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???

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