Sunday, February 23, 2014

Getting through the daily grind and trying to find inspiration

I know that I have complained about this winter on several occasions.  And yes, it's winter and I live in the northeastern United States, so what do I expect?  But having not ridden in over two months I am trying desperately to find additional inspiration.  Some days it is tough to manage the daily routine!

This has been a good test of Suki's condition though.  There have been stretches of time where I have done minimal exfoliating and moisturizing of her skin.  Some days it was so insanely cold that I just brushed Suki and Nikki's legs, face and neck, picked feet and fluffed tails.  Suki then received face and neck moisturizing.  I like to be able to check over legs and feet to be sure that everything is okay, and there are no unusual bumps, cuts, swellings, etc.  Other days road conditions were too treacherous to even make the short drive (many hills and curves roads completely covered in ice and snow).

On days where temperatures are above 20F I do full grooming and spa treatments.  I am pleased to see that even with longer periods between full moisturizing of Suki's back it has not been excessively dry, thanks to the constant wearing of blankets.  The girls are being surprisingly good about spending extended periods inside, but getting in some good passaging, bucking and rolling on days outside.  One thing that I am noticing is that their "clown" behavior is increasing.  It almost seems as though they are doing it to entertain themselves.  I am, of course, the butt of their jokes!  Not that I mind, because it is nice to see them in good spirits, happy and healthy.

Fortunately Suki has not been dribbling water on me too often in the frigid weather.  But she does love to try to snatch treats from my pockets and snuffle my hair while I brush her front legs.  If I am wearing a hat then Suki is likely to yank it from my head and throw it on the floor.  Her white socks are sparkly clean from standing in snow, which definitely makes my job easier!  Best that I do not get used to that since in another 2-3 weeks we will probably be dealing with mud!  Each winter I have had some concerns about the tips of Suki's ears which are devoid of hair, and the possibility of frost bite.  It is not a large area, but it is the surface where the tips fell off after being so badly burned.  I try to keep the area covered thickly with a petroleum based ointment so that the ears are not wet, but protected.  I have entertained covering her ears but the commercially available models of ear covers do not fit so well and are typically not a thick enough fabric.  Yes, last year I knitted a set of custom ear covers but they did not stay on so well and Suki seemed somewhat annoyed by them.  I suspect, given her diva personality that she was embarrassed by them.  But even with the arctic temperatures there was never a problem.  As everyone knows, I am a supreme worrier about my horses, so it was par for the course!

Nikki likes to steal treats from my pockets as well, but her main game is to suck the corners of my pockets to get a taste of sugar cubes.  I have not been on her back since mid December, but I am getting hopeful that all of the snow will be gone in a few weeks and we can get back to work.  Today she decided that every time I touched a leg for her to lift a foot, she would lift a different foot than the one requested.  Then she would turn around and look at me.  Was that a smirk on her face??  She also really enjoyed a full face and ear is one of her favorite things.  She hates to have her belly brushed but you could rub her ears all day!

To help keep the girls listening and supple I have been doing stretching exercises with them.  Side to side, and head through the front legs.  Suki is almost bowing at this point!  They both enjoy it, though Nikki really tries to cheat and stretch her lips out.  While working side to side with Suki I am always reminded of her early days in ICU.  Crinkled skin that had been burned but not yet sloughed off made it impossible for Suki to reach around and scratch her sides, something she has always liked to do.  It was heartbreaking to watch her try to reach her side then turn back and look at me.  From that time on I would wait for her to point to the itchy area and I would scratch it for her.  Our communication between one another had always been wonderful, but when you spend that much time together during recovery the bond and communication deepens to a level that seems almost like mind reading.  As you can see in this photo the dark hair was burned area.
Two weeks post fire
Suki ultimately lost all of the skin forward and across her back.  Much of the hair on her side did grow back.
So it is wonderful to see that she regained all of her comfort and flexibility.  Actually she was back to full scratching ability by that first fall in 2009.  It appeared that the crinkling in the skin made it less flexible and Suki seemed nervous about maintaining her balance.  Once it sloughed away and the pink healthy skin was on the surface she was good to go!

I re-read Priscilla Endicott's "Taking Up the Reins" to gather some inspiration.  For those of you who have never read it, you really must!
It is about a woman in her 50's who takes her horse to Germany for a year to train.  The time was when US dressage was in it's infancy.  Priscilla Endicott also helped form The New England Dressage Association.  It's a great read!

I also watched some of the George Morris clinic that took place in Florida in January.  The section that I watched was the flat section, of course, but I liked how he talked about the importance of feeling the horse.  George also focused on regulating stride, stressing the importance of dressage basics for all horses.  He lengthened the riders' stirrups for the flat riding, but not quite to dressage length, which I was happy to see.  The focus was still hunt seat, but it was nice to see the appreciation.  It reminded me of how when M first jumped Nikki as a 4 year old, how impressed she was by Nikki's ability to move laterally and be balanced on the turns.  Other 4 year olds that she had introduced to jumping were apparently all over the place and unbalanced.  I think we all need to appreciate one another's disciplines...

My inspiration for the approaching spring is also coming from deep within....I see a fully workable summer with both girls, hopefully getting Nikki to some shows and ending the summer with sitting on Suki's back.  It may be premature to set a time frame since I really need to see how she holds up with long lining in a surcingle then a saddle.  But I am hopeful.

Maybe it's the promise of spring in the air this weekend, though snow is in the forecast again for the coming week.  But my biggest inspiration came today, watching Isaiah do a dressage test during his lesson.  My little boy doing his halt and salute gave me a preview of what is to come.  We will get through the rest of the winter and bounce happily into spring!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The longest winter

I love winter.  The cold weather has always inspired me, increasing my energy levels when the cold air touches my face.  But I must admit, that even this winter girl is about done!  I tried so hard to keep Nikki going in the face of Jack Frost, but frozen arena footing topped by snow and ice has brought all active thoughts about training to a screeching halt.  Reluctantly I admit defeat.  For now.  My horses' legs are far too precious to risk on the frozen tundra at more than a walk.  At this point with limited turnout due to extreme weather Neither Suki nor Nikki will walk quietly enough to work on the snow.  Although I admit defeat for physically working the girls in the arena, it has not stopped some in hand work out behind the barn when that ground allows, and some fun stretching exercises in the aisle.  I am also taking this opportunity to read, read, read and watch training videos.  And of course daydream.

Suki and Nikki are behaving reasonably well given the weeks of limited turnout.  On Friday they both received a thorough grooming, and had my fingers not started to get cold I would have pulled Nikki's mane.  But I have winter horseman's hands, cracked and dry on the fingers in spite of desperate attempts with some mighty moisturizers!  That usually translates to bloody fingers if it it is cold when I pull a mane.  Current weather predictions show temperatures above freezing later this week so I will seize any opportunity that rears its head!

Saturday was a great opportunity for the girls to be out a good portion of the day in some much needed time out in the big field.  I groomed their legs and faces and picked out their feet so that I would be able to get them back outside as quickly as possible.   We also performed some stretches and I asked both girls to do a few half steps in hand.  Nikki is really beginning to understand this command, although she really prefers to piaffe, as does Suki.

Snow is falling once again as I write this post from my window perch in front of the fire.  This little burst is only expected to produce 1-3 inches of snow, so thankfully just a nuisance which should be cleared by morning.  This morning when I went to the barn the damp air felt like snow was coming but the 22F temperature felt almost warm!  Yesterday's sun produced a slight melt but temperatures in the low teens last night gave the snow covered areas a shimmery slickness.

The snow is falling heavier now so the birds and squirrels are scurrying about eating before taking cover again.  I'm sure there will be fresh deer tracks by morning as well....

The horses were already outside when I arrived at the barn this morning so I just left them alone giving treats and head scratches.  It is rare these days that they have extended periods out in the big field.  Hopefully this new batch of snow won't affect turnout too much!
There was a bit of an incident this morning though..... Levi, a gelding who is turned out in the adjacent field tried to go through the fence to get to Suki.  She is in heat (yes, again!) and I have observed him acting a bit studly at times.  He took a chunk out of his foot prompting a visit from the vet.  He will be fine, but he and Mack will not be allowed in the field right next to Suki and Nikki.  Notice in today's photo that the girls are being kept from the paddock and a top section of the fence is down...
So as the snow continues this evening I continue to read Paul Belasik's book "Nature, Nurture and Horses and dream of good footing and riding soon.....