Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Day 81 My accomplice

Becky likes to ride around three in the afternoon every day.  Which is okay, as it goes well with my schedule which usually revolves around picking up my child from school.  The only thing that bugs me about this arrangement is the fact that if the horses come in after 2 pm, they only get to be out about 5 hours total.  However, now that we have day light past 8 pm. I have been working on Becky to agree to let the horses back out after her ride.  She hasn't exactly agreed to this idea, as she feels that the two horses are fine in their stalls ("tucked in for the night" as she calls it)  I tried to explain to her that Little Love really needs to be moving as much as possible for the sake of her feet, but it hasn't really convinced Becky - so far. 

But, now I have an accomplice in my mission to get more pasture time for the horses:  Col. 

Today, when Becky was brushing him in the area behind the barn she uncharacteristically had him lose.  Usually she ties him on the side of the barn where the rings are, but I'm thinking my example has made some sort of impression and she is now attempting the "free grooming".  She brought out some hay to make sure Col stayed put.  But Col, being Col, had none of it and ran off back into the field (the gate was open).  Becky collected him and brought him back.  She closed the gate, but as soon as she resumed the brushing, Col walked off and went to the gate to stare at the pasture.  This happened three times. 

I was mucking Little Love's stall and when I came out with the wheelbarrel  and saw Col standing at the gate,I said:

"Is he trying to tell you he wants to go back into the field?"

:-) Yep, I know, but I couldn't help it.  Such a perfect opportunity to bring that up.  And Col was wanting back into the field.

Becky went off on her ride and Little Love and I soaked the hooves (yay, we soaked the right hind for ten minutes today, first time she accepted hind foot soaking for more than 30 seconds and didn't break any buckets!).  She seemed more tender on all four today, especially on hard ground.  Sigh.  We walked in the arena exactly 30 loops which took exactly 30 boring minutes.  In the meanwhile Becky and Col came back from their hack and Col was delivered into his stall.  In his stall where he commenced to scream to Little Love every three minutes or so (have I mentioned that he sounds like an elephant? :-) 

Finally, after the 30th lap, Little Love and I stopped walking.  I took Little Love to the back pasture gate, because I thought it would be nice to eat some grass and walk back through the soft pasture rather than the hard parking lot. Right when I was about to close the gate behind us, I heard hoofsteps on asphalt.  It was Col who has busted out of his stall by pushing through the chain across the door!  He ran into the arena and showed us a few bucks.  Becky followed, holding a leadrope.  She'd been making tea for us in the kitchen, talking on the phone to her friend, when she saw her horse pass by the window.  That phone call ended fast!

I let Little Love go in the pasture, where she ran back and forth on the fenceline, while Col bucked and reared on the other side in the arena.  It was obvious he would not let anyone catch him, so I opened the gate to the pasture and in he went (I swear he was smiling as he passed me!). 

The horses were overjoyed to be united.  And I was worried about Little Love's feet?  She didn't look too sore to me... Here is a picture of them running:

Note my other dog in the lower right corner.  She was digging in the pasture and was surprised by the two horses cantering by, poor thing. 

What I like about Becky is that she doesn't freak out when horses run.  I have known so many people during my life who can't handle running horses, but she is not one of them.  In fact, she likes to see them run!  By the time they were done going back and forth, we were both smiling.  In the end, we got our teas from the kitchen and went into the pasture to sit and watch our two horses graze and be horses. Col rolled, of course, and Becky just shook her head.  She can handle the running horse, but the dirty horse is another story.   I swear Col knows this and makes sure to roll at every opportunity he gets (especially when he has no blanket). 

So, the two horses got some extra pasture time today.  When I left at 5:30 pm, they were still out there.  Thank you Col!  :-)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Pictures of right hind foot

I talked to Claudia about the hematoma and she said: "Hematoma in the frog from trimming? I don’t think so. There may be some bruising, but it is hardly from the last trimmer." 
She didn't see anything in the picture and neither do I.  However, something is going on with that foot because Little Love is definitely walking carefully on it.  There are times when she sort of stumbles from the sudden pain she feels in the foot (not every step, but just sometimes on hard ground).

On the left is the "before" picture of the sole of the right hind, on the right is the "after" pictures.  I'm sorry, I don't know why they downloaded sideways, I couldn't figure out how to change that (if someone knows how to fix it, let me know)

This trimmer doesn't seem to believe in trimming the bars much, although in this particular foot she did more than in others.  The frog of this foot was quite high before the trim and she trimmed it down.  Perhaps this is causing the soreness? 

Here is the hoof from the side.  This is definitely her "best looking" hoof of all her hooves.  She doesn't have enough toe height and that is her problem all around.  Probably another reason why she is sore.  Hopefully those boots will arrive in the mail SOON!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Day 79

I went to the barn in the morning to see how Little Love was doing after her trim and the night in the stall.  Not bad.  She had the boots on her fronts overnight and I think it had helped her.  Her hinds were a bit sore, especially the right one where the trimmer had mentioned she had a hematoma in the frog... 

I took her out, soaked her fronts for 20 minutes and then walked her in the arena for 30 minutes.  She was definitely a bit tender on the hard ground, but walking fairly normally in the soft arena.  We have had some dry weather, but luckily the "rain gods" were on my side this time and it had rained overnight.  Which meant the pasture was at least a bit softer than before.  I decided to take the boots off for the day in the pasture because she doesn't have greatest traction with the boots when its muddy.  I think it was the right decision; she walked down the hill fine and picked up a slightly off trot (the right hind) when she got onto the flatter ground. 

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Day 78 Here we go again...

Today a new trimmer came to look at Little Love's feet and give her a trim.  Earlier this week I took pictures of her feet and sent them to Claudia, "my specialist" in the US, so she could give me some feedback.  Of course, having five pictures of each hoof on my computer helped me, too, to figure out what needed to be done.  With my notes in hand, I was prepared for the trimmer. 

This woman was completely different than the man who came weeks ago.  In fact, she was from the other end of the scale when it came to it.  She had recently graduated from a holistic hoofcare school which meant she had a lot of knowledge but perhaps not so much experience.  I'm not so convinced about these schools here in Switzerland as it seems like pretty much anyone can set one up without having much experience themselves.  Anyways, the good thing was that this trimmer was open to discussion. 

She took two hours to trim the feet.  TWO HOURS.  And this is not because she did a lot of trimming.  She was just not that handy at it. She also wasn't handy at holding the leg up or positioning it for rasping (she used the rasp a lot).  I could see she had the idea right, but the way she was grabbing and holding the leg was not productive.  She was also slightly intimidated by horses (or at least my horse) and her tension escalated the situation.  She was outwardly calm, but I could feel that what was going on inside her was a completely different story.  Little Love does not do very well with people who are afraid, because usually they are really careful and tiptoe around her.  She finds this highly suspicious.  After about 40 minutes Little Love had just about had it with this woman and by the time we were on the third foot, Little Love was pissed off.  She actually started threatening to kick, something I have never seen her do before to that extent.  This of course freaked out the trimmer even more (which in turn really freaked Little Love out).  Finally I had a talk with Little Love, telling her to hang in there and let this woman finish (I actually told her the woman was only still learning and if Little Love could be as kind as teach her - she likes teaching).  She agreed, but I had to hold the two remaining legs up or it was not going to happen. 

Anyways, the trim was not extensive, which is alright since we are still lacking toe height after the last trim. She did back up the toe (carefully) which is good and trimmed her bars.  She did the best job on the first foot, since that was when Little Love was still standing patiently and letting her lift and put down the foot a thousand times.  I'm not exactly convinced trimmer did much to help Little Love's feet in the long term (correcting her angles), but she didn't really do anything to damage them either (at least as far as I could see).  There was a lot of the old bruising coming up from the previous trim when she bled and this woman mentioned that there was a hematoma deeper inside the frog of the right hind.  Hmmm. 

In any case, Little Love was a bit sore afterwards.  She was still walking on the hard ground around the barn, but was definitely tender. I gave her arnica and I left the boots on for the night.  I'll be going there tomorrow morning to see the extent of it.  It is amazing how little will rock the balance between being ok and being sore, because like I said, the woman didn't do that much. I have ordered another pair of boots for the back feet, hopefully they'll get here next week.  I initially ordered them because I was worried about her wearing down the hooves too much on the asphalt (since the toe height is not great although it's better in the back than in the front), but now I might need them for her if she is sore again. 

Also, seeing this woman do her trim made me think that I might actually be better off doing the trimming (or more like rasping, although she did use the knife on the bars) myself.  I've done some theory online and will be getting more next month in Finland as I attend Claudia's hoof seminar.  I'll also be learning how to trim for the first time in my life after the seminar.  I know three days of trimming won't take me very far, but maybe I could learn enough to keep Little Love stable until we move in the summer? (we are moving to Finland).  Something to think about...  

Friday, March 25, 2011

Day 76

This week Col and Little Love have managed to entertain themselves in various interesting ways... the other day Becky was working in her office when she heard a loud noise coming from the garage.  She came through the kitchen and as she was walking towards the back door, she heard the unmistakable sound of hooves walking across concrete.  What the heck?  She opened the door to the garage, and there was Col, standing with his butt against her husband's car and his head in the feed room.  Little Love was with him, squeezed into the tiny feed room (who ever said she had claustrophobia?).  They were half way through the 10 kg bag of carrots and the box of apples we had bought two days earlier.  Apparently Becky had left the door open for them, so they could enter into the barn during the day if they wanted to.  They had taken the opportunity to do that and had noticed that Becky had forgotten to secure the gate between the barn and the feed room.  Oops!

Today the two put on a different show.  At noon Becky went into the field to move the horses from the grass pasture to the smaller, fenced in area.  The horses were on the very far side of the enormous pasture and when they saw her, they started cantering towards her.  She was holding a carrot in each had, hoping they would stop to get the treat.  Yeah, right!  Both horses cantered past her to the other end of the pasture, turned around and cantered back, passing her on both sides.  Then they did it again, kicking their heels up on their way (mainly Col, apparently Little Love refrained from bucking but did lots of head tossing)  After a few runs back and forth, they turned the corner into the fenced area.  They trotted up to the barn with their tails up in the air.  Which is when they realized that the gardener had left the back gate open.  Oh no!  Both horses cantered into the parking lot.  Becky ran after them, only to witness them doing Spanish ridingschool moves in the yard (tore up the grass...), then turning on their heels and running into the pasture on the other side of the property, the one that is split into two smaller pastures and which they occupied when we first moved there.  It's a good thing this property is completely fenced! 

Becky was pretty relaxed about what had happened, she thought it was funny (I'm not sure how funny it was at the time when it was happening...).  I'm happy Little Love is getting to do some horsing around, she has always been contained in so many ways, she needs to feel a little bit of freedom.  Wish I could give her more!  Although, I know it is Col who is instigating all this activity, but perhaps it is helpful for her to see another horse think outside the box a bit. 

Later this afternoon Becky and I went for a walk.  I had Little Love in the halter (no saddle) and Becky was riding Col as usual.  When we arrived at this really big field, Becky decided she wanted to canter.  She said Col would be alright if we went our separate ways.  I wasn't so sure about Little Love and for a split second all sorts of scenarios crossed my mind (she'll drag me down the field; she'll freak out, rear and drag me down the field; she'll freak out, rear, drag me down the field and get loose in the process...).  But, I listened to my gut feeling, and it told me to give it a try.  I did my best to dismiss all negative thoughts and think positively.  So what if she had taken off after other horses in her previous life and hauled people home from miles away? So what if she had jumped fences and fallen over trying to get to other horses? That all happened in another life time. 

Becky took off down the field.  At first Little Love didn't react in any way, she merely grazed on some grass.  Then, when I asked her to start walking, she lifted her head and truly realized how far away Col was.  She called out to him frantically and trotted around me.  It took all my self-control to stay calm and in the moment.  I started walking up the road and she followed, but tried to look at where Col had gone, spinning to the left and almost stepping on me.  I kept walking.  She started jogging and then screamed after Col so loud I temporarily lost all hearing in my right ear. I decided to do the one thing that seems to always work i.e. run.  So, we ran up the hill.  Once we are at the top, I slowed down to a walk.  Little Love was a still nervous, but she accepted the pace.  I told her we'd go home and Col would follow; she would be alright.  She sighed and I gave her a piece of carrot, to tell her I appreciated her attitude and was proud of her braveness.  She took it and ate it, which was a good thing, as it told me she was now starting to relax.  So, we walked home together.  Amazing.  This would never have worked a year ago.  In fact, I would never have even attempted something like this a year ago.  We have come a long way.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


 Little Love is shedding.  Actually, I think the worst of it is behind us as there is more and more short hair appearing from under the dull and gray winter coat of hers.  Here is a picture I took three days ago with my cell phone (unfortunately many of my pics are cell phone pictures since I don't usually have my camera with me).  I was brushing her while she was soaking her front feet and I literally scrubbed off three pounds of mud and half her hair!

On Sunday my husband came over to set up a fence in the pasture.  Becky is worried about Col consuming too much grass and either getting laminitis or having too much energy.  When she told me she wanted the horses to be outside only three hours a day, I freaked out!  I suggested we build a fence across the front end (it's L-shape) pasture and let the horses have grass for the three hours and then move them into the smaller fenced area to hang out for the rest of the time.  Since they'll be hanging out there a lot, the grass will never have a chance to grow real long and lush.  After some thought, Becky agreed.  It's not ideal for Little Love, but at least it means she isn't standing in her stall 21 hours a day.  Here is a picture of all the people, dogs and horses putting up the fence.  At first Little Love was horrified by the white plastic fence posts.  She took off at full galop down the field, but then soon came back and decided to take a closer look at the scary objects.  Good for her :-)  Then afterwards both Col and her wanted to help in putting the fence in!
Yesterday I gave Little Love a paper bag to play with in her stall.  Last winter when I visited my friend Sam in California, I saw one of his horses, a Haflinger gelding called Hans, play with a feed bag.  He would pick it up, toss it in the air and attempt to kick it with his foot as he cantered by.   I had never seen a horse have so much fun with a paper bag.  So, inspired by that, I wanted to see what Little Love would do if I gave her one.  I gave it to her in the stall (rather than in the arena) just because when I got the idea she happened to be in there and in general she feels safer in her stall to investigate strange things.  I actually didn't think she would even touch it, but turns out she wanted to lick, bite and paw it.  I was overjoyed, because she has always been quite reserved with objects of any kind and this is the first time she actually did something else than just sniffed and looked at the object.  Of course it might have helped that it smelled like feed!  (At one point she had half her head inside the bag)  Maybe I'll try this in the arena as well...

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Day 73

Today we had another practice at trailer loading.  If you can call it that.  It's not like Little Love loaded into the trailer, that would have been a miracle.  I did learn a few things though.

1.  You have two goes at it, then it gets to be too much for Little Love and you will only go backwards from there (literally and figuratively)

2.  After about ten goes, I start getting angry which is not productive.  I also start using pressure, which is REALLY not productive (Little Love goes into fight mode).  So, have to keep tries at a minimum (two, says Little Love).

3.  We need to do this over and over and over again for the next umpteen weeks and there is still no guarrantee it will work, but at least we will have tried. 

4. I need to really examine my own attitude.

There was probably something else, too, but that was the gist of it. 

I swear the first time I walked her to the trailer and she actually walked up the ramp, I thought she would go in.  No, let me rephrase that.  I didn't think she would go in and therefore her walking so confidently up the ramp surprised me.  Which is when she stopped walking up the ramp.  Any connection there?  Right.  I need to start adjusting my thinking about this whole thing.  I want her to go in yet I obviously don't believe she will do it.  Not helpful.  I have decided to start imagining her walking into the trailer.  And I will continue imagining that until I believe in it.  Then, I'll send her that mental image (like a video). 

And what comes to the getting angry bit...  I was so disappointed in myself for that.  I mean, I KNOW it doesn't help and will only make her frantic.  Luckily, at some point I realized what was happening and just walked both of us away from the trailer and into the arena for a timeout.  We never went back to the trailer and it was just as well.  Little Love has always been a horse that does not like repetition.  This is one reason why she didn't make a particularly good dressage horse.  If you ask her to do something and she does it once (or feels like she has done her best trying it once) you may get a second chance to do it but after that she is so done.  And she lets you know. 

There are days when she feels more inclined to try again over and over, but most days she just gets pissed off.  Which I can understand.  I remember when I was learning French, I hated those grammar exercises where you just do the same thing over and over again.  Boring.  Makes you want to chuck the book out the window and go do something else.  So, I can relate. 

I think this is another one of those lessons in patience (Little Love's favorite lesson for me).  It's hard since I realize that trailering her may never be easy, yet I have to keep believing it will be possible.  I can't wrap my head around that, how to approach it with a neutral attitude but still have the strong belief that it will work. Sigh.  

Monday, March 21, 2011


One of my readers asked a question after my last post and I started writing an answer, but then realized that perhaps others would like to see my answer as well.  My reader wanted to know how I got to this point in my journey, was it purely experience with horses or was I inspired by certain trainers.

Excellent question which made me think a bit about my past, something I have been doing in any case this past year. 

When I was a "traditional" horse enthusiast I didn't read a lot of "how to" books because they seemed to interfere with my "feel" (or what I thought was "feel") but since then, I have read lots of horse and animal books to help me find my way.  Klaus Hempfling, Imke Spilker, Carolyn Resnick, Linda Kohanov, Karen Pryor (clicker training), Marta Williams (animal communication) to mention a few, have all given me food for thought.  I've watched videos as well (Nevzorov, Hempfling, Path of the Horse, Resnick etc.) and attended a few workshops (Newe, Epona, Williams)  I can't say that I practice a certain method, but have been inspired one way or another by these people (if nothing else, they made me think)

Also, I have many close friends who are discovering horses in the same manner as I am, and our conversations (which often turn into brainstorming sessions) have been priceless. Thank you my friends, you all know who you are! In fact, I would say that what I have learned through our discussions has helped me more than all the "experts" mentioned before.  I definitely process information through talking and writing about it.  Often my thoughts might be muddled, but once I start talking, they come together (although this can sometimes be a loooooong process as some of my friends know...).  It's really important for me to be connected to other people and their journeys. 

 However, what has most inspired me are the horses.  I have spent a lot of time thinking back at my life and realized that the lessons were there long time ago, I just didn't see them.  Now I am determined not to miss a minute.  Hence this blog and my approach to being Little Love's person.  And it's not just Little Love who is teaching me, but every horse I meet can give me another insight into their secret world.  It is utterly fascinating.  Just today I had a conversation with Becky about the bitless bridle, asking her if she would want to try it (since I already did on Tuesday and Col was great).  She said no, and said that she wasn't sure she wanted me to ever use it with her horse again either.  I was surprised by her strong reaction (as this is atypical to her) and found out that when she had bridled Col two days ago, he had refused to open his mouth for her to put the bit in.  Apparently this was unheard of and had never happened before.  Now surely this could not be because three days prior I rode him in the bitless ONCE.  Or could it?  Wait a minute, is he making a statement?  Becky certainly thought so.  The sad part was that she did not want to hear it (but it was interesting that she made the connection... which means she is thinking about this bitless ordeal more than she lets on...).  But little things like these make me wonder how much, if anything, about horses is accidental and how much is intentional. 

So, I guess I can summarize that I have been influenced and inspired by many sources, all with a fountain of knowledge, but in the end I want to be the person who makes the revelations of my journey.  I do believe it is very personal.  If someone else had the chance to spend time with Little Love, I believe she would have a lot to give them, but it would be totally different than what she gives to me.  I believe in being open-minded and ready to receive more knowledge at all times.  Oh, and in trusting your instinct as far as you dare! 

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Day 70

Today we went for another trail excursion with Becky and Col.  I put the saddle on Little Love, because I thought I could use it while trotting up hill with her (to hold on to).  I used to be a vaulter and this saddle has sort of a "handle" in the center (it's a Barefoot dressage saddle) which I was hoping to use as a "crutch" in the trot.  Little Love was not happy to get the saddle on her back, in fact, she threatened to bite me three times.  That was a clear message.  She hates the saddle (= she hates riding?)  Of course we were in the stall and usually whatever you do in the stall doesn't make her happy.  Again another subject to understand... why is the stall different than say outside (not tied)?  When I first met her years ago, she would threaten to kick or bite anyone who dared enter the stall.  You always had to halter her first thing, for your own safety. 

Anyways, I was fairly set on putting the saddle on since I wanted to try trotting with her more than before and running beside her uphill is challenging.  My plan worked!  When we started trotting, I positioned myself next to her and grabbed the center of the saddle with my right hand, using it as a support.  This enabled me to keep up with her with no problem, even thought we were REALLY trotting (she has a huge stride).  At first she sort of looked back at me with confusion, and a bit scared, too, but then seemed to accept me jogging so close to her (our sides were touching - another thing she is not so keen on...).  One time I lost the rhythm and that was hard, but once I picked it up again, it was alright and we went flying up the hill.  I was still out of breath at the top, but at least I was able to keep up! 

Eventually I got on her for a short period of time to get over a very muddy field, but other than that it was 45 minutes of walking (and running) beside her.  When I was on her, she walked a bit slower and I'm wondering if she could feel the extra weight in her feet.  Probably.  I'm not sure what I'm doing with the riding bit, if I'm riding or not riding her ever again, but at the moment I'm sort of going with the flow.  Which seems to be less riding and more trekking in hand.

It was raining on and off, but Becky wanted to practice trailering Col.  He hasn't been in the trailer since she drove him over from England, which was a long haul.  Col usually just walks into the trailer, but this time he decided it wasn't a good idea.  It didn't help that Little Love was calling to him frantically from her stall.  After about ten minutes of kind negotiation, he finally walked into the box.  At that point Becky asked me if I wanted to try Little Love, too, since Col was already in and eating hay without a worry in the world.  Sure, why not.  I had already decided that whatever happened, I was not going to put ANY pressure on Little Love, it would have to be her own decision to go into the trailer.  If she followed me in, fine, but if not, then that was fine, too. 

We walked up to the trailer and she actually looked interested in going in.  Obviously the fact that Col was in there was a big insentive.  She walked up the ramp and stuck her head in.  We stood there for a while, then she back down again.  Then she walked up again.  She did this about five times.  The whole time the lead rope was either loose or on her neck.  Finally, since it was raining, I told Becky to go for her drive with Col.  I took Little Love back to her stall.  She entered willingly, but called out to Col who was screaming back at her as the trailer drove out of the gate and down the driveway. 

I was happy about how she had approached the trailer, with an open mind.  It is just too much for her to think of being a small space such as the half trailer.  Becky will hook up the trailer again on Tuesday and we have another opportunity to get comfortble with it.  I definitely need to work on this A LOT.  I also have to brainstorm about building something else Little Love could enter, like a tight space similar to the trailer.  I would like to help her get over this fear of confined spaces she has, it would make her life a lot easier in the long run.  I know that certain memories cannot be erased, but perhaps we could learn to live with them?

Col was gone for thirty minutes and Little Love was definitely on the edge the entire time.  She did eat the hay I gave her though (So she wasn't that nervous) but kept a close eye on me as I went around the barn cleaning up and prepping food etc.  The one time I walked out of there, she stopped eating and was waiting for me to return, head up, all her senses alert.  It's not easy to be a horse.  Not that it's easy to be human either :-)

Friday, March 18, 2011

Day 69

Today was sunny and my horse was completely different than yesterday.  What can I say, except that sometimes it is really the small things like the weather that make a difference. 

Becky was back home and we decided to go out together with the horses.  Becky never goes for just a walk, she always wants to at least trot (and perhaps canter) to make sure Col gets enough exercise so she wasn't sure about us going together as I was not riding.  I told her that trotting was fine since I didn't mind running with Little Love.  She looked at me a bit funny and I can't blame her LOL.  We went for an hour, which was more than what Little Love has been doing.  Becky was worried about Col getting excited so she wanted to trot uphill only.  Yikes.  It's good I'm in good shape, but I had already done a run in the morning so needless to say I was feeling it in my legs.  But so was Little Love, the last hill was a bit steep and she opted to walk half way up.  Which was fine with me, I was panting like a dog at that point.  Becky must think I'm completely out of my mind!  Which perhaps I am? :-)  One of my favorite quotes is: "Sanity calms, but madness is more interesting." - John Russell.   In any case, we had fun and it was great trail ride/walk.  We'll see how Little Love is doing tomorrow after all that exercise.

Tomorrow Becky wants to load Col in the trailer for practice since she has a jumping lesson at another barn on Tuesday.  I might work with Little Love and the trailer as well.  I would prefer to park it in the arena and let her work on it at liberty, but it might be hard to get the trailer down there, because of the way the little entryway twists and turns.  I'll have to go with the flow and see what Little Love thinks of the trailer.  Perhaps she will want to walk through it after Col, who knows.  I'm trying to have no expectations, whatsoever.  Emphasis on the word trying... 

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Day 68 Rain

Today it rained.  It hasn't rained for a while and I had forgotten how the weather affects Little Love's state of mind.  In her previous life, she would never go out in the paddock or pasture if it rained.  Never.  I'm talking about over ten years of never.  This could mean being stall bound for days, sometimes even weeks, only getting out for riding.  Needless to say, this didn't work for her - at all.  So, that in mind, about a year ago I started teaching her how to be outside in a paddock when it rained (there was a small paddock you were allowed to use rain or shine.  Problem was that it was just one paddock and the horse had to be out there without any other horses).  Yes, I actually had to teach her.  Because the second I let her loose, she would freak out and run around like crazy, literally on the verge of falling over from panic.  In general, being outside in the paddock when other horses were not next to her was a big deal, but if the weather was sunny, with time and patience she learned to be alright with it (up to 30 minutes), as long as I stayed with her.   It took me several more weeks, but finally we worked up to being out in the paddock even when it was raining.  Our record was twenty minutes.  Mind you, this paddock had grass, so it wasn't like she had nothing to distract her.  Just goes to show that food is really worth nothing to a horse in panic. 

Today when I went to the barn, I was welcomed by a very worried Little Love.  She was standing in the light rain at the upper gate, a gate we never use for the horses.  But she could see the parking lot from there and when she saw me, she let me know she wanted to go inside - now.  When I went around (the pasture is an L-shape), she was still there, at the gate.  Col, also slightly on the edge and agitated, was hovering nearby, unsure of what to do.  When he saw me, he came to me.  Little Love bolted from the gate down the hill, cantering towards us with the whites of her eyes flashing, slipping in her boots in the mud.  She came over, sniffed me and ran back up the hill to the gate.  I put the halter I had with me on Col and started walking him back to the barn.  Little Love remained at the upper gate until she realized we really truly were leaving, after which she bolted after us.  We walked to the barn in a tight formation, Little Love just inches behind me and tightly on Col's left side.  Col, too, was sort of high, snorting and jogging next to me, all the while looking around as if waiting for something to pounce on him from the bushes. 

I had originally thought of taking a long walk with Little Love, but adjusted my plans.  She did settle down in her stall quite well and after about five minutes, I pulled her out for some feet soaking.  This familiar (and boring) activity seemed to relax her and after 20 minutes I was a lot more hopeful about exercising her as she really needs to move for her feet (not to mention her body which really needs to get some muscle back where it belongs)  There was no way I was going to go on the walk though.  So I took her into the arena, where she immediately started trotting around me on the long rope with her head up high.  I think I had her attention about 30% at the most in the beginning, which was fine, she needed to sort things out in her head.  And like I have said before: she likes to move when things get iffy.  I didn't really ask for much, apart from trying to keep her balanced.  The arena footing is really not the greatest.  Again, I think the whole halter business worked for her, because after a while she sort of snapped out of her frenzy.  I'm still not sure the halter is a good thing, because ideally I would like to use no pressure on her (and the halter is pressure, not matter how I look at it and use it), but I'm sure that if I would have let her loose in that moment, she would have completely panicked.  So at the moment we are using the halter.

My dog was persistently sitting at the gate that leads off the property and whining, she obviously wanted to go for a walk.  I still wasn't sure I wanted to put myself and Little Love in that position.  But Little Love kept stopping at the gate as well, so I finally listened to the two of them and soon I found myself walking down the driveway with my dog and my horse.  And I'm happy I did, because it was a good walk.  Little Love was back to her calm(er) persona and we walked a 20 minute loop before coming back.  It made me feel good, because it showed me that we could work it out somehow, even on days when she is high as as kite. 

Little Love is like Jekyll and Hyde, you never know which one is going to show up on any given day.  But all I can do is try to live with her many personalities.  Perhaps there is just one horse inside her, but fear and learned behavior from her previous life makes certain aspects of her self magnified at times.  I guess it keeps my life interesting if nothing else :-)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Day 67

Before I owned Little Love, I used to work with her three to four times a week.  I couldn't always choose what we did together, and neither could she, as our time together was often controlled by circumstance (what others were doing in the arena at that given time) or by her owner (what her needs were for the following day) or the weather (when she didn't get out for weeks on end, she was quite pent up).

Often I didn't want to ride her, yet I had to somehow exercise her, so longing was really my only option.  To avoid having to force her head down with sidereins (or any other contraption), we created our own way of longing with the rope halter and a long rope.  This was no traditional style of longing and involved a lot of running from my part as well.  It all started when I watched a video by Karen Rohlf (Dressage Naturally).  Watching her work on the longe with a rope halter to teach her horses straightness encouraged me to try something similar.  However, to make matters a little easier (in my opinion) and to avoid using a lot of pressure, I turned to clicker training.  So, long story short, I trained Little Love to walk, trot and canter on a circle with a straight body and all the while stretching down and round.  Might sound a little strange but it actually worked!  I think the biggest motivator for Little Love was not the clicker, but rather the fact that it felt good to track straight and stretch down.  She was particularly good at it in the trot.  This whole thing then evolved from stretching down to collecting, which lead to amazing canter departs from the walk and even some passage steps at the trot (don't ask me how it happened, I just passaged and then she did, too)  At this point I didn't even use the clicker all the time, but rather would just suggest something (say by dropping my hip back for collection and picking up canter) or follow her lead, whatever it was. 

So anyways, what I'm getting at is that I hadn't done that for months, but yesterday for some unknown reason this all popped into the my head and I felt the need to go into the arena and try it again.  I realize now that it was probably Little Love who suggested it.  I could have let her loose, but since she isn't that comfortable in the arena yet, I kept her on the longe.  I had no clicker, but I always use a long stick in my hand to guide her around and indicate what I'm suggesting (like I lift it up in front of my face and take a step back to ask her towards me and then open my arms wide to change direction through the circle, it's our own code :-).  Yesterday Little Love trotted for a while, stretching down.  She was quite crooked and I used the stick to point at different parts of her body to help her align (like shoulder or haunches)  She remembered this and I could tell she was making an effort to stay straight.  When she achieved proper alignment, she stretched down long and low and it looked like it felt good. 

Once we had warmed up for a while, changed direction and stopped and backed up twice I decided to throw in some collection.  I dropped my hip in trot and immediately Little Love slowed down, shifted her weight to her haunces.  I love the way she curls her neck, it is so beautiful and effortless even now when she is out of shape how she can achieve collection on her own (it is in fact much more beautiful than any man made collection)  Okay, the halter is on her head, but I am literally doing nothing with the rope.  I am hoping that she can someday do all this (and more) in liberty. 

Working at liberty doesn't come easy to us.  At the old barn Little Love was comfortable enough in the indoor arena to do all this at liberty (except when it was windy and the arena roof creaked), but she dared not do it in the outdoor.  She would get fairly insecure and freaked out, by what, I'm not sure.  Perhaps it is really the freedom of choice?  Or perhaps our connection was never strong enough for her to feel safe?  But when she had the halter and the rope, she always seemed comfortable.  In fact, she felt so comfortable that she would demonstrate moves such as rearing (totally controlled up and then when she landed she would look at me with her ears forward as if to say "did you see that?").  Yesterday she did canter departs with controlled bucks and also several short spurts of passage.  Wow.  I guess the feet are okay?  She was so animated that Becky's husband came outside to ask me if I was okay!  Haha, he was pretty freaked out about Little Love's show, I don't think he had seen a horse do that before.  I was so happy, it was great to see Little Love so alive.  And she really knows exactly where she is at what time, not once did she pull on me or tighten the rope in any way. 

But this all does really make me wonder about working her in liberty the same way... I'm not sure if with the halter I am sort of forcing her to participate (although if she shows no interest, I stop suggesting and usually let her loose) or is having something on her head just familiar to the point that it's a safety net?  It's sort of like the same thing as when she is really scared outside and won't calm down until she gets into her stall.  I know she prefers being out in the field, but the stall is all she knows and therefore it represents safety.  Perhaps it's the same thing with the halter?  I remember the first times she ran free with me in the arena (this was a long time ago) and it was almost like she had to break free from a psychological cage to be able to do that.  It was liberating but scary at the same time.  Hmmm, another thing to think about...

Anyways, on a completely different note (this is getting long...) I rode Col in the bitless bridle for the first time.  I was supposed to do it already last week, but then something came up and it never panned out.  I sometimes ride him when Becky is gone for a longer period of time, to do her a favor.  She lets Little Love and me stay at her barn for just the cost of feed which is a pretty awesome deal, so the least I can do is help her with her horse.  And, if in the process, I can get her started on "her path", even better :-)  So, bitless it was.  Col was awesome, as was expected.  Becky was very worried beforehand that there would be no "breaks" (something she doesn't always have with the bit, apparently) but having ridden so many horse in the BB, I was sure it would be okay.  And it was.  In fact, he started relaxing and actually breathing actively, something I have never seen him do under saddle. His back was still stiff as a board, but half way he started stretching forward and I felt something happening under the saddle.  This is a start.  For someone who has obviously held his back tense for a very long time, it will take more than 30 minutes to let go of all that completely.  The good news was that he wasn't drooling like he sometimes does with the bit (he drools buckets of clear, stretchy drool).  Hopefully I get this opportunity again and Becky wants to try it herself, too!  

Monday, March 14, 2011

Day 65 More experimenting

Today I went for a walk in the afternoon.  To throw my theory from yesterday completely off, Col decided to have separation anxiety.  Interistingly enough Little Love didn't really react to him calling in any way until we got into the middle of the field.  Then she got really nervous, called out to him (it echoed back to her from the forest which really seemed to freak her out) and actually tried to turn to go home three times.  The third time she got really frustrated (because I wouldn't let her go) and reared and then leaped forward with a buck.  It wasn't a 100% serious try, because if she really wanted to, she could just pull me over and leave, but it was impressive in any case. After she landed the buck, she spun around me her eyes fixed at the barn in the distance and I realized I needed to get her attention and fast before she truly decided it was time to go home. 

I started running down the field and she followed me in extended trot.  At first it was sort of out of control running, she sort of pushed on me with her shoulder and I had to really run to keep up with her, but once we were on the real road, there was more sense to it.  We ran the same way as yesterday, but faster, I was really sprinting with her.  Twice I had to ask her to slow down, just to make sure she still remembered I was there with her. 

The interesting twist to this is the fact that she had a saddle on her.  I put the saddle on because I wanted to see how she would react to it.  She hasn't had a saddle on for 6 weeks and frankly I think she has enjoyed that.  I haven't exactly decided to ride her, it is something I want to explore, hence the reason I put the saddle on.  When I tacked her up, she was alright, but in the very end, she pinned her ears back and turned her head towards me.  No surprise there.  But I do wonder how much this rearing/bucking ordeal had to do with the saddle.  It could be that she was also expressing her opinion about that (I'm actually thinking it surprised her to have the saddle) I never had the intention to ride, I was wearing my running shoes and had a rope halter with a rope on her.  But the saddle was there, nevertheless.  I do think it triggers some sort of dissociation from her, with the saddle today there was less contact between us.  But I could also be reading too much into the situation.  Perhaps she would have been like that today regardless. There is no way of knowing. I just have to keep experimenting. 

In any case Little Love is definitely feeling better, because she is quite "alive".  Which is how I know her, from all those years of riding her when she was not my horse (and the reason her ex-owner didn't want her anymore).  Even though she was quite "crazy" (in the traditional sense) for that short moment, it didn't scare me.  Which is also interesting.  Perhaps I'm evolving, too?

The trot we did was impressive and finally when we turned to go back (uphill) I had to ask her to walk.  She wanted to continue, but enough is enough.  I didn't want to trot her too much on the hard ground. And I needed a break. Once we were half way up the hill, she was pretty tired, too.  Took a lot of energy to be so excited, I guess.  So we came back to the yard in a very calm manner.  I would like to try a longer loop, but now I'm not sure it's a good idea with all this separationg anxiety going on.  Or perhaps it wouldn't make a difference?  Who knows.  I guess the only way to find out is to try, right? :-)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Day 64 Observations

Becky was gone this weekend, so that meant barn duty for me, both morning and evening.  As I mentioned before, I usually go to the barn in the afternoon, as it is more convenient for me (and for Becky), but since I was going in the morning today, I decided to soak and walk then, rather than doing it in the afternoon as usual.  As you may remember, last time I attempted a walk in the morning it resulted in disaster.  Needless to say I wanted to avoid repeating myself, so I made a few mental notes about what NOT to do (and I left my little runaway dog home...).

The horses were definitely waiting for me when I got there.  They both looked at me and I swear they were thinking: "Ah, finally someone is there to let us outside."  Only, I wasn't going to do that.  I tossed Col some extra hay and took Little Love into the back to set her front feet into the soaking dishes.  She was very alert, listening intently to every little sound with her head held high.  I gave her some hay, but she wasn't exactly interested.  Okay, I thought, mornings are like this.  I tried brushing her while she was soaking, but each time she stepped out of the dish with her right foot, telling me that brushing and soaking was not an option today.  Each time she let me position the foot back into the bucket and stood obediently thereafter until I pulled out the brush again.  I finally got the message on my third try.  No brushing. 

We took of on the walk and as we were going through the gate, she stopped and didn't want to leave.  I asked again, not by pulling on the leadrope but instead moving a bit to the side, in a crouching way (hard to explain).  She decided to follow.  However, she stopped three more times even before we had crossed the big road at the bottom of the driveway, but each time she would continue walking after a short while.  She was still very alert, but not skittish.  By the time we were half way across the field on the other side of the road, she was starting to relax a bit. 

But then she heard Col calling.  I heard Col calling, too.  In fact, the whole village and perhaps even some people beyond heard Col calling (he really does sound like an elephant in pain).  Little Love spun around and called back.  Suddenly she was hyper, as if a switch had gone off inside her.  She paced and jigged around me.  I started walking her down the field, trying to direct her towards the road boardering the forest, away from the barn.  We could both hear Col screaming in the distance and Little Love tried turning around and when I wouldn't let her, she started trotting down the field, pulling me with her.  I tried to slow her down, but the more I pulled on her face, she more nervous she became, her head up high and her eyes rolling in her head. 

For a split second I thought it would be best to go back home.  But then I thought of all the maneuvers I would have to do to keep her from running home without me (lots of pressure on her face...) and I decided to continue our walk.  I had initially planned to take a new route, across the forest and up a big hill, but since Little Love was high as a kite by the time we scrambled to the road, I changed my plans and took a right on the familiar loop we walk every day.  At this point I was starting to lose Little Love's attention (the little that still remained on me).  If she would have had a saddle on, I would have jumped on her and trotted down the road until she snapped out of it.  It really seems to me that when she gets upset, no matter what it is that makes her upset - something she is afraid of or Col calling for her at the barn - she needs to move.  Movement gives her comfort in pretty much any situation.  Since there was no saddle, I only had one option: to run with her. 

So run we did.  We ran about half a mile down the road.  This was no Sunday jog (even though it was Sunday!); this was hardcore running.  Luckily I had my running shoes on!  I had already done 8K in the morning with my dogs, but it felt good to just go for it with Little Love.  She sped up ahead of me only twice, but both times I used my voice and a light pressure on the leadrope and she slowed down a fraction to let me catch up.  She seemed to be ready to trot all the way home, but once we reached the street that took us back, I slowed down to a walk.  Little Love jogged a bit, she still wanted to go, but luckily she was now calmer and accepted my walking pace.  We walked, very energetically, the rest of the way home (mostly uphill) and although Little Love was still very alert, she only trotted once when she saw something scary (I still don't know what it was).   The loop that usually takes us 35 minutes, had taken us only 25 minutes.  And I was sweating. 

During our walk I tried to analyse the situation; why is it always much harder to walk in the morning?  If I walk Lilo in the afternoon, Col stays in his stall and never calls out to her when we are gone.  But when I walk in the morning, Col gets upset about our departure.  And it's not just Col, because I can definitely see a difference in Little Love's behaviour depending if we are walking in the morning or in the afternoon.  It is as if the stallbound night somehow triggers the separation anxiety.  Or, is it the fact that they are separated all night that triggers it?  In the afternoon they are more relaxed because they have spent all day together.  They have also been moving all day on their own instead of standing in a stall (which is completely unnatural for a horse).  This is an interesting observation and something I have to keep in mind when I want to for example take Little Love to new places.  I think it is good to work on leaving the barn also in the morning, but those days I should try to minimize the stress by sticking to familiar routes. 

I'm happy I chose to take the walk instead of turning home.  It showed us both that we can continue, even when the going gets a bit tough.  Also, as a personal achievement, I remained completely calm and composed, not letting my feelings get into the way of things.  Little Love was exited, but I directed her energy into the running, which helped both her and me keep the lid on our feelings.  And there was only a short moment before we started running when I felt insecure and perhaps a tad fearful of the outcome of the situation.  But once I started moving with her, I felt better.  I guess we share this in common; we both like to run when stressed! 

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Day 61 Experimenting

Because we did such a long walk yesterday, I decided Little Love and I could stay in the arena today.  I didn't really plan anything, except I thought walking for a while would be a good idea.  Little Love didn't agree.  The first five minutes she looked like she had swallowed a lemon, then, since I obviously was not getting the message, she started tossing her head angrily and once she even grabbed my shirt in between her lips.  She looked pretty vicious.  This is completely new behavior, as she would never had done this in her previous life, express her opinion while being walked (while brushing, yes, but never when being led). 

At first I was sort of offended and could feel myself get angry.  Then I thought about it and decided that she was right; walking in the arena was sooooo boring.  I also think she was a bit tired from all the activity yesterday.  She had the right to be pissed off.  So, I took her halter off and let her loose.  At first she walked off to the other end and turned her bottom at me (just to make her opinion clear, I guess...).  I sat on the tree stump that is in the far corner of the arena and watched my dog digging around under the bushes.  Little Love and I have spent time together in the arena like this just a handful of times since we moved to Becky's and during that time she has not really shown much interest in me.  But today, after about five minutes, she suddenly turned around and marched over.  She passed me very close, stopping a few feet away to nibble on something.  Then she lifted her head and looked at me.  I would know that look anywhere.  I jumped off the stump and raced down the arena, and Little Love followed at trot, tossing her head back and forth.  We stopped at the other end and went our separate ways for a while.  When I returned to the stump it didn't take long for Little Love to show up again, too, giving me that look again.  We ran down the arena a second time, this time a little slower.  After that she wanted to be alone, so I sat in the dirt and played with my dog.

After our arena time, my plan was to put Col and Little Love back into the pasture, since it was still early and the weather was absolutely brilliant.  Instead of putting the halter back on Little Love to take her to the barn, I just took down the makeshift fence my husband had made weeks ago.  This opened up the entire other end of the arena.  I wasn't sure where this was leading, but I wanted to know where Little Love would go if I didn't put the halter on (the property is fenced after all, so she can't go too far).  At first she went to the closest patch of grass and I kept an eye on her while rolling up the strip of "fence".  When I was done I walked towards her and she immediately started moving away, up the walk way. 

Good, I thought, she's going to the barn.  Or not. 

Suddenly she took a sharp right through a small gate into Becky's garden.  Okay, I didn't see that coming.  I walked after her, thinking I should really catch her and lead her out of there, but it was easier said than done, as she sort of halfheartedly walked ahead of me, no matter how I positioned myself.  We zigzagged around the garden leaving hoof prints everywhere.  It was so comical, I finally started laughing.  Which is when Little Love took a b-line to the gate and walked into the parking lot.  She stopped and waited for me and then followed me to the barn.  I swear she was smiling to herself, the little sneak.

Letting her loose like that was sort of an experiment, for myself.  It took a lot of self control not to start panicking when Little Love didn't go where I expected her to go.  I have been so drilled to always control my horse, to the point of being obsessed about it - 30 years of traditional horsehandling will do that to a person (especially a control freak like me).  It's time I learn to relax a bit and let go of some parts of myself.  And I think it is valuable for Little Love, too, as she has been obsessively controlled all her life.  Together we can slowly discover a new kind of freedom!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Day 60 A new day

If yesterday was a disaster, today made up for it in every possible way. 

Last night I was just too upset with myself (if you could tell from my last blog post, talking about taking dogs behind barns and shooting them in the head and what not...) to really take in everything that had happened, but this morning I went running and after sprinting around the country side for almost an hour, I felt a heck of a lot better.  Running helps me center myself and when I'm out there in the elements, it is the perfect time to reflect and do some soul searching.  By the time I got to the barn I was in a completely different place than yesterday. 

First thing I did when I arrived was apologized to Little Love for being so insensitive yesterday.  She was hanging out with Col in the pasture, but when she saw me, she walked over to me.  The moment I saw her, I knew we were alright.  Horses are such brilliant animals, they really don't hold stupidity from the previous day against you the day after.  I gave her a banana for being so brilliant.

It was a gorgeous day and after soaking Lilo's hooves for over twenty minutes, I put the boots on and we took off for a walk.  Becky and her husband were off skiing in the mountains so I left Col in his stall and took my dog with me.  Little Love was a bit reluctant to leave at first; she stopped three times during the first 500 yards.  She wasn't calling to Col, she was merely looking into the distance, scanning the horizon.  Each time I just stood there with her, not asking for anything, just waiting until she was ready to continue walking.  Which is what she did after about a minute or so.  I never felt nervous or impatient, but rather was just going with the flow. 

I hadn't really thought too hard of where I would be walking, but once we got down the first hill, I cut across the field and stopped at the small gathering of trees to let Little Love graze a bit on some new grass.  Then we continued until we came up on a road that boarders a large forest.  There we met an older lady who was walking her dog.  She was very impressed with my black horse and we stopped to talk for a while.  After the initial small talk the lady asked me point blank why I wasn't riding my horse, but was instead "walking it like a dog". 

"I prefer walking with her," I said in my broken French. 

"You can't ride her?" The lady was really curious. 

"I can, but walking is better." 

The lady smiled.  "Why not, eh?" she said.  Exactly, why not.  Then the lady wanted to know about the boots and I told her what they were for.  She seemed to think my explanation made sense since she didn't ask me why Little Love didn't have shoes.  When we went our separate ways, I marveled over the fact that she had asked about the riding.  It is interesting how people always think you have to ride your horse. 

We continued our walk down the road and Little Love was the calmest she has ever been on a walk with me.  She was alert, as usual, but never fearful.  We even did a bit of trot on a long stretch where the ground was soft.  I ran beside her, matching my steps with her (or was she matching hers with mine?).  This is something I only ever dreamed of...  I love running and always wanted to do it with Little Love, but every time we tried, she would get freaked out and end up dragging me down the road.  But not today.  I only wished I had not worn my barn boots... This became obvious when we started heading up the hill and did another short trot.  Short because after just a little running I had to ask for walk.  Running uphill with boots on is not exactly easy even if I'm pretty fit.  Next time I have to bring my running shoes!

When we got almost to the big road before the barn driveway, we met Becky and Col who were going for a ride in the forest.  Becky and I talked for a while and I let Little Love graze.  When it was time to leave, she walked home with me without problems, but the tranquil mood we had been in during the walk was gone and she called to Col a few times before we reached the barn.  The second I put her in her stall, however, she calmed down; her stall is her safety zone where she knows nothing bad can happen to her.  It is sort of ironic that a horse who hates confined spaces and often panics if forced into one (and I'm not talking about just the trailer, but any space, even if it's built from poles and other jumping material), feels so secure in a relatively small stall.  But perhaps the stall is the only place in the world where bad things have not happened to her? 

What a day.  It was as if yesterday never happened in Little Love's book.  Talk about staying in the moment.  But that is exactly what I had vowed to do today.  I had a plan of soaking the feet and taking a walk, but I had also decided that I was not going to get too stuck on doing either of those things.  And look where it got us!  We soaked for 25 minutes (she stood like a statue, even when I left her in the yard loose while I went to the bathroom) and walked for 40 minutes.  And what a walk!  I never thought I would get to run with Little Love without her taking off ahead of me, but we did it today.  We also had the best walk we have ever had; we were walking together, I mean really together, instead of in our separate worlds (me in my worry-world thinking she will freak out and her in her freaking out world, feeling insecure)  Not once did I feel scared or worried or anxious. 
Now the question is; how do I do this again?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Day 59 Hindsight wisdom

Well, I did it again.  I totally worked myself up to some idea of how everything would go today (after being gone for five days)and then utterly screwed it up by being inflexible and impatient.  Brilliant.  If dogs learned as slowly as I do, people would take them behind the barn and shoot them in the head before they made it to their first birthday.  Fortunately (for me) I'm not a dog.  Unfortunately (for Little Love) I'm a human...

In a nutshell (since I am tired beyond words and need to go to bed NOW) I went to the barn in the morning with the idea of soaking Little Love's feet, taking a nice long walk in the sun together and just hanging out in perfect harmony.  I don't know what I was thinking.  I have been gone for five days and since it wasn't the first time I've been away from Little Love I should have remembered that the first day I'm back is not a day to have major plans.  In fact, the first day back is a day when you just sort of hang out and reconnect.  But there was no reconnecting for me, because I had this plan. 

Things started going wrong from the beginning.  First, I went to the barn in the morning, which I rarely do, but I was so keen on seeing Little Love that I just had to go.  She was happy to see me, but was obviously also waiting to get out into the pasture, as usually her and Col go out first thing after breakfast.  Second, my dog disappeared about ten minutes after we got to the barn.  She doesn't ever leave the property, but for some reason she could not be found anywhere.  I called and called, looked everywhere, but no dog.  Naturally, since she literally vanished off the face of the earth, I was sort of panicking (we eventually found her after 45 minutes of searching, she was stuck in the pool house and nobody has any idea how she got in there)  When I found the dog, I should have just let Little Love go into the pasture since looking for my dog had put me into a state of mind that was not exactly great for horse-handling... But, because I had noticed that Little Love's legs were sort of thick (probably from lack of excercise in the past five days) I was even more determined to take her for a walk.  But before that I wanted to soak the feet, namely because they hadn't been soaked for five days. 

By this time the barn worker was done mucking Col's stall and wanted to put him out.  We agreed that he could be put into the small area in between the barn and the field, because we both knew he wouldn't go out to the field on his own, and if he did, Little Love would lose it (I at least had the sense to realize this much).  At this point I was attempting to soak Little Love's feet, but of course the second she heard Col outside, she was certain she was getting left behind and couldn't stand still.  So much for the soaking. 

I put the boots on her feet, which was a chore as she would not stand still and just wanted to run to Col, who was standing about 25 feet away, but on the other side of the fence; a clear sign (according to Little Love) that he was going out without her.  Even trying to stand at the fence did not work, as she paced back and forth in panic.  At this point my emotional state was not exactly one of patience and zen and a few times I totally reverted back to my old way of coping in such situations i.e. I "lost it" and made Little Love pay some sort of attention to me by vigorously backing her up by applying pressure on her face via the leadrope/halter.  The second time I did that, she sort of stopped and gave me this look of "oh, so this is how we are doing it today" (I swear, this is how it felt to me).  That momentarily snapped me out of my state and I took my first deep breath, feeling like I had failed some damn test I had set myself up to take. 

So, then after all this drama, I still was stuck on the idea of walking her off the property.  I have no clue why I just couldn't go to the arena.  My brain was obviously switched on to this one gear and there was nothing that would turn it off the track it was on.  Off we went, me grinding my teeth and my horse literally prancing next to me (the upside of this is of course that she is feeling so much better on her feet to actually prance on concrete)  Col had a fit in his little paddock and started screaming from the top of his lungs.  He does not whinny melodically, but rather sounds like an elephant in pain.  I'm sure all our neighbors thought we were doing some kind of horse torture on the property. 

Little Love handled this concert really well for a while, until we were about 6 minutes away.  Then her eyes glazed over, she tried to turn home (with a rear) all the while screaming in a very high pitch voice to her one and only boy friend.  I didn't have the sense to turn home right away, but rather pulled her along with me.  However, after another minute or two it became obvious that I had little say in where we were going and at what speed.  So, I made the only sensible decision of the day and turned around.  By the time we got to the front gate, Little Love and I were both a lot calmer (maybe because we had jogged uphill?)and perhaps a little more connected (I was finally listening to her on some level).  Col was still calling, but not as vigrously so we went into the outdoor arena and walked around for a good 20 minutes. 

At that point I was fairly disappointed in my own behavior, but still braved on with the walking.  And I'm happy I did, as it did help the swelling on her legs go down - some kind of consolation for doing pretty much everything else wrong today.  Little Love was fairly energetic and offered some trot.  She is moving completely differently now than last week, very confident, even on the hard ground.  The left front still gives her grief every now and then, but all in all I would say she is fairly sound.  This, of course, is brilliant news.  Otherwise she doesn't look as great as she seems to feel; her hair is quite dull colored and she has dropped all muscle.  It was sort of a shock to see her after five days; I guess when you are gone for a while, the changes as more obvious. 

Once I was done walking her (finally, in Little Love's opinion as she had tried to trot out of the arena about five times at that point), I took her straight to the pasture.  Col was waiting for her and together they took off down the hill at a canter and disappeared behind the corner.  I, on the other hand, mucked the stall and prepped the evening feed, all the while mentally kicking myself for being such a hard headed idiot.  It is interesting how I hadn't really seen the whole picture until I was out of it.  Hindsight is precious, and it stings in an old wound like three pounds of salt.

After the chores, I went to the pasture and sat down in the dirt while the horses grazed.  Little Love wouldn't give me the time of day and I can't blame her, I had behaved like a controlling tyrant.  I was so dissapointed in myself I wanted to cry.  After about ten minutes Col walked over to me and touched my arm; he is such a supportive guy.  Little Love looked at us for a moment and then walked the opposite direction, pulling Col with her.  If I could take back this day and start over, I would skip everything and just go straight to this last part; the pasture.  But we can't take back time, unfortunately.  We can only learn from the mistakes we made.  Hopefully some day that will happen to me.  

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Day 56

I'm away from Little Love, but I miss her company.  When I'm with her, I feel so much more grounded, and that feeling stays with me for hours afterwards.  Now I haven't seen her for three whole days - although it feels longer - and I'm ready to breathe in her sweet horse scent and just hang out close to her. 

Muddy K asked me some very insightful questions (after my last blog post) and I have been thinking more of my answers.  I realize that being Little Love's official person (I don't like to say owner...) has put me in a completely different mindset than when she was not mine.  Back then, I was so bound by what I could or couldn't do with her, that choosing the direction we would go together was somewhat easy.  I also felt that whatever I was doing, it was a relief (somewhat) from what others were doing with her.  But now... I guess in a nutshell: the pressure is on.  Now I can really affect her life and I see myself questioning what I am doing or rather the methods I am using.  For example the feet.  I know she needs to walk, as walking will help her heal.  However, at first, she didn't want to walk at all.  I don't like putting pressure on her, but I sort of had to, to get her to walk.  Then I felt like all I was doing is "forcing" her to do something against her will even if it meant just nudging her along or swinging the rope at her hind end while clucking.  But on the same token, I could see the positive effects of the movement.  Ah, maybe I am just over-analysing this all?  Wouldn't be the first time :-) I would just like to explore the concept of using less and less pressure (or none, how about positive reinforcement for a change?), and even though I am using very little pressure, it is not what I want in the long run. 

The other thing Muddy K asked about was why am I working on not tying Little Love or even using the halter.  There is a simple answer to that: because she hates it.  She especially hates cross ties.  At several occasion I have seen her cross tied tightly while a person brushed her and tacked her up.  She tried to bite the person and kick at her and move away, but nothing worked, she was stuck there, being force-groomed and tacked.  It was painful to watch, especially when the people involved in this activity thought this was the only way to go about it.

So, since tying has bad memories, I have tried to avoid it, to see what sort of affect that would have on Little Love.  I believe that it is quite a big deal for her to have control over her environment, even if it is just something as simple as standing outside "untied".  It is not that she wants to leave perse that makes the difference, but rather that she knows she could, if she wanted to.  And it has been interesting to see the changes in Little Love's personality and her attitude when she is not tied.  She is more relaxed.  She also seems to tolerate things like brushing or soaking the hooves.  There is a visible shift in her attitude; she is more cooperative and curious as to what happens next and less "grumpy". 
I know there will be situations where I will have to tie her, and that's fine, she ties better when she doesn't have to do it every day. 

And what comes to the halter... in Little Love's case the rule "less is more" seems to apply in many situations. The less tack (or restraints), the more she shows up in the situation as truly who she is.  She is at her best and her true self when she is "naked".  For example, when she is free in the arena and has a halter on her head, she acts differently than if she doesn' have the halter.  There is definitely more "self conrol" with the halter (or learned behavior?).  It took me a while to figure this out, but it seems like in "naked" liberty (not to copy Resnick in any way but it's the perfect expression...) she is more free to express herself.  She will for example rear more readily.      

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Day 53

When I want to change something about myself or figure out a new solution for a situation, there are two things that help me process the issue; talking about it and writing about it.  Yesterday I wrote about my anxiety concerning handwalking Little Love outside and the effects of the written word could be seen today; right from the beginning I was much more relaxed on our walk.  In fact, I don't think I have ever been this relaxed walking with her.  Naturally this had the same effect on her; she remained alert, yet significantly calmer than yesterday.  She was still snorting and breathing heavy every time we passed a house, but she kept her cool and was more curious than anything else. 

Twice we got into a pickle, once crossing a small field and the other passing a huge garbage can.  Little Love tensed up, lifted her head high and sort of scooted forward, the whites of her eyes flashing.  I immediately started jogging forward, not in a panicky sort of way, but rather like I was just out for a relaxing run (I run about 4 mornings a week so running is natural for me).  This could have made Little Love want to bolt off, but instead she matched my pace - which was quite slow for her huge stride - and jogged next to me.  Both times we jogged maybe 30 yards and that was it, back to walk, calm and collected. 

I was quite proud of both of us by the time we got home.  I might be a bit slow to evolve at times, but I think there is hope for me to learn how to stay in the moment :-)  With a teacher like Little Love, how could I fail!  I'm going to hold this feeling in my heart for the next five days when I am away on a short trip.  I won't be seeing Little Love until next Tuesday, which at the moment seems like weeks away.  Luckily Becky is home and will be taking care of her.  She will get to hang out with Col in the pasture every day and be as muddy as she wants, something I'm sure of which she will take advantage! 

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Day 52

I think it is true, we have turned a corner!  Little Love was doing absolutely fine today despite our walk outside on the hard ground yesterday.  In fact, I might even say she was doing better. 

We went for a walk again, this time for 20 minutes on the hard ground.  Little Love is definitely back to her old self, looking and snorting at everything.  I kept Little Love on a long line and let her choose where she wanted to walk.  Usually she walks on my right side, unless there is something scary on that side.  That's when she moves to my other side, making sure I'm between her and the scary object.  My dog Chai went with us, which was helpful for Little Love, as she likes brave dogs that don't seem to care about plastic bags that flap in the wind nor do they look at funky colored mailboxes or piles of wood on the sides of houses.

As Little Love is slowly finding her way back to her old self, I notice her energy levels rising back to normal.  It's interesting to observe my own feelings take flight simultaneously with hers.  Walking Little Love in hand outside has always been a bit of a challenge, a challenge that we have worked on conquering together for quite some time now.  Not so long ago it was absolutely impossible to even attempt a walk down the road; she would get scared of something, turn around and leave.  If you tried to stop her, she would panic (perhaps even rear) and try to leave.  If you somehow managed to hold her (this took a significant amount of pressure, backing up, waving the lead rope and all kinds of antics that I'm not exactly proud of doing), she would jog next to you and every so often attempt to run off, dragging you with her.  Scary stuff, for both horse and human. 

Nobody ever attempted to walk Little Love in hand on trails before I came along.  Heck, they couldn't even ride her on the trails, so there was no way anyone was going to attempt to do the same thing on foot.  Sheer lunacy, her old owner told me (not that riding her in the arena was much better, but that's another story)

Most people will tell you not to let your horse bolt off when they are frightened.  It is considered common knowledge that it is of utmost importance to maintain control of the horse at all times, especially when it's freaked out.  Hence the reason why all kinds of bits and auxiliary reins have been developed.  However, in Little Love's case this method did not exactly work (I believe it rarely does, as it results in either learned helplessness or total fight mode).  The more people tried to hold her, the crazier she became.  When I met her, one of her specialties was hauling her rider home at full galop, head rolled down with draw reins and flanks foaming. 

Needless to say I have taken a different approach.  I think the biggest epiphany I had while attempting to retrain Little Love to stay with me while frightened was not to hold her back.  Yes, I would actually let her leave.  Giving her this choice was monumental.  You are afraid and want to leave?  Go ahead.  Just take me with you.  Interestingly enough this lead to the fact that she suddenly was not so afraid anymore.  Because if she knew she could leave at any time, she was actually willing to stay to check out the scary object.  There is nothing like having power over your environment.

However, you can see what kind of problems this "method" can lead to while handwalking.  If we encounter something completely horrific and she wants to leave, I might not be able to keep up with her if I'm on foot.  So, usually when we walk, I have the saddle on her, just in case.  That way I can just jump on her and trot off (usually a hundred yards will do it, sometimes even less) until she feels there is enough distance between her and the scary thing.  Then I can come off and walk on the ground again. 

This process of learning to go out and not be afraid has been a long one, for both Little Love and me.  She has made amazing changes in her behavior and is actually eager to go out on walks.  She hasn't gotten uncontrollably frightened for months.  She is such a brave soul. 

Me on the other hand... I am still a work in progress. I'm doing my best not to let past experiences get in the way of the current ones.  It makes no sense to think about what happened months ago while I was hand walking, as I don't know if it will ever happen again.  It may or may not.  Anticipating something bad to happen is the worst kind of thing you can do with a horse, especially this particular one.  So, I'm trying to find some kind of zen and live in the moment, walking the horse I have there with me that very moment.  Not the one I walked last fall and who freaked out over a flock a seagulls that landed in a nearby field (I actually ended up letting her loose that time, since holding her is only detrimental to everyone - interestingly enough she ran twenty yards and stopped...)  I'm also trying not to think about the fact that at the moment I can't ride her (if she has a meltdown and needs to flee), as I don't think her feet can quite take that right now.  I actually think the saddle has sort of been my safety net and now that I don't have that option, I'm feeling insecure.  Which is not necessarily a bad thing.  Working outside the box is always a bit unnerving.