Sunday, May 24, 2015

Step By Step Toward Suki and Nikki's Summer Goals

I have mentioned in previous posts about the challenges of driving past the former Pink Star Equestrian Center, site of the barn fire.  Sometimes I am fine, others I am brought to tears.  The farm has since become a Standardbred breeding farm, so we know what spring means….BABIES!  Driving past the large field that parallels Oley Turnpike Rd this morning a large group of mares dotted the field standing protectively over their babies as they dozed in the son.  I rarely smile as I drive past that farm, but today I couldn't help myself!

Tuesday, 5 May, 2015
Suki's birthday.  She turned 15 today.  In August she and I will have been together for 12 years.  Amazing.  There was no party hat to commemorate the occasion, as Suki is morally opposed to wearing one.  Not that I didn't try!

I also found out today that my blog has been selected by The Haynet, to be one of their new featured bloggers.  It is a large equestrian blogging community, with news, education, etc.  I am so excited about this opportunity!

It will be a chance for even more people to learn about Suki and her courageous journey.  I am hoping that it will also offer the opportunity to have more burn survivors learn about Suki.  It has been quite awhile since Suki has had visitors so I would love to start that again.    Having witnessed the impact that she has on her fellow survivors, I know that she has the ability to help others.

Wednesday, 6 May, 2015
I rode Nikki yesterday, so I gave her today off to allow more time to focus on Sui's work.  She continues to come out of her stall stiff, but after a couple of trot circles she loosens up quite a bit.  I started with some stretches, but now I take her off cross ties to do this.  For some reason she becomes a little unsteady when stretching on cross ties.  Perhaps she feels that she can't balance herself appropriately when tied.  So I throw a lead rope over her neck just in case I need to grab her quickly and we proceed with the stretches.  Suki likes to snuffle my head while I stretch her front legs….hmmm perhaps that is why she prefers to not be on cross ties!!

Suki worked well, through trot and canter poles.  I love the way she pricks her ears and lifts her body as she approaches.  Her expression is not anxious.  It is interest and excitement, as in looking forward to doing it.  Because it was cloudy and supposed to remain that way with some drizzle I put Suki out without her fly sheet.  I try to do that whenever possible to give her a little more freedom.  She likes to have a good hardy roll, and because there is no longer concern about the skin on her back tearing I like to give her that opportunity.  Of course during the early afternoon the sun came out!  I gave it about 20 minutes to retreat, but when it did not I ran over to the barn to put on her sheet.  Suki and Nikki were out past the middle of their field when I pulled in.  Once I got to the gate Suki came running from mid field, calling to me.  It was so cute!  I handed her a treat over the gate, and as I grabbed her lead rope she turned around and ran back out to the field!!  Yesterday I brought them in early so I guess she was not going to take that chance again!  Fortunately when I walked out to get her she came right to me.  Such a character!

Saturday, 9 May, 2015
I really need to be better about my daily journal upkeep.  Sometimes by the time I get to actually write in my blog It is difficult to catch up!  So by making daily notes I should be able to do a weekly blog post.  Especially now that I was crazy enough to set a target date for sitting on Suki again!

Saturdays can be a bit crazy in our house.  Isaiah usually has a riding lesson at 10 followed by hockey.  So I try to get to the barn before 7.  Since I like to have an hour to read, write, knit, after I run and before I ride, this makes for an early Saturday start time. Sometimes I try to stagger the girls' working days so that Saturday I just have to ride Nikki and groom Suki.  Today I needed to work both girls, so I was in a bit of a time crunch. I lunged Nikki yesterday, so I just did a quick lunge to let her stretch and then got on.  She has been great, and adjusting to life back in work.  I have added lateral work back into the routine, and although a little bit of a "memory" issue occurred initially, Nikki rose to the challenge and decided that she did indeed remember!

Suki came out of the gate a little less stiff today, so we got right to work.  Silly me forgot to check the distance of the trot poles, and apparently someone had changed them.  This threw Suki off first time through so she decided to jump them.  I set the poles to suit my big horses and someone changed them to accommodate a smaller horse.  I usually look on my way down the driveway and can tell immediately if they are different, but I was distracted this morning.  You know, all that thinking!!  Once   I changed the distance Suki went through them beautifully.  Transitions were sharp and fairly consistent, though she looked surprised the first time I asked for a trot-halt transition!  But she was ready to move off immediately into trot, as evidenced by the inside ear tipped in my direction.  The girl knows her stuff!

Sunday, 10 May, 2015
Nikki worked today, but Suki had off.  Mother's Day, so I had to get home to make an extravagant brunch.  Suki had her full spa treatment though!

I haven't done the dreaded spiraling exercise with Nikki yet since our spring re-start.  During my years of dressage training it is the exercise that I hated when asked to perform it by my instructors, though I understand and appreciate its merit.  It is also the exercise that I have made students do (when I was doing some teaching, by request) and revel in their agony.  Yes, that is wrong, but as they say, "misery loves company!"  I worked on that today, and though she was a little slow off the leg for the first spiral out, one good thump and the rest were excellent!

Monday, 11 May 2015
Nikki's turn to have off, with just a thorough grooming and some stretching exercises.  Suki was very impatient on the cross ties.  She was even fidgety during stretches.  I kept the grooming brief and performed an abbreviated version of the stretch routine.  Marching out to the arena I sensed pride in each step that she took.  Maybe it was because I usually work Nikki first, and Suki was excited to start the day.  Nikki called to her when we were in the arena but Suki only answered once, then settled into working.  I decided to try spiraling exercise with Suki on the lunge.  Under saddle she used to do huge crossovers for the leg yield out.  On the lunge line it might be a little trickier.  However, it turned out to be a reasonable theory after all!  The spiraling in part just had me going smaller and smaller down to a 10m circle.  Which worked out okay, but I suspect this will be easier in long lines.  To leg yield back out to 20m circle I stepped toward her with the lunge whip pointing to where my leg would sit against her sides.  While the crossover was not big, it was there, and I was pleased.

Wednesday, 13 May, 2015
Beautiful cool and breezy day.  Wonderful riding weather!  Nikki was very vocal on her way to the arena, and many were willing to respond.  I expected her to be a little up, but after a couple of additional calls she settled into work.  She did have very nice energy, so after a few minutes on the lunge I got on.  There was a brief discussion by the mounting block, but other than that we were off to a great start!  I did the spiraling exercise but added a canter transition at the moment we hit the 20m circle mark on the leg yield out.  Nikki has been a little sluggish in the canter transitions so that helps sharpen it up a bit.

I lunged Suki in her new saddle pad that I won from 2-Point Bling.  She looked stunning!

Nikki called to Suki once or twice but surprisingly Suki did not answer!!  Today I asked for trot-halt and halt-trot transitions.  It was a day for sharpening the transitions!!  When Suki stepped into that first square halt from trot she turned her head and looked me in the eye….then faced straight ahead and launched into the trot as soon as I asked.  I would LOVE to know what she was thinking!  After 20 minutes of work she seemed a little tired, which was good.  We are stepping it up a bit and she will need to build fitness.  Though, hmmmm….how fit do I want her the first time I get on her back after 6 years of no rider!  When I removed the surcingle and saddle pad the skin on her back looked fine.  Very pleased!

Thursday, 14 May, 2015

Another day of work for the Suki and Nikki.  After a nice stretchy warm up on Nikki I over on to lateral work.  After about 10 minutes of big stretchy trot serpentines I gradually picked up the reins for more contact.  This method seemed to make her quite soft in the mouth with nice push from behind, resulting in very nice shoulder in.  We worked on leg yielding also and I got a little stuck off my right leg.  Definitely my fault as I seem to be less effective with that leg.  It improved when I dropped my stirrups.  After a series of canter transitions I finished with the big stretchy serpentines and Nikki stretched her nose lost to the ground.

Suki seemed a little stiff today so I had her do a lot of forward canter, which seemed to help.  I didn't ask her for rapid or precise transitions and this seemed to help with the stiffness.

Sean McCarthy (horse dentist) had to come back today to do a re-check on Nikki.  When he did the girls' teeth a month ago Nikki became upset toward the end, so Sean decided to stop at that point and return in a month.  She did need a little more work but became worried rather quickly.  Using a small clip on twitch (not the chain kind…the soft fabric rope type) did the trick.  He was able to finish quickly, and remained in the stall talking to her and rubbing her nose.  Nikki doesn't hold a grudge and was nuzzling him in less than a minute.

Sunday, 17 May, 2015
Warm, humid, buggy.  I guess summer has decided to arrive a little early.  Turnout is even being switched to nights outside and days in.  Usually this happens closer to Memorial Day (last Monday in May, for those outside the US), but the date is not written in stone.  It goes by the temperatures.  Works for me, and the girls will be happier, I'm sure!

Humid or not, it is a work day for Suki and Nikki but at least at 7 AM it is not quite as bad!  I am a bit distracted writing this entry because there is a large red headed woodpecker in the gazebo bird feeder.  On the other side a chipmunk and finch are sharing a bite, one on each side of the feeder.  Bentley is watching (or is he sleeping?) from his stool.
Suki was a little temperamental about having the bridle put on today.  It is the same bit that she has always used but I am back to thinking that perhaps she needs something a little smaller?  Once she was wearing it she seemed okay, but a little fussy, so I kept the work brief.

Tuesday, 19 May, 2015
I caught Suki sleeping in front of her fan!  It was very cute.  Her eyes were closed, lip drooping and forelock blowing in the breeze!  She and Nikki were also pretty muddy.  Apparently there was some good rolling going on after the rain over night!  In spite of the very active rolling, all good on Suki's back.  Sunny today, so Suki will have to go out in her fly sheet later.

I decided to work Suki and Nikki in hand today.  I let them warm up at a trot and canter on the lunge before starting work in hand.  Suki worked first, which I know she loves, and Nikki called to her from the barn.  Turn on the forehand and turn on the haunches both worked well.  There was a little stickiness at first with the turn on the haunches, but I realized that I was not pointing the whip at the correct place.  There is generally no contact with the whip, just pointing.  Sometimes I reinforce with a cluck, and occasionally a light push with the whip handle.  I added a little piaffe at the end, then finished with a brief forward trot on the lunge.  Suki seemed pleased at the end of the work.

Nikki was LAZY!!! this morning.  I had to make her really go forward during the warm up on the lunge.  Of course that resulted in her being hyper sensitive during the in hand part of the training.  But I used it to my advantage and actually got some lovely passage!  As I passaged next to her I tried to determine if she was simply mimicking me!

Thursday, 21 May, 2015
The girls were happily grazing when I arrived at the barn.  They lifted their heads when I called their names but returned to grazing immediately.  So I walked out to grab Suki first and continued to call to Nikki while Suki and I walked to the gate.  She continued to graze until I brought Suki through the gate, then came charging across the field.  So funny.

Today with Nikki I did a lot of trot serpentines beginning with 3 loop then increasing the number of loops and decreasing the size.  Adding walk for 3 steps across centerline made her really pay attention.

Suki was a little fussy in the bridle today again so now I know we need something different.  I am thinking that perhaps the thickness is not the same as what I had been riding her in.  She also had a scratch on her neck.  It's interesting that the skin seems strong, but also sometimes fragile and sensitive to scratches.  It's small, but bright against the dark skin, and does not seem overly sensitive to the touch.

I finally found the Roeckl Solar gloves!  I had bought a pair a few years ago at Gladstone during The Festival of Champions but had been unable to find them in subsequent years.  But SmartPak came through:

Instead of having tan arms and white hands, it will all be the same.  The back panel of the gloves allows sun to penetrate.  I will be wearing sun screen, of course, but a little tanning is to be expected.

And I am SO excited!  The Andreas Hausberger clinic is scheduled by Waltzing Horse Farm training in July.  I was unable to attend in 2014, but my 2013 experience still influences how I ride and train.  Sarah has moved her base to Verona, NY, but it should still be approximately a 5 hour drive.  There was no chance of me getting a riding spot (a long wait list) but auditing with Andreas is an amazing experience and so educational and inspiring!

So training continues, with the usual bumps along the way.  But we continue to march forward toward summer's goals.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Goal for sitting on Suki again: 9 July

With winter blues finally bidding a fond farewell, spring finally seems to be cautiously making its entrance.  In spite a few chilly days (and a snow flurry or two), May began with warm sunshine.  Time to move toward our summer goals, one step at a time...

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Plan for the day: lunge Nikki in full tack, 20 minute lunge for Suki; pull Nikk's mane.

I got started slightly later than originally anticipated (of course).  But in my defense, I was in writing mode and didn't want to stop until I had completed my thoughts.  I find it difficult at times to accomplish everything I would like to each day.  I am trying to make more realistic daily goals.  Today I feel like I was a bit overly ambitious.

I lunged Nikki in full tack as planned.  She worked beautifully.  Nicely forward, good on transitions, though I will admit they could have been better.  I was pleased with the lift that Nikki achieved over the trot poles, though when I changed direction she appeared surprised by their presence!  Pay attention princess!  I finished with leading exercises, rounding out a 30 minute session.

Suki came out of her stall a little stiff behind, so I was hesitant to do too much work with her today.  But it is always best to take a look and see if the horse works out of it.  After all, unbelievably, Suki will turn 15 on May 5th, so a little stiffness after a night n her stall is to be expected.  But I am completely overprotective of my horses and prefer to err on the side of caution.  As suspected, Suki was a little off behind, but worked out of most of it after just a few rounds of trot.  I still played it cautious and opted not to put her through trot poles.  I will contact my preferred lameness guy this week to have him take a look.  It is certainly possible that she needs hock injections, or perhaps her back.  Suki had her back injected in 2009 after extensive diagnostic testing revealed some inflammation.  It made a huge difference for her.  But let's take it one step at a time.  I want her to be able to work comfortably, of course.  And she does love to work.  I also need to be realistic about her back (the skin) and riding.  It holds up well under a surcingle but we have not yet tried a saddle.  In 4 weeks I hope to put a saddle on Suki, just to see how it goes.  Everything that is done will be in her best interest in mind.  I accepted from day one that she would likely be a 1400lb pet.  Suki is the one who showed me that she wanted more.

Nikki's mane did not get done.  After being at the barn for several hours I simply ran out of time.  Another day…. I hate when their manes look like this.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015
Rainy day yesterday so the girls had the day off.  We did some stretches in the barn to ward off any stiffness.  Surprisingly they were quite content, but today it was back to work.  Suki seemed about the same as yesterday to start, but after some forward canter work the stiffness was very slight.  I put her through the trot poles, allowing her to pick the pace and stretch.  In my experience trot poles do a great job of accentuating lameness behind, so it is often a good test.  Once again, no difference, but there is definitely something.  I am opting to continue light work, keeping the lunging on more straight lines rather than smaller circles.

Nikki was a bit sleepy to start this morning.  She had shavings in her forelock and looked like she needed a hit of caffeine to get going!  She did her downward dog stretch twice while on cross ties!  Once we got out to the arena she did a few head twirlies and moved out nicely.  I guess she woke up between the barn and the arena!!

I entered a contest last week for a blinged saddle pad from 2-point bling….and won!  Can't wait to receive it!

Wednesday, 22 April 2015
Some days I just want to sleep in.  Those days are rare for me but they do come up occasionally.  Today was one of those days.  I like to get up at 4:30 for a run then start work at 5.  My team for work is primarily in Europe, so I prefer to start early for reasonable overlap.  I desperately wanted to hit the snooze a second time this morning!

I could hear the girls talking to me as soon as I got out of the car, and they quite happily accepted the ginger snaps that I offered!  It made my sleepiness completely disappear.

After a brief lunge to loosen up I did some in hand work with Suki.  Today was one of those days when Suki anticipated movements, so I really had to change things up a bit.  She likes to take over if she thinks she knows what comes next.  Under saddle she would often do the same thing, especially with lateral work.  It was like an "I got this" attitude!  Once or twice she threw in a head twirly when I would not allow her to do what she thought should come next.  I must admit, I liked the attitude because she really demonstrated a desire to work.  And Suki did respond to what was asked, more promptly once she got over herself!  She is a chestnut mare, after all!

I haven't put the surcingle on yet this year, but I plan to do that next week.  There isn't any real reason to wait, other than I want to just get Suki used to working again.  She seems to be happy to get out into the arena although at times I wish she would contain that happy energy just a little!

Nikki worked in full tack, and my goal with her continues to be just to get her ready to be ridden.  That will be as soon as she has her teeth re-checked by the dentist.  She is tilting her head slightly in the bridle, which is always how she tells me she needs some work on her teeth.  The visit won't take very ing….Sean simply has to finish her back teeth since she became upset toward the end of his last visit a few weeks ago.  It was in her best interest to not push it any more and just follow up in  few weeks.  We didn't just let Nikki get her way.  Sean had worked with her and progressed quite far, giving her breaks.  But at the point we decided to stop she was just getting very upset.  He checked her mouth with his hands to finish the visit on a good note.  It was the appropriate thing to do, although some will always say we should not have backed down.  I am a supporter of the philosophy that you have to know when to stop, but finish on a good note and stress that it was your idea to stop and not the horse.

Thursday, 23 April, 2015
I got out of the car at the barn this morning and thought: "what a beautiful day!"  The sky was bright blue and the air crisp and cold.  Yes, beautiful…..if only it wasn't the end of April!  In fact later that morning the sky turned gray and snowflakes filled the sky.  Suki and Nikki are wearing mid-weight sheets.  That is because all of their heavier clothing has been sent to the blanket lady for clean and repair!  Are we sure it is April??

Friday, 24 April, 2015
Another cold start to the day.  But Suki and Nikki had yesterday off so today they had to work.  Even as I sit here writing this I am cold.  Just one of those days when the cold has gone deep inside.  The birds are happily eating from the feeders outside my window, though a few of them are puffed up to keep out the cold!

Grooming horses always gets me warmed up (well, maybe not so much in those sub zero temperatures!), so once I started to move around I was able to enjoy the soothing sounds of the barn.  Suki was quietly munching on hay, while Nikki searched my pockets for treats as I groomed her.  It was nice to enjoy the serenity of the barn.  Just me and the horses.  It truly is my favorite time of the day.  Just as I lifted my saddle off of the rack Nikki did her downward dog stretch accompanied by a BIG groan!  Stepping outside I think even she was surprised by the chill in the air and slight breeze.  In spite of the chilly morning (or because of it!) Nikki worked beautifully, stepping nicely forward into the contact of the side reins.

Suki stepped out of the barn just as breeze swept past making her puff up and "grow".  Of course she tossed her head and passaged next to me, so about half way to the arena I was questioning my sanity.  I growled at her and set her back to walk and halt several times and she did settle for the most part.  The first few times around on the lunge were at an extended trot, and I let her get it out of her system since she was not leaping or being disobedient.

Saturday, 25 April, 2015
I finally had time to shorten Nikki's mane.  I swear she is the only horse I know that drops her head all the way down and gets droopy lip while having her mane pulled!  I actually have to bend down to do it by the time I get up near her head.  Nikki's mane lies to the left side instead of the right.  I usually pull it after I fold it over to the right side which makes it difficult to gauge how even it is.  Today I decided to not fight nature and do it from the left side.  It was definitely easier that way!!

Earlier this week I won a saddle pad from 2-point bling (now Pippi-dressage paint), which arrived yesterday.  It is so pretty!  I have never had a saddle pad with bling.  Truly befitting the Queen that Suki is!  Here is Suki checking it out.

Sunday, 26 April, 2015
Suki was so distracted today!  She walked quietly out to the arena (well, at least there wasn't any passaging!).  Horses were calling to her, she was answering, twirling her head….anything to not focus on work.  She did eventually settle and work well though.  I was even able to get some nice passes through the trot poles, though I had to spread them to keep up with her stride!  That must very entertaining to watch as I try to keep up with her.

I try to keep lunging interesting and not stressful on the joints, so I can't wait to add long lining into the mix.  I wonder if she will remember how to do it?  Once she sees me fumbling with the lines until I get used to it again I am sure she will remember!

Friday, 1 May, 2015
Wow!  May 1 already.  In just a few days (5 May) Suki will turn 15.  In August we will have been together for 12 years.  How crazy is that!

The week of 27 April was crazy busy with work and family obligations.  But I managed to get some lunging in, and some very nice work out of both girls.

July 9 marks 6 years since the fire.  So now I have become obsessed with the goal of getting on Suki again: July 9th.  I think it is a realistic goal if everything points to her tolerating a saddle, and the long lining with side reins.  It seems to me that it would be a fitting date to aim for.

Saturday, 2 May, 2015
Interesting day today.  Nikki worked well in saddle and side reins, so tomorrow I will get on her.  Now for the past two years I have had Louise have the honors of riding Nikki after her winter off.  But she has injured her neck.  So I have to suck it up and do it myself.  I shouldn't even really be worried.  Nikki will most likely not care, and in spite of self doubts, I am a capable rider.  Louise is always my voice of reason when I worry about horse things, and she kindly offered to be there when I get on.  It's something I need to do on my own.

Suki came out of her stall super stiff.  I decided to lunge her any way to see if she would work out of it a bit.  Those first few steps looked bad, but then she was fine.  She was light and forward and quick to respond to directives.

While I was in the tack room a boarder that arrived last autumn came in.  I had met her daughter but not her.  She introduced herself and said  "I own X and X".  I introduced myself and identified my horses.  Her response: "OH, that poor bald horse!"  "I feel so sorry for her!"  I explained that she was in a fire, which she apparently knew, but continued going on about the "poor horse".  Again, I explained that she has fully healed, and is happy and healthy.  As she continued her rant I walked out of the tack room.

Sunday, 3 May 2015
Perfect day.  Lovely morning for a ride!  I lunged Nikki for about 10 minutes then brought her to the mounting block.  She turned around and looked at me in surprise, but I got on and off we went.  It was great to be back in the saddle after a long winter off!  I felt my entire body relax as I settled into the saddle and put my legs gently on Nikki's sides.  It's all good!

Suki came out stiff again, but worked out of it nicely.  Walk-trot-canter.  Nikki called to her a couple of times and only once did I see Suki's nostrils flicker in a silent response!

My beautiful girls…..