Saturday, December 29, 2012

Sassy girls, non-resolutions and more snow!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Hard to believe....2012 is nearly over. As we approach a new year I have been making some plans. I don't want to call them "resolutions" because that would simplify my plans and goals. Some of the items on my to do list certainly sound resolutionish but I have thrown some longer term goals in there as well.

The first is to get Suki fit to start some serious long line work and create a musical freestyle, if all goes well. Depending on how she reponds, and how her skin handles a saddle pad and surcingle, maybe I will sit on her again by the end of 2013. There probably isn't serious dressage (under saddle) in her future, but just sitting on her again would be a thrill.

I think it is a good thing that I was not able to get Nikki back to VMF this winter. Although it means the winter off from riding, I will no longer have Nikki do any hunter work, so we will focus 100% on dressage. I will pop her over a few low jumps occasionally because she enjoys it, but that will be it. There were times I used that as an excuse to not do as much dressage, and I am aching to get back to it! It is time to get my butt in gear and focus on my riding and getting Nikki out into the show ring where she (and I )belongs. Once I start Nikki again in the spring I will maybe send her to Heather for a few weeks to really get her started. I have found a barn about an hour away that has a few excellent clinicians that teach every month so that is in my plan as well.

By March 2013, the first draft of my Suki memoir will be ready for submission, and I continue to be hopeful that someone will be interested in publishing it! The children's book and its accessories should be ready for submission by June or July 2013.

I have ordered a few calendars which will be arriving next week. Because I was a bit late with my other obligations and crazy schedule I did not get it finished in time for November as I had originally hoped. Jen was awesome in giving me options and doing so much work on the calendar....I can't wait to see them!

My big non-resoltion resolution is a typical one....better organization of my crazy schedule to optimize my time and allow for some relaxation as well.

Yesterday I had to worm the girls. It was time in the rotation for Strongid, which is much thicker than the others and yellow. Nikki is always really easy about it. So easy, that no halter is even required. She dives onto the tube and then comes back eagerly for the portion of the next tube (1 tube is for 1250 lbs, but let's face it, my girls do not weigh 1250!). After pulling the second tube out of Nikki's mouth (she likes to grab it with her teeth and pull it away from me), she started to search my pocket for the post-worming treat slathering a nice thick glob of thick yellow wormer on my jacket. This was the second newly washed jacked to be christened in as many days...

Her majesty was next. Suki really isn't bad about worming, but she likes to initially raise her head when I bring the tube up to her mouth so it is necessary for me to have a hand on her halter. The second tube is actually easier. just as I released my hand Suki shook her head splattering me my face and hair with wormer. I made a face at her and she nickered softly (laughing, perhaps??)

Both girls were a bit rammy after two days in. But the fields were puddling on top of the frozen layer so it was necessary. Suki fussed a bit in the cross ties, but relaxed a bit during wither scratches! I also massaged her back a bit which made her practically turn herself inside out! I think she misses her weekly massages! When she was in full work I had a massage therapist come out for her once a week.

Nikki was also a bit impatient but I hit her magic spot by massaging her ears. I swear it sounds like she is purring when I do that! The two of them are just so funny. I love that each horse, like dog, cat, bird, person, etc has such distinct personality traits.

Saturday, december 29, 2012
Snowy day! Fortunately the snow didn't start to increase until late morning, so the girls were able to get out for a bit this morning. The temperatures are supposed to really drop tomorrow night, so extra layers will be necessary. It has been snowing all day, so I made the last batch of my famous chocolate chip cookies. The house smelled like fresh baked cookies, the fire was lit, the Christmas tree and the little white lights with the greens on the mantle twinkled as the snow continued to fall......bliss.

The view from my garage this morning was so peaceful....

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Blanket fitting issues

Christmas Eve 2012
By late afternoon the clouds were a heavy gray and the air damp and cold with the promise of snow. I got out of my car at the barn as the first few flakes began to fall. Tucking my hair inside my hat and wrapping my coat around me a little tighter I hurried into the barn. Turning on the lights eight horse heads popped up from their hay, and my two girls nickered to me. I closed the door against the wind and took in the comforting sound of hay being munched. With Christmas preparations complete I was able to relax and enjoy the time with Suki and Nikki. I set the radio to my favorite local classical station, WRTI and took my time grooming. Nikki sweetly leaned her head on me while I groomed her ears and head, occasionally checking my pockets for extra treats. Suki lowered her head willingly while I moisturized her ears and face. Feeding each of the horses one final treat I wished them a Merry Christmas and opened the barn door. Those few flakes had turned to a heavy swirling snow guaranteeing a white Christmas.

As I am writing this the wind is howling and snow is falling. The Christmas tree looks beautiful. My 6 year old son is sitting next to me by the fireplace. He is so excited about tomorrow. I can't help but think about the parents in Newtown, Connecticut, who instead of waiting for Santa with their 6 year olds had to lay them to rest. I pull Isaiah a little closer as my heart aches for those families.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012
Boxing Day. Christmas recovery day....More snow and wintery weather on the way in the afternoon, so I went to the barn in the early afternoon. The girls needed to have some blanket changes because of the decreasing temperatures. Suki galloped down the field as soon as she saw my car, and Nikki followed in the field next to her. The horses all seemed a bit wild, and Nikki's pasture mate was rearing and leaping! Suki was piaffing at the gate, so I grabbed her first. I put her in her stall then went back to get Nikki who was piaffing at HER gate! What is up with these girls?? I must confess, I do love that they piaffe at liberty!

As I groomed each of them I decided to leave them in for the rest of the day. It was beginning to snow again and as the pace of snow fall increased so did the wind. They had each other for company and I really did not want them to go out and start running. Suki was wearing a nice blanket liner under her Rambo, newly outfitted by Donna, my blanket lady with heavy surcingles and leg straps. Nikki was dressed in a slightly heavier blanket than she had been wearing. I knew J would be bringing the horses in within the next hour or so anyway.
It snowed hard for several hours then changed to heavy rain and high winds over night...

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Muddy fields and hugh winds meant the horses would be in for the day, in the best interest of the horses and the fields.

Wearing flannel-lined jeans, my heavy winter riding jacket and a hat I prepared for the wicked wind and cold. Once inside the barn it was not so bad. Suki tried to push her way out of the stall, annoyed at being stuck inside. She seemed to be pretty comfortable under the liner and Rambo, although the liner had shifted slightly, while the Rambo remained DOES she do that? Suki's blankets shift constantly regardless of how well they fit. I was pleased with the performance of the liner, but I guess the true test will be when she gives it a good hardy roll outside. I know that she did lie down in her stall last night, given the amount of shavings clinging to her mane and tail! I performed an abbreviated groomong/spa treatment and gave candy canes to suck on. She returned the favor by grabbing my pony tail while I fastened the buckles on the front of her blanket!

Suki licking her lips to get ALL of the peppermint flavor!

Nikki, although reluctant to leave her pile of hay was her usual snuggly self. I wanted to try another blanket that I had discovered in a bin in my garage. It had just been returned, cleaned and repaired from the blanket lady. This blanket had been Jenny's and I thought it might fit Nikki better in the chest. Like her other blankets it is an 82, but the current ones (other than the Rambo) do not not fit that well in the chest, and sometimes even gap a little if I give the necessary amount of room by loosening the buckles. The canvas is a bit heavier and filling slightly more so I thought it would be the perfect intermediate blanket. I threw it over Nikki's back and buckled the the chest. PERFECT! The blanket completely covered her chest with plenty of room for movement. The length along her back was also good. Then I stepped back.....
MINI DRESS!!! Why would you make a size 82 blanket and not allow for the fact that this would be a large horse??? UGGH! It will work well under Nikki's Rambo or mid weight sheet as a second layer though. So after her grooming I put the other longer blanket back on.

As I made my last trip through the barn I went into each of the girls' stalls and gave them a last treat (having given each of the horses in the barn treats, also). Nikki rewarded me with a mouthful of water down the front of jacket (fresh out of the laundry. So I got in my car with a stiff, sticky pony tail compliments of Suki and a wet jacket compliments of Nikki. It's definitely a conspiracy!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Hay Dunkers

I can't remember exactly when Suki started dunking her hay, but at this point in our relationship (9 years) it seems like she has always done it. Before I purchased her Suki was living the life of a baby horse in a pasture in Canada. She was handled daily, fed, had her feet trimmed, etc, but did not live in a stall at all, although she did have a run-in shed in her field. I agree with those who believe that this is best for the young horse. So there were probably not many opportunities to dunk hay into a water bucket even though pasture was supplemented with hay during the winter months.

With water dunking comes some bizarre habits. Location of the bucket and placement of hay are key. Location of the hay is easily addressed by Suki. She will move nearly half a bale of hay to the preferred location. Poor bucket location can ruin her day. That sounds melodramatic, but it is true. Suki is a diva and can be VERY melodramatic. Part of the problem is that Suki is very social (nosy). Not that I find this to be a problem. In fact, it is one of her most entertaining qualities. However, this nosiness can lead to temper tantrums in Suki's stall. At one barn, the automatic waterer was small, and located in the back of the stall. This water situation was unacceptable to Suki because the bowl portion was too small to accomodate dunking and the location did not allow for observation of barn activity. Ultimately I had to add a water bucket to the front of the stall for dunking. Problem solved.

Suki also usually has two water buckets any way due to high volume water intake. This set up has enabled Suki to use one bucket for dunking, the other for drinking. The non-dunking bucket is kept pristinely clean, while the dunking bucket always contains mouthfuls of water-saturated hay. In our current boarding situation, the water buckets are on the shared wall with the stall next to it and in front of the door opening. Hay is placed near the feed tub in the opposite corner, which means that Suki moves the entire pile in front of the buckets causing me to trip over it as I enter her stall. Location of the water buckets have another interesting effect.... when I first bought Nikki I moved her and Suki (fresh from the rehab barn) to the same location. Their stalls were side-by-side. Prior to her arrival Nikki was not a hay dunker. Less than one week later Nikki was an obsessed hay dunker. She is to this day. But Nikki's dunking does not have the same fastidious requirements that Suki's habit does. Her hay moving is not as neat either. The hay is sort of strewn across the whole front of the stall, and she will dunk in both buckets at will. But this is the same horse who uses a manure pile as a pillow, leaving me to peel dried poop from the tips of her ears. Must be love!

Second time around Nikki is not in the stall next to Suki's. Suki and Banker have shared that wall for over a year. Banker, the formerly non-dunker...yep...he's a dunker! Another boarder whose horse would occasionally stay in was also never a dunker...yep! he is a convert as well! My logic...there are worse habits for your horse to adopt from watching others, so I think it is all in good fun, and a tribute to Suki's dominant spirit!

So now finally at the end of a crazy busy week at work, and the husband travelling for three of those days I finally got to spend some quality time with my girls. I was out on Monday for full grooming and spa, quick check in on Tuesday, Deb took care of the girls Wednesday, quick check on Thursday, and now today. Last night during my quick check I noticed the extremely muddy state of Suki. I gave her a candy cane, some kisses, and tried to overcome the guilt associated with her dirty coat and her very clear annoyance over my absence. Diva! : ) Baby Nikki was less muddy, sucked in her candy cane and pressed her forehead into mine. Sweet baby. I love that my girls have such distinct personalities.

So tonight both received a huge amount of grooming and attention, then were tucked in for the night wearing heavy blankets for the plummeting temperatures and wind headed our way. So at the end of the busy week spending time with my girls relaxes me body and soul. The healing power of horses.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

I think I actually squealed with delight when I saw my girls!

Wednesday 11 December 2012

Home at last. This conference was particularly stressful and intense, and I wanted to jump up and down when we landed in Philadelphia! I had my nose pressed to the window during the descent, and although it was dark I could see the welcoming sights of home. Santa was walking around the B terminal cheerfully shouting merry wishes. When I got home my son ran outside to greet me and threw his arms around me....the hero's welcome!

The conference was held in Atlanta and the highlight of each day was walking through Centennial Olympic Park everyday on my way to the convention center. The Olympic rings dancing fountain was just lovely, and it was fun to watch people go into the rings when the water was down and stand there while it bounced up again (adults and children alike). I loved being able to see the Georgia Dome where the Mag 7 won Olympic gymnastics team gold.

Now back to the daily schedule which kicks up a notch because of the post conference tasks and the approaching holidays. But I just couldn't wait to see the girls! I know that they were well cared for in my absence and Deb texted me every evening to give me an update. We had a bit of rain while I was away so they had some days in and then some days out in the mud. Deb had her work cut out for her! It is so important to have someone that you trust caring for your "babies"! I still worry of course, but it decreases the stress level knowing that the appropriate decisions will be made regarding their care.

Driving down the driveway to the barn I could feel my excitement building. It had been too long since I had seen my beautiful girls! I opened the barn door and turned on the light. Before I even said a word I could see two eager faces pressed up against the bars of their stalls as if to say "where have you been?" Suki tried to give me the cold shoulder after that, while Nikki nickered to me enthusiastically. Of course, then her majesty had to react in kind, so as not to be shown up by her baby sister.

I got to Nikki's stall first and threw my arms around her neck and let her snuffle my jacket, while I buried my face in her thick winter fur. She grows a thick coat like Jenny always did, something I have never had to deal with on Suki. Nikki won't get body clipped this year since we don't have an indoor to work in during the winter. After she nuzzled me a bit Nikki started to look for treats in my pocket and her face lit up when one was produced. I made my way down the aisle to Suki's stall and wrapped my arms around her neck as well. She responded with a horse hug, something that I love! I leaned my cheek into her neck and she proceeded to search for treats as well. (I am well aware that this is a terrible habit to encourage!)She too was excited to receive her treat.

It was so good to see both of them. I felt complete again. Last night by the time I got home from the airport it was too late to go to the barn. Even though I knew they were both fine it was a relief to see them and touch them again after a week away! Just being with horses makes my soul relax.

Thursday, December 13, 2012
After several days in the paddocks due to the still wet pastures, it was dry enough for the girls to go out in their big field. I'll bet there was quite a bit of kicking up of heels! It was great when J added those paddocks. At least the horses can still get out even when the larger fields are too muddy. By the time they get back out to the big fields they are excited but don't carry on as much and risk injury. Much better for mind and body!

Nikki was not too muddy today. She had rolled but only had mud on her legs and belly. She was very snuggly while I groomed her, probably because I was able to spend more time at the barn tonight.

Suki, on the other hand, was pretty much head to toe mud. She loves to go down and rub her neck into the mud. At least this time she didn't have any mud in her eyelashes! She is very uncooperative when I try to get mud out of her eyelashes. It takes A LOT of gummies in bribery!

Yesterday I contacted Success Equestrian which sells a saddle pad that is supposed to conform to the horse, is soft, pliable and doesn't move. After a few exchanges of questions, they kindly offered to send one to me to try on Suki when we do the surcingle, side reins and long lines. I am so excited! I never expected such an offer! This just may be the answer we have been looking for.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Another Conference

Sunday 2 Dec 2012
The wacky weather of December would be perfect if it wasn't for my wacky busy life right now. Saturday didn't turn out quite as nice as expected, which was just as well given the number of events and activities that needed to be packed into the day. Itnbstill would have been a rideable day which was the original plan. With a conference coming up later in the week and through the weekend I had to get the house decorated for Christmas. I just couldn't bring myself to start the previous weekend while it was still November. That's my rule. No Christmas decorations until December 1. I know, with everything that needed to (and needs to) be done, I should have broken my own rule. But I love having the pumpkins and other autumn decoraions out. So the house is now decorated but I have yet to pack for my trip... and pick up the dry cleaning that needs o accompany me on my trip. And get the Suki calendars ordered, the Christmas cards written, prep for Christmas, order gifts, the horses, the homework, oh that list just goes on and on. Why do we always insist on doing so much?

So by the end of the weekend the house was almost finished and decorated enough until my return. Sunday I spentnice quality time with the girls taking my time to groom each of them thoroughly. I did forget to bring hot water with me (we don't have it at this barn) so that I could hot towel Nikki. Because she is quite fuzzy it is difficult to get all of the deep dust out in spite of my heroic efforts. I managed to sneak in a short lunging session with Nikki and she was quiet and respectful, as she should be!

Suki especially enjoyed a face massage allowing me to really rub and brush her ears. This is not always an easy task but when she is up for it she lets me know it! As I begin to rub her face with the cloth Suki drops her head and moves her ear into my hand. I am then afforded full access to her face, head, ears and (gasp) poll! grooming and moisturizing her poll usually requires much bribing with gummy bears, so it is exciting for me when she offers that area freely.

I continue to be thrilled with the condition of Suki's skin, especially the graft area. There have not been any problems with the skin bruising excessively or opening again. While I feel fully confident that long lining with a surcingle will not be a problem I have days when I not so optimistic about the possibility of riding her again. Sometimes I dream that I am sitting on my noble girl floating along in her lofty trot, reaching forward and stroking her neck. Waking from those dreams can be painful because sometimes it takes a few minutes for me to remember that it was just a dream. It is always so real, because I know Suki so intimately and the memory of riding her has never faded. What is especially vivid is that last time I rode her, just two days before he fire. Everything was coming together and I was excited about our future.

Suki and I still have a future of course, as well as a past and a present. Yes, I have accepted that future but maybe not so willingly at times. But then, just as I feel a little sadness creep in I remember Suki's remarkable gift to inspire others and know that I must embrace it! My mind races with ideas and I jot them down on the notepad on my phone, a running list of plans! Now I need to implement some of them.

Wednesday 5 December 2012
Arrangements for the girls have been made, and Deb is very familiar with both horses as well as their habits and antics! I worry less when I travel now than I used to, but of course I still worry.

So the night before I left I groomed both girls and gave them extra treats. It looked like they had some fun in the mud that day but the head to toe kind of mud fun, fortunately! I speak to each of them the entire time I am grooming and when I am alone in the barn I play classical music. It is such a peaceful time in the barn. The sound of horses munching on hay contentedly and the sheer pleasure of their company. My body and mind relax and I feel completely at peace. As I groomed Suki I recalled something that I had read earlier in the day: "sometimes miracles come at a huge price." The tone of the quote was negative referring to someone who had survived a horrific accident but was left irrevocably damaged. While I have certainly been offered negative feedback from time to time for saving Suki, the price she paid was ultimately some disfiguring scars and the likelihood of never being ridden again. But her life is rich. She is happy and healthy with no pain. Most of all Suki is who she is. Those scars don't effect her personality because she doesn't know she looks any different than she did before! Animals are fortunate that way; they don't care how they look. And all I see when I look at Suki is her beauty, inside and out. I love that she can teach people to just accept who they are even when there are limitations. Just live life to its fullest.

As I walked Suki forward to turn her around she stopped first to talk to Nikki then I let her go to another horse. I usually don't do that and they can't have actual
contact. Suki squealed when she sniffed him through the bars causing Nikki to nicker from her own stall. It seemed like she was concerned by Suki's outburst! Suki turned and nickered back then we quietly walked down thaisle to her stall.

I hugged both girls before I left.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Is this why people say they don't like mares??

Snowy weather put a bit of a wrinkle in the week. Tuesday morning we received a wet snow that covered the ground with a few inches and was enough to cause people to drive stupidly. My driveway is a fairly steep curved hill so it was slick going down in the morning. Fortunately I live at the end of the cul de sac so there is only a slight chance of a car coming down the street!

The girls had to stay in because the snow was quite wet and although Suki's rambo is waterproof, Nikki's lighter weight blanket is not. Needless to say Suki was not so happy about staying in. Nikki was less grumpy about the situation. She doesn't seem to need as much time outside as Suki does, but it starts to get to her as well, if it goes beyond the two day mark. At VMF even if Nikki was not turned out she worked in the indoor school so that kept her pretty content. Suki makes faces and pins her ears at the other horses in their stalls while she is being groomed when she has been kept inside. I had originally thought that perhaps I would shorten her mane Tuesday night, but given how difficult Suki is about that under the best circumstances I decided to wait. Eventually she relaxed, dropped her head and became her cuddly self. While I picked her feet I could feel Suki nibbling on my pants, then she licked my hands while I buckled the front of her blanket. I love when she is playful! Both Suki and Nikki received an abbreviated version of their usual grooming because I wanted to get home before the roads became too slick!

Wednesday was beautiful but a little chilly. That's okay, though. It IS almost December! My original plan was to lunge Nikki but the arena was a little too wet and slick for a young horse in the wind after 3 days off! But she seemed to enjoy being groomed and fussed over. When I walked out into Nikki's pasture to get her she first pricked her ears forward then pinned them back....I don't think she wanted to come in. She was fine, of course, when I approached her and happily walked in. Jenn had met me at the barn to visit the girls and the two princesses appreciated the gift of peppermints that Jenn had in her pockets! Suki was uncooperative about being photographed initially (which is very unusual for her!)but then warmed up to it. Well, after Nikki was brought in! I don't think Miss Suki wanted Nikki to get the attention!

Today (Friday) warmed into the 40's with a few peaks of sunshine to make it a bit nicer. At the last minute I decided to take the afternoon off since the next few weeks at work are going to be insane! I saw Suki immediately upon pulling into the driveway but at first did not recognize the horse beside her....
...a VERY muddy Banker. And that was the good side!

Nikki came down to the gate to greet me so I grabbed her first before she had a chance to change her mind and walk back out to the furthest point of her pasture. Kilian, her pasturemate is usually pretty good about being alone although he usually follows at least half way to the gate.

Nikki's coat is surprisingly shiny considering how fuzzy she is right now!

Not having worked since last weekend my plan was to lunge today then ride on the weekend. Squeezing those last few rides in before winter and frozen footing becomes part of my vocabulary! I set up some trot poles to keep Nikki focused and add a little more variety to her workout. She walked out to the arena like a star and started off fine. Brilliant through the trot poles at the extra spacing, lovely transitions. At one point Nikki lowered her head and she must have seen the grassy hill inside the fence of the arena. THEN as if possessed, she moved to the grass and ran up the hill, dragging me!!! Totally caught me off guard so I was unprepared for 1400lbs pulling on me. We had a bit of a discussion, performed some leading exercises then went back to lunging. I moved back over near the spot where she had her "indiscretion" and my baby princess did not even look at the grass. She was all business. After a thorough grooming and pampering session I put a lighter blanket on her because of the warmer temperatures (Nikki will be naked again by Sunday!) and turned her back out in the pasture with Kilian. Nikki has a routine: visit Suki across the fence (because Suki ALWAYS comes back to the gate when I put Nikki back out)then a long drink at the water trough. One last swing around to the gate for another treat then a leisurely walk out to the middle of the field. Too cute!

Next up, Suki. I did a cursory grooming then wrapped her legs for lunging. SOMEONE was feeling REALLY good today!!! Suki was a little looky on the way to the arena, and she called to Banker once, but otherwise fine. First circle on lunge: head toss. Second circle: HOLY COW!!! Those Lipizzaners have nothing on this girl when it comes to airs above the ground! She stopped and looked at me (we stared each other down) then I continued to push her forward and Suki settled into a nice extended trot. Then she relaxed and worked at a medium trot. Well, Princess Suki isn't actually fit enough to endure such work for extended periods, so she dropped her nose to the ground and executed a lovely stretchy trot.
This is why so many people don't like mares, right?

After a spa treatment I watched Suki do her super model walk across the pasture to meet up with Banker. I can't imagine life without her. How close I came to losing her.

I love my girls.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Cold weather

Saturday, November 24, 2012
Last night the temperature dipped drastically and the wind swirled around the house whistling under the eaves. I knew that today might bring a bit of protest from Isaiah regarding his riding lesson. Because the barn where he takes lessons does not have an indoor school Isaiah must endure a variety of elements during his weekly lessons. He had mentioned on a few occasions that he probably won't want to ride in winter when it gets too cold. I don't want him to be a fair-weather rider but I don't want him to hate riding either. This morning he gave a small argument but I convinced him Togo, especially since I don't think it is fair to cancel the day of lesson except in cases of sudden illness or an emergency.

So as I sit in my car waiting for Isaiah to finish (he listens better when I am not watching) I remember the first year that I took riding lessons and the extremely cold winter that Iendured! My father, too, endured it because he stood by the rail and watched every single ride without complaint. Even today, all these years later I can still picture him standing there smiling his encouragement. The greatest gift my father ever gave to me was the opportunity (after years of begging) to take riding lessons. My mother always hoped it would be a short lived obsession, but of course it was not. I find that I often think of my father when I am with the horses.

Although we have had some cold days the dark clouds and occasional snow shower (slightly more than flurries) made it feel like the quintessential pre-winter day. When I arrived at the barn later in the afternoon the sun managed to poke it's head out from time to time but not enough to protect me from the bite of the bitter wind. Suki made a mad dash gallop down the field to greet me and her heart stopping speed mandated a chirp from me to coax her into a slower pace. I need not worry though. Suki will stop on a dime at the gate piaffing if she still has a lot of energy behind her. It's almost a protective mechanism, I think. Perhaps the piaffe is not as harsh as slamming into a halt or swerving away from the gate suddenly. Suki's dash to the gate prompted Nikki to do the same, but she preferred an easy canter while tossing her head. I have found that taking Suki in first brings Nikki to the gate making all of us happy. Suki can hang out in her stall with some hay while I work Nikki.

Even with the cold and wind I decided to make an attempt at riding. Nikki was nicely forward on the lunge with an occasional burst of energy. The wind didn't seem to spook her and her attention was focused on me. The ride was short because of the oncoming darkness but my mind and body needed it as I am sure Nikki's did as well. We were even rewarded with a bit of snow flurries. The cold, wet flakes felt refreshing on my face as I turned into the wind. I stuck out my tongue and caught some snow. Although I miss the indoor arena, it was nice to be out in the cold for a bit. If I was at VMF i would have ridden inside and missed out on the November snow. I tapped with my calf with my fingers and Nikki turned to look at me. I loved watching the snowflakes melt into her eyelashes...
Time to dig out those winter riding gloves!

Suki seemed much happier inside with her hay rather than outside watching me work Nikki. She enjoyed her spa treatment and only her neck seemed really dry. Between the wind and the impending darkness I decided not to lunge Suki that night. This time of year darkness seems to come quickly. One minute you feel like you have enough daylight then BOOM it's dark! With more cold and wind expected on Sunday the girls were snugged in heavier blankets. But Sunday night I will have to lighten them up again because Monday will be warmer....then back into heavy clothing Monday night with snow expected on Tuesday. I hate these drastically fluctuating temperatures. It needs to get cold and stay that way!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Being Thankful

So it has been quite awhile now that Suki has gone without additional padding on her graft site. She always wears clothing to protect the scarred skin across her back that does not have hair, so that does offer extra protection to the sensitive graft area. It is so wonderful to not have to worry about bandaging and to feel at ease about the healing process. Dr. Fugaro and his staff and students at Centenary College (Team Suki) did an amazing job. That level of dedication and care is the reason for the success of the skin graft. Yes, it required quite a bit of care once she returned from Centenary, but without their generosity and superb skill I would probably still be dealing with an open wound.

Look how far we have come...
Post op day 12


I remember when I heard that Courtney King, the Olympic dressage rider had fallen from her horse suffering a traumatic brain injury. Schooling a young horse and not wearing a helmet, the horse tripped unseating Courtney causing her to fall and hit her head. After spending weeks in a coma, with an uncertain recovery, Courtney threw herself into her rehab. Hard work, courage and support from family and friends she came back to riding, with a new interest in the benefits of therapeutic riding. Now a proponent of ALWAYS wearing a helmet, Courtney has made the world stand up and take notice, with many FEI riders now sporting a safety helmet in competition instead of the traditional hard hat. She was recently recognized by the FEI with the "Against All Odds" award. We salute you Courtney, and are inspired by your courage!

Sunday was a beautiful day, perfect for riding. A little warm, especially for Nikki's winter coat, making the post ride grooming and removal of saddle and bridle marks a lengthy process. I don't mind when I have the time, because grooming enhances the bond between horse and rider. I have never understood owners who like to have their horses ready to be ridden upon their arrival at the barn, then handing the horse off post ride to a groom. I don't mean professionals who have numerous horses to ride; in that case the assistance of a good groom is essential. Nikki doesn't like to have her belly groomed with anything but a cloth, and gently only, so it sometimes takes awhile to rid her of sweat marks! She was very focused on me even while sharing the arena with two other horses. I find that when there is more activity she looks to me for more guidance, with ears twitching back inquisitively. I had set the trot poles quite far apart and Nikki rose to the occasion with some brilliant suspension! Suki stood by the fence for awhile and watched leaving her post only when I led Nikki out of the arena and into the barn. I could hear her nickering to me from the back gate, impatiently telling me to hurry!

Dressed in a cooler Nikki relaxed in her stall for a bit while I groomed Suki and gave her a spa treatment. Suki's face was very itchy so I held the exfoliation mitt up to her face and let her determine where she wanted to be scratched. Instead of lunging I took her out and worked on some leading exercises/commands. Once out in their respective pastures the girls made their way up the fence line side by side, occasionally stopping to touch noses over the fence. My phone was in the car or I would have taken a video of the scene. It was really very sweet. Especially since no sqealing was involved!

With a littel extra time my tack finally received the cleaning it so desperately needed instead of a quick wipe down.

Driving down the driveway on my way home I slowed to take a look at my girls. Again I thought about what I often take for granted. How fortunate I am to have two beautiful Oldenburg mares. So on Thanksgiving Eve I count my blessings.....I have a wonderful husband, a beautiful son, good health, wonderful family and friends, a lovely home and a steady career. Indeed, much to be thankful for.

Sunday, November 18, 2012


Sometimes when my brain races ahead full tilt, my goals become distorted and I have to take a few steps back to regroup. When the fire took place my first responsibility was to take care of Suki and make her recovery as smooth as possible. As she continued to improve and her survival was no longer in jeopardy I had to accept that my goals would have to shift in a different direction and slow to a crawl. I would be lying if I didn't say that I was disappointed and jealous of those whose horses were not harmed. Not that I would have wanted anyone else's horses to be injured, of course but I felt like I had a black cloud over my head. Just as my mare Jenny was starting to really come along she suffered a fractured hock in a trailer accident bringing my goals with her to a screeching halt as well. And while Jenny did go on to train and compete again (in spite of the veterinarians saying that she would never be competition sound again)she never reached her full potential. But she gave me everything she had with heart and courage and we shared a deep bond.

So I find myself once again with realigned goals, and have days when I miss the intense training from when I was at J's barn in Unionville. As the cold of winter looms ahead and my riding will stop for a few months I plan on taking a deep breath and prepare for spring. Hopefully there will be opportunities to audit some good dressage clinics to keep me motivated. I suppose I can pick up some training DVDs to help plan for spring. I have never viewed the Reiner Klimke videos and he was such a master....
I know that at some point I probably will have only a few opportunities to lunge Nikki because once the ground freezes it can stay pretty hard throughout the remainder of winter. But we can work on some leading exercises to strengthen our working relationship which will be fun as well. So, in spite of my lack of riding this winter I plan to fill it with learning experiences out of the saddle. It would be great if I could find someone who had an upper level school master that I could take lessons on weekly. Something I will have to research.

And so, in the continuing theme of learning opportunities, I come back to my new obsession with classical training and the Spanish Riding School. I found this video (You Tube, of course)
Watch the one-tempis in hand.....Oh Suki, I hope you're ready!

The next two videos are about the Spanish Riding School itself, with a narration of the history, etc.

Monday night (Nov 12) we had very heavy rain. Although the arena drains pretty well, it was no match for such torrential downpours. There was one area that was puddle-free so I was actually able to lunge Nikki for a bit. Slightly "up" at the start (after being in for longer than usual)she settled quickly and worked well. Even most of the paddocks were too wet for turnout, so it gave Nikki some time to stretch her legs a bit. Suki was quite a fidget on cross ties while I groomed her, anxious to get outside. Both girls would be out in a paddock while their stalls were being cleaned so at least they were out for a little while!

Thursday was a beautiful day and I was excited that I would get to ride again. When I turned into the farm driveway I could see Nikki rolling. As she was getting up Banker dropped in the field next to her, followed by Killian by Nikki. It was fun to watch. Suki was the only one who I didn't see roll, but I suspect she started the chain reaction of rolling, judging by the mud on her knees!

Fortunately Nikki came right to the gate. Suki stood at the adjacent gate and nickered to Nikki then stood at the fence facing the arena while we worked. I had a nice ride, keeping it simple with a lot of transitions and changes of direction, followed by some ground poles. Nikki kept her focus in spite of occasional outbursts by her big sister!

Even with day time temperatures hoverung around fifty degrees, the nights are cold requiring blankets. Some days I am forced to skip a day at the barn, which results in Suki's neck being slighter drier than when it is moisturized daily. But I am proud of myself for finally treating Suki like a horse instead of a piece of fine china! In the beginning she needed to be treated very delicately, but now that she has fully recovered I have to let down my guard a bit.

Saturday morning reminded me of why I enjoy living in the Oley Valley. Bold brush strokes of orange across the sky topped the mountains at sunrise. The wide cornfields have been cut down in preparation for winter's rest. The meadows are thick with frost glistening as the first light of day hits them. Isaiah had his lesson and because he listens better when I don't watch I now sit in the car and wait for him. I love to watch him ride so initially I was a little disappointed. Then i realized that it was 45 minutes of uninterrupted reading or writing....hmmm

Usually I take care of Nikki first, but Suki followed me down the driveway to the gate and called to me. Obviously she wanted to go first! Because it was such a nice day I decided to lunge Suki as well and I wrapped her legs in white polos and put on her bridle. Suki listened well and while Nikki looked up from her grazing occasionally she didn't call to Suki at all! It's funny how whenever I put them back out in their pastures whichever horse is already out comes over to the gate to investigate. They have an interesting relationship, always vying for my attention.

I read an article recently that said that every day you should do something that makes you feel uncomfortable. So Saturday I lunged Nikki in her bridle but had not planned on riding. I did however take my helmet to the arena just in case I decided to do my uncomfortable task by riding Nikki bareback. Bareback riding is not something that I have ever really done to often simply because my horses have always hated it. Since I didn't ride as a young child, the opportunity to do it then was also not an option. I lunged Nikki for about 15 minutes then walked over to the mounting block. My heart beat a little faster as I secured my helmet. Nikki is 17.1, after all, and getting on was going to be the first challenge. I took a deep breath and climbed aboard. Softly squeezing my legs I urged Nikki forward at the walk. Quietly we walked around the arena. We performed loops and circles and a little leg yield after the walk. It was much better once I started to breathe! I was about to get off when I decided to ask for a trot. Nikki has a really comfortable trot and Oi love to sit, so off we went. Yay for me! Okay, next challenge: a little rising trot. Oh my! I was having a great time! I asked Nikki to halt and wrapped my arms around her very fuzzy neck. Walking back to the barn we both had a bit of a swagger in our stride!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Beautiful weather/ Spanish Riding School

November 9, 2012
So as my riding time heads toward its unfortunate and inevitable wind down for the winter (yes, I miss the indoor!)I am becoming obsessed with training and thinking about what's next for me and Nikki and me and Suki. I will lunge them when I can if the footing thaws occasionally during the winter then pick up with regular work again in the spring. Certainly not ideal for Nikki, but without an indoor, that is my only option. I enjoy having the girls together, and as I get my butt in gear in the spring to get Nikki out into the dressage ring for some serious competition maybe something will open up for next winter indoor options. Even during the windown I wish that I could find someone to ride Nikki once a week. My schedule gets a bit out of hand, so having Nikki ridden once a week would help to maintain some consistency. M isn't going to be able to do it anymore, which annoyed me a bit but what can you do, right?

Suki and Nikki are in adjacent fields now, which has some interesting dynamics. When I arrived at the barn J put some hay in Suki's pasture and that girl made a beeline in her lovely extended trot down to the gate to beat Banker to the hay. Banker remained grazing in his spot at the top of the field completely unconcerned about the hay! But Miss Diva had to get there in a hurry anyway (she's starving to death, you know). NIkki was at the top of her field also and showed no apparent interest in making my life easy by coming down to the gate. As I walked the field to retrieve diva #2, Suki followed me along the fenceline, talking the entire time. As I approached Nikki she offered me a soft nicker and finally when I was about a meter from her she started to walk toward me. Ahug, and a treat and we made our way down to the gate. Miss Suki followed along the fence line once again, talking the entire time. Sibling rivalry at its best! I swear Nikki was smirking at her!

Nikki was good under saddle in spite of Suki glaring and occasionally calling to her from her field! Once again I kept it simple but added a bit more lateral work to mix it up a bit.

Sunday, November 11, 2012
What a beautiful day! I took advantage of it by spending extra time with both girls. Suki once again followed me up and down the fenceline while I retrieved Nikki, talking the whole time. I let them touch noses at the gate before taking Nikki into the barn. LOVELY ride today! Suki did her best to distract us, but Nikki maintained her focus. I did a fair amount of lateral work and Nikki was quite sweaty at the end, with her fuzzy coat and the 65 degree temperature. But she stretched her neck happy and relaxed as we cooled out. It took awhile for her to dry and for me to get rid of the saddle marks but it was a nice bonding time. I love how Nikki leans down to snuffle my head while I remove polos and groom her legs.

When I turned Nikki back out Suki was at her own gate (which is now right next to Nikki's) so I grabbed her while I had the chance. I know that she would have followd Nikki along the fence if I didn't take her when I had the chance. Originally I hadn't planned on lunging Suki but the beautiful weather offered the perfect opportunity. Suki was happy to work and only called to Banker once on our way out to the arena! I added a surcingle for good measure, but no side reins. One step at a time. The graft was fine and Suki seemed to accept the addition of the surcingle without a second thought.... Each time I asked her to halt from the trot she lowered her head and lifted her is just second nature to her even after 3 years without consistent training. An extended spa treatment followed and Suki kept turning around to nudge me, making sure I hit the itchiest spots! When I turned her back out, Suki galloped across the field, I thought to go by Banker. But when she got to the top of the field she leaned her head over the fence into Nikki's field and called to her. Nikki walked over and the two girls touched noses...

So I have been thinking a lot about classical dressage training especially after my recent visit to the Spanish Riding School. Well, maybe obsessed is a better word. Watching the horses during their morning work out was so inspiring! They looked so relaxed and happy in their work. The riders were lovely in the saddle with little discernible movement. I envied their calm competance.

The spectator entrance of the SRS:

During the tour we were allowed to take photographs. Imagine performing in this hall...

A few weeks after I returned from Vienna, I stumbled across this:
"The Spanish Riding School Will Open its Doors in 2013" What? How? Apparently the school has been operating in the red for awhile which is when they opened the doors to the public a few days a week to watch schooling sessions. Another facility in Heldenberg also offers opportunities for spectators to observe training three days a week which has brought increased tourism to the region. Here is the article that appeared in The Chronicle:

The new programs at the SRS include training (bring your own horse), groom training and theory classes. I am seriously considering trying to get into the 5 day theory program. It includes theory classes on riding and training, under saddle and in hand.....

I have heard that the SRS has received many inquiries already, but no dates have been announced. hmmmmmm

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Blustery Day!

The weather gods have been wreaking havoc with my riding schedule!! I lunged Nikki on Tuesday because her neck seemed a bit uncomfortable from her vaccinations assuming that I would ride on Wednesday. Then they predicted that pesky nor'easter for Wednesday into Thursday. On Wednesday the precipitation was holding off and I thought that I might be able to squeeze in a short ride even though it was damp and cold. But no, it was not to be. The sleet started while I was driving to the barn, so I had to be satisfied with grooming the girls. At some point the storm stopped its westward journey and we were ultimately spared of any additional precipitation. So this morning while many unfortunate people were digging out and contending with power outages, snow and wind, we were high and dry....but super windy.

So today while driving to the barn with my car being blown around the wind, I contemplated riding. I decided that I would tack up Nikki and lunge her and if all seemed fine I would ride. But of course as I pulled into the driveway, no one was around.... When I got down to the barn both girls ran to their respective fence lines to greet me....aaaahh so wonderful to be loved. The parking area borders Nikki's pasture so of course she is standing near the driver's side of my car to greet me. I fished a treat out of my pocket for her while Miss Suki protested loudly behind me.

The wind continued to whip around as I gathered my equipment and brought Nikki into the barn. It was like "Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day"! Happy Windsday!
I decided to go through the motions in preparation to ride and see where it took me. Nikki was quiet on the lunge and after about 10 minutes I saw J's truck pull in and park by the house. YAY! So I was able to have a ride in spite of my concerns. The wind was fairly steady with an occasional super gust that did not seem to unnerve Nikki. She looked up a couple of times at the horses in the field as they grazed, but I channeled my inner dressage rider and put Nikki through 10 meter figure eights to keep her focused. A hawk soared over head as waves of leaves blew through the arena. I was momentarily distracted by the beauty of the afternoon...but when Nikki's pasture mate called to her and she responded in kind, I snapped back to the job at hand. The only time Nikki spooked was when I led her out of the arena and the gate clanked nehind us. All in all, a productive outing.

Suki had gone back to grazing by the time I finished up with Nikki and pointedly ignored me when I called out to her. But as usual, she was unable to contain herself and trotted to the gate, mane and tail flying in the wind like proud flags! Skin graft still looks great, and my fingers are optimistically crossed! Is it REALLY possible that I will sit on her in the spring????

The other day while reading The Chronicle of the Horse I saw an article about a mustang contest. The Extreme Mustang Makeover requires that contestants (trainers) turn a mustang into a suitable pleasure horse in 120 days. The horses are then auctioned to the public. I am always inspired by the human-horse bond and how trust between horse and rider forms a partnership. Isaiah rides a mustang in his ridng lesson. Prissy is trained to 2nd level dressage, and she is absolutely delightful! Isaiah speaks of her often during the week between lessons.

and here is the article about Elisa Wallace and her experience with Extreme Mustang Makeover. It's a great read...

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Post Sandy/bracing for Nor'easter

Well, we were more fortunate than many. The New Jersey coast was hammered, and our beloved LBI was one of the beach communities that was hit hard. In our area, Berks County Pennsylvania there were high winds and a fair amount of rain resulting in fallen trees, flooding, wind damage and power outages. We were prepared with a generator but the power only flickered a few times, so we were quite lucky. The barn did not flood but power was out for a day. We were prepared for that so all was well. The girls were a bit cranky after 48 hours in the barn, but with two days of wind and rain that was the safest place for them. As the wind howled and the temperatures dropped I was glad that I decided to dress the girls in warmer clothing and confident that they were safe and dry! Less to worry about!

Suki's skin was a bit dry after a couple of days without moisturizing, but not bad. I stopped at the barn Wednesday after the storm but power had not yet been restored, so I was not able to groom the girls. I visited and gave out treats, but Suki was especially pushy about wanting to get out of her stall. Nikki was a little cranky but not as bad. It would have been nice to at least groom them a bit but it was really too dark. Apparently power was restored a couple of hours after I left. As I said we were more fortunate than many.

The horses were able to get out in the paddocks for short periods on Wednesday, but the pastures were still a bit too wet for turnout. By Thursday they were out in the pastures again, and a little bit wild. Friday was the first day that I was able to lunge Nikki again. Still windy and chilly I expected Nikki to be a bit wild. Walking out to the arena she was very well behaved and stood quietly while I closed the gate. But as soon as I put her out on the circle Nikki let out a few squeals and a leap, then settled into a forward trot. I let her move forward for several minutes then started to ask for transitions. She was focused and obedient. I know that walk to the arena was difficult for her. She wanted to be silly but held it together. Good baby.

Saturday was windy and cold and Suki was a bit wild coming in. She stood up when J led her out of the paddock. But he left her until near the end and that makes her a bit wiggy. It is only the second time she has done that to him, but it is quite unnerving. Suki has always been demanding about coming in first, so add wind and cold.....well, the sum of that equation is a big negative! Nikki too, had been tearing around the pasture so I opted for a second day of lunging with a ride planned for Sunday. Both girls settled nicely after receiving my undivided attention. I am anxious to get back into a regular routine for a few weeks before winter hits. While the original plan was to take Nikki back to VMF, that is unlikely to work out. So I am probably looking at giving Nikki two months off once the ground freezes. On days when the footing is good I will lunge, but she is not to the point in age or training where she can be ridden after a couple of weeks off in between. We'll see what happens though.

I am also tragically behind with ordering the Suki calendars, so that is one of my goals for this week. The plan is to have them avaialble for ordering by December 1st. I am also uncertain of how many to order and what to charge so that there will be a reasonable amount of money to send to whatever rescue is to be the beneficiary. That is my other dilemma....which rescue? Uggh. I think I need a personal assistant, or rather Suki does!

My thoughts keep going back to making more contacts with human burn survivors for Suki to meet. What I witnessed in some of those meetings was miraculous. Here is a quote from a burn survivor who had lost most of his fingers in a fire when he met her: He said: 'She hesitated a bit. Her ears kind of perked up as if to say, "I don't feel a full hand here". At that moment, I was almost drawn to tears ... I felt that she knew that I had been injured, too.' Suki also helps burn survivors to temporarily put aside their own feelings of discomfort as they talk to her and see that she has experienced some of what they have gone through themselves. It doesn't just apply to burn survivors though. People who have in the past or are currently recovering from or being treated for an illness, or injury also gain hope and inspration from Suki's courage and zest for life. It's about making the most of what life has given you.

I think this recent photo that Jenn took shows the courage, intelligence and depth of can you not look at this face, knowing what it has been through and not be inspired? I should be so wise....

Sunday I had a quiet ride on Nikki, and since she had been off for a week I decided to keep it simple. Primarily serpentines, transitions and frequent changes of direction. Nikki seemed happy to work and attentive to what I was asking.

The evenings have been quite a bit colder so the girls are wearing heavier clothing. Even Nikki with her fuzzy pre-winter coat was wearing a light blanket instead of a sheet. I always struggle with what to dress them in when it is quite cold at night and temperatures rising into the upper 40's during the day. We haven't seen much of the sun lately and there has been a bit of wind, so it seems the blanket choices are working! I can't wait until it just gets cold and stays thinking involved!

Most of my blankets have a smooth surface inside which helps Suki's hairless back as the blanket shifts across it. As the weeks progress each blanket that touches her skin will become nicley slicked with moisturizer from Suki's back! That really helps to keep Suki's back nice and moist, and the thicker blankets offer more padding, giving me a bit more peace of mind! I have some extra blankets that are smaller, so I will be donating them to The Gingersnap Girls horse rescue.

Tuesday (Nov 6): Nikki and Killian were at the top of their field but Nikki followed me down the driveway as I pulled in. My plan was to a quick ride in before the farrier came. As I parked Nikki greeted me at the fence....such a cutie that girl!

As I was scratching Nikki's face over the fence you-know-who started whinnying (loudly!) behind me. She wasn't at the gate when I got out of the car, but I suspect that she heard my voice when I was talking to Nikki.
This is what she did when Peter, in the padock next to her field nuzzled my arm over the fence

Is that a great snake face, or what!

Then she remembered her manners...

Nikki's neck seemed a little sore from her vaccinations the day before so I decided to lunge her without side reins....I worked on sharpening the transitions and she stretched her neck beautifully as she moved out. The farrier had said that her feet are really good and it would probably be okay to keep her barefoot behind. We'll give it a try, since I will not likely be taking her any where for the next few months. Suki seemed less than happy to go second again, but got over it once I started to groom her.

Now to prepare for the nor'easter. We shouldn't be as affected, but there is snow/sleet/wind heading our way for sure. The girls are cozy and safe, so we will hunker down again. I hope that those directly in this storm's path, who are still recovering from Sandy will be okay.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Here Comes Sandy!

October 26, 2012

It has been an insanely busy week. Michael was away on business all week, I had a lot going on at work and Isaiah had all of his school and after school activities plus an assembly to prepare for at the end of the week. For the first time in more than 3 years I did not go to the barn for 2 days in a row (other than when I travel). All is well, of course, and the girls managed to survive without me! Fortunately Meg rode Nikki on Thursday and Suki requires a lot less maintenance than she used to. That alone feels like such a huge milestone. When I look at those early photos it is hard to imagine that we would ever get to this point of recovery. That is the message of hope and inspiration that I believe can help my fellow horsemen whose horses are currently in the early and middle stages of recovering from burns.

Suki finally had a full spa treatment and both she and I enjoyed it. My amazement over the status of the graft site continues, and although there is occasional mild bruising when Suki has a hardy roll, I no longer freak out over it. It is kept well moisturized, and because she is always wearing some type of clothing, even if I miss a day the skin does not appear dry. The right side of Suki's neck however, is a different story. Even though I keep her mane long enough to cover where there is not full hair growth an extra day shows signs of some drying. Still not as bad as before though!

So hurricane Sandy is expected to have an impact where we live. At this point we are trying to squeeze in as much turnout and riding time as possible. The rain is expected to arrive Sunday, so Saturday will be my last day to ride, and possibly the last of turnout for the next few days. Fortunately J added small paddocks to the front of each pasture, so once the rain ends and the pastures are too wet for the horses they at least have some place to go out, even if it is only for short periods.

Saturday, October 27, 2012
The afternoon was nice, although cloudy. Nikki was in a good mood and we had a nice ride. I did the "bow" exercise with her and she was nicely responsive. I changed the leg yield part to a few steps of half pass and I was rewarded with some nice steps. I also started a bit of haunches in, which confused her at first but then she performed it brilliantly. It was a pleasure to not have to think about hurricane Sandy or other responsibilities for awhile! Suki, of course was angry that I worked with Nikki first and showed her displeasure by glaring at us from the gate and occasionally calling to Nikki! I did Nikki first because it was quiet at the barn and I could have the arena to myself. We have more boarders who ride now and although it is never crazy busy, it is nice to have the arena to myself!

Once Nikki was back outside I brought in Suki who was glaring at us from the other gate while I put Nikki back in her pasture. I love how Nikki always stands by the gate and nickers to me for one last sweet. Sometimes I can barely hear her voice, but I can see her nostrils flutter in an almost silent nicker.

As I was grooming Suki's shoulder she turned around and snuffled my arm. I love when she snuffles then leans on me. Many will argue that it is not a display of affection....I disagree. It is recognition, familiarity and comfort for them and us. By this time several boarders started to arrive and I said to X while Suki was leaning on me(the one who takes every opportunity to insult me and act like a know-it-all)"I can't imagine not giving her the chance to recover. She is so happy and healthy." X's response. "Either decision would have been the right one. You would have gotten over it". Apparently we have a different view about life! Yes, I would have recovered emotionally but there would have been a hole in my heart for a long time. But I would have questioned my decision. However, if the veterinarians told me that it was best to put her down, I would have. When I decided to put down Jenny I knew it was the right decision for her. While I still miss the girl, I have never questioned that decision or thought "what if". It was the best thing for her, even though it broke my heart to let her go. No one will ever be able to convince me that it would have been an equally "right" decision to not give Suki a chance at life. For ME and MY horse it was the only decision that made sense given the circumstances. For someone else the right decision for them might have been different. Every situation is different and must be evaluated as such.

Sunday, October 28, 2012
The girls get one last chance to be outside since the rain has not started. A little breezy, cloudy and very dreary, but the horses were out for most of the day. I brought Suki and Nikki in for dinner groomed them and dressed them in light weight sheets. The barn is ready for Hurricane Sandy with sand bags for in front of the doors. It's a sturdy barn and ordinarily does not have flooding issues, but this is no ordinary storm! We are hoping for the best.

Monday, October 22, 2012

My hat is too tight

Thursday, October 18, 2012
My baseball hat is too tight. This is my first thought as I sit down today to write. I have just come home from riding Nikki and will have to leave shortly to pick up my son from school, so there is not enough time for a shower until we come home. As soon as I remove my riding helmet I replace it with a baseball hat so that I will not be seen with "helmet hair". It seemed a bit loose when I first put it on so I snugged it up with the back strap. Now, 15 minutes later my head is pounding and it suddenly occurred to me that my hat was too tight. Now that I have loosened it slightly my headache is retreating....

Beautiful day today but very windy! The horses were happily grazing when I arrived but Suki didn't come up to the front gate the way she has been. I could see Nikki and Chester not too far from the gate, so I was hopeful about getting them in quickly. When I walked through the barn I could see Suki grazing close to the stream. She had not heard me drive into the parking area. "Suki mama!", I called. Suki lifted her head quickly and nickered to me as she started across the field. The easy walk turned into a slow trot then to an extended trot. We met at the fence where she continued to nicker softly as she attempted to lean her head into me. I slipped under the gate and wrapped my arms around her neck. Suki gave a hug back with her majestic head then began to search for the treats she was certain that I was hiding! After wrestling a carrot out of my pocket she seemed satisfied to allow me to leave the pasture.

I expected Nikki to be a bit up, with the wind gusting and everything blowing around us. Like the good baby that she is, she settled into work easily after a brief lunging session. I was trying to sharpen her trot-canter transitions so I worked on the spiraling exercise. My version is to trot a 20 meter circle and spiral down to 12 meters, then leg yield back out to 20m. As soon as I hit that 20 m size again I ask for the canter transition. Once she starts to anticipate the transition I change the spot on the 20m circle where I ask for the canter. When I translate this to the full arena I find the transitions are sharper. Sometimes I like to vary the exercise as follows: after the upward transition to the canter I spiral in to 15m then back out to 20m. At the 20m mark I ask for the trot. Nikki seems to enjoy the exercise and I have found that it has helped concentration and learning to wait for transition aids. Knowing that heavy rain was expected for Friday, I was happy to get in a good session.

Suki was a good baby. She was easy to start and delighted in her work. Our biggest obstacle initially was for 3 year old Suki to figure out what do with all of those LONG legs! Cantering was a challenge as she was tall and seemed unbalanced. I simply got into two-point and let her move along in her big stride. The balance came quickly then, and she began to really excel in her work. With her good mind and lovely gaits Suki was a trainer's dream. At the time I was working with someone who I had worked with for several years on my horse Jenny. Jenny was schooling second level when started training with J, and we all worked quite well together. As Suki displayed her willingness to work and talent to progress, J began to push us. Unfortunately because Suki was young and large she started to develop some muscle soreness which led to resistance. I should have known better, and in fact I did know better. But I told myself to trust this person because of her illustrious career. Lesson learned.....

The weekend weather was beautiful following a rainy Friday and severe thunder storms and a tornado warning on Friday night. When I arrived at the barn midday on Saturday the horses were going out after being in for nearly 24 hours. I let Nikki go out and play while I gave Suki a spa treatment. She had a new scrape on her face that was superficial, but bloody. I was able to clean and medicate it but not without a bit of bribery!

It is always iteresting to see Suki through new eyes. Someone was at the barn who had never seen Suki or any of her pictures. The reaction was somewhat a look of horror at Suki's hairless back and scarred ears. I no longer see these things (well, aside from my obsession with the graft!). Suki is still Suki. She is beautiful and talented and brave in spite of her scars and her near death experience. Spending time grooming Suki and caring for her is like a precious activity that I used to take for granted.

After the fire there were dirty saddle pads and supplies that had not yet been taken to the barn. I didn't want to look at them, yet I passed them every day as I walked from my house into the garage. But I have a confession; the first time I saw Suki after the fire I got out of my car and stood in the garage. There in front of me was a pile of dirty horse laundry. Saddle pads with chestnut hair stuck to it. Then it hit me, and it hit hard. Suki could die. I curled up in the pile of saddle pads and hugged one to my chest burying my face in it to smell Suki. And I cried. Then sobbed. The kind of sobbing where you feel like someone is ripping your heart right of your chest and that you will never be whole again. After that I slept on the couch for a couple of hours, put on my brave face and went to pick up Isaiah from preschool.

Monday, October 15, 2012

A Constant Reminder

Sunday morning was cloudy and chilly but the day was expected to improve with sunshine and temperatures in the 60's. I decided to wait until the afternoon to ride and take care of Suki because the temperatures would have warmed up enough to remove Nikki's sheet and change Suki into her fly sheet.

As per her new habit, Suki was at one of her pasture gates calling to me as I exited my car. Nikki and Chester happily grazed at the top of their field. This new routine requires that I IMMEDIATELY present treats to Her Royal Highness Princess Amiritta before proceeding into the barn. Clearly this plan has worked in her favor, so when the horses are outside I always have to greet Suki first! Clever girl!

I rode Nikki first, and although it was not a long ride it was productive. It was also relaxing until the cannons went off! The Daniel Boone Homestead which is not too far from the barn was apparently hosting Heritage Day, complete with cannon fire....Nikki was very good about it, and in fact, it probably startled me more than it did her! Nothing like cannon fire to get the heart pumping!!

I let Nikki (and Chester, because he always comes in with her)chill in their stalls for a bit while I went to get Suki. She had moved into the bank barn at that point and casually started her walk to the gate when I called her name. As I stood inside the gate she let out a squeal and came thundering toward me. "Hmmm", I thought. "Will she stop in time?" Never fear, of course she did...coming to a halt in front me and lowering her head. Watching her express such joy, animation and GOOD health is heartwarming. How different my life would be without seeing this amazing girl each day!

I pulled off her mid weight sheet and stepped up on the stool to look at the graft....perfect!! YAY! No bandage OR padded sheet for a week!

A quick grooming and off we went into the arena. Instead of lunge work we performed some leading exercises followed by an attempt at a few steps of piaffe. While slightly resistant initially, suddenly I noticed her body lift, her hind end sit and several steps of piaffe (with slight forward movement) followed. I praised her extensively, and as we walked back to the barn she swaggered a bit and swung her royal head with pride!

After her spa treatment I replaced the midweight sheeet with the padded fly sheet due to the warming temperatures. Next year she will most likely wear a fly sheet without padding, but for now we will play it safe. After all, she wears a regular sheet without padding and soon full blanket season will be upon us!

Sunday (October 14, 2012)

I had breakfast this morning with my friend Bobbi. Her horse Whisby was in the barn fire with Suki. When Suki was blinded, with her eyes swollen shut from severe burns to her face and head, Whisby's eyes became her eyes as well. The girls were in adjacent stalls, and we had boarded together at a prior barn. They knew each other well, and we believe that is what kept them together on that tragic evening. Following the sound and smell of her friend, Suki followed Whisby, who led them safely away from the barn. By following Whisby Suki did not crash into anything during their midnight run......this to me is miraculous, displaying the awe-inspiring courage of these two big chestnut mares.

Then, when it was determined that Suki needed to go the hospital, but Whisby did not, Bobbi, to me, made a sacrifice for which she will always be my hero. As most of you know, I was unable to leave my home because my 3 year old son was sleeping and my husband was out of town on business. Leaving her own injured horse at a strange farm, Bobbi and her husband borrowed a truck and trailer (our trailers were not accessible because they were parked at Pink Star) and drove Suki 1 1/2 hours to New Bolton Center in the middle of the night. This was a huge relief to me because Suki knows Bobbi, and I think was probably less frightened because a familiar voice was soothing her. A mere "thank you" seems so inadequate.

Whisby had crashed through a paddock (according to one account)where the horses had been temporarily placed after exiting the barn. That part of the story is sketchy, and I hoped it will be clarified when I speak to the firefighters. She suffered an injured chest and shoulder, with ember burn flecks across her back. I asked Bobbi yesterday if hair had grown on those spots. She said no, and that it is a constant reminder of that night. Otherwise Whisby has fully recovered and is now schooling 4th level/Prix St Georges again, after nearly two years off from regular training. But like Suki she bears those scars that mark that night forever. The scars that speak to us and never let us forget that what began as a tragedy culminated in a happy ending.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Magic of Ordinary Days

As the temperatures continue to dip (they will rally into a warmer day tomorrow) I savor the early autumn weather. Autumn has always been my favorite time of year, and I love when it is finally cool enough to wear a turtleneck and cotton sweater for riding. The trees are sporting colorful attire and pumpkins have been making appearance on porches all around.

With the cooler temperatures the girls have moved on to mid-weight sheets and are snugged up in the barn now at night. This morning it was only 28 degrees when I woke up, so my plan was to go to the barn in the middle of the day, after Isaiah's riding lesson. He had a good ride today, and while on the lunge performed a posting trot without reins. I was impressed by his balance. In a few more weeks he will be doing a posting trot without reins or stirrups....I wonder what he will think of that!

Suki's graft site continues to be fine just under a sheet without any extra padding for protection. Yesterday I noticed some dirt on the sheet smack in the middle of her back so I know that Suki has had at least one roll right on top of the graft. I have not even observed any bruising....

When I arrived at the barn in the early afternoon the temperature was in the low fifties with a slight breeze and a bit of a crispness to the air. Perfect riding weather. Suki came to the gate nickering as I got out of my car so I walked over and gave her a treat. I wanted to ride first while I still had the arena to myself.

Nikki and Chester were at the top of their pasture and not particularly interested in coming down to the gate. Who could blame them?? I finally coaxed Chester down and usually Nikki is not far behind. Today she continued to graze. I was just walking Chester into his stall when I felt the earth move. Miss Nicolette must have just discovered that she was alone and galloped to the gate!

Nikki was in quite a pleasant mood and was enjoying her grooming in preparation for our ride. She was absoluteley delightful under saddle, willingly executing a full session of some very nice lateral work. The pterodactyl (blue heron) was not really to Nikki's liking when it took flight, but a couple of snorts and she was good to go. While they are quite beautiful, the act of taking flight is rather distracting!

Suki was pulling on a bush near the stream when I went out to get her. I saw Banker on the other side but Suki had not joined him. She crossed a few weeks ago then did not want to come back. J had to coax her back across and she nearly trampled him when she decided to jump it instead of getting her precious feet wet! Yes, indeed, my girl is a diva!

I walked to the gate and called Suki. She turned to look at me then went back to grazing. I believe she was giving me the "cold shoulder" for working with Nikki first! Suddenly Suki wheeled around and came galloping to the gate. I swear she knows that it terrifies me when she does that! As usual, just when I am certain that she will never be able to stop in time and is about to run into the fence she stops, piaffes, then halts. It warms my heart to see her play, though, and everything about her exudes good health and happiness. I still hold me breath a bit when I remove the sheet, but the graft looked great so our progress continues!

Groomed and legs wrapped I led Suki out the arena for a lunge session. She squealed a couple of times so I knew she was still full of herself! Once out on the circle Suki added a few tosses of her head. TRying to keep her focused I asked for a succession of transitions which relaxes her after a few minutes. Not today, though. Next tactic: keep her moving forward. Suki started to stretch her neck so I thought she was relaxing....Then there was a squeal, a leap and a capriole! Those Lipizzaners have nothing on my girl! As spectacular as it looks, the airs above the ground were a disobedience, so I needed to correct Suki and get her to listen. That was the last disobedience, although she did try a small squeal that I cut off by growling at her!

Because yesterday's spa treatment was abbreviated I wanted to be very thorough today. There were a few small scratches where the scarred skin sometimes erupt, but the older ones have healed. I think this is just something that I will always be dealing with so it is important to check Suki's skin thoroughly and apply topical antibacterial wound ointment as necessary. As I massaged her withers, Suki started to rock back and forth and her eyes closed slightly. She LOVES to have her withers scratched! For Nikki it is having her ears massaged.

Suki was happy to go out, and as I latched the gate I said "See you tomorrow my beautiful girl". I remembered saying the very same thing to her 8 hours before the fire started. A simple statement packed with so much meaning. When I said it to her in the late afternoon on July 9, 2009 it almost didn't happen. With the injuries Suki incurred that night I very possibly would have never seen her again. Everything really can change in an instant. While I know that I still take much of life for granted, every now and then I am struck with a memory from that time I try to regroup and count my blessings.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Catching up, and a chance to meet with firefighters!

Some days I feellike life is hurdling at me so fast I can't catch my breath. This is one of those weeks. Everyone has them. You look at an impossible "to do" list and think if the day was 30 hours long, and you didn't sleep, there would be a slight chance of getting it all done! Who knew that first grade would be so demanding! Book reports, patron saint report, etc. Plus all of the general homework and "stuff" that has to be done each day!

The cool teaser days of autumn make great riding weather. I confess that I did wait until temperatures were in the 50's before I rode on Saturday! Nikki had a lovely warm up, loose and forward. When I picked her up to collect her she was nicely on her hind end and moving into my hands. This time I incorporated a bit of serpentine work at the trot with walk transitions as we crossed the center line. The transitions became smoother as we progressed through the exercise. When I moved to the canter I asked for a transition to the trot as we crossed the center line. The first few times were a bit ragged, but again improved. I did shallow serpentines at the canter to add a little counter canter to the work. Nikki was pretty relaxed throughout and I was pleased with the progress.

With a bit of extra time I decided to also lunge Suki and give her a bit to think about. She was watching me work Nikki from the gate, so I figured she was ready to work! I recycled Nikki's purple polos (because I am very sadly behind in my horse laundry!)and bridle. Lunge line attached Suki marched out to the arena with a purpose. There is definitely some jealousy because of my attention to Nikki. I love that both girls nicker to me when I walk into the barn. It fills my heart and I just want to hug them! Suki was very forward and attentive during her session...well, she was attentive after I scolded her when she called to Nikki who was back out in her pasture! It always makes me laugh when I growl at her for a disobedience....she lowers her head and kind of grumbles in defiance, but gets right back to work!

I didn't anticipate being able to ride on Sunday because the day was supposed to be chilly and rainy. The weather held out and I snuck in a ride. Temperatures were to dip into the 30's so mid weight sheets were necessary. I put the first sheet on Nikki and the upper chest buckle was a bit tight. The bottom one would not meet! I was not surprised. The Rhino sheet had not been purchased for had been Jenny's, so I knew that she would outgrow it. A year of work has broadened her chest and hind end. Baby girl is growing up! The Rambo sheet fit, thankfully, but it was dirty. Oh well, it would do the job and Nikki would not be cold! Following Suki's spa treatment I debated the appropriate clothing. The fly sheet has the foam padding to protect the graft but would not be warm enough. A sheet over top would be too warm.....I went with the mid weight sheet and hoped for the best. When I turned Suki back out I gave her explicit instructions to not do a BIG roll!

On Sunday the local fire station hosted an open house for the start of fire prevention week. Michael took Isaiah to it. As I drove past the station on my way home from the barn (the open house was over) I thought about how I should have asked Michael to find out if any of those firefighters had been at the Pink Star Fire. As I was voicing this sentiment to him when I got home, Michael held up a business card....he had spoken to the fire chief, who had been at the fire. Chief X remembered Suki exiting the barn "burning". Those memories came flooding back in an instant, and I could feel that panic setting in again. Three years later that raw emotion still bubbles to the surface. The Chief said he would be happy to speak with me about that night and would gather a few other firefighters who had also been present. Michael told him that I will probably get emotional; Chief X said that he probably will too. Apparently they all had difficulty that night. I am hoping that I will finally learn the actual events from that night instead of all the heresay. That section of my book is light, because I don't have anything concrete. As difficult as it will be, I need to know what happened. Having initiated contact with the chief, we are going to reconnect next week after fire prevention week has ended.....

Monday, October 8, 2012
I met with Jenn to look through the calendar photos (they are beautiful, and it will be hard to select 12!)then went to the barn.
The girls were already in for the night when I got to the barn and there was a bit more drizzle. I groomed and fussed over Nikki putting her back in her sheet for over night. She enjoyed her ear massage and horse gummies!
As I removed Suki's sheet I held my breath. The sparkkly clean sheet from the day before bore some mud on the sides, but I was hopeful. Everything looked great! I am cautiously optimistic because I don't think that Suki did one of her aggressive rolls. With that in mind I made sure that her back was well moisturized with the hope of discouraging rolling due to itchiness! On the way back to her stall she pulled toward Nikki's stall where the two exchanged quiet nickers.....WHAT ARE THEY TALKING ABOUT! : )

As I turned off the lights and closed the barn door, the only sound I could hear was that of content horses munching on their hay....

Friday, October 5, 2012

Home At Last!

I typically don't mind traveling for work, except that I am often away for 5 days or more. While I hate to be away from home for a week, I was not dreading going to Vienna to attend ESMO. Long flights don't really bother me as I take two Dramamine after the dinner service then slip into a Dramacoma for the duration of the flight. After the mishaps of the original flight I found that I had a bit of difficulty sleeping during round two. Eventually my colleagues and I arrived in Vienna tired and weary. Because of the day delay, we had to head directly to the convention center for the start of the conference. My luggage, however, decided to stay in Frankfurt for a few more hours. We were reunited later that evening.

While I am away Deb texts me nightly to let me know how Suki is. Meghan kept me posted about Nikki. I know that I have plenty of people taking care of my girls, but I still worry! I think that I worry less about Suki than I used to, now that bandaging is no longer required. Suki can be difficult about having her face groomed and moisturized, but she and I have worked out an agreement about this. Basically I feed her gummy bears and she lets me take care of her face. Some days it doesn't require as much effort. When Suki's face gets really itchy I hold the exfoliation mitt up and she scratches it herself, turning her head to get the good spots. Sometimes I hold up the very soft face brush and say "see, it's the brush that you like". The Queen then lowers her head for me. I especially love when she closes her eyes while I do this! It is certainly understandable, when you think about how badly her face was burned, that she gets a little nervous about work around her head. Prior to the fire I could do anything to her head, face and ears. Baby steps....

Nikki did very well in the clinic with Meghan, and they participated the second day as well. I wish that I could have been there to see it, but I am glad that it went so well. She remained at VMF for longer than planned, but that was fine, because she was ridden again before returning home.

On my last day in Vienna, which was a light conference day, so several of my colleagues and I went to the Spanish Riding School to watch the Lipizzaners morning school to music and a tour of the school. It was in the main riding hall, which was really wonderful to see. The horses came out in groups of six, and some had some very young horses in the group. Watching it brought tears to my eyes.....I suddenly realized how much riding defines me. For 2 1/2 hours I was mesmerized, explaining to my colleagues (non horse people) what they were watching. Some of the horses were worked in hand, others under saddle. What a delight!

Thursday I went to see the girls after 8 days away. Getting out of the car after a long absence I always feel giddy in anticipation of wrapping my arms around their necks and taking in the lovely aroma of horse! Of course all was well with both of them, Nikki having returned earlier that day, and happily in her field grazing with Chester. She snuffled me and let me give her big hugs while handing out treats to her and Chester.

Suki gave me a little bit of a cold shoulder, but warmed up to after she was presented with horse-shaped gummies from the Spanish Riding School!

I just did an abbreviated spa treatment because my jet lag was beginning to catch up with me after my day at work. Travel issues leaving Vienna added to the stress, and I was probably STILL nursing a Dramamine hangover! But it was just so good to be home!

Today I had a short ride on Nikki in the 80 degree sunshine, likely the last of such days for awhile. That's okay. I welcome the fall and its glorious colors, and was greeted with a rainbow of leaves showering me and Nikki as we worked through our paces. Before you know it, the trees will be bare and the darkness of winter upon us. Each of the seasons offers a unique beauty, reminding me of why I love living in the northeast!

Suki greeted me with a hardy nicker and blocked Banker from me at every turn, even making snake face a few times! She was not in a sharing mood, declaring me hers, making it clear with her body language! I guess I have been forgiven for leaving...