Sunday, April 29, 2012

Suki and Nikki

Friday Horse greetings are so wonderful. Grazing at the top of her field Suki initially ignored me as I drove down the driveway. When I got out of the car and called her name Suki looked up, but seemed unmoved by my arrival. Who could blame her? It was a beautiful day! As I came out of the tack room with my supplies the Princess nonchalantly walked across the field...the beautiful, long, stretched walk! Head over the gate, she, of course begged for treats.
Suki has a few really great itchy spots. Her withers are probably her favorite, because she twitches her lips for a really long time. But last night as I was massaging the moisturizer into Suki's skin, she started to sink when I got to the area by her right hip. My first thought was that she was experiencing pain, but as I looked at her face it was obvious that the reaction was one of delight! Lip quivering, and rocking her body back and forth. Twice, Suki turned around to nudge my hand to get the exact spot (yes, she is very flexible!) My arm was actually getting tired!

Saturday I spent a good portion of the day getting Nikki ready for Sunday's show. She is so funny when I pull her mane...Suki needs to be tranquilized and Nikki turns to rest her head on me! After getting everything ready, I headed over to Suki.
Such a beautiful day, I decided to lunge Suki for a bit. She was very responsive, and I even pushed for some canter to walk, walk to canter transitions. Perfect! Her fitness level is improving, but we certainly have a way to go! But I see the light in her eye when she is working, so I know that she is enjoying it and up to the challenge. I think she enjoys going back out in her pasture after, even if it is just for another 30 minutes or so. With a 3:15 wake up for Sunday morning to take Nikki to the hunter show, I knew I had to get home and get to bed early!

Sunday: 3:15 alarm comes pretty hard and fast! I got to the barn by 4:10 (and 33 degrees!)and we lunged Nikki in preparation for the day. At now age 5, Nikki is very sensible, but she is only 5, after all! Loading went well, in the dark at 5 AM. When we arrived at Radnor the sun had come up and it promised to be a beautiful day. Coming off the trailer Nikki seemed a bit "up", but once on the lunge she trotted casually, taking in the sights. She was a bit strong early in the warm up, even during the busy hunter schooling. I definately prefer dressage warm up rings! Not that they are without hazard, of course, but at least there are not people jumping fences in all directions! Meghan did a lovely job and Nikki was a very good girl. I felt that the day was a success with a variety of ribbon placings, and Nikki was happy and cooperative. I can't wait to get her out again, and with me at a dressage show!.
There is a medium pony at the barn who was just purchased by another boarder. He is fairly green and doesn't adjust very easily within the stride, or move laterally off the leg. I am going to ride him a bit to help work on that, which will be great fun! So next Sunday I will ride 17.1 Nikki followed by 13.2 Rio!

We arrived back to the barn at around one PM, so after unloading, taking care of the horses and putting everything away, I decided to go to Suki on the way home. She was happily grazing when I arrived. I walked out into her field gave her and Banker some treats and went home to recover! Now I am ready to go to sleep!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Yet another barn fire

Sitting in the family room as I write this, my view is of the birdfeeders which is quite active this time of day. I mix a variety of feeds and thus rewarded with a colorful display outside of a 12 foot wide window. Cecil the cat usually likes to walk on the sill pausing from time to time as something catches his eye. But today he and Ripley are sunning themselves...

and yet just as life continues.... I heard about another barn fire on Monday, and once again struggle to grasp what seems to have become an epidemic. Is it because I have become more aware of them since Suki's barn fire, or has there been an increase in the frequency? Sometimes it feels as though I am obsessed with barn fires. The most recent one occurred in Montanna at the home of Martha McDowell, an upper level US eventer. Martha was featured in an article in April 2012 Practical Horseman, describing how this busy mother of 4 manages an upper level eventing career. The initial news items about the fire were very basic with little information available at that time. A student who was asleep in a nearby trailer woke to see the fire, but when firefighters arrived 20 minutes later there was nothing that could be done for the 19 horses housed inside. While some of them belong to Martha, many were the beloved partners of boarders. This article appeared yesterday, and I believe that it really captures the devestation surrounding this tragedy. Reading the quotes from owners brought me to heart goes out to them, as once again, I am reminded just how fortunate I am that Suki survived. I don't know why the link is not appearing as an actual link...
Suki has a new habit if I arrive at the barn while she is still outside. There is a second gate to her pasture which is near the front of the barn. When I get out of my car she and Banker walk over to that gate, hanging their heads over for treats, without the threat of the hot wire that is on the fence. The Aquafor seems to be working quite well on Suki's neck, and it appears to be not as dry the next day. With cooler temperatures the girls are back to wearing heavy sheets, at least for now. Suki's green Rambo has a lovely sheen of grease on areas that are not covered by the shell. The shell itself is completely disgusting and I should have taken advantage of this cooler weather to use the heavier mesh sheet with the pocket while I wash the shell. It is supposed to be pretty chilly over the weekend so I will wash it at that time (hopefully I will remember). Sunday night I had left Suki without her padded bandage on the graft site (not by choice)but with the potential of remaining inside on Monday because of rain I felt pretty safe. On Monday Suki was outside briefly in the paddock between rain showers while her stall was being cleaned but didn't roll...YAY! Looks great!

Nikki had her teeth checked on Monday. Overall they looked good, with the exception of two loose baby incisors that the dentist removed. I'll bet that was the reason for the head tilting while on the lunge line. I think she may have been trying to push the bit against her teeth. It was interesting, though how while under saddle she didn't try to do that, accepting the bit as willingly and softly as she usually does. The puffiness in Nikki's ankle seems to have gone down a bit but I decided not to work her on Tuesday anyway. Meghan will take a look today. I asked her to only ride her on the flat, because I don't want the extra strain of over fences work. We are supposed to go to a hunter show on Sunday, but I am considering not having her go to this one. In addition to the ankle, it is supposed to be a bit rainy, which could make the footing sloppy adding stress to that ankle. I would rather be overly cautious than cause additional harm. Nikki really does not appear to be sore on it so maybe I am just a worrywart! I will be curious to see what Meghan has to say.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Rainy Weekend

I love my drive to Valley Mist on the weekend. At 7 AM the Oley Valley is still asleep except for the farmers. On my way to ride Nikki on Saturday mornings I pass several dairy farms, where I see the cows in for milking. The businesses that I pass are still closed at that early hour, and the occasional house has a light on where I imagine the inhabitants are eating an early breakfast, reading a book and enjoying the peaceful morning light. On my return trip the quilting supply store has a few cars in its parking lot, no doubt with eager patrons planning a project for the weekend. I pass Oley Valley Reproductions, envying the owner that I see every Saturday as he walks out to place the OPEN flag on the store sign. By that time the quilting store is coming to life with folks arriving for classes or supplies. Some mornings I yearn to join them to see if it is how I imagine it to be! The cows that had been in for milking are now grazing lazily around their pasture and a group of cats hang out on a porch swing of the farm house. I smile as I drive past them. Saturday morning appeared to be no different than the usual ones for me. I had a busy day ahead, because after my ride I was going to meet Michael and Isaiah at the ball field for a game, then rush home to get prepared for Isaiah's Tai Kwon Do belt promotion test at noon. I was itching to ride and happily pulled Nikki out of her stall to prepare for our ride. As I was grooming her, I ran my hand down each leg the way I always do. When I got to the right hind I thought' "uh oh...this does not feel right." Nikki's right hind ankle and fetlock were larger than normal with a small amount of heat. There was a small spot devoid of hair on her fetlock. Unusual for a Saturday morning, there were a few people in the barn preparing to leave for a show (most of the time they have left prior to my arrival). We were in agreement that there was a small amount of heat and a bit of swelling, so i led Nikki into the arena to see how she looked on the lunge. I thought she seemed a little off, but asked for opinions. Tobey (owner of VMF) thought she looked sound but suggested I do a light ride. There was a small abrasion on her fetlock, so perhaps Nikki wacked herself while rolling. That's certainly what it looks like. When I started to trot under saddle I thought that I could feel a slight unevenness. I am very sensitive to even gait. My plan switched to mostly walking with a small amount of trot on the straight away. After our brief ride I cold hosed the area, gave Nikki some bute and hoped for the best. Suki's skin was quite dry on Saturday, so she had a full treatment and a visit from Jennifer. Suki really likes Jenn,which I can tell from her behavior. Armed with peppermints for Suki and Nikki and homemade oatmeal cookies for me, we enjoyed our visit. I used the Aquafor agian on the very dry areas, and I do think that it is helping. After moisturizing her face, I realized that Suki would be going back outside, and petrolem in the sun would not be a good idea! After topping it with a thicker moisturizer containing sunscreen, Suki was ready to go back to Banker. It was still quite warm, so I re-dressed Suki in her fly sheet and shell. With heavy rain predicted for Sunday, the horses were staying out later so I put Suki back out with Banker. Jenn and I watched the two of them side by side, eating grass. Suki has never tolerated anyone grazing that close to her. It is beautiful sight. Sunday
Heavy rain over night, but just cloudy this morning. I headed out to VMF at 7:15. The cows were lined up outside the barn on Oley Turnpike Road, waiting to be milked. It was a chilly start to the day, with the expectation of heavy rain and wind later. We need the rain so I won't complain. Western Pennsylvania is expecting a foot or more of snow, so it could be worse. But the child in me thinks how much fun a late April snowstorm would be.... Nikki's anklke was still a bit puffy but she looked sound so Tobey suggested another light ride because movement would help. Again, under saddle I thought she felt not 100%. My ride was long straight lines with changes of direction. No lateral work. Nikki was happy and willing to work, and felt better as we progressed. I kept it light and short. We will keep an eye on it. Post ride I massaged Nikk's ears while she leaned into me. I breathed in her soft horse breath and rested my head against her. Life is good. Dentist tomorrow so Nikki won't work at all, and I will check again on Tuesday. On my drive back home I was suddenly caught by emotions as I pass by the former Pink Star, site of the fire. Sometimes it almost makes my heart stop, and today was one of those days. Suki was inside when I went to see her. While I had her on cross ties she seemed a bit on edge and I realized that she was hearing the horses across the street running in their field. I decided to change her bandage and moisturize the graft site. It looked great, just dry. I marvel that it is healed! YAY! When I finished exfoliating and moisturizing(the Aqufor seemed to do the job over night)I went back out to my car to grab the new roll of Elasticon. My car seat was empty....I had left my purse at home.... So no bandage tonight, but with rain expected again tomorrow I am thinking that Suki will be inside (much to her dismay). Without a bandage I thoroughly moisturized the entire area. Standing on the stool I leaned over Suki's back and rested on it. She turned around and nuzzled me softly. My heart melted and I day dreamed about a future of dancing....A great day with the girls...

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Inspiration at every turn

People are always telling me how much Suki inspires them. She inspires me as well. How would I have handled such catastrophic injury? Would I have approached each day with such joy as Suki did, just happy to be alive? I can't say for sure, having not been faced with such an injury to my own body. One of Suki's FB friends attended the Equine Affaire in Columbus, Ohio, and watched a blind horse perform. She said how inspiring it was to see. Such trust between horse and rider. The unshakable bond that takes us beyond the everyday experience. Similar to what I observed during my time volunteering with therapeutic riding last weekend. Those who are unsteady alone on the ground are transformed and able to experience a freedom that they do not have on their own. Courtney King also go from Olympic dressage rider to barely surviving a terrible head injury, Courtney pushes on, and horses have helped her to heal. With her sites set on the London ParaOlympics I thin that she will continue to inspire all of us. That is what drives the passion for horses. it is why we get up at the early hours or squeeze in rides where we can, to ride our horses, or spend a quiet morning grooming them. Here is a link about the blind horse named Stormy: Wednesday was cool and a little drizzly, but I decided to lunge Suki anyway. In her present level of fitness, the cool air and cloudy skies were a help! I had her do a bit more canter to loosen up in her back, and even asked for more changes of tempo within the gaits. She remembers everything, of course so I have to be careful not to push. Baby steps....But I can see in Suki's eyes just how much she enjoys working, so I know I am on the right track. I also tried a new moisturizer, because the Elta is on backorder. I use the Aardora ointment on the graft site, which keeps it moist under the padding, but as usual the area on her neck is dry each day. But so are my legs, so maybe that is just normal! : ) I tried a tub of Aquafor which is also petroleum based and when I checked today MAYBE it wasn't quite as dry. But today was one of those "just a quick check" days, so I don't know what her back looked like under her sheet. That fly sheet drives me crazy! It constantly shifts. Within 10 seconds of being straightened! I gave Suki some carrots out in her pasture with Banker, checked her and visited for a few minutes. I know that she hates those brief visits, and she followed my car up the driveway. In my mirror I saw her turn around and go back to Banker as I turned for home.... I think I will work on Suki's mane this weekend since it is supposed to be rainy. Nikki needs her mane pulled again, and she has a show next weekend. It will be chilly and rainy when I ride this weekend, but that's okay....I will just be glad to sit in the saddle and spend some time with my beautiful Nikki.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


I have noticed that there are some new readers from the US and beyond. Welcome! And thank you for your interest! I have been trying to find out if the missing horses from the McHenry barn fire have been found. This evening I emailed a contact that was listed in an article....he lost several horses in the fire. My reason for contacting him was to offer support and perhaps give them contact information for veterinarians to consult with if there are injured horses. This photo hits very close to home....I remember going to the fire site 3 days later and seeing complete devastation. It was too soon for me to go there, but I did anyway. For some reason I thought it would make me feel better. It didn't. In fact I was nearly crippled with anxiety getting out of the car. When Bobbi and I walked over to the spot where the barn once stood, we held onto each other, no words could convey the profound sadness that we felt. Bobbi and I walked through the rubble. Our equipment was gone. We found occasional bits of the life we once had there...clipper blades, pieces of halters.... I negelected to mention Ali and Denise in my last post. Denise saved her beloved boy from her own burning barn in December 2011, both suffering severe burns. The two of them continue to heal but it will take time. Ali seems to have that will to live that Suki has, and in spite of the long road ahead, I know they will come through it together. This photo of the McHenry fire brought those memories flooding back....
Saturday I worked at Shady Hollow to assist with therapeutic riding. The rquirements for each lesson varies. Some students need a person to lead the horse and two side walkers in addition to the instructor. I assisted with a child who had autism, MR and some neuromuscular difficulties. He required a leader and one side walker. C seemed a little apprehensive at was his first lesson since last fall. Once he was in the saddle he completely transformed. The apprehension turned into a delightful smile as we praised him for his accomplishments. I was transformed as well.... Suki has been in during the day and out at night during these few very warm days. She was wearing just the special protective shell, which I know she enjoys. Today was beautiful, so this morning after she came in for breakfast, Suki went back outside for the entire day. She is in tonight as the spring weather has returned, and wearing a sheet. Allowing her to be out for basically 24 hours is something I would never have considered until now. And I always find it ironic that she is turned out over night during the summer which she had not done before the fire. If only she had been out that night.... But I can't look back and have regrets. We only look forward. Suki was in, and the barn was on fire. It happened. We have learned a lot and we soldier on. Suki and I are stronger now, the fire strengthening our bond. It is a bond that I also share with Nikki, because her delightful youth has helped me heal. When she and I snuggle forehead to forehead I realize how much I have changed and continue to learn and appreciate each day that I have with my girls and my family and friends.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Another barn fire, and a life lost

News in the past few days has rocked the horse world. 2008 Olympian eventer Amy Tryon passed away over night, April 12. She was 42. Cause unknown at this time. I remember reading the Team Tryon blog during the Beijing Olympics, fascinated by the daily routine of an Olympic rider. Life is precious and short. How easy it is to forget that. My heart goes out to her family as they try to digest this tragic event. April 12, also saw a barn fire in McHenry Count Illinois that claimed the lives of 18 horses. A brave teenage girl saved 22 horses, including her own beloved partner. I struggled to read the account of this fire. How did Suki survive her own ordeal? We are fortunate. My beloved girl survived, and my heart breaks for those who lost their equine partners in that fire. It was determined to be an accident, but does that help heal those wounds? Does it ease the pain of the great loss? This morning as I drove to the barn to ride Nikki, I found myself suddenly in tears.... no explanation. I thought of my beautiful girl, and how I almost lost her but how she miraculously survived. Many of those in the recent barn fire in Illinois were not so fortunate, and my heart just aches. But today for me was also a happy day, because baby Nikki turned 5. Nicolette, 12 hours old:
I subjected her to a birthday hat, of course!
We had lovely rides this weekend, and I am excited about her progress. We even had some very precise walk-canter, canter-walk transitions. Today when I started to brush her ears, Nikki lowered her head. As I continued to massage her ears she closed her eyes....such a sweet girl. Nikki got extra hugs for her birthday, and Suki because of the barn fire. It is very warm tonight and expected to be hot tomorrow. Suki is out over night tonight and will stay inside tomorrow during the heat of the day. I hate this crazy weather! I brought her in to eat her dinner, and groomed/exfoliated and moisturized. Suki was anxious to get back outside, so I am sure that she will enjoy the cool evening. I am going to spend the rest of the evening working on my girls are comfortable and happy.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Horse's Instinct

I am curretnly reading "Beyond the Homestretch", a memoir by a woman who started a rescue organization for race horses. While many horses come through the organization to be rehabilitated the book highlights horses that have stood out for some reason. One chapter is devoted to a chestnut filly named Sugarfoot, who is very sweet but had some physical limitations. Many people came to look at her but did not adopt her. Then a couple came out with their 20 year old daughter with Angelman Syndrome, a neurological disoredr that impairs motor skills and cognitive function. Desiree had sadly just lost her beloved horse, so they were on the hunt for a new companion. She needed a gentle horse, and one that had the ability to carry disabled riders. Desiree mounted and was led around the roundpen on Sugarfoot. The horse stopped suddenly and refused to move forward. It seems that Desiree had slipped off center in the saddle. Suagrfoot had detected this and would not move again until the girl was centered in the saddle once again. Sugarfoot came from the racetrack and had not had any specialized training, just an innate sense. This brought to mind my mare Jenny, who could be difficult at times. She was one of those horses that would only do something if asked correctly. She could be impatient with mounting sometimes as well. But Jenny was an awesome dressage horse with a diva personality to go with it. A friend of mine, who boarded her horse at the same barn had always wanted to sit on Jenny. This made me a bit nervous because XX had some physical disabilities and I was not sure how Jenny would react to that. My fear was apparently unfounded. She stood patiently while XX took all the time she needed to mount. At the trot, if XX started to become unbalanced, Jenny would walk. She spooked at NOTHING! Children could ride her (supervised of course)and Jenny would take care of them. One woman who was a hunter rider (an excellent rider)asked if she could see what Jenny's beautiful trot and canter felt like under saddle. When she perched forward to ask for the canter, Jenny just kept trotting because in Jenny's mind, she was not being asked correctly. At 5 months old, Jenny was the first horse that Isaiah sta on....
When Bill, a fellow burn survivor, first met Suki, he was concerned that because he was missing fingers that he would have difficulty feeding her treats. She gently sniffed at his hands and politely accepted the treats. Armed with a brush with a strap, he began to groom her. I watched Suki do something that she does for very few people....she lowered her head and allowed him to brush her face. Horses are just such amazing creatures and provide wonderful therapy. Having witnessed the effects of animal therapy on numerous occasions I strongly believe that they enrich our lives more than we can ever realize. As I watch Suki interact with people and see her ability to bring happiness and inspiration to their lives, I marvel at her wonderful gift. A gift that I wasn't aware that she had, except of course with me. I never used to believe in fate, or having a "mission". Perhaps I was wrong.....

Monday, April 9, 2012

A shift.....

Saturday morning started off cold (of course) and my car outside thermometer read 29 degrees..... the day promised to be 60 and breezy, but at 7 Am it was still quite cold! Nikki was happy to see me and readily accepted a peppermint. The barn was about to be fed, so I gave her a few handfuls to make her happy before our ride. This is our typical weekend routine, but it is difficult when everyone else is eating breakfast. The dentist didn't come last week as expected so during the brief lunging Nikki was tilting her head into the bit. Once I saw that she was not in a leaping mood (in spite of the cold)I quickly mounted and set to work. She was soft in my hand and willing to work. My happy, talented girl gave me a lovely ride. We worked on spiraling in and out on a 20 meter circle, and a bunch of trot/canter and canter trot transitions, thowing in ground poles on occasion. Super ride. I have noticed a delicate shift in the way I respond to the most common question about Suki: "So do you think you will ever ride Suki again?" Early on I focused on Suki's survival. My main concern was that she would be happy, healthy and comfortable. The veterinarians told me during Suki's first precarious days at New Bolton, that it there was a good chance that I would never ride again....My decision to try to save her life was not based on a future of riding. I just wanted my beloved girl to live. Suki's health and well being were essential and I did not look beyond that. Even once I knew that she would survive, I realized that due to the extent of her injuries there was little chance that she would be able to carry a saddle and rider. And who knew if she would even be sound! Because the burn on her back right where the saddle would sit was so reluctant to heal after a year, I didn't even consider the possibility of sitting on her. At one point I thought we would be bandaging it forever! Even after the skin graft, as we roller-coasted through healing, I just hoped that the wound would close and we could eliminate bandaging. THEN, when it finally healed I started to think of possibilities beyond lunging....what about long lining with a surcingle and side reins? But with friction and movement from the saddle pad and surcingle I was still unsure. But the thought of working Suki in hand through the upper level movements excited me! And I knew that she would enjoy it. That became my new goal. So the shift in thinking occurred almost unconsciously....The answer to the riding question suddenly morphed into "Well, who knows? If she holds up to the surcingle and a regular work schedule, you never know.....I may sit on her again." When I wtach her move at liberty or on the end of the lunge line I see a sound, fluid horse and remember what it was like to feel those gaits. On Sunday evening Suki and I met Cheryl and Larry, who live locally. The night of the Pink Star fire they could see the flames from their house and went out to see what was going on. When they saw that it was the farm, and heard that there were horses missing, they began to drive around. Horse owners themselves, they were concerned about the missing horses. At one point Suki and Whisby ran in front of their truck, forcing them to slam on their brakes. They could see that the horses were frightened, but lost track of them as they ran into a nearby field. Cheryl had tears in her eyes as she recounted this story....I can only imagine what the scene must have been like. They caught up with others who were also out searching, and finally another group followed the horses into the field. In the following days Cheryl and Larry wondered about the two horses, and eventually stumbled upon a forum where I had posted about Suki's survival. Meeting them last night wa so wonderful! Such caring, kind people. Cheryl was a bit overwhelmed by Suki's size initially, but a few nuzzles by Suki and like everyone else you forget just how big she is. Suki flirted and begged, clearly knowing that this visit was all about her! Cheryl and Larry brought gummies and peppermints, which Suki graciously accepted. They were amazed at how wonderful she looks and thrilled to meet her in person, after she crossed their path on that tragic evening. And so, the question came: "Do you think you will ever ride Suki again?" This time, and for the first time since the fire I answered without hesitation: "Yes", I said. "I will. Maybe not in competition, but I will sit on her again." So Iahve put it out there. And now, I truly believe it in my heart.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Keep the padding

I always start to smile as I approach the farm. The drive to Nikki's barn is slightly longer than the one to Suki, but the Oley Valley scenery is beautiful with a quiet paecefulness. As I turn down the road toward Suki's barn I pass the back filed and usually see the draft horses standing on the hill. Tonight I was especially anxious to get to Suki because I wanted to see how the graft site held up to the roll test without the bandage. The high temperature of 58 had already started to dip and we have a freeze warning for tonight. Still too warm for a blanket, the Rambo lite and Suki's shell will keep her warm enough over night. Tomorrow morning I will have to exchange that for a ligher sheet or fly sheet given the expected temperatures in the low 60's. Suki was in by the time I arrived, happily munching on her hay. She called to me as I opened the barn door. By the time I approached her stall Suki was pressing her face against the bars anxious to come out. So impatient! She had been out in the field all day, but she seems to really enjoy our time together. First task for me: check the graft site. As I pulled off the shell I stood on my toes to take a peek. At first glance I could see some bruising. I felt a bit deflated. A closer look (while standing on a stool) showed some bruising in the pink skin of the graft. Back to bandaging. This is not a set back. By Sunday the bruising will be gone, and in another few weeks I may try again. But more than likely I will continue bandaging until the entire are has darkened. Yesterday's spa treatment must have really been exceptional, as Suki was mot very itchy at all tonight. She did do wiggle lips when I massaged her withers though! That is something that she just can't resist!
Suki rolls every day, so I fear that daily trauma to the graft area without padding would ultimately cause some tearing of the skin. It was nice to be able to moisturize the entire area though. In the summer when the horses are out over night I may pull off the bandage in the morning and moisturize Suki's back replacing the bandage again in the evening before turnout. That will probably not happen every day because of my schedule, but I think I could manage to do it a few times a week. So as I was being a little nostalgic this evening, wistfully dreaming of the day once again ride Suki, I was looking at some old photos. This is Suki, the morning she arrived from her weeklong journey from British Columbia.
And 2 weeks later training in the round pen as I prepared to get on her for the first stunning! Suki was so relaxed and happy, which carried over to the first time that I sat on her back.
Nikki is showing such promise and I get excited every time I ride her. With a sensible brain and lovely gaits she is a pleasure to ride. I have been trying to incorporate a variety of exercises to keep her from getting bored and I impressed with how quickly she understands what I am asking. It is important not to push her too quickly though, as she is still growing. This is one of my favorite photos. She had been turned out after her 20 minutes of work when she had been under saddle for only two weeks.
It was so exciting the first time I sat on Nikki too! I had not ridden in six months, and my first ride was on a three year old who had been under saddle for only two weeks! I smiled for the entire hour and 45 minute drive home! Me and my girls....I just love them!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Taking Chances

I remember when my mare Jenny was just three, and not yet under saddle. I was somewhat at a crossroads in my education and career, so I contacted XX inquiring about working student positions. XX was a three day eventer and had represented Bermuda in the Olympics. I knew about her from when I worked at a nearby farm between high school and college. She had a reputation of being tough, but before I coiuld over think it, I arranged for an audition of sorts. Jenny was barely under saddle at that point but I wanted more training for myself. At that time I thought that eventing was the discipline that I wished to pursue. I made the 1 1/2 hour drive to XX's farm, not really knowing what to expect. When I arrived I was shown a horse and his equipment and told to tack up and go up to the dressage arena. Good thing I was young and stupid! From what I can remember now, looking back, I wasn't even very nervous. During my drive I had combatted any nervousness that I may have felt. Clay was a 7 year old bay gelding, whose owner really did not ride very much, if at all. He was a warmblood/thoroughbred cross, and seemed pleasant enough as I led him from the bank barn to the dressage arena. After I mounted and warmed up (with XX watching the entire time) I was given a lesson. I felt as though it had gone well, but XX did not say much other than instructing me. It was a really awesome lesson, and I loved her teaching style! Ultimately XX said that she would accept me as a working student. I had an amazing time working with XX. She taught me a lot about riding but also about being a horseman. One day, when she was going to be in the area near my home and where I was boarding Jenny, XX volunteered to come see Jenny and give me a lesson. Jenny had only been under saddle for about two weeks when XX came to give me a lesson, and I had not yet cantered her while on her back. XX watched as I warmed up and worked me through some exercises. "Okay, ask her to canter." I turned and looked at her. "Haven't you cantered her yet?" she asked. "well, no, not yet." "No need to treat her like fine china," XX said. "Take a chance. Use your voice the way you ask her to canter on the lunge." I picked up the trot and tentatively said "And canTER". Low and behold, Jenny picked up the canter. Correct lead and well balanced. This was Jenny's 2nd show.
The reason I bring this up, is because tonight I decided to "take a chance" and not put a bandage on Suki's graft. The skin surrounding the graft is dry, and I am not able to moisturize it because the elasticon for the bandage won't stick. So I slathered the entire area with a thick coating of moisturizer and dressed Suki in her protective shell and sheet. I am crossing my fingers that tomorrow night there won't be bruising! If there is I will continue to bandage for padding purposes, because I worry that constant friction and bruising would cause that fragile, pink skin to break open again....and we certainly don't want that!! The last time I left the bandage off there was some bruising at the cranial end of the graft area. That section is no longer pink, but there is a pink section at the caudal end. So we will see.....Suki has not regrown hiar on her withers, and that is often pink because it has the most contact when she is rolling. It doesn't appear to be any more sensitive to the touch then other areas, but I am considering some type of padding. A padded bandage would never hold, so I don't think that is an option. Today when I arrived at the barn Suki was at the top of the field and did not seem too interested in coming in. Banker was at the gate and most of the other horses were at their own gates. I started to walk out to get Suki, when she looked up and came galloping towards the gate. I coaxed her to slow down but she came full speed across the field! When she was about ten feet from the gate, she tucked her hind end, came almost to a halt, but piaffed for a few steps first. Then she casually walked to the gate! Sometimes I swear she does things like that just to make me nervous! Yesterday I had a really lovely ride on Nikki. She was quiet, but forward and did her lateral work willingly. Transitions within the gaits are becoming very adjustable. I was physically and mentally relaxed for the rest of the therapy....nothing better than that!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Happy Monday

The dreary weekend weather has opened into a beautiful Monday. With temperatures in the upper 50's and a bit of a breeze I looked up at the blue sky while walking into the field to get Suki. She lifted her head with a soft nicker as I drove down the driveway, but immediately lowered her head back to the new spring grass. I debated whether or not to lunge, but there was someone riding in the arena, and she appeared to be having some difficulty with her horse, so I decided to wait. Other than the right side of Suki's neck, which seems to be dry regardless of the frequency of moisturizing, Suki's skin looked much better today. I did a full spa treatment and grooming today, and by the time that was finished the rider was out of the arena. Suki seemed to be in quite a pleasant mood so i took her out to lunge. She seems to be very much at peace with who she is, and now quietly walks to the arena. That's not to say that there won't be any spooking at any time, but I find her to be quite relaxed. As I put her out onto the circle she called to Banker. I growled at her and she lowered her head to begin work. The walk was relaxed and swinging, with her tail moving in a quiet rythm to match her pace. When I asked for the trot, Suki immediately moved off, without raising her head....a steady, quiet push into the upward transition. Considering her fitness level at this point, i am pleased with how steady Suki maintains a tempo. The transition into the canter was also quiet. After 3 or 4 minutes in each direction, we were finished. I walked Suki around the arena a few times to bring her breathing back to normal and she happily walked beside me with an expression of contentment on her face and in her body. The wind blew around us, but Suki and I were alone, but together in our thoughts, with the swaying tress merely a backdrop instead of a distraction. It was so relaxing for me, and I enjoy those moments of bonding. The Dover catalog is sitting on the table next to me. I am selecting a surcingle and long lines....If I can consistently lunge Suki for the next month, increasing her strength and fitness, we will be ready to begin long lining with a surcingle. I received an email from gthe Oley valley Fire Department a couple of weeks ago in response to my request to speak with someone about the night of the fire. They questioned exactly what I would like to know, so that they could help me. For the book, I want to be able to accurately describe the scene as the firefighters saw it....I wondered, could they hear the horses in the barn calling? Were the horses panicked when they got to them? What did the barns look like when they arrived? My heart does not really want to know some of these things. But I think that it is an important part of the story, and will show just how miraculous that Suki and the other horses survived that night. I have heard that she was "on fire". Did they see that? Do I really want to know the answer? A barn fire in central Florida yesterday killed nine horses. Five were rescued. I swear my heart stops every time I read about a barn fire. My heart breaks for the horses lost, and the owners who are grieving... Next week I will also have the opportunity to meet someone who saw Suki and Whisby run across the road the night of the fire. She was happy to discover Suki's Facebook page and see that she had survived, as she always wondered what had happened to the two horses. A lot of local people who knew of the fire, never learned the fate of the critically injured horse. Many thought Suki had died from her injuries or had been put down. Those who now know that she survived are pleasantly surprised. Nikki was a good girl for Meghan today, although a little "up". Probably the wind. Tomorrow I will ride again. Last week I noticed, while lunging Nikki, that she was tilting her head and appeared to be pushing her mouth into the bit. This usually means that she needs to have her teeth floated. Under saddle she is fine and not fussy, but I am sure that she should have her teeth checked. Lucky coming this week!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Dreary weather, beautiful horses

Saturday, March 31, 2012: Once again, I awoke to a gray, damp Saturday morning. Days like that can make it quite difficult to get motivated to leave the house at 7 AM to go to the cold barn...but as always once I arrive at the barn I am happy that I have not given in to temptation and remained curled up with a book in the early morning hours before Isaiah and Michael get up. As usual, foot in the stirrup = happiness! Nikki was wonderful. She was happy to work and I pushed a little harder for the lateral work. Lots of snuggles after the ride. It was rainy in the morning so i thought that Suki would not have gone out. But the rain stopped midday, so when I arrived at her barn around 4 PM (after a very pleasant lunch with my friend Jennifer), Suki was still outside with Banker. I had forgotten my paddock boots (they are usually in the car)so I was not looking forward to trudging out into the field wearing penny loafers. I decided that maybe I would just take a quick look at Suki and let her stay outside, so out into the slightly muddy field I went. With some mud on her knees, hocks and neck (and a noe dirty sheet), Suki seemed happy and comfortable. After I gave Suki and Banker some carrots, back down to the gate I went. Behind me I heard thundering hooves, and there was Suki. So, of course I decided to groom her after all. I walked over to the tack room, and as I emerged, there was Suki, galloping back across the field. The barn owner had arrived by then for feeding, and Suki decided that she would stay at the top of the field, even after Banker was brought in. She has never done that before. Of course eventually she relented, but that's my girl...loves to keep me on my toes! Jennifer made this beautiful bookmark and magnets! I have been trying to decide whether I should organize a new charitable organization or just do fundraisers, etc to support various horse rescues.
Sunday, April 1, 2012. ANOTHER damp gray morning. I had a slightly later start so as I drive past one of the dairy farms the girls were heading out to their field for the day. Usually they are inside being milked when I drive past that farm. I just love my 20 minute drive through the Oley Valley to get to Valley Mist. The rural roads, the mountains, farms, old stone farm houses and stone bank barns....I listen to classical music and "Woman of the Week" talk radio. Could Suki be a woman of the week, I wonder? Why not? She inspires, and brings hope and happiness to everyone who meets her! There were a few people at the barn getting ready to leave for a show, and when Nikki heard me talking to them she started to call to me. I love that! My sweet baby girl. Another dreary day brightened by a delightful ride. I added some baby half pass again today, and shortenings and lengthenings at the trot and canter. Then....I did this to the poor baby girl....she was a good sport, but not patient about the photo session.
Suki was just coming in when I arrived at her barn. She desperately needed a full spa treatment. It is amazing how dry her skin can get! But once she was groomed and moisturized I did this...
The graft continues to look amazing and I am oh so hopeful about the future. Even if I just get to sit on her back one more time for 5 minutes! I just hate that the last time I rode her I didn't know that it would be the last time....Who knew it would be a month before I could throw my arms around her neck again! That is something that I do every time I dismount; I hug my girls, breathe in that delightful horse smell, and tell them how much I love them. But Sometimes bad things happen. Really, really bad things. And you just have to deal with them, no matter how difficult it is. But you know what? That doesn't mean that things are never going to be okay again. Everything can still be great. Sometimes the future doesn't turn out exactly how we thought it would. We work with what we have, count our blessings, give back when we are able and live life to the fullest. And sometimes really good things happen. Suki has taught me that. Nikki has taught me that. And my beautiful son Isaiah who we adopted when he was 2 weeks old has also taught me that.