Saturday, July 26, 2014

Making (somewhat) Steady Progress in Suki's Training

I can't believe that it is almost the end of July.  So far the temperatures have been tolerable, but august can be an entirely different story!  Fingers crossed that we cruise through the rest of the summer without temperatures in the upper 90sF and heat index in the 100s.  Although there has been a reasonable amount of rain (the fields are still pretty lush) the ground has been hard from time to time which is tough on the horses' legs.  Suki is barefoot so I really notice a bit of ouchiness when the arena footing has become a bit too hard for her.  That backs us off the lunging portion of work, but there are plenty of other exercises that we can work on.

I spoke to my farrier today about Suki's feet and questioned whether or not she needs shoes.  My concern is that Suki is a bit ouchy when the footing is hard, so this impedes our work, because I don't do as much with her (or Nikki) during that time.  J is not concerned about the chipping (I always get anxious about it though!) but one of his concerns is that it would probably be difficult to put nails in her feet since the fire.  He said he can tell by a horse's skin how good their feet are, and since the fire, things are not quite the same for Suki as they were before.  Interesting....i hadn't thought about that.  So he would prefer not to put shoes on her unless we do glue ons.  His recommendation is to wait and just try to get through the couple of months when this is a problem.  We will revisit the glue on scenario next year if Suki is under saddle and doing more work.  Makes sense to me!

Sunday, July 20, 2014
I love when Suki and Nikki come to the gate to greet me in the morning.  Sometimes they follow as I drive down the driveway, other times they wait but are at the gate or by the fence by the time I get out of my car.  Mornings that are cool and bug free are a little different.  On those days I have to go out into  the field to retrieve them, but they don't usually give me a hard time about coming in.  Of course they don't always walk toward me either.  Sometimes the two of them will just watch me approach!  I always bring treats and put on Suki's lead rope.  Nikki usually follows behind....not too close because Suki will turn a round and make a face at her!  It is usually quite peaceful though.

Nikki decided to give me a slightly hard time mounting today, but it wasn't bad enough to require the mounting/dismounting session, thankfully.  She started a bit sluggish even after stretching during a short warm up lunge, but within a few minutes the energy increased and we were motoring along nicely.  I started with big loopy serpentines at the rising trot which definitely helped Nikki get her muscles moving and loose.  The bugs were somewhat distracting, causing Nikki to dip her head to try to bite the green heads landing on her chest!  Once we set to work doing lateral work and constant changes of direction, that too seemed to stop and she worked quite nicely.  I have issues with my aids for shoulder-in right.  I think that I am holding too much with the left rein, and perhaps blocking forward movement too much.  I am able to get a few steps of half pass from that position, but something seems not totally correct.  I need to see a video of what I am doing to help me resolve that one.  I kept the ride fairly short due to the harder-than-preferred ground.

For the past week or so (?) I have been putting the surcingle on Suki and walking her around.  Then I added a few trot steps.  Today was the first day of actually putting her out on the lunge line and having Suki trot out.  I admit that there was some anxiety (on my part!) involved in this next step.  I wasn't sure if Suki would buck or leap, causing the surcingle to slip back.  So snugness of fit was critical.  Tightening the girth one more time before we walked out of the barn I felt pretty confident.  The arena footing was a little hard for Suki since she does not wear shoes so I decided to bring her out behind the barn in the paddock.  Moving her out on the lunge I asked for a few walk halt transitions then tightened the girth again.  Holding my breath, ever so slightly I gave the trot command and off she went!  The presence of the surcingle did not appear to make a difference in attitude or movement.  One more step in the journey!  I praised her heartily then we did a few leading exercises and finished the session.  When I removed the surcingle I hopped up on the step stool to look at Suki's back (no, I cannot see it from the ground!) and everything looked great under the pressure of the surcingle!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014
I try to work Suki every other day, and only occasionally work her two days in a row.  In between we do work in hand, leading exercises and/or stretches.  The schedule is also dependent, of course, on footing conditions.  So today was a lunging in the surcingle day.  I love when I have finished grooming her that I throw the saddle pad onto her back, just like old times!  This time we walked out to the arena, although she did balk just a bit as we exited the barn.  I thought at first that it was because of the surcingle but then realized that Sammy the pony had just come up to the fence and startled her.  Suki walks so quietly and happily to the arena (knock on wood), tail happily moving back and forth with her gait.  She seems so at peace.

As  I moved Suki out onto the circle of the lunge she nickered once to Nikki in the barn, who of course, responded, then set out to work.  On days when she seems more distracted I start with several walk-halt-walk transitions in rapid succession to build her concentration.  She was pretty focused today, so after a few circles at the walk I asked for the trot.  That first transition was not completely smooth but I believe it was probably because of the surcingle.  Suki trotted out fine after that initial hiccup, and the next transition was fine.  The session was really just about moving forward and comfortable for continued adjustment to wearing the surcingle.  We still have a long way to go but I do feel like we are making progress!

Thursday, July 24, 2014
A beautiful cool, breezy, overcast morning.  This is especially helpful when I can't get to the barn until 9:15 AM!  I caught Nikki snoozing when I walked in the barn, which is very uncharacteristic for her.  She likes her sleep, and loves to lie flat out but is always the first to call out to me when I get out of the car.  Nikki got right up when she saw me, somewhat embarrassed!

Nikki was a little on high alert because of the wind and cooler temperatures....and the blue heron who was getting ready to take flight.  She relaxed, although I think that one ear was slightly cocked in the direction of the heron.  Once he/she left Nikki relaxed completely.  Yes, I should have been able to keep her concentration, but sometimes life happens around you.  We worked on 10 meter figure 8 trot circles with a brief walk transition at the center of the figure.  This forced Nikki to rock back and use her hind end and really pay attention, as the figure was small and the changes occurred rather quickly. After a bit of that exercise we did serpentines at the rising trot the full length of the arena to let her stretch out a bit.  Then I went back to shortening and lengthening of stride.  We finished with a bit of leg yielding then a big stretch down at the trot.  It was a good ride.

For Suki's lunging session I opted for one without the surcingle.  And she was ready to go!  I think she was actually MARCHING out to the arena.  The cool breeze gave her a bit of energy, and the rain from the night before made the arena footing soft and beautiful, so Suki was feeling great.  When I asked for the first trot transition she squealed and tossed her head.  I love when she has that kind of energy.  Suki seemed so happy and free in her work.  Her walk was beautifully forward with a big over step, the trot was huge and springy and the canter big and up in her back.  To finish I let her just walk forward and stretch down.  She looked relaxed and rather pleased with herself!

Saturday, July 26, 2014
A cloudy start to the day and the girls were chilling in the middle of the field when I arrived.

Nikki got up as I led Suki away then trotted to the gate ahead of us.  Suki did not like that very much!  She shook her head and pinned her ears at nikki as she trotted past her!  But as Suki and I approached the gate Nikki respectfully stepped aside to let Suki out.

So we continue to motor along in our progress and yes, the progress is steady and I think I really am enjoying the journey......

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Suki has that ol' spark in her eye and spring in her step!

It seems like summer is just flying by, and I am not as close to my goal of sitting on Suki in the autumn as I would like to be.  But I didn't see exactly WHEN in autumn, did I?  Hard ground and occasional stiffness (Suki's) have kept the lunging activity down a bit.  But I have been putting the surcingle on her and walking her around so perhaps Sunday (20 July) I will finally get to lunge her in it.  No side reins yet, of course.  Slow but steady progress.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

A cool and cloudy start to the day.  Perfect for riding.  And I really must comment on the corn.  The earliest fields are really tall and apparently producing.  Last week I bought Sugar Pearl corn.  Let me just say....YUMMY!!

Suki and Nikki were near the top of their field as I drove down the driveway, and with the overcast sky and cool temperatures I expected to be marching out into the wet field to get them.  But just as emerged from my car I began to feel the earth shake!  They were galloping to the gate!  I would have loved to have caught that on video.  The overall conditions fooled me into thinking that the flies might not be so bad.  However, as I approached the gate I could see flies on both of their faces and surrounding their heads.  Then I understood their enthusiasm for coming in!  I always marvel at how in spite of the fact that they have been grazing on a lush field all night, that as I turn Suki around to close the gate she DIVES to get grass in the paddock behind the barn.  One last bite before being in her stall for the day, in front of a fan and eating fragrant lovely hay!

At nearly 7:15 AM I was running late by my weekend standards.  Of course while tacking up Nikki she had to do two downward dog stretches plus the arabesque.  Then she kept snuffling my head while I put on her polos, nibbled on my butt during hoof picking.  Silly girl this morning, that's for sure!

Once out in the arena (following the slowest walk EVER!) Nikki was ready to work.  She looked good on the lunge, stretching and working though her back nicely.  I lunge for a couple of minutes without side reins before connecting them.  I was taught this method and believe it serves better as a warm up.  Is that what most people do? Today I shortened the side reins one hole to sit Nikki back on her hind end a bit more.  Keeping the lunging session brief, I brought Nikki to the mounting block where she stood like a rock.  Isn't it about time for her to be a nudge about that again.....

What an awesome ride!  Nikki was light in the hand, forward and pushing nicely from behind.  Taking advantage of that, I worked a bit on shortening and lengthening of stride.  Every day is not like this.  Nikki always works well, but this morning's energy and lightness was beyond her usual working mode.    I loved it!  When the Blue Heron in the adjacent field took flight, Nikki scooted briefly (it startled both of us!) but settled right back to work.  Again I took advantage of such lovely energy.  Hating to end the ride, I knew that I had to so that Nikki could finish with good energy and sharp listening skills.  She earned two immediate post ride sugar cubes that time!

Because Suki worked yesterday, today I just did some stretches with her.  Then I put on the lunging surcingle, tightening it quite a bit more than I have been.  She did make a bit of a face, but I swear it is just for affect!  I am so pleased with how the graft area looks in spite of aggressive rolling, and not always having a fly sheet on.  It gives me confidence that the surcingle portion of our training will go well!

With continued cloud cover and rain predicted for tonight, Suki will be able to go out without her fly sheet.  While I still garner some minor concerns about this, she has done quite well, even when there is rolling involved.  And I must admit, I am loving the nights without the fly sheet, because i don't have to return to the barn to put it back on her!  When the days are not too hot Suki wears the light weight flysheet in her stall, also eliminating a second trip to the barn.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Oh yeah, that spark is back!  Suki was so amazing on the lunge line today!  The rain has made the footing perfect, so even barefoot Suki is feeling the comfort.  (I continue to debate her need for shoes...).  There was so much float to Suki's gaits today, almost beyond description, but it is what I remember riding.  Ears forward, listening to every command, she just took my breath away.  Since the fire Suki's attitude has never wavered.  She has always been happy and healthy enjoying every day of her life.  But since I started working her on a regular schedule, at increased intervals and and demand, I have noticed a change.  She seems more relaxed in her stall, and happily anticipates heading to the arena for work.  The process has to be slow but I feel like I am keeping Suki's work interesting enough to prevent boredom.

Nikki, too worked well.  Maybe it was just that kind of day.  I set up the trot poles again and did an exercise where I trotted her through followed by a change of direction through the ten meter circle then back through the poles.  This exercise worked well for Nikki and we really improved on the correctness of the circles and the boldness of the large distance between the poles.  To finish I had Nikki on a long rein doing big stretchy trot serpentines.

With another cool, rainy evening ahead Suki was able to go out without her fly sheet again.  I will be going to the barn at 6:30 tomorrow morning so even if there is a bit of sun I will be able to get the girls in before it is too intense.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014
Cloudy start to the day, with low humidity and a lovely breeze.  Certainly not a typical July day for this part of the country, so I will enjoy it while it lasts!

Suki and Nikki were happily grazing in their field when I pulled in the driveway but lifted their heads to acknowledge my arrival.  There wasn't a gallop to the gate, but they made their way to the gate, ears forward and tails happily moving from side to side.

This is Suki warning Nikki to stay back because "I'M FIRST"!  Like Nikki doesn't know that after living with Suki for 4 years!

Nikki, staying back...look at that sweet face!
Suki, pretending that she had not been making the mean face!

Light ride for Nikki.  Bo (the dog) came running down the driveway and into the arena.  He hasn't done that in awhile so it did surprise me.  He used to chase the horses, then stopped but I really felt like that was his plan today!  Bo had followed Amanda and Ophelia down the driveway and usually he follows her into the barn.  At first I continued to ride thinking he would do just that, but once he ran into the arena at Nikki's heels I just halted her.... and Bo just sat too!  Was pretty funny.  Then Rob called him up to the house and off he went.  It was a good experience for Nikki.  Then we went back to work.  I had actually been just about finished, but thought it was best to work her a bit more as though nothing unusual had happened.  After her shower I did a bit of massage on Nikki.  Her lip drooped and she closed her eyes.  I would call that relaxation!!

Since Suki had worked yesterday I decided to put on the surcingle and walk her around.  First I did stretches and massaged her shoulders and back.  I tightened the surcingle more than I have in the past and we walked around a bit.  Just a few leading exercises out back, but a good amount of movement for Suki to feel the surcingle move on her body.  I am not thrilled with how the Success Equestrian saddle pad fits with the surcingle.  I would love to try the BeneFab dressage pad.

Suki's skin looks wonderful.  I guess all these years of perfecting her skin care regimen have paid off.  Once a week I perform a more aggressive exfoliation then a deeper massage with a more oily moisturizer.  But she always gets Olay for sensitive skin with SPF 15 on her face.

Friday, July 18, 2014
Today I decided to do some in hand work with Nikki followed by a brief lunge session to let her stretch out.  I did get some nice piaffe steps, but because I haven't done it in awhile there was some ear pinning at first until she understood what I wanted.  Always followed by the the sugar cube reward!

After grooming Suki I put the surcingle out and walked her out back behind the barn.  After walking around for a few minutes I tightened the girth and asked for a few trot steps.  She did great!  The surcingle slipped slightly so after an adjustment we did some more trot steps.  It was a banner day!

Saturday, July 19, 2014
I was a bit delayed for a Saturday morning and did not arrive at the barn until 7:30!  In my defense, I got sucked into a large book about the Spanish Riding School from the 1970's.  It is a wonderful book, that I borrowed from the local library, but I think that I will need to seek it out for purchase.  This book would be a wonderful addition to my own library!

Once again the girls followed my car and arrived at the gate.  A cool cloudy morning, and Suki thought that she might not like to come into the barn.  This is a game that she plays from time to time.  Just her diva personality shining through!

I had a great ride on Nikki, focusing on lateral work.  A little shoulder in to half pass worked nicely and some really lovely medium trots!  I think I held her back a little on the canter lengthenings though...

I lunged Suki nicely forward and added some shortening and lengthening of stride as well.  She was a bit distracted at first, looking far into the field, but settled nicely into work.  Searching for sugar cubes after wards, of course, just like Nikki.  How I love my girls!

I think tomorrow I will lunge her in the surcingle.  Stay tuned....

Saturday, July 12, 2014

It's All About the Journey...Right?

Sunday, July 6, 2014
I went to the barn slightly later this morning (7:30) because with a start of a cool 57F  I decided to do a short run before riding.  I usually use my treadmill, for convenience and when the child is home, but when I filled the bird feeders the cool air called to me!

By the time I arrived at the barn the temperatures had begun to rise, but the low humidity kept it pleasant.  Nikki had been slightly off on Saturday, so I wanted to see how she looked before I rode.  On the way out to the arena I saw the Thistledew Farm resident Blue Heron, whom I had not yet seen this year.  Unfortunately I did not have my phone with me and was unable to take a photo.   I believe I still detected something slightly off with Nikki but decided to do a light workout. Just doing big loops at the posting trot with small amounts of sitting, Nikki worked nicely forward.  I detected a slight hitch behind when I asked for a lengthening of stride, so I stuck with straight lines and a long rein.  

My friend Julie from Florida was in the area visiting family, so she came up to see us.  I met Julie through Suki's FB page, and she had visited for the first time two years ago.  This is one of the positives that have come from the tragedy.....meeting wonderful people, either virtually or in person, that I otherwise would never have known.  The last time Julie visited Suki was still wearing a bandage over the graft site to protect it from aggressive rolling.  During that time Julie said that she noticed that Suki now has more hair as well.  These are things you can't see when you experience it every day!  It's funny....Suki is not always warm and fuzzy with people she doesn't know well, although there are exceptions.  In that way she reminds me so much of Jenny.  She too, was choosey with her affections, but after time would warm up to people.  Julie found a good itchy spot on Suki's chin, so maybe that's what won her over!  One can never tell with a diva/super model.  I brought Suki out to the arena for a short trot lunge, because  she seems slightly foot sore to me.  A nice rain to soften the footing would be welcome!  Suki is always happy to go out to the arena, which confirms my feeling that she enjoys having something interesting to do!

Monday, July 7, 2014
Uggh, today was a hot one!  Camp day for Isaiah, so I don't get to the barn until 9:10.  By the time I arrived it was hot, humid and buggy.  I was armed and ready!  Fly/bug spray, Gatorade, water.  I bring a small cooler to keep my drinks chilled.  I lunged Nikki briefly to see how she looked then hopped on. Although she looks fine, I am the overly cautious type, so between the heat and her day of looking slightly off I opted for a short walk trot session.  J was dragging the area while I was tacking up so I was able to do some nice serpentines without having to maneuver around my trot poles!  Once again the catch-22.  Hot and humid, so the need for frequent breaks but MANY green heads that attack even more while walking!  Nikki dove at her chest several times to get the green heads.  We got through a brief session but I was definitely feeling the heat when I dismounted!  But I have been trained well.  You take care of the horse first.  I quickly untacked Nikki then grabbed a Gatorade while I brought her out for a shower.  The breeze created a misting fan back onto me, which felt great!  Then we went back in the barn where I sat on a stool and sucked down a second Gatorade!  

Instead of taking Suki out into the arena we stayed in the barn to work on stretches.  The side stretches were nice and given that I have observed Suki reach around and scratch her side I would have expected nothing less!  We went out behind the barn to work on leading exercises.  This is something I return to periodically.  Suki learned this during her round pen training.  It consists of frequent changes of direction and transitions, where the horse must respond to the leader's changes in body movement.  She must also stop in the correct position in relation to my body.  When I lean back she takes a step back.  It is a great way to fine tune reaction time and also helps to distract a nervous horse in new situations.  I went easy on the moisturizer because of the heat.  Suki isn't wearing her fly sheet during the day today so heavy handed moisturizer could attract flies.  That also means a second trip to the barn later to put it back on for turnout.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Another hot one.  I absolutely hate riding so late in the morning, but that's when I can fit it in right now.  I suppose it is character building as long as heat stroke is not involved!  Another light work out was best so after a brief lunge I brought Nikki over to the mounting block.  A helicopter was circling over head and as it passed over us Nikki cranked her head up to look.  She seemed a bit unsettled by it, so I patted her neck and spoke to her (while still standing on the mounting block).  Then she started to almost tremble as the copter continued to circle.  I was beginning to think that the pilot was looking for a place to land, and REALLY did not want to be sitting on my horse if the machine plunked down in the adjacent field!  Hopping off the mounting block I hand walked Nikki around the arena, doing leading exercises to distract her from the big scary machine.  The helicopter eventually circled away from us so I got on.  In spite of the heat Nikki was nicely forward and really happy in her work.  Whatever hitch thing she had going on is gone so I added some nice forward canter to the work today.  We also did a bit of leg yielding and shoulder in.  I have several exercises that I use, but really need to add some new ones to keep things fresh.

The footing in the arena was much better today since we had a little rain and the arena was dragged so I  brought Suki out to do some work.  The softer footing is definitely better for her.  She worked really beautifully with nice even movement.  The bugs were getting worse so I kept the workout to 15 minutes, with only a few breaks because of the attacking greenheads.  This gave me an opportunity to observe Suki's fitness level and breathing.  Her stamina seems to be improving steadily and I did not detect any issues with breathing in spite of the humidity.  That's a good sign!

I had lunch with Bobbi today.  The timing with relation to the anniversary of the fire tomorrow was accidental.  We only talked about it briefly, thank ful that our chestnut mares survived.  Bobbi's horse, Whisby did not suffer burns like Suki did, just some ember dot burns but she has had other lameness issues related to the fire from breaking through a fence and running for miles through roads and fields with Suki.  So there are constant reminders for Bobbi too.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014
I went over to the barn at 5:30 before Michael left for work because Suki was naked and the sun was already out!  The temperature was cool so the girls were not so thrilled to come in!

Five years since the fire.  You've come a long way baby!

Thursday, July 10, 2014
Late start but not a bad day for a ride.  I did a bit of lateral work with Nikki  then took her for a short walk outside the arena.

Instead of lunging Suki today we worked on stretches.  Then I put the surcingle on her and walked around a bit.  Progress.  One step at a time.  She still turns around and looks at me when I put on the surcingle....kind of like she thinks I have lost my mind and have forgotten that she doesn't get ridden!

Saturday, July 12, 2014
Got a slightly later start again (7:00 instead of 6:30) but I was snugged up in my big comfy reading chair enjoying a Mary Cassat biography and had a hard time tearing myself away!  I paid for it though....the temperatures were rapidly rising and I made the error (once again) of wearing a T shirt instead of a tank top.

The girls were ready to come in, and in fact, as I came down the driveway Suki and Nikki were standing head-to-tail swishing flies from one another.  They had separated by the time I got out of the car so that photo op was missed.  Instead, this is what I saw:

They were happy to come in as the flies were just starting to get a bit more aggressive.  Nikki was up first, so I just did a brief lunge to let her loosen her muscles then got on.  She was really funny at the mounting block.  After i put the reins over her head she leaned her whole face on my chest and gave a big sigh.  I massaged her ears before I got on, which she loves!  Nikki was definitely in work mode, nicely forward and very responsive.  We worked on serpentines at the trot with a walk transition as we crossed the centerline.  At the canter I did shallow serpentines to give the effect of a bit of counter canter.  Good stuff!

I did a nice lunge session with Suki, but the bugs were getting a bit worse once we got out to the arena. She was a little stubborn about the trot to halt transitions but we worked through it.  Then I told her to "back" with my voice and she did!  Lots of praise for that one.  I had never tried that before with her on the lunge!  On our way back into the barn a HUGE horse fly was hovering around her butt so I made her trot in!  I am going to have to consider shoes for Suki.  her feet are getting a bit chipped from working.  Maybe just front shoes?  Tomorrow I will put on the surcingle and walk her around a bit.

While I love the training part of riding I am beginning to miss competition more and more.  I haven't competed in awhile but even taking Isaiah to the schooling show had me wishing that I was going down that centerline as well!  And reading The Chronicle is sometimes excruciating!  People always talk about the journey, and yes, the journey is rewarding and important.  Having always loved the progress associated with bringing a horse along through the levels, I have also loved the thrill of victory (agony of defeat not so much, but it IS a huge part of learning, and yes, the journey).  The barn fire made me appreciate the journey more, although it has been a different kind of journey, managing Suki's recovery.  This journey has been quite rewarding because she was brought from the brink of death back to 100% healthy.  I have learned a lot during the last five years.  I have learned that I can't control everything, and sometimes you have to accept help, and this does not mean that you are weak or incapable.  Some things just require help.

The current leg of the journey is the attempt to bring Suki back under saddle.  I have accepted that this may not be successful, and while it would be disappointing, I know that what is most important is what is best for Suki.  This journey is also different from most training journeys because it is a recovery.  Most of the time when horses are injured and you are bringing them back to work, the journey part is to make sure that you do it carefully and do not rush.  So the journey is still vital, but the outcome is most important.  The recovery portion of this was conducted slowly and with purpose.  That part of the journey is over, and the result was a major success.  Right now my work with Suki continues to bond us further, but the journey's end point remains a question mark.

With Nikki my goal is to get her ready for competition so I can get out there again!  And while training has its ups and downs I am keeping my eye on the prize.  While my current goals are not as lofty as they once were, that will likely change.  When I think about riders who have won Olympic medals, I am sure they will say that the journey was amazing.  But more amazing than standing on the podium with the big prize around their neck?  Hmmm....  

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Pink Star Equestrian Barn Fire: Five Years Later

The memory is so vivid it could have been just yesterday.  The telephone call from Bobbi just before midnight telling me that the barn was on fire and our horses were missing.  I had seen Suki just a few hours earlier when I stopped by on my way home from a business trip.  The original plan had been to ride at that time but my husband had been called away on a work-related emergency so I needed to get home.  I gave Suki some treats and told her that I would see her tomorrow.
Before the fire

Of course the next time I saw her she was burned over 70% of her body, slathered in SSD and eyes swollen shut.  The veterinarians assured me that her pain was being well managed and Suki was getting 24 hour care.  She was stable, and there was hope.  The potential complications were many, and we would try to manage them as they arose.  We never did have to deal with those complications, and seven weeks later Suki left ICU for life on the outside.  During those seven weeks I visited her 3-4 times each week, something also attributed to her successful recovery.  It has been a long road since then, but I would say that Suki lives the life of a normal horse now.  She embraces her celebrity status like the diva she is, loving attention (and gummy bears!).

2 weeks after the fire

It is said that time heals all wounds.  Sometimes it takes a very long time though, and we retain the scars from those wounds as a reminder.  When I think back to that night, what stands out most is the fear.  Not just my own fear but my overwhelming concern for what Suki might be experiencing.  Paralyzed with fear and my inability to assist in the search because of my three year old son, I feared the worst and hoped for a good outcome.  When the call did come that the two mares had been found, the news was just about as bad as could be.  Suki was critically injured and would likely not survive.  I immediately asked if she should be put down, but the the veterinarian who evaluated her in the field that night, said not yet, but that Suki needed to go to New Bolton Center to be examined, over an hour away.  Bobbi and her husband borrowed a trailer (because our trailers were at the site of the fire) and volunteered to take Suki to the hospital.   First they dropped off Whisby, Bobbi's horse, at another farm, because although she was injured, Whisby did not need to go to the hospital.  To this day I have never felt that I adequately thanked Bobbi and Dave for their kindness.

So many people are responsible for getting Suki to this point.  The firefighters who rescued the horses that night, the many volunteers who helped search for Suki and Whisby, the doctors, nurses, etc at New Bolton who went above and beyond to save my girl, Donna, who drove to New Bolton with me that first morning and Babette who met us there, Beth who came the next day, Kelly Buss who took care of Suki at her farm also going above and beyond with her exceptional care, Heather Mason for her support as I awaited word on the night of the fire, and during her recovery, Dr. Mike Fugaro and Team Suki (Sarah, Meagan, Kim, Becky) at Centenary College for performing Suki's skin graft and taking care of her during the follow up, Lori Ferdock for her amazing help in caring for Suki when I moved her to regular boarding and introducing me and Suki to other burn survivors.  There is of course, Jenn whom I also met through Suki and takes the beautiful photos that are posted each night on FaceBook!  I'm sure there are many that I have forgotten to name personally, and for that I apologize.  I appreciate the support of the thousands of people around the world who understand that Suki was worth saving and know that everything I do  with her is for her health, safety and happiness.  Of course I can't forget my husband who has tolerated my horse obsession for years!  And to Suki, who in spite of her severe burns and swollen face, responded to my voice with a nicker, telling me that she was in there and wanted to live.

Although the physical wounds have healed, and Suki seems her normal diva self in every way, it still hurts me, deep within my heart to imagine the fear and pain for Suki that night.  But this morning driving down the driveway at the farm I looked across to see Suki happily grazing in the field alongside  Nikki.  I thought of what Dr. Kelly Kalf said early in Suki's recovery: "She lifted her head, and we never looked back".  While Suki's life is quite different than it was before the fire, she is back to work and I have a small glimmer of hope that I may sit on her again.  Even if that never happens Suki inspires people around the world because of her courage and will to live.  I have met amazing people and made wonderful lifelong friends through Suki.  And I get to see my beautiful girl every day, something I try not to take for granted.  We try to live each day to the fullest because everything can change in an instant.  When something catastrophic happens we can roll over and feel sorry for ourselves (I sometimes did that in the middle of the night when no one could see) or kick on.  I chose to kick on, because Suki's courage gave me the courage to do so.
The present!
So today, join me in celebrating LIFE and all the joy it brings!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Green heads and horse flies and gnats, oh my!

Isaiah and I are having our annual obsession with the corn fields of the Oley Valley.  Having grown up in northern New Jersey I am quite familiar with the fabulous "Jersey corn".  I have also had the most AMAZING silver queen variety outside Findlay, Ohio.  But during my decade in the Oley Valley (yikes! has it really been that long??) I have become obsessed with the corn fields of Berks County and have passed this time honored tradition on to my only child.  I grew up in a suburb of Manhattan, where our taste of the country consisted of Tice's and Van Riper's Farms (They are long gone home to several business parks and strip malls.)  In reality it was less than 30 minutes from my house, but driving past the apple orchards and pumpkin patches made it feel like it was a million miles away.  Now I am accustomed to being surrounded by dairy farms, corn fields and 200 year old Pennsylvania stone bank barns.  So as summer progresses Isaiah and I like to pass the corn fields and comment about the height of the stalks.  We also discuss which fields will produce first because of course not all fields are planted at the same time, providing the area with extended periods of fresh corn.  On our most recent trip to Oley Valley Feed we noted that some of the fields were crazy tall with corn, impairing the view of intersections.  Our favorite part of that trip is to put the top down on my car and drive through the covered bridge.  If there are no other cars coming (one lane, one car at a time) we stop in the middle and look up at the rafters.  In spite of the heat on that day, we indulged in our obsession, followed by ice cream at Oley Valley Dairy.  On the other side of the bridge we passed a four-in hand carriage....never saw that growing up in Bergen County!  Aaah lazy summer days!

I remember during my gap year, working at a small breeding farm in central New Jersey, hacking around the corn fields in the early evening.  Belle, an OTB mare that I was bringing bad after having her baby (Tinkerbelle, the first horse I started under saddle!).  Sometimes I would gallop Belle around the perimeter of cornfields, giving us both a thrill!  By August the corn stalks were insanely tall and on more than one occasion a small critter would rustle around in the stalks, startling Belle.  Other days it was just the sound of her footfall and blowing out through her nostrils.  I felt as free as the wind on those days!

Sunday, June 29, 2014
The early start to my day is always invigorating, even as temperatures begin to rise and the bugs come out.  On those days Suki and Nikki are often at the gate or head toward it when they see my car come down the driveway.
Suki at the gate
Nikki waiting her turn
In spite of the early hour the bugs were out in full force, but not completely intolerable (but the gnats were landing in my eyes as usual!).  If nothing else it encourages us to keep moving!   Nikki had really good energy so I kept the lunging warm up short, just giving her time to stretch and loosen her body.  She looked up in her back, and eased nicely through transitions.  I was anxious to get to the riding!  Nikki stretched down at the walk on a long rein immediately, swinging nicely in a big, sweeping walk.  Twice around the arena and I picked up the trot, feeling lovely energy from behind in a lifting, upward transition.  The entire ride held this wonderful energy, so I played with all kinds of lateral work, even a few steps of canter half pass.  It wasn't perfect, of course, but Nikki did as I asked and was in a fabulous working mood!

It was a little buggier by the time I got to Suki, but I needed to assess her soundness given the previous few days.  Much improved so I worked her lightly, again, doing many straight lines.  This is not so easy on the lunge line with a horse the size of Suki and her huge stride!  But that's what needed to be done.  When we finished I put the surcingle on her and walked up and down the aisle.  Another step in the process.  Due to the warm and humid day Suki would need to be free of her fly sheet which means a return trip before evening turnout to put it back on, since the sun was out and her skin needed to be protected.

During my return trip I ran into T, a new boarder.  I often see her on weekends when I return in the early evening to dress Suki and spray both girls with fly spray for evening turnout.  Admittedly I don't usually like new boarders.  It usually has less to do with them and more to do with my innate shyness and dislike of change!  I am especially turned off when someone tells me how fabulous they are, great rider, blah, blah, blah.

But T has just purchased a new horse that has had a difficult history and needs time and nurturing to build his confidence.  And she is willing to take her time and gain his trust.  The horse is very cute and has improved since she bought him.  It's all about the horse.  What's not to like about this person?

Monday, June 30, 2014
The last day of June.  The heat of summer.  A late morning ride, since I can't drop off Isaiah at camp until just before 9 AM.  The footing is getting hard so I worked Nikki lightly and Suki not at all.  At least today I do not have to do any repair work on Suki's fly sheet!

Nikki worked well and with good energy.  The pre-ride lunge has become just a brief warm up session because of the heat and bugs, but on more tolerable days I continue to use lunging and in-hand work as a training extension.  Some people tend to use lunging to let their horses gallop around and leap and buck.  While this does happen on occasion, I was taught to incorporate transitions, etc so that it is a useful training tool, intended to enhance the time in the saddle.

Suki's feet are a bit chipped, as she was at 5 weeks last Thursday.  The ground has been hard , so this is making it worse.  She and Nikki will be getting their feet done this afternoon, so it is still less than 6 weeks.  Our farrier is quite busy due to the dry conditions!

I am so pleased with how Suki's skin looks.  It is so important to keep the skin exfoliated and well moisturized and the current regimen seems to work well.  Today after her spa treatment I worked on stretches with her, getting her to really reach around, stretching her neck and back.  That girl will do anything for gummy bears!  I followed Nikki's ride with stretches also.  I stretch before and after I run, so shouldn't they?

Wednesday, July 2, 2014
Cloudy skies and extreme heat led to Suki being turned out naked last night.  This is a new occurrence for her, and so far she has done very well, though I had not seen evidence of rolling.  This morning was different.  I only had an hour so decided to give Suki and Nikki a cool shower, since they were already warm just standing in their stalls in front of fans!  Today I saw grass up near Suki's graft site, so I stood on a stool to assess any damage.  A little dirt, a little grass, smack in the middle of her back, but no evidence of irritation.  I am so excited!  I think they were both relieved at just having showers and treats today!

Thursday, July 3, 2014
Okay, so today I was hot just dropping off Isaiah at camp!  When I arrived at the barn at 9:15 the girls were already in of course, standing in front of their fans.  Nikki and I were both sticky with sweat by the time I finished tacking her up, but bravely we forged on.  Out in the arena, with the sun beating down on us I lunged Nikki a few times around in both directions then mounted.  The green heads were relentless!  Every time one landed on Nikki's chest she would dive down to get it.  As long as we kept moving the horse flies stayed away.  Each time we came down to the walk the green heads and horse flies attached themselves.  The catch-22: with the heat and humidity it is important to take a lot of breaks, but the bugs made me want to just keep moving to keep Nikki as comfortable as possible.  Honestly, she was a star.  The ride was brief but she was truly awesome.  Hopping off, I swatted at the bugs while running up the stirrups and loosening the girth.  Nikki gave a full body shake, thankfully saving that for after I dismounted!  I was definitely over heated so after I untacked Nikki I drank a Gatorade.  Following Nikki's shower and during the next hour I drank a second Gatorade and two bottles of water!

Following Nikki's shower I moisturized Suki's face, fluffed her mane and tail and gave her a cool shower as well.  With rain predicted for tonight I was able to leave Suki naked once again.  That means no extra trip back to the barn for me, and freedom for Suki!  In spite of the heat she still tried to follow me out of her stall. When I left both were happily dunking their hay and relaxing in front of their fans.

Friday, July 4, 2014
I am writing this portion of the post sitting outside.  Temperature is 65F with very low humidity and a cool breeze.  It's late afternoon and the husband and child have gone to a barbecue at a Little League friend's house.  I could have gone but it seemed like it would be primarily Dads and Little Leaguers so I stayed home.  I am loving the peace and quiet and the gorgeous weather.  What a difference a day makes!

I delayed my morning ride due to heavy rain.  Originally I had asked that Suki and Nikki stay in over night because of severe storms.  That did not occur, so thankfully the girls went out after 9 PM last night.  A cool 64F, breezy and drizzly I went to the barn at 7:30 instead of 6:30.  With the rain intermittent I was sure I could sneak in a ride!  The girls were happily grazing as I came down the driveway, not even remotely interested in my arrival!  Calling to them from the gate, neither one could be bothered to even turn around!  I walked across the field, and ONLY when Nikki decided to come to me did Suki raise her head.  That, of course, was to make a face at Nikki and she reluctantly came to me.  Nikki followed close behind as we walked to the gate.

The rain had stopped, but the sky still threatened with rain.  Nikki and I bravely headed out to the arena anyway, and the cool breezy temperature and occasional drizzle kept us quite happy in our work.  No green heads, horse flies or gnats to torture us!  The arena had a few puddles but otherwise the footing was perfect, soft and giving.  Ears pricked forward, Nikki was ready to work.  She offered some beautiful canter lengthenings and after the first hesitation to collect due to exuberance, she responded promptly.  What a difference a day makes!  I also added some canter to walk transitions to the mix.  Sitting up, she responded well and lifted nicely into the transitions.  The leg yields were done at a bigger trot today so I changed the bend for a bit of half pass.  The rain increased at times but that did not dampen our spirits.

The soft footing and recently trimmed feet Suki was ready to go.  While grooming her I noticed dirt across the top of her back, evidence of another hearty roll.  Everything looks great!
I just did a basic workout with Suki, but included shortening and lengthening of stride at the trot and canter.  I detected a bit of stiffness to start but she worked out of it.  I think that it is getting to be time for a lameness evaluation and possibly Adequan for her joints.  The rain became heavier so we cut the work short and after a bit of stretchy trot (with nice movement in her back) we headed in.  Once again we finished with stretches and a spa treatment.  Because of the cool temperatures predicted for the day I dressed Suki in a slightly heavier fly sheet giving the light weight one a much needed reprieve!  I forgot to bring it home for washing though.....

July 4th.  In five days we will mark five years since the fire.  How is that possible?  At that time my only hope was that Suki would survive and recover enough to live a happy, comfortable life.  But her life is so much more than that.  She is working, and there is a chance I will ride her again one day.  Suki inspires people with her courage and diva attitude.  She also brings comfort to other owners of horses who have been injured in barn fires, giving them hope.  Suki is such a bright light, bringing a smile to those around her.