Saturday, May 31, 2014

Suki settles into a working routine

My original plan was to start this post sitting outside under the umbrella with a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.  When I opened the umbrella there were about a million (okay, 20 or so) stink bugs clinging to it!
Sunday, May 25, 2014
The mounting block game.  I thought we had left it behind, but alas it reared its ugly head this morning.  I should have expected it though given Nikki's very S-L-O-W walk to the arena.  She stretched a few times, stopped, looked around, etc.  I kept reaching behind to swat her with the lunge whip to get the walk a bit more forward.  Lunging was slow so I watched carefully to look for unsoundness.  Everything else this morning was normal, so I urged Nikki on to make her free and loose.  Once she got motoring everything was fine.  Then, the mounting block....Nikki lined up to the mounting block fine but kept swinging her but away so that I could not reach the stirrup.  Three times then she she stood.  So I walked around the arena, got off then remounted.  By the third time Nikki let out a big sigh and we were fine.  The rest of the ride was lovely.  Nikki was forward, and I rode her through the ground poles several times.  I decided to keep the ride short and we finished with some very nice lengthenings.

I typically don't work Suki two days in a row but I wanted to see if she was stiff or sore so I did a 5 minute lunge to evaluate.  Starting off slightly stiff, Suki worked out of it quickly.  I asked for a bit of canter and finished.

I am noticing a change in Suki.  With regular work she seems to be not quite as impatient while being groomed, and even a bit more reasonable about waiting for turn out.  Walking out to the arena Suki marches with a purpose and sets right to work.  It may seem silly to say this, but I notice a spark in her eye as she gets back into regular work. While she has been happy and healthy all of this time I think the happiness quotient has kicked up a notch!

This weekend I have been thinking about Dressage at Saratoga.  I used to take Jenny to that show.  The first time that we competed the show was still a CDI and I remembered feeling somewhat overwhelmed.  Yes the footing is a bit deep, something to be considered when planning three days worth of tests.  The show has changed and become much smaller over the the time I competed seven arenas ran simultaneously, while now it is 3-4.  But I do have some wonderful memories and experiences to last a lifetime!

Monday, May 26, 2014
Nikki had today off so I gave her a very thorough grooming and pampering session.  Her lip drooped while I massaged her with the buffing mitt, and she dropped her head while I rubbed it with a towel.  She definitely enjoyed that time and her day off!

Suki had a 15 minute lunge and 10 minutes of in hand work.  Most of the work on the lunge was transitions between and within the gaits.  Working on building fitness and sharpening transitions.  Suki's transitions are spot on, so that doesn't take much effort!  She doesn't really pay too much attention to what is going on around her, even when Nikki calls to her from the barn.  In hand I worked on a little piaffe, which was not as sharp today as it can be so I moved to leading exercises with many quick changes of direction.  I asked for some "mini piaffe" after that and it was a bit improved.

So much to do, but we just keep moving forward at a reasonably steady pace.  In my mind I have a time frame, which I have also committed to paper, but this remains flexible.  The most important thing is that Suki remain sound and healthy.  I am pleased to note that so far I have not noticed any respiratory issues.  My thought is that by taking the fitness level up gradually we will avoid problems.  Time will tell, but so far I am pleased with the progress!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014
Suki and Nikki were especially vocal when I entered the barn this morning!  It is my favorite morning greeting, especially when the child greeted me upon waking with: "It CANNOT be morning already!"  As a morning person I struggle with understanding the problem!

Nikki immediately starts to demand for treats while Suki gives me the evil eye from down at the end of the aisle.  I settled Suki in with a small amount of hay and got Nikki ready to work.
Because Nikki had yesterday off I gave her a slightly longer lunge warm up to loosen the muscles.  Nikki was relaxed and loose in her muscles, clearly benefiting from her day off.  I am a firm believer that horses sometimes just need to be horses.  Even the fabulous Lipizzaners in Vienna have the summer off and relax on the hills of Piber.  Just being horses.

Suki called to Nikki once as we left the barn.  Starting the ride with three loop serpentines I moved from posting trot to sitting asking for a bit more collection.  I was pleased with Nikki's response.  There wasn't any stiffness in her back as I moved from rising to sitting....and I actually felt her lift in the back.  Yay!  Canter transitions were less than brilliant, but I feel like this was my fault.  To remedy this I did my spiral in at the trot, leg yield out, with canter transition as I reach the 20m circle.  Next I did the "bow tie" exercise, asking for canter as I hit the track.  After success with those I exercises I finished with stretchy trot in both directions.

A day off for Suki so there was a full exfoliation and moisturizing session.  I also stretched each leg as I massaged her muscles.  Tomorrow will be a work day for her.  She was happy to go out, but did not get too crazed while I put Nikki out first!  Well, maybe a little.  But she does wait while I turn her around and unhook the lead rope.  I suspect that she is not this way for everyone, but I have certain expectations and she knows that.  Nikki is always polite about being turned out!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014
Today was lateral work day.  Following my regular warm up with Nikki I worked on transitions within the gaits to improve response time.  Then we moved on to leg yielding which worked well even off my bad leg....well I guess it is my less effective leg!  Even shoulder in was respectable...I like to ask for it on the quarter line and center line, not just on the rail.  It helps me to keep it straighter and teaches both of us to not depend on a barrier.  I asked for a few steps of shoulder in in both directions then finished once again with a stretchy trot.  We are a bit behind, but I am feeling a little more confidence as we move forward.  Nikki enjoys our post work out routine, waiting for the face massage!  Back in her stall with half flake of hay I moved on to Suki.

Suki came barging out of her stall ready for action.  She seemed anxious to work.  I love how she marches out to the arena, ignoring Nikki's calls from the barn!  Suki seems ready to get down to business as we move through the arena gate.  Occasionally there is a lapse where she tries to dive for a mouthful of grass just outside the arena, but responds promptly to my reprimand.  I started Suki with a warm up of trot and canter then did the lunge line version of the spiral-in-leg-yield-out exercise.  This worked better than expected, since I hadn't done it in awhile.  Not just for me, but for Suki as well.  The coordination of the aids is dancing a pas de deux.  We were both up for the challenge!  The minute we finished Suki looked to my pockets for sugar cubes.

Thursday, May 29, 2014
Mornings at the barn are peaceful and quiet.  Walking into the barn with greetings of nickers from the girls and the surrounding green fields and mountains reminds me of why I find the Oley Valley a beautiful place to live.
Nikki was so lovely this morning!  The air was cool and breezy, without sunshine.  But that's okay, because there is still such a calmness in the surroundings that I embrace.  We had a brief moment of mounting block indecision, but with one growl Nikki stepped back into place.  Her trot lengthnings were really beautiful today, and she came back into a more collected gait very easily.  I kept the work simple, and took a walk outside the arena to finish.

Jenn came over to take photos of Suki working.  But Suki was a little difficult about having the bridle put on today.  Yesterday I lunged her in a halter, but I went back to the bridle today.  Not sure if I am keeping the bridle that I bought for her.  It doesn't fit as well as I think it should.  So I used Nikki's, which needs to be adjusted once on.  I was finally successful in getting it on, but something seemed off.  When we approached the arena Suki did not want to go in, so I switched the lunge line to the halter instead.  She worked okay, but I felt there was some fussiness in the bridle, even without the lunge line attached.  Her teeth were done in April, so I think that perhaps I did not adjust the bridle appropriately.  I need to make a decision on her bridle and perhaps find a different one.  The bit is the same type that I have always used, so I don't think that was the problem.  She looked good at the trot, moving out nicely in her working trot.  Jenn commented on how nice Suki's extended trot is....but I told her that this was Suki's regular, working trot....her extended trot is a sight to behold!  Workout was shortened but Suki seemed happy and sound.

I'm struggling a bit with my competitive goals these days.  I've always enjoyed showing and am very competitive.  But I also enjoy bringing horses along through the levels, and yes, showing is a measurement of how well we are accomplishing that task.   I don't think that it is because I have lost a competitive edge.  I have always been quite successful with showing, but some spark has left.  While I am a spectator at Dressage at Devon I do feel the spark return, but honestly, the Andreas Hausberger clinic last summer drove me more.  Perhaps I am finally understanding and embracing Pierre de Coubertin's Olympic Creed:

"The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well." 

I think of the Spanish Riding School.  They do not compete, they perform.  But the focus is first, and foremost on the process of the training and the correctness.  While we all strive for success in life, perhaps this is what it is all about.  I feel that in Suki's survival and recovery that in our conquering we have also fought well.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Dancing into spring

The Oley Valley has finally unfolded into spring.  We have been enjoying bright blue sky and moderate temperatures, with a few exceptions.  The harsh and prolonged winter delayed spring, but finally we are surrounded by lush green fields and beautiful flowers.

The girls are back to work and that makes me smile.  Although I am a bit behind in training compared to where I had hoped to be, we are making progress!  Nikki came back to work nicely after her lengthy hiatus and continues to improve in fitness and technical effort.  Suki's work is at a slower pace, but that too is picking up.  And she seems to enjoy it, which is what matters most.

Sunrise is early now, so when I have the opportunity I ride at 6:30 or 7:00 in the morning on weekends.  I never sleep late anyway so I'm not missing a sleep-in on the weekend!  It is the perfect time of day to ride.  I love how quiet everything is, with only the sound of birds, an occasional whinny and my foot steps crunching in the gravel.  The mornings have been blissfully cool at 50'sF and I am going to appreciate that before the heat of the summer takes over!

Sunday, May 18, 2014
Nikki worked well this morning.  It was cool and favorite type of riding weather!  Nikki was a little heavy in the canter transitions so I made big loops in the arena with multiple transitions.  While I succeeded in lightening her in my hand, she started to anticipate canter transitions during the trot work afterword.  To remedy that we went back to some walk trot transitions.  I felt a little tension but after just a few minutes Nikki began to relax underneath me and soften in the hand again.  In spite of that this was good energy and even when there was anticipation of a movement she waited to be asked before proceeding.  I finished with big loops in a stretchy trot getting nice suppleness in her back and relaxation in her neck.  Jen came out and took some photos, including some great candids!

I was going to work Suki as well, but she the small chip in her left front foot had become larger so a thorough grooming was in order instead.  The skin on Suki's back appears to be quite strong, and even though it is scar tissue she can still feel a fly when it lands on her back!  Now that I have switched to fly sheets it is critical that I don't skip days of moisturizing.  The regular sheets and blankets seal in the moisture, but the open mesh of a fly sheet tends to encourage drying.  I have an outstanding skin care regimen that I use with Suki, developed after much trial and error.  Olay sensitive skin with sunscreen for the face and ears, and Aquafor petroleum based moisturizer for everywhere else.  I have tried more expensive products, but this system works well, and Suki's skin looks amazing.  (hmmm, perhaps I should use this regimen myself....)Exfoliation is performed almost every day.

Next up was to tackle Nikki's seriously over grown mane!  Unlike most horses she hates the lower half of her mane being pulled but is perfectly fine as you move up her neck.  So relaxed, Nikki is, that she actually drops her head and dozes off!  So instead of a stool for the 17.2h girl, I end up practically on my knees!  Jen was still there so she held Nikki and kept her occupied for the difficult part.

I wouldn't say I waited TOO long to do this....

Better, huh?  Not to worry, I fixed that part by her withers!

Suki will be next!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014
Nikki had the day off yesterday, after a productive three days of work.  I tend to do three on, on off with her as it seems to keep her happy.  Today after a brief lunge and a trot warm up on her back I decided to do a nice forward canter around the arena in two-point.  Well, as two-point as one can be in a fairly deep seated dressage saddle!  Ears forward and a twinkle in her eye, Nikki embraced my offer to go.  As she can be a little lazy at times I was surprised at how eagerly she moved on.  It felt great!  I am certain that we were both smiling just a bit!  I kept reaching forward to pat her neck, and she just seemed to be having a great time.  Given how Nikki was anticipatory following canter work on our previous ride, perhaps this was not my most brilliant idea,  but I wanted to give it a try.  I used to do it with Jenny all the time because after her trailer accident and subsequent hock surgery, it helped to loosen her up before performing the more collected work.

After a short walk break I moved on to trot work.  This time Nikki did not try to anticipate canter.  In fact she was quite ready to work, moving quickly off a light leg and softly into my hand.  I incorporated a bit of leg yielding and while Nikki was awesome moving off my left leg, I encountered a little bracing off my right leg.  This is more my issue than hers, so I dropped my irons and received a better response.      Changing the bend briefly in both directions I was able to get a few steps of half pass, something we had been working on prior to the ice age winter of 2013/14!  Nikki LOVES doing trot poles so I worked her through them a few times, finishing our ride with a big stretchy trot.  I believe she was quite pleased with herself!  Once dismounted I gave her big face rubs and an eagerly awaited sugar cube.

With the farrier due out on Thursday I elected to wait to lunge Suki.  That chip bothered me, and now that the chunk had come off I was not willing to worker.  In just two days time her feet had gone from reasonable to chipped.  Looks like we are back to a five week schedule!  That is pretty consistent for both girls...five weeks.  I am still hoping to avoid putting shoes on Suki, but we will see how that goes! Instead I chose to work stretches and a few leading exercises.  These are always helpful as they keep the horse's response time sharp.  Suki did well with her work but was more focused on going out than anything else.  To compensate for that I made frequent changes in my requests, forcing her to pay attention.  It worked, and when we were finished she let out a huge sigh!  So dramatic!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014
I managed to sneak in a ride on Nikki before the rain.  After a stretchy warm up and a bit of forward canter, I worked through transitions within the gaits.  Pleased with Nikki's response I kept the ride short.
In hand work with Suki included a few steps of piaffe, which she gave willingly.  I worked her in the paddock behind the barn, and she listened well in spite of Sammy the pony watching and calling to her!

Occasional showers were forecasted for the day but with temperatures warm enough I let the girls go out.  It s nice to not have to worry about a bandage on Suki's back, making turnout in light rain acceptable.  The wet fly sheet was removed when she came in for the night, so Suki got to be naked for a change!  That is only allowed while in her stall or being worked, but I know it must feel great to her!

Saturday, May 24, 2014
Beautiful morning!  Cool and breezy.  My favorite!  Arriving at the barn by 7:15 the girls called to me as I walked in.  I love hearing their voices in the morning.  My entire day is brighter!

Nikki first.  Clearly she was sleeping on a manure pile in her stall, given what was stuck to her.  With shavings in her mane and tail i knew that she had a good night's sleep.  My girls love their sleep time in their stalls.  Nikki was a little girthy this morning, which surprised me since she had yesterday off.  I am always very slow and careful with girthing, but perhaps she was not quite awake enough!  I lunged for just 8 minutes (4 minutes per direction) enough to get her stretching and loose.  Wonderful energy once I was in the saddle, and ready to work.  Today I did quite a bit of lateral work after a big trot in serpentines around the arena.  Shoulder in on the quarter line then shoulder in to a few steps of half pass.  Spiraling in at the trot and leg yielding out with a canter transition upon reaching the 20m circle.  I like this exercise and so does Nikki.  Once again I finished with a stretchy trot, and this time a walk up the driveway (I was SO brave today!  Oh, and Nikki was too!)

Feet done on Thursday, Suki was ready to be lunged.  She knows that when the polos go on there is lunging involved.....note the "game face"!

After a snort at the mat in front of the fox hunting ladies' trailer, we had an uneventful trip to the arena.  The breeze had picked up and Suki's ears were pricked forward as she marched to the arena......clearly ready to work!  Dapples shining in the sun, Suki walked quietly on the lunge to stretch, while Nikki called to her from the barn.  I find it amazing that Nikki misses her....Suki is really not always kind to her baby sister.  I worked a lot of "forward and back" at the trot and Suki was definitely up for it. That girl just takes my breath away.  It is heartwarming to see her so happy and healthy, doing what comes natural to her.  I laughed when she dug around for sugar cubes (yes, she and Nikki know the routine!) and love how proudly she walked back to the barn.

This July 9 marks 5 years since the fire.  Five years since the day when Dr. Kelly Kalf said "she lifted her head and we never looked back".  And every day, we continue to look forward.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Happy Birthday Suki!

Suki turned 14 today.  Since the fire, her birthday is a reminder of how close I came to losing her.  How she almost didn't reach 10, much less 14.  I think about it on the day that marks the fire.  I think about it when she looks into my eyes and I see her soul.  I think about it when I watch her gallop in the field and roll in the mud with the pure joy of loving life.  And today was no different.  I did try to put a birthday hat on her this morning, and while I did get it on her head once, it fell before I could take a picture.  After that she just snorted at it and was very clear that the birthday hat was not going anywhere near her head!  When I turned her out after her daily spa treatment she galloped across the field, slowed to a canter then trotted around a bit.  I had to catch my breath for a moment to watch the beauty and joy of my beloved Suki and the thought of what almost was.  As usual, Nikki was just casually strolling across the field, EXHAUSTED from our ride.  Suki chased her for a moment then trotted off again.  Their personalities are different in many ways but similar in the diva aspect.  I love my girls!!

It is so wonderful to be riding again.  Louise started her up for me again after I lunged Nikki in tack for a week prior.  Last week I rode for the first time since December, which seemed like an eternity!  Putting my foot in the stirrup and settling into the saddle I felt a calmness wash over me that I had not experienced since my mother went into the hospital.  Life has been crazy with business and worry, but those moments when we are with our horses it all goes away for awhile.

Friday, May 1 was my first day back in the saddle.  Louise had noted that Nikki has a softer look in her eye now, compared to December.  December was a rough month.  Nikki injured her hock, was on stall rest, sprung a shoe then was turned out in the paddock only due to weather conditions.  I mistakingly did not request that her grain be decreased so she became a bit wild.  Then the snow came and continued to fall.....we were finished for the season.  So perhaps that is the reason, or she is maturing.  Warmbloods take longer than other breeds to mature both physically and mentally, and Nikki turned seven in April.  Suki was seven when she finished growing in height (thankfully!).  Whatever the reason, Nikki appears to be happily back in work.  As am I!  I do agree with Louise.  Nikki does seem to have a softer look, and other than begging for sugars, is responsive.

Yesterday I added more sitting trot.  Nikki came softly into my hand and pushed nicely from behind.  Her down transitions are immediate but a little heavy in the hand, so I am working many transitions which lightens her up front.  Canter transitions have been remarkably smooth (thank you Louise!).  I know that she is behind in training for her age, but life has gotten in the way.  I hate to admit that, because i always said that it would never happen.  Hopefully this year will be a turning point.

Mother Nature appears to be softening bait, and although we have chilly nights (40F) the days warm nicely.  Spring was delayed but the grass is finally starting to get quite green and trees are budding nicely.  Soon we will complain about the heat, so I will enjoy the transition!

Today I did a bit of leg yield with Nikki and she was quick off my leg in both directions.  Next ride I will add the spiral exercise!

Suki lunged well, but I kept it pretty basic.  Nicely forward to loosen up (she starts stiff) then upward and downward transitions.  Just 15 minutes, but she worked quite well.  I am trying to decide when to add the surcingle.   Two weeks?  I think that she is ready for side reins, so I will need the surcingle to do that.  Stiffness appears to resolve after a few minutes so for now I think we are okay.  I know in my brain that it is time to stop babying Suki with regards to work.  My heart struggles a bit.  She has been through so much.  But she is strong and more confident now.  Will I be riding both mares by fall?  I certainly hope so.

But today we celebrate Suki's 14th birthday.  And her joy of life.  Floating across the field, daring anyone one to say that the triumph was not worth the struggle.