Sunday, November 23, 2014

Suki is Amazing

The cold weather seems to have decided to stay (although a brief warm up is expected early next week).  For the most part I am okay with that since I love winter.  However, lack of indoor and frozen footing make for a non-riding situation.  Sunday and Monday are expected to be a bit warmer so I am hoping for some lunging time with the girls.  If I could get a few days (two in a row would work) then I could ride Nikki on the third day.  But right now I feel like the saddle is pinching her and making her uncomfortable under saddle.  So until I address that situation I will probably just lunge in a surcingle and side reins.  I am hoping to get a saddle that will fit both Suki and Nikki.  This was Suki's saddle from when she was a baby, and the only saddle of mine (other than my equitation saddle from my junior hunter days) that was home at the time of the fire.  Once Suki matured and muscled more this saddle did not fit her.  I had a saddle custom made for her which was lost in the fire.  Although that saddle fit her well, I didn't like it as much.  So now I am in the same situation with Nikki.  With winter expected to be similar to last I may not get much riding in anyway, so if I can lunge both girls through February I will get a new saddle in March.  This gives me time to investigate the types that I would like.  I prefer a fairly deep seat with small knee blocks under the flap.  It has to have a narrow twist for me but a medium to wide tree for the horses.  Also a long flap as I am long from knee to ankle.  I would like to investigate the Laser saddle since they have collaborated with Thin Line to produce a non friction saddle.  Close contact is also a preference for me, however, I worry that it may not work so well on Suki's back now that there is no hair.  Many things to think about.  AND I never heard from the Dy'on bridle people in Belgium after sending two requests to their customer service.  They do not have an email address, just a page to submit questions.  Maybe I should write it in French, even though there is an English option on there...... frustrating.

Sunday, November 9, 2014
After Friday's adventures with Suki I was hopeful for an event-free work out!  Nikki once again was in a happy work mode so I took advantage of that and added some in hand work to the end of her session.  Not wanted to stress her stifles, I did not include any piaffe work.  Instead we worked on turn on the forehand and turn on the haunches (since that does not require as much "sitting" as piaffe.  She was somewhat unsure of what I was asking initially but once she understood, the ears went up and she responded nicely.  At the finish of that I put her back out on the lunge for some trot and canter to allow her to move forward and stretch.  It is how I would have ended a ride when working on that type of work.  I have been taught (and fully believe in the philosophy) of allowing horses to move nicely forward after the more collected work.  Some take the horse on a walk afterwards.  Some don't think it is necessary at all.  But I always stretch after I run.....

Suki had wonderful energy that led to some lovely lunge work!  The first round of down transitions were slow to click, which is unusual for her, but then she was fine.  I spread the trot poles a little further apart after her first time through because with the amount of energy she had they were simply not far enough apart for that big extended trot!  That's okay, I'll take it any day!  For canter work I was able to get some nice shortening and lengthening of stride, better to the left.  (this is somewhat my issue).  I do love the way she owns the arena when she works.  It's as though she fills it with her presence.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014
Today was warm so I decided to shorten Suki's mane.  Since it is mid-November I am unsure when the opportunity will arise again.  I hate doing it when it is cold because when my fingers get cold I get cuts from the hair.  And it really hurts! (I will stop whining now)This is not an easy project because Suki has ALWAYS been bad about it.  I prefer not to be body slammed by a 1400lb+ horse, so I enlisted Jenn's assistance.

First, I worked Suki in her surcingle doing trot and canter poles.  When we were finished I yanked on the surcingle, wiggled it, etc to see how movement would affect her back.  We went back to some leading exercises with quick turns and soon she was anticipating with just a slight movement of my head as I prepared for my next move.

Nikki had a short workout but was very relaxed and focused.

The mane.....Every time I go to do Suki's mane I can hear Heather's voice: "That mane HAS GOT TO GO!" This was always said upon our arrival at her farm for training.  The next time I would go up there, some poor soul had pulled her mane and clipped her whiskers!  Now I do a combination of pulling and razoring to minimize everyone's discomfort.  Nikki falls asleep during mane pulling so it is not so challenging!  Jenn held the lead rope and fed treats while I worked on the mane.  Most difficult is when I get closer to her head.  The end result was Suki looking lovely and refined once again, Jenn with teethmarks and bruises on her hand, and me with blisters on my fingers!  But it's done!

Thursday, November 13, 2014
Farrier day.  Quick grooming since he was coming early.  Rain followed by snow, but the girls did manage to get out for a bit.  I had Nikki have her snow pads and borium studs for this shoeing.  It is probably a little early but 6-7 weeks from now might be a bit late.

Friday, November 14, 2014
I put the regular bridle on Suki today again and she seemed very uncomfortable.  Not in the mouth, but up around her poll.  I believe it is the lack of hair where the crown piece sits.  Yes, her halter sits in the same place, but I think the bridle applies more pressure.  The Dy'On Difference dressage bridle just looks like it would work.  I wish they would respond to my questions!  Ugggh!

Sunday, November 16, 2014
I put birdseed seed out early this morning and I sat near the window knitting so I could watch the activity.  Getting up at 6AM I have an hour to enjoy the quiet and solitude before I go to the barn.  It is the best time of the day.

Nikki was wonderful!  Relaxed, forward and happy.  That's when I keep the work time shorter.  She was soft in the jaw and trotted through the trot poles quietly with ears forward and a big stride.

Then there was Suki.  Walking out to the arena she snorted at a car with a horse blanket lying across its hood.  Yes, this is the horse who did not bat an eye when the hay elevator appeared outside the barn.  Isn't that always the way!  So she was slightly up when we walked into the arena, but not crazed or wild.  The work started off fine.  Nice easy trot, good transitions, forward and seemingly relaxed.  Just as I started to move the lunge circle to the other end of the arena in preparation of moving through the trot poles, Suki's tail went up.  Then came passage.  I had no idea where it came from, but I eased her circle away again to get her to relax.  Then suddenly, a capriole.  followed by another.  And another.  I urged her forward but she kept trying to turn and passage.  It IS a lovely passage and even more lovely to ride.  However, it was out of anxiety so I needed to get her mind back and move her forward again.  Rear, leap, rear leap, capriole, levade, you name it she did it.  I remained calm and spoke to her softly.  She did finally relax and trot with her head down and topline stretched (like last time).   Well, I finally saw the cause of her excitement.  Someone had taken a horse out of the field sort of behind the arena, so his friend Ty, was running up and down the hill calling to him.  Combine that with the pony Sammy, calling to his girlfriend (Suki), and Parker calling to anyone who would listen (his buddy had left to go fox hunting) and you have chaos!
Another boarder was watching while she was having a conversation with J.  When I came out of the arena I said "A little excitement for a Sunday morning!"  Her response was something about how funny it was that when Suki didm;t want to listen when I was saying "whoa" to her.   And "boy she likes to just do her own thing...." Huh?  When I was saying "Whoa" and "you're okay" in a calming tone it was simply to relax her.  A horse that is that wound up from external stimuli is not always going to respond on a dime!  Keep in mind that this person comes to the barn in flip flops, rides while wearing the flip flops with shorts and no helmet....
Suki was reasonably quiet while walking back to the barn but while we were waiting for another horse to move to the side Parker started screaming again.  Up went Suki's head (MY GOODNESS THAT GIRL IS TALL!!!) and started to piaffe.  I was relieved to get her settled back on cross ties and finish grooming!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014
Yikes!  COLD AND WINDY!  REALLY windy!  The girls have an extra layer on top of their Rambos.
Aren't they cute?

I posted a photo of Suki in a really lovely stretched trot on the lunge line.  Someone commented about how amazing she is.  I sometimes forget that and just take it for granted.  But she really is amazing!  Sure, she can be difficult, but she is a mare and sometimes you just have to accept that.  But when she gives, she gives it 100% and is absolutely stunning in her gaits and in her courage.  I hope that as I finish the book I will have conveyed that in my writing.  I want people to know her and see and feel our bond so that they can appreciate who she is and the hope and inspiration that she offers.

So we have had frozen footing for several days, limiting the work that I can do.  We can still do leading exercises and low impact in-hand work in the arena so that helps.  And at least it gets them into the arena.

Sunday, November 23, 2014
Now for the warm up.  50's today, upper 60's for tomorrow.  Blanket, sheet, naked dance.  Rain tonight, snow Wednesday.  Please Mother Nature make up your mind!

While I was grooming Suki this morning she did not care that Magic was creeping up to her on the cross ties (he was being tacked up to go fox hunting) and touching her butt.  Yes, she is very much in heat and the back two set of cross ties are a bit close together!  But she was funny because she didn't make faces at anyone and was perfectly content to just hang out in the aisle.  No sign of her usual impatience today!

I am thinking now about finding someone with a schoolmaster and take some lessons over the winter.  Keep me advancing so I am ready for spring and both girls.  I need to find a way to get my goals back in order and me back into competition.

During the winter when I am unable to lunge because of frozen footing I will still bring Suki and Nikki out into the arena for some type of modified work in hand.  This will help to keep their minds focused.  As long as they are able to go out in their fields this should work.  But we will likely encounter some unsuitable weather making even that impossible!  But I will resolve Suki's bridle issue and find the right saddle for both of them during this period.

 Winter may slows us down but it won't stop us from progressing and taking on new challenges!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Suki's BIG jump (and rear)!

Now that the clocks have been turned back to standard time I may once again enjoy early mornings with daylight.  Yes, I realize that the flip side of that is early darkness, but it is the price to pay for brighter mornings!  Another advantage is that the earlier darkness triggers me to begin dinner preparations earlier!

Friday, November 7, 2014
Does anyone else love a gray November day as much as I do?  Today started gray and ominous, with a light wind that was expected to pick up later in the morning.  Temperature was 44F, so it wasn't really cold, but the grayness and wind made it feel like a late autumn day.

Driving to Oley Valley Feed I noticed a change in the Oley Valley from just a few weeks earlier.  The look of autumn.  The colors of the leaves on the mountains are beginning to fade and many of the trees are now devoid of leaves.  Corn fields have been chopped to the ground.  Still my beautiful valley, but the transition to winter is obvious.

After picking up my supplies I asked about the price of the pumpkins (heirloom and regular) on the porch of OVF.  I love being surrounded by pumpkins and can never fully comprehend why so many people abandon them after Halloween!  They told me to just take some.  I said that I was willing to pay for them, but was then told that they appreciate my business, so happy to just have them used.  This is what I like about living in a more rural area and knowing the merchants that I deal with on a regular basis.  So very different from the crazy busy area of North Jersey where I grew up!  Here I go to the small businesses as often as possible because the slightly higher prices are accompanied by great service and appreciation.  I love that they know who I am, and enjoy the regular interaction.  I think I will take some baked goods to the OVF gang on Monday!

Driving  home I had to pass the former Pink Star Equestrian Center site of the fire), now a standardbred breeding farm.  I looked at the indoor arena where I last rode Suki (it was converted to a barn) and the space where her barn used to stand.  Sometimes I am okay when I drive by and other times, like today, I feel a heavy sadness in my heart.  But just as I choked back tears I passed the last field of the properties where a pile of yearlings or two-year olds dozed together in the almost sun that was breaking through the clouds.  It made me smile.  The sadness was gone.

Earlier this week....
Tuesday morning was not particularly cold, windy, etc.  Nothing unusual about the day.  But for some reason the girls were a bit silly!  This time of year they always work after being in all night and before they are turned out for the day.  In the summer they are worked after being out all night.  Turnout schedule has been changed for awhile, so other than some stiffness at the start of work Suki and Nikki work as they usually do.  Cold and windy days definitely add a bit of spring to their step, but they always settle nicely.  There is the occasional buck or leap, of course!

Nikki came out of her stall a bit sleepily this morning, a mane and tail full of shavings revealing a flat out snooze over night.  A little cranky in the cross ties, but she hates to have her belly brushed and it too was covered in shavings stuck in place from a bit of manure that she must have been lying on.  On the walk out to the arena she was fine, doing her arabesques along the way.  After a few times around on the lunge at the walk I asked her for a trot which was followed by a mini-squeal and some head twirlies.  That was it for her and she worked well the rest of the time.

Suki gave no real indication of being excited as we walked out to the arena but when I put her out on the lunge she walked at a brisk pace.  First few trot steps were big but she worked well at transitions within the gaits and some lovely lengthenings!  I turned her toward the four trot poles and on the approach she rocked back onto her hind end and jumped all four of them.  This, of course, was followed by a buck, squeal and canter.  I'm not really sure how I managed to not interfere with the massive jump or get dragged by her!  It would have been great to have that on video!  I kept her at a nice, controlled canter for two or three times around then back to trot.  The trot was great and I headed her toward the poles again.  She went through beautifully.  That was the end of the excitement.  Just one of those days I guess!

I noticed a new development while I was moisturizing Suki's back this week.  Little tufts of new hair on once-bare areas on her back.
Look closely for the little chestnut tufts!

I realize that this does not mean that Suki will have full hair growth on her back, but it is still exciting!

Thursday, the 6th brought rain.  It was a heavy rain with chilly temperatures so the girls didi not work.  I did not want them to be so wet that I could not but blankets back on.
Nikki's opinion of the rain:
She is not shy about expressing her opinion!

Suki likes to pretend that it is all good......
But she paces and stops after breakfast in her impatient wait for turnout!
Fortunately the rain stopped for a bit in the afternoon so they did get out for a bit!

Friday, November 7, 2014
I have done a fair amount of writing this week.  With my voice finally evident I am more confident that the Suki memoir will tell the story the way it should be told.  For awhile I kept thinking that while I had written the facts in a cohesive, narrative manner that not enough of my emotion was there.  I think I was afraid of what I was writing and holding my feelings in check.  Then I read Courtney King's book.  While it is not a great literary work, it is beautifully told and full of emotion.  The good, the bad and the ugly.  Suddenly I remembered why I was writing the book about Suki.  To share our journey.  The good, the bad and the ugly.  And to be sure, there is plenty of raw emotion.

So on this chilly morning I had a plan.  Light work for Nikki and a harder workout for Suki.  As I started this post I mentioned the gray, damp, chilly morning.  A light breeze to start followed by a steadier wind and 28MPH gusts later in the morning.

Nikki worked very nicely through a basic work out of transitions and nice forward gaits.  She was in a happy mood and the transitions were nicely uphill.  It was a little breezy but typically she is not bothered by this so there was just nice positive energy to work with.  I have been starting each session with a few leading exercises that I had learned with Suki.  Nikki can be like a large puppy at times.  Which is fine, except that she weighs north of 1400lbs.  I have, at times, been lax with her leading, allowing her to sort of drift beside me at times and walking at her own pace.  These exercises remind her that there are rules!  Then I massaged her face with the fleecy mitt and she closed her eyes to relax.  Always a great way to finish!

OOH!  I just looked up and a buck with a HUGE rack just walked through my yard.  Up on the hill just behind my house!  What a handsome boy!

Suki was very impatient from the moment I brought her out of her stall.  My original plan was to do full workout with equipment: bridle and surcingle. I started to re-think this as the wind picked up and the drizzle started.  As I finished wrapping the white polos (sometimes I am SUCH a DQ!) I decided to go for basic lunging focusing on transitions.  It is always important to be flexible in your plans when working with horses.  As riders we are nothing without our dance partners and need consider their mental status as well as physical.  Even on competition days, you work with what you have at that time.  So out we went.  Jenn came out to take some new photos of the girls, but unfortunately missed Nikki.  I started a bit earlier than anticipated and she was running a little late!

Suki walked out to the arena fine, though I sensed a little tension in my hands.  The drizzle turned into rain and rain turned into sleet.  Suki seemed unfocused in spite of there being fewer distractions than usual as she began work on the lunge.  She kept shaking her head because of the sleet, which seemed to really annoy her (apparently divas don't do sleet! it wasn't heavy and it didn't last!) After a few walk-trot transitions I asked Suki to halt.  She kept taking a few steps forward after several attempts, so I said fine....go forward!  The big girl took a few steps forward then took a leap and a squeal and up she went!

She came down and I sent her forward.  A few minutes later Suki went up again, then settled and worked fine.  I still sensed a small amount of tension but she seemed to listen and focus more.  Mares!  Gotta love them!

So I just continue to move forward.  Nikki needs to have a show season and I need to get on Suki.  Goals.  The glory of pursuit.