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!