Saturday, August 30, 2014

Broken Toes and Training Milestones

Sunday, August 24, 2014
As I begin this post I am sitting with my left foot elevated with a bag of ice sitting across my toes.  This must be how Suki felt when she was in the hospital wearing bags of ice around her ankles.  For Suki it was to prevent laminitis, for me it is to bring the swelling down on my my purple, swollen toes.  And that was how my day started....

While tacking up Nikki for our ride she stepped to the side and, well, onto my foot.  It was a hind foot, and fortunately for me Nikki does not wear back shoes!  It was a full on stand on my foot incident.  Smacking her on the hip to move, I simultaneously moved to the side preparing to yank my foot away when she moved over.  But she didn't move!  As my body was still in motion, down I went onto the floor.  My scream startled Nikki making her move.  It was one of those moments that you are thankful no one else is present to witness your stupidity.  I marched around for a bit muttering obscenities under my breath until the pain subsided a bit then continued getting Nikki ready.  Though I was curious about the state of my toes, I also knew that once I removed that boot I was not going to get it back on!

Lunging was a bit painful so I kept it short.  The footing was lovely as a result of the rainy Saturday so I was not going to pass that up by not riding!  Fortunately the mounting block is high so putting my left foot into the stirrup for mounting was not too painful.  Sure, I could have mounted from the off side, but since I was already a bit off my game that idea seemed unwise.  I gritted my teeth and told Nikki "Don't even THINK of stepping away from this block until I am seated!" She obliged with a furrowed brow.  I think she was quite surprised by my tone!  The ride itself was productive and enjoyable, with posting trot being a bit more painful than sitting, so we stuck to that.  Nikki was good, with nice energy.  Once riding a forgot about the pain except, of course when I came down to the walk.  Then I could feel my toes throbbing and pressure against my boot due to swelling....delightful!  But I was able to do some leg yielding at the trot and a bit of counter bend at the canter, and in spite of the bad start to the morning I was happy with my decision to forge on and ride!

I considered not lunging Suki, but again, the beautiful footing could not be passed by.  The gnats were starting to kick it up a notch, but I was rewarded with some really lovely work by Suki.  She was in a great mood, eagerly approaching her work.  No sign of stiffness or soreness.  In fact, when I asked for the first trot Suki gave a playful head twirl!  Totally worth my own discomfort to watch Suki look happy and full of life.  Sometimes it is hard to imagine those dark early days of recovery.  There are some that still say I should have put her down, but when I see how happy and healthy she is, and the joy that she expresses while working I know it was the right decision.  In fact, I don't think I have ever felt otherwise.  Everyone is entitled to their opinion.

When I got home and took off my boot, it was not pretty.  I swear I could see my toes becoming bigger before my eyes, and judging by the impressive bruising pattern on two of those toes, something was broken!  Since the typical treatment is taping the toes and resting the foot, I elected not to waste an entire afternoon in an ER or Patients First waiting room.  So here I am after a shower and a few Advil....typing away, foot elevated and bag of ice lying across them.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014
I had been SO looking forward to this day!  The child got on the school bus for his first day of school at 7:30, so unlike camp days when I didm't get to the barn until after 9 AM, I was on my way at 7:35.  Unfortunately due to my inability to stuff the swollen toes into a suitable boot for riding, I was wearing mockers (which though wide were still CRUNCHING my foot!  I had considered lunging but decided to groom instead.

Suki's skin looks great.  There are occasional surface scratches that appear on Suki's back when she is in her stall without a fly sheet, because she likes to scratch her sides against her water buckets, etc.  This is not a new situation since the fire.  I am sure I have mentioned that Suki has always been an itchy girl!  The exfoliation and moisturizing regimen that I have for her keeps that skin in tip top shape!  It does appear to be pretty tough, but she can also feel flies land on her back so it is not without sensitivity.  Suki's ability to sweat across the back is still a question in my mind, because I have never seen her sweat there.  She sweats normally every where else, including areas where the unusual textured hair grew back, which is quite a large surface.  So, of course, it gives me one more thing to worry about!  Over heating under a fly sheet while in her stall on the hot days.  To remedy that I leave her naked after she comes in from over night turnout and return just before night turnout to put it back on.  I love the days that are not so hot and low in humidity, when Suki can wear the fly sheet in her stall all day, giving me a brea from a return trip.  It's good that I live less than 10 minutes from the farm!  I do occasionally ask someone else to do it if they will be at the barn, which is always appreciated!

The surcingle does not seem to be causing any obvious rubbing on Suki's skin, in spite of slight movement during work.  I am hopefully going to add the side reins this week.  I have been planning to do it for awhile, but the had ground had caused some chipping in Suki's feet, and she does not seem 100% comfortable working in the arena when the footing is harder.  But as the summer draws to a close those situations will improve and I will be able to pick up the training pace again.

I went to Target to pick up a few more supplies for Isaiah.  He receives the list well in advance of the first day, but there are always additions.  Wearing flip flops with my toes taped offered a bit of relief from being squished into a closed shoe.  But alas, a woman charging along with her shopping cart crashed over my foot with the back wheels when she cut her turn around me too close.  I sort of screamed, not a girlie scream, just a low yelp.  She apologized, the said: "But don't you think you are overreacting?!"  I explained my situation and showed her my foot to which she replied: "oh" and walked away!  Yikes!

When I got home I dropped a bottle of water on my foot.  Clearly it was time for me to sit down with my ice and my laptop again!

Today was not a day when Suki could wear her sheet all day in her stall so a return trip was necessary. Much to Isaiah's dismay we did this right after I picked him up at the bus stop.  In my haste to get out of the car quickly the baggie filled with chopped apples opened apples spilling everywhere.  This little bit of information will be critical tomorrow morning....Still in his school uniform he sat on a stool in the barn while I put on Nikki's bell boots and Suki's fly sheet.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

When I opened my car door in the garage this morning I could still smell apples.  I disregarded this the night before, but this morning it was past fragrant and moving on to rotting.  Looking down I saw several pieces of apple which must have fallen down between the seat and the console.  They were difficult to reach, but I managed to get them least the ones I could see!  Time will tell, I guess.  I sincerely hoped this was not the start of a day like yesterday!

As Isaiah boarded the bus this morning the heaviness of the humidity and coming heat of the day was evident even at 7:30.  Still unable to put my foot in a riding boot my bruised and swollen toes were crammed into my wide muckers.  The girls had gone two days without work, so I lunged Nikki for 20 minutes, including some trot and canter poles.  It was already hot, humid and insanely buggy.  While I was hosing Nikki off the nozzle started to leak, spraying me with water and making me as wet as Nikki!  By the time I was finished with her I was covered in dirt from head to toe.  Between, that, the heat, the bugs and my foot, I decided to just groom Suki and do some stretching exercises with her.

Kim was going to be at the barn after 4:30, and she very kindly agreed to put Suki's fly sheet on for turnout, saving me a return trip.  I wanted to wait as long as possible to dress Suki since it was so hot, and my last opportunity without delaying her turnout would be 2:45.  It just seemed way to early to put that fly sheet on!

Thursday, August 28, 2014
Early this morning I tried to put my paddock boot on before selecting my attire for the barn.  When I first woke up my foot felt pretty good, but when my toes touched the tile floor I could feel that my toes were definitely still swollen.  Bruising is improving though!!  The paddock boot was still not happening.  My muckers won't fit in the stirrup and are awkward to ride in.  However, if I cannot get my boot on tomorrow I will just ride without stirrups.  I don't have a problem with that I am just a bit anal about proper attire.  So don't even get me started on the woman who rides in flip flops, short, shorts and bareback without a helmet.....

This morning was a complete turnaround from yesterday!  61F, super low humidity and a WONDERFUL breeze.  Tonight will be in the low 50'sF, so tomorrow should be a fabulous riding morning.  I think I will try my old paddock boots tomorrow.  They have a crack in the ball of the foot are but are wider then my current ones.....

I was originally going to give my foot a rest and not work the girls today.  But when I got out of the car at the barn and felt the lovely breeze, I knew I could not pass up such a day.  Suki walked over to the gate as soon as she saw my car coming down the driveway.  Nikki was not as eager, but as I brought Suki out of the gate she was not far behind.

Nikki started off a little sluggish (party over night in the field??) but once she was presented with trot and canter poles her ears pricked forward and she eagerly approached the work.  I loved the suspension in her trot and the awesome push from behind while maneuvering the canter poles. I may have been hobbling along, but Nikki was going for it!

I did the same work with Suki, and she too, approached the work with good energy and attitude.  While I wanted to add the side reins to the surcingle today but for the first time we do that I would prefer to have two able feet!  She will probably be fine about it, but, well, just in case.  I love how relaxed Suki is when we walk to and from the arena.  Sometimes on the way to the arena there is an eagerness in her step, but it is not a nervous energy.  We had some training ups and downs after Suki turned six, but my dedication to her well being, and commitment to our partnership never wavered.  Life has ups and downs and all relationships experience some difficult patches.  I have always believed in her natural ability, and her courage.  One thing that I learned was that although you are training with an expert whom you respect, sometimes you have to just go with your gut.  That was my mistake, but just before the fire it seemed like all of that was in the past and we were on our way once again.  Life can change in an instant.

Friday, August 29, 2014
Yesterday I was contacted by a well known equestrian publication with regard to Suki's recovery.  The magazine is planning a piece about burn care in horses and would like to include Suki's case.  While speaking with the writer this morning, I was talking about the first time I saw Suki in ICU following the fire.  Although it has been 5 years I STILL cannot describe that moment when I saw Suki, eyes swollen shut, and how she responded to my voice with a nicker, without being brought to tears.  For me it was the defining moment in our journey.  I just wish that I could get through it without crying!

Another lunge day.  Honestly, if I didn't have to get my foot into my fabulous Marc Jacobs platform Mary Janes on Tuesday for a presentation I would have crammed my foot into a riding boot and gotten on with it!  

But in spite of all that my horses bring a smile to my face!

The girls were great.  Temperatures at 51F at the end of August, who can complain!  As lazy as Nikki can be, I think even SHE wants to be ridden!

Saturday, August 30, 2014
Just a grooming day today.  The husband had to go to the office and Isaiah had his riding lesson.  I love watching him mount (from the car because he focuses more when I am not watching).  He seems so comfortable around horses.  Today on our way to his riding lesson he asked me how old he was the first time he sat on a horse.  When he was 3 months old I sat him on Jenny.  Before he was a year old he was "riding" ponies.  At 3 months he attended Devon for the first time (hunter/jumper Devon), followed by the Festival of Champions Dressage in June at 3 1/2 months, Dressage at Devon at 6 months and Radnor Hunt 3 Day event at 7 months.  Before he was one he was grooming Jenny.  Isaiah was thrilled to confirm that he has indeed been raised with horses.  Since I did not ride in my first horse show until I was 15, Isaiah loves to compare his Devon leadline experience at age 2.  Well, that's what happens when you are raised by a horse obsessed Mom!  And I continue to say that even if he does not ride later in life, I will always be comforted by the fact that he at least learned to ride.

Suki and Nikki enjoyed being groomed and having treats.  I waffled for awhile about Suki's fly sheet.  Today was cloudy for the most part but just about the time for them to go out for the night the sun appeared bright and strong.  It isn't really hot so Suki is fine in her fly sheet.

I am pleased with Suki's progress and know that I need to step it up a notch if I am to be riding her by the end of October.  Softer footing and cool moist air will help that and the next few weeks should offer more rapid advancement.  Dreaming of the day when I will sit on her back and pat her neck for her courage and inspiration.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Suki's Medical Records: An Eye Opener!

Today is one of those rainy days that makes you want to curl up in a big chair with a good book and a glass of wine.  I awoke to the sound of rain pitter patter on the skylight, a comforting sound had I not been planning to go to the barn to ride.  It was only 6 AM so there was time for the rain to stop (or at least slow down!) to still allow enough time to ride Nikki and lunge Suki before Isaiah's riding lesson.  I did curl up in a big chair for awhile, but with my morning caffeine (Mt. Dew) and Suki's medical charts from New Bolton.  Not exactly light reading, but also not unusual for someone like me who reads Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy for fun.  My original goal was to go to the barn between 6:30 and 7 giving me plenty of time to work both girls before going back home to pick up Isaiah for his lesson.  As 7AM gave way to 7:30 then 8 it was apparent that the rain was not going to slow down.  Just before 9 I ran over to the barn to check on Suki and Nikki.  By then the rain HAD stopped or at least trickled to a drizzle but there wasn't time to really do anything.  We managed to fit in Isaiah's lesson during a break in the showers although it did start to rain quite hard toward the end of the lesson bringing them back to the barn a little early.  The meteorologists predicted that the day would not be a complete washout so I tried to be optimistic that I would squeeze in a ride later in the day.  How I wished I had an indoor arena this morning!  By 3 PM I gave up on the ride and decided to spend some time grooming Suki and Nikki.

The barn was quiet with just the sound of the rain and the girls munching on hay.  Most days I enjoy when other people are around and in the barn, but today the peaceful solitude was welcome.  Suki and Nikki make me laugh at their playfulness and little idiosyncrasies while I groom.  They had dried since their time out over night and though I know they will get again when they go out after dinner, I think we all enjoyed our time together!

When I got home the child was in the yard in his raincoat and Wellies digging and building.  He was having a blast.....what's a little dirt when your child is smiling and having fun!

Earlier in the week we ad had a few light showers here and there so the footing in the arena has been quite nice.

Monday, August 18, 2014
Third day in a row of riding for Nikki.  Sometimes she can be a little cranky on the the third day, but always gets over it in a few minutes.  Today she started with nice energy and a super attitude.  I spread the trot poles a little further apart to encourage the big trot, and Nikki conquered it beautifully!  I was nearly propelled out of the saddle by the push and suspension, but I will take that any day!  It seemed fairly easy for her so I may have to increase the distance from there occasionally!

Leaving the trot poles at the distance I used for Nikki, I warmed up Suki on the lunge.  She too was nicely engaged and forward.  At times too forward to pay attention to my halt command, but we addressed that quickly and brought it back together!  There was some slight tail swishing on the trot to canter transitions so I am wondering if there is some discomfort.  Sometimes Suki has stiffness but I didn't see any during this session.  The footing was soft and Suki just had her feet done late last week, so I don't think that is the problem.  Something to keep a watch on though.  I decided to put her through the trot poles which would also show lameness if there was something.  Suki trotted through the poles with ease showing no signs of lameness or discomfort.  I opened up the poles a little more to ask for a bigger push and extension.  No problem.  I finished with a nice easy canter then some leading exercises to cool down.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Higher temperatures today so I started early again with Suki and Nikki.  I was also expecting visitors just before noon so I was hoping to get back home and shower after my ride.

Nikki started off sluggish on the lunge, and I could totally relate!  A sinus headache had awakened me around 3 AM, so I was slightly sluggish myself!  Once I got on Nikki was fine and happy to work, showing good energy.  That was a pleasant surprise given the lunge warm up!  I worked with Nikki on nice forward gaits then moved to shoulder in exercises.  She was so light off the leg, that once again, even in my bad direction, the shoulder in was amazing!  I may have to stop referring to it as my bad direction soon! I know when to stop so I wrapped it up with the big stretchy trots in serpentines.

By then it was hot and buggy and i briefly debated not working Suki.  But she is not fine china and perfectly capable of working in less than perfect conditions.  Suki rose to the occasion, working through transitions sharply, paying close attention to each command that was given to her.

At just about noon Kryssy and Kevin arrived from Saratoga, on there way to the rest of their holiday.  I first "met" Kryssy on FaceBook because of her dog Duke's page.  She had adopted Duke, a pit bull mix, at 11 months of age and in spite of any issues he had in the past, he is a sweet and loving member her family, training to be a therapy dog.  Once again, through Suki, I have met wonderful people who have been supportive during her recovery, sharing their own life stories.  It was so much fun to finally meet Kryssy and Kevin, and Suki was sweet and cuddly letting them scratch her face and head and of course she accepted their peppermint candy gifts readily.  This has been part of the silver lining of a tragic event.

On Friday I received Suki's complete medical records from her stay at New Bolton.  I am planning to incorporate some of the information into the book, providing a little more detail.  So today as the rain continued to come down I continued to read through Suki's trials and tribulations during the first seven weeks of her recovery.  Quite an eye-opener of a read.  Some of the information I knew, of course, but there were many more details, written in doctors, nurses and veterinary students own hand.  The level of care was amazing.  Every parameter was measured 24/7, with changes indicating pain or discomfort resulting in an adjustment of pain medications.  Suki was not always an easy patient, and this too was noted.  Much of it was attributed to discomfort, boredom and fatigue.  Suki likes to lie down to get a good sleep and during the early days she was clearly not comfortable enough to do this.  I think she was worried that she would not be able to get back up.  As the burned skin began to slough off it seemed crinkly, which Suki did not like.  When she became so itchy that it was like self mutilation, the gabapentin was increased relieving the neuropathic pain.  Notes were made if she seemed agitated or bored, and even when she was apparently asking for attention and treats.  Some of my favorite parts were when they tried to take her outside to graze, noting that she would not relax if the cows were nearby.  Different vet students rotated through every two weeks and the attending physicians tried to match someone to Suki's care who was patient and dedicated because of the extra effort and high level of patience required to deal with Suki and her injuries.

Some comments irritated me because it seemed that some couldn't fully appreciate how uncomfortable it was for Suki to wear a halter.  Obviously she needed to be restrained for certain treatments and early on she was sedated for many of them.  And it can be dangerous to have an out of control 1400lb 17.3 hand horse to deal with.  But others noted that they understood why she was behaving in a certain way and that made me feel better!  Notes also described when she was resting comfortably, dozing and her massive appetite.  But I don't want to give too much away, because that you will have to read in the book!

Initially I thought it would be really difficult to read, and yes, some of the early descriptions and concerns showed just how grave her situation was.  But notes about the cows, and her daily walks were pretty funny and Suki really showed her personality as her condition improved.  Her treatment plan was not easy, and changed frequently because of the unknown.  That is clear from these notes and I applaud the team at New Bolton for their efforts and saving the life of my beautiful Suki.  The discharge document thanks me for my "commitment to Suki and endless patience."  And I am forever grateful to them for giving back my girl.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Suki and Nikki, and Finding Inspiration From the Spanish Riding School

We have been experiencing some amazing weather for the past few days.  Yesterday it was 49F when I arrived at the barn at 7:15!  Suki and Nikki were not so interested in coming in.  I had to walk all the way out to get them!  Thankfully they didn't give me any trouble catching them!

Progress with Suki had slowed slightly because the footing in the arena was harder than what I would have liked, and her feet were chipping due to the dry conditions.  I have been supplementing occasional lunging with in hand work, stretching exercises and leading exercises.

Nikki has been working well.  The cut under her fetlock is taking its time healing, and is still causing her to stock up occasionally.  But she is working well and seems to be pretty happy doing it.  My schedule has been a bit difficult since the child doesn't have camp this week and starts school on 26 August.  As a result the girls have been a lighter work schedule.  But that's okay.  It will pick up again in a couple of weeks.  Plus with the slightly hard footing it is fine for both of them to just have light work.

Friday, 15 August 2014
A nice, early start and 51F!  I actually had a light jacket on briefly.  Really getting spoiled.  The weather this summer has been totally tolerable with only one official heatwave so far.  There have been some humid days but overall not so bad, especially compared to last summer!

Nikki had lovely energy which I used to work on shortening and lengthening of stride.  I could feel good push from behind resulting in nice suspension and lift in the more collected gaits.  The lateral work also benefited from this push enabling nicely forward and lateral responses off a soft leg.  Some of the down transitions felt heavy but I was able to lighten it up a bit with multiple transitions.  Nikki was light in the transitions within the gaits, so I was surprised by the heaviness on the down transitions. We finished as usual with big posting trot on a long rein.

I worked Suki without the surcingle, for no particular reason.  She works well in it but I am not ready to add side reins.  I should just keep working her in the surcingle anyway so that she considers it part of working.  Suki and Nikki had their feet done earlier in the week, so the rain and the chip-free feet were a great start.  Suki was happy to lunge and moved forward and free with no signs of discomfort. We worked on transitions and  trot and canter sets.  I can't wait to (hopefully!) sit on her back again!
The skin on Suki's back looks great, in spite of rolling and wearing a surcingle.  During the exfoliation process she reaches back and points with her nose toward the itchiest areas.  If I don't get the exact spot she nudges me and points again.  Who needs words to communicate??

J was dragging the arena when I left.  Yay!  I can't wait to ride on that tomorrow!

Saturday 16August 2014
Another chilly start to the day....49F!!  Is it really August?  Once again I started with Nikki and she was in happy work mode.  I was the first to ride on the freshly groomed arena, which I always love because it is easy to see how accurate my figures are.  We worked on serpentines with transitions to the walk as we crossed the center line.  The energy was superb, and once again I could feel a nice swinging in the back with good push from behind and softness in my hands.

As I was grooming Suki and getting her ready to work, another boarder arrived and put her horse in cross ties in front of Suki.  She brought her horse out to the arena, and I was about to bring out Suki when I realized that she had turned out her horse in the arena.  This is a horse that lives out 24/7 with a nice bank barn for shelter.  So it's not as though the horse spends a lot of time in a stall without the opportunity to wander around freely.  Yes, I could have said something to her but just decided to do a little in hand work with Suki and call it a day.  In that situation, if it is your plan to use the arena that way and someone else also is grooming a horse, I have been raised to (and really, this should be common sense) ask the other person if they are going to the ring.....uggh!

Sunday, 17 August 2014
Surprisingly, this morning was a little rainy when I got up.  The sky did not look too threatening so I was willing to take a chance.  The temperatures were also warmer so working the girls during a light rain would be fine.  The rain had stopped by the time I arrived at the barn, and the girls were grazing side-by-side in their pasture.
While tacking up Nikki the rain became heavy, but I continued to prepare to ride.  Once it subsided to a drizzle, out we went.  It was a wonderful, bug-free ride!  Nikki's shoulder-in was spectacular, even in my bad direction!  She even had floppy ears.  It was just one of those delightful rides where everything goes the way it's supposed to.  You never want to stop, but you know that there needs to be a reward such work.  When we finished with the stretchy trot Nikki gave me a BIG trot, not on the forehand but stretched down into my hand, and ears flopping.  I worked that in serpentines then sat and asked for the walk.  On the buckle, she walked in big swingy strides, completely relaxed.  While grooming her after the ride she kept leaning into me.  I put the big towel over her face and ears, massaging from tip of the ears to the tip of her nose.  Nikki must have started to doze, because at one point she seemed like she was about to fall over!

Suki seemed anxious to get to work today.  Toward the end of my post ride grooming with Nikki she started to bang on her door and talk to me.  Standing in the cross ties she was not very patient so I shortened the pre-work grooming and brought her out to the ring.  I am loving her attitude about work and her focus.  Suki looks around on our way to the ring, but in a curious way, not fearful or anxious.  To me she seems more relaxed about her surroundings while working than she did when she was younger.

Suki also worked beautifully.  Wonderful energy, sharp transitions and a general happiness that makes her sparkle.  When I tell her "good girl" she looks into my eyes in a way that is different from anything I have ever experienced.  Nikki and I have strong bond, but the one with Suki seems to come from what we have shared since the fire.  It may seem crazy, but I think that when you go through something as tragic as the fire, Suki's injuries and the recovery process things change.  There is an understanding and a closeness that is above other relationships with animals.  Don't get me wrong, Suki is a diva through and through, but she does let her guard down in a very personal way.  Today was one of those days where she had a shine from deep within, happy to be working, and happy about life.

After working I was able to do a thorough grooming and moisturizing while Suki relaxed in the cross ties, clearly pleased with herself.  Back in her stall she munched her hay contentedly.  I guess she just wanted to work!  She was even content when I pulled Nikki back out onto the cross ties to pull her mane!

Nikki is really funny when you pull her mane.  She almost falls asleep.  Sometimes I have to get off the stool to do it because she is hanging her head so low with her eyes closed!  Today she was licking my leg (I had wiped my hands from her foamy sugar mouth on my breeches and I guess she could smell it! Then she started looking in my pocket for more sugars.  How can you not laugh while this is happening?!  These girls are just too funny!  How I love them!

I have been reading an older book (from 1972) about the Spanish Riding School.  "The Spanish Riding School" by Hans Handler translated from German by Russell Stockman is a nicely complete history of the school and its horses.  I MUST find a copy!  Actually I have found some on Amazon.  Those in new condition seem to priced close to $200, so maybe a used copy is in order this time!  I am okay with that as I have purchased other out of print books used.  With this book I feel like a used copy read by other people with similar interests is pretty cool.  Anyway, back to the book.  The introduction accurately describes how I felt the first time  stepped into the riding hall in Vienna for the first time: It starts with a description of the horses entering the arena.... then: "The visitor witnessing this scene for the first time will fall under the spell produced by the hall itself, the music, the harmony between horse and riders."
The history portion is wonderful, but what I have been most struck by is the training section! So many times it seems that riders misunderstand the concept of "on the bit".  Many consider it just a "frame" and achieve it primarily with the hands.  This book describes the horse moving from behind, and is "on the bit" when he willingly follows the taking or giving hand with no stiffness in the jaw or neck.  There is discussion on the importance of lungeing, and how it mentally prepares the horse for future work.  We often observe trainers who rush the training of the horse, which ultimately, often comes back to haunt them with holes in the training, physical injuries the horse and mental meltdown as the horse was not sufficiently prepared.  "Though much time is devoted to procedures which may seem slow and too cautious, it later proves to be time well spent, for setbacks can be avoided to a great extent through adequate preparatory work." The author emphasizes the importance of riding the young horse straight and forward, and not over facing him.

I (and I'm sure many of you) have observed horses competing in the upper levels who are not "correct" in their movements.  proper collection can only be achieved through increased impulsion and will depend on energetic, rhythmic forward motion.  "Unfortunately too many people ignore this basic principle and thereby fail to understand proper collection.  As a result one sees dragging hind legs and moving wide behind to compensate for lack of strength and development."

When I was first learning dressage, these principles were hammered into my brain.  I am grateful that I was trained properly.  One thing I was taught was to "test" for correctness by relaxing my hands to see if the horse could maintain the head carriage for a few strides, then gently chewing the reins smoothly out of my hands.  This concept was discussed n this fabulous book.

The bottom line to me is that this classical training at the SRS has ben done for hundreds of years, resulting in happy, well-trained horses.  Short cuts and gadgets do not work.  Horse and rider must be trained correctly.  This takes time and patience in our world where the end result is expected quickly, and short cuts mean saving money.  I guess I can understand, to some extent the conundrum presented to trainers.  Some clients want things done in a short period of time because they feel they are getting more for their money.  Not everyone, certainly, but it is a tend that I have observed on many occasions, and it is quite disappointing.

So I continue my quest for proper training and doing what is best for Suki and Nikki.  They make me laugh, and teach me to appreciate life and all of its joys.  I love sharing this with Isaiah, and know, that even if he doesn't continue riding he is developing an appreciation for horses.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Suki Meets a FaceBook Friend as We March Toward Our Goal of Dancing Again

We continue to make progress lunging with the surcingle.  The periodic lameness/stiffness continues to plague us, but coincides with the hardness of the arena footing so I am working as I can.  On days when the footing is particularly hard I do leading exercises and stretches in addition to the daily spa treatments.  After the discussion with my farrier last week this seems to be the best solution for now.

Nikki has that weird superficial cut on the underside of her fetlock that causes it to swell.  Her skin is really sensitive, and she does seem to be sound on it.....I am working her lightly just in case.  She is having an unplanned few days off due to my schedule this week, which I am sure she is enjoying!

Sunday, July 27, 2014
Suki worked nicely on the lunge though she was showing a little stiffness.  She was balking a little walking out to the arena, so I think that might be her still getting used to wearing the surcingle.  Once in the ring she moves off willingly so I know that she is certainly comfortable enough wearing it.  There continues to be no evidence of the skin under the saddle pad and surcingle having any trauma, and no signs of rubbing.  So onward!

I keep the work light when there is stiffness, and don't push for the full elevation of her gaits, but don't eliminate it completely unless the ground is hard. The main goal right now is to increase fitness gradually since we are uncertain of how much lung damage there may be (or not).  So far I have not encountered any issues even on the days Suki works the hardest.  Respiratory rate returns to normal pretty quickly even when she is sweaty from the work or the air is heavy with humidity.  Some days I feel like I am spinning my wheels over how to proceed, since I am doing it all on my own.  Sticking to the basic principles of starting a young horse that I was taught (and I feel is correct) but taking it down a notch slightly due to the skin situation it seems to be going well.  Within the next week or so I will be kicking it up a notch as I add the bridle again then side reins.  I wonder what Suki's first reaction will be to feeling pressure from the side reins.....The very first time she wore side reins for lunging when she was 3 years old, Suki hesitated only slightly, furrowed her brow, then moved forward.  That was the way she accepted everything.  No drama.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014
Cool temperatures and overcast sky.  I will not complain about that!  This summer, with the exception of a few days here and there has been quite pleasant.  All of that could change in August, but for now I will enjoy it.

The girls and their hay dunking!  They each dunk in one bucket and keep the other one clean for drinking.
Suki moves her entire pile of hay in front of the door because it is closer to her bucket for easy dunking.
Nikki kept trying to walk out the door toward me so she is not in the picture of her dunking bucket!!  She too, moves her hay closer to the bucket, but not as much at one time.

Nikki had awesome energy right from the start in her lunge warm up.  I kept that brief so that I could enjoy such enthusiasm from the saddle.  The cool breeze and lack of bug attacks made for an awesome ride.  I worked on a lot of large figures with a bit of collected and medium gaits.  Nikki's responses were nicely quick (okay, except for that right lead canter lengthening down the long side when she tossed her head and didn't come back as quickly as she should have!  We remedied that the next time as I stopped my back more insistently).  Then I moved on to some smaller figures and a bit of spiraling circles, finishing with a big stretchy trot.  She practically had her nose to the ground and was nice and loose in her back!

The abrasion is looking better and does not seem to bother Nikki other than the slight stocking up in that fetlock.  Again, I think it is just because she has sensitive skin.  There are only two fly sprays that i can use on her because everything else causes hives!  I may have to create my own recipe!

Suki was feeling very good again today.  She did her big gaits without stiffness or hesitation and also seemed to enjoy the breeze and bug free session.  The mower was parked to the side of the barn as we exited to go to the arena.  Since the fire I have found that Suki sometimes is more reactive to change, so I expected her to give it a look and perhaps shy from it slightly.  She turned her head to look at it but did not balk or react adversely.  Since Suki has been back in regular work I am finding that this is how she reacts.  The horses in the field don't seem to bother her or the windy days.  She has yet to see the resident heron take flight though.....  Today she was not quite as sharp with the transitions initially but after some quick and repetitive transitions that improved.  I think she just felt really good!  But it was nice to see that she could also be refocused.  Following the ride I examined Suki's back, especially the graft area.  All is good.  I breathe a sigh of relief each time.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014
We had special visitors today!  Kathryn, a FaceBook fan was driving cross country from Northern California to Boston with her friend Terrie keeping her company.  Kathryn will be attending grad school in Boston.  She contacted me awhile back and asked if she could stop to visit.  So today was the day.  
Kathryn is on the left, and Terrie is the one with crutches.  I thought Suki would react to someone on crutches because of the sound, etc, but yet again i have under estimated the big girl.  She didn't bat an eye!  Kathryn had not been around horses for awhile and Suki seemed to know that.  She can occasionally be standoffish when she first meets people but she let Kathryn scratch her face AND ears! Kathryn has had some health issues and said that she finds Suki inspiring.  My brave chestnut mare has such a gift of healing.....

Kathryn said that as good as Suki looks in the photos, she looks even better in person.  And Suki's big diva personality wins the heart of everyone that she meets.  I have this dream of doing a book signing at Dressage at Devon, with Suki by my side for the meet and greet........

I love meeting Suki's FB friends.  It makes me see just how much of an impact her story has on people. I am inspired by her courage, because as i have said in the past Suki was far braver than I was during her recovery.  I drew from that and learned to appreciate life just a bit more.  

On Thursday and Friday Isaiah did not have camp, so on each day we went to the barn to groom the girls.  On Thursday I lunged Suki, while Isaiah sat on the mounting block asking questions.  He was somewhat surprised by how much of her back did not have hair (his vantage point on the mounting block was higher than he usually is!).  But he liked watching her work and helped me groom.  It was a fun time for me.

On Friday I lunged Nikki and he told me again how much he wants to sit on her.  I think it would be fine.  I can just lead her around with him in the saddle.  Coming soon.... 

Isaiah likes to lead them each into their stalls after grooming, and they like to snuffle him for treats!
Suki looking for treats in Isaiah's backpack
Nikki snuffling Isaiah's head
Isaiah and I also made a trip to Fisher's farm stand for some yummy local corn (Mirage this week) and other goodies.  I think we get spoiled by the beautiful local produce available just 10 minutes from our house.  We continue to monitor the height of the corn in the fields as we drive through corridors of corn fields, trying to predict which group will be next to harvest.  But tonight I will cook the Mirage corn, local green beans, tomatoes with mozzarella and my home grown basil and cornish hens on the grill.  I will also continue to nurture my little equestrian but his own natural enthusiasm and love of animals is evident in his actions "Suki is awesome!"  "When can I ride Nikki?".  As Suki has reminded us to embrace each day.