Thursday, June 28, 2012

Home at Last

I am so happy to be home.  My flight landed after 10 Tuesday night, but I was home by midnight.  Tired and weary, there is certainly no place like home. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2012
The day before I left, Suki, as you recall, opened her skin graft with a hardy roll in her stall.  Deb changed the bandage twice while I was away and said that it was healing well.  But of course I would not be satisfied until I saw it myself.  It is not so bad, but still a set back.  We have been through worse!  It scabbed over very nicely, so I think it will heal rather quickly.

June 20, 2012                                                                                    

June 27, 2012

I know, I made it sound a lot worse.  But it was SO bloody when i first saw it, and I had not seen blood on her back in such  long time.

When I pulled Suki out of her stall she was DEAD LAME on the right front.  I walked her around a bit, but she did not seem to work out of it.  Last year, the very same thing happened.  I called the vet, and when he arrived she hobbled out of her stall.  Looking like a classic abscess, Dr. R asked me to jog her.  I thought this would be impossible (as did he) because she was so lame.  She jogged sound.  He flexed every joint, and other than a SLIGHT reaction on her hock, there was nothing.  He took some blood and we decided that if the lameness was back the next day we would run a Lyme titer.  She was fine.  So when I saw this, although it made me quite unhappy I did not panic as I had last time.  Christine would check her Wednesday AM.  I knew that it would be best for her to go out and walk around on it over night

Christine checked Suki for me this morning and said that she came out of the stall just fine and seemed only slightly off at the trot.  Tonight she came out of her stall slightly stiff, but walked it off.  She does get a little stiff in her stall, but the extreme lameness is unusual.  So we never figured it out last year, and probably would not have this time either.  I will, of course, continue to monitor her and when the weather cools again she will go back to lunging.  Always something!

It's going to get pretty hot again this weekend, requiring early rides and midday showers for the girls!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Wound improving

Whenever I am away I try to work on the Suki memoir whenever time allows.  It helps relieve the stress of being away from the girls and my family.  Sometimes my mind drifts to other parts of the story, not necessarily what I am working on at the time.  So I jot down notes, add newly titled documents on my ipad and will eventually incorporate some of it as I hit the first edit.  That ipad has helped significantly with the progress on my writing!  I can always quickly write some note or memory to expand on.

As we approach the 3rd anniversary of the fire, I find myself reflecting the time that has passed so quickly, that it seems like the fire was just yesterday.  And at times it seems like it was 100 years ago!  We have come a long way during that time, with so many ups and downs I could have designed a new roller coaster.  The hills and valleys have been both physical and emotional.  Suki and I have emerged stronger, both in mind and spirit.  I like to think that she and I have always been strong, but the fire made us use those strengths in ways that we never expected.  As I have for the past two anniversaries, I try not to dwell on the horror of the event, but the positives that have come from it.  The silver lining.  A new purpose.  And a celebration of life.

Last week right before I left for the conference Suki did a hearty roll in her stall leading to a superficial opening of the skin graft.  Although we have had setbacks before, this one caught me off guard because I honestly thought we were past that.  Maybe it was reality slapping me in the face, telling me that the healing is going to take quite a bit longer, and perhaps will always require extra padding and careful attention.  I'm okay with that.  But I just want the graft to heal back to the point where we were before the roll.

I am still at the conference, returning late tomorrow evening.  Deb continues to do the daily spa treatment and wound care while I am away, while John and Christine make sure that Suki does not go out during the rain, check her clothing, etc.  I appreciate the help.  This is not a one-woman show at all.  Jennifer continues to post the photo of the day on Suki's FaceBook page, which enables me to see Suki with fresh eyes each day.  Hmmm....I should ask Meghan to send me Nikki pictures every day! 

Nikki has been doing well while I have been away, and Meghan keeps me updated about her rides.  On one of the hotter days Deb said that Nikki wouldn't move away from her fan  when she was trying to clean her stall!  Nikki LOVES her fan!  She likes to doze in front of it.

Deb changed Suki's bandage on Saturday, and the wound was looking pretty good.  The bandage was not rumpled, which is always a good sign.  The bandage was changed again today, and Deb said the wound looked really good today, and Suki was in a happy mood.  That helped to ease some of my anxiety!  I look forward to returning home tomorrow evening.  So tonight I will enjoy the peace and quiet of my hotel room, while watching Breaking Pointe and sipping a glass of wine. 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Set back.....ugggh!

So for the past few days Suki has been bandage free, wearing just her protective shell during turnout.  Because it has been so hot I have let Suki be naked in her stall without a bandage as well. It was all going so smoothly..... yesterday's photo showed the beautiful, healed skin graft.  Last night Suki went out for the night wearing the shell, without a bandage.  This morning when the shell was removed, all was good.  I arrived at the barn around 1:30, planning to give Suki a shower.  As I walked ino the barn Suki called to me as usual.  But then, as i approached her stall I saw frank, red blood on her back.....I wanted to cry. Throwing on her haletr I pulled Suki out into the aisle and stood on the stall to evaluate the damage.  The pink skin that I am always concerned about was fine.  The darker area where the plugs were still somewhat visible were bloody.  It seems fairly superficial, but worrisome just the same.  I couldn't bring myself to photograph it....denial, for sure.  The fact that I am leaving for a conference tomorrow increases my worry, but at least it happened before I left, so that I am prepared with instructions.  A quick trip to Leids and I am fully supplied with bandage materials. 

Suki was slightly sweaty so I hosed her off, cleaned the graft and applied the bandage.  Unfortunately I had to put the shell back on to protect the bandage.  Tomorrow the cool down in temperatures will begin, so that is one less thing to worry about.  Suki will have to wear the shell all the time now again, and weather permitting a fly sheet over top. 

I guess I became just a little too cocky about her progress.  Had she been wearing a bandage without the shell the damage would have been less.  The surcingle will have to wait.  But that is the least of it.  I hate when I make the wrong decision regarding Suki's care.  I know, the damage is not catastrophic and will likely be almost healed by the time I return.  Everyone has been alerted, and Suki will be well cared for.....

I originally had planned to ride Nikki this afternoon but the saoring temperatures and oppressive humidity prevented that.  So I gave her a shower, even though she seemed pretty comfortable.  I was able to spend some time with her and spoil her a bit before my trip.  As usual my girls will be on my mind....

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Heat Wave Day One

Okay.  I am a cold weather girl.  I love the fall and winter.  This can probably traced back to my love of fall/winter clothing.  I love sweaters, turtlenecks and coats.  As a knitter I prefer knitting garments for cold weather, although I do knit with light weight cottons and silks for warmer weather.  It is much easier to add a layer of clothing for warmth.  Removing clothing can only go so far.    The temperatures today topped at 95 degrees with the humidity making it feel like 103.  Yuck.  That's all I have to say.  Meghan was going to ride Nikki today but after a student almost passed out before 10 AM, the day was scratched.  A wise decision. Nikki spent the day snoozing in front of her fan.  She stands directly in front of it, closes her eyes and naps.  Smart girl, that baby!

Suki was checked and hosed off three times today.  Christine went at 11:30, Deb at 1:30 and me at 4:30.  She was only slightly sweaty each time and her respiration was normal.  When Suki came in this morning from over night turnout her shell was removed because of the heat.  Last night I left her bandage free.

When I arrived at 4:30, all was good. The graft looks great, with one very slight broken blood vessel.  Suki was not as restless, probably because all of the horses were in the barn.  After a quick cool down with the hose, I put the shell back on for night turnout and applied sunscreen (SPF 50, pediatric) to all exposed areas.  The pigment is dark, but I feel better using sunscreen.    Once again I left the bandage off which enabled me to apply moisturizer to the area. 
My confidence is increasing....this looks amazing! 
Tomorrow is expected to be hotter, so I will not have a midday ride on Nikki but instead will give her a bath.  Friday and the subsequent days are supposed to improve, so maybe i will worry less.  Not likely, since I leave for Houston on Friday.  But the girls will be well cared for.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Smart girl

Work has been crazy busy, but will slow down a bit after my upcoming conference.  During my 3 hour flight I am hoping to get some work done on the Suki book, but if I take a Dramamine, sleep is about all I will accomplish.  A little light reading possibly.  Since I will be attending this conference without any of my colleagues I will have evenings to myself, without the obligation of group dinners.  So perhaps after I write my nightly report I will have time to at least work on some notes for the next section of the book. 

Monday was such a lovely, cool day.  Suki was restless on crossties calling to some unknown friend.  Banker was in his stall right next to where she was standing, so I don't know what that was about!  Because of the cool evenings Suki has been able to wear a fly sheet over the shell, which helps protect the sad little garment.  But the days ahead are expected to be blistering hot, so I will cross my fingers that it holds! 

I decided to use Suki's restlessness to my advantage and lunge her.  After a short warm up I started a bit of interval training....2 minutes of trot followed by one minute of walk.  You know how horses are with repetitive work.  They become intuitive about the timing.  So after two repetitions Suki started to do the exercise on her own, with very little prompting from me.  We changed direction and started again.  I started with the first command then Suki took over.  After 8 repetitions (the same number that we had performed in the first direction) she stopped and looked at me. I couldn't help but laugh!  "Clever girl", I said.  "Are we finished?"  I walked over to my beautiful girl and wrapped my arms around her neck.  Suki responded by lowering her head and pressing it against my back.  That is her version of a hug.  And it is glorious!  I could feel the tears coming.  How is it possible that I almost lost her?  My heart aches for those who have lost their beloved horses in barn fires...or under any circumstances that brings the friendship to an end all too soon.  We invest our heart and souls into our equine friends, and even once we are separated by their passing, we don't forget.  My memories of Jenny sometimes bring tears, but for the most part spawns smiles, because although she was taken from me far too soon, I have a memory bank filled with shared experiences.

I am hopeful that once the report from this meeting is complete I will have July and August to really focus on training....Suki and Nikki.  So much to do!

Today the humidity has increased, and Suki was slightly sweaty in her stall wearing her shell.  The bandage was missing, but it was loose yesterday, so I was not surprised.  The graft looks great (I foegot to take a photo) but the skin was dry.  After a quick shower for Suki, I slathered the entire area with moisturizer and put the shell back on....leaving the graft area without bandage!  Since the insert for the shell has softened a bit after rain exposure maybe there won't be any bruising.  Tomorrow temperatures are expected to go into the 90's so Suki will be naked in her stall during the day.  I will see the results of my experiment tomorrow! 

Baby Suki:  3 months under saddle

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The weekend

So the past few weeks I have had some flu/cold upper respiratory thing going on. It has been more than aa little frustrating, limiting my riding and shortening my time with Suki. I had planned on riding yesterday, but a strange reaction to cough medicine kept me from my destination.

This morning, although still a bit tired, nothing was going to keep me from riding! I took in every aspect of my drive to the barn. The mountauns were in clear view, the cows were out, and the day was awakening. With temperatures in the upper 50's at 7:30 AM, the conditions were perfect for a morning ride. Nikki called to me as soon as I opened my car door, making my heart swell with pure joy! My ride was not long, but Nikki and I both enjoyed it! She was beautifully responsive to lateral work and super snuggly after our ride. It was wonderful!

The cooler weather has been great for Suki, because I can leave the fly sheet on over the shell, which offers more protection. The sunscreen does not moisturize enough, but when it is hot, I have no choice but to put her out in the shell with sunscreen applied to exposed skin. If she were at my own farm (some day!) I would wait until after the sun goes down to turn her out for the night, but currently this is not an option. Suki enjoys a lot of turnout which is good for her physically and mentally.

Because it was so beautiful this afternoon I was able to add a 15 minute lunging session to Suki's afternoon. With her fitness improving she seems to be really lifting through her back, reaching forward, then stretching at the end to relax. I incorporated shortrening and lengthening of stride, and Suki rose to the occasion. She seems to enjoy lunging sessions more when I ask for a lot of transitions, forcing her to wait for the next command and respond accordingly. Today I even snuck in a halt from the trot, and that girl halted square, immediately! And she was quite proud of herself...
The surcingle will arrive during the week, but I won't have a chance to use it until I return from my conference. That work thing always seems to get in the way!

As I continue to write my book, I find myself going back to add information or my feelings during various situations. My phone has a whole list of note pages because I often think of these things when I am not actually working on the book. Sometimes it seems that I must have been in somewhat of a fog in the early days of recovery because I will suddenly be reminded of an event that took place.

Much of my inspiration comes from readers and commenters on Facebook and the blog, as I am constantly reminded of how much Suki inspires everyone around her. Strider, a horse In Washington was injured in a barn fire late last summer. Through connections with Dr. Fugaro, Strider's veterinarians performed a skin graft on his back, and he continues to improve. Little Ali in New York, also badly burned in a barn fire in December continues to make great progress. They are inspired by Suki's recovery and realize that it is possible. I, in turn am inspired by all of them and their dedicated owners as they experience their own miracles, knowing that it is possible to overcome. When you look into your horse's eyes, and they look back at you, it is possible to see how much trust there is and how strong the bond.

Finally, confratulations to Heather Mason and Warsteiner, on their fabulous win today in the Intermediare I freestyle at the National dressage championships. Heather has trained Warsty from the beginning and brought him patiently and skillfully to this level.

These photos are from early days of training.....

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Back from the conference, relapsed...

I returned from ASCO last Tuesday evening. Since then I have relapsed with my upper respiratory illness (no doubt due to being run down and running ragged at the conference!) It is great to be home. I saw Suki the next day and I could hear her talking to me as soon as I opened my car door!

Suki's skin looked great, and the graft, of course, is fine. The shell (sheet) is really taking a beating, and now the rigid protective insert is softening, which is causing the shell to shift. I wish she didn't still need it and I could just let her wear a fly sheet to cover the skin without hair. I had thought about buying thick foam to put in the pocket of the shell and the Wunderwear fly sheet. I am thinking that with just that type of padding I probably wouldn't need the extra padding from the husband suggested neoprene which has better memory and is water proof. Now that I think about it, the hard protective insert causes bruising without a bandage when Suki rolls, so the neoprene might serve as a better protector at this point. I found a source so I will order some and cut it to fit in the pocket....

Although I wasn't feeling very well, I desperately needed to see and ride Nikki! I positively tingled on my drive to the barn early Saturday morning. After being away it is always so nice to see the familiar sights of my beautiful Oley Valley! I jumped out of the car and called to Nikki. She immediately responded and was actually stomping her feet in her stall! My energy was pretty much zapped after grooming and tacking up, but my 20 minute ride was PURE HEAVEN! Nikki was willing to work, and even though it was just a basic ride, she seemed happy. I think that she missed me. Sunday I rode fo a little longer, and added some lateral work to the mix. It was already pretty warm by 7:30 AM, and the sun was bright so I rode inside. The large doors were open so it wasnt stifling, and it was certainly better than baking under the sun! At the end we were both tired and sweaty, but very content.

I had hoped to get to Gladstone to watch some of the Festival of Champions...maybe this weekend. The Olympic dressage team will be selected from the Grand Prix championships, and I would love to see Heather ride in the Intermediare I championships. I leave for another conference on the 22nd, so I may have to be content with live stream! I think that is my last conference until ESMO which is in Vienna in September.

The hot days have been keeping Suki in during the day and out at night. Today I noticed that some of the areas where I had applied sunscreen (the sun is usuallly still up when she goes out at night)was a little bumpy. It is darkly pigmented but I am concerned that it might be sunburn....She will be in tonight due to rain and storms, so I applied a different moisturizer containing aloe, I will see how it looks tomorrow. The Wunderwear covers all of the exposed skin, so Suki may have to start wearing that outside and naked in her stall. It probably seems that I worry excessively, but the skin care is important to her well-being, and it is a priority in her care. Some days it seems like a daunting task, but that time that we spend together has strengthened our bond.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Horse of a Lifetime

"Horse of a lifetime". What defines this? For some it is the horse that took them to the highest level of their discipline, perhaps even representing their country in international competition. Most of us mere mortals can only dream of such a thing. There are horses who allow us to achieve milestones such as dressage medals, qualify or win an equitation final or jump the highest jump we have ever jumped. I am sure that Zenyatta's owners and trainer consider her the horse of lifetime. What about the first horse you ever sat on? Special, yes, providing the most wonderful memories, but not necessarily the horse of a lifetime. Whenever I hear that phrase it is usually in connection with a major training or competition achievment.

I have loved many horses in my life. My beautiful Jenny will always hold her own special place in my heart. She was the first horse that I bought as a 2 year old and started under saddle myself. Together we achieved success in competition. No, not at the highest levels, possibly because her career had been cut short by an injury in a trailer accident. Perhaps we never would have made it to Grand Prix dressage, but she certainly had the movement and the moxie.....and we had the time of our lives together. Her character and stoicism are legendary (in my world)and I can't help but smile. Jenny loved life and embraced retirement with the same gusto in which she approached every new challenge.
Surveying her kingdom....

Shortly after retirement

And beautiful baby Nikki....I love her so much. My heart warms when I think about her, and I smile from ear to ear when I put my foot in the saddle for our ride. She shows such promise, and I look forward to our future together while enjoying each day that we have. The first time I sat on her back I wanted to shout from the rooftops about how fortunate I was to have her! Every time I drive to the barn to ride my heart beats a little faster with excitement as I approach the farm, looking forward to the moment I hear Nikki call to me! I don't love her any less than I love Suki. They are my girls and I love them with equal intensity.

But Suki, I believe, is my horse of a lifetime. No, we have not achieved greatness in our sport, and never will. When I bought her I immediately thought: "This is my horse of a lifetime". Well, it turns out that she is, but not in the way that I had originally hoped, or even expected. Yes, we have had some bumps in the road of training, but always pushed on and ultimately overcame. The fire brought new challenges....the first being survival. I can still feel that fear that overcame me as I pulled in the driveway of New Bolton Center that first day.

I wanted to have great success with Suki in the dressage arena, but fate stepped in and changed our course. July 9, 2012 will be the 3 year anniversary of the fire, and so much has happened during that time. Through Suki, I have learned what it means to be a survivor. We have met people in person and through the internet that are inspired by Suki, and in turn we are inspired by them. Some bonds stand the test of time, injury and death. Suki's courage and strong will to live have made me appreciate every day. The world around me seems different as well, because I too, have changed. My appreciation of even the smallest of life's blessngs has ignited a passion to help others and to "give back". I only hope that I can live up to that challenge.

I love that Suki's personality has remained the same, truly demonstrating the meaning of inner beauty. She has shown that to other burn survivors as well, and they too, appreciate her sense of humor and zest for life, in spite of physical scars. I read an article about Zenyatta that talked about how well she transitioned to her new life as a mother. Like Suki, Zenyatta loves to flirt with the camera, and knows when she is the center of attention. I have watched Suki transition from dressage horse in training, to burn survivor with grace and dignity. We can all learn a lesson from her.

I returned last night from a conference and went out to Suki this afternoon. When I called her name she trotted across the field nickering to me, rewarding me with nuzzles and kisses. Yes, she is my horse of a lifetime.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Missing my girls

And my husband and son too....

May 31 I left home to attend a conference in Chicago. I won't return until Tuesday, June 5.....I hate being away from my family and horses, cats and dog for that length of time. Deb takes care of Suki's exfoliation, moisturizing, etc while I am away and Christine has been keeping watch as well. So I know that she is being well-cared for. Nikki is ridden while I am away, but probably doesn't get a lot of attention other than maintenance stuff while I am gone. That always makes me feel bad. I love that Jennifer has been posting the photo of the day because it always makes me smile. I should have Meghan send me a Nikki picture each day.

I love this photo....Suki looks so regal!

When I lunge Suki I like to remember what it felt like to ride her. The very first time I cantered her under saddle I was propelled forward from the push! It was so funny. As a 17 hand 3 year old with VERY long legs, she was all over the place until she figured out her body. I would rise into two-point position and just go with it down the long side of the arena, which at first took about 4 strides! The length of Suki's stride was amazing (and unbalanced), but as we continued she developed strength and learned what to do with all of those long legs! The balance came and began to work on containing the stride a bit. When I watch her cantering in the field she handily can shorten and lengthen her stride, turn on her hind end in a half pirouette and continue. Sometimes as she approaches the gate I am certain that she will crash and I ask her to Whoa with my voice. Suki simply shortens her stride and comes to a halt. I have heard people say that dressage is not natural for a horse. Really? What I described is done at liberty, and while her balance comes from strength acquired from training I believe the movements are part of nature. Horses in the wild must adapt their strides, change gaits and sometimes change direction on a dime. Our training enhances these skills and fine tunes them.

Sometimes when I go out to get Suki I will "round pen" her around me in the field. It is such fun! She stays on a 20 meter circle around me and follows my commands. Of course there are also times when she bores of this game and breaks the circle, approaching me to walk next to me to the gate.

Nikki has been behaving in my absence, and I look forward to riding later this week. I packed a few Dressage Today magazines to keep my mind riding, while my body can't be!
Sweet baby Nikki...

Regular posting will be back beginning Wednesday.....