Sunday, September 21, 2014

Suki and Nikki: Cool Temperatures and Energized Training

With Dressage at Devon just around the corner, I find myself wistfully thinking about how I wish I would be competing there.  Frankly, at this point riding in a dressage show would be exciting!  I had really hoped to get out this season with Nikki, but life circumstances kept that from happening.  So we continue to train. And I do like that part of riding.  In fact it is my favorite aspect of riding.  But my competitive nature is rearing its head.  Fortunately the season is coming to a close and I can dream and prepare for next spring.  Reading The Chronicle each week fuels the competitive desire so I work harder.  While the Oley Valley is beautiful and peaceful, flanked by mountains and filled with farms, there is unfortunately a down side.  There are a number of hunter/jumper show barns nearby, but no dressage barns.  I would have to board an hour away to board at a nice dressage barn with an indoor arena.  Not possible. At least right now.  Granted, the atmosphere of these barns can be draining and I have experienced the competitive behind the scenes nature of these facilities.  The pressure to ride well and push hard is the positive side.  I like to be pushed.  When I was at BHF I LOVED when J was riding while I was riding, or if she was in the arena giving a lesson to someone else.  It keeps you at the top of your game.  The eagle eye was always watching and would critique when necessary.  But the back stabbing, catty riders that may also board at these barns can bring that down No, not everyone is like that!).  Typically I ignore that nonsense, giving the impression that I am aloof and arrogant.  This is not the case.  It is just my protective mechanism!  I have always been self motivated, and believed that I didn't need that to push myself.  Maybe I was wrong.  Or perhaps it is just that riding has taken a slight backseat to life, something I said would never happen.  Well I will soldier on, as I am now watching several videos a week to inspire me to push to new heights (figuratively, not literally!).  Hopefully the predicted harsh winter ahead will start late!  Suki and Nikki are happy, they have nice turnout with good care and are close to my house.  I also know what pushing a horse too hard, too soon can do so there is no fear of that happening again.

Monday, September 15, 2014
Suki worked yesterday, so today she had the day off.  It was a nice morning to ride and the first ride following the switch from night turnout to day turnout.  One thing that I love about when they are in at night is that they nicker to me when I walk into the barn.  It just warms my heart.  Suki and Nikki's manes are usually filled with shavings by morning, letting me know that they have been snoozing comfortably in their stalls over night.

I had lunged Nikki yesterday to work on collection to get a visual of her response.  Then I worked on a bit of piaffe in hand to push her a bit more.  Hoping to translate my visual, to under saddle, Nikki and I headed out to the arena.  After a few yoga stretches (Nikki) and ballet stretches (me...and Nikki) we were ready to go.  I shortened the lunge session to a brief stretching and forward exercise so that i could get on.  I lost a few pounds so my favorite Elizabeth G breeches fit beautifully again and I couldn't wait to ride in them!  I think they make me ride better.... : )

Nikki was in a happy and willing mood creating a joyful ride.  With one ear forward and one swiveled back to listen to me I put Nikki through her paces.  I am really finding that the best way to start our ride is with a long rein, posting trot and big serpentines.  Next  I moved on to some collected trot, transitioning to working, and back again to collected.  When I asked Nikki for a medium trot off across the diagonal from collected, she gave a great big push!  I felt her come up in her back (which I saw while lunging yesterday) and lengthen her stride.  Nice!  Great responses in up and down transitions.  Toward the end she started to get a little heavy in my hand, which for her is an indication of fatigue.  So I finished with stretchy trot and a nice long rein walk.

Thursday, September 17, 2014
I could hear Suki and Nikki calling to me as I walked toward the barn.  They heard my car and were anxiously awaiting my arrival (well, at least the treats that I was carrying!).  I am so loving this early autumn weather.  Warm ups are expected this weekend but it probably won't last.  I love wearing a light sweat shirt or jacket to start the morning.

I think we are reaching the end of prime local corn, but I still frequent Fisher's on 662 just past the Yellow House Inn.  Great variety of peppers for my farm to table dinners, plus eggplant, heirloom tomatoes, green beans....the list goes on.  Summer is definitely drawing to a close, but pumpkins and autumn vegetables will be ready soon.  The pumpkins in our garden still have green stems, though they are bright orange and waiting to be picked!

Nikki had great energy right from the start.  Although she did not work yesterday I kept the pre-ride lunge short, just giving her time to stretch her back and legs.  I wanted to take advantage of that energy! Nikki had nice lift in her back and shoulders immediately, but I still started with the big trot serpentines on a long rein.  When we moved to canter work the transitions were sharp, and again I could feel the lift.  She was a little heavy with the down transitions, which we quickly remedied with rapid succession transitions and a firm back (mine).  I had expanded the trot poles and Nikki embraced that with enthusiasm!  Great stretch and extension.  Nice ride.  She leaned on me while I was grooming her after I removed her tack.  It was a relaxation and contentment demonstrated by affection (am I anthropomorphizing a bit?  It just felt right).

Suki made some faces when I put on her surcingle, but that attitude quickly changed as we exited the barn.  Ears forward and a lively step, I actually had to ask her for a few halts to make her listen.  It wasn't a bad thing though.  And Suki was not being difficult.  But at 17.3 hands and 1400+ lbs listening is key.  She lowered her head and walked forward to the arena.  Past the scary big ladders on the truck without even a glance.  Yep.  The renewed confidence.  In herself and in me.  We are a team. Emotionally bonded and ready to take on the world.  At least our small corner of it anyway!!  She worked so beautifully through the gaits and transitions.  Shortening and lengthening of stride, also pretty nice.

I put a bridle on Suki for some of our lunging sessions, but I am concerned that she is experiencing some discomfort.  Not in the mouth, but perhaps near her ears.  A side bar in The Chronicle mentioned a bridle by Dy'on ( a Belgian company) used by show jumper Kevin Babington on his horse Shorapur who is extremely sensitive to poll pressure.  The crown piece is at least a hand behind the base of the ears.  Suki does not have hair in that area and while I have not observed any broken skin, it could still be uncomfortable.  This makes me hesitant to add the side reins which will add more pressure in the poll.  I have written to the company to get their opinion.

The Dy'on Difference bridle
 I know it looks strange, but it may be just what Suki needs.

Friday, September 19, 2014
Chilly start to the day again.  My favorite kind of morning!  Start with a light jacket then take it off before mounting.  With the sun on the arena in the morning it offers just enough warmth this time of year to be able to ride in short sleeves.

Nikki, once again had super energy (the good kind) so I took advantage of it!  She was a little heavy on the trot-walk transitions to start, but that was more of an exuberance issue.  We resolved that quickly and moved on to the spiraling exercise.  When I finished the ride with our usual stretchy trot I could really feel Nikki pushing from behind and stretching softly into the bridle.  A nice long ride completed the package, followed by a big satisfied sigh when I brought her back to a walk.

Suki was a little up as we walked to the arena and some of the horses were calling.  Just as I put her out on the lunge, a horse in the field near the arena trotted through the trees.  This elicited a leap, buck and squeal on the end of the lunge line.  A growl from me brought her back into focus and she worked well, though a little distracted on occasion.  A horse called, she responded, followed by Nikki's response.  Suki is very much in heat and she becomes quite vocal!  Nikki sometimes will call to Suki in the arena if she is in the barn by herself, but today she was not alone.  Maybe she just wanted to be included in the conversation!  Suki also did some head twirlies at the trot, something she does when she is a little up.  That subsided after a bit of work.  Overall Suki worked well in her surcingle, throwing in some passage on occasion as well.  I was pleased.  She walked quietly back to the barn, head stretched down.

One of the concerns after the fire, was the status f Suki's tail.  Like her mane it was a bit melted and physiologically it was unknown how much the physical stress and trauma to her body would affect hair growth.  We were very gentle with the tail, carefully applying moisturizing and conditioning gels and only using fingers as a comb.  Suki was also given a flax seed supplement once she got to the rehab farm, and all throughout the process her nutrition was carefully monitored.

Looks pretty good!!   And of course she has those dapples that dance as the sun hits her while she is working in the arena.  Suki is the picture of good health.  That guardian angel has done a great job.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Confident Suki Emerges Through Patience and Steady Work

As we hit mid-September on the calendar I watch the hours of daylight fade and changing shadows of the sun.  I don't really mind when darkness arrives early, except when the only time I can ride is late afternoon.  Our arena does not have lights.  The part I hate most is the later sunrise.  I can still go to the barn early, groom both horses and be ready to ride or lunge once the light is sufficient.  But it is definitely more difficult to get started.  I always rise before the sun, and use that time for writing, running on my treadmill (though the sad, broken toes have curtailed that!), read peacefully in my favorite chair or catching up on favorite television shows that I have DVRd (I am a total Project Runway geek! And Chopped, Master Chef, Top Chef!).

Early next week temperatures will dip into the 40sF over night, so the girls will start to wear sheets at night.  Yes, some scoff at this, but Suki gets cold because of lack of hair across her back, and she does not have a thick coat of hair.  She never has.  If I don't start to dress Nikki early enough she will grow a bear coat!  I would prefer not to body or trace clip her but want to be able to ride through the cold months without having her finish with a thick, wet coat!  Last year I was quite successful, but alas, winter riding in an outdoor arena came to a screeching halt!  Many say that this winter will be the same.  I will just hope for the best!  Plus, I was always taught to start putting at least a sheet on horses once the temperatures go into the low50sF.

The work has been going well this week, but my toes still scream inside my boots!  Suki and Nikki are enjoying the cooler temperatures and their work reflects that.  On Wednesday, (10 September) Suki was a little silly about her surcingle.  She was fine when I put it on, but started to hump her back when I started to lead her out of the barn.  I walked her a little more to see if she was just stiff, but it continued. I always check the skin on her back, so I was confident that there were not any abrasions.  There also did not seem to be any pinching anywhere, and it was certainly not too tight.  Putting Suki back on cross ties I removed the surcingle to check again, and to reset the gear.  When she still seemed uncomfortable I removed it and brought her out to the arena, thinking maybe her back was bothering her, or something else.  On our way out the door she did a couple of arabesque stretches.  Once in the arena she lunged beautifully with no sign of discomfort.  Maybe she needed to do her stretches?

Nikki was slow to start that day as well.  Maybe it was something in the air (the onset of winter?? !).  Once she warmed up she was fine and worked nicely through a basic session with a small amount of lateral work.  I added more counter bend when tracking left, because she seemed to be a little over bent and tilting her head slightly.  A few times around and with 20m circles on the counter bend and she was fine.  I am wondering if it was due to my compensation for the pain in my left foot?  Anyway, I will be more conscious of that in the future so as not to cause problems!

Thursday, September 11, 2014
Nikki had the day off but received a thorough grooming.  Suki received a full spa treatment after standing in the cross ties for 20 minutes wearing her surcingle.  This did not please her so much!  Not because she was uncomfortable....she was bored and kept begging for treats, making faces at me and rolling her eyes.  Then I took her for a walk out back while wearing her gear.  She was fine.  I have no idea what happened the other day!

Saturday, September 13, 2014
Gloomy, chilly autumn-like morning, threatening rain. I was hoping that it would hold off long enough for me to ride Nikki and lunge Suki.

The drizzle started while walking Nikki out to the arena, becoming a more steady, light rain whole I was riding.  I had shed my jacket and the rain was chilly on my arms.  This was quickly forgotten because Nikki was phenomenal!!  The wind blew and and the rain came down, but Nikki was focused with good energy.  Everything worked.  Nicely off the leg for shoulder-in into half pass (even on MY bad side!).  We did working, medium and collected gaits with quick, soft responses.  I finished with stretchy trot serpentines and a lovely stretched walk.  So we were both a bit soggy at the finish.  We were also both quite pleased with ourselves!  My timing was perfect, because shortly after we returned to the barn the rain came down in heavy sheets.  Nikki loves to have her face rubbed with a towel, so I took a clean, fluffy towel and massaged her head until it was dry.  This usually makes her fall asleep.  When I removed the towel from her face, Nikki kept her eyes closed, lip drooping.  Such a funny girl!

The rain stopped again while I was grooming Suki so I put on her bridle and out we went.  Although it was still quite breezy, Suki was focused with the exception of a sudden look at a horse rolling in the adjacent field!  I guess she had one eye on that field.  That was at the start of our work, so I was sure to keep her attention after that.  I primarily worked on transitions within and between gaits.  I can't wait to add the side reins to really get some collected work in there (yes, I had planned that for this weekend, I know).

I left the girls tucked in there stalls with hay, cozy comfy when the rain came down cold and steady later that afternoon.

Sunday, September 14, 2014
43F this morning!  Yikes!  Suki was in her heavy fly sheet over night but Nikki was naked.  It looks like evening temperatures may stay in the 40sF so turnout will probably switch from night to day soon. And it will be time for sheets.

Nikki had a lunge session today because I wanted to work on a bit of collection and transitions, and be able to see how she responded.  I can feel how she responds but I wanted to see it.

Suki wore her surcingle today.  I did see a slight stiffness when she first moved out but it quickly resolved.  The footing was very nice from yesterday's rain providing a nice springy surface.

I am liking the calmness in Suki's eye.  She looks confident, the way she did before her melt down many years ago.  I know I have been proceeding very slowly with this business of riding her again, but when I see that look, I know I am on the right track.  It is in her best interest to be 100% ready for a rider, physically and mentally.  That is the way I have been taught.  Every horse is different, each progressing at its own pace.  It is critical to read the individual, and to not skip steps with any horse.  Suki was so easy to start the first time but I am careful because of what happened when she was pushed to quickly by the trainer that I was working with at the time.  I have referred to this several times, but it makes me mad (at myself) because I knew better.  We will get there.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Suki does a Bit of Passage and a Capriole!

Saturday, September 6, 2014
It appears that summer has finally reared its ugly head in the Oley Valley, although the heat and humidity are expected to break tonight.  This week has been hot, muggy and buggy, but there are ways to work around it, which is what I try to do.  Since the entire summer has not been like this I think that while that is great, it also makes us more vulnerable as the temperatures climb.  The worst for me is when my horses and I are sweaty from just the preparation to work!  But it doesn't keep us from our job.  The work out is just modified.

So I am writing this post in the comfort of air conditioning looking out into my steamy yard.  I place bottled water in the freezer then drink it while it is slushy.  Suki will probably spend a brief period out in the sun, but fortunately the day is mostly overcast.  With the heat and humidity this is the lesser of the evils.  There was no way that I could put a fly sheet on her in this heat.

This week has been frustrating, as I have been only able to lunge the girls as I am still unable to get my foot in a proper boot for riding.  I was being careful because Tuesday the 5th I had to wear dress shoes, but thought that I would be able to cram my foot into a boot the next day.  Yikes was I wrong!  One toe is still pretty swollen, so any time it is pushed next to the others it screams.  Oh wait, that's me screaming!  I am not a weenie about pain, and have ridden, danced, run and tumbled through some pretty significant pain.  I think it is the angle of my toe and the fact that it keeps getting run over, stepped on (by child and pets) and having things dropped on it.  For example today I was out in the garage talking to Isaiah when he accidentally ran over that foot while on his skate board.  Isn't that the way it always is?  The injured body part has a bull's eye on it, just begging for more!  Tomorrow will be the two week mark since Miss Nicolette stepped on my toes and I am ready for it to be healed.

The lunging gives the girls a pretty good workout though.  I do a lot of transitions to make them think and use their muscles properly.  We make good use of the trot poles as well.  So all is not lost.  The damaged toes still complain a bit but I have mastered a modified gait that relieves the stress while I walk.  

Suki is still very enthusiastic about her work, confirming that I am on the right track.  Some days I think that she is impatient for more, and on those occasions I push past what we achieved in the last session.  The question mark that remains, of course is the skin on Suki's back.  Currently I am just using a regular saddle pad and so far all is good.
This is the graft site.  Nothing has changed since the start of using the surcingle.

The small pink (white in this photo) area has shrunk considerably over the past year.  The skin appears to have suffered no trauma from friction or weight of saddle pad and surcingle.  The addition of side reins will create more friction, so that is the next test.  I know I have said this before, but next weekend I will be adding side reins, weather and footing permitting.   

This morning I stuffed my foot into my old paddock boots (they are wider than current ones) and rode Nikki.  The humidity was already apparent at the early hour but we had a productive ride, especially considering the status of my foot.  I kept it simple and all was good.  Reasonable energy and quick response off the leg.  My toes were complaining when I finished but it was great to be back in the saddle!  Once Nikki was untacked, bathed and comfortable I switched from painful paddock boots to wider mockers!

Suki was also up for the challenge of the day!  Very nicely forward and sharp off the aids.  I pushed her a bit more than I had originally planned, but she seemed bored with just a regular work out.  The gnats were killing me and the flies were on Suki.  But she didn't seem to care so we continued to work.  Not an unreasonable amount, especially with the humidity, but enough to maintain interest.  Once back in the barn I was pleased to see that in spite of the humidity, Suki's respiration rate returned to normal quickly.  At this point in training I am not seeing any indication of lung problems as a result of the fire.  Fingers crossed.

Needing to bulk up my bird seed supply and a few equine necessities I headed to Oley Valley Feed.  The corn fields are bursting at the seams and I passed an amazing field of sunflowers, bending their faces to the sun.  The quilting supply store was also busy.  Is everyone preparing for the winter?

Sunday, September 7, 2014
Quite a difference from yesterday!  Temperatures hovered around 60F with a lovely breeze!  So instead of writing from the air conditioned family room I am sitting on the deck enjoying a late morning snack (after bypassing breakfast).  Although it feels like an early autumn day, I won't be fooled.  A warm up in early October is typical for this part of the country!

Suki and Nikki were happily grazing when I arrived at the barn this morning, but walked over to the fence as I pulled in to park.

The breeze was actually fairly brisk, but a welcome change from yesterday!  Nikki glanced at the swirling leaves a couple of times, but otherwise worked well.  With my foot painfully squished into my paddock boots I kept the ride simple, but effective.  Today I added leg yield and trot poles at the trot, and a nice forward canter.  There are A LOT of leaves yellow, and on the ground....seems early to me but another cold, wet winter is predicted, so perhaps this is not such a surprise!

Suki marched out to the arena with the wind in her mane.  The swirling leaves did nothing to distract her.  I worked her through some nice, sharp transitions.  The arena footing was nicely spongy after last night's rain.  Sophie and Pete trotted across their field for breakfast, and Suki responded with a breathtaking passage.  Yes, I could have corrected her and pushed her forward into a working trot, but who am I to disturb an artist at work? Moving off into a medium trot, we continued our work.  Something caught her eye in the adjacent pasture (perhaps she had not fully regained focus!) so Suki squealed and channeled her inner Lippizaner and performed a capriole!  (Jenny used to do this on the lunge sometimes when she was excited.  Must be the Ramiro bloodlines that they share!).  THEN she settled back to work.

Post work Suki was quite smug.  Gotta love a diva and her confidence!