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......

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