Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Wild Nikki and the search for an illustrator for Suki's children's book

Saturday, January 18, 2014
If you can predict one thing about life with horses it would be that it is predictably unpredictable.  Once again I sit writing this in front of the window watching snow fly about as the birds and squirrels brave the elements to feast at the feeders.  Having been on a nice consistent roll in my riding an arctic blast (followed by a hock injury, sprung shoe and another arctic blast!)brought it to  a screeching halt. While I have no problem riding when the temperatures dip, I will not compromise my horses' legs on hard footing.  Many people will still hop on their horse and walk, but alas, Nikki is just not that type of horse.  Most days I lunge her with side reins prior to ring allowing her to stretch and move out before I mount.  During the warmer weather I abbreviate or eliminate this step, but on cold days this is not really an option.  Especially during extended periods of limited or no turnout.  Unfortunately Suki is just doing stretches and abbreviated in hand work.  Sadly, training has been somewhat crippled by the weather.

While I was able to get in a few consecutive days of lunging it unfortunately did not lead to riding. At least Nikki had some good workouts though.  I worked a lot on transitions and focus but also let her do some trot sets to expend some energy.
 Louise lunged Nikki yesterday but a few things set her off galloping around on the lunge line forcing Louise to make the (very wise) decision not to ride.  I will not have the opportunity to work Nikki again today because of Isaiah's hockey practice and frozen arena.  I have decided to cut Nikki's grain a bit because of the lack of work and turnout.  The muddy field will hopefully get hard enough to allow turnout beyond the paddocks over the next day or so.  That will help Nikki's need to expend energy but a snow event Tuesday and sub zero temperatures may lead to less time out again.  Of course!

Sunday, January 19, 2014
The fox hunting ladies were at the barn when I arrived, ever hopeful about getting in another day in the field before the next batch of bad weather.  It was nice to be in a busy barn among friends sharing our passion.  Yes, our passions differ regarding equestrian discipline, but the main part of our passion creates a common bond.  Love of our horses.  The insanely cold temperatures have presented difficulties for all of us.  Again, we have one common obstacle: frozen ground.  But J and R had not been hunting in awhile and were looking forward to their outing.  The ground was too frozen for me to consider lunging at that hour but both girls would receive a thorough grooming, and Suki moisturizer.

We needed to utilize all three sets of cross ties, which requires a bit of ingenuity because of horse size.  Well, primarily my large horses!  I had finished with Nikki by the time R and J were ready with their boys so Suki was next.  And as much as love the big girl she can be difficult at times with other horses. Mostly she makes mean faces and loud noises at them.  The only time she really bares her teeth is when she is in her stall and I am near.  Then look out horse next door!

J put Parker on the cross ties behind Suki.  He kept stretching forward to sniff her, making me a bit nervous!  Another example of underestimating my girls.  Suki did not even make a face, and after a few sniffs Parker relaxed in the cross ties and Suki stood like a rock for her spa treatment.  I was even able to have her do stretches and her partial bow.

Monday, January 20, 2014
Another sprung shoe for Nikki?  REALLY?  uggh!  This time I was a bit concerned about her even going outside on it, but I put a bell boot on her door for turnout.  The next few days promise snow and high wind, so there may only be brief periods in the paddock.

My awesome farrier came out tonight to put a new shoe on Nikki!! He wasn't sure if he would be able to get there Tuesday or Wednesday given the weather.  Thank you Josh!!!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014
An early trip to the barn this morning before dawn.  School has been cancelled due to the approaching snow followed by yet another arctic blast.  This necessitates an additional layer of clothing.  The blanket dance continues.  This snow event is a bit entertaining.  Initial forecasts predicted snow starting at 5 PM.  Then 3PM, then 1PM, then 9 AM.  At first I expected early dismissal for Isaiah, but by 6 AM school had been cancelled.  Snow started by 7:30 once again covering the Oley Valley in silent white.

I need an illustrator!
In no hurry to get Isaiah out of bed, I decide to conduct a bit of research, as I put the finishing touches on the first children's book about Suki. The process has not been so easy because I had some conflicting ideas about the theme.  At this point I am comfortable with the text, but am in need of an illustrator.  It is crucial for the illustrator to capture Suki's personality.  Illustrations prior to the fire, shortly after and recovered.  There are dressage show scenes and playing in the field.....  So I am starting here as i do my search.  Anyone interested can email me at fwadewhittaker@yahoo.com and I will send a few sentences of text for the artist to use as inspiration for illustration.  A photo of the sample can be sent to me at that same email address.

The remainder of the week consisted of navigating the driveways and roads, grooming and treats.  Please, someone smack me the next time I declare my love of winter!

Saturday, January 2014
As the gray light of a new day begins to overtake the woods behind my I notice a herd of deer making the first of two daily trips across the hill.  More snow is expected to begin in just a few hours so I suspect the return trip will be a bit earlier than usual.  Late yesterday afternoon a large buck ventured down the hill to the bird feeder below while Isaiah and I quietly watched him.  Fortunately Ripley was sleeping or he would have barked frantically at the window!

This morning I will go to the barn to once again feed nice warm bran mashes to Suki and Nikki and groom their legs and faces and pick their feet.  I have only been removing blankets to perform thorough grooming every other day due to the extreme cold.  But for now I sit before the fire observing nature.

Habit made me take my car this morning when the more obvious choice would have been the truck.  The driveway down to the barn has been plowed but the packed snow makes the journey back up the hill questionable.  So I put on my Yaktraks and made my way down the hill.  At 19F the air felt comfortable as the highest temperature that the Oley Valley has experienced in the past week.

The front door of the barn was frozen shut and although I can usually jiggle it open today I was unsuccessful.  I simply climbed the fence and went to the back door.  Entering through that door I met Suki's gaze first.  Her nostrils rumbled silently at first, followed by a low nicker.  Nikki's greeting was much louder followed by a kick to her stall door just to be sure that I heard her.  I hate that habit, but she is quite the impatient girl at times!
The girls happily gobbled their warm mashes, to which I added some carrots and applesauce.  Yes they are spooled.  But these temperatures are crazy!

On Sunday I went out to the barn a little later than usual and the girls were out in the big field.  I decided to just feed them treats and straighten blankets.  Finally out in the big field again was a treat that they needed to enjoy!
Suki's expression makes me feel like she is looking deep into my soul, as I look into hers.  

Nikki enjoys some peaceful hay eating time while Suki is otherwise occupied!

So back to reading and videos.  I think I am going to hunker down for a bit with some SRS footage and an old Reiner Klimke video for inspiration.  Maybe I can lunge the girls next week.....

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Bringing Suki back under saddle: game plan

Extreme winter weather has put me into planning mode.  And reading, and videos.  I have started a few horses under saddle, but am by no means an expert.  I believe I was taught well, by people who took their time with the process.  Suki had a brief introduction to work prior to being shipped from her birth place of Capriole Farm in Vancouver, British Columbia to me in Unionville, Pennsylvania.  She was easy and uncomplicated, with a heavenly trot.  Our greatest issue early on was 3 year old Suki figuring out where to put all of those long legs!  Steering is always a challenge initially so I only cantered if there were fewer than two other horses in the arena.  As a 17 hand 3 year old it seemed as though it only took three or four canter strides for Suki to travel down the long side of the indoor arena.  The turns were perilous at times but Suki and I took care of one another.  I shifted my weight in the saddle to be as accommodating as possible.  She would tilt her right ear back toward me waiting for my next request.  I didn't notice this at first, but after a few days in the saddle I knew when she had a question.  We were dance partners.  I remembered this detail just recently, after I dreamed that I was riding her.

Here are a couple of very early rides:

In preparation of attempting to sit on Suki again I am thinking about the basics.  The weather has held us back for now, but once it breaks we are going full force.  Light lunges 4 days a week for 3 weeks, with increasing emphasis on fitness.  Trot sets; canter sets.  Suki executes transitions brilliantly which is why my focus will initially be on fitness.  Of course transitions will be part of each session, with me throwing in rapid transitions from time to time just to keep her sharp during fitness training. Then we add a surcingle with side reins to attain more collection. Once Suki is fit and I am assured of continued soundness I will move from lunging to long lining, as it is the closest in hand work simulating riding.  This will allow full control of the bridle.

Each day it will also be necessary to monitor the skin on Suki's back.  For the most part the skin is thick and tough, with the weakest area being the site of the graft which lies directly under the middle of where a saddle would sit.  The major concern is weight and friction of the saddle, then the added weight of a rider which could cause the skin to tear.  Suki wore the surcingle only once, with the Success Equestrian saddle pad and everything seemed fine.  Regular work will be the true test.  A few weeks of consistent work in the surcingle and long lines should provide me with assurance (or not) that Suki is ready for the saddle.  Because of Suki's prior back problem and lack of hair saddle type and fit is crucial.   Laser and Thin Line have joined forces with this saddle:
Thin Line incorporates no heat and non slip.

In addition I will continue the in hand work that I observed during the Andreas Hausberger clinic at Waltzing Horse Farm last summer which I will continue to learn in future workshops and clinics.  One plan is to travel to Vienna in 2014 to participate in one of the workshops offered by the Spanish Riding School.  There is always more to learn and I am an eager student!  All of this work will be incorporated into Nikki's training as well.  It is interesting that so many dressage riders seek the "perfect" piaffe in their horses but never really train their horses in hand.  The Lipizzaners (the majority) display very even, correct piaffe, which to me demonstrates its importance.

My plan is to write a daily journal enabling me to evaluate progress and set backs.  I have decided to do it the old fashioned way (at least to start)....hand written.   I have purchased two very lovely books (one for Nikki as well) for this purpose.

Weather has prevented Suki and Nikki from being turned out in their large field....freezing-mud-freeze-mud.  Crazy enough to limit the horses to paddocks, much to their dismay.  I am certain that they will appreciate the beautiful fields that they will have come spring though!  The importance of pasture maintenance!  Yesterday it rained all day so after squeaking in a lunge for Nikki, the girls were in for the day.  Today I put Nikki out in the paddock first where she proceeded to passage around a few times before settling down to munch on some lovely hay.  I watched her for a moment while "her majesty" whinnied in her stall impatiently waiting for her turn.  I turned out Suki next and she too passaged around the paddock, causing Nikki to start up again before both got down to serious hay munching.  WHY DID I NOT HAVE MY PHONE!!!  What an awesome video that would have been.

I received a lovely, thoughtful Christmas gift from R at the barn.  In September I had given my Dressage at Devon Freestyle box seats to her and her mother when I was unable to attend.  Such a beautiful gift...

Re-starting Suki under saddle will not be without complications.  I know this, and am prepared for it.  But it is time.  We may or may or not be successful, but it is time to go for it!!

Stay tuned......

Sunday, January 5, 2014

More winter weather and extreme cold.....I just want to ride!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

I was ever so hopeful about riding before the snow which was to start tonight.  After putting the child on the school bus at 7:25 I headed to the barn, armed with Nikki's meds.  I was a little skeptical about the possibilities of riding at that time given the previous night's low temperatures, but planned to go back perhaps midday after running errands.  Heavy snowfall with moderate accumulation (5-7") was anticipated overnight into Friday accompanied by high winds and harsh temperatures.

Frozen ground remained in the early afternoon so I elected to just adjust the girls' clothing.  Aaah the blanket dance!   They were out in the field when I arrived and of course started to walk in the opposite direction when they saw my car.  Not too pleased about the early retrieval I assured them that I would put them back out after fixing their blankets.  I grabbed Suki first as per protocol, and when we had reached the midway point Nikki begrudgingly started to follow.  That was better than yesterday when she charged down the field past us.  "Careful on that hock!" I called to her as she flew by.  That made Suki start to passage next to me.  All of a sudden she rocked back on her hocks, but thankfully settled down when I growled at her before she had the chance to leap.   Temperatures were expected to plummet to 0F the next day and I had doubts as to my ability to make it out to the barn on Friday.  Currently wearing heavy Rambos with mid weight sheets on top I pulled everything off and started with a midweight blanket topped by the heavy Rambos.  If the timing of the storm occurs as predicted I anticipate a snow day for Isaiah's school.  Because of the harsh temperatures C at the barn was going to blanket her draft horses.  She didn't have anything large enough but after much effort found sizes 90 and 98 for Abe and Daphne to wear.  Yikes!  And I complain about the 84's for Suki and Nikki!

While waiting to pick up Isaiah at the bus stop the first flakes began to fall right on schedule: between 3 and 4 PM.  The snow picked up slightly as we went up the driveway and within 5 minutes the driveway showed a thin layer, becoming immediately slick!
It may not look like much, but this makes my driveway slick!
As the snow continued I watched my DVR'd Nature episode about the Spanish Riding School, dreaming about participating in the workshop in the spring, and attending the Andreas Hausberger clinic in summer.  Isaiah was drawing on his iPad and the animals slept peacefully around us.  I am anxious to learn more in a hands on situation to help me with Nikki's work, and getting Suki back under saddle.  This winter is certainly proving to be more challenging than last, but we will do what we can.  By March I expect to have all of the necessary equipment assembled.  Perhaps during january and February I can find a clinic to audit for in hand work.  Although I am well versed in the basics and a bit beyond, it would be nice to see some upper level work, though I know it will never equal the training that I observed with Andreas.

Friday, January 3, 2014
No school.  Last night SCS declared a 2 hour delay but at 5:30 AM it was changed to a closure.  Just as well.  I did not have to have the driveway cleared by 9 to take Isaiah to the bus!  Our street is always one of the last to be plowed...

Sunday, January 5, 2014
But in spite of my current inability to ride (warmer temps later this week yay!) I am plotting and planning my spring.  Hopefully I will be able to ride Nikki again by next weekend.  Even if the winter continues to be difficult we will work as we are able carefully preparing for an intense spring.  My goal is to get her to a show in late April or early May.  Nikki has been very willing during the uncertain weather, and now that her injury has appeared to resolve we are ready to get back to work (if only the weather were as cooperative as my beautiful girl is!).

I also found a new blog on the chronicle....

by a recent graduate of Penn vet school as she re-trains an Amish driving horse that she rescued.
While Suki's re-starting includes baggage, it is nothing compared to this horse's fear issues.  I look forward to following his progress as I embark on my journey to sit on Suki again.  Unless we hit some unforeseen snag, or the skin on Suki's back is unable to bear the weight and friction of a saddle, I am confident that I will ride her by autumn of 2014.  The process will be slow and careful, but that's fine.  There is no hurry.

Tomorrow I look forward to going to the barn after snow, bad roads and freezing rain on top of the snow.  No, there won't be any lunging or riding, but after a couple of days the girls need some loving and grooming, and I am in desperate need of my horse therapy!  But really....I JUST WANT TO RIDE!

Meanwhile, we dream of green grass and good footing.....

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Winter weather, a swollen hock and a loose shoe

Life with horses.  Some days you just can't win!  I write this while facing my beautiful Christmas tree, lights twinkling, cozy and warm by the fire as the cold rain pours outside.  We had been without internet service since Christmas, restored finally last night after a very vague "widespread outage".  Well, at least it was restored before the original target date of December 31!  I don't like to blog or really do much on Facebook from my phone, and life's obligations kept me from hitting an internet cafe.  Unfortunately that restoration was short lived, but today, Jan1, 2014 we appear to be back in business!  (Fingers crossed that it lasts this time)So today I reflect on the past two weeks....

December 19 showed some riding potential in the days to come.  Nikki had not been ridden in nearly a week so I was anxious to get back to work.  The arena was still not quite ready for anything more than walking, but the path from barn to arena remained a bit treacherous.  There's always tomorrow, I thought.  Temperatures were expected to be ridiculously high in the coming days so the ice was sure to give way to improved footing!  The girls came galloping down the paddock today, nearly giving me a heart attack as I pleaded with them to be careful.  The bad weather hindered my efforts with maintaining Suki's skin, although covered by a blanket it does fare better than one would expect.  The girls were in a happy mood having spent most of the day in the sunshine out in their field.

December 20, 2013
The footing in the arena was definitely suitable for at least some work, but I questioned the safety of the driveway between barn and ring.  Walking back and forth a few times I tried t determine my course of action.  I know that it seems like a lot of indecision but appropriate footing conditions is something that has been hammered into my brain since the start of my riding career.  Having witnessed a variety of unnecessary injuries to other people's horses from riding on hard, dry footing, frozen footing, super deep footing, etc I tend to weigh the consequences obsessively.  After a week of no riding and no show, clinic etc looming, why risk it?  Still pondering this with my desire to ride I walked through the barn to collect the girls.  They were in the paddock behind the barn so I grabbed Banker first, followed by Suki and Nikki.  Giving Suki a proper grooming and moisturizing, she once again allowed me to massage her face with the towel.  The long scrape on her right hind white sock is finally filling in with hair.  It is a very superficial scrape, but that hair is taking its time growing back!
Moving on to groom Nikki I began with her face.  As I moved hands and brush over the legs that I know so well I came to her Left hock.  "Whoa", I thought.  That is not normal.  I knotted her tail and looked at her from behind.  Left hock definitely larger than the right.  Uggh.  A little warm, but not hot.  I looked around for a wound and found a small cut.  Nothing major, and appearing superficial.  Temperature, appetite, behavior all normal.  I couldn't really jog her due to the icy conditions, either.  What happened?  A kick?  I called the vet and set up an appointment for the morning.  I quietly, in my mind hoped that in the morning I would find a normal-looking leg.

December 21, 2013
Down the driveway to the barn at 7:30 AM.  The arena was still partially snow covered, but definitely looking better.  I hoped that I would see improvement in Nikki's hock.  Jiggling the frozen door of the barn I could hear the horse inside talking to me, clearly hoping that it was John or Rob to feed.  The lights take a bit of time to warm up and come to full strength in the cold and dampness so after a quick hello t and treat for Suki I pulled Nikki out of her stall.  She snatched her first carrot out of my pocket as I slipped on her halter!  All signs in her stall exhibited normal behavior over night.  Hay and grain eaten, normal amount of manure and two nearly empty water buckets.  Nikki walked out of her stall without any evidence of discomfort, but as I turned her to attach the cross ties it was obvious that the left hock was indeed still enlarged.

The vet arrived around 8:30 as expected.  Initial exam did not show anything.  Dr X clipped the entire fetlock looking for the little cut that I had seen the night before or any other sign of a puncture wound.  Nothing.  Not even the little thing that I had seen the night before.  Body temp normal still.  Dr X really needed to see her jog so tentatively we made our way out to the arena.  The arena itself was not SO bad but the walk from the barn was a bit scary, although better than the day before.  Nikki carefully walked beside me.  I put her out on the lunge and she trotted well.  Not too forward...she was definitely being careful with the footing.  In both directions she was only very slightly off and i believe it was primarily to the swelling hindering full movement and not actual discomfort.  Back in the barn the vet looked over every inch of the are and behind, still not finding any type of wound.  She scrubbed it just in case and put Nikki on two types of antibiotics.  SMZ's for 14 days, and injectable gentocin for 3 days.  Then she applied a sweat and a wrap followed by standing wraps.  It would be my responsibility to change the sweat each day and re-wrap both hind legs with standing wraps.  Miss Nicolette does not have a good history with wearing bandages.....she tries to remove them immediately upon release into her stall.  This of course, had me a bit uneasy.  I was comforted by the fact that when we put her in her stall she did not make any attempt to chew on them!  I would be back later in the day to check her.  Off to the tack store I went to pick up additional wrapping supplies.
Suki was probably relieved that she was not the one requiring veterinary attention!  I made sure to give her a thorough spa treatment and plenty of treats.  She was only going to be out in the paddock because of the footing conditions.

I called the insurance company to report the injury.  All bases covered.

Returning to the barn at 4 PM with treats and bandage supplies I was pleasantly surprised to see that Nikki had not touched her wraps or hock bandage and was happily munching hay!

Sunday, December 22, 2013
All was well upon my arrival, much to my relief.  Nikki had kept all of wraps intact.  Perhaps the baby girl is growing up!  As per Dr. X's instructions I removed the hock bandage.  Although still enlarged, it was definitely smaller than it had been the day before.  After hand walking and cold hosing I wrapped it again...
Nikki, who is usually quite good about eating oral meds would not eat the SMZ's no matter what we did to it.  Apple sauce, molasses, sweet feed..... no go.  So now it would be oral gavage twice a day.  Delightful!

Suki, no doubt was feeling a bit out of sorts so I did a little in hand work with her.  She would likely be a bit wiggy if I walked her out to the arena to lunge (Because of course now it was all fine for footing!) given the short periods of paddock turnout only!

Monday brought still further improvement to Nikki's hock, but again not quite normal.  The routine continued.  By mid week I was no longer wrapping the hock, and Nikki was allowed in the paddock for an hour at a time.  Saturday we were ready to start back to light work so I put her on the lunge to walk and for a light jog.  BIG circles and straight lines, so I was doing a lot of walking to give her more straight than curves.  She seemed sound and happy.  I planned to ride on Sunday.

Sunday, December 29, 2013
The best laid plans....
Reasonable temperatures and good footing.  I was looking forward to getting on Nikki again.  After passing out carrots to all of the horses I gathered my equipment.  Grooming Nikki's shiny bay coat, I went on to pick her feet.  THEN I got to the right front foot.....A SPRUNG SHOE!!!! AAAAHHHH!!!  Head hanging I put the equipment away, groomed and moisturized Suki, then did a bit of in hand work.  She was very responsive and sensitive, offering a few steps of piaffe as I thought about asking her for it.  (Hmmm....obviously I am doing something with my body indicating that I will be asking for it!)

New shoes on December 30 for Nikki.  I am usually not at the barn for this.  Nikki used to be somewhat difficult, but now dozes while her feet are being done, the cross ties clearly holding up her head.  I took a photo, but for some reason it was all dark when I went to transfer it?   Suki also bad after a terrible farrier beat on her now stands quietly to have her feet done.  Okay, she tries to nibble on the farrier's but sometimes, but is no longer panicked!
Patience and kindness go a long way!  She is not even nervous when brought out of her stall for him.  In the second photo I have just reprimanded her for grabbing his shirt!

So now today, January 1, 2014.  The girls were happy to finally get back out in their pasture.  This will be short lived.  Tomorrow evening is expected to bring heavy snow again.  But both girls worked today.  Nikki was a little wild yesterday for Louise, but was declared sound by the vet.  This is good news.  I am hopeful about riding tomorrow before the snow comes.....