Friday, January 25, 2013

Why do I always say how much I love winter??

I really do love winter. The way the cold hits my face when I walk out the door, and the crunching sound the gravel makes as I walk from my car to the barn. I don't, however, love the threat of frozen water buckets and outdoor footing unsuitable for any type of equestrian activity. Well, I suppose Nikki and I could do some walking in hand exercises, but let's face it by 4:30 in the afternoon the temperatures drop quickly and there is only so much of that cold face slapping that I can take!

The water buckets are filled late morning after the stalls are cleaned so by the time the horses come in there is a thin film of ice covering the surface. My concern is that some horses won't push their noses through even the thinnest layers of ice and as the night progresses those buckets surely freeze. So I go in and shake each horse's bucket (in addition to those belonging to my girls) so that everyone has an opportunity to drink. Suki always takes a long drink after I do this like she hasn't had water in years. Personally I believe this is for effect, since it is usually obvious that she has already taken water from the other bucket. Always the drama queen!

I confess, the past few nights I have not even taken Suki and Nikki out of their stalls. I have added layers of blankets, fed treats and moisturized Suki's neck, but those blankets did not come off. Some of this has to do with my continuing recovery from that awful flu that the child brought home to me (and my husband LOVES to point out that he had a flu shot and did not get sick). I am so tired by the end of the day (because of the flu) that a full grooming in the cold barn just doesn't work for me. But I also feel guilty removing the blankets to groom. Yes, I have coolers to keep half the body warm while I groom, but instead I have been just grooming legs, faces and necks, conditioning tails and picking feet. So far the girls seem fine. My love affair with winter, not so much. These are extreme temperatures right now and we are heading for a warm up back into the low thirties for next week which will undoubtedly feel like a heat wave. That's when I will go back to loving winter.

Nikki does not seem all that bothered by my abbreviated groomings in her stall. She smushes her face into me requesting an ear rub and continues to dunk her hay. Suki, on the other hand, appears to be quite annoyed and slighted by the subpar treatment. Every time I open the door to walk out of her stall I feel a big head presssed against my back as she tries to follow me out the door. Because I am not going to notice 1400lbs of chestnut mare attached to me, right? Suki is so funny. She obviously wants to come out on the cross ties and receive a full grooming/spa treatment accompanied by gummy bear bribes and fussing from me. It's not like the horses are not going outside every day and she just wants to be out of her stall. She is going out in the pasture regularly and when I arrive at the barn, has probably only been inside for 30 minutes or so. Maybe it is just that special bond that Suki and I share. Or maybe she is just super demanding! : )

Friday, January 25, 2013
As the cold snap continues (but now warming to 21 degrees!)I keep the girls bundled in layers. Each day I check to make sure that Suki and Nikki are not too warm under their clothing and not chilly. You know, that perfect temperature. I sweep my hand under the blankets to feel their bodies. Sweating underneath can cause a chill, and although I am probably over protective, I do take my job as their "mother" seriously. Today I went to the barn early because of the approaching snow. The winding hilly roads to the barn will be covered with snow quickly so I wanted to get there early before the snow starts.

I am sitting in the room at the front of the house (the library) writing this watching the snow fall silently over the mountains. My visit earlier brought Suki right to the fence, waiting for me to get out of the car. Yes, that is a sheet on top, but underneath is her Rambo heavy, and a blanket liner! What a joyous sight it is to be greeted by this always reminds me how close I came to losing her.

Nikki was eating hay near the gate of her pasture when I arrived, so after greeting her majesty, Suki and offering treats to her and Banker I walked through the barn to see Nikki. I couldn't get a good photo, but I love this did I get so lucky to have such beautiful girls.....

The day I met Nikki, age 2.... I am such a at first sight!

I finally found a clinic to audit! Two in fact!! One was supposed to be tomorrow, but was rescheduled to next Saturday. So I will go to that one and another on the 10th of February! Yay! I am also hoping to re-connect with local dressage people in anticipation of my spring competition goals.

My love affair with winter continues......

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

It's COLD!

Having been felled by the flu for the past week, I am finally beginning to feel human again. I should have realized that I was being cocky when I bragged last Monday that I had not caught the flu from Isaiah, who came home from school Friday January 11 with a fever. For the next couple of days I had a feverish 6 year old glued to me. Typically I would have been sick by Sunday night....that is how the timing usually works for me, so I figured I was safe. Isaiah was off to school on Monday recovered excpet for a lingering cough. I was relieved to have been spared. Tuesday morning I had a scratchy throat, by Tuesday night I had a fever, chills, aches.... uggh! Fortunately Deb and Toby were taking care of the girls Wednesday, but they ended up filling in for me on Thursday and Friday as well. Saturday I made a brief visit, still exhausted from the flu.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Still feeling the after effects (and deep chest cough) from the flu I went out to the girls late in the afternoon. The warmth of the day was turning into an evening chill, and temperatures were expected to continue to plummet. The sun felt warm and I tilted my face to the sky when I got out of my car by the barn savoring what was sure to be the last of the warmth for awhile. As I turned to look for the girls at the top of their pastures I heard Suki nicker as she trotted toward the gate. The trot turned into a gallop and Nikki followed immediately after in her field. If anything was going to make me feel better it is the sight of my beautiful girls so clearly demonstrating their joy in my arrival.

Suki was, of course, muddy from head to toe. Nikki is usually not as ambitious with her rolling so was not quite as bad. It felt good to be with them, even though the grooming process was completely draining! Preparing for the drop in temperatures I bundled them up a little warmer. Suki had dropped a little weight a month or so ago, and although her grain has been increased, and she gets a large quantity of hay, I am not seeing that much of an improvement. The girls are wormed regularly so I don't think that has anything to do with it. I am thinking that maybe the addition of some Equine Senior may help. They both get Fast Track supplement and although I stopped the flax seed supplement I give them flax cookies instead. I am not a fan of beet pulp so I will have to investigate feeds and supplements to determine my next step. One of my concerns is that she is no longer getting the same feed that I had her on when we moved there, although it is the same protein content. Saturday I will talk to the folks at Oley Valley Feed and see what they suggest.

Once again with the extreme cold I am concerned about the tips of Suki's ears and the danger of frost bite. The edges where the original tips came off do not have hair. My veterinarians have assured me that this is not a problem. It never has been, but I just like to worry about it!

Monday, January 21, 2013
As predicted the temperatures have dipped with colder weather and strong winds headed our way tonight and tomorrow. The girls seemed warm in their clothing so I dindn't change anything, but I will re-evaluate Tuesday. The water buckets are not heated so hopefully the buckets will not freeze over night. Suki and Nikki both drain their two buckets daily and it is crucial for horses to remain well hydrated in the winter. I think sometimes that people forget that.

Days like this always make me say "Now I know why people take their horses to Florida in the winter". Maybe some day I will be joining them. I like to think I will be able to do this after my book is published and then Suki and I can do some "meet and greet" and book signings While I have Nikki down there competing. Of course it doesn't help that every day on Dressage Daily are reports about the fabulous show season where the who's who of the equestrian gather to prepare for the regular season and make their mark. Granted, there are primarily "regular" people competing as well. But the winter in Wellington/West Palm really does offer the opportunity to watch riders at the top of the sport.

But I honestly do love winter. It is making me a little blue this year because the lack of indoor will prevent me from riding until spring, and at this rate I may not be able to even lunge the girls for awhile. And my goal of finding dressage clinics to audit has not been very successful either. Maybe in February....Watching others have lessons might not seem like much but it does sharpen the eye and learn what to do and not to do! Something I always find entertaining is when the clinic is with a celebrity rider that often end with a Q & A session. I find that while some have genuine questions based on what they have observed that day others take the opportunity to brag about themslves and their horses. In fact, at the end of their monologue it is often difficult to dissect the question that is allegedley hidden in the carefully planned speech! Such fun! Maybe I should just go spend the day with Heather and watch her teach all day.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013
Because of the extreme cold and wind I decided to do abbreviated grooming and spa for the girls tonight. I brushed everything not covered by a blanket, picked feet and conditioned tails. The only areas I moisturized on Suki were her face and neck, just what is exposed to the elements. Adding another layer to each of them they were good for the night. My fingers were frozen but the girls are cozy and warm. A thin layer of ice had formed on their water buckets which had been filled in the morning so I swirled the water around to get rid of any chunks. Bundled with a scarf around my head I ran to my car! I have a really great scarf from when I lived in upstate New York that fits over my head, under a riding helmet then ties like a scarf. It's awesome! The cold is here to stay for awhile so I guess we'd better get used to it!

Suki soaking up the sun

Nikki sucking up for a treat

Monday, January 14, 2013

The New Normal

While reading an article about the wounded warrior equestrian program, I suddenly realized how frequently we hearthe phrase "the new normal". Typically this is used in reference to people who have had their lives dramatically altered due to illness or injury, such as becoming a paraplegic. Learning to live daily life requires re-learning of daily activities changing the way they lived before. So I started to dissect this phrase a bit while grooming the girls yesterday....

I started with Jenny. Jenny was purchased as an unstarted 2 year old. Having worked with a few people starting horses under saddle I felt that I was well-prepared to take on the challenge. Still in graduate school with limited funds, buying a young horse was the only way to get a high quality dressage prospect at a low price. I have one thing to say: ignorance is bliss! Armed with the confidence of youth I embarked on my journey with Jenny. Jenny was two when I bought her and really knew nothing. The day I went to see her she was standing in the indoor arena waiting to show me her stuff. As I walked in she turned to look at me, nickered and executed a beautiful floating trot over to me. I was sold! After bringing her home, I started with ground training. The daily normal was grooming followed by leading and brief lunging lessons. Soon we moved onto wearing a bridle and eventually a saddle. The normal day was grooming, putting on saddle and bridle then lunging. Jenny graduated to side reins, then was finally ready for weight. Once Jenny was comfortable with that the daily "normal" was lunging followed by brief periods of riding. The best day was when I realized (while sitting on Jenny's back) that the new normal was RIDING@!!!

Fast forward to Suki. She arrived from Canada with 30 days under saddle, which included 2 weeks of lunging without a rider. So she basically had been ridden for two weeks. The normal day was to work Suki in the round pen, first without tack, then fully tacked up. After I sat on her back the first time we did round pen work followed by riding in the roundpen. After awhile it was lunging prior to riding, then just riding.....The new normal was awesome! Riding my beautiful chestnut mare. Winter normal went back to adding lunging before riding, because 3 year old Suki needed to be reminded to focus before I got on her back! So I think that the new normal is really just changes that have occurred because of progress or....changes in one's life.

Admittedly, the new normal after a life-altering incident requires quite a bit more adjustment. Having to re-learn procedures such as eating, speaking, teeth brushing etc can have a profound effect on a person's brain and their outlook on life. Some approach it with gusto, saying they will conquer again, while others are more timid and have difficulty accepting their new circumstances.

During Suki's seven week stay in ICU everything in my life seemed to be in limbo. Because New Bolton is over an hour away from my home I was only able to visit 5 days a week. It was a difficult new schedule but I felt that Suki needed to see me regularly and I needed to be a part of her recovery. It was wonderful when the "new normal" part of my visit was to groom the new hair and anywhere on her body that I could. Of course I nearly burst into tears buying new grooming tools at Unionville saddlery! Suki's life revolved around treaments during the course of her day and then finally being hand walked through the halls of ICU 4 times a day.

Moving Suki to Kelly's farm in Fleetwood for rehab once again altered my schedule. Only 25 minutes from home and 15 minutes from my office made more frequent visits possible and did not require a 5 hour block of time. That new normal was far less demanding and I enjoyed having a more active role in Suki's care, although Kelly performed the daily medications, etc. The new normal for Suki was that she was able to see other horses and finally able to go outside again! Only able to go out before sunrise and after sunset initially she was able to really stretch her legs once again, showing off her lovely gaits in the paddock just outside her stall. Contractors who were working at the other end of the barn would stop to watch my big chestnut mare piaffe, passage and pirouette as she tossed her head with glee....Suki was clearly enjoying her new normal! But what goes through their mind I wonder? This was a horse, who prior to the fire was used to training 6 days a week, and was now just happy to be able to get outside again. So many adjustments.....

Moving to a regular boarding situation 9 months later finally gave Suki a glimpse at being a regular horse. At Kelly's she was finally able to go out for extended periods since most of the hair on her face had grown back and she was able to wear clothing to cover the rest of her sensitive skin. Moving to a barn less than 10 minutes from my house she would meet her new "baby sister" Nikki and they were to be turned out together. The best new normal for Suki at this point was being weaned onto over night turnout for the summer months.

So many things have changed at this point. There are no more bandages or wounds to deal with just dry skin and muddy coat. Suki is lunged regularly and will increase work again once spring arrives.

Since I started to think about the concept of the new normal while reading about the Wounded Warrior Equestrian Program I realized its importance: Wounded veterans working with horses learn to accept the limitations brought on by their injuries. They realize that their lives DO have value even if they were at the darkest depths of despaur wondering how to continue. Suki has had visits from burn survivors and I would love for her to have visits from men and women in the Wounded Warrior program. We all have so much to learn from one another.

On a lighter note....I have noticed that someone's horse keeps pooping at the gate just inside the riding arena and they never pick it up. Just as it is pounded down another one this the new normal???

Monday, January 7, 2013

Learning to accept the things I cannot change

Last week I was going through some magazines, sorting them for review, recycle keep. My reading appetite is legendary in my family. Taught to read before age 3 by my mother I have been a voracious reader my entire life. Our home library pays homage to this past time! My tastes and interests are ecclectic, ranging from biographies, to historical novels to chick lit (yes, it's true, but who doesn't love a guilty pleasure from time to time!) and everything in beteween. I also am a very fast reader enabling me to read a 300-400 page book on a 2 1/2 hour flight. The more intense ones take a bit longer, admittedly. With magazines I read every article and those include horse magazines, art, ballet, business, WSJ, Vogue, Elle, Town and Country, Traditional Home, Elle Decor, Food and Wine, Entrepreneur, etc. As the magazines stack up I go back through and pull articles to refer to, clothing I like, recipes, etc. then send the magazines for recycling.

So as I was going through a pile I stumbled upon an extra copy of Equus magazine, August 2010. That issue contained an article about Suki and the fire. As I sat on the floor reading it, every single emotion that I had experienced came flooding back all at once. The graphic photos made me wince, and I could understand why some people would have thought that she was in a lot of pain. I just sat there and cried. Reading again, what veterinarians' impressions were, along with treatment goals and potential complications made me shake my ahead in was it even possible for Suki to overcome such odds! The dedication of the doctors and nurses kept Suki comfortable guiding her to recovery. I have always said that Suki's own amazing fortitude also kept her fighting to win the battle to survival. Others have maintained that my love for Suki evidenced by the time I spent with her during her 7 weeks in ICU also showed her the way. A comment made by Dr. Kelly Kalf helped me to understand Suki's determination: "Day 2 Suki lifted her head, and we never looked back". Suki ate, drank and demanded treats and attention the same way she had before the fire. We were always prepared for major setbacks and complications, which thankfully never came. Some of the photos in the article were incredibly difficult to look at and I remember receiving some comments about how selfish and cruel I was for putting my horse through such an ordeal. I had been prepared to make the decision for Suki to be euthanized if at any time she was thought to be in extreme pain or she would live a life that was not full and enjoyable. That was a decision I never had to make.
Here is the article:

I cannot change people's opinions and the vast majority believe that I did the right thing by sparing Suki's life and allowing her to recover. I wish sometimes that I could go back and change the events as they occurred. Acknowledged the warning signs at a boarding barn that seemed destined to fail. Or IF ONLY I had allowed her to be on night turnout....she would never have even been in the barn that night. Those are the biggest things I cannot change no matter how much I wish I was able to. At the time I made the best decisions I could with the available information and for how well I knew my horse.

While it is extremely difficult to look at these photos, and read the article, I do so knowing that I still have my beautiful girl. That she is happy and healthy, and due to the tremendous dedication and help that I received taking care of her I am able to hug her every day and know in my heart that the decision to go forward with treatment was the right one.

Another unchangeable situation: a person's opinion on what is best for all horses without taking personality or equestrian discipline into consideration. Yes, horses do have certain basic needs such as adequate turnout, good hay, shelter and quality grain, etc that must be fulfilled for their health, safety and well-being. But they also need regular grooming and attention. Allowing a horse's legs to remain muddy for weeks at a time can lead to problems. Now, I realize that sometimes there are circumstances where this is unavoidable, but I have a tough time dealing with management that makes comments such as "it's just a horse, a little mud isn't going to kill them". Very true, but when left unattended for extended periods there are health, soundness and well-being issues that can evolve. I also think that the way we turn out horses and bring them in can lead to many bad habits, some of them even dangerous. Allowing horses to run into the barn and into their stalls can lead to injury. I believe each should be led with a halter and lead rope, not just a rope around their neck, unless you are in an emergency situation or the horse is unable to wear a halter for whatever reason. Just saying....

Anyway, the girls are fine although Nikki has apparently been a bit wild when being brought in. No comment. I brought her in yesterday and she was fine. Personally, I don't think she gets along that well with her new pasture mate who was rearing and striking when I went to get Nikki one time. She has now started to spin and kick at him, something she had not ever done before....

Suki had a few scrapes on her left hind sock that while superficial, are fairly large. They seem to be healing well and I have been wrapping her legs at night over antibiotic ointment covered by gauze. For the past few days I have been able to go over in the morning to remove the bandages, but now that I have returned to work that will be more difficult.

Tonight the scrapes were much improved so after I cleaned the area I applied a nice thick ointment that serves as a bandage. Blanket changes with the slightly warmer weather, of course..... Both girls were in a happy mood,erasing any tension that I felt before I walked into the barn. The healing power of horses.....