Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Suki LOVES Passage!

So life has been a bit crazy lately.  I started a new job and for the first week or so I had to drive into Philadelphia every day.  Those of you familiar with the area know that this is not a simple task.  The weather has also not been so cooperative and between rain and frozen footing, training has not just slowed down, it has come to a screeching halt.  I try to do a bit of abbreviated work in hand in the barn, and some stretches and such.  Suki and Nikki have been able to go out at least for a couple of hours each day, and although it is primarily in the paddocks, at least they are getting out.  And they always manage to roll and get muddy.  Especially Suki!

That first week at TR was rough because of the obnoxious commute.  I managed to get to the barn each evening except one, but with the late hour and Isaiah's homework the visit was simply to straighten blankets, spoil the girls with treats and wrap my arms around their fuzzy necks.  They begged for more attention and it was difficult for me to turn off the light and walk out the door.  Thursday night when I stopped in for a quick visit Nikki pressed her face into my chest as soon as I opened her door.  For a few minutes I stood there and massaged her ears.  When I went into Suki's stall she immediately began snuffling my hair and neck, not wanting to let me leave again.  Absence apparently DOES make the heart grow fonder!  Perhaps Suki and Nikki will appreciate me just a bit more!  (Indeed!) : )

At the end of the first week I was thrilled to be able to spend time with the girls.  I was still in a crunch for time due to the rapid rate at which Christmas is descending upon us.  Our house is only partially decorated and the tree is up and wearing lights and bows but no ornaments just yet.  It does bring a festive feel in spite of the lack of ornaments!

Saturday, December 6, 2014
Frozen ground.  Arena work was not going to happen today!  When I opened the barn door Nikki called to me and I heard Suki stand up....It was late; 8 AM so I was surprised that she was still snoozing!

But I was finally able to give the girls a thorough grooming and moisturize Suki's dry skin.  In spite of being in the paddock, Suki had managed to roll, although I guess it could have been worse!

Suki's skin was not as dry as I had anticipated in spite of five days without her skincare regimen.  The good thing about winter and wearing blankets is that it actually holds the moisture in enabling me to moisturize across her back a little less frequently.  Face and neck still do best with daily care.  Today I did some stretching with Suki, pulling each leg into an extended position.  She knows the drill, so as soon as I start, I don't actually "pull".  She just stretches out with my very light guidance.  I would have loved to been able to lunge both girls, but that frozen footing is not good for the legs!

Working from home will give me more flexibility and save me 3 hours of commuting time every day.  So the second week I was able to spend more time with Suki and Nikki, although weather and arena conditions prevented me from doing more than just groom and perform minimal stretch and leading exercises.  But time with the girls has such a calming effect so I will take what I can get!

This past Sunday (14 DEC 2014) I really took my time to give the girls a thorough grooming and fuss over them.
Monday, 15 December, 2014
Suki and Nikki were in very mischievous moods today!  Fun and games.  Nikki kept trying to grab treats from my coat pocket while I was picking her feet.  This requires a good amount of flexibility given that her foot is in my hand!  She managed to get to my pocket but could not get inside to gain access to the treats though!  She was rewarded for her effort though.  Suki repeatedly grabbed the back of my jacket nearly every time I walked away from her.  That is when she was not making evil faces at the two new horses (who by the way were not doing anything except LOOKING AT HER!) Their antics always make me smile.  I have found that many people look forward to the FB page posts so they can see how Suki is doing, and hear about the tricks that she has been up to.  She makes people smile after a long day, me included, of course.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Foggy start to the day and the girls were muddy from yesterday's turnout.  Good to see that they are having some fun.  Suki had dried mud all over her face.  While I was putting on her halter she had those short little ears pricked all the way forward (toward the horse that she hated yesterday) making it difficult to move the crown piece over her ears.  This was almost more difficult than when she pins her ears back against her head!  Those are seriously strong muscles!  As I led Suki from her stall she walked past the new horse without a bit of stink eye or snake face.  "Oh", I thought.  "She must be coming into heat!"  Even while I was grooming her, unlike yesterday she didn't even make faces at the horses while she was on cross ties.  Then she squatted.  Not coming into heat!  Well, at least she didn't spend the entire time lunging at the new horse!!  It was a slight challenge getting the mud off of Suki's face until I had an "aha" moment and switched  to the soft mitt that I use for exfoliation.  Typically when I hold this up to Suki's face she rubs her head up and down and from side to side to get just the right spot.

Nikki wasn't quite as muddy and in spite of the fog I decided to take each of them out to the arena for some in hand work.  Starting with Nikki I walked out to the arena which was shrouded in fog. She had her ears forward, seemingly slightly anxious because she was not able to see the scary things lurking in the fog.  Overall it was a productive session.  To calm her I started with leading exercises incorporating a lot of transitions and direction changes in quick succession.  It really didn't take much to settle her.  A few movements and she stretched down her neck and blew out through her nostrils.  In the arena I worked on some turns on the forehand and haunches, primarily to make Nikki move away from a light aid.  She responded nicely so we did a bit of leg yielding as well.  I was pleased with her work and finished with a few trot half steps then a relaxed walk around the arena.  The fog was much less scary by then!

I think Suki was slightly confused to be coming out of her stall again!  She gave me a "look" grabbed a mouth full of hay and reluctantly came out.  She did try to turn right hoping that she was being turned out instead of going out the other door.  I think I was anticipating that Suki would be nervous and she felt that.  Immediately upon walking out the door she lifted her head and sort of puffed up.  I did several walk-halts on the way to the arena which relaxed both of us!  Once in the arena she was a bit "looky" because the horses in the fields looked like silhouettes in the fog.  Suki started to passage by my side in nervousness and when she does this she grows in size (at 17.3, growing is a little unnerving!).  After doing a few turns she settled back to walk, then I asked for passage and a bit of piaffe.  That actually seemed to relax her so I did a small amount of leg yielding and turns on forehand and haunches.  I asked for a bit of passage again, and Suki really doesn't need much coaxing!  I think it is her favorite thing to do!  And while she wasn't really schooling it before the fire, I did indulge her from time to time.  When she does it in hand or in the field or on the lunge I can remember how brilliant it felt to be sitting on her back and absorbing that suspension.....
Suki was pretty relaxed by the time we finished and walked with her head and neck stretched out around the arena and back to the barn.  I am desperate to ride but this bit of work helped ease the pain for now!

Reading about the goings on in Wellington, I am absolutely envious about all of the upcoming learning opportunities.  This winter I plan on attending some veterinary and training lectures, but also I think I will be taking lessons (on school horses/masters) to keep me fit and work on myself until spring.

There have been so many deadly barn fires in the past few years and the loss of so many horses.  Of those horses who survive, many have a long recovery ahead of them.  When I was approached by The Chronicle of the Horse to share my experience I was happy to do it.  We hear so much about the fires but not so much about what happens later....the care, treatment and long term commitment.  So take a look at the link below, the piece by Kimberly Loushin:
I hope it works!  It is in the December 15 issue of The Chronicle.

Once again I have grand plans for spring.  But this time I am really ready.  Throughout the winter Suki will wear equipment when we can get some time in the arena.  It won't be consistent for her or Nikki, but we will do what we can to keep the mind and body in gear!  I will be working on getting a new saddle which will likely take some time (and hopefully will fit BOTH girls!)  Now if I could just get those Dy'on Bridle people to answer my questions!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Suki is Amazing

The cold weather seems to have decided to stay (although a brief warm up is expected early next week).  For the most part I am okay with that since I love winter.  However, lack of indoor and frozen footing make for a non-riding situation.  Sunday and Monday are expected to be a bit warmer so I am hoping for some lunging time with the girls.  If I could get a few days (two in a row would work) then I could ride Nikki on the third day.  But right now I feel like the saddle is pinching her and making her uncomfortable under saddle.  So until I address that situation I will probably just lunge in a surcingle and side reins.  I am hoping to get a saddle that will fit both Suki and Nikki.  This was Suki's saddle from when she was a baby, and the only saddle of mine (other than my equitation saddle from my junior hunter days) that was home at the time of the fire.  Once Suki matured and muscled more this saddle did not fit her.  I had a saddle custom made for her which was lost in the fire.  Although that saddle fit her well, I didn't like it as much.  So now I am in the same situation with Nikki.  With winter expected to be similar to last I may not get much riding in anyway, so if I can lunge both girls through February I will get a new saddle in March.  This gives me time to investigate the types that I would like.  I prefer a fairly deep seat with small knee blocks under the flap.  It has to have a narrow twist for me but a medium to wide tree for the horses.  Also a long flap as I am long from knee to ankle.  I would like to investigate the Laser saddle since they have collaborated with Thin Line to produce a non friction saddle.  Close contact is also a preference for me, however, I worry that it may not work so well on Suki's back now that there is no hair.  Many things to think about.  AND I never heard from the Dy'on bridle people in Belgium after sending two requests to their customer service.  They do not have an email address, just a page to submit questions.  Maybe I should write it in French, even though there is an English option on there...... frustrating.

Sunday, November 9, 2014
After Friday's adventures with Suki I was hopeful for an event-free work out!  Nikki once again was in a happy work mode so I took advantage of that and added some in hand work to the end of her session.  Not wanted to stress her stifles, I did not include any piaffe work.  Instead we worked on turn on the forehand and turn on the haunches (since that does not require as much "sitting" as piaffe.  She was somewhat unsure of what I was asking initially but once she understood, the ears went up and she responded nicely.  At the finish of that I put her back out on the lunge for some trot and canter to allow her to move forward and stretch.  It is how I would have ended a ride when working on that type of work.  I have been taught (and fully believe in the philosophy) of allowing horses to move nicely forward after the more collected work.  Some take the horse on a walk afterwards.  Some don't think it is necessary at all.  But I always stretch after I run.....

Suki had wonderful energy that led to some lovely lunge work!  The first round of down transitions were slow to click, which is unusual for her, but then she was fine.  I spread the trot poles a little further apart after her first time through because with the amount of energy she had they were simply not far enough apart for that big extended trot!  That's okay, I'll take it any day!  For canter work I was able to get some nice shortening and lengthening of stride, better to the left.  (this is somewhat my issue).  I do love the way she owns the arena when she works.  It's as though she fills it with her presence.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014
Today was warm so I decided to shorten Suki's mane.  Since it is mid-November I am unsure when the opportunity will arise again.  I hate doing it when it is cold because when my fingers get cold I get cuts from the hair.  And it really hurts! (I will stop whining now)This is not an easy project because Suki has ALWAYS been bad about it.  I prefer not to be body slammed by a 1400lb+ horse, so I enlisted Jenn's assistance.

First, I worked Suki in her surcingle doing trot and canter poles.  When we were finished I yanked on the surcingle, wiggled it, etc to see how movement would affect her back.  We went back to some leading exercises with quick turns and soon she was anticipating with just a slight movement of my head as I prepared for my next move.

Nikki had a short workout but was very relaxed and focused.

The mane.....Every time I go to do Suki's mane I can hear Heather's voice: "That mane HAS GOT TO GO!" This was always said upon our arrival at her farm for training.  The next time I would go up there, some poor soul had pulled her mane and clipped her whiskers!  Now I do a combination of pulling and razoring to minimize everyone's discomfort.  Nikki falls asleep during mane pulling so it is not so challenging!  Jenn held the lead rope and fed treats while I worked on the mane.  Most difficult is when I get closer to her head.  The end result was Suki looking lovely and refined once again, Jenn with teethmarks and bruises on her hand, and me with blisters on my fingers!  But it's done!

Thursday, November 13, 2014
Farrier day.  Quick grooming since he was coming early.  Rain followed by snow, but the girls did manage to get out for a bit.  I had Nikki have her snow pads and borium studs for this shoeing.  It is probably a little early but 6-7 weeks from now might be a bit late.

Friday, November 14, 2014
I put the regular bridle on Suki today again and she seemed very uncomfortable.  Not in the mouth, but up around her poll.  I believe it is the lack of hair where the crown piece sits.  Yes, her halter sits in the same place, but I think the bridle applies more pressure.  The Dy'On Difference dressage bridle just looks like it would work.  I wish they would respond to my questions!  Ugggh!

Sunday, November 16, 2014
I put birdseed seed out early this morning and I sat near the window knitting so I could watch the activity.  Getting up at 6AM I have an hour to enjoy the quiet and solitude before I go to the barn.  It is the best time of the day.

Nikki was wonderful!  Relaxed, forward and happy.  That's when I keep the work time shorter.  She was soft in the jaw and trotted through the trot poles quietly with ears forward and a big stride.

Then there was Suki.  Walking out to the arena she snorted at a car with a horse blanket lying across its hood.  Yes, this is the horse who did not bat an eye when the hay elevator appeared outside the barn.  Isn't that always the way!  So she was slightly up when we walked into the arena, but not crazed or wild.  The work started off fine.  Nice easy trot, good transitions, forward and seemingly relaxed.  Just as I started to move the lunge circle to the other end of the arena in preparation of moving through the trot poles, Suki's tail went up.  Then came passage.  I had no idea where it came from, but I eased her circle away again to get her to relax.  Then suddenly, a capriole.  followed by another.  And another.  I urged her forward but she kept trying to turn and passage.  It IS a lovely passage and even more lovely to ride.  However, it was out of anxiety so I needed to get her mind back and move her forward again.  Rear, leap, rear leap, capriole, levade, you name it she did it.  I remained calm and spoke to her softly.  She did finally relax and trot with her head down and topline stretched (like last time).   Well, I finally saw the cause of her excitement.  Someone had taken a horse out of the field sort of behind the arena, so his friend Ty, was running up and down the hill calling to him.  Combine that with the pony Sammy, calling to his girlfriend (Suki), and Parker calling to anyone who would listen (his buddy had left to go fox hunting) and you have chaos!
Another boarder was watching while she was having a conversation with J.  When I came out of the arena I said "A little excitement for a Sunday morning!"  Her response was something about how funny it was that when Suki didm;t want to listen when I was saying "whoa" to her.   And "boy she likes to just do her own thing...." Huh?  When I was saying "Whoa" and "you're okay" in a calming tone it was simply to relax her.  A horse that is that wound up from external stimuli is not always going to respond on a dime!  Keep in mind that this person comes to the barn in flip flops, rides while wearing the flip flops with shorts and no helmet....
Suki was reasonably quiet while walking back to the barn but while we were waiting for another horse to move to the side Parker started screaming again.  Up went Suki's head (MY GOODNESS THAT GIRL IS TALL!!!) and started to piaffe.  I was relieved to get her settled back on cross ties and finish grooming!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014
Yikes!  COLD AND WINDY!  REALLY windy!  The girls have an extra layer on top of their Rambos.
Aren't they cute?

I posted a photo of Suki in a really lovely stretched trot on the lunge line.  Someone commented about how amazing she is.  I sometimes forget that and just take it for granted.  But she really is amazing!  Sure, she can be difficult, but she is a mare and sometimes you just have to accept that.  But when she gives, she gives it 100% and is absolutely stunning in her gaits and in her courage.  I hope that as I finish the book I will have conveyed that in my writing.  I want people to know her and see and feel our bond so that they can appreciate who she is and the hope and inspiration that she offers.

So we have had frozen footing for several days, limiting the work that I can do.  We can still do leading exercises and low impact in-hand work in the arena so that helps.  And at least it gets them into the arena.

Sunday, November 23, 2014
Now for the warm up.  50's today, upper 60's for tomorrow.  Blanket, sheet, naked dance.  Rain tonight, snow Wednesday.  Please Mother Nature make up your mind!

While I was grooming Suki this morning she did not care that Magic was creeping up to her on the cross ties (he was being tacked up to go fox hunting) and touching her butt.  Yes, she is very much in heat and the back two set of cross ties are a bit close together!  But she was funny because she didn't make faces at anyone and was perfectly content to just hang out in the aisle.  No sign of her usual impatience today!

I am thinking now about finding someone with a schoolmaster and take some lessons over the winter.  Keep me advancing so I am ready for spring and both girls.  I need to find a way to get my goals back in order and me back into competition.

During the winter when I am unable to lunge because of frozen footing I will still bring Suki and Nikki out into the arena for some type of modified work in hand.  This will help to keep their minds focused.  As long as they are able to go out in their fields this should work.  But we will likely encounter some unsuitable weather making even that impossible!  But I will resolve Suki's bridle issue and find the right saddle for both of them during this period.

 Winter may slows us down but it won't stop us from progressing and taking on new challenges!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Suki's BIG jump (and rear)!

Now that the clocks have been turned back to standard time I may once again enjoy early mornings with daylight.  Yes, I realize that the flip side of that is early darkness, but it is the price to pay for brighter mornings!  Another advantage is that the earlier darkness triggers me to begin dinner preparations earlier!

Friday, November 7, 2014
Does anyone else love a gray November day as much as I do?  Today started gray and ominous, with a light wind that was expected to pick up later in the morning.  Temperature was 44F, so it wasn't really cold, but the grayness and wind made it feel like a late autumn day.

Driving to Oley Valley Feed I noticed a change in the Oley Valley from just a few weeks earlier.  The look of autumn.  The colors of the leaves on the mountains are beginning to fade and many of the trees are now devoid of leaves.  Corn fields have been chopped to the ground.  Still my beautiful valley, but the transition to winter is obvious.

After picking up my supplies I asked about the price of the pumpkins (heirloom and regular) on the porch of OVF.  I love being surrounded by pumpkins and can never fully comprehend why so many people abandon them after Halloween!  They told me to just take some.  I said that I was willing to pay for them, but was then told that they appreciate my business, so happy to just have them used.  This is what I like about living in a more rural area and knowing the merchants that I deal with on a regular basis.  So very different from the crazy busy area of North Jersey where I grew up!  Here I go to the small businesses as often as possible because the slightly higher prices are accompanied by great service and appreciation.  I love that they know who I am, and enjoy the regular interaction.  I think I will take some baked goods to the OVF gang on Monday!

Driving  home I had to pass the former Pink Star Equestrian Center site of the fire), now a standardbred breeding farm.  I looked at the indoor arena where I last rode Suki (it was converted to a barn) and the space where her barn used to stand.  Sometimes I am okay when I drive by and other times, like today, I feel a heavy sadness in my heart.  But just as I choked back tears I passed the last field of the properties where a pile of yearlings or two-year olds dozed together in the almost sun that was breaking through the clouds.  It made me smile.  The sadness was gone.

Earlier this week....
Tuesday morning was not particularly cold, windy, etc.  Nothing unusual about the day.  But for some reason the girls were a bit silly!  This time of year they always work after being in all night and before they are turned out for the day.  In the summer they are worked after being out all night.  Turnout schedule has been changed for awhile, so other than some stiffness at the start of work Suki and Nikki work as they usually do.  Cold and windy days definitely add a bit of spring to their step, but they always settle nicely.  There is the occasional buck or leap, of course!

Nikki came out of her stall a bit sleepily this morning, a mane and tail full of shavings revealing a flat out snooze over night.  A little cranky in the cross ties, but she hates to have her belly brushed and it too was covered in shavings stuck in place from a bit of manure that she must have been lying on.  On the walk out to the arena she was fine, doing her arabesques along the way.  After a few times around on the lunge at the walk I asked her for a trot which was followed by a mini-squeal and some head twirlies.  That was it for her and she worked well the rest of the time.

Suki gave no real indication of being excited as we walked out to the arena but when I put her out on the lunge she walked at a brisk pace.  First few trot steps were big but she worked well at transitions within the gaits and some lovely lengthenings!  I turned her toward the four trot poles and on the approach she rocked back onto her hind end and jumped all four of them.  This, of course, was followed by a buck, squeal and canter.  I'm not really sure how I managed to not interfere with the massive jump or get dragged by her!  It would have been great to have that on video!  I kept her at a nice, controlled canter for two or three times around then back to trot.  The trot was great and I headed her toward the poles again.  She went through beautifully.  That was the end of the excitement.  Just one of those days I guess!

I noticed a new development while I was moisturizing Suki's back this week.  Little tufts of new hair on once-bare areas on her back.
Look closely for the little chestnut tufts!

I realize that this does not mean that Suki will have full hair growth on her back, but it is still exciting!

Thursday, the 6th brought rain.  It was a heavy rain with chilly temperatures so the girls didi not work.  I did not want them to be so wet that I could not but blankets back on.
Nikki's opinion of the rain:
She is not shy about expressing her opinion!

Suki likes to pretend that it is all good......
But she paces and stops after breakfast in her impatient wait for turnout!
Fortunately the rain stopped for a bit in the afternoon so they did get out for a bit!

Friday, November 7, 2014
I have done a fair amount of writing this week.  With my voice finally evident I am more confident that the Suki memoir will tell the story the way it should be told.  For awhile I kept thinking that while I had written the facts in a cohesive, narrative manner that not enough of my emotion was there.  I think I was afraid of what I was writing and holding my feelings in check.  Then I read Courtney King's book.  While it is not a great literary work, it is beautifully told and full of emotion.  The good, the bad and the ugly.  Suddenly I remembered why I was writing the book about Suki.  To share our journey.  The good, the bad and the ugly.  And to be sure, there is plenty of raw emotion.

So on this chilly morning I had a plan.  Light work for Nikki and a harder workout for Suki.  As I started this post I mentioned the gray, damp, chilly morning.  A light breeze to start followed by a steadier wind and 28MPH gusts later in the morning.

Nikki worked very nicely through a basic work out of transitions and nice forward gaits.  She was in a happy mood and the transitions were nicely uphill.  It was a little breezy but typically she is not bothered by this so there was just nice positive energy to work with.  I have been starting each session with a few leading exercises that I had learned with Suki.  Nikki can be like a large puppy at times.  Which is fine, except that she weighs north of 1400lbs.  I have, at times, been lax with her leading, allowing her to sort of drift beside me at times and walking at her own pace.  These exercises remind her that there are rules!  Then I massaged her face with the fleecy mitt and she closed her eyes to relax.  Always a great way to finish!

OOH!  I just looked up and a buck with a HUGE rack just walked through my yard.  Up on the hill just behind my house!  What a handsome boy!

Suki was very impatient from the moment I brought her out of her stall.  My original plan was to do full workout with equipment: bridle and surcingle. I started to re-think this as the wind picked up and the drizzle started.  As I finished wrapping the white polos (sometimes I am SUCH a DQ!) I decided to go for basic lunging focusing on transitions.  It is always important to be flexible in your plans when working with horses.  As riders we are nothing without our dance partners and need consider their mental status as well as physical.  Even on competition days, you work with what you have at that time.  So out we went.  Jenn came out to take some new photos of the girls, but unfortunately missed Nikki.  I started a bit earlier than anticipated and she was running a little late!

Suki walked out to the arena fine, though I sensed a little tension in my hands.  The drizzle turned into rain and rain turned into sleet.  Suki seemed unfocused in spite of there being fewer distractions than usual as she began work on the lunge.  She kept shaking her head because of the sleet, which seemed to really annoy her (apparently divas don't do sleet! it wasn't heavy and it didn't last!) After a few walk-trot transitions I asked Suki to halt.  She kept taking a few steps forward after several attempts, so I said fine....go forward!  The big girl took a few steps forward then took a leap and a squeal and up she went!

She came down and I sent her forward.  A few minutes later Suki went up again, then settled and worked fine.  I still sensed a small amount of tension but she seemed to listen and focus more.  Mares!  Gotta love them!

So I just continue to move forward.  Nikki needs to have a show season and I need to get on Suki.  Goals.  The glory of pursuit.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Suki and the Glory of Pursuit

I've said it before....horses are predictably unpredictable!  Early last week J parked a hay elevator outside next to the barn.  Naturally I assumed both Suki and Nikki would find this new addition as scarily objectionable scenery to encounter on the way to the arena.  Working Nikki first, out the door we went.  She glanced in the general direction of the elevator then continued her walk.  Same reaction on the way back.  Surprising, but not TOO surprising since Nikki doesn't usually pay attention to extraneous objects.  Suki, on the other hand has a history of dramatizing things (post meltdown.  pre meltdown she didn't seem to care as much).  Walking out the door I kept slack in the lunge line to prevent unnecessary anxiety.  Suki didn't even glance in its general direction!  And it was pretty impossible to miss.  On the way back she looked at it casually.  It's all good!

Monday, October 20, 2014
Cold morning at 29F.  I am glad that I had decided to dress Suki and Nikki in heavier clothing last night!  Because the temperatures keep fluctuating it is difficult to adapt.  But that's what extra layers are for.  Between the day off yesterday and the frigid morning I figured that I was in for an active morning in the arena!  I grabbed my bag of supplies (bottle of water, extra gloves, baggy with chopped carrots...what's in YOUR bag?!) and walked toward the barn.  The welcoming sound of the deep nicker of the girls made me smile as I opened the door.  Is there anything better?

I always wonder what the horses are thinking.  Yes, of course I know that they do not have the ability to reason, but I do believe that they have emotions.  I try not to anthropomorphize but I think we all do a bit of that.  Nikki hates having her belly brushed.  I use the softest brush possible and often just the buffing mitt.  She makes her opinion known by pinning her ears and swishing her tail.  Unfortunately this morning she has dirt stuck to her belly and manure.  So the grooming must be more aggressive out of necessity.  Nikki is not pleased!  She is sometimes cranky in the morning.  Does she absolutely hate working before breakfast every day?  Once we are in the arena she is fine.  But the grooming and tacking up part do not appear to be to her liking!  Post ride she LOVES to be rubbed down and pampered.  Then she happily munches hay in her stall until it is time for her breakfast.

This morning's cold air did not have any effect on her behavior.  I take the lunge warm up a bit slower on cold mornings when she has been in her stall all night.  In spite of the cold air Nikki works well.  My goals for now remain simple.  Light off the leg, soft in the hand.  Sharp transitions between and within gaits.  Mix it up with lateral work and my own patterns using the entire arena.  I am currently working on a collection of exercises which I will share.  No, I am not an expert, but I have learned what works for my horses and how to keep it fun for all of us.  Winter is closing in so my goals must be realistic as it is possible with the potential of having to shut down due to snow and ice.  Maybe we will have better luck this year.

Suki was raring to go after an apparently good night's sleep, evidenced by the shavings in her mane and tail!
From the moment we stepped out of the barn Suki was on the go.  She lifted her head and nickered as we exited the barn, with Nikki letting out a loud whinny in response.  I asked her for several halts on the way to the arena to give her focus and something positive to transfer that energy to.  Suki listened and we had a lovely walk to the arena.  I could see her right ear twitch on occasion, knowing that she wanted to misbehave, and was so proud of her for listening to me instead.  Out on the lunge was a different story, at least at first.  Suki gave a head twirl and launched into her big trot, turning to grab the lunge line in her mouth.  Since I had not asked for the trot, I brought her back to walk for a few strides then right back to trot.  She needed to expend that energy but also needed to remember that I make the decisions not her!  After a few more head twirls and a grab or two at the lunge she settled a bit.  We moved on to transitions between walk and trot then I asked for the canter.  The response was a squeal and a buck, so after twice around at the canter I brought her back to trot and asked again.  This was met with a few head twirls, so again, a few trips around then back to trot.  The next canter transition was perfect and she settled completely after that.  Some days are just like that.  I always go out with a game plan.  The plan, however, is not inflexible.  It is critical to gauge the athlete each day and adjustments need to be made.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014
I could hear the rain as soon as i opened my eyes this morning.  The rain that was not supposed to start until later.  Uggh!  I want to work the girls today because they will be getting fall vaccs this afternoon.  Both suffer a little soreness after that (even with bute) so I always just do a light lunge the next day.  It's chilly this morning so if the rain is too heavy I won't take them out.  Heavy sheets are necessary because of the temperature so a very wet horse will not work!  I dressed to ride hoping for the best.  The rain subsides as Isaiah gets on the school bus so I am once again, hopeful.

Just a slight drizzle as I begin to tack up Nikki so I get the job done as quickly as possible.  Then it begins to pour.  So we wait.
All dressed up with no place to go
And we wait....
Napping on the cross ties
Finally the rain slows and out we go!  A quick lunge to loosen up and I get on.  The rain begins to get heavy again, but we continue to work, as we are both already wet!  It was a short ride, but effective and pleasant.  I jogged Nikki back to the barn as the rain continued.  Of course about 3 minutes later the rain stopped!  I threw a mesh cooler on Nikki then a polar fleece on top.  She dried quickly.

By the time I brought Suki to the cross ties the rain was heavy once again with no real sign of slowing in the immediate future.  So after a good grooming I worked on some stretches with Suki and called it a day.

Sunday, October 26, 2014
I have a report to work on today, so both Suki and Nikki will just get lunged.  Judging by the wind that could be pretty exciting!

I didn't see the girls at all yesterday, and honestly, they seemed to have missed me!  I know I missed them.  It was tempting to stop in and see them on my way home last night but I still had a lot to do there as well.  When I opened Nikki's stall door to give her the morning treat she pressed her face into my chest BEFORE she took the piece of apple!  I rubbed her ears and spoke softly to her.  Of course she started banging on her door as I walked down to Suki's stall!  She too, rushed to the door to greet me, looking to my pockets for extra goodies.

In spite of the wind, Nikki worked beautifully through trot and canter poles.  She didn't even scoot this time when I ran beside her as she came through the trot poles.  Nikki has been a little pushy while being led so I worked on leading exercises after the lunge session.  She wanted to step ahead when I first started the halts, but after a couple of reprimands it was all fine.  I don't think she likes that work the way Suki does.

The wind was really strong by the time I brought Suki out, but she worked like a champ.  Even when Amy left with Bear and walked up the driveway, one sideways glance was all she did but I brought her right back to focus.  She floated through the trot poles.  First trip through them as canter poles she jumped them, but not with anxiety....just for fun.  We finished with 5 minutes of leading exercises and went in.

Both were anxious to have breakfast and get outside.  The sun was shining and the sky was blue.  The wind added a nip of crisp autumn air.  Suki tried to be pushy on the way to her pasture but a quick correction and she was fine.  She knows that with me it is important that she waits to be turned around and unclipped before moving off into her field.  So after gently taking a treat she quietly turned then galloped away.  Nikki looked up as Suki raced past her, then resumed grazing.

It is always important to keep things in perspective.  The goals.  The path.  The journey.  The JOY.  Take each goal attained and revel in its own glory.  Yes, we pursue glory in this sport.  Lately my glory comes in baby steps.  But after reading Courtney King Dye's book I am once again reminded as she was told by George Morris to savor the glory of the pursuit.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Suki and the Mounting Block

Sunday, October 4, 2014
When I looked out the window at 6AM the air looked still and cold.  From the windows in the front of my house the mountains were a kaleidoscope of color, a sure sign of autumn's arrival.  The house held a slight chill compared to other mornings because temperatures had fallen to the mid 30'sF over night.  I hadn't put on the heat because I love when the house is a little chilly.  Sleeping is more comfortable, and I can always pile on more blankets.  To be honest, the temperature in the house was actually one degree higher than what we set the heat at, so it wasn't actually cold.  It just felt different this morning.  Fortunately I had washed one of my heavier barn/riding jackets yesterday so I was fully prepared for a chilly morning at the barn.

The temperature dropped from 36F to 33F as I drove into the hollow at the farm.  That's pretty typical, but it still caught me a little by surprise.  I was glad that I had dressed appropriately!  Suki and Nikki began calling to me immediately.  I slipped my hand under each sheet to see if they were warm enough.  They were nice and warm in their heavy sheets over night!  I checked the arena footing to see if it was crunchy.  The rain Friday and saturday night had made the arena footing wonderfully soft, but the low temperature and moisture in the ground can produce a layer of slightly frozen footing.  It seemed fine so I set about my morning routine.

By the time I finished tacking up Nikki I had shed a layer and the air felt wonderfully cold on my cheeks as we walked out to the arena.  Nikki walked out of the barn quietly next to me, our breath making steamy clouds in the gray morning light.  I expected her to be silly on the lunge because of the temperature change but she worked well without even a squeal!  A flock of geese flew overhead, but they were heading north, so apparently they are not yet ready to jump ship!

I felt bad that I had not brought a cooler for Nikki because it was still quite cold when we finished!  I threw one of the fly sheets over her back to keep her muscles warm, which seemed to help.  My original plan was to turn out Nikki naked and Suki with her fly sheet because temperature was supposed to go to 65F.  Then I would go back in late afternoon to dress the girls for the over night cold.  But it was still overcast and a breeze had picked up so I put Nikki's sheet back on planning to check to see if she was too warm when I finished with Suki.  She was comfortable when I finished so the girls went out with their sheets on  The day remained overcast, breezy and chilly and night temperatures are expected to be near 32F with scattered frost.  The horses will be in over night so I did not have to fret about my decision!

Suki used to hate working in the wind, but seems to have overcome that!  In spite of the cool air and very breezy conditions (the wind had picked up a bit more by the time it was her turn) she worked well and focused.  Today I asked her for walk-canter, canter-walk transitions.  Started off a little rough but then became much sharper.  That made the trot-halt, halt-trot transitions better as well.  Suki gave a nice neck stretch while walking out to finish with a nice long stride and swinging back.  Tail bouncing happily.

Monday, October 7, 2014
Cold morning, at 34F, but I will most certainly look back at this morning and consider it a warm one once winter sets in!  I turned my face to the sky allowing the cold air to hit my cheeks.  I wanted to linger outside for a moment but I could hear eager voices calling to me from the barn.

I did a basic work out with Nikki and some stretches with Suki.  It is going to be warm today so back to fly sheet for Suki and naked for Nikki.  See what I mean?  The blanket dance!

Check out those pink bell boots!  Nikki has a history of pulling shoes while playing in the field so she wears bell boots for turn out.  We have gone through a few pair....well actually singles from a few pair, which became mismatched pairs.  The velcro finally gave on one of the last mismatched pair so I had to move onto the very pink Davis bell boots.  I bought them earlier this year, but they looked too large.  Nikki wears extra large in most bell boot brands, so I assumed the same for the Davis (she had a pair of black ones which must have been large, not extra large).  I was desperate so I put them on her.  While they are somewhat large, I don't ride her in them so I think they will be okay.  VERY PINK though!  If she gets one off in the field it will be easy to find!

Tuesday, October 8, 2014
Today was one of those wonderful training days.  Nikki was sharp through the trot poles so I jumped off to increase the distance between them.  The first time through at that distance she pricked her ears SO far forward then floated through which a huge stride!  Very cool!

On my way back to the barn I thought I saw the resident Blue Heron come in for a landing.  Once I untacked Nikki I grabbed my camera and went out into the field to get as close as I could without scaring her....unfortunately I was not able to get very close.

While I was grooming and tacking up Suki for her lunging session (no, not the saddle, still the surcingle) they came into the barn to feed.  Nikki is used to working while the others are being fed, or being out in the arena when the feed buckets are going into the barn.  Suki, not so much!  She was actually quite well behaved and only paced slightly while on cross ties.  Outside she got right to work.  I put her through the cavaletti also, and at that distance I REALLY had to run to keep up.  Suki clearly loved it giving a head twirlie after the first time through.  Seeing such obvious joy in her is such a thrill for me, having come so close to losing her.  

Friday, October 10, 2014
Today I did something with Suki that I have not done in over five years.  When we were finished with the lunging session I walked her up to the mounting block.  She kind of gave me a look, but stood quietly while I climbed to the top.  It was a bit high for what I wanted to do so I moved her back near the steps and stood o the middle one.  From there I leaned against her by the surcingle.  Suki turned around and looked at me but continued to stand quietly then turned to face forward again.  I patted and praised her then gave her a sugar cube.  Next I leaned partially over her, patting her other side.  Again she turned to look with a calm eye and back forward again.  More praise, and another sugar.  I made a huge fuss over her which of course, she enjoyed.  But apparently I had forgotten to give her the sugar while we stood by the gate, so she gently tapped my pocket as a reminder.

The magnitude of those moments did not hit me until I was driving home.  How many times had I stood by the mounting block next to Suki preparing to ride.  Seems like a hundred years ago.  She calmly accepted this next step with confidence.  And then the tears came.

Sunday, October 12, 2014
After yesterday's chilly rain, today started with 34F.  I admit, I was a bit cold when I first arrived at the barn, but anxious to get started with the girls.  Fortunately the rain ended early enough yesterday for the horses to get out a bit.  Suki apparently had a good old time running about.  She loves to kick up her heels!  I expected both horses to be covered with mud this morning but although it was evident that they rolled, they were kind enough to do so in the grass.  It was also evident that they had both been flat out in their stalls last night; covered head to toe in shavings!

Nikki was slow to move out of the barn but once we were in the arena she was eager to work.  All of her work today was light and forward with smooth transitions from behind into a soft hand.  It was awesome!  Nikki was pretty pleased with herself.  She knows when she has done well.  While I unlatched the gate she leaned her face on my arm.  Not looking for treats.  Just leaning.  Such a sweet moment....I love that girl!

Suki, as usual was not thrilled that everyone else was out while she waited for her turn to work.  Nikki was relaxing in her stall, but would soon begin to demand breakfast.  Suki should have been least her breakfast had not been delayed by work!  Surcingle on we walked out to the arena.  Suki is in heat so she called to a few horses and walked out to the arena with her head held high (I felt very small, indeed!).  She wasn't nervous or anxious just lit!  I think the cooler temperature (although it was probably up to 40F by then) and the horses in the fields were making her a little high.  In spite of all that she walked to the arena without a misstep, another sign of her renewed confidence.  Once I moved her out on the lunge, however, she gave a head twirl and launched right into a canter.  Not a panicked, quick or unbalanced canter. But I always have her walk around a few times especially now that they are in the barn over night.  Suki came right back to walk when I asked her to then walked quietly, though distracted, until we started the rest of the work.  She lunged really well in both directions with great energy, amazing length of stride and suspension.  When I asked her to slow the gaits and shorten the stride she did.  However, she was a wee bit distracted the entire time.  Nikki called to her once or twice and Suki started to answer back but stopped when I growled at her.  Likewise, when I told her to focus she listened.  But I was really pleased with her.  And her breathing came back to normal quickly.  I carefully check Suki's back after each session that she wears the surcingle.  No problems so far.  We are really on the right track.  She is a special horse in many ways, but her courage and attitude continue to amaze me.  I am lucky to have her in my life.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Suki Loves to work!

As daylight hours become noticeably shorter, the leaves are beginning to change color and fall to the ground.  Ah, autumn.  My favorite time of year.  I love the cool, crisp air, the colorful trees and of course, pumpkins!  We have been having a bit of a warmer trend right now, but temperatures are expected to drop again below 40F at night.  The lightest weight blankets have been cleaned and repaired, but I suspect Nikki may have grown out of a couple of hers.  It may be time for her to move up to the 84's.

This year I chose not to attend Dressage at Devon.  For the past several years I have shared a box with a good friend and another friend of hers (we each paid for 2 tickets).  I actually rarely used the box except for a few times during the day and there was never anyone else in there.  Early Sunday morning Michael and Isaiah sometimes joined me, but again no one else was even in the box at that time.  In fact, the other two box holders were probably barely awake! B said this year she was only going to sell me one ticket because she wanted more control over her box and there were often too many extra people in the box.  There was only one occasion over the past 4 years that I was in the box with anyone who was sharing the box!  I declined a ticket, which is what I assumed she wanted me to do when presented with that option and reasons that I was never made aware of until that moment.  Yes, I could have bought the box seat out of spite, but I simply couldn't be bothered.  I am more bothered by whatever it is that I must have done to this person, whom I last saw when we had a very nice lunch together in July.  Likely I will never know, but I think it is always a bit sad when a friendship ends.

ANYWAY! Events from the Dixon Oval were being live streamed on the USEF Network, although I do enjoy (for the most part...) watching the 4th level tests that take place in the Gold Ring.  I also love to watch schooling...the good, the bad and the ugly.  And the sometimes very lovely!  But I prefer to go early in the morning for the start of the day and stay until about 3 PM.  This year that would have meant missing a couple of days of riding because weather had taken out an additional day.  There is still a possibility that I will go on Sunday.

The Grand Prix qualifier for the freestyle took place on Friday evening (26 September) so I did watch a good portion of that on live streaming.  Interesting...there were only 12 entries.  Six from Canada, 4 from the US, 1 from Sweden and 1 from Australia.  Nearly all riders wore protective head gear.  Scores ranged from 69% to 62%, so  all twelve will be riding this evening in the freestyle.  I applaud all of them for qualifying and putting themselves out there to be judged under the lights at Devon.

My first observation was the crowd.  Well, the lack of crowd.  Usually during the late afternoon the crowd builds in anticipation of the events of the evening.  Not as much as for the freestyle, but the qualifier typically draws a reasonable crowd.  Most years the evenings can be quite chilly since it is early autumn, but tonight is an exception.  The air is warmish and the pumpkins, mums and cornstalks of fall almost look a little out of place.  But the venue is always beautifully decorated.  Sometimes one can almost forget that developers have encroached on all of the land surrounding the show grounds.  I try to envision what it looked like 100 years ago.  Watching spectators moving about I almost regret my decision not to go earlier today.  But I had a lovely ride on Nikki and Suki worked beautifully on the lunge, so that is the trade off!

As I said, I applaud (and envy) those out there this evening.  However, I was somewhat disappointed in what I saw.  Several of the horses look unhappy.  Wringing tails, necks cranked in, stiff backs.  What is missing?  Where is the joy?  Even Isaiah, who is just eight years old, can see this.  After pointing out a few things regarding the movements and what is to be expected, he too, is commenting about the negatives.  He was also able to point out the correct ones (the obvious ones, anyway).  There were some lovely rides tonight too, though, and the differences were obvious.   We watched some Spanish Riding School videos to remind us how beautiful classical dressage is.  There are certainly people who continue to train this way, but unfortunately many look for the quick rise to the upper levels so the horse can be sold, or the rider can compete at FEI to develop a "name" in the show ring.  But if what we see in the show ring does not look correct, then what does that say about the trainer, and his/her methods?  That's all for my arm chair quarter backing.....

The wonderful thing about riding in the early morning is that although some of the days became quite warm, temperatures in the morning were typically in the upper 40s-low 50sF.  Cool enough for a sweatshirt that can be removed for the ride!  I feel like both Suki and Nikki are working well so we continue to gain momentum.  Last week I worked both girls in hand to get a few piaffe steps.  It's not super easy to do alone especially with such big horses, but they did well.   I was really pleased with their responses and willingness.  It was a nice change for them as well.  Next time I am considering going along the outside of the arena on the path to do the in hand work.  We can use the arena fence as a guide.  I suspect I will get a bit more animation too!

Sunday, September 28, 2014
I like to ride early in the day for several reasons.  First, it leaves the rest of the day to do whatever I want or need to do.  Plus it is usually pretty quiet with no one else riding.  Today as I was finishing tacking up Nikki (around 8:20, because I got a late start) and one of the new boarders pulled in!  I know, they have every right to be there, of course, but I love the peaceful mornings!  It actually worked out fine, because I was finished riding Nikki before she came out to the arena.  Nikki worked really well, doing some lovely shoulder in then pushing off into a medium trot.  Horses are such creatures of habit.  After I did that twice, Nikki pushed out on the third shoulder in.  Even when I alternated between asking for a medium, versus a half pass or a 10m circle, I could feel her hind end really engage.  I used that to my advantage!

By the time I brought her back into the barn ANOTHER boarder showed up!  I usually comment about how surprised I am that no one ever shows up on the beautiful weekend days....... Most people come later in the day.

Suki had a short lunge session because I needed to give her a good exfoliation/moisturizing.  Plus her white socks were a bit dirty.  Once again her regained focus came into play.  While we were in the arena two people came down the driveway on horseback, then continued along the side of the arena.  Suki pricked her ears once but that was it.  She continued to listen to all commands and work well without any sign of nervousness.  Suki really loves going through the trot poles.  Because they are on a straight line I have to run next to Suki holding the lunge line and try to match her stride as she glides through the poles.  I imagine it is quite a sight; me at 5'4', trying to match Suki's very large stride and her 17.3h size!  My jog beside her seems to give her extra energy while she pushes off from behind, ears forward.

Monday, September 29, 2014
Suki worked yesterday, but I will not be able to work the girls Tuesday or Wednesday so Suki gets two days in a row.  Now that they are in at night again I do notice a little stiffness with Suki at the start of her lunging sessions.  The good news is that she seems to work out of it pretty quickly.  I can usually see her back loosen as well.  Suki's tail bounces happily as she moves through the gaits.  Sometimes she  turns her head to make a face at me when she starts to get feisty.  A horse called and as Suki started to respond I growled at her, so she turned it into a squeal, which somehow made her want to do a little leap.  I pushed her forward with the whip and she settled back to work.  It was pretty funny.  She started off with a few head twirls so I was surprised that it took her so long to give a little buck. I know that the playfulness is a disobedience, but I put an end to it quickly.  After everything she has been through I find it heartwarming that she shows such joie de vivre!

Nikki was awesome, and although I find it unnerving when Bo, the dog, charges down the driveway, Nikki is getting much better about it.  He chased her a couple of times when he was younger (he is less than a year old still) so that caused a bit of nervousness.  Bo has gotten much better about that part now that he is growing up a bit!

We worked on serpentines with transitions to walk as we crossed the center line.  I wanted to focus on the sharpness of the transitions as well as softness in the mouth.  This improved after the first two transitions, and she was awesome with the up transition, giving a super push from behind.  Canter transitions were a bit bumpy today with a little bit of tension.  I think I was a little tight in my back, so I tried to be softer which seemed to help.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014
Foggy start to the day!  I had the girls go out over night since the weather was nice and they had been in most of Monday because of the farrier visit.  When I arrived at the barn they were at the top of the field so I stood on the fence by the gate and started to take some photographs.  Curiosity got the best of them and Nikki started toward me first.

Followed by Suki, who was NOT happy that Nikki was going to get to the gate (and me) first!

Suki came thundering down to the gate!  Unfortunately I did not have my camera set correctly so it was not ready to get those images!  I have now set it on burst.

Yes, the surcingle that I forgot to put rubber bands on came undone...fortunately the other one was crossed over it so the strap was not hanging as much as it might have been.  Last night I realized that I had not added the rubber bands.....

Nikki waited her turn, then came down to the gate.

Thursday, October 2, 2014
Another foggy morning.  But the leaves are starting to brighten into autumn glory in some spots and in others the leaves are falling quickly.  I know that this winter is predicted to be another cold and snowy one, but for now I will enjoy cool fall days and colorful mountains.  While riding Nikki a big gust of wind blew creating a stream of leaves rushing through the arena.  Nikki arched her neck and looked down at the leaves as they blew through her feet, adding a few steps of passage for effect.  It felt giant under my seat, and I enjoyed a brief vision of the future.  She had good energy and was responsive and focused during the lateral work.  When I brought Nikki back to the walk after our stretchy trot she gave a big sigh and stretched down into a lovely walk!

Suki was less than enthusiastic on her way to the arena, balking as we passed the trailers for no apparent reason.  Nikki called to her twice so I had to whack her on the shoulder with the lunge line to keep her moving.  That seemed to do the trick and she marched to the arena with her ears forward!  I worked on interval segments with Suki today to evaluate her fitness level and measure her return to normal respiration and heart rate.  It was a bit of a workout for her, but she did fine, and as her resp rate returns to normal quickly, I have yet to see any potential lung issues from the fire.  

Saturday, October 4, 2014
It's going to be cold tonight so the girls are wearing their heavy sheets.  Nikki was able to wear the Rambo light which I was surprised that she had not outgrown!  Tomorrow will be around 60F and sunny so it will be back to a fly sheet for Suki and Nikki will be naked.  They will need heavier clothing again tomorrow night as temperatures will be around 37F again.  I definitely prefer when I can leave the same clothing on day and night.  But for now we have returned to the blanket dance!

I think that Suki is on track with her steady progression, but I still need to resolve the bridle issue.  I contacted the Dy'on bridle people in Belgium but have not received a response.  I find this to be a bit disappointing.  I will try again.  The bridle is over $500 so I would like to ask some questions before I give it a try!  I am going to put the regular bridle on again tomorrow to see how she responds.  

Suki has come so far, but it has been a very long road.  My greatest pleasure is to see her trotting across the field, happy, healthy and full of life!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Suki and Nikki: Cool Temperatures and Energized Training

With Dressage at Devon just around the corner, I find myself wistfully thinking about how I wish I would be competing there.  Frankly, at this point riding in a dressage show would be exciting!  I had really hoped to get out this season with Nikki, but life circumstances kept that from happening.  So we continue to train. And I do like that part of riding.  In fact it is my favorite aspect of riding.  But my competitive nature is rearing its head.  Fortunately the season is coming to a close and I can dream and prepare for next spring.  Reading The Chronicle each week fuels the competitive desire so I work harder.  While the Oley Valley is beautiful and peaceful, flanked by mountains and filled with farms, there is unfortunately a down side.  There are a number of hunter/jumper show barns nearby, but no dressage barns.  I would have to board an hour away to board at a nice dressage barn with an indoor arena.  Not possible. At least right now.  Granted, the atmosphere of these barns can be draining and I have experienced the competitive behind the scenes nature of these facilities.  The pressure to ride well and push hard is the positive side.  I like to be pushed.  When I was at BHF I LOVED when J was riding while I was riding, or if she was in the arena giving a lesson to someone else.  It keeps you at the top of your game.  The eagle eye was always watching and would critique when necessary.  But the back stabbing, catty riders that may also board at these barns can bring that down No, not everyone is like that!).  Typically I ignore that nonsense, giving the impression that I am aloof and arrogant.  This is not the case.  It is just my protective mechanism!  I have always been self motivated, and believed that I didn't need that to push myself.  Maybe I was wrong.  Or perhaps it is just that riding has taken a slight backseat to life, something I said would never happen.  Well I will soldier on, as I am now watching several videos a week to inspire me to push to new heights (figuratively, not literally!).  Hopefully the predicted harsh winter ahead will start late!  Suki and Nikki are happy, they have nice turnout with good care and are close to my house.  I also know what pushing a horse too hard, too soon can do so there is no fear of that happening again.

Monday, September 15, 2014
Suki worked yesterday, so today she had the day off.  It was a nice morning to ride and the first ride following the switch from night turnout to day turnout.  One thing that I love about when they are in at night is that they nicker to me when I walk into the barn.  It just warms my heart.  Suki and Nikki's manes are usually filled with shavings by morning, letting me know that they have been snoozing comfortably in their stalls over night.

I had lunged Nikki yesterday to work on collection to get a visual of her response.  Then I worked on a bit of piaffe in hand to push her a bit more.  Hoping to translate my visual, to under saddle, Nikki and I headed out to the arena.  After a few yoga stretches (Nikki) and ballet stretches (me...and Nikki) we were ready to go.  I shortened the lunge session to a brief stretching and forward exercise so that i could get on.  I lost a few pounds so my favorite Elizabeth G breeches fit beautifully again and I couldn't wait to ride in them!  I think they make me ride better.... : )

Nikki was in a happy and willing mood creating a joyful ride.  With one ear forward and one swiveled back to listen to me I put Nikki through her paces.  I am really finding that the best way to start our ride is with a long rein, posting trot and big serpentines.  Next  I moved on to some collected trot, transitioning to working, and back again to collected.  When I asked Nikki for a medium trot off across the diagonal from collected, she gave a great big push!  I felt her come up in her back (which I saw while lunging yesterday) and lengthen her stride.  Nice!  Great responses in up and down transitions.  Toward the end she started to get a little heavy in my hand, which for her is an indication of fatigue.  So I finished with stretchy trot and a nice long rein walk.

Thursday, September 17, 2014
I could hear Suki and Nikki calling to me as I walked toward the barn.  They heard my car and were anxiously awaiting my arrival (well, at least the treats that I was carrying!).  I am so loving this early autumn weather.  Warm ups are expected this weekend but it probably won't last.  I love wearing a light sweat shirt or jacket to start the morning.

I think we are reaching the end of prime local corn, but I still frequent Fisher's on 662 just past the Yellow House Inn.  Great variety of peppers for my farm to table dinners, plus eggplant, heirloom tomatoes, green beans....the list goes on.  Summer is definitely drawing to a close, but pumpkins and autumn vegetables will be ready soon.  The pumpkins in our garden still have green stems, though they are bright orange and waiting to be picked!

Nikki had great energy right from the start.  Although she did not work yesterday I kept the pre-ride lunge short, just giving her time to stretch her back and legs.  I wanted to take advantage of that energy! Nikki had nice lift in her back and shoulders immediately, but I still started with the big trot serpentines on a long rein.  When we moved to canter work the transitions were sharp, and again I could feel the lift.  She was a little heavy with the down transitions, which we quickly remedied with rapid succession transitions and a firm back (mine).  I had expanded the trot poles and Nikki embraced that with enthusiasm!  Great stretch and extension.  Nice ride.  She leaned on me while I was grooming her after I removed her tack.  It was a relaxation and contentment demonstrated by affection (am I anthropomorphizing a bit?  It just felt right).

Suki made some faces when I put on her surcingle, but that attitude quickly changed as we exited the barn.  Ears forward and a lively step, I actually had to ask her for a few halts to make her listen.  It wasn't a bad thing though.  And Suki was not being difficult.  But at 17.3 hands and 1400+ lbs listening is key.  She lowered her head and walked forward to the arena.  Past the scary big ladders on the truck without even a glance.  Yep.  The renewed confidence.  In herself and in me.  We are a team. Emotionally bonded and ready to take on the world.  At least our small corner of it anyway!!  She worked so beautifully through the gaits and transitions.  Shortening and lengthening of stride, also pretty nice.

I put a bridle on Suki for some of our lunging sessions, but I am concerned that she is experiencing some discomfort.  Not in the mouth, but perhaps near her ears.  A side bar in The Chronicle mentioned a bridle by Dy'on ( a Belgian company) used by show jumper Kevin Babington on his horse Shorapur who is extremely sensitive to poll pressure.  The crown piece is at least a hand behind the base of the ears.  Suki does not have hair in that area and while I have not observed any broken skin, it could still be uncomfortable.  This makes me hesitant to add the side reins which will add more pressure in the poll.  I have written to the company to get their opinion.

The Dy'on Difference bridle
 I know it looks strange, but it may be just what Suki needs.

Friday, September 19, 2014
Chilly start to the day again.  My favorite kind of morning!  Start with a light jacket then take it off before mounting.  With the sun on the arena in the morning it offers just enough warmth this time of year to be able to ride in short sleeves.

Nikki, once again had super energy (the good kind) so I took advantage of it!  She was a little heavy on the trot-walk transitions to start, but that was more of an exuberance issue.  We resolved that quickly and moved on to the spiraling exercise.  When I finished the ride with our usual stretchy trot I could really feel Nikki pushing from behind and stretching softly into the bridle.  A nice long ride completed the package, followed by a big satisfied sigh when I brought her back to a walk.

Suki was a little up as we walked to the arena and some of the horses were calling.  Just as I put her out on the lunge, a horse in the field near the arena trotted through the trees.  This elicited a leap, buck and squeal on the end of the lunge line.  A growl from me brought her back into focus and she worked well, though a little distracted on occasion.  A horse called, she responded, followed by Nikki's response.  Suki is very much in heat and she becomes quite vocal!  Nikki sometimes will call to Suki in the arena if she is in the barn by herself, but today she was not alone.  Maybe she just wanted to be included in the conversation!  Suki also did some head twirlies at the trot, something she does when she is a little up.  That subsided after a bit of work.  Overall Suki worked well in her surcingle, throwing in some passage on occasion as well.  I was pleased.  She walked quietly back to the barn, head stretched down.

One of the concerns after the fire, was the status f Suki's tail.  Like her mane it was a bit melted and physiologically it was unknown how much the physical stress and trauma to her body would affect hair growth.  We were very gentle with the tail, carefully applying moisturizing and conditioning gels and only using fingers as a comb.  Suki was also given a flax seed supplement once she got to the rehab farm, and all throughout the process her nutrition was carefully monitored.

Looks pretty good!!   And of course she has those dapples that dance as the sun hits her while she is working in the arena.  Suki is the picture of good health.  That guardian angel has done a great job.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Confident Suki Emerges Through Patience and Steady Work

As we hit mid-September on the calendar I watch the hours of daylight fade and changing shadows of the sun.  I don't really mind when darkness arrives early, except when the only time I can ride is late afternoon.  Our arena does not have lights.  The part I hate most is the later sunrise.  I can still go to the barn early, groom both horses and be ready to ride or lunge once the light is sufficient.  But it is definitely more difficult to get started.  I always rise before the sun, and use that time for writing, running on my treadmill (though the sad, broken toes have curtailed that!), read peacefully in my favorite chair or catching up on favorite television shows that I have DVRd (I am a total Project Runway geek! And Chopped, Master Chef, Top Chef!).

Early next week temperatures will dip into the 40sF over night, so the girls will start to wear sheets at night.  Yes, some scoff at this, but Suki gets cold because of lack of hair across her back, and she does not have a thick coat of hair.  She never has.  If I don't start to dress Nikki early enough she will grow a bear coat!  I would prefer not to body or trace clip her but want to be able to ride through the cold months without having her finish with a thick, wet coat!  Last year I was quite successful, but alas, winter riding in an outdoor arena came to a screeching halt!  Many say that this winter will be the same.  I will just hope for the best!  Plus, I was always taught to start putting at least a sheet on horses once the temperatures go into the low50sF.

The work has been going well this week, but my toes still scream inside my boots!  Suki and Nikki are enjoying the cooler temperatures and their work reflects that.  On Wednesday, (10 September) Suki was a little silly about her surcingle.  She was fine when I put it on, but started to hump her back when I started to lead her out of the barn.  I walked her a little more to see if she was just stiff, but it continued. I always check the skin on her back, so I was confident that there were not any abrasions.  There also did not seem to be any pinching anywhere, and it was certainly not too tight.  Putting Suki back on cross ties I removed the surcingle to check again, and to reset the gear.  When she still seemed uncomfortable I removed it and brought her out to the arena, thinking maybe her back was bothering her, or something else.  On our way out the door she did a couple of arabesque stretches.  Once in the arena she lunged beautifully with no sign of discomfort.  Maybe she needed to do her stretches?

Nikki was slow to start that day as well.  Maybe it was something in the air (the onset of winter?? !).  Once she warmed up she was fine and worked nicely through a basic session with a small amount of lateral work.  I added more counter bend when tracking left, because she seemed to be a little over bent and tilting her head slightly.  A few times around and with 20m circles on the counter bend and she was fine.  I am wondering if it was due to my compensation for the pain in my left foot?  Anyway, I will be more conscious of that in the future so as not to cause problems!

Thursday, September 11, 2014
Nikki had the day off but received a thorough grooming.  Suki received a full spa treatment after standing in the cross ties for 20 minutes wearing her surcingle.  This did not please her so much!  Not because she was uncomfortable....she was bored and kept begging for treats, making faces at me and rolling her eyes.  Then I took her for a walk out back while wearing her gear.  She was fine.  I have no idea what happened the other day!

Saturday, September 13, 2014
Gloomy, chilly autumn-like morning, threatening rain. I was hoping that it would hold off long enough for me to ride Nikki and lunge Suki.

The drizzle started while walking Nikki out to the arena, becoming a more steady, light rain whole I was riding.  I had shed my jacket and the rain was chilly on my arms.  This was quickly forgotten because Nikki was phenomenal!!  The wind blew and and the rain came down, but Nikki was focused with good energy.  Everything worked.  Nicely off the leg for shoulder-in into half pass (even on MY bad side!).  We did working, medium and collected gaits with quick, soft responses.  I finished with stretchy trot serpentines and a lovely stretched walk.  So we were both a bit soggy at the finish.  We were also both quite pleased with ourselves!  My timing was perfect, because shortly after we returned to the barn the rain came down in heavy sheets.  Nikki loves to have her face rubbed with a towel, so I took a clean, fluffy towel and massaged her head until it was dry.  This usually makes her fall asleep.  When I removed the towel from her face, Nikki kept her eyes closed, lip drooping.  Such a funny girl!

The rain stopped again while I was grooming Suki so I put on her bridle and out we went.  Although it was still quite breezy, Suki was focused with the exception of a sudden look at a horse rolling in the adjacent field!  I guess she had one eye on that field.  That was at the start of our work, so I was sure to keep her attention after that.  I primarily worked on transitions within and between gaits.  I can't wait to add the side reins to really get some collected work in there (yes, I had planned that for this weekend, I know).

I left the girls tucked in there stalls with hay, cozy comfy when the rain came down cold and steady later that afternoon.

Sunday, September 14, 2014
43F this morning!  Yikes!  Suki was in her heavy fly sheet over night but Nikki was naked.  It looks like evening temperatures may stay in the 40sF so turnout will probably switch from night to day soon. And it will be time for sheets.

Nikki had a lunge session today because I wanted to work on a bit of collection and transitions, and be able to see how she responded.  I can feel how she responds but I wanted to see it.

Suki wore her surcingle today.  I did see a slight stiffness when she first moved out but it quickly resolved.  The footing was very nice from yesterday's rain providing a nice springy surface.

I am liking the calmness in Suki's eye.  She looks confident, the way she did before her melt down many years ago.  I know I have been proceeding very slowly with this business of riding her again, but when I see that look, I know I am on the right track.  It is in her best interest to be 100% ready for a rider, physically and mentally.  That is the way I have been taught.  Every horse is different, each progressing at its own pace.  It is critical to read the individual, and to not skip steps with any horse.  Suki was so easy to start the first time but I am careful because of what happened when she was pushed to quickly by the trainer that I was working with at the time.  I have referred to this several times, but it makes me mad (at myself) because I knew better.  We will get there.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Suki does a Bit of Passage and a Capriole!

Saturday, September 6, 2014
It appears that summer has finally reared its ugly head in the Oley Valley, although the heat and humidity are expected to break tonight.  This week has been hot, muggy and buggy, but there are ways to work around it, which is what I try to do.  Since the entire summer has not been like this I think that while that is great, it also makes us more vulnerable as the temperatures climb.  The worst for me is when my horses and I are sweaty from just the preparation to work!  But it doesn't keep us from our job.  The work out is just modified.

So I am writing this post in the comfort of air conditioning looking out into my steamy yard.  I place bottled water in the freezer then drink it while it is slushy.  Suki will probably spend a brief period out in the sun, but fortunately the day is mostly overcast.  With the heat and humidity this is the lesser of the evils.  There was no way that I could put a fly sheet on her in this heat.

This week has been frustrating, as I have been only able to lunge the girls as I am still unable to get my foot in a proper boot for riding.  I was being careful because Tuesday the 5th I had to wear dress shoes, but thought that I would be able to cram my foot into a boot the next day.  Yikes was I wrong!  One toe is still pretty swollen, so any time it is pushed next to the others it screams.  Oh wait, that's me screaming!  I am not a weenie about pain, and have ridden, danced, run and tumbled through some pretty significant pain.  I think it is the angle of my toe and the fact that it keeps getting run over, stepped on (by child and pets) and having things dropped on it.  For example today I was out in the garage talking to Isaiah when he accidentally ran over that foot while on his skate board.  Isn't that the way it always is?  The injured body part has a bull's eye on it, just begging for more!  Tomorrow will be the two week mark since Miss Nicolette stepped on my toes and I am ready for it to be healed.

The lunging gives the girls a pretty good workout though.  I do a lot of transitions to make them think and use their muscles properly.  We make good use of the trot poles as well.  So all is not lost.  The damaged toes still complain a bit but I have mastered a modified gait that relieves the stress while I walk.  

Suki is still very enthusiastic about her work, confirming that I am on the right track.  Some days I think that she is impatient for more, and on those occasions I push past what we achieved in the last session.  The question mark that remains, of course is the skin on Suki's back.  Currently I am just using a regular saddle pad and so far all is good.
This is the graft site.  Nothing has changed since the start of using the surcingle.

The small pink (white in this photo) area has shrunk considerably over the past year.  The skin appears to have suffered no trauma from friction or weight of saddle pad and surcingle.  The addition of side reins will create more friction, so that is the next test.  I know I have said this before, but next weekend I will be adding side reins, weather and footing permitting.   

This morning I stuffed my foot into my old paddock boots (they are wider than current ones) and rode Nikki.  The humidity was already apparent at the early hour but we had a productive ride, especially considering the status of my foot.  I kept it simple and all was good.  Reasonable energy and quick response off the leg.  My toes were complaining when I finished but it was great to be back in the saddle!  Once Nikki was untacked, bathed and comfortable I switched from painful paddock boots to wider mockers!

Suki was also up for the challenge of the day!  Very nicely forward and sharp off the aids.  I pushed her a bit more than I had originally planned, but she seemed bored with just a regular work out.  The gnats were killing me and the flies were on Suki.  But she didn't seem to care so we continued to work.  Not an unreasonable amount, especially with the humidity, but enough to maintain interest.  Once back in the barn I was pleased to see that in spite of the humidity, Suki's respiration rate returned to normal quickly.  At this point in training I am not seeing any indication of lung problems as a result of the fire.  Fingers crossed.

Needing to bulk up my bird seed supply and a few equine necessities I headed to Oley Valley Feed.  The corn fields are bursting at the seams and I passed an amazing field of sunflowers, bending their faces to the sun.  The quilting supply store was also busy.  Is everyone preparing for the winter?

Sunday, September 7, 2014
Quite a difference from yesterday!  Temperatures hovered around 60F with a lovely breeze!  So instead of writing from the air conditioned family room I am sitting on the deck enjoying a late morning snack (after bypassing breakfast).  Although it feels like an early autumn day, I won't be fooled.  A warm up in early October is typical for this part of the country!

Suki and Nikki were happily grazing when I arrived at the barn this morning, but walked over to the fence as I pulled in to park.

The breeze was actually fairly brisk, but a welcome change from yesterday!  Nikki glanced at the swirling leaves a couple of times, but otherwise worked well.  With my foot painfully squished into my paddock boots I kept the ride simple, but effective.  Today I added leg yield and trot poles at the trot, and a nice forward canter.  There are A LOT of leaves yellow, and on the ground....seems early to me but another cold, wet winter is predicted, so perhaps this is not such a surprise!

Suki marched out to the arena with the wind in her mane.  The swirling leaves did nothing to distract her.  I worked her through some nice, sharp transitions.  The arena footing was nicely spongy after last night's rain.  Sophie and Pete trotted across their field for breakfast, and Suki responded with a breathtaking passage.  Yes, I could have corrected her and pushed her forward into a working trot, but who am I to disturb an artist at work? Moving off into a medium trot, we continued our work.  Something caught her eye in the adjacent pasture (perhaps she had not fully regained focus!) so Suki squealed and channeled her inner Lippizaner and performed a capriole!  (Jenny used to do this on the lunge sometimes when she was excited.  Must be the Ramiro bloodlines that they share!).  THEN she settled back to work.

Post work Suki was quite smug.  Gotta love a diva and her confidence!