Monday, August 31, 2015

Suki Continuing to Work Under Saddle and Learning About Contact Again

Sitting on Suki for the first time since the fire was so surreal.  A big goal, but not the end of the story.  In fact, just the beginning.  The beginning of what, I have no idea.  The next goal is to trot while sitting on her.  It is similar to starting a young horse under saddle yet also very different.  When you sit on a young horse for the first time they have very little history. Clean slate.  You bring them along slowly and carefully as they are prepared for a rider.  That first time you swing your leg over their back and settle in the saddle is sometimes unnerving for a young horse.  Suddenly you are physically at a higher level than their head,  and there are legs touching their sides with extra weight on their back.  When prepared thoughtfully for this day the reaction is typically minimal.  The handful of horses that I have started under saddle were quite nonchalant when I sat on them for the first time.  Suki, also, was quite unfazed when I sat on her the first time.  Of course this time we have history.  The training meltdown from when the BNT I was riding with pushed Suki to much as a young horse (yes, I knew better and should have questioned it).  Then Heather Mason to the rescue and finally helping us get through it.  Those months just before the fire saw so much progress, sealing our bond and partnership and a promise of a future.

Of course the fire changed everything physically for Suki, though mentally she seems to have come through with her usual determination.  The physical challenge of returning to the saddle comes with numerous complications.  The lack of hair on her back with just skin (scarred skin) between Suki and the saddle.  Lameness/stiffness.  Suki is 15 now and has some associated arthritis and perhaps unknown injury from her jaunt in the night with Whisby over several miles of roads and fields.  So this "first time" ride came with a bit of anxiety.  My greatest concern with sitting on Suki was her back.  How would it feel to her without that extra layer of hair?  Would the small amount of movement and extra weight cause harm to her skin?  Would she remember that she had experienced having a rider on her back?  So many questions, so many concerns.  I knew it was time, though.  Our preparation was appropriate and complete.  What was I waiting for??

One thing I noticed during that first ride was lack of steering, which is understandable.  It HAS been 6 years!  For the next ride I had Louise with me again, and I definitely was much less apprehensive putting my foot in the stirrup!  Louise led me around the arena, letting me out on the lunge a little at times while I tried to navigate up there a little bit more!  We also worked on walk-halt transitions….those all important brakes!  She actually did well with that.  Certainly better than the steering!  Suki was really very good about all of it though a little fussy in the bridle.  I have her in a very mild 3 piece KK snaffle, which is what she had been ridden in before the fire and also what I ride Nikki in.  She didn't fuss with it on the lunge without side reins so I believe it has to do with understanding contact again.  I am pretty quiet with my hands, plus I haven't even really taken up much contact.

Awhile ago I had started to work Suki in side reins to get her used to contact and to see how movement of the surcingle affected the skin on her back.  After doing that for awhile I stopped using the side reins, then moved onto the saddle.  I was so focused on how she reacted to having a saddle on her back again, and how it affected the skin on her back that I kind of forgot about the contact situation.  So after the first ride I added side reins to the surcingle again and moved her forward.  As she moved into the slight resistance of the side reins she set her chin briefly then relaxed into a soft contact, a flash of recognition and relaxation in her eyes.  It was so lovely to see a flicker of the old Suki, looking like a dressage horse, relaxed and soft, moving forward.  Of course she currently does not have the strength to maintain this so we keep the sessions short, to rebuild muscling and strength.

Following the second ride I started using long lines again.  I had learned to use long lines at BHF and found it to be a great training tool.  Using long lines as opposed to lunging actually allows you to feel both sides of the horse's mouth, and for the horse to feel contact on both sides simultaneously, as they do with a rider.  Admittedly, I am a little rusty with this….  For the first attempt I lunged her for 10 minutes in side reins then switched to long lines.  Suki patiently stood while attached the long lines into place then proceeded to untangle them (I believe she was laughing at me silently, judging by the bemused look on her face!).  Of course once I got that all straightened out we proceeded at the walk.  In a circle at first than moving around the arena a bit.  Of course there were times that she almost walked up onto the grassy hill beside the arena.  I was able to guide her quickly away before could march up the hill to the grass!  There is a fence around the entire arena, so the hill is inside the fence which would have kept us from getting into TOO much trouble….but it was preferable to stay away from that area.  I didn't walk behind her this time because we are both acclimating to the long lines again.  Well, me more than Suki!  I tried to a bit more steering by doing true bend counter bend on a large circle.  That worked fairly well as I was able to get a bit of movement and feel on her mouth.  A little fussiness in the bridle, so I am going to have to rethink the bit for sure.  She had her teeth done in May, so is not due for a recheck until November.  It's not terrible.  Suki is not grabbing it and grinding and such.  Just not quite as soft and accepting as usual.

Continuing with this post I am sitting outside with a glass of wine, enjoying a lovely, cool early evening.  probably the last for at least a week, with temperatures expected to rise just over 90 with humidity.  A doe with her twins just walked across the hill above my house, pausing briefly to consider me then continuing to graze without concern.

Nikki is working reasonably well, but my crazy schedule has limited our time to lunging, with riding days thrown in whenever available.  Since I lunge as a training tool, incorporating transitions, exercises and trot poles into each session, it is a thinking, working training time.  When in the saddle Nikki has been relaxed for the most part, but she gets a little temperamental during her heat cycle.  I was trying her off the bi-weekly depo injection, but she definitely needs it!  For me I have been working on sitting straighter in the saddle as I tend to collapse a hip, which lends to my difficulty in right half pass.  Uggh!  I think I need some lunge lessons to focus on me!

Friday was a lovely, cool morning!  Final presentation for client in India at 7 AM went beautifully.  Feeling much more relaxed.  Several new projects starting but that BIG one is finished except for any questions that may arise (these will be relatively easy to address).  I couldn't get to the barn until midday, and the humidity is definitely climbing.  I worked Suki first, lunging in saddle and side reins.  Stiff to start with reasonable improvement.  Canter work was nice though it started with a big buck and squeal….then head toss and leap that would have made Jenny Any proud (she was the queen of airs above the ground!  Some days I miss her so much my heart aches).  I laughed when she did this because it seemed to be less disobedience and more like uncontrollable joy (though I was thankful to have not been sitting on her back at the time!!!  So silly and such fun.  Of course then I growled at her to make her listen!  Suki went right back to work.  She just needed to express herself!  I always put Suki through trot poles and today I asked for a halt right after.  The first time she had 3 or 4 walk steps, but next time halted on a dime.  Then she turned her head to look at me, head cocked, ears forward.  so funny!

Nikki was a little nervous to start, though I don't really know why.  She relaxed after a few minutes on the lunge.  I decided not to connect the side reins and to just do a brief stretchy warm up before getting on.  I was already hot from working Suki and Nikki seemed ready.  She doesn't need a long lunge warm up.  I mainly do it to allow her to stretch her legs and through her back.

Long lining Suki continues to progress, fussiness decreasing, my skills improving.  The steering is
getting better and I am trying to soften her mouth (long distance!).  We are a work in progress.  There is no hurry, though I realize to many that seems I am moving at glacial pace!  It feels like that  to me as well, but with hectic schedules that is reality.  Ironically, once school starts for Isaiah (tomorrow, Sept 1) I think I will be able to get back into a better routine.

Each time Suki wears a saddle or surcingle I check the skin on her back.  So far everything seems to be fine.

Sunday was another cool morning so when I arrived at the barn at 6:15 the girls were not running to the gate!  I set the trot poles again hoping they would make their way down the field, which they did.

I rode Nikki first and she was initially distracted by the mare in the field across from the arena (the one who nearly killed us during last week's ride!).  V came running across the field as I led Nikki from the barn, but the settled to eat grass fairly quickly.  She called to Nikki a couple of times but Nikki did not answer.  This was a major improvement over last week when the mare was running and screaming, and Nikki was a little crazed!  But this week was much better and Nikki settled nicely into her work.  She was a little too on the forehand for the right lead canter so I did several transitions between trot and canter to set her back on her hind end.  This resulted in a really lovely canter to walk transition, which I finished with

Suki had great lunging/long lining session in the arena!  We worked quite a bit on changing direction and taking the right rein, which is my weakness.  I have the short lunge whip now, because on Friday while I was setting the trot poles, Miss Suki was standing on the tip of the rod portion of the lunge whip.  Not realizing this I tried to pull it along with me and SNAP!  I forgot to buy another while at the tack shop on friday afternoon.  And I LOVED my pink lunge whip!  We did a bit of trot, though I did not change direction while she was trotting.  I asked for some counter bend and true bend in each direction though and accidentally got a bit of shoulder in!

The most important thing is that we are making progress.  I will be getting on Suki again this week and we will continue to work on steering.  I will be moving the girls to a new barn toward the end of September.  The barn manager was one of Suki's nurses while she was in ICU at New Bolton, so that is a fun twist! There is a round pen which I am looking forward to using, and an indoor arena so we can train through the winter.  Change is always difficult, but I am excited about making new friends and not having training limited by weather conditions (unless of course I can't get there because of weather!).  We have been at the current barn for several years so I will certainly miss the friends that I have made while there.

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