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.

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