely ride. I am hopeful that 2012 will bring continued health and happiness, but I guess we shall have to wait and see. I will try to handle whatever is thrown at me with positive energy, making the most of life. That is one thing that I have learned: do not take life for granted. Live every day to the fullest. Happy New Year everyone! By the time some of you read this the New Year celebration will be old news!

Traffic jam on the way to the barn!

Friday, December 30, 2011


A big milestone occurred on July 9, 2010 at midnight....the one-year anniversary of the fire. I have never been a fan of acknowledging tragic events, but as the date approached I felt a great amount of anxiety. All I could think about was the night I received Bobbi's telephone call, 8 hours after I fed Suki a treat, and went home. It physically made my heart hurt to think of the fear and pain that the horses must have experienced that night. I know that it sounds really cheesy to say that my heart hurt, but honestly, there is no other way to describe it. As I record the events in this blog I feel that pain again.

When I asked Lori how her family handled the anniversary of her son's accident she told me that they would go to dinner and "celebrate life". "Perfect"! I thought. That is just the right sentiment. No dwelling on the bad, but celebrating how far we had come. Whenever people ask me how I feel about what happened, and that my horse was the only one to suffer life-threatening injuries I respond: "Suki is happy and healthy. I am grateful that she survived." Of course I would be lying if I said that it didn't bother me that I will probably never ride her again. It does. But the courage and strength that this horse demonstrates inspires me to be a better person, and to be thankful for the gift of life. So that night, my husband and I opened a bottle of champagne and celebrated life.

A year after the fire Suki had grown a significant amount of hair over her burned skin but still had a long way to go. Other than the deeper burn on her back, the skin seemed to be stronger and tougher than it had been, but of course still had a tendency to be dry. Now that she was wearing a fly sheet full time I was also checking her or hiring someone to check her midday as well just in case she was to warm and needed to be hosed off for cooling. Suki was inside during the day with a fan but that summer was quite hot. Of the three fly sheets one managed to keep her reasonably cool and was the one we used most during the day.

Sometimes Suki would go for a week without doing a big roll, so the bandage would stay intact and the wound protected. The fly sheet helped keep the bandage in place, and on the occasions where the bandage would become rumpled or dislodged from rolling, the sheet would protect it from dirt and shavings.

We continued with regular lunging sessions, and on days when Nikki or the other horses would call to her while we were in the ring, Suki would leap, buck and squeal then settle back to work. Sometimes she just likes to play, but a quick reprimand brings her back to her job. It was comforting to see her so happy.

Nikki was also doing well, and did not mind early morning weekend rides or early evening rides during the week. She does not like bugs, and as a 3 year-old her attention span was a bit short! But she was happy and willing to work. I kept the sessions short and filled them with variety. A student of Heather's who lived in the area and had been working with us between Heather lessons before the fire, started to come out to give me lessons on Nikki. She was also impressed with my new baby and thought we made a good team. It was nice to focus on something other than the fire.

Sometimes while I was riding Nikki Suki would call to her. Pretty funny considering that Suki only appeared to tolerate Nikki in the field with her, but not actually LIKE her! She didn't do anything really mean to her, but if Nikki dared to try to get to the gate first to see me, Suki would make the evil faces. Nikki got that message loud and clear! Their stalls were side-by-side and both girls wanted my attention immediately upon my entrance into the barn. the sliding doors opened on the same wall, so I could open both stalls simultaneously and pet noses and feed carrots to both at once! Oh how I love my girls!

This is the link for the follow up story from Bellwether:

December 30, 2011
It was very cold this morning still but with a predicted temperature of near 50 I changed Suki's blanket to a lighter one before turnout this morning. Tonight she will have a full spa treatment and bandage change. As I have said that bandage is simply to provide extra padding for the tender skin of the graft, which is completely healed. It just has a tendency to bruise without the extra protection.
Still waiting for Nikki's shoe to be replaced. The farrier is supposed to come today, so if that happens I will be able to ride tomorrow morning. Can't wait to ride!!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The big roll (July 2010)

Most of the time when Suki rolled, the result was a minor set back in the healing of that slow healing burn. But of course, one day in July, I received a telephone call that Suki had rolled and the wound was open, deep and bloody. One look and I knew that I needed help with this one.

Dr. XX had never seen Suki before, but of course he was well aware of her story. Overall, he was really impressed with how she looked, and how well the burns had healed. He was happy to see that the burn Suki's back was not infected, but now that she had taken it down several layers we added prophylactic antibiotics and an antihistamine for the itchiness. The excessive rolling was obviously due to the stage of healing of that area and when the itchiness had become unbearable Suki addressed it by rolling. Dr. XX cleaned the area and dressed it, suggesting that it now be cleaned, dressed and bandaged daily. That are is difficult to maintain with a bandage so it needed to be checked twice a day and Suki needed to wear a fly sheet for extra protection. My concerns were with the heat of July and August and Suki wearing a fly sheet. We tried several, but she sweated through all of them. The best way to handle it was to wait until well after sundown for turnout, when it would be slightly cooler. Thank goodness for Lori. She offered to help with checking Suki and doing bandage changes.

My office is a 15 minute drive west, and Isaiah's school is a 20 minute drive east. The barn was between school and home. We worked out a schedule for checking and bandage changes, but it was a grueling routine. The process was necessary, so we just worked it out. Suki also became difficult about taking the oral meds in her grain, even with the addition of applesauce and gummies. I decided to add water and just do an oral gavage. She got most of it, and I wore some of it. Overall, it seemed to be working, so we just kept at it. There would be several days in a row where the wound would look great, and the bandaging appeared to be successful, but then an aggressive rolling would take place. The whole time we kept cleaning, and the wound had nice bleeding edges without necrotic tissue. Infection did not seem to be a problem. The wound really just needed to close and finish healing.

I rode Nikki 5 days a week, and lunged Suki 2-3 days. Suki enjoyed the exercise and her training was apparent even in those simple lunge sessions. Her transitions were flawless. She was sound and happy. It's funny, Nikki as a 3 year old had reasonably good lunging skills, but I had been spoiled by Suki and jenny before that. Nikki was a fast learner, and an absolute delight to ride. My schedule was hectic but rewarding. The girls were thriving.

For the rest of July we battled that wound....would it ever heal?? I had my doubts!

The writer from Bellwether contacted me again. They wanted to do a follow up story for the fall newsletter. I had also been interviewed by The Horse of Delaware Valley and Equus Magazine. Equus ran a very nice article in their August issue and Horse of Delaware Valley did a small follow up to the fire story. I was surprised by the attention, but becoming increasingly aware of just how unique Suki's situation was. Most horses did not survive such injuries, or their owners usually elected to euthanize.

Lori continued to educate me about the human burn survivor treatments, counselling and support groups. We talked about how Suki might be able to inspire her fellow survivors and arranged for a visit from another burn survivor.....

December 28, 2011
Suki had been in for 2 days due to weather, and was finally able to go outside today. She loves her outside time, and bitter cold or not, she needs to get out! An extra layer made her comfortable so she had a wonderful day. Nikki twisted a front shoe, so I was not able to ride today. farrier is coming tomorrow...YAY!

I want to see the War Horse movie, but will probably wait for the DVD.....I hate to cry in public!!

I was also in a local gift shop earlier in the week and they had several animal/human bonding books showcased. In fact, a book signing is going to take place for one of these books in early January. The human-animal bond is a very popular subject, and many people can relate. I know how much joy all of my animals bring to me....

First ride on Nikki...2 weeks under saddle!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

June 2010

Shortly after the article in Bellwether was published I was contacted again by the writer from New Bolton. A local small animal veterinarian who had graduated from University of Pennsylvania vet school had requested my contact information. Her young son had been badly burned in an accident a couple of years earlier, and she wanted to speak with me. I gave my permission to release my contact information and was contacted by Lori in an email a few days later. She explained that in the time since her son's accident she had observed the effect that animals can have on injured and ill people, children in particular. Lori thought that since Suki and her son had similar injuries the meeting would even be more profound.

Admittedly I really did not know what to expect. I was aware of the therapeutic value of animal therapy, but was not aware of the extent of X's injuries. We arranged a time and date, and went to the barn to meet them. X's injuries were not immediately apparent, as he had been through numerous surgeries and treatments. Like Suki, he had nearly died and I was impressed by his frankness regarding his injury, treaments and recovery. This was a testimony, I am sure, to how his family had supported him throughout his ordeal. I think that X was a little intimidated by Suki initially, since she is really big! Lori had brought her pre-teen daughter as well, since XX had been a rider and was still in love with horses. X approached Suki tentatively at first, with an offering of sliced apples and carrots. Suki was thrilled! X gradually became more comfortable with Suki, and we compared treatments and recovery. It was an eye-opening experience for me. While at this point I was still thinking that perhaps I would ride Suki again some day, I was beginning to realize that Suki may have a greater mission ahead of her.

Lori asked a lot of questions regarding the continuing treatment of Suki's skin and that remaining burned area that was still healing. These questions came from two places: the veterinary aspect and the treatment of the burns of her son. I explained that I was only exfoliateing the skin every other day and applying mpoisturizer and/or sunscreen. The wound on her back was cleansed and an anti-bacterial drying agent was applied. At that point Suki's rolling had not caused any extensive damage to the area and while it was not infected, the healing process was quite slow. Lori also felt that New Bolton had abandoned me, sending me home with little instruction or timelines for healing this far out. She agreed that they had done an incredible job in treating Suki and saving her life, but at this point we needed more. I never really felt that way. The hospital had little experience with severely burned horses. Much of it was trial and error. New Bolton had saved my horse and gave her back to me. I continued to sing their praises. Lori offered some suggestions on moisturizers for Suki's dry skin. She started to visit regularly, sometimes without X, and would help with exfoliation, moisturizing and grooming. I was grateful for the advice and a new friendship.

During this time we started talking about how Suki's story may be beneficial to other burn survivors. Following X's accident Lori had become heavily involved in support groups and burn survivor foundations and thought that Suki's situation was unique and inspiring. Like everyone who meets Suki, Lori was captivated by her personality and courage. A children's book seemed like a good starting place, so we began to throw around some ideas. We also thought that having other burn survivors visit Suki would also be a good way to introduce Suki to the role of a therpay horse, and arranged for some additional meetings.

December 27, 2011
Suki had a great roll in the mud again yesterday which I am sure she enjoyed, as usual. I have started to work on some additional articles about Suki. Dressage Today has a column titled "Transitions", which I believe would be an appropriate forum for our story. Dressage Daily had advertised a monthly contest for another company titled "Down the Aisle" which is devoted to stories about time spent with our horses. The actual book is also gaining some momentum, and I hope to submit a proposal to a literary agent by March. For a change of pace, I gravitate back to the children's book, which I struggle for the right voice and message. I have several drafts and revisit them to tweak the voice. Any suggestions regarding a message? I have one about the "being different" theme, but am not sure about it....

I have also noticed some new readers in a variety of additional countries. Welcome! And thank you to everyone who follows our story....

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas, 2011

This photo makes Suki's body look weird...she is not skinny though, I promise! Also, the barn is a mess behind her!

Tomorrow I will post the next installment of Suki's story. For tonight I would like to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas. As we put Isaiah to bed tonight he is most certainly dreaming of Santa's arrival. We have been watching Santa's journey on NORAD, and Isaiah is very excited. We sprinkled "reindeer food" in the yard which is supposed to be magical.

This morning I rode Nikki and gave her Christmas hugs. This afternoon I gave Suki her spa treatment, and reminded her about her special mission in life. She was her silly self, nibbling at my but while I picked her feet and snuffling my hair while I buckled her blanket. I marvelled at her spirit and good health! When I see her good weight and coppery dappled coat, I am assured that my decision was the right one. I absolutely love this mare. She and Nikki bring such joy to me every day.

Growing up I was told that at midnight on Christmas Eve the animals talk. What will Suki say? Will she complain that she was stuck in her stall because of the rainy weather? Will she tell her neighbor to stop looking at her while she is eating? Aaaah to be a fly on the wall!

Nearly every day I drive past the site of the fire. Some days I look, other days I don't. The barn that Suki was in is gone. The bank barn has been repaired and the indoor was not damaged. The new owner who breeds standardbreds for racing, converted the indoor into a barn. It is difficult to look at the farm sometimes, but other days I believe that everything happens for a reason, and my beautiful Suki has a much greater purpose than a dressage horse. My plan is to breed her in 2013. We will determine if she is able to carry a foal, and if she is not, will use a surrogate mare. Hopes and wishes for the future. Where would we be without them?

Peace on earth my friends. A joyous Christmas and healthy and prosperous New Year!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

May 2010

Suki and Nikki seemed to settle in well together with only a few scuffles here and there. They were gradually weaned onto the grass, and soon were staying out overnight like the other horses. I find this ironic. The reason Suki was in the barn the night of the fire was because she did not like to be outside for extended periods. Now she was going out over night and loved it. It is hard not to look back and think "what if". But we go forward without regrets. I think Suki has a bigger purpose in life now and hope that we can inspire those around us.

I was now allowing Suki to go out over night without a sheet. The wound on her back seemed to do OK, and I continued to clean it daily and apply medication. Without further veterinary instructions it seemed that the best thing to do was to let it dry and heal. Suki wore a fly sheet on the cooler nights and I still applied sunscreen to any exposed skin. The folks at Smart Pak sent a very nice cooler to me for Suki, which included a neck piece. It arrived with a get well card from the staff. I was grateful for their kindness and generosity.

Wearing the fly sheet worked well for coverage, but frequent rolling opened the wound regularly. Not bad, but enough to hinder healing. It was never infected, but was stubborn about healing completely. Then I started to apply Blu-Kote, which seemed to dry the area well and protect it. We continued with exfoliation every other day and moisturizing the larger areas of dry skin. Suki went through a long period of not rolling over completely, and that area on her back began to improve. I was hopeful!

It was a lot of work treating Suki's back, lunging her occasionally and riding Nikki. I almost welcomed the days when it rained heavily as a respite form riding and lunging. Nikki was progressing nicely and was fun to ride. A 3 year old requires just basic training, so I tried to give her variety, without exerting pressure. I had learned my lesson from Suki's meltdown early in her career and went with my own instincts this time. Of course, Heather's wisdom in the training of a young horse were my biggest influence. She had made numerous babies from the ground up with much success and I agreed with her philosophy.

December 22, 2011
Sorry for the short post this evening. With Christmas quickly approaching I am trying to tackle all of that last minute preparation. With a 5 year old son Santa is a huge presence in our lives right now!

I have been thinking about starting a charitable organization for horses, but struggling with what the best forum is and how to start it. I have many ideas for fundraising and marketing, but still trying to determine what the highest unmet need is. There seem to be so many that need assistance!

Suki is truly a blessing (so is Nikki). I know that she has some greater purpose, and that her survival has great meaning. She has a story to tell and a message to send. So I need to combine that with a charitable organization. i wish that I could board her at a farm with a therapeutic riding program so that more people would have access to meet her. But it needs to be close enough to home of course.

Once Christmas is over I will have a week off from work, and will spend some of that time trying to figure out our next steps. I am also going to try to finish the text for the children's book. The problem that I am having with that genre is sending the right message. So much to do!

many thanks to my readers. I enjoy looking at the stats and seeing how many people from so many different countries are following Suki's story!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The girls come home!

Nikki and Prince

The plan was to move the girls the first weekend in May. At this point Suki's treatments consisted of cleaning and medicating the small area on her back, exfoliating and moisturizing her skin. The areas without hair seemed a bit sensitive to me, so I was gently exfoliating only every other day. Suki also needed to wear sunscreen on her face, and a fly sheet to cover the rest of her body when she was outside.

On Friday Michael and I dropped off Isaiah at school, then made the 1 1/2 hour ride to Heather's Flying Change Farm to pick up Nikki. I was so excited! First I would have a lesson, then we would head back to Pennsylvania to get Nikki settled. Nikki loaded pretty easily for a 3 year old that had not been on a trailer in two years, and off we went! I am always a little nervous about trailering because my mare Jenny had been in a trailer accident when she was five, and suffered a fractured hock. The trip was fine, and Nikki traveled well settled in at the new barn easily.

The plan was to turn out the girls together, but for the first night Nikki had a sweet, elderly appaloosa gelding to babysit! Neither Suki nor Nikki were used to being turned out on grass, so they would have to be gradually acclimated to the lush fields.

Saturday: Kelly was away the weekend that I was moving Suki, so Michael and I were on our own. Since she had been having some issues with loading I was a little worried.

We were able to drive the trailer into the riding arena with the opening facing the barn. The plan was to lead Suki out into the ring and close the gate....just in case...
At first it seemed like she might walk right on, but after 10 minutes it was clear that it was not going to happen. Suki did not get hyper or upset, just out right refused. Because of her recent experiences with the fire, etc, I was unwilling to get too aggressive with her. We used grain, treats and all of the usual quiet efforts to convince her to load. It was just not happening! So before she got worked up I brought her back in the barn and sedated her slightly. When she seemed woozy enough out we went again. It was still a struggle, but eventually she walked in. It's as if all of a sudden she decided that she is bored with the game and just walks in.

The trip was short, only about 20 minutes, but Suki was still sweaty when we arrived. Not really distressed, but not happy either. After a moment she walked off the trailer quietly and we led her into the stall next to Nikki. Once I had unloaded Suki's belongings we decided to put the girls out for a bit to see how they would get along. There were some squeals, but nothing overly dramatic, and they relaxed and nibbled at the small amount of grass in the paddock. They would be let out into the main fields for short periods that would gradually increase in duration until they were ready for full turnout. There was nothing left for me to do but go home (and worry, of course!)

The owner and barn manager seemed quite surprised at how good Suki looked. That barn is only about 10 minutes from the site of the fire, so of course they knew the whole story. I was expecting them to be startled or horrified by Suki's appearance, but they were obviously expecting much worse! I thought that she looked great, but then I had been with her from Day 1, and knew how far she had come!

December 19, 2011
Suki was extremely muddy on Monday night. But the two previous nights had consisted of abbreviated grooming, so this ensured that I would be spending quite a bit of time with Suki. Hmmmmm do you think she planned that! The weather has been fluctuating so it seems like I am constantly changing weights of blankets! I can't wait until it's just always time for the heavy blankets! Less thinking for me!

I will be gradually adding photos to the earlier posts, so scroll down and take a look

Monday, December 19, 2011

Winter 2010

The first winter after the fire continued without incident, and Suki enjoyed just being a horse again. Watching her play and roll (some things you just can't stop!)throwing in the occasional buck, always confirmed the decision to treat her instead of euthanizing her.

People who have never met Suki will sometimes chastise me for taking that route, saying that it was cruel to do such a thing given the extent of her injuries. But I always say how she spoke to me that first day, and I knew that I had to give her a chance. The possibility of that outcome lingered in the back of my mind, but only for the first few days. I suppose it was naive of me....At any time, major complications could have caused her condition to deteriorate. Oh how I wish that the doubters could have seen my beautiful diva, never losing her appetite or her opinions! Once again, I credit the phenomenal pain management regimen enforced by the New Bolton staff.

Bellwether, is the quarterly magazine of the University of Pennsylvania vet school. In March, a reporter was sent out to interview me and Kelly, and to meet Suki. Because not many horses survive such extensive burns, the school wanted to promote this wonderful survival story. The article was to appear in the spring edition. Suki's first brush with the media since her discharge from New Bolton.

In March Kelly started working with Suki to get her re-acquainted with wearing a halter. Moving to a regular boarding barn was planned for the spring and Suki needed to be able to wear a halter and be led with a lead rope. The sessions were short at first and consisted of a remarkable amount of patience and soft, kind words. Although Suki's face and ears were healed, for the most part, months of treatments had made her a bit head- shy. Sometimes just reaching up to scratch her forehead elicited a quick jerk of the head by Suki. Before the fire it had always been very easy to work around her head and ears, including some hat-wearing! It was a slow process, with only minor setbacks from time to time. By the beginning of April Suki was once again able to have her halter put on and taken off with minimal fuss. We continued this process diligently and added leading in and out of the stall to the daily routine.

Nikki was started under saddle in the middle of March, and would be ready to come to home to me the beginning of May. It was time to find a barn for the girls! Ideally I wanted to find a barn with an indoor arena to accommodate Nikki's needs and close to my home to be able to continue with Suki's care. However, in my area the barns with indoor arenas were typically geared toward hunter/jumpers and were not so willing to take a dressage boarder from whom they would not gain and training or competition income. I completely understood this from a business perspective, but it became quite frustrating! I finally found a suitable barn less than 10 minutes from my house. There was no indoor, but the footing in the outdoor seemed good and I was told that lights were going to be up by the indoor that summer. The turnout fields were lush and the horses all seemed in good weight. While I did not like the idea of the weather dictating my riding schedule, I had pretty much run out of options. Plans were made to bring Nikki home on the first Friday in May, and to move Suki the following day. I began to drive to Heather's every weekend to ride Nikki in preparation for bringing her home. Although I was excited, I was a little bit nervous too. In addition to a big new 3 year old filly, I would be solely responsible for Suki's continuing treatments for the first time.

Link to the Bellwther article:

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Dentist: winter 2010

As winter progressed, we tried to keep Suki's bare skin from drying out and allow that last section on her back to heal. The last of the dead skin finally came off, and the wound needed to be maintained with antibiotic ointment and cleaned daily. Healing was slow, as this was a third degree burn, and there were several layers of skin that needed to mend. Suki was pretty cooperative during the treatments, typically eating her hay or grain at the same time.

Little by little we gained more regular access to Suki's head and ears, and when her face was particularly itchy she liked to rub her head up and down while the brush was held in place. It was so funny to watch how she would turn and angle her head to gain access to the itchiest parts of her face. Now that her flexibility was back Suki was also able to bend her body in half and scratch her belly with her teeth. One of my favorite things is watching Suki scratch behind her ear with her hind foot. It seems such an incredible feat for such a large animal to have that kind of balance and flexibility. I found it difficult in the early weeks after the fire to watch Suki attempt to turn to scratch only to stop suddenly because she was not able to bend. I think that her the burned skin was probably very tight and set her off balance.

Soon it was time for the annual dental check up. Suki was still not wearing a halter in February and we quickly realized that we would need to begin to work on this. Suki would not be at the rehab farm forever, and again it was going to be time to transition to life at a regular boarding facility. But the dentist visit was imminent, and restraint was necessary. X, the dentist would be visiting during the day on a weekday, and once again I was not able to be there. Ugggh!

The dentist was aware of Suki's situation, and had actually performed a dentistry on Suki the year before. He was patient and kind. Speaking to her softly, and scratching her face, he was able to slip the halter over her head. The rest of the visit was easy, and I looked at this as a huge milestone!

I knew that come spring, we would be ready to move to a regular boarding situation and Nikki would be ready to come to us after her first month under saddle. It was time to look for a barn for the girls!

December 16, 2011
I can't believe that it is almost the end of 2011! Where has the year gone? So much has happened this year. The skin graft, the Associated Press article, meeting more burn survivors.... Suki lives the normal life of a retired horse, but I know that isn't enough for her. She loves being lunged, but now we are limited by frozen ground, darkness and no indoor arena. I am hopeful that the skin graft area will toughen enough over the winter to allow for a saddle pad and surcingle so that we can begin the work in hand. I think that she will enjoy this. I have plans to speak with a few companies about designing a saddle pad that won't slip and irritate the area. *

* Surcingle: A strap that goes around the horse's belly and sits where the saddle would, but is only about six inches wide and made of leather and/or canvas. There are D rings along the top and sides to allow for the driving lines (long lines) to fit through. It looks like a modified version (and much less complicated)of what you would see on a carriage horse but as the "driver" you are on the ground to the side of the horse.... maybe this picture helps??

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


So today's blog post is not going to be back is about today, December 14,2011.

I was away at a conference and had not seen Suki since LAST Wednesday PM. This morning I went to the barn to change her into a lighter weight blanket because of the anticipated warmer temperatures. I know that she recognized my car sound, because I could hear her nickering to me as I opened the barn door, and before I even had a chance to call her name. This bond. This amazing bond that we have just warms my heart. It was early.... and I had returned home after midnight, but I actually ran to the barn door to see my beautiful girl. There is something so genuine and instinctive about a horse's responses.

This evening I went back to the barn to perform the daily exfoliation/moisturizing regimen, which I refer to as the "spa treatment". Suki was especially receptive tonight. We had our forehead to forehead snuggle, and I massaged her face and ears. This is not a daily event. Suki does not always allow complete access to her face and head, so I always enjoy these moments.

Last week I burned my finger on the oven, pretty badly. While I was away this burn was healing, contracting and giving me neuropathic pain and itchiness. Suddenly I was overwhelmed by what Suki must have experienced over 70% of her body! Such a brave, brave and stoic girl! I know that she was receiving medication to help with all of this, but still....WOW! Having met some human burn survivors and reading about others, it is overwhelming to imagine what there recovery has been like. They have been inspired by my horse, and I am inspired by them.

The bottom photo is from August 9, 2009. One month after the fire. The top photo is from today, December 14, 2011.It is truly miraculous!!
You've come a long way baby!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Christmas 2009

Kelly decorated the barn beautifully for Christmas. It was festive and cheery. I have always had Christmas stockings for my horses, because let's face it, Santa loves them too! My sister and brother-in-law visited during the holidays and I brought them to see Suki. I don't know if they were shocked or not, but they said they thought she looked really good. For people who hadn't seen Suki shortly after the fire I believe that her appearance would be shocking. The short ears, the partial hair growth on her face, etc. But she had come so far at that point that all I ever saw was my beautiful girl! Knowing about her taste for gummy bears Debi and Bill brought LL Bean gummy bears, frogs and worms. Suki loved them! And even if they were initially shocked by her appearance, Suki's happy, opinionated, diva personality soon makes you look past it.

That horse makes me smile every time I see her. Even thinking about the quirks and opinions, make me laugh. I think that if Suki were a human celebrity she would be the type that would have an assistant accompany her to parties to carry her coat! It's one of the things I have always loved about her! At one barn where we boarded her paddock was near the parking lot and entrance to the barn. Whenever anyone drove in Suki would start to do a little passage* or extended trot across the paddock. It wasn't frantic or an indication that she wanted to be brought in; she was clearly showing off. Sometimes if she was in a particularly benevolent mood she would go to the gate for some admiring pats. This was usually done in what I have always referred to as her runway walk, leading to her nickname of "super model".

Kelly's students brought Suki her little treats for Christmas. Lucky girl received gifts of candy canes, gummy bears carrots and apples. She certainly had trained everyone well!

The cold weather was especially drying for Suki's skin. We slathered her skin with warmed moisturizer twice a day which certainly helped, but I still had not found a moisturizer was as effective as I wanted it to be. The peach fuzz continued to grow on her sides and up her neck but at that point we could not determine how much of the burned area would grow new hair. Ultimately how much skin would remain exposed? Would Suki always need to wear some kind of covering on her body? With most of her body covered by blankets she was able to go outside during the day wearing sunscreen on her face and neck. I always made sure to use SPF 50 sunscreen for babies knowing it would be gentle for Suki's sensitive skin. One time when I was buying sunscreen the clerk said "Oh, looks like you are going someplace warm!". "No", I replied. "It's for my horse". The expression on people's faces when I say that always makes me chuckle! That is, of course, until I explain why......

December 13, 2011
Last day of the conference. I leave early this afternoon for home, and can't wait to get there! Suki will pretend that she is annoyed with me at first, but then gives me an excited nicker to show how happy she is to see me. I know that she and Nikki have been well cared for in my absence.
*passage: a slow, exaggerated trot with higher knee lift and little ground cover compared to a regular trot.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

December 2009

My neighbors when I was at Kelly's farm!

As fall gave way to winter, Suki continued to improve. We were able to dial down the gabapentin successfully, and while there were still episodes of the itchies, it was never quite as dramatic as it had been earlier. New hair growth continued, and some of the "peach fuzz" had grown into a proper coat. Some of the new hair was more course than it had been originally, but it was thick, healthy, and surprisingly CHESTNUT! Suki's doctors had told me to be prepared for the new hair to be white which is common when horses have an injury that breaches the skin.

There were still very large areas of skin without hair, but this skin appeared healthy and strong. It was important that we moisturized this skin daily, and SSD was no longer required except for the section of eschar on Suki's back that was still in the middle stages of healing. We experimented with many different types of human moisturizer, those that were without perfumes or for sensitive skin. Again, without prior experience, the veterinarians were unable to give us anything other than suggestions.

There were still concerns about that last bit of burned skin, because it remained open, and now blankets were covering it constantly. It was healing slowly, and there was no sign of infection, but it was not being exposed to air frequently. Kelly was diligent with keeping the wound clean and applying triple antibiotic ointment. It was cleaned twice a day with saline then covered in a thick coating of ointment. Most days Kelly would close up the barn and let Suki stand naked for 30 minutes or so, before bundling her up in her blankets again. Suki has never grown a thick winter coat, but that first winter after the fire there were large areas of exposed skin. She always seemed warm and comfortable though.

Removing the blankets usually pulled some scabbing from the wound, but we felt that our hands were tied, and as I said, no one thought of or recommended bandaging. So we continued with our treatments.

For sure though, throughout all of this Suki never lost her spirit or attitude. Daily pranks with water spitting were still the norm! The first snow in early December dropped a foot or so of beautiful fluffy snow! I had to convince Suki to move from her stall to her paddock. The deep white snow with the glare of the sun startled her somewhat. I cleared a bit of a path and she leaped into her paddock! I was rewarded with a beautiful piaffe and passage in the snowy was breathtaking!

Of course some of Suki's spirit could be a little aggravating! She has that horrible habit of kicking her stall door begging for treats as soon as anyone entered the barn. Of course we indulged her, but Kelly worked on this during meals. Suki is a ME,ME, ME kind of girl, cementing her diva attitude and status! I was constantly amazed at her bravery and will to live. Everyone who met her was inspired by how unaffected she seemed by her injuries. Suki never gave up....I had never witnessed, at any time since that first day in ICU any indication that she would not soldier on with spirit and courage!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

I feel pretty!

November 2009: One of my favorite stories about Suki at Kelly's occurred out in the paddock. One morning while Kelly was cleaning an adjacent paddock Suki "danced" in her own paddock. Kelly always described it as Suki's "floaty trot", which is her passage. Suki offers this gait freely at liberty, and it is a sight to behold. Even now as I write this I can picture it in my mind. She was never "taught" to passage, it just comes naturally, as it did to both of her parents. Sometimes under saddle Suki offered her passage and I always allowed it before asking her to move forward again. There is no better feeling in the world than sitting to this lovely gait. It is indeed, dancing.

That morning Kelly started to sing "I Feel Pretty" from West Side Story as Suki danced around her paddock. When Kelly stopped singing Suki went over to the fence and nudged Kelly. Without thinking, Kelly reached across and stroked Suki's face telling her what a pretty girl she is. Suki reached further and allowed Kelly to reach up and scratch her sensitive ears; the first time since the fire. Overwhelmed with emotion, Kelly began to cry. This was a tremendous breakthrough! Then Kelly went back to singing, and Suki went back to dancing!

December 10, 2011
I love the music from the Nutcracker. The fluid notes stir memories of the many Nutcracker ballets that I danced in. Most classical music does that to me, especially that of the ballets of my past. I often find myself choreographing pieces in my mind wishing I could bring them to life on stage. It has been many years since I have danced (not counting the dancing around my house!)but the spirit has never left me. That is probably what ultimately brought me to the sport of dressage. I started my riding like many children in the Northeastern US do, with hunters, jumpers and equitation. After a brief foray into eventing it was the beauty and discipline of dressage that grabbed my heart. Many refer to it as "ballet on horseback", so I guess it was destiny!

While all equestrian disciplines require a partnership and bond between human and horse, it is upper level dressage that truly exemplifies dancing. So I close my eyes now and picture my two divas dancing to the Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy

Friday, December 9, 2011

New methods for routine needs

There are many things that we take for granted with our horses, and life in general. When I get up in the morning I brush my teeth. What if I couldn't raise my arms to do that? Well, I would have to develop another way to complete the task. How many times are we inspired by individuals who may have physical challenges but still find ways to perform routine tasks, as well as extraordinary feats?

The new challenge for Suki was a fairly simple one. Her feet had been trimmed and new shoes applied the day before the fire. While at New Bolton we did not have a farrier manage her feet. A few years prior, Suki had a VERY bad experience with a farrier who was impatient and aggressive with her. Needless to say we changed farriers but the emotional damage was done. While it takes minutes to enforce a bad memory, it can take years for an animal (and people) to recover. Her new farrier was very patient, but Suki was still nervous. After several months she started to relax and the shoeing sessions improved. However, She really still needed to be hand held rather than just stand on cross ties. So, the new halter, no easy way to restrain 17.2+, 1400lb Suki for having her feet done. Even if we put her halter on again, her head was too sensitive to really be able to hold her effectively. One thing was certain though. She would not need shoes for awhile which would make the situation a little easier, but the current shoes would need to come off and the feet trimmed.

Kelly to the rescue!! She decided to put a lead rope around Suki's neck to hold her still, and the farrier would do his work with Suki in her stall. This was a bit of a challenge initially, but because of the patience of Kelly and the farrier Suki started to relax and stand reasonably well.

Late in November some of Suki's veterinarians from New Bolton came to visit (see photo). They were so thrilled to see her progress and felt that her current situations was wonderful. Suki seemed equally excited to see them...she loves visitors and extra attention, especially when gifts of gummy bears are involved!

When I had been looking for a rehabilitation farm close to my home I had a lot of difficulty. Surely other people would have this problem as well, so Kelly and I discussed the possibility of having New Bolton add her farm to the list of facilities for patients families. I was thrilled to give a glowing recommendation as Suki was clearly thriving. In a few months I would have to find a regular boarding situation and that would take some time. In addition to Suki I would also need a place for Nikki, as I anticipated bringing her home in April or May. While Kelly's farm was suitable for Suki now, she would need extensive turnout time by spring.

December 9, 2011
At the conference, missing my family...(2 and 4-legged!) I have been reading a number of articles about training, so that helps, and of course I have plenty of pictures to look at! I am going to speak with a designer at a horse supply company to develop a special saddle pad for Suki to wear in the spring for long lining. I am really excited at the prospect of working her in hand other than routine lunging. I think she will love it!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


By this time in Suki's recovery I started to think about what might have been. She and I had had some training bumps and bruises, but with her back feeling better our training was beginning to click again. As much as I knew that the outcome could have been much worse, and that I actually could have lost my beloved Suki, I sometimes encountered the "why did this happen to MY horse" feelings. Some of the boarders were complaining about losing all of their equipment, and having difficulties finding another suitable boarding facility. At times I just wanted scream at them "At least you have your horses and you are able to ride them!!" I never let this bitterness show, but it certainly festered beneath the surface. But I was still grateful to have my horse!

I read about a woman with a special needs cat. She said that she felt that the cat came into her life to make her a better person. Perhaps that is what is happening to me.... I already feel like Suki has taught me so much about bravery and survival!
There was also guilt associated with Suki being boarded at a rehabilitation farm. I often felt that I should be the one performing all of the care, and I always felt terrible when I couldn't make it to the farm to see her. Those feelings ultimately eased, because in my heart I knew that this was the best possible situation for Suki, and eventually she would be ready for a regular boarding situation.

I was also preparing to buy a 2 year old filly. Heather had a very nice baby that she said would be perfect for me, and I could make payments to buy her. She sold me Nikki for a very good price and I would bring her home in the spring. My history is that as one horse progresses I buy a young horse to bring along behind it. But this time there wouldn't be a mature horse that I would be riding. I would be waiting for Nikki to be old enough to start under saddle. But I was not ready to give up the hope that I would some day ride Suki again.

December 7, 2011
I leave for my conference tomorrow and Deb will take care of Suki. There really is not as much extra care as there used to be, but she still requires daily exfoliation, etc.
Suki was VERY cranky tonight! She has been in for two days due to rain, and will likely be in again tomorrow. Plus she has a new neighbor in the stall next to her so she is hard set on scaring him with mean faces. He appears to be completely unfazed, which really makes her angry!
I will try to post while I am away, but will probably only get to it 2-3 times. Next Wednesday I will be back to regular posting
PS This is one of my favorite pictures of me and Suki....Age 3 1/2, just 3 months under saddle!

Monday, December 5, 2011

round penning

Once we recovered from the bumps in the road, Suki progressed nicely. Kelly did a phenomenal job with the treatments, and the new schedule for weaning Suki from the gabapentin seemed to be working. I worried daily about her recovery....not about how she was being treated or the quality of care, just that Suki could have a normal life. As the burned skin sloughed away the new skin under it was pink and sensitive. This new skin required constant attention and my worries increased as the weather grew colder. It would soon be time for Suki to start wearing sheets and blankets and I was unsure of how that would affect the sensitive skin.

Because no one ever really provided after care instructions other than medications and allowing the last patch of eschar on her back slough off gently and at its own pace, we were really at a loss as to how to continue. When I started to put sheets on Suki, the wound would weep a little and stick to the blanket. I don't know why it never occurred to us to bandage it. Probably because it is such a difficult area to bandage, and we were drilled in the importance of the wound drying out. The area still seemed to be healing, but it was a very slow process.

Part of Suki's training had been western round pen training, so she can basically lunge without a lunge line. To increase her exercise I started to "round pen" her in the paddock. It was fun to see her old spark and to watch in awe as she trotted around me. Suki had not forgotten her training. And I do believe she was smiling those first few times!! During those early sessions I began to close my eyes and feel that trot and canter in my mind. Suki's trot is is soft and floaty. I wanted so desperately to sit on her again, but was grateful that she was alive.

As the weeks progressed I noticed something else. Suki no longer smelled like fire! I hugged her daily, so this was quite the development. About that time her mane and tail also began to lose their "melted" appearance and grow in normally.

Kelly's students did a fine job of spoiling Suki and they really seemed to love her. Of course Suki was also enjoying her celebrity status and thrived on the extra attention!

Toward the end of September I was scheduled to attend a conference in Berlin. Just one more thing for me to worry about! I knew that Kelly would continue taking good care of Suki, but just as worried about being far from my son, I worried about being that far from Suki. I was scheduled to leave on a Friday night, and the Monday before Isaiah developed a fever. The next day he was fine, so I was less worried about leaving. That Wednesday I developed a fever, and by Friday AM it was clear that I would not be able to travel that night. We delayed my flight to Sunday PM, but by Saturday Michael and I were diagnosed with H1N1. My trip was ultimately cancelled and I was unable to see Suki for nearly two weeks. Kelly made a get well poster for me, and all of Suki's visitors signed it. Why was I worried??? : )

December 5, 2011
This weather is crazy! One night Suki is wearing a medium weight blanket, and tonight she is wearing a light sheet. By Wednesday night it looks like the cold weather will be here to stay for awhile. I leave for a conference on Thursday, so if the weather steadies Deb will not have as much to worry about for clothing for Suki! Now that the graft area is healed, the majority of Suki's daily care consists of exfoliation and moisturizing. The bandage is for padding to prevent bruising, so there is no more actual "wound care". A year ago I honestly thought I would never see that day!

I had very lovely rides on Nikki this weekend. Tomorrow she will get a blanket clip due to her VERY fuzzy coat. I think that she is going to be quite the star this spring!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Not so fast!

When Suki arrived at Kelly's she still required quite a bit of medication. The instructions that she was discharged from the hospital with included a "dialing down" of those medications. When I read the instructions it seemed rather abrupt, but I did not question it. Suki was still taking the gabapentin, which relieved the neuropathic pain as the burns healed. It also helped with the "itchies". Daily exfoliating also helped, but with that patch of eschar in the middle of her back, and the scabbing on her head, Suki had a lot of itchies!

Because my office was 15 minutes form Kelly's farm, sometimes I would visit Suki during lunch. It was a nice break for me and I think Suki enjoyed it as well. I wasn't doing her treatments so there wasn't any stress for her. I would groom, feed treats and just stand there and talk to her. Suki was recovering nicely and the daily treatments appeared to be beneficial.

So, the dialing down of the gabapentin began.....
Once again, a telephone call after 10 PM from Kelly. "Suki is scratching frantically and is opening wounds. She seems very distressed. I think I should call the vet."

So once again, Willow Creek Equine was called for an emergency visit. I really have to confess that I thought I had made the wrong decision regarding Suki's health and well being. Was I wrong for saving her? Was she going to always have episodes like this? Was she at the right rehab farm? I was always really concerned that Suki was happy and healthy and that the decision that I had made was not just for me, but because she wanted to live!

Dr. X sedated Suki lightly to relieve some of her anxiety. We discussed the reduction of the gabapentin and realized that it was just too quick. Suki was obviously still experiencing some neuropathic discomfort which was not unusual given the extent of her injuries. The next day I discussed the situation with the veterinarians at New Bolton and we revised the protocol. This seemed to do the trick, and Suki was comfortable once again. While she needed to be weaned off the gabapentin eventually, an important part of the recovery was comfort level. A huge part of this was lack of experience. Most horses with such extensive burns did not survive. treatment was trial and error. My beautiful girl rose to the occasion, but any level of discomfort hurt me as well. For me, everything was about Suki being happy and healthy and every decision was made with that in mind. So many people have said that they believed that Suki should have been "put down" immediately, and that most people would have done just that. I tried to think with my head and not my heart that day, but when I called her name and she answered, I knew that I at least needed to try. If at any time I thought she was in severe pain, I would have relieved her of that. But she seemed so NORMAL! And every day that I am with her now, I know that it was indeed, the right decision. She brings joy to me and everyone she meets.

December 3, 2011
This photo is from one month after the fire. Isn't the difference amazing?? When I look at Suki now I can hardly believe how far she has come. On Friday, I saw a Facebook post about a dog named Rescue whose "Dad" was a firefighter. Rescue is now an orphan because his dad died suddenly at the age of 40. He was given a well deserved hero's funeral having saved many lives during his too short life. Rescue's plight struck me hard....a very brave firefighter saved Suki that terrible night. The good news is that Rescue is going to be trained by a retired K-9 cop trainer to be a therapy dog and will then go to a retired, injured or ill first responder. So many brave people and animals.....

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The healing continues

In spite of that first bump in the road, Suki settled in quite nicely at Kelly's. Being able to go outside again and get some exercise was having a tremendous impact on her recovery. She couldn't get into too much trouble but was still able to move around comfortably.

Construction workers who were building a shed on the other side of the paddocks even commented about the show she would give them....a little piaffe, a little passage, and a pirouette or two. They said they had never seen a horse move so elegantly. Suki was definitely showing off for them! She always knows when she has an admiring audience!

Since Kelly had moved Magic to the stall next to Suki, things quieted down a bit. Oh, Suki still made faces and lunged at the bars, but Magic would just stand there casually eating his hay. "Is that all you've got?" he seemed to say.

Suki's skin improved steadily, but there was still a small patch of burned skin on her back that needed to slough off. Kelly gently, but diligently worked on this as the dead skin fell away. Sometimes I was unsure of my role in Suki's treatment. She was at Kelly's so that she would be able to continue her treatments, even though I was highly capable of doing it, but just didn't have the flexibility in my schedule for the necessary consistency. Sometimes I felt like one of those hands off owners, even though I know that was not the case. My constant presence was important for Suki and I enjoyed our time together, but I couldn't help but feel that I had failed her somehow. Of course when I was with Suki and she was snuffling my hair, digging in my pockets and banging her feet for treats I knew that she still loved me unconditionally!

Suki's left side had not been as badly burned as her right side, and she was beginning to regain her coppery coat and healthy dapples. She was flourishing under the constant care, and in many ways began to look like herself again. Of course her personality never wavered. Most people, including her doctors were astonished by her attitude. Anyone who met her said that Suki's determination to survive was inspirational, and I began to see my beautiful, brave girl as a hero. Unencumbered by self consciousness Suki was able to be true to herself and heal in a way that humans find difficult.

Kelly taught a few lessons at her barn so Suki was also receiving treats and visits from several little girls. She certainly enjoyed the extra attention and watched as they moved about the barn. I wondered if she missed having a job to do, but with the extra activity and her daily outings, boredom did not seem to be a problem.

December 1, 2011
Well, I spoke to soon about knowing Suki's antics, and was presented with a mouthful of water! My own fault I'm sure, as I probably got in the way of her dunking ritual! Everyday her big pile of hay is put in the corner of the stall near her feed tub. And every day she proceeds to move the entire pile across the stall and in front of her water buckets so that she can dunk every mouthful of hay (and make mean faces at Thumper in the stall next to her!