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.

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