Tuesday, September 11, 2012


Life has changed a lot for Little Love since I visited this blog last.  In the beginning of June this year, she finally moved to an open barn to live with other horses 24/7.  Although this place is situated slightly off the beaten track, it was the best thing that could have happened to her.  Living in this sort of an environment meant more freedom, more autonomy.  No more stalls, no more feeding times - this is as close as a horse can get to freedom while living in our modern world.

This barn is managed by a good friend of mine and her gelding Veller and Little Love hit it off immediately.  It was as if they had known each other for decades - and perhaps they had, in another life.  The two horses settled in to the new place immediately, eating in the fields at night and resting in the open barn during the hottest time of the day.

During the course of the past year and a half Little Love has gone through a complete character transformation and this last bit of freedom allowed her to show me yet another side of her.  The gratitude and cooperation and kindness that emanates from my mare is overwhelming; she obviously loves her life.  In addition, the truth has set me free as now I am completely certain that this is how horses should be living; with their own kind, free to move and to manage their own lives as much as possible.  

There were some hardships as well; allergic reactions to bugs, hooves wearing down too much, too fast and a freak-accident that landed Little Love into the horse clinic in Helsinki for three days.  But, despite the slight bumps in the road, this move was the right thing for Little Love. And for me.

Last spring brought some changes to my own situation as well.  Together with the rest of my family, we made the decision to move back to the US, where were left seven years ago.  Although I know this decision will eventually be the best one for my family, I made it with a heavy heart as I knew it would mean leaving Little Love behind.  After seeing her in her current life and knowing what it would take to haul her across the ocean to California, I knew I would never be selfish enough to put her through such a journey.  Her home is now in Finland, with Veller and his owner and with Melissa, of course.  Little Love's story will continue with my best friend, to whom I know she will bring wisdom and joy and peace.

I will see Little Love again next summer, but until then, her and I will be connected through the energy of the world.  Love is like that, it doesn't need a certain time or place to grow and bloom, it is everywhere, all the time, if that is how we choose to live it.  There was a time when I thought I could never physically part from Little Love, I needed her presence so badly.  I admit, the distance has been difficult at times.  But then I close my eyes and I can feel her wisdom, her support.  She is still there for me, even if we are half a world apart.  She has taught me so much and now she is teaching me how to love without depending. I am taking this lesson in stride.

Veller and Little Love
Melissa and Little Love

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Looking back, looking forward

Exactly a year ago today I became the owner of the singing black mare also known as Little Love.  Since then I have not only been writing this blog weekly, but also kept a barn diary, in which I noted our every day trials and tribulations.  Here is what I wrote on the very first page:

8.January 2011
Today I became a horse owner.  I'm at the same time both freaked out and excited.  I'm afraid my expectations are too high, but the sensible part of me knows that this will probably be one of the hardest, but most enlightening journeys of my entire life.  Tomorrow I'm moving Little Love to her new home.  I have no idea what will happen after that...
Let the adventure begin!

Well, it has been an adventure and it certainly has been hard and enlightening, so I got that part right.  My expectations were high, yes, but I really had no idea what to expect.  Did I ever really understand how much a horse can and will change when given the right to have opinions, when allowed to live with other horses, when not forced or yelled at or punished?  No.  I think if there is one thing this past year has given me, it has opened my eyes to understanding how humans oppress horses and how this oppression changes the very being of the horse, inside and outside.  Little Love is not the same horse she was a year ago.  She used to be a shadow, a shell of a  (often misbehaving) horse and now she is the real horse, a wise and kind animal with an exceptional soul.  I believe there are still more changes to come, but these changes require her to live and operate in an even more natural environment with as little human intervention as possible.  I hope I will be able to provide that for her down the road, it is definitely my goal.

Last year, when I came back from my holiday in the US, I was met by a frantic horse standing prisoner in her stall.  The whites of her eyes were showing, her face was tense and pained and she looked like she would jump out of her skin any moment.  This was the horse I put in a trailer the next day to start our new life together.

This year was different.  After being gone for over two weeks, I came back relaxed and rested.  I was met by an equally relaxed and rested horse, who was visibly happy to see me!  Melissa made it to the barn before me on my first morning back and when she went to get Little Love from the paddock, she came to the gate over the frozen ground confidently, as if she knew today was the day her other person was coming home.  And of course she knew, since she knows everything better than us humans do.  When to the barn in my car, I could see her head from far away as she stood looking down the road, waiting for me.  The joy of seeing her again, of being able to be in her company, filled me completely.  We were both smiling.

Since I have been back we have finally gotten some snow and I was able to take Lilo on a long walk/ride in the woods with Vicky and her owner.  The horses, who have been suffering from the stormy weather and icy conditions, were overjoyed to be moving.  We walked to the end of the road and then trotted up the hill to the lake, where we let the horses go at the canter.  Lilo was so excited that I thought I would completely loose her in the process, but despite a few bucks and accelerations, I managed to hang on somehow.  We walked back with steam rising off our horses and I swear Lilo was smiling again, she was so content.  She really needed to just let go and run a bit.

This morning the weather was pretty cold (-16 Celsius which is 3 degrees Fahrenheit) and since I have jet lag like you wouldn't believe it, I was up early enough to make it to the barn before the sun came up. Here are some pictures from my walk with Lilo in the cold and crisp winter morning as the sun was rising over the trees.  Bbbbrrrrrrrrrr...
Wooly Mammoth
Sun rising over the field
Walking down the road
What a journey it has been so far and it's far from being over.  I thank all of you who have hung in there and read this blog, commented on it and given us support through thick and thin.  Couldn't have done it without you all <3  Unfortunately because of time constraints, I am fairly sure I will not be writing this blog as much in 2012 as I have in the past, but Melissa and I might pop in every now and then to give an update.  I have decided to take time to focus on my writing on a different level this year and therefore have to put some "projects" on the back burner.  This, of course, does not mean I won't be hanging out with Little Love several times a week - there is always time for my Zen Master!

Here is one more picture of Little Love, looking into the future, as I would like to see it with my human brain.  She, of course, was probably just looking at a car driving on the road on the other side of the field :-)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Can the weather get worse?

I guess the theme for this holiday season at the barn has been the weather: how many different difficult scenarios can nature throw at us during one two-week period? :-) I am so sorry for our barn owner, who has had to deal with the logistics of four horses throughout this ugly season we are having. And while the gale force winds have not returned, we have continued to have milder wind storms over the last week. But even though we humans are pleased that the winds are not strong enough to continue blowing trees onto our roads and buildings, I'm not sure the horses are comforted by this when they continue to be pounded with winds day after day. This week, the temperature turned cold again (temporarily at least), and the ground froze in the paddock again. Then on top of this, we got over ten centimeters of snow dumped on us in just a couple of hours on Monday.

Poor Little Love is starting to show the effects of all this stress and standing around on hard, uneven ground (and the other horses as well). In fact, on Monday, while the other horses went into the paddock for the day, Little Love stayed alone in the small walkway next to the paddock, because she couldn't walk into the paddock. The hard ground just causes her too much pain in her feet. But she is able to be near the other horses there, and I can see that the other three do spend a lot of time near her, so she doesn't mind this.

Since I wrote last, we have been on a long walk in the sun - yes, New Year's Day was beautiful for about half the day, which meant everyone and literally their dog were on our road walking and driving. Our walk culminated in an encounter with a two-seater baby stroller flanked by a lady walking with Nordic walking sticks (click click click goes the sound on the road) and a little girl who was either just jumping around her dad or actually playing with a jump rope. Either way, Little Love decided at this point that we needed to head home, and I agreed. :-) Our next outing was actually a ride/walk in the forest with Viki and her owner while the ten-centimeters of snow were coming down on us. We left a dark and grey barn to return to a winter wonderland. Little Love was great on the trails and seemed happy to be out and moving around with her friend.

Which brings me to yesterday, when we did a trek back and forth on our barn road (the stress has made her reluctant to leave the barn and her friends again) before the trimmer came to do Little Love's hooves. The condition of her hooves continues to improve, although not as rapidly as the trimmer would like. :-) But we noticed yesterday that Little Love is starting to be stiff in her back end. The trimmer noticed it already when she was working on Lilo's hooves, and I could see it as well in the way she was standing: she is holding her back end up tightly and rigidly, and it originates all the way from the rear part of her flank area. And after the trim, I did her stretches before putting her into the paddock and found that she was especially tight in the right hind. I talked to the barn owner about it, and she said that all the horses are super stiff. We are thinking it is probably from standing around and moving so carefully and tensely on the frozen ground in the paddock. And I'm sure it doesn't help that we have had such high winds so many nights, and the horses are probably not sleeping well. Hopefully the weather will get better soon, so we either have enough snow to cover up and cushion the frozen ground or then the ground itself can thaw and soften. Unfortunately, it doesn't look promising at the moment. (Today it is raining, but I also just heard that the road to the barn is so slippery and messed up that we have to leave our cars about half a kilometer away!) In the meantime, I will get Little Love out of the paddock as often as I can, because at least during that time I know she is moving naturally and can relax on some level, even if she is just standing next to me.

I'm happy that K will be home in a couple of days! :-)

-- Melissa

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Weather turns serious

On Sunday, Little Love and I took a luxurious and long walk with the barn owner and Kira. We learned a new path into the forest that leads to a nearby lake. It was great to learn about new paths and forests, and I am looking forward to exploring this area more with Little Love. I wish I had had my camera with me, because any words I try to use cannot do justice to the beauty of this evergreen forest with its mossy floor strewn with granite rocks. I was very proud of Little Love, because the paths (old logging roads, I think) were completely frozen in some places, and she had to carefully choose her path to keep her back legs from sliding out from under her. She is learning to be very good at this, and she is listening to me for assistance and guidance as well! :-)

This has been an eventful week at the barn - and in Finland in general. A huge wind storm blew in very early Monday morning, and the wind speeds got so high that we had warnings in our region to stay indoors and avoid driving. Over 200 thousand homes were without power due to the large number of enormous trees that fell on power lines, and this included our barn. Our water comes from a well and is pumped to the surface via electricity, so power outage = no water. Luckily, the Finnish power companies had seen this coming and prepared by having extra workers on hand (some things work unbelievably well in Finland!), so the power was restored at the barn by late afternoon. (Not everyone was so lucky: I just read before writing this that in more rural areas there are still people without power today on Wednesday. Luckily we are having unseasonably warm weather and not our usual late December freezes.)

Unfortunately for K's friend Marjo, Monday was the day she had signed up to visit Little Love. Poor Marjo and her pre-teen daughter were trying to deal with washing the mud from Little Love's legs and grooming her while she was jumping around high as a kite when the power and water went out. Luckily, the mother-daughter duo seem to be adventurous types, because they dealt with it beautifully. They ended up having to put Little Love back in her stall, and I guess they just started looking around for what they could do to help. I had put Lilo's front boots on her to go into the paddock the day before, because the ground at that point was still frozen, hard and uneven. But later in the day, it got unusually warm, the ground turned to mush, and the boots got sucked off Lilo's feet. Apparently they ended up buried quite deep, but Marjo and daughter trekked into the muddy paddock (during this massive wind storm, no less), hunted them down, and dug them out. And apparently, they really enjoyed this whole adventure! :-) Huge thanks to Marjo for cleaning the boots and getting them back to the barn so quickly!!

Luckily and miraculously, no trees fell in the immediate barn area. But, the horses spent most of the day indoors, and, with the added stress of what must have been very frightening noises outside, I knew that Little Love would probably be in a "special" state of mind when I went to the barn on Tuesday. The horses were still in their stalls eating breakfast when I arrived, and Lilo did look as if she hadn't gotten much sleep the night before. I decided it would probably be best for her to go on outside with her herd and spend some time with them before I tried to drag her away from the barn and her friends. So I hung around and helped with the mucking. At one point, the barn owner yelled for me to look at Lilo. She had placed herself in the softest area in the middle of the paddock, and she was rolling on her back very contentedly. Then she jumped up, ran/slid across the muddy paddock, did a few bucks and kicked in the general direction of another horse. She definitely had some nervous energy to get out!

When I did take her out of the paddock for some activity with me, the whole herd literally ran to the gate to come with us. :-) Since it was close to lunch time anyway, we decided with the barn owner to just let everyone come on inside. During the morning, a new storm had started to blow in, so the wind was picking up again. But it wasn't too bad, and Little Love stood calmly next to the barn while I washed her feet and legs. All went well, and we headed out. I knew she had that nervous energy to get rid of, so I decided we would go to the small gravel parking lot nearby, and I would lunge her at trot for a while. She walked most of the way fine with me, but as we got closer, the wind started to pick up more and we could hear large gusts coming from the other side of the nearby forest. Lilo decided she wanted to go home, but I managed to get her to the parking lot. She got really mad at me when I asked for trot (as if to say "Are you kidding? You want to play around with this nonsense when there is danger so close by?!"), but I persevered and we were able to do some good trot work. She was irritated at me the whole time and looking around warily (I can't blame her for that with those loud and powerful gusts), but still I could see how good she felt in the movement. She wasn't comfortable enough to go long with her head down and back stretched out, but she kept stretching it down and forward over and over again for short stretches, releasing the tension that she probably had in her back.

After the lunging, I would like to have gone for a long walk away from the barn, but since Lilo so adamantly wanted to head back, I decided we would walk near the barn instead. With the wind picking up more and more each minute, even this proved to be quite difficult. I think she was suffering both from a mild case of being herd-bound (from being in her stall so much the day before) as well as simple fear (and old fearful memories?) of the wind. What I took away as a success for myself, however, was that I am able to rationalize what she was going through and realize that this will not affect our relationship going forward. Meaning, in the past, I would have thought "Oh no, this is how she is going to be with me form now on, and I will never be able to take a good walk with her again". But from my experiences with Little Love, I have learned that sometimes circumstances can be temporary, and the best thing to do is deal with them and let them go. The next time I go there, I will have no expectations (or only positive ones) and then deal with what comes, and I am sure we will get back to our nice, calm walks and rides. As horses do, I will try to "deal with it and go back to grazing".

The storm continued all yesterday afternoon and it seems more trees fell and more homes are again without power. I should take some pictures outside my apartment building, because here in the city it looks like post-Armageddon with so many huge evergreens lying on their sides every which way. But today it is calm, warm(-ish), and the sun is shining. Little Love will have a day off today, so I hope this sunshine lasts and we can take a warm walk in the sun tomorrow!

-- Melissa

Friday, December 23, 2011

Weather woes continue

Our weather was colder still this morning, although now it is getting warmer again this afternoon - go figure. So we had to go without the back boots again due to the hill and slippery roads. But the front boots with their spikes (is that the right word?) are awesome!! And Little Love seemed to be ok without the back boots now when I was not on her back at all.

Lilo seemed a bit stiff when I took her out of her stall this morning, but moved fine once we got going. It was so hard and frozen yesterday in the paddock, I'm guessing she didn't move much and probably very tensely when she did. Today the horses went in pairs to the smaller paddocks, and Little Love was so reluctant to move on the hard, uneven ground that we decided with the barn owner to leave her old front boots on in the paddock as well. She was happily eating hay when I left, but I hope she doesn't stand in that one spot all afternoon.

Today we did a good one-hour walk and a few long stretches of trot. Lilo did a slower trot, so I think her feet were a bit tender, but she seemed happy to be moving. So I gave her the freedom to decide when to trot and when to stop.

I've been nervous about taking care of Little Love by myself for over two weeks - scared that I would not be able to do a good enough job. I've never owned a horse myself, so I have always been more of a backup person carrying out the necessary regimen rather than primarily responsible for the regimen. And it seems, in Finland, we have to deal with some extra concerns due to our weather. I grew up in Oklahoma, and there a horse will literally survive physically if you just turn it out in a field somewhere - and many people do just that! ( I used to think this was horrible neglect, but maybe those horses are the happiest?)

But anyway, the point I want to make is how much I am enjoying spending this extra time with Little Love. And I have learned so much more than I ever knew about what horses need physically and emotionally. I continue to be amazed by what a horse can really be, and I love working on my relationship with her! I think her trust in me is growing, although it is still nowhere near what she has with K. Sometimes I feel bad about this, but on the other hand, how can I expect her to trust someone she has really only known a few months as much as someone she has known for a few years? I wouldn't completely trust someone that quickly either! But no matter, it is so fun to learn about trust with horses and how important it is in what they are willing to do (and where they are willing to go) with you.

-- Melissa

Thursday, December 22, 2011

It's fairly cold at the moment, and the snow that fell a couple of days ago and melted immediately at my house had not melted at the barn. The top of the big hill is frozen again, and we have no other passage away from the barn. Luckily, the sides are still passable, but I had to leave Little Love's back boots off today. It seems like this may be an ongoing dilemma for the foreseeable future: having to leave the boots off to get down the hill and away from the barn but unable to do much trot (which I know she really likes to do) due to the boots being off.
It's supposed to be below freezing but clear for a couple of days now, so we may have to just walk in-hand until it either (a) warms up enough to get rid of the slippery-ness or (b) snows enough to go without the boots. Hopefully something will change one way or the other!

Today, Little Love and I set out for a ride with the barn owner and Kira, and we planned to go for about an hour if Lilo's feet could take it without her back boots. Unfortunately, Kira didn't seem to be feeling well, and we ended up back at the barn in only 35 minutes (of which, I rode about 15 minutes). Since the ground was frozen and quite hard, I could also tell that Lilo's back feet were feeling tender, because she was walking very slowly and picking her path carefully. So it was fine with me to come back early.

(On a side note, Little Love is getting to be really good at standing patiently while I climb onto strange rocks to hoist my inflexible body into the saddle. For now, we always go to the same place for me to mount, so I think I need to start scoping out other rocks as well. Either that, or work on my flexibility! :-) )

Back at the barn, I thought I would put the back boots on and go lunge her at trot up by the mailboxes - we don't need to descend the slippery hill to get there. In this way, I thought, she could move a bit more if she wanted. Unfortunately, we were barely able to walk away from the barn much less do any lunging, because the back boots were just so slippery. We have just enough snow to create a slippery layer of powder everywhere.

So we carefully walked to the mailboxes and back, took the back boots off AGAIN and went out for a bit more walk - just to the parking lot at the bottom of the big hill and back. At least this was what I told Little Love we were going to do, but as we got close to our stated destination, I changed the rules and decided we should walk still further. But Lilo was not having it! I think she knew that the other horses were just about to go out to the paddock, plus she probably felt like she had already given me enough of her patience with this back and forth to the barn, taking boots on and off, etc, etc. But once again, my deeply embedded old lessons about "being the boss" and "not letting the horse get away with things" started to set in, and I persisted. We were about to start "arguing" when I realized that this was silly - I had told Lilo what we were going to do, she had complied very graciously and patiently, and I, very ungratefully, pushed her to do more. Luckily, I was able to get my silly ideas in check, and we turned around and walked home.

I stuck around the barn a bit to help out with some of the mucking and filling the water buckets, and I got a special treat of seeing Little Love standing in the middle of the paddock under a tree fast asleep. She looked so peaceful and content. Ironically, my mind was thinking about how nice it would be for Lilo to be in a bigger pasture with more space to run and be more like a wild horse. It seems, as humans, we always want a little more than what we have. But at that moment, Little Love opened her eyes, licking and chewing, and looked at me as if to say, "Yeah, but this is pretty great here, isn't it?" And she is so right!

-- Melissa

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

K is away for a couple of weeks for a family Christmas vacation, so Little Love and I are on our own for a while. Please bear with me as I also utilize the blog to keep her up to date on what is going on at the barn. Hopefully I don't bore everyone too much with all the mundane details! :-)

Today was another rainy one, but luckily as I pulled up to the barn there was a break in the precipitation. After gathering all the grooming equipment and boots, I took Lilo out of her stall. The horses had been separated into two smaller paddocks last week, and yesterday they had been reunited in the big paddock. They were happy to be together again, but some re-assessing and re-organization of the herd seemed necessary to them with a little kicking involved. We were afraid Lilo had been on the receiving end of one of these kicks, so I was happy to see that there were no cuts on her legs and she seemed totally sound.

We did a one-hour semi-power walk. Little Love was a bit reluctant to leave the barn (the other horses were still in their stalls at this point, which probably contributed to this hesitation), but once we got going she offered her nice big walking stride. I love to walk when her when she is ready to go like this. At one point, we were coming to the top of a small rise which ends at a crossroad just as a bicycle zoomed by in front of us. We caught just a glimpse of the rider's helmet and the top of the bike. As Little Love raised her head high and spread her eyes wide, I was again struck by the many things we take for granted, as humans, that horses should just accept. But she probably caught such a quick glance of this that she had no idea what it was, and judging from the way it glided by, she probably couldn't fit it into any of her mental boxes of safe encounters. Being a flight animal, why shouldn't she react quickly and strongly? Luckily, her trust in me has grown enough to overcome a short, quiet encounter like this, and she followed me to continue on our way.

At the end of our walk, I decided to take her into the small gravel parking lot to give her the opportunity to move a little more if she wanted. I asked for trot, and she gave me some. But because I hadn't taken a longer lunge line with me, she got irritated at me being too close to her (this is a pet peeve of hers). So we did a little trot, played a little "chase the human" at trot to give her the chance for some more movement, and then walked on home.

After some final grooming and stretching, Little Love was ready to go back into the herd and hang out with her friends. It is such a wonderful feeling not to put a horse back into a stall or a postage stamp-sized paddock to stand around by itself all day! :-)

-- Melissa