Wednesday, February 29, 2012


Today we had to have our 9 year old cat, Rugby, put to sleep. In early January he had started to lose weight, but initially we assumed that it was because Cecil, the 2 year old cat that we adopted in October was eating most of the food. But when Rugby's weight dipped lower it was obvious that something was not right. He was still acting completely normal so I thought maybe it was his teeth or hyperthyroidism. I was not expecting to be told that Rugby had advanced kidney cancer and probably only had a few weeks to live. Because he was still bright and alert the veterinarian prescribed prednisone which would also stimulate his appetite. I felt that I had somehow failed my black and white kitty who we adopted at 8 weeks of age. Dr. Xxx assured me that I had not missed anything, and this was commonly how kidney cancer in cats progressed. Rugby has always been very attached to me. He follows me around, sleeps next to me and sits on the sink vanity every morning while I get ready for work. Tomorrow morning will be very difficult. I worry, too, about Isaiah. We told him that Rugby was very sick and would be going to heaven soon. These last 6 weeks have been a gift. I bought children's books about the death of a pet, and a really great one "Cat Heaven". During the past couple of days Rugby's appetite really decreased, and from Monday to Tuesday he really deteriorated. So we made the decision that in Rugby's best interest we would have him put to sleep. Last night we explained that Rugby would probably go to heaven the next day. This morning he cried as he said his good byes before leaving for school. Isaiah will turn 6 in a few days, and in his infinitely wise child perspective, told me not to be sad because Rugby will be able to fly from trees if he goes too high. And a special Angel will watch over him, while Rugby watches us from heaven. Part of what is so hard is that 9 is too young. Our cats always live until at least 20, so we feel a bit short-changed. But 9 (almost 10) years with Rugby is certainly better than to have never known or loved him..... RIP my sweet Rugby!
This morning I watched Nikki in a jump schooling, which definately lifeted my spirits, if only briefly. She is coming along so nicely, both over fences and with her dressage. Nikki is honest and bold over fences, and and adjustable within the gaits in spite of her age. The dressage training helps with that and the jumping helps her dressage. The variety is good for her young brain. Of course I am biased....but she is a beautiful mare! Today was very rainy so Suki was also in all day. When I went to groom her I threw my arms around her neck. I was comforted when she lowered her head over my shoulder and hugged me back. We are still battling very dry skin, so tonight's spa treatment was not just therapeutic for her, it was for me as well. Animals can read our feelings so well. Tonight as I write this Cecil (our other cat) is pacing in the family room, then wanders into the other rooms. I believe that he is looking for Rugby.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Happy horses

Suki was still in her pasture when I arrived at the barn. She was standing by the gate near the courtyard into which all of the paddocks open. The other horses were also at their respectives gates. At almost 4:30 they were clearly impatient that they had not yet been brought into their stalls for dinner. It was a beautiful day! Perfect weather for them to be outside. But horses love their schedules and live by them! Suki, of course saw my car as I made my way down the driveway, and was on her way over to the fence, talking the entire time. She is very careful about the electric fence, so cautiously took a bit of carrot from me.
After gathering her brushes and supplies I went back into the barn and out to the gate. Still on the other side Suki gave me the thrill of watching her floaty extended trot to the gate.....takes my breath away! I can't wait to get started with the long lining. I still need to build Suki's fitness level with lunging, but the weather is still a bit variable. By the end of March I think there will be more opportunities for regular work and a fitness program. The skin graft looks great, and I think a surcingle with saddle pad and padding is definately feasible. So much to look forward to as spring approaches. I continue to be amazed at how well it has healed.
Suki loves to be groomed, and loves when the itchy spots are rubbed with the exfoliation mitt. It starts as a trembling lip, then becomes a fiercly twitching lip. Ultimately that leads to her grooming me while I scratch her!
Then there is silly Suki, sticking out her tongue.... I honestly think that this girl truly LOVES life. Horses have such distinct individual personalities and it is such fun to watch them develop and discover who they are.
Had a lovely ride on Nikki today too. When I went out to get her from her pasture she was very excited to see me and trotted right up to the gate. I gave her a piece of granola bar (the girls love the Nature's Valley oat bars)and she snuggled into my arm. However, when I grabbed her halter from the fence she seemed suddenly less than excited...who can blame her! It was sunny and in the mid 40's, and I was bringing her in to work. But as usual Nikki was a delight under saddle, rewarding me with sharp canter transitions and easy lateral work. It is so much fun to watch her develop. Our ritual after I dismount is head snuggles. I give her a kiss on the nose then she buries her head in my arms....all is good in the world!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Firey Photos

Lovely ride on Nikki this morning. It was a bit chilly, still in the upper 20's, but the promise of a sunny day in the 40's was evident. As opposed to the snow squall and extreme winds of yesterday! Nikki was not lazy at all this morning and moved easily off my leg as I asked her to work. She was in a pleasant mood in spite of having to wait for her breakfast! Suki was only slightly muddy tonight but she was in a really happy mood. I have found that when I miss a day of moisturizing her skin is quite dry. The skin on Suki's neck is dry every day, but is exposed to the air, as opposed to the now very greasy shell that she wears under her blanket. As usual I was greeted with a happy nicker when I walked into her stall. Then, when I walk into her stall Suki feels that it is necessary to claim her stake on me and make faces at Banker, in the stall next to her. He is completely unmoved by her antics. Suki has certainly met her match! On Friday I posted photos from the barn fire on Suki's FB page. I have been trying to make contact with the firefighters who rescued Suki from the barn, with little success. Several months after the fire I had emailed the firefighter who was supposedly the person who had taken Suki out of the barn. I thanked him, and said that perhaps he would like to come see Suki, and meet me, so that I could thank him in person. At the time he seemed open to it, but it never materialized. Then I was told that it may have been a different fire company that had rescued her, as two companies were first to arrive. So I have tried to contact them as well..... The photos that appeared on the Exeter Township Fire Department website are truly horrific. I cried when I saw them. Why would I do that to myself?? Seeing those photos made me realize (once again) what a miracle is that Suki survived. The response on Facebook was more than what I expected. But I wanted others to also see the miracle, that is Suki, and give credit to those amazing firefighters who started the chain of events that led to her recovery and survival. Kelly, who owns the rehab farm and who cared for Suki upon her dischardge from New Bolton had heard that the firefighters were being honored by the Red Cross, and droppped off a letter that day. If I had known about the location I would probably have crashed (although I believe that it was open to the public!). Kelly sent me the letter and gave me permission to add it to this post. I will put it at the end of this post, because I am still struggling with formatting issues..... Saturday morning I met my friend Bobbi for breakfast. Bobbi's horse Whisby was in the fire, and was the horse that Suki stayed with that night as they rran with fear to escape the chaos. Whihsby suffered a shoulder injury from breaking through the pasture fence, but her only burns were pock sized ember burns. Bobbi and her husband drove Suki to New Bolton in the middle of the night.... We no longer board at the same barn, and I miss that. We don't get together as often as we should, which always seems to happen because of everyone's busy schedules and daily responsibilities. It was wonderful to see Bobbi and catch up on what was going on in our lives and with our horses. We always talk about the fire at some point, because I believe it just helps us heal. Bobbi said that she was told that a horse came out of the barn on fire....we know that was Suki. She said when the horses were finally found several miles away, she could not believe Suki's condition. Her beautiful copper coat had turned black, and the top almost appeared to be smoldering. When she tried to open her swollen eyes, they appeared a ghostly blue with white, clearly having been severely burned during her exit from the barn. Suki and Whisby stood side by side in the field. While Suki was being examined, Whisby was loaded onto the trailer. Bobbi said that her horse just kept stomping and whinnying, looking for her friend. Suki was loaded and the first leg of the trip began. Whisby would be dropped off at a local farm, but Suki, of course needed to go to the hospital. In the middle of the night, with no sleep, Bobbi and Dave drove Suki the 1 1/2 hours to Kennett Square. Before they arrived, Bobbi had to top to use the rest room. When she checked Suki in the trailer, she was amzed by what she saw. Suki was standing quietly, greeting Bobbi when she opened the side door. I am continuing to compile details about that night, and I plan on getting together with Bobbi and Vicki (whose horses were not in the barn that night, but she was there when the girls were finally found).
Pretty frightening.... Here is Kelly's letter: Dear Mr. Treivel, It is with great respect and gratitude that I draft this letter to you. A journey started for me many months ago that has been one of endless emotions, doorways and moments of absolute awe. None of the steps taken over the last nine months would have been possible with out your existence in this world. I think you may be surprised at the many lives you impacted the night you selflessly entered a burning barn to free its frightened occupants. Your gift of dedication and determination is one that keeps on giving. My name is Kelly Buss and I would like to join in honoring your Heroics on the night of July 9th 2009. One of the horses you saved that night, Suki, came to me for recovery after about 6 weeks at New Bolton Center . In an amazing haze of being at the right place, talking to the right person and deciding against my own better judgment, I agreed to care for Suki and it has been an absolutely fabulous experience. Suki came to my farm right as my youngest child was leaving for college. My nest was empty, but due to the new occupant in the barn and her many needs, my husband I were kept very busy. This greatly helped to ease and fill time that had once been dedicated to meeting the needs of a young woman now finding her own way. Through the time with Suki, I have become extremely fond of her mother Fran, whose dedication to this lovely mare knows no bounds. Together the three of us have weathered tears, tense moments, and some long nights, but through it have forged a friendship that goes beyond any of our early expectations. Fran absolutely loves this mare and through your selflessness, you are allowing this remarkable duo to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Suki and Fran recently met with a young man who has suffered severe burns of his own, and were able to share time with he and his family and spoke of the treatments that both Suki and he had received. I believe Suki will be an inspiration to this young man and perhaps others who hear her story and know of the positive outcome. I am familiar with one of the owners of another horse you freed that night, Bobby Bullard. I met her and her mare Whisby at a farm a few years ago and can attest to her devotion to her horse as well. She too will be forever grateful to you for the life you gave her. Watching your recent interview I cried tears that seemed for a time to know no end. Your words of the heat and the awareness of items falling and landing on you that were also falling on the horses, brought the severity of that situation even more into perspective. As a horse person, it was warming to hear your concern for what was happening to the poor innocent creatures held captive in stalls as they knew a fear and a desperation that is thankfully beyond my recognition. Watching the video of the flames, I wondered how much more horrible and loud it had all been that night as the horror transpired. To see flames that lit up a night sky and covered so much area and appeared to burn so hot, I am ever more convinced that you are a Hero, for I wonder despite my love, would I have been paralyzed by fear and unable to do what you did. I hope to never know that answer. Thanks to you and the many other folks who responded that night, lives were saved, prayers were answered and what could have been a story of devastating loss, is instead one of thankfulness and heroic actions. As I read and re-read this, I feel I am missing the mark to let you know how much you have given so many people. I could write and write, citing the different moments in time that have occurred due to your actions that night, and this is only in my limited knowledge of our small circle, but this letter is already long winded enough. God Bless You for your chosen walk. You wear the boots well Sir, and they will never be filled so well by another. Forever Grateful and Indebted to you, Kelly Buss Magic Happens Farms

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Windy day

Beautiful, warm day today though uncharacteristic for February in Pennsylvania. When I walked out to get Nikki the sun felt warm on my face with a bit of a breeze picking up. I walked to the back part of the farm to the paddock that Nikki is usually in and called her name. No response. Then I realized that there were two horses in the paddock and Nikki goes out by herself now (she was being naughty about getting caught when she was out with her friend Andi!). As I looked around at the other paddocks I heard Nikk's voice calling to me. I turned back toward her voice and she looked at me, calling again. She almost appeared to be worried that I didn't see her. As I made my way around to the gate Nikki followed and practically threw herself into my arms when I opened the gate! It was the sweetest gesture! Yesterday she was turned out next to the foal, and I was told that she was reaching over the fence and licking the baby. The first time I met Nikki she walked up to me and rested her head on me like a big dog. While she has her occassional marish moments, and can sometimes be territorial in her stall, for the most part Nikki continues to be a sweet girl and a delight to ride. I am so looking forward to show season! Driving home I passed the cows lazily dozing in the afternoon sun. When I drove past the former Pink Star I started to turn away, when a cloud of bay caught my eye. The wind must have starteled the yearlings in their field, causing them to gallop across the hill and down to the shed. Manes and tails flying they turned wide slowing as they approached the gate. Then more than a dozen bay heads turned in the direction of whatever had frightened them. I could practically feel the earth move! Such a contrast to the sleepy cows! I am not having much success connecting with additional groups or individuals for Suki to meet as a therapy horse. Maybe I am just not looking in the right place. In addition to burn survivors, FB fans who are struggling with illness, cancer survivors, special needs, etc have spoken about how Suki inspires them. She has the ability to help people simply by being who she is, and for making it through a tragedy with her spirit intact. I am a bit hesitant to contact support groups because they might think it is creepy, but maybe some of the students in the therapeutic riding program for which I will be volunteering will be interested. I seem to have lost my connection with the person who originally was involved with burn survivors, so I guess I just have to do more investigating. Because of the warm afternoon and the soft footing I decided to lunge Suki today. We need to get back to a regular routine of work in preparation for long lining. February is not usually the time to start that, but the spring-like weather has me dreaming big! She was a little silly on the walk to the arena, and id a few leaps on the lunge line at first....but I pushed her forward and she settled nicely into work. We just did 5 minutes in each direction since her fitness level is not great, and I just asked her to do big loose trots and canters. The wind certainly kept her moving forward but she did listen to my commands. Such a good girl! She called to the horses once, but stopped when I growled at her. I think we both enjoyed it. Hopefully we can do that again on Saturday, although it is supposed to be quite windy, and I don't want her to be nutty and cause injury. I guess we'll see!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Girls

When I arrive at the barn, the frigid February air feels refreshing on my face as I get out of the car. The gravel crunches beneath my feet and I anticipate the greeting that I will receive from Suki when I open the barn door. As the first person to enter the barn in the morning you are always greeted with enthusiasm, and big brown eyes blink sleepily at you as they focus into the sudden burst of light. Suki knows the sound of my car, and even as the other horses are talking, her voice stands alone as she speaks her greeting. The air is still frosty but will turn warmer later in the morning, too warm for the heavy blanket that she needed to wear over night, so I have come to replace it with a blanket of lighter weight. “Good morning Big Girl”, I coo to her as I open the door to her stall. Suki rewards me with a nuzzle and another soft nicker, making my heart flip like no other sound can. As I pull off the heavier blanket I reach under the protective sheet to check the bandage. This morning, as usual (knock on wood) it is intact. This is a bonus on a cold morning since low temperatures cause the temperamental Elasticon to have adhesive issues. A few more treats, a hug and I am out the door to go to Valley Mist to ride Nikki. I always enjoy my drive between the two barns. The peaceful back roads of the rural Oley Valley unfold to display the sun rising from behind the mountains. Passing horse farms, dairy farms and beautiful stone houses and barns, my favorite part is the drive through a covered bridge. I pass an occasional dog out for an early morning run with its owner, but at this early hour on a weekend I am alone on the roads with my thoughts and my daydreams. Again I walk into a still darkened barn. This time I am not greeted by hungry horses calling to me, which means they were fed before the others left for the show. "Good morning Princess Nikki!" I called. Nikki's deep voice answered. Early mornings on the weekend I am usually alone as I get ready to ride. Speaking softly to Nikki, I groom her beautiful bay coat massage her face with a soft brush. The arena is quiet as we prepare to work. Nikki was a bit reluctant to get to work. I had forgotten to put on my spurs and she was just being lazy. A quick burst of walk-trot transitions in rapid succession and she was focused and listening. Yay! I found the baby dressage horse! She was just sleeping. From there it was a delightful ride, with nice lateral work and sharp transitions. At our final transition to the walk, Nikki let out a huge sigh and I praised her. By the time I exited the arena the barn was bustling with activity. As I Remove Nikki's tack and groom her, I take time to snuggle her face and talk to her. Nikki is especially cuddly after our rides, and turns around to snuggle while I am grooming her. Additional bonding time is so essential for a successful bond and partnership. A lovely morning indeed. This is Nikki in her new hunter bridle. I ride her in a black dressage bridle, but she needed her own hunter bridle for when Meaghan rides her....I think she looks stunning!
Following my ride I rushed home to shower and get ready to take Isaiah to a birthday party. Michael had done the past 3 birthday parties, so I was long over due! Later that I afternoon I returned to Suki for her grooming, exfoliation, etc. Suki welcomes me again, knowing that the visit will be longer, and snuggles her head into my jacket. A lovely day, into a peaceful evening....

Monday, February 20, 2012

Itchy day

Today I expected Suki to be really muddy because of the warmer temperatures. But the ground was dry enough for the horses to go out in their regular pastures, so there was less mud. However, as I was turned into the farm driveway, the owner stopped me. "I just wanted to let you know that Suki broke the strap on her blanket today," he said. One of the metal fasteners on the belly surcingle had stretched from a previous roll, so I was not surprised. It will be very easy for the blanket lady to fix. I have one of the best horse blanket wash/repair people in the world. Donna has worked wonders with some of the most mangled blankets you can imagine. In the fall when I was completely behind on my saddle pad washing, I sent a whole pile to be washed to give myself a big head start....but I must confess that I have not been diligent, and fear that I may fall behind again! There is always so much laundry though! In my defense, I did wash several sets of polo wraps over the weekend.... When I saw the blanket I assumed it had been an itchy day. And I was SO right. But fortunately there were only a few muddy spots on Suki. The only damage to the blanket was the fastener on the one surcingle. There weren't any tears or other missing straps. I started with the exfoliation mitt, which is very soft. Typically I massage Suki's face and head, although she does not always allow me to move up by her ears. On extremely itchy days I hold the mitt stationary in front of Suki's face. She moves her head up and down and side to side to get all of the right itchy spots. Then I moved to the right side of her neck, where the skin is always quite dry. Flakes were flying everywhere! In fact I am certain that I am wearing a bit of it in my hair! When I removed the bandage from the graft area there was still more dry skin. Once again I used the mitt. For this I stand on a stool so that I can see Suki's back while I exfoliate. Suki uses her entire body for this. She rocks forward and back, with her lips wiggling wildly! Often she turns around and grooms me at the same time. I like to lean over her back and hug her when I am on the stool, and am usually rewarded with a hug in return. Suki turns her head and neck all the way back and rests her chin on my back....yes, she is that flexible. The exfoliation process is followed by a thorough brushing. Then the dry skin is moisturized and massaged. It is indeed a spa treatment. I should be so lucky as to have such daily skin care! There was some mild bruising on her withers today, which I am attributing to the aggressive rolling. This seems to occur only occasionally, but I may need to add some foam padding in the blanket to prevent it. I may have to do that with all of her sheets, blankets and fly sheets. It is unlikely hat hair will ever grow in that spot, and without much fat to pad the bone, it is a prime spot for bruising. With the dirty medium weight blanket needing repair, I moved on to the next one. It is too warm for the heavy blanket so I had to unwrap another clean medium weight. It is supposed to be a bit warmer tomorrow so in the morning before I head to the office I will need to change Suki into a heavy sheet. I wish the weather would either be cold or warm. The constant blanket changing is driving me crazy! On Monday I usually don't ride, so I am looking forward to that tomorrow.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Dreams and reality

Last night I dreamed that I was riding Suki. I could feel the floaty trot and the rocking horse canter. Initially when I woke up, around 3 AM, I was certain that it was real. In fact, it took a few minutes to realize time and place. So when I left my house at 7:15 to ride Nikki, it was particularly difficult to drive past the site of the fire. I drive past the former Pink Star Equestrian several times a week. Sometimes I glance over to where the barn once stood, sometimes not. I often look at the horses in the fields, now that it is a standardbred breeding farm. Today I felt my heart jump as I drove past, and took a longer way home after I rode Nikki, so that I would not have to drive past it again. My weekend rides on Nikki were truly lovely, and I can see the fine dressage horse that she is becoming. Tonight my abs and legs can feel the effects of the weekend workout. A fair amount of sitting trot and lateral work....felt great!
Today I count my blessings. Sometimes I forget to do that. Suki continues to thrive beyond what anyone ever expected. She is always happy to see me and I am always happy to see her. The time spent caring for her is rewarding and improves her quality of life as well as mine. Yes, it is a huge comittment, but animals always are. I have to order more Elasticon for her bandage. The tack stores no longer carry that brand and it is really the only one that adheres well. While the cost is higher, I have to change it less frequently, so it all balances out in the end! January 2012 The graft continues to improve, and I do think that the skin is becoming a bit tougher. Padding still required, but maybe by the time blanket season ends the extra padding of a bandage will no longer be necessary. Either way, I think that the surcingle for long lining, with saddle pad and foam pad will be fine. It is time for me to consult with the Toklat or Thin Line folks about a custom saddle pad.
Even through agressive rolling (daily!) we seem to be doing okay. This is such a relief. Suki somehow got a small abrasion over her left eye. The skin above her eyes does not have hair, and is a bit thinner and more likely to open with a small bump. While this cut is not large, it is always important to clean and treat. As Suki has become suspicious to any work on her head since the fire, this too requires treats in one hand while treating the small cut. It is healing well, so there are no real concerns.
This is a collage of recent photos taken by a friend.... I think it is beautiful! Short post tonight...busy weekend and very tired.....back to normal tomorrow!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

We've come a long way! December 2011

Dec 2011: It is hard to believe that it has been nearly 2 1/2 years since the fire. The skin graft was performed in March, and when I see how beautifully it has healed it makes me angry with myself that I waited so long to have it done. I guess I thought that it would heal on its own, because it had come so close on several occasions. But I try to go through life without regrets, so the most important thing is that healing is complete. When I look at Suki everyday I no longer see the physical scars of her ordeal. The wonderful thing about animals is that they are not aware that they look different from the others. There is no emotional baggage to carry with the physical scars in this case. She does not worry about how she looks to others. Now this is probably not so true with animals that have been abused, as it takes some time for many of them to trust and be comfortable with humans. That IS emotional baggage, for sure. In Suki's mind she is still the beautiful super model that she always has been, and this is indeed true. She has a beautiful spirit and mind and has taught me that beauty has nothing to do with how we look. Suki can teach this to everyone, in a world that holds physical beauty with such high regard. I admit to doing it myself. When I read Vogue, I do not want to see "every day people" in the clothes. I like the beautiful photographs on the perfect bodies. This is probably part of my own baggage left over from my ballet days! But when I see Suki, so secure and happy with who she is, I only see beauty. The first photo is one month after the fire.
two years + 5 months post fire
By December 2011 the graft site looked amazing, and I watch in awe as it shrinks in size. Whenever someone looks at it who has not seen it in awhile they are impressed with its progression and insist that some day I will ride her again. I won't go that far, but I know that she will be able to wear a surcingle in the spring for long lining. I better start looking for a new bridle for Suki!
The weather has been a bit crazy, so I am constantly changing the girls between different weights of sheets and blankets. It's crazy! With Christmas getting closer and another conference I was beginning to feel a bit stressed as well. The conference falls at a critical pre-Christmas preparation time so I always feel rushed as the holidays approach. Spending time with my horses always helps me to relax and take the edge off though! When I returned from the conference I was spending a nice early morning pre-ride with Nikki. She is typically cranky because I ride her before she eats breakfast. But on this particular mornign she was as sweet as could be, snuggling with me while I prepped for our ride. We had a lovely ride and she was even MORE snuggly post-ride. I wanted time to stop for just a bit, so that I could feel that conentment for a few moments longer! That same day Suki was also extra cuddly. She groomed me a little more gently than usual while I exfoliated her back, and rested her head on my chest while I massaged her face and ears. They just know, don't they? Like dogs and cats who sense when we are upset, they give us the extra closeness that will improve our mood. February 15, 2012: Mud, mud, mud. Suki out did herself today with the rolling. I walked into her stall, and there she was, head to toe mud! She arched her neck and brought her face down to mine, coming in close for our face to face greeting. A low rumble is released from those beautiful comma-shaped nostrils and as I step blank she looks directly into my eyes. Sometimes I ponder what she might be thinking. You know something sweet and soulful. But Suki is more likely to be thinking TREATS! Where are the treats?! With Michael out of town and Isaiah in the car, I had to leave her the way she was, other than hosing the mud off her legs. A quick check to be sure there are newly acquired scrapes and a reach under the blanket to check her comfort and the status of the bandage, and we are good to go. One more peppermint and I am on my way. I swear she was snickering at me because she knew there was nothing I could do about her muddy state! Next week I will be speaking with the attending emergency veterinarian who admitted Suki at New Bolton. Last week I spoke to the resident who received her. Dr.K is no longer at New Bolton, but I have continued to keep in touch with her and send updates about Suki's progress. I am looking forawrd to speaking with her and learning even more about that fateful night and the weeks that followed.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Therapeutic Riding

On Sunday I participated in volunteer training for an assisted riding program near my home. It is something that I have been thinking about for a long time, and a way to share my love of horses and riding. This particular training is for a supporting role, not for instructors. OUr job will be to get the horses ready for the lessons, clean tack or whatever else may need to be taken care of around the barn. In addition we may lead the horse during the lesson (depending on the ability of the rider)or be a side walker. Some of the students will be unsteady in the saddle, so someone must walk on either side holding the saddle and arm draped across the rider's thigh for support. The day was quite cold and windy, but six of the seven volunteers that were expected did indeed arrive for training. I was expecting the group to have a fair amount of riding and horse experience like myself. Instead the group consisted of 3 adults and three young adults. Two of the three young women had some riding experience but not recent. The third young woman had no horse experience at all. She had been looking for a place to volunteer so that she could learn about horses and work in exchange for the privilege of riding. The other two girls also wanted to earn riding time. The two other adult volunteers had limited horse experience but were very interested in just spending time with horses and possibly being able to ride as well. Often, I believe, that those of us who have our own horses and ride regularly, spending several hours a day with our equine companions, take for granted how fortunate we are. With the volunteer program at Shady Hollow, ten hours of volunteer work earns a riding lesson. Would it be wrong of me to offer my volunteer hours to the girl who has no experience and is desperate to ride? I was that girl once. I would have done anything to earn more riding time, and I did. When someone wants it that badly, it is nice to be able to give them a little bit more. The owner of one of the early barns where I rode, saw that in me. He offered me a horse to ride that was owned by someone who did not have the time to maintain the horse's fitness and training. It was the best spring and summer of my life, and preceded my first experience as a working student. The value of that experience was phenomenal. I am going to ask the coordinator at Shady Hollow if I can offer my hours to that girl. We were taught how to groom the horses and tack them up for lessons. Of course, I can do all of that in my sleep, but it is always interesting to watch what others are doing and to join in the comraderie of learning. I had never put a Western saddle on a horse before, so that was certainly a new experience for me anyway! It wasn't too cold in the barn, but once we headed into the arena it was a bit chilly to say the least! The wind was whipping outside, and the arena is only partially enclosed. But all of that is forgotten as we learned our roles as horse leaders and side walkers. I think at some point I would like to train to be a therapeutic riding instructor, but this is a great way to start. The program offers lessons April through October, and accommodates all levels of physical and mental disabilities. The value of therapeutic riding has been demonstrated time and again. For those who are unable to walk, they are suddenly more mobile than they have ever been and develop a bond with the horses. I know that I certainly feel better every time I put my foot in the stirrup! While Suki will never be suitable for that type of program, her gift is to offer therapy simply by being visited, fussed over and groomed by those who may need the emotional therapy. She has already provided inspiration to her fellow burn survivors, and to individuals suffering from illness. Suki inspires me with her courage and spirit, motivating me to want to improve the world around me. I look forward to my first chance to volunteer!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Continued progress (November 2011) and current musings

I know this photo is dark, but I love Suki's expression in it!
Graft Site, autumn 2011: notice the tufts of hair on some of the plugs! The graft site continued to heal beautifully, with the entire area of pink delicate skin shrinking. I am now certain that Suki will be able to wear a surcingle in the spring so that we can begin the long lining work. Wouldn't it be wonderful if by 2013 we could perform in exhibitions such as at some of the horse expos or shows!
The other night I spoke to the resident from New Bolton who was one of the admitting doctors the night of the fire. As I contine to write the book I have started to arrange interviews with the many people involved in Suki's rescue, treatment and recovery. Many of them witnessed key events including those at which I was not present. Their insights and details will offer more depth and understanding for the book. When Dr. X received the call, the team who would meet Suki when she arrived at the hospital prepared to admit a horse that was critically injured, most likely in respiratory distess. The team anticipated performing a tracheotomy, as horses involved in barn fires have severely damaged and swollen air passages. When Suki arrived and the trailer doors were opened, the entire trailer smelled like fire. Suki, whose skin was charred and black over most of her body, quietly stepped off the trailer. Her eyes were swollen completely closed, all of the hair on her head and face gone, with badly burned skin exposed. Dr. X was surprised that Suki's breathing appeared normal and she calmly walked beside them to enter the hospital. Once led into the stall Suki began nibbling on hay and looking for more to eat. This, Dr. X said, is a horse that you know has a chance to survive, although the road ahead would not be an easy one. She was amazed that throughout her entire stay in ICU, that hearty appetite never wavered! Dr. X described many of the difficulties encountered while trying to treat Suki. The extensive wounds on her body could cause many complications, including skin infection, systemic infection and laminitis. Whenever there is a harsh assault on a horse's body the threat of laminitis is ever present, and for many, what causes them to loses the battle. With damaged airways and possibly damaged lungs, pneumonia and respiratory distress were also concerns as Suki was monitored daily. That first day every specialist at New Bolton examined Suki: opthalmologist, surgery, orthopedasts, internists, etc. Human burn specialists were consulted. Severe burns are not routinely seen (although lately there seem to be too many)and the veterinary team needed advice. Dr. X strongly believes that Suki would not have survived without spending time in a university hospital setting. The extra care from dedicated veterinary students and nurses 24 hours a day were crucial to the success of this case. We marveled at Suki's ability to just raise her head and escape from their grasp. Oh, but that team became quite proficient in handling Suki, another testament to their strength and dedication. Dr. X again reinforced that while the care and treatment that Suki received saved her life, so did Suki's shear will to live. February 12, 2012: Suki now has me trained to feed her a handful of treats while I moisturize her ears. I know, this is just perpetuating bad behavior, although sometimes I just pretend there is something in my hand....With closed fingers I reach down in front of Suki's nose, forcing her to seek out the treats from beneath my fingers as I reach up with the other hand to moisturize her ears. Yes, this breaks many training rules. But for now, with the alternative of Suki throwing her head high in the air and hitting a beam or a light, it will just have to suffice! I don't allow her to get away with other indiscretions such as pawing while on cross ties. This is a lesson that I am also working on with Nikki who at nearly age 5, still demonstrates the impatience of a baby. I use the "princess stick" (jumping bat) to whack her when she paws in the crossties. Typically that is met with a bemused look by the little princess, but I do think we are gaining some ground. She had developed a habit of misbehaving while having her saddle put on. Last time I was met with that was when Suki's back was bothering her. This is not the case with Nikki, as I investigated that possibility immediately. We worked through it and now she stands patiently while the saddle is put in place and the girth lightly tightened. She does't like to have her belly groomed, so the saddle issue may have been a case of me tightening the girth too quickly for her. I never tighten it quickly on any horse, but maybe she is a bit more sensitive about it. Lovely, although short ride yesterday. With today's frigid temperature and high winds I did not do my 7:30 AM ride.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Autumn 2011: making progress

During September and October I was able to take advantage of some reasonable cool days and good footing to lunge Suki more regularly. The first day after two weeks away from lunging, Suki was a little fresh but but listened well. The walk to the arena required a some of our leading exercises to re-focus because some of the horses were calling to her and (gasp) looking at her! Once in the arena our lunging session began with a few hops and leaps and a couple of squeals. I ask for a lot of transitions to discourage the behavior and focus on the work at hand. Some people allow horses to gallop around on the lunge to get the energy out. That is not my training philosophy. Now, of course there are times when leaping and bucking just happens, but I do my best to encourage the use of that energy in a more positive way. I have always found that asking for many transitions in rapid succession helps to gain the hors'e attention. When I have that I then ask for more forward gaits to help tame some of that excess energy. I am not a professional trainer, of course, but have worked with a lot of different people over the years and have learned something from everyone (in some cases I learned what NOT to do!) With consistent lunging Suki's superior lunging skills were refined once again. Even without the use of a surcingle and side reins I was able to ask her to shorten and lengthen stride within the gaits, and get square halts from the trot. Just going around and around on the lunge has to be boring. Mixing it up a bit and making it a true schooling session which I think has more benefits physically and mentally. I was pleased to be able to give Suki some consistent work. Before long it would be too dark at the end of the day and the arena footing would become unsuitable for work. The graft site also continued to improve, and I was thrilled! Weekly I was sending photos of the area to Dr. Fugaro so that he could watch his masterpiece progress!
Preparing for winter, I received the second batch of blankets back from the blanket lady. The girls were still wearing their light sheets during the day and medium at night, but with the weather beginning to shift it would be time for the heavier blankets. The colder weather also meant that the skin on Suki's face and neck would require extra maintenance and switching back to the heavy duty moisturizer. Although her long mane covers her neck, the skin gets quite dry in the colder weather.
Another sign of improvement was that it was no longer necessary to change the bandage daily. As long as it was intact and not rumpled I would let it go to every other day. Suki was truly on her way to becoming a regular horse again. I was beginning to REALLY believe that she would eventually be bandage-free! This was also a bit of relief as it made my other responsibilities less stressful. On days when Michael travelled and I was picking up Isaiah from school, it was possible to just stop in and do a quick Suki check. Unlike any other time in her life, there were days when Suki was allowed to be dirty! I'm sure she enjoys that. Nikki also continued to thrive and progress at Valley Mist and I enjoyed being part of a show barn atmosphere. While I can enjoy the laid back approach at times, I really prefer to be with other riders who have competition goals on top of their training goals. I am in no way belittling riders who don't have competition goals, it's just that I like that atmosphere and I really like to push myself. Having boarded with practically every type of rider at some point, I realize that we have a common goal when it comes to the care of our horses. Some people prefer to never set foot in a competition arena, but they do enjoy improving their horse and themselves. Others are content with trail riding and the bonding that accompanies it. I don't, however, like barns with a a lot of drama, cliques and gossiping. That's not the type of competition I am looking for! Fall vaccinations were also upon us. Nikki is a star for the veterinarian, but Suki, as we well know, has a serious distaste for anyone brandishing a needle and syringe! Fortunately she just needed one booster and it was done intranasally. That caught her off guard, and let's just say that Miss Suki was not exactle pleased that she had been tricked! Dr. Tony held it out to show it to her and as she sniffed it (I love the way horses shove a nostril onto anything they wish to sniff)and he squirted it up her nose. Hmmmm. He probably won't get away with that again! February9, 2012 Snow last night, but not enough to have any fun. Just enough to cause slick roads. The temperature was supposed to reach the upper 40's today, but it didn't quite make it. The sun felt warm though, and Nikki was quietly dozing in her field when went to retrieve her! I called her name when I saw her sleeping and she lifted her head and called back to me, picking up a big loose trot to greet me at the gate. Suki was doing a bit of showing off yesterday. One of the boarders has an injury, and can only be hand walked in the arena. So yesterday while Allen was being hand walked Suki performed her extended trot, passage, piaffe, collected canter with changes, etc. Such a show off!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Live and learn (September 2011)

By this time the graft site was completely healed, but the skin still pink and tender. The bandage was no longer needed to dress the wound, but to serve as extra padding to protect the delicate new skin. The individual plug sites continued to merge, and beginning to darken. It was suggested to me that perhaps the special sheet along with her regular sheet would be enough protection, without the need for a bandage. I was obsessed with the bandaging and though perhaps I was just being overly cautious. The special shell was certainly doing its job, and there was no longer an open wound, so in theory it made sense.
See the bruising? Lesson learned. Always go with your gut! The wound did not re-open so I was grateful for that. But obviously the skin was still a bit too delicate to be left without the extra bandaging. So back to the bandaging! Completely fine with me. Whatever was necessary to ensure success. We had struggled for far too long to take any additional risks. Within a few weeks the graft area was looking better than ever! The entire area appeared to be shrinking, as the dark pigment closed in.
Dressage at Devon begins as I return from a European conference each year. So jetlagged and cranky I took the day off from work and attended on Friday, the first full performance day. As usual it had rained leading up to the show so it was a bit of a muddy day. I looked forward to watching the young horse tests because my plan is to ride Nikki in the 5 year old dressage tests in 2012. I usually invite someone to go with me, but this time I went solo. Since many of my friends attend also, there is never a shortage of people to hang out with, watch the horses and in some cases avoid certain folks altogether! I know that sounds terrible, but sometimes you just get tired of certain people telling you how fabulous they are! I didn't stay into the evening because I needed to get home to take care of Suki. I had ridden Nikki early that morning and in spite of my fatigue I had a wonderful ride. As usual, the troubles of the world melted away as I climbed into the saddle to ride my beautiful baby. Because I had asked Deb to take care of Suki while I was at ESMO in Stockholm for the week, I did not want to ask again. Plus, I knew that jetlag would eventually take its toll, so it was best to head home. As always, I saw some really lovely, well-trained horses and riders and some, well, not so much. But hey, they are at Devon putting it out there for everyone to see, so maybe it was just a little green-eyed monster that made me be so critical of some! I certainly don't want people saying not very nice things about me from the rail! When I returned from the show this is waht I was greeted with.....the day had been warm enough for only the shell....
Suki is truly talented when it comes to rolling. Let's just say it took a lot of work to get her clean! The temperature had dropped and it was too cool to give Suki a bath. By the time I was finished my entire body was bathed in the dust and dirt that had once been caked on Suki. top it off she did a nice BIG shake just to finish the job! I believe she was laughing at me. As soon as I saw her I said my usual "Oh Suki!", and she dropped her head and peeked out at me from under her forelock. It's a mischievous look, and one that indicates she really feels no remorse in her behavior, but will humor you for treats! February 7, 2012 Whenever I am with Suki and another horse is near, she makes snake face, pinning her ears and shaking her head at them. Today when i went out to retrieve Nikki from her paddock, the horse in the paddock next to her came right up to us looking for some treats as well. Nikki turned to him with ears forward and a pleasant expression, even allowing me to give him some treats without having a nervous breakdown. So sweet! I also noticed that her face is starting to get fuzzy again. She was blanket clipped in November (thank goodness...with these warmer days she would NEVER cool down!)She even gave me face nuzzles, and never made an evil face at the other horse. Not that she never makes evil faces, because she certainly does. But she typically does not interact with other horses that way. Maybe she is still growing into her divahood!

Monday, February 6, 2012

End of the summer 2011

Welcome to new readers from around the world! As summer came to an end, 2 years after the fire, the graft site seemed well on its way to being completely healed. The special sheet was the key to success. The skin surrounding that site is dry, but because we need the bandage for additional padding, I can't moisturize that section....the Elasticon won't stick....But look how beautiful!
It was sometimes challenging to run between two barns, but I needed to have Suki close to home, and Nikki needed an indoor so that we could train regardless of weather. Since May when the girls came home we settled into a complicated, constantly changing routine. Okay, perhaps routine is not really a great word to use, but in my mind it is a routine. Changes occur according my travel or my husband's and just situations that can arise from daily life. But somehow everything manages to be accomplished (usually) by the end of the day! Some days I feel like I have failed miserably at everything! The girls always make me feel good, regardless of the type of day or week that I have had. With their distinct personalities (although baby Nikki is seriously becoming a diva, because she knows that she is talented!)Grooming Suki and performing her "spa treatment" is relaxing and therapeutic. She responds to her treatments by swaying back and forth, wiggling her lips or leaning into me (all 1400 lbs of her!). Nikki and I are developing that same bond. As a four year old though, she gets a little impatient if grooming takes too long, but is a star when it comes to clipping and mane pulling. She is also not as into hugs pre-ride, which I think is really funny. Granted, on the weekends I ride her at 7:30 AM, so she doesn't get to have breakfast until after our ride! That may have something to do with it....As soon as I put my foot in the stirrup all extraneous worries, stresses and thoughts are completely banished from my brain! It's just me and Nikki. And she is an absolute delight to ride! After our ride Nikki is super snuggly. We go forehead to forehead and I give her hugs and nuzzles. Then she wipes the foam from her mouth on my shirt.... gotta love it! She is like a big puppy sometimes, and probably the most sensible 4 year old I have ever ridden. I love my girls! Me and Isaiah riding together!
At the end of the summer Lori brought another burn survivor to meet Suki. Ms XX had been a rider, and owned a couple of horses. She was badly burned in a brush fire, and was still undergoing treatments. Once again I watched Suki transform a new friend. Ms. XX gave Suki treats and spoke to her softly. She wore gloves because of the severe burns on her hands, and rubbed them over Suki's body. Suki leaned into her touch, arched her neck and brought her head into Ms. XX. I wish I could put into words what takes place. It is two living beings who have endured similar pain, bonding without the need for words. It is sensory, emotion and understanding. Ms. XX, like most people was nearly brought to tears as she thought about what Suki had endured. There was a calm, quiet understanding between the two. I am humbled by this experience. It defies science and medicine, which as a scientist used to be difficult for me to understand. But as I witness these events I realize that some things just can't be explained.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

A life worth living

Suki's survival has been such a gift. Initially, the intensity of the tragedy and the early days of recovery were overwhelming. And while some may not like the comparison that I am about to make, it is a lot like having a special needs child. Suki has needs and requiremnts that go above and beyond what a healthy horse has. Of course horse ownership is a huge responsibility as it is. These are animals that depend on us for survival, and we owe it to them to do the very best that we can. But when I compare the needs of Suki and Nikki, there is quite a difference. If I do not get to Nikki's barn, I know that she is fine, and her needs have been met. When I am with her I groom, ride and fuss over her, trying to spend time beyond just the work part of our relationship because that is an important part of our relationship. In order to be competitive, Nikki and I must train 5-6 days a week, which is a huge commitment. When Suki left New Bolton for the rehabilitation farm I was still not involved the multiple times a day treatment required. By the time we moved to a regular boarding situation the treatments were less frequent and less intensive, but I underestimated the amount of time that was necessary for her daily requiremnts. On top of that I was bringing home a 3 year old (Nikki), so she would need to be ridden 4 days a week. On paper, the schedule appeared to work. Aaah, but life does not usually go according to plan, does it? But, I wouldn't change a thing. People talk about the value of a horse who just stands in a pasture. What kind of life is that for them? Jenny LOVED her retirement. She embraced her inner appaloosa and started to do things that she had never done before. Jenny hated puddles. She would jump them, shy at them and do anything to avoid stepping in a puddle, getting her (gasp) feet wet! I moved her to the farm near Suki autumn of that year. We witnessed splashing through puddles, rolling in them and pawing at the water....WHAT? She was hilarious! That winter she would paw at ice to splash in the water. Where did my prissy, diva dressage horse go? She was having the time of her life. That spring, her pasture mate and good friend, Abby, delivered a filly. Babette, of course, kept mare and foal sectioned off in a part of the pasture separated from Jenny and the other mares. Jenny often paced the fenceline watching Abby and baby, until one day, she had had enough. Jenny jumped in by them If you'll remember, Jenny HATED to jump). She didn't hurt the baby, and was actually quite good with her. Babette kept them together. It was a beautiful relationship. Jenny helped give the baby manners, by ever so gently disciplining her. Mama let baby thump on her, as mares typically do. Jenny pinned her ears and swished her tail, signaling that this type of behavior was not acceptable. When it came time for weaning, Abby was taken away from Jenny and the baby. All was good. So how is a retired life not worthwhile? Jenny was a wonderful dressage partner, and I gave her the best retirement I could. In the summers the horses would be led into the Brandywine Creek and splash in water up to their bellies! Yes, even Jenny! BUT....when Babette suggested hopping on Jenny bareback and wading into the creek, I knew better. First, when I hopped on her bareback once, she turned around and glared at me. When I put my leg on her to move her foreward, she bucked. This was her way of telling me that such undignified behavior was unbecoming to a dressage queen. Also, Jenny was in the creek because she wanted to be and I knew she would not want to be ridden into it. "But that was before she found her inner appaloosa", said Babette. So Maisie volunteered to hop on and go into the creek. It was a bit of the repeat performance of what I had experienced. Maisie hopped off and we led Jenny into the creek. She walked in without hesitation! Maybe she felt that she had less control over her body with a rider in this situation? I don't know, but it was certainly entertaining! Beautiful Jenny!
So I have been questioned on a number of occasions about the value of Suki's life, and her happiness. As I have said many times, Suki is happy and healthy. There are no wounds to treat, just dry skin to manage. And honestly, it doesn't take much longer than a regular good grooming. And as for her happiness, well, she is turned out daily in a lush field, has a clean dry stall and stays inside during inclement weather. Weather permitting she is lunged for additional exercise. Of course, winter without an indoor offers few of those opportunities, but she still goes out every day for eight or more hours. I do think that she misses regular, interesting work, which is why we will start longlining in spring. But I know that she is happy. And her life was worth saving. When I went to see Suki yesterday after being away at the conference I was greeted with a hearty nicker. When I wrapped my arms around her neck she bent her head down and hugged me back. Of course when I stepped away to grap an extra sheet, she made a face and shook her head at Banker, in the stall next to her. "MY mother!" she said (well, that's what I tell myself she is saying. It is probably more like "Don't think you are getting my carrots Banker!"). This is TOTALLY, a life worth living.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Mystery lameness (August 2011)

Isn't amazing how horses can mystify us? Nikki throws a shoe every time I go away to attend a conference, including the one that I am attending now (Feb 1-4 2012). It's frustrating for sure. Jim from My Pet's Brace came out to the farm to make some adjustments on the special sheet. As I brought Suki out of the stall she was COMPLETELY lame! Right front, dead lame. No heat, no swelling, nothing obvious. Uggh! I was thinking abcess. So I called the vet, and he was going to come out the next day. When Tony arrived I led Suki out of her stall....totally lame. He scratched his head and started to examine her. He was thinking abcess also (I started to panic and think laminitis, leading to a sleepless night of course!) After examining her he still could not really find anything conclusive. "Let's jog her" requested Tony. "Okay", I replied, but I'm not sure that I can get her to trot!" "I know", said Tony, "But let's give it a try(yes she was THAT lame). So out the door we went and I jogged her across the driveway. TOTALLY SOUND!! At that point Christine (barn manager) was driving down the lane. She had not seen the very lame Suki, but she did see a very sound Suki trotting down the driveway. "Okay", said Tony. "Put her on the lunge line and let's see what she does." I lunged her at the trot, at the canter, tight circles, big circles. Nothing. All good. Tony proceeded to flex each leg and I trotted her away from him and toward him. Nothing. "If I didn't see her hobble out of her stall, I would never have believed you!" said Tony. I had to agree. In the end he pulled some blood and said that if it happened again over the next week to call him and he would run a Lyme titer. Needless to say that was not necessary! I think she was just messing with me! So during this time Suki's graft site continued to heal beautifully. This can be attributed to the custom sheet that she was wearing. Because the sheet is an abbreviated version of a fly sheet, Suki did not get overly hot even in the heat of the summer. During the day when she was indoors, a fan blew on her, and Suki was checked midday. Some days if she was a little sweaty (which other horses were too, it was not because of the sheet) Suki would get a shower to cool her off. But look how beautiful this is!
The right side of Suki's body was more severely burned than the left. That dark pigmented area is very healthy skin with some chestnut peach fuzz. The burn line was several inches below where the normal hair is. Everyone is amazed that the hair grew in chestnut and normal.
And another picture of the beautiful girl. I like to put her in this paddock to take pictures of her without a sheet on, since she never gets turned out completely unclothed!
February 2, 2012 Still at the conference in San Francisco. Friday night I will take the redeye home arriving back in Philadelphia at 6 AM. Deb is taking good care of Suki, and VMF is taking good care of Nikki. But yes, she did throw a shoe yesterday. Hopefully it was put back on today!