Monday, October 29, 2012

Here Comes Sandy!

October 26, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 22, 2012

My hat is too tight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 15, 2012

A Constant Reminder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday (October 14, 2012)

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

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

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

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Magic of Ordinary Days

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Catching up, and a chance to meet with firefighters!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 5, 2012

Home At Last!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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