Saturday, February 21, 2015

Winter Blues: Suki and Nikki Keep Me Smilig

Don't you just love when you step out into the cold and the surface of your parka starts to freeze and crinkle?  Then you breathe in and the mucous membranes inside your nose also freeze?  Aaahh winter! Parking up near the house I put on my scarf, hat, mittens and yak traks for the trek down to the barn.  I could see that the girls were out in their field which is adjacent to the driveway, so as I got closer to the barn I called to them.  Two heads bounced up from the hay they were nibbling on.  Suki immediately started to walk over while Nikki took the opportunity to munch on more hay.  She followed Suki shortly after that trotting through the snow toward me.  I love watching the horses trot through the snow.  The wind had blown drifts across the field, so the section she was trotting through was not very deep.  Just deep enough to encourage extra push from behind and lift in the stride.  Lovely! (Though I did not get my mittens off in time to catch it!)

With winter tightening its mighty grip I am making every attempt to draw inspiration from anywhere I can.  The roller coaster of freeze/thaw/freeze has kept us out of the arena since....December?  Uggh.  I do what I can to keep Suki and Nikki happy, and for the most part they have been getting outside for turnout, even if some days that time is limited or they are in the paddock instead of the big field.  At least they are getting out.  And we are certainly better off here than folks in Boston!

The world outside may be white and cold, but Suki and Nikki always warm my heart and bring a smile to my face.  Some days they receive an abbreviated grooming, but I speak to them the entire time and rub their faces and necks.  Of course, there are hugs too! As I jiggle the frozen barn door to coax it open on those brutal mornings, I hear the girls' voices as they nicker to me impatiently.  Once inside I turn on the lights and "feel" my way to Nikki's stall as snow blindness temporarily incapacitates me.  She naughtily bangs on her door demanding attention (and treats) so it is not too difficult to find her.  Suki calls to me from down the aisle expecting her equal time, and angry with my inability to be in two places at once.

On the coldest of days I groom what is not covered by blankets, pick feet and pluck shavings from tails.  On those days I hate to even pull off my gloves, but some tasks require it, such as moisturizing Suki's face and rubbing conditioning gel into tails.   I have found another use for Suki's moisturizer...Nikki sometimes gets a little bit of a rub mark on her shoulder when she wears multiple blankets.  When I slather a little moisturizer on that area, the blanket glides over it preventing irritation.  It has really worked well.

As I pick up writing this post (again, it has been a month since my last post) the wind is howling outside and I am sitting by the fireplace.  Earlier I went outside to put out birdseed and was nearly, literally, blown away.  30 mph wind with 55mph gusts.  Ripley, Cecil and Bentley are snoozing in sunny spots on the family room floor wearing expressions of contentment!

Stuck in the barn aisle or paddock requires creative thinking to keep the horses minds and responses sharp.  I have started to do stretches with Suki and Nikki just about every day, which they seem to enjoy.  By day 3 I just have to tap the leg that I am going to start with and they lift the others for me as I approach.  Initially Suki lifted her head while I stretched her front legs forward, so I wondered if she was experiencing discomfort somewhere.  Although she was nibbling on my hair I felt that she was not as relaxed as perhaps she should be.  Working my hands over her back, legs, shoulders, and testing with range of motion I did not find any problem areas and concluded (for the moment) that it was simply a small amount of anxiety over stretching in the cross ties.  She occasionally has issues with cross ties if someone holds them or leans on them restricting her movement.  Prior to the fire this was an issue that arose when the mean farrier worked on her and it was only with farriers that she did this.  Since then trust in farriers has improved greatly, and Josh doesn't seem to have any problems with her.  I suspect there may be an occasional tense moment though!  Now it has more to do with doing things near her head, and even that has improved substantially.  As I continue to work through the stretches Suki has relaxed about it.  As I move away from her extending the front leg she stretches her neck forward to look for training treats!

Nikki is quite the jokester during stretches.  One of the winter hats that I wear has a large pompom on top.  Nikki likes to grab it while her leg is in my hands.  There isn't anything I can do about it, and she knows it!  She also likes to try to dig around in my pockets for treats.  Hind leg stretches remind me of an arabesque, and both Suki and Nikki do them on their own either walking out of their stalls, while standing on cross ties or heading out to the arena.  Nikki also does downward dog, which sometimes makes me nervous when I see how deep she stretches!

On days where the paddock footing behind the barn is suitable I do some leading exercises, in-hand lateral work and sometimes a bit of piaffe.  Sometimes the piaffe is unplanned, but if either one comes out a little "up" and jiggly, I work a little piaffe to refocus the energy.  It forces their attention back onto me, as i only allow a few steps, followed by walk then a few steps again.  They seem to get it especially with sugar cube or training treats as reward.  I can even do a little in-hand lateral work in the aisle.  It is not very long, but I can get a few leg yield steps simply by moving over.  Just something to do.

I walked over to Nikki after I took this photo to give her treats.  SOMEONE got annoyed by that!

I had hoped to audit a few clinics, but on the days when this was supposed to occur the weather did not cooperate.  Some of the events from the Winter Equestrian Festival have been either live streamed or available later for viewing.  That helps a little.  But I really just want to ride!

With the sub zero temperatures the girls are wearing several layers of blankets and there has not been much of a blanket dance.  I was looking for a light weight water proof sheet to put over top of everything for snowy days and as protection against wind....we have days with 20+mph winds and gusts to 40 mph.  I found one type that I thought would work so they ordered big girl sizes at Oley Valley Feed.  It was really cold the day that I tried them on, Nikki first.  The sheet was quite crinkly (like my parka!) so Nikki kept making faces at it.  The 81" was not quite large enough so I tried on the 84" that was supposed to be for Suki.  Though it fit nicely through the shoulder and was long enough to her hind quarters, it did not cover well down her sides.  Not even close.  If the 84 didn't fit Nikki it was most certainly not going to fit Suki.  So back they went.  Uggh!  I have noticed that some brands simply do not fir warmbloods well.  Although, if you are going to make sizes 81+ you should suspect that the horse is tall....

Today (21 February) my plan was to attend a horse owner's workshop at Oley Valley Feed.  A talk on nutrition, followed by lameness, diagnostics, meds, etc.  I was hoping to discuss feeds with the nutrition person.  I am wondering if there is a feed that would help with Suki's skin.  She does receive a flax seed supplement and of course the moisturizer that I apply, but maybe there is a feed that is better for skin.  Also, with the plans for kicking up the training in the spring I want to be sure that Suki's nutritional needs are met.  Nikki is on Strategy, which I like and she does well on.  The snow was supposed to start at around 1 PM or so, making the 10AM session a better choice.  After briefly grooming the girls, moisturizing Suki's exposed area and breaking ice on their water buckets I was a bit cold.  My toes, any way.  Time to order new winter boots for the barn (I have been looking at my choices and will decide tomorrow morning!).  The talks were very interesting and quite well attended!  But I ended up having to leave early because the child had hockey and the snow had already begun to cover the roads.  Hilly, curvy wide open with drifting type of roads.  The owner of OVF is a nutrition specialist so I guess I will be consulting with him over the next few weeks!

And check out this burn survivor...

Never say never.....

So back to the training videos and books, and lovely dressage shows from south Florida......this winter girls is counting the days until spring!