Saturday, April 18, 2015

Back to work for Suki and Nikki

Well, I believe spring might actually have arrived.  Perhaps I should not say that aloud for fear of jinxing today's warm sunshine and hint of green in the early spring grass.  Just a couple of weeks ago we experienced, what I believe to be, our final snow of the season.  It was heavy, wet and slushy making for a miserable day.  Then of course the temperature dipped that night creating icy roads by morning.  That Saturday morning the plan was to leave at 6:15 AM to audit a dressage clinic given by Andrea Velas at Paul Belasik's farm an approximate 90 minute drive.  After a two hour delay in departure (which probably could have been earlier) we ventured out to the clinic.  Weather predictions indicated a nice warm up and sun.  Sitting in a damp indoor wrapped in a horse cooler it never really did warm up very much.  But watching the instruction of classical dressage more than made up for the minor discomfort!  I like Andrea's teaching style and the correctness of what she expects from horse and rider.  No quick fixes, just proper training.

Tuesday (31 March, 2015)
Round 1 spring vaccinations.  My very favorite thing in the world....Nikki is always fine about it.  She barely flinches, then nuzzles for treats.  Sweet girl.  Suki, as most of you know can be a bit difficult for anything involving a needle.  This started before the fire after a bad experience with a veterinarian who was intimidated by Suki's size.  Perhaps "horse doc" was not such a wise career choice!  Since this visit required a blood draw for Coggins, it is critical to do Suki first (so she doesn't work herself into a frenzy) and start with the blood draw.  Once the vaccs are given getting close enough to get blood is far more difficult!  Though tense, Suki was actually quite good.  Lauren spoke to her and scratched Suki's nose, which always helps!  Whither scratches and injections in the chest work best.  The second batch of spring vaccs will be in a few weeks.  Nikki barely flinched, and Dr. Lauren commented how she always forgets how big Nikki is!

Wednesday (1 April, 2015)
Dentist.  We don't usually schedule more than one scary thing per week, but I found out about the veterinarian date after I had already rescheduled the dentist from the week before.  Sean McCarthy has been taking care of the girls' teeth for the last 2 years, and is wonderful.  Very patient and kind.  Suki walked right up to Sean when he opened her stall door.  Clearly she remembers and trusts him!  That round went pretty well, though I could see that she was a bit nervous to start.  Nikki, for some reason really hates the whole dentist situation.  Oh, she walks right unto Sean when he goes into her stall, but after a few minutes she becomes quite nervous.  He gives her several breaks, but this time as he was trying to finish she started to get more upset.  Although Sean said that he probably got to all of it, he preferred to check her again in a few weeks just to be sure.  Pushing the issue with Nikki at that moment would not have been a good idea, and she would have only become more upset.  But typical Nikki, as soon as he stopped she nuzzled him looking for treats!  Obviously she does not hold a grudge!  Especially if a treat may be involved.

Thursday (2 April, 2015)
Of course the melting, freezing, rain, repeat did not lend to optimal turnout or horse-leg-friendly arena footing.  But finally, there was a chance to get Suki and Nikki on the lunge line in the arena.  On my way to the barn on Thursday it started to drizzle, but I remained optimistic.  As the rain came down a bit harder I briefly had second thoughts.  But it is April and we need to get this season going!  I decided that a ten minute lunge for each would be a good way to start.  The footing was still somewhat hard, but not terrible.  The rain stopped but I would have worked them in a light rain.  Both Suki and Nikki behaved beautifully.  No craziness for the first day out, which was greatly appreciated.  Just a nice light walk, trot, canter.  A nice solid start.

Nikki has a new game while stretching coming out of her stall.  She had always done a stretch of each hind leg while halfway out of her stall.  Now she looks around then stretches her hind leg while stretching her neck forward to grab treats, hay….whatever she thinks looks tasty.  So the area of the stretch varies, always relating to location of treats!

So since that time (yikes, it is already 4/17!) I have had the girls out to lunge only sporadically due to weather and work.  Suki and Nikki were even back in their Rambo heavy blankets for a day last week!  With Suki I am keeping it very basic right now.  The goal for the first two weeks of regular work is to make sure that she is sound and comfortable while building strength and stamina.  We start with stretches in the barn then light walk trot and a canter in each direction.  As always, I start and finish in the arena with leading exercises.  I find this helps them focus and really only takes a few minutes.  After lunging it can be part of the cool down instead of just having them walk around on the lunge line.  And if I am going to hand walk around the arena, I can throw in a few halts here and there.
 If all goes well this week I will add the surcingle next weekend.  I am working toward the goal of riding Suki by mid summer, and will keep a regular journal through this blog chronicling the process and the journey.  I have a target date range and a weekly plan.  Of course there are a million things that can come along and alter that plan, so it is not a rigid plan or schedule.  Progress may be slow or fast.  With horses, you sometimes just have to go with the flow!  Nikki is easier to get started.  Just a consistent week of lunging under tack and I should be ready to get on.

Yesterday (4/16) the horses in one of the upper fields were galloping around having a great time while I was lunging Nikki.  Sometimes this can get her a bit excited, but after lifting her head once to acknowledge the excitement, she kept working.  I was very pleased with her focus.   I am progressively increasing the work to avoid injury.  Some think that I am going too slow, but as a former ballet dancer and gymnast and current runner, I am well aware of what time off can do, and that going slow to start is best.  After the first two weeks Nikki's work will bump up significantly and Suki's a little more slowly.  However, that could change.  We just have to see how they do!  I did more transitions with Suki today just to see how comfortable she was with using her hind end at a quicker pace.  She seemed fine about it.

Friday 17 April, 2015
Okay, so we moved right on to humid and gnatty this morning!  I pulled out the trotting poles to add some fun to the session.  Walking to the arena with Nikki I could see a cloud of gnats at the gate.  Yuck!  I hadn't even thought to use fly spray!  It's only April.  Each time I brought Nikki back to a walk she shook her head because of the gnats in her ears.  Otherwise she worked extremely well, with the trot poles putting a nice spring in her step!  Transitions were prompt and I did some in rapid succession, as Nikki can be a little lazy sometimes.  Unfortunately I won't be able to work them tomorrow, but Nikki will be in a saddle on Sunday, for sure.  At the finish she was quite sweaty, but our cool down/leading exercises was cut short by the annoying gnat cloud following us.  Then she tried that annoying habit that I had eliminated last year….trying to rub her head on me!  Completely unacceptable.  I completely understand WHY she wants to do it, but still…no.  I actually had to sponge her off when we got back to the barn.  It was only 55F, but the humidity made it feel much warmer, and the air heavy.

Although I now knew there were gnats out, my fly spray was still at home (I had brought it home during the winter to keep it from freezing).  I don't like to start using fly spray this early anyway.  But I would have used roll-on in their ears.  Oh well, Suki, time to tough it out!
Suki voiced her displeasure pretty quickly!  Stomping her feet while I was latching the arena gate!  Other than some head shaking similar to what Nikki had been doing, Suki lunged well.  I stretched the trot poles out a little for her because her stride is naturally longer than Nikki's.  Nikki can do that same trot pole distance beautifully, but I didn't want to do that the first time through.  For Suki, that is just her regular stride.  Focus was not great to start, but not because she was worried or nervous.  Just sort of looking around.  She was not as sweaty as Nikki when she finished, but Nikki's heavy winter coat has not completely shed, and Suki has never grown a very thick winter coat.

The horses are happy to be out in the big field again, galloping with joy and rolling in the new spring grass.  Spring.  A time for beginnings.  Where will life take us this year?