Friday, May 31, 2013

There's always something!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013
The sudden increase in temperature leads to more worries, of course.  The barn has not yet switched to out at night in during the day routine and I usually don't have Suki and Nikki out for 24/7.  There are a few reasons for that.  Although both girls treasure their outside time they also both take a nightly snooze in the comfort of their stalls.  Flat out.  Snoring.  This is evidenced by the amount of shavings in manes and tails by morning!  Because of this I believe they need some stall time.  I am sure that many will disagree with my choice but it feels right for Suki and Nikki.  Although the way Suki tries to follow me out of her stall I am sure she thinks that she is being short changed!  Sometimes I do allow them a day or so here and there to be out consecutive day and night.  Tuesday and Wednesday were up near 90 degrees and both girls were a little sweaty at the end of the day.  Temperatures were expected to return to normal (then colder at night again) after those two days so we did not do the turnout switch.

Because Suki must wear some type of protective clothing during turnout she was quite sweaty underneath.  I pulled off the fly sheet and gave her a quick shower leaving her naked in the stall.  Nikki too was a little sticky but I elected to do a light ride.  There was a slight breeze and half of the arena was shaded during the late afternoon.  Nikki worked very well but I kept the work light.  Throwing in a small amount of lateral work to add variety she responded happily as we took a number of walk breaks.  Both of us were ringing wet by the end.  I started to feel a little wobbly as I walked into the barn and quickly pulled off Nikki's tack, offered her a short drink of water then sat down to rehydrate myself!  The feeling passed quickly and was not unusual for the conditions.  After Nikki had a nice cooldown shower I turned my attention back to Suki who although not in any distress was a little sweaty.  She received another shower.  Both horses were happily nibbling hay when I left.  I would have put them out for the night, but as with Tuesday night it was still pretty hot and sunny outside and I did not want to put Suki in her fly sheet again.  Although this would again require a morning trip to the barn to dress Suki for turnout before heading to the office I felt that it was the best solution.

I have three fly sheets for Suki.  One is a stiff mesh that seems cooler, while the other two are softer but to me do not breathe so well in spite of how the product description reads!!  Weatherbeeta makes a very lightweight mesh fly sheet but I wonder how durable it is......also, is there enough UV protection for Suki's back where there isn't any hair?  I could always sew a soft patch of fabric covering that area, further protecting it from the sun. It's inexpensive so it might be worth a try.  Once the horses are out at night and in during the day it won't be so bad, although on the hottest days Suki will be naked in her stall, standing in  front of a fan.

Saturday, May 25, 2013
Incredible wind!  The girls were not so anxious to come in so I had to round them up!  After galloping in the opposite direction I was able to finally get them to redirect.  I actually brought Nikki in first which is VERY rare!  Temperatures had dipped down to 40 so once again heavy sheets were required. Because Saturday was cloudy, windy and in the fifties I decided to keep their sheets on all day.  With 10-20 mile per hour winds I was debating the riding situation.  Ultimately I sucked it up and rode.  Nikki, of course, was fine.  I finished with a little in hand work to sharpen her a bit.  For Suki I decided not to lunge but to just do some in hand work in the paddock behind the barn.  She called to Nikki several times but I kept changing commands until she settled into her work.  I like how she responds to leg yielding so we tried a little turn on the haunches.  That went okay, but I have to check to be sure I am asking correctly.  After a few steps of piaffe we finished.

Sunday, May 26, 2013
After my morning run I ran over to the barn to pull off Nikki's sheet and change Suki into a fly sheet.  They wanted out!  This was before the horses had been fed so I helped make them content with a flake of hay.
Later that day when I went back to ride they galloped to the gate to greet me.  When I brought Nikki in I noticed that she had a scrape on her butt.  Nothing major.  But upon further inspection I noticed that her right hind fetlock was puffy.  No heat or evidence of a cut or puncture.......She seemed to be walking fine so I decided to lunge her to see if the swelling went down and /or if there was any stiffness or lameness involved.  While all seemed fine as far as movement, the swelling did not reduce much so I decided not to push the issue and just worked lightly followed by some lateral work in hand. (I am practicing for the SRS workshop that I hope to do!).  Actually I find that work in hand is quite useful when done correctly adding to the training exercises.
When I put Nikki back in her stall after cooling down and grooming she did not seem quite right to me. Although interested in treats she did not appear to be interested in the hay in her stall, moving it around to various places.  It is not uncommon for her to move the hay pile away from her feed tub and closer to the water buckets for easier dunking access. But something seemed different.  Then she lifted her upper lip a couple of times which can be a symptom of belly discomfort.  As I groomed Suki I kept going back to Nikki's stall.  She did not seem to be in any distress, just resting in her stall which is something she does after being out.  The lip went up again.  I checked for gut sounds and all seemed                                                                                                                                                                                    normal.  By the time I had finished with Suki Nikki was nibbling at her hay a little, appearing comfortable and relaxed.  As I was preparing to leave C arrived so I asked her opinion as well.  She agreed that Nikki was fine.     Cooking dinner my mind kept wandering back to Nikki's behavior.  So later that evening I made a quick trip to the barn for another check.  She was fine, but I felt better having had a last look for the night.  The big pile of manure in the back of the stall made me feel better as well!

Monday, May 27, 2013
Another quick check on Nikki at 7 AM and all seemed fine except for the RH that had stocked up again.  Both Suki and Nikki had shavings in their manes and tales so I knew that they had a restful night.  There weren't any signs in Nikk's stall that she had been doing anything out of the ordinary.  Nikki came out of her stall fine but instead of riding at that time I thought it best to let the girls go out for a few hours returning to ride later.      
After spending the day outside the girls were happy to come in.  Both were fine and Nikki worked well, but I did a light ride just to be sure.

The heat is expected to return by the end of the week so turnout will be switched to days inside, nights outside.  Every year when we do the switch my initial thought is the irony of Suki going out over night.  If only that had been the case the night of the fire.  I don't dwell on it, but the thought creeps in once or twice during summer turnout.

But we just keep moving forward with new goals and wonderful life experiences, enjoying each day knowing how quickly everything can change.                                    

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Lateral work

Sunday, May 19, 2013
Today was one of those gray days consisting of on and off misting.  Not real rain, just enough moisture to be a little annoying.  Suki and Nikki were out and did not seem too bothered by the conditions as evidenced by their reluctance to come to the gate.  It was close to feeding time so naturally all of the other horses had moved to the paddock gate area from their large pastures, prompted by me shaking a bucket of grain. 

My girls, of course lifted their heads from the lush grass and acknowledged my call with a soft whinny in response.  Then, back to grazing.  Suki started to walk toward me then was startled by Buck, the farm owner's little dog jumping through the adjacent pasture.  Since that field is being rested the little guy was having a grand time leaping about.  Once Suki realized that this was not a chestnut-horse-eating monster she continued to casually walk toward me in that lovely, big, swinging walk that makes me smile.  Nikki played her usual game; she likes to pretend that she doesn't notice what is going on then suddenly looks up, calls out and gallops to the gate.  Sometimes she keeps it at a walk if Suki is not too far ahead of her.  Nikki approaches me with a furrowed brow and an ear cocked in Suki's direction in anticipation of being shooed away by her sister.

The relationship between Suki and Nikki is an interesting one.  It seems like Nikki would like to be a little closer but Suki keeps her at arm's length. However, when Nikki is not near, she calls to her, and as Suki is always taken out of the pasture first, she paces and talks during the 30 seconds that it takes to bring in Nikki. 

I had a very nice ride on Nikki on Saturday.  She seems to be still trying to get back in the groove of working, but thankfully Louise has been helping with that.  It takes the pressure off of me and my many obligations.  July will slow down and I will then be able to do the majority of the riding.  We are definately making progress, but I am anxious to ride more!  The whole world goes away as soon as I put my foot in the stirrup!  Right now we are working on a lot of transitions and a bit of forward and back within the gaits.  Last fall, just before we had to stop for the winter Nikki was really sharp off the aids while staying soft in the mouth.  Now we have to make up for lost time.  I am beginning to work on a plan for winter 2013-14 because there is no way I am going to take the winter off. For the most part Nikki is quite willing, so it is really just a matter of consistent work.  I also did a bit of leg yielding which was better off of my left leg than my right, but that is more my issue than hers.  A few rounds of spiraling in and leg yielding out helped both of us.  The bit of on again off again mistiness didn't seem to bother her at all, but she definately flops her ears more in the rain!

Instead of doing a full lunging session with Suki I decided to do just a few minutes then some work in hand.  The work in hand was just some lateral movement but Suki seemed pretty happy about it.  She was less than thrilled about the misty rain .  As I led her out of the barn Suki first stuck her head out into the mist, then turned back to look at me, questioning my judgement.  A quick tap brought her to attention, and she only called to Nikki once!  After a few minutes of walk, trot and canter Suki came to a nice square halt.  From each side I lightly touched her side (where my leg would be) and she willingly moved to the side crossing her legs as we also walked forward.  It is fun to watch her move as though I were on her back.  I think I will do some of that work with Nikki this weekend as well.

Isaiah worked on lunging during his lesson this week.  He watched me lunge Nikki and told me that he really wanted to learn to do that.  Unfortunately my girls are simply too large, so Louise worked with him and Blackie. He was very excited about it!

I think that sometimes people underestimate the value of lateral work in other disciplines.  Even in the hunter divisions where some (not all!) sort of poopoo dressage, lateral work is important.  Doesn't everyone want their horse to move easily off the leg?  What about during a jumping course?  Isn't adjustability important??  I remember he first time M (hunter rider) rode Nikki.  She couldn't believe how easily this 4 year old responded to her seat and leg.  Apparently most of the young horses that people asked her to start over fences were unbalanced, did not bend well or respond to the leg.  Hmmmm. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013
hello summer!  Yuck!  Hot and humid with two very cranky big girls.  Did I mention that Nikki seems a little bit taller this spring when I sat on her?? Fortunately the weather is supposed to cool off again on Thursday, but tomorrow's 90 degree ride is going to be not so much fun.  But who am I to complain?  I have a lovely mare to ride!  Granted, I don't like summer heat, but I am willing to accept it in July and August.  But MAY?  No.  I keep monitoring the weather in Stockholm, which is where I am headed mid June.  Other than the early sunrise and late sunset the weather so far  looks like it might be cool.  Of course, I will be in the conference center a lot, but I LOVE that convention center!  It is so well laid out.  Too bad I will be arriving 4 days after the royal wedding.  But first I have to get through ASCO in Chicago.... Maybe I will be welcoming the heat of July and the slowing down of my work schedule! Of course July also brings that Andreas Hausberger  clinic, which I am beyond excited about!  Bring it on!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Happy Birthday Suki!

May 5, 2013
Suki turned 13 today.  A milestone for any horse but especially for one like Suki, who came so close to death.  She looks me in the eye and I see that fierce determination that she must have used to stare down death and laugh in its face.  Behind that look is a softness.  A cool understanding of just what she has accomplished. 

One of Suki's FB friends sent her a birthday card and money to buy special treats for Suki.  Many thanks far I have picked up some gummies and a container of molasses treats.  I am so grateful for such kindness, a nd happy to see that Suki has touched her heart.

Yesterday on Derby Day I thought about what defines greatness.  People talk about the mark of greatness.  What is that exactly?  What is that distinguishing feature, and how do we define greatness?  Awards, achievments? Certainly competitive accomplishments can mark greatness.  As part of Kentucky Derby fever, a special about Secretariat was aired on television.  While not a huge fan of horse racing (although I watch the Triple Crown races for the pomp and circumstance and tradition) one cannot ignore Big Red's accomplishments and personality.  One of the things that caught my attention was how each person who spoke about him had a tone of reverence.  I can't remember which person said this but the comment "it was as though the lord himself had taken hold of the reins" in reference to the famed 31 length Belmont victory seemed to me to symbolize the awe in which Secretariat is held.  Ron Turcotte, Secretariat's jockey said something that I don't agree with, however.  He said that the horse was so great that he thinks anyone could have ridden him to victory.  I don't believe that.  Yes, others probably could have ridden him well, but not necessarily all would have won.  Look at what happened to the great dressage horse Totilas.  Edward Gal was all but unbeatable on him.  Matthias Rath did not share the same success when he took over the ride.  And although there are allegedly many other factors contributing to that lack of success, time will tell as they set about training with Sjef Janssen of the Netherlands (not without its own controversy I might add). There is something to be said about the bond between horse and rider.

And speaking of bond, I watched an episode of Nature on PBS about the Spanish Riding School..... fueling my obsession with the history and tradition of the training and breeding of the Lipizzaner horses.  I love the way the horses are raised in Piber on the farm.  The same place that the performing stallions from Vienna spend their summers.  The horse are handled from birth to encourage and form the bond with humans as a higher member of the herd.  In a large, one room barn there was footage of all the mares and foals coming in together to eat and be groomed.  Moms and babies all seemed to enjoy the attention.  And while I know that some people feel that the training is harsh and the horses not treated well, you cannot fake the way the horses respond to the humans each time they are together.  I also think that centuries of classical training has to have some significance.  I mentioned the SRS shortly after I had an opportunity to visit while attending a conference in Vienna.  Many believe that the horses work too hard during the performances.  But the same horses are not used throughout the entire evening performance.  There are 70 stallions stabled in Vienna...all with specialties of their own....this is what they perform in.  The many years of slow methodical training leads to a happy, healthy and sound riding horse, some of who are trained to the highest levels.  It is evident as one watches them school.  And yes, as far as the television special they show things going smoothly etc.  But patience is key and we see all too often what happens when the process is rushed.  And now I see that Andreas Hausberger, Chief Rider at the SRS and Director of Training at the Heldenberg Training center will be conducting a clinic in New Berlin, NY in July.  A four hour drive from my home you can be sure I will be making the drive to Waltzing Horses Farm to audit for a few days!  So exciting! That will likely increase my desire to participate in the training workshop in Vienna.....

May 8,2013
Very rainy today, so I wasn't sure how much the girls would get out, if at all.  L was planning on riding Nikki but by 9 AM the rain was pretty steady pretty much squashing any riding plans.  Not sure what the turnout status was, I ran over to the barn at lunch time.  If L had ridden I probably would have had just leave the girls in when she was finished.  Anticipating wet girls and soggy fly sheets I opened the barn door that leads to the paddock.  Suki and Nikk sort of looked at me like "What? "You're bringing us in?  It's barely raining!"  I grabbed Suki and immediately noticed that her fly sheet was not very wet and Nikki's back just had spots of rain.  They had not been out very long.  So I let them stay out, and even though the rain became a bit heavier as I headed home (of course) it was warm.  Mkes for happier mares!

May 9, 2013
The beautiful face that greets me!
I had Chinese take out for lunch in my office today.  This was my fortune:
So I am thinking the absurd is trying to get Suki into a saddle again....which leads to the impossible: sitting on her back.  This is my new mantra! 

Back to greatness.....Suki did not have the chance to achieve great competitive success, so who really knows what she could have done.  She and I were finally on the right path together at the time of the fire so we are left with many unknowns.  However, I do believe that she has the mark of greatness in other ways: tremendous courage and the ability to inspire.  And I think that's pretty great!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

What lies ahead

Suki will turn 13 on Sunday May 5.  When I think about how close I came to losing her the night of the fire, I realize that her survival is truly miraculous.  Sometimes I take it for granted, probably because she is such a big part of my life.  We go along day after day in our usual routine, or the usual routine since the fire.  That routine has changed over the past several years, as "treatments" are no longer required.  The daily moisturizing is part of her grooming regimen and I don't really consider that a treatment.  Granted it is different from Nikki's grooming routine, but each horse has its own needs and idiosyncrasies, so even that is not all that strange.  I do sometimes worry about how people will react to how Suki looks, but there are also times when I totally forget until someone says "What happened to your horse?"

Because it took so long for Suki's back to heal, eventually requiring a skin graft which also had some setbacks due to rolling, I never considered the possibility of her doing more than lunging.  That has always been fine for me, since I knew from day one there was little chance of me sitting on her again.  My goal was always that she be happy and healthy. I started to lunge Suki to give her something else to do and marveled at how well trained she is to voice commands (I did 90% of that training).  How had I forgotten that?  Once (with Lori's help) we found someone to make a special protective garment and the graft was really able to heal I considered adding a surcingle and side reins for lunging.  Now that Suki is bandage and padding free, the goals seem to have expanded.

A major concern of mine is what would happen to the graft site, and in fact, her entire back where there is no hair?  Would the friction of a regular saddle pad with the weight of a lunging surcingle and side reins be irritating and cause abrasions?  I have had a number of suggestions as to what to use but was intrigued by the claims for Success Equestrian's non-slip saddle pad. 
From Success Equestrian's home page:

      Technical No-Slip Saddle Pads                 Dressage                Hunter/Jumper                 Eventing

Welcome to Success Equestrian. Our mission is to provide an elegant alternative to solving every day saddle pad fitting problems.

Our no-slip saddle pads address a very common problem of saddle slipping and stability while at the same time maintaining a ‘traditional show ring quality’ appearance. The saddle pads keep the tack in place, including the pad itself, without the need for extra pieces of rubber stripping or chamois pieces.

The special open cell foam seat insert adds extra stability and shock absorption. The flexible air flow no-slip grip is strategically built into the pad only where it’s needed eliminating unnecessary sweating on the horse’s sides. Best of all, the whole pad is breathable and washes great.
Take a look and see how our technical saddle pads can help you and your horse.
Dealer inquiries welcome.

Your purchase today will help support the Equestrian Aid Foundation.  Click on "Giving Back" for more information. 

Dressage pad description:

Deluxe Dressage No-Slip Saddle Pad

The Deluxe Dressage No-Slip pad will keep your saddle pad and saddle in place. No more bunching up behind your leg, no more saddle slipping too far back or riding up the neck and no more over tightening of girths. This pad prevents slippage on even the hardest to fit horses. The fully contoured top line ensures comfort for your horse.
With an added 1.5cm open cell breathable foam cushion in the seat, this pad offers extra shock absorption and stability. The air flow grip bottom layer is completely breathable and wicks perspiration due to the quilted cotton blend top layer. The quilted top layer is crisp and white, perfectly suitable for the show ring.
Designed with the air flow grip only where you need it, this new style will help prevent extra sweating under the rear flap of the saddle pad. A soft satin fabric on the wither area is used to ensure comfort. Easy to wash with a non-bleach detergent in warm water. It's even ok to spot treat. Hang dry.

I contacted the company and explained my special needs, wondering if this pad would work for Suki.  They are confident that this will work for Suki and kindly offered to send me a dressage saddle pad to try.

It was so kind of Success Equestrian to send me a saddle pad for me to try on Suki with a surcingle.

I also love that they donate to the Equestrian Aid Foundation.

So now I keep looking at the saddle pad and wonder if I have any idea of what lies ahead.  Am I crazy for even trying this?  Maybe I should just leave things as they are.  What will happen when I attach side reins?  Will she resist the pressure and go up?  Will I found out that she does have lung damage as the work increases?  So far I have not seen any evidence of damage, so although fairly confident that she is okay, harder work may prove otherwise (that, of course would immediately back off extended work).  I am truly excited to be starting this new chapter with Suki, but also a little anxious.  It will evident pretty quickly if this will work.  If all is successful with the surcingle and saddle pad we will move on to long lining.  Then, who knows....maybe by next year I will sit on Suki again.  There is no pressure to do so, and Suki herself will let me know if this is going to happen.  Long lining will be a blast, and I have discussed in previous posts about working the upper level movements from the ground.  Time will tell and there is no rush.  One step at a time.  gradually increase work and fitness level.  Baby steps.  What fun! Back to basics for Suki and bringing Nikki up through the levels. 

Two years ago I was contacted by an equine rescue who had a horse that had been in a barn fire.  His owner could not afford to treat him so surrendered him to Save a Forgotten Equine (S.A.F.E).  He too, has had a long road to recovery but is doing great now.  Strider also did not grow all of his hair back across his topline, so they are considering driving him if they can find a harness that would fit without irritating the skin.  I suggested either an extended non slip pad, or contacting My Pet's Brace, the company who made Suki's protective garment to see if they can design something. 

Ali is a horse in New York who also survived a barn fire.  I have spoken with his owner as well.  She was burned rescuing Ali and his mother from the barn on her property.  His recovery is also going well, but this type of recovery is slow as too many of us have come to find out.  For all of us the fire became the start of an unknown journey....will our horses recover?  What will be the long term effects?  What lies ahead......?