Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Day 143 Another step in trailer loading

Today it was raining when I got to the barn.  Tuesday's are tough in general, because I coach children's gymnastics in the afternoon and don't have much time to be with Lilo.  So, that in mind, I really just wanted to make sure I could muck and prep the feed for Becky's husband (Becky is off on another business trip and won't be back until next week some time).  If there was time for something else, it would be a bonus. 

Turned out I had some extra time so I hooked up the trailer and brought the very eager Little Love out to the back.  She was so happy to see the trailer open!  In fact, she is starting to be frantic about going into the damn thing, I can barely hold her back.  Makes me think we aren't feeding her enough! (there is food in the trailer for her, every single time).  Although I think it is more about what we usually feed her and what she gets when she goes into the trailer.  I'm not a big fan of processed and bagged horse feed, it's not that healthy for horses for several reasons, but mainly because the grains have been heated up (that's the processing).  Horses should not be eating "cooked" food.  Anyways.  She loves it.  It has molasses in it, what can I say.  And that is what she gets in the trailer - a true, unhealthy treat. :-)

So, she ran into the trailer again today.  This time I closed the back bar AND lifted the whole ramp up.  This is the first time I have actually shut any part of the trailer completely.  I left the front wide open, giving her the option of walking out at any moment.  She definitely noticed the ramp closing, she yanked her head up and the whites of her eyes were flashing.  Then her nostrils started flaring from the quickened breathing and she turned her head back to see what was behind her.  At the moment Col walked out of the barn and stood solemnly watching her as she stood in the trailer.  I swear he was there to support her, I got a very strong feeling of that when I watched the two.  Little Love settled down and ate her grain.  I can't say she was comfortable, but she wasn't freaked out.  And by the time she walked out, she was completely calm.   

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Day 141 Zen master

Today Little Love and I went for a walk together.  We were supposed to go out with Becky and Col, but it didn't work out after all for Becky because she had work to do.  I was sort of thrown off by the change of plan... What should I do?  It had been quite a while since Little Love and I left the property "alone".  Actually, if I recalled correctly, last time we were on our own, we had the "running bull" incident...  Which is of course the first thing that came to my mind when I was weighing my options.  To go, or not to go? 

I asked Little Love and felt that she wanted to go.  So, why not?  But first I did some deep breathing and connecting to my body.  Then I made some ground rules - for myself.  1. No expectations  2. Stay in your body  3. Stay in the moment (sort of connected to rule 2)  3. If shit hits the fan: do your best to stay grounded  4. Be honest in what you are feeling and communicate this to Little Love  5. You can always turn home

I felt calm and confident when we set off.  Little Love seemed equally calm and confident.  She didn't stop going down the driveway, which is highly exeptional.  Great, I thought, this is going well., maybe we can take the long loop?  Oooops, I caught myself.  Stay grounded and in the moment.  Don't think about what you could do or should do or would do.

I could feel my mind want to wander, so I started talking out loud, making observations about my surroundings.  I said: "I feel the warm wind on my bare arms.  The sun is warm on my back.  I hear the crickets in the grass." This really helped me stay in my body as well as in the present moment.  Every now and then I would say: "I have zen" just because it seemed to sum up what I was feeling  (LOL).  Little Love touched my arm with her nose and blew air out of her nostrils.  I knew I was on the right track. 

Five minutes later I was struggling again.  I started thinking that it was amazing that Little Love had not called out to Col at all.  Not one single time.  This was really promising, as I has heard Col screaming in his stall when we left.  Maybe we could walk further than we usually... That very moment Little Love lifted her head and whinnied so loud, I thought I'd lost all hearing in my right ear.  She took a few jogging steps and immediately I felt my pulse quicken and my palms start to sweat.  My body was instantly tense, getting ready for the worst case scenario.  Oh no, what happened to zen?! 

But I got a grip on myself.  I took a deep breath and said: "Little Love, it really scares me when you scream so loudly, it makes me feel insecure."  I scanned my body for feelings and sensations apart from the beating heart; fly on my arm, sun in my eyes, smell of grass in my nose.  Slowly my heart came back to its normal rhythm.  Little Love sighed and lowered her head, chewing.  Phew.  I had done it.  I had stayed grounded and brought her back to be with me.  I also quickly realized how my own "being in the head" moment had probably triggered her insecurity and thus caused her to scream for Col.  I needed to really do this "body thing" more! 

We walked down the road for 15 minutes, then stopped to graze for a while and finally walked back.  The whole time I focused on feeling the ground, feeling the wind, hearing the birds, listening to cow bells, sweating in the sun - any and all sensations that would keep me in the present moment.  It was GREAT!  Woohoo!  I'm so happy.  I think we were both happy, Little Love was in the zen with me (I can't tell you how many times I said: "I have zen."  Talk about brainwashing myself haha).  Now I just have to keep my head together and not get all worked up about this, having expectations next time we walk or making plans for future walks.  Because, we know what follows when I do that...

Friday, May 27, 2011

Some thoughts

For some reason I still cannot comment on my posts.  Very frustrating.  It looks like some of you are getting through, though!  I wanted to say that I really appreciated Muddy K's observation about being honest with myself rather than with Little Love.  I think this is really true.  Little Love has always known what is going on, even when I have not been admitting the truth to myself.  I am fighting to change that.  Sometimes it is really sobering to realize how backwards my thinking can still be.  Actually, it's almost embarrassing.  Like this whole agenda about Little Love "being muscular".  Just two days ago both Becky and I were taking care of the horses at the same time.  Becky was looking at Col with a critical eye and wondering if he was a bit overweight.  We talked about perhaps giving him a little less feed.  I said:

"I think Little Love is at a good weight right now." 

Becky looked at me surprised.  "Don't you think she is sort of skinny." 

I pointed out to her that you could barely feel her ribs, let alone see them.  In my opinion, a lot of "sport horses" are quite overweight.  We are so used to seeing them all round and plump that we think that is what is the sign of a healthy horse.  I shared this opinion with Becky and I could see that it made her think (although she didn't say anything to it).  She looked at Little Love again and then said:

"You're right.  I think what she is lacking is muscle."  

You think?  LOL.  Of course she is right.  Little Love is not the embodiment of a muscular horse.  She does next to nothing when it comes to exercise.  Yes, we walk.  Yes, we occasionally play in the arena.  But I have to face it, she is not "in shape" in the traditional sense of the word.  But still, hearing it from Becky made me (yet again) want to take Little Love into the arena and start working her to death to create those ever important muscles that would make her look like a million bucks. 

It's silly, I know.  It is also something I need to work on, the image I have of her.  What is more important to me: the mental health of my horse or the way she looks?  BEcause, at this moment in time, those two are sort of juxtaposed.  It's either or.  I think I would rather have the mental health.  And in the meanwhile work on my own fixation of what a horse should or shouldn't look like. 

Also, I would like to comment on what Shelby said about my last post (concerning teaching Lilo's ex-owner) She used the words beautiful ending - and that is exactly how it felt.  Beautiful AND like it was final. I can't even explain what it felt like to drive to Becky's place and see Little Love after that, I felt so light, as if a burden had been lifted.  Somehow I think I might get that feeling again once we are safely in Finland.  It's almost like I need to get this horse out of this country to truly give her a fresh start.  I know so many things have changed already, but when we leave, she can start a new.  Completely.  Her reputation will not follow her, so to say.  Does that make sense?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Day 138 A little piece of freedom

Today I met up with Little Love's old owner.  She called me out of the blue two weeks ago and asked for a riding lesson.  She has started riding a mutual friend's horse twice a week and wanted my input on how she was doing with her seat.  I don't teach a lot, but out of curiosity I agreed to teach her. 

It was an interesting experience to see her on another horse.  She struggled so much with Little Love; just sitting in her big movement was a chore.  On top of it, the lady was often afraid or frustrated or angry when she rode.  None of these emotions sit well with Little Love, as you all probably know by now, especially if you try to hide your feelings and pretend they don't exist.  I can't even begin to recap how I felt watching this from the ground and desperately trying to help the two...

But today, for the first time ever, I was able to teach this woman without any emotional baggage whatsoever, from her part or mine.  She was not afraid and she felt confident on the smooth and calm stallion (yes, she is riding a stallion, but I'm telling you, this guy is steady as a rock).  This enabled her to take my advice and listen to her own body, something she had always struggled with when on top of Little Love.  She rode better than I had ever seen her ride.  I could tell she was very, very happy with this horse. 

I was happy, too.  I always felt so torn between teaching the lady how to ride (for her sake and for Little Love's sake) and at the same time wanting to knock her off the horse and never let her get on again.  It's not that she isn't a good rider, because really, she is doing so well (especially considering where she was five years ago when I met her), but her and Little Love together... it just was not a good match.  And it broke my heart over and over again to see what it did to both of them, but most importantly Little Love, who had no choice in the matter.  And now - it's all over.  It is truly over.  Never again will Little Love have to go through any of that.  Of course I have known that for quite a while, but still... it somehow became real today.  And when it became real, it felt like something very dark and ugly left my body.  That something flew up into the universe and disappeared into the stars.  And it was as if someone had just handed me a little piece of freedom.

Info from Blogger

Looked into the issue of not being able to post comments.  This is what Blogger said about it in their blog:

We're investigating an issue which is preventing login and comment posting for some users, and hope to have a fix released shortly.

Thanks for your patience in the meantime.

Hopefully this gets fixed soon... I miss your comments! :-)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Day 137

Today I decided to be honest with Little Love.  The minute I saw her, I told her I really wanted to go out with her on the trails, but that I felt apprehensive about going on our own. I confessed my fear and asked her to be tolerant.  I promised to continue being honest and do my best to stay grounded.

Then I saw Becky and asked her if she wanted to go out for a long walk with the horses.  She said yes, but since she hadn't had time to ride yesterday, she wanted to trot and canter as well (we all have our obsessions...).  This left me two options: a) not go with her  or b) go, but put the saddle on so I could trot and canter with her.  I agreed to go.

The next thing I did is have another talk with Little Love.  I told her how I would really like to go on this walk/ride with Becky, but it would mean she would have to have the saddle on.  I promised to stay on the ground as much as possible, but asked for Little Love's patience if and when I had to get on.  She seemed to agree.  So, I bit the bullet and got the saddle out.  Little Love pinned her ears back when she first saw it, but once I put it on her back, she just stood there, even when I fixed the girth (I do this in phases, not at once).  I took this as a sign of agreement, since before she always tried to bite.  Of course, it has been quite a while since she had the saddle on last.

We were out for 60 minutes, mostly walking.  I only sat on Little Love once when we went into this big field to do some canter.  I was a bit apprehensive getting on her, after all, it had been months since she even had a saddle on her, let alone a rider.  I told her how I felt, asking for understanding from her part. Interestingly she didn't seem to mind me on her back. We walked for a bit and she took the lead, leaving Col behind.  When I asked her to canter, she picked it up without a fuss.  We cantered about 200 yards and then trotted a bit up hill until we were back on the road.  That was it.  I must have been sitting on her a whole four minutes.  I came off and continued walking by her side.  Little Love touched my arm with her nose.  Thank you, we both said at the same time.

Afterwards, I loaded her in the trailer. Or actually she loaded herself.  Now that she knows all about the food in the trailer, she gets really impatient if I don't let her go in there right away.  This time I closed both the back and front bars while she ate her grain.  She didn't mind.  Little by little I am working towards closing the entire trailer.  I also have to work on her standing in there without the food.  Becky offered to take her for a short drive, once we have all the pieces together.  That would be brilliant.  I am so proud of my black mare, she has overcome so much in terms of going into the trailer.  I don't think she will ever love it, but if she can learn to tolerate it - that would be priceless. 

PS. I heard that some of you have had problems posting comments... I'm not sure what is going on, but I'll try to find out.  Sometimes I notice that when you post a comment, you have to press the button about four times before it actually posts it.  Perhaps this is what is going on now? 

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Day 136 Reflections

A subtle shift in perspective happened when I was in England last week. I couldn't really put my finger on it, but when I went to the barn today, I decided to not do a thing with Little Love, but instead use the tools I received at the Epona workshop to really connect with her.  After doing the chores (which was hard since Little Love decided to do them with me... :-) I walked into the field where Col was already grazing.  Sometimes it's hard to be around Col, as he doesn't always understand boundaries.  Becky feeds him treats constantly, so he expects them as soon as a human is in sight.  So, as usual, I had to make it quite clear to him that he could not walk all over me.  He is quite persistent, but in the end, got the message and both horses settled down to graze. 

I stood back, under a tree and turned my back on the horses to do the "body scan".  Nothing else came up, but a green and red light behind my eyes.  I stayed with it, asking if it had a message for me.  The first thought that came to me was about "being" with Little Love (vs. "doing" something with her).  I turned towards the horses and the light dissipated. And suddenly I realized that in terms of "being" rather than "doing", I have not been completely honest with myself - or Little Love. 

I have often talked about the need to walk Little Love every day so her hooves can heal and grow.  It is true that movement is absolutely crucial for the barefoot horse.  However, I realize now that my obsession to take these long walks with Little Love are not based solely on the need to heal her hooves.  Despite the fact that I have stopped riding her and exercising her in a organized manner, I still have not been able to "let go" of doing something with her.  With "doing", I mean "building muscle".  I come from a background where a horse was not worth a dime if you couldn't ride it.  If you saw a picture of a horse, the first thing you looked at was the shape, the muscling.  This is clearly still somewhere in the back of my mind.  I remember coming back from Finland last month after being gone for ten days and looking at Little Love with a critical eye.  I thought she looked awful.  Yes, she had lost weight, but she had also lost muscle.  A lot of it.  The first thing I wanted to do was take her out and exercise her.

Okay, obviously anyone would want their horse to be healthy.  Having muscles and being in shape does keep a horse healthier and help it live a longer life.  But, that all said, I have to really question my own motives in this.  Where does this need to exercise Little Love and keep her "muscled up" really stem from?  I'm not sure I am so obsessed about it for the right reasons. Am I talking the talk, but not walking the walk?  Perhaps.  Most likely.  It is one thing to say what your intentions are, but to actually live by those intentions...  I don't know.  Seems like I had been fooling even myself.

As all this information flowed into me, I stood in the field and looked at Little Love.  She had stopped eating grass and was looking back at me.  Then she walked over and touched my hand.  The certainty that filled me was overwhelming.  I was right on the money, this is what she was trying to tell me.  I don't really know yet what this means.  Except that I need to think about this more.  Perhaps I need to stop being so obsessed about going on these walks several times a week, the same walks that some days seem to be the hardest thing Little Love has ever done.  The same walks that put me in situations where I get really afraid or angry.  What if we don't walk for x miles every week? What is more important; her physical health or her mental health?  Good question.

And what comes to me and my reasons for "doing" things with Little Love... I need to really look into my heart and see what is there.  In a few weeks Little Love will move to a new country.  I want her to be healthy for the trip, because it will be a tough one.  But I also want for both of us to enjoy the time we have together.  Pushing her past her limits (with the cows for example) just because I think it is absolutely necessary to go for walks (when it really isn't) is maybe not always the way to go. 

Monday, May 23, 2011

Day 135

All is well with Little Love.  The main news was that she was happy to see me!  Before, when I have been gone for a few days, it always took us a day to connect and be "comfortable" with each other again, but this time it took a whole second.  When I got to the barn, she was in the grass field with Col.  Looks like Becky has finally seen the light and has been letting the horses just hang out in the field all day.  I'm so happy about that, because this means they have so much space to just come and go.  Apparently they have been spending the hottest hours of the day inside.  Which makes sense. 

I walked into the field from the back gate and said hello to both horses.  Then I went to the barn to muck the stall.  Two minutes later Little Love showed up.  She entered Col's stall and hung her head over the wall and watched me labor over her stall.  While I was gone, Becky had changed from shavings to a mixture of shavings and straw.  I knew it was going to happen, so it was no surprise, but I had forgotten how much more labor goes into mucking a stall with straw in it...

When I was almost done with my chores, Little Love was visibly impatient.  She kept pushing onto the chain across the stall door and pawing at the floor.  So, I hurried up and took her in the back where I soaked her feet.  I inspected her hooves and was happy to see that they didn't look too bad.  I trimmed them right before I left, so it was interesting to see how my trim had affected her angles etc.  Pretty good, I think we are on the right track.  The only thing is that her hoof wall is still quite brittle, but Claudia (my hoof mentor) said it would take a few hoof capsules before that problem would go away.  Patience is a virtue. 

Also, Little Love's skin looked better!  I'm not sure what is the main cause to this, but I suspect that the work my friend Shelby has done on her has something to do with it (thank you Shelby!).  I did also wash her with the medication before I left and bought her a fly sheet.  The fly sheet was a good call, since the insect population seems to have just exploded in the past week.  Little Love hates insects and the fly sheet gives her at least some cover.  She doesn't like blankets, but I think this one will help her get through some of the bad days.  The forest next to the barn just seems to breed the biggest and nastiest horse flies I have seen for a long time...

The whole time Little Love and I hung out, Col watched us from over the gate.  Sometimes I swear he is jealous.  Nobody ever just hangs out with him, it's all about riding and moving him when he gets out.  I'm hoping to find some time to just go to the barn and sit in the field with the horses, connecting with their energy.  Perhaps this is something that will benefit Col as well, who knows?

Right before I left the barn, Becky's husband came back with the trailer (he had to get it inspected for the Swiss authorieties).  Since it was hooked onto the car  I thought I would use the opportunity to practice loading. The minute I got the ramps down, Little Love ran in.  I gave her some grain.  Later, when we had been in the arena and the trailer was still there, she made an attempt to go to it again.  The front ramp was up, which meant she wouldn't be able to go through.  She followed me in, but when she realized the front was closed, she stopped half way.  We stood there for a moment and then I asked her forward.  She came in and I gave her some banana.  She grabbed it quickly and started backing out.  Loading is obviously no longer an issue; now the issue is staying in there when it is closed.   I followed her calmly down the ramp and then walked her back into the field where Col was waiting for her.  We will keep working on this, one day at a time.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Back home

It feels like I have been gone forever, even thought it was only five days.  Had an amazing trip topped with brilliant insight via Bramble and Jack, the two horses I had the privilege to work with at the Epona course.  I'll have to make an attempt of explain it all in my other blog, once I get my thoughts together.  I (re)-discovered so many important things not only about myself, but about the horses, too.  They know so much more about life than we will ever know.  I realize that somewhere along the way between trying to heal Little Love's feet and freaking out about her skin condition, I started focusing too much on the "doing" part of our relationship, instead of slowing down and just "being".  It's not surprising, since I am definitely a "doer"; it is the slowing down that does not come so easily to me.  I intend to change that.  So what if I don't walk her every day, so what if I don't soak her feet - sometimes just being there and listening is more important.  There is so much she can teach me and tell me and help me with. I can't wait to see her tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Day 129

Today I trimmed Little Love's front hooves.  It was a heck of a lot easier than when I did it the first time.  I guess I felt more comfortable.  Although I'm still not sure I'm doing a great job at it.  But perhaps not the worst possible job either?  Little Love was definitely more patient with me this time.  She let me go at it without really caring.  Which was helpful. 

I trimmed her back hooves already yesterday.  There wasn't so much to trim there; my "mentor", Claudia Garner, advised me to trim only the bars for now.  So that I did.  I like trimming, it's really intriguing to see how much you can change the way a horse moves with just a few swipes of the knife.  Not that I'm that good yet, but seeing someone like Claudia do it is amazing.  Makes you want to be able to do that!

Afterwards I walked Little Love around a bit, just to see how she was moving.  Not bad.  I also spent some time just hanging out with her.  I needed to explain to her that I will be going away for a few days.  My best friend turned forty a few weeks ago and to celebrate the new decade in her life, she wanted to do something special with me.  When I turned forty a few years ago, we went on a two day trek on horse back in the French Jura mountains.  It was so much fun at the time, but now I don't think I could sit on any poor horse for six hours a day.  I'd rather walk, actually.  So, this time we will be doing something a bit different; we are going to England for a two day Epona Introductory Course (go to http://www.taoofequus.com/ for more information). 

I've done this sort of at thing before and can say without exaggeration that it changed my life.  So, I'm really looking forward to this course.  Not that I'm expecting it to change my life (again), but I'm sure it will give some food for thought.  The course is called "Accessing Authenticity" which sounds like something I need right now (don't we all need that?).  Anyways, I'm excited to go, but at the same time am worried about Little Love.  Mainly it's her skin condition.  It really is not getting better.  Today I washed her with another medication.  This one you actually leave into the coat.  It's potent stuff and can only be used every fourth day.  I'm hoping it helps and holds her off until I get back.  Also, I got her a fly sheet.  Just to cover all my bases.  She's not exactly in love with the fly sheet, but I told her it was important to tolerate it for a few day, just to see if it helps.  I'll be back on Sunday to view the situation!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Day 128 Déjà vu

I'm thinking Little Love has a plan.  The plan is that she will continue pushing me to my limit until I give up and just leave her in the field.  Or maybe she is just wanting to see where my breaking point is?  Or maybe the plan is even more profound than that; she wants me to learn to control my frustration. 

Yesterday we did a brilliant walk with Becky and the dogs again.  This time Little Love was like an "old cow".  She was so calm and composed, it was hard to believe actually.  She couldn't have cared less about the real cows, too.  It was wonderful. 

Then today, we had a brilliant walk for the first 20 minutes.  To play it safe, I went for the same loop as yesterday minus Becky and her dogs (she's off to another business trip).  I had my dog with me, but that was it.  We passed some cows that were actually behaving like normal cows i.e. not running.  Little Love was alert and slightly fearful (especially when one of them was in this bush right by the road), but it was all manageable.  Well, it was, until we got to the field with 15 bulls.  Despite the fact that they had seen us walk by yesterday, the bulls decided to freak out.  It was a stampede, I'm not kidding.  Fifteen bulls at full speed (I didn't know they could run that fast...)  Naturally my horse freaked out as well and decided to take off towards home. 

I did not let go.  If there is one thing I am NOT going to do, it is let go.  I do not want to see my horse running loose towards that big road - ever again.  So, Little Love literally dragged me down the road.  I was so angry, I can't even tell you how angry I was.  This probably didn't help her mental state one bit, but it did give me the strength to somehow get my feet underneath me enough to get a bit of slack on the rope.  This gave me the leverage to yank back on the rope (sorry Little Love).  I managed to get her out of balance for a split second, which is all it took for me to get in front of her and swing my rope right in front of her face.  She stopped and tried to take off again, pushing me aside.  I mean, she was really afraid and I can understand that.  But, I couldn't just let her go.  Nor was I going to get hurt myself in the process of holding onto her.  So, we did this interesting back and forth dance of backing up, freaking out, going forward, yanking and rope swinging, stopping, backing up etc. Finally, once we were far enough from the crazy bulls, I managed to get her attention enough that she stayed next to me, instead of plowing off towards the barn.  Five minutes later she was back to "calm mode" and despite us hearing Col in the distance screaming for her, she remained composed and attentive, as if nothing had ever happened. 

My legs on the other hand were still shaking. 

I don't know how much of this I can take.  Again I thought that perhaps I should really start putting the saddle on her.  I don't know if I could have gotten her past those bulls had I been in the saddle, but at least I could have stayed with her when she took off  running.  Once she gets far enough from the scary thing, she tends to slow down and get over it.  I want to walk with her and I know she wants to walk with me, but dealing with her reactions to running bulls (or whatever else it is) is a little much.  She is a big horse.  Sometimes I wish she was an Icelandic or an Arab, at least it would be less pounds against my pathetic body weight in situations like this one.  Sigh.  I'm sure you all are getting just as tired of hearing about these episodes as I am taking part in them.  I'm thinking if I could magically remove all these nut.case cows/bulls from the area, things would be a lot more quiet.  Unfortunately the cows are everywhere.  This is Switzerland.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Day 126 Walking in the rain

Today it rained.  Which was a good thing, since we really needed some rain.  The horses were fairly freaked out, though.  As I have mentioned before, Little Love is not used to being outside when it rains, because in her previous life the horses were kept inside during bad weather. 

When I got to the barn, both horses were standing in their stalls completely bug-eyed.  I took Little Love in the back and she was constantly listening to the different sounds coming from the forest.  Admittedly, it sounds very different when it rains!  I haven't had to tie her to the wall for such a long time, but today she needed the security of the rope.  I didn't even consider soaking her feet, it was not the day for an activity that required standing still with your feet in a bucket.

Normally, had I been by myself, I would have been inclined to go into the arena and not risk getting into a situation with my jumpy horse while walking her outside, but because Becky and I hadn't seen each other all week, she managed to talk me into a walk.  The catch was that she was also walking, but without her horse, Col (she never walks him in hand).  Col and her had already had a jumping lesson that morning, something Becky likes to do every week, if she gets a chance.  So Col stayed home, while we walked the three dogs (my Chai and Becky's two labs) and Little Love. 

Needless to say, Little Love was slightly on the edge.  But she seemed eager to go, so I figured I could try it.  I did my best to control my own mind, which - if I let it - could come up with about a million really bad scenarios that could happen on our walk.  It helps to be out with another person, though.  Makes me slightly distracted in a good way. Also, the more people and animals are walking with us, the better for Little Love, too.  She does well with lots of company.

We walked for one hour.  Yes, Little Love was nervous.  Yes, she got really fearful a few times.  Yes, we met cows four times, two of which were herds of young cows that started RUNNING along side the fence (what is up with these cows?  The cows at the old barn were calm and docile).  Yes, there was some bolting and panicking.  Yes, there were moments when I got a bit scared it would all go to hell. 

But, there was also some listening and cooperating.  There was also some calm grazing as well as great, semi-relaxed moments of just walking.  Little Love might have been afraid at times, but she followed me, trusting me to take her out of the situation safely.  In the end, it was all worth it.  I can't say I was able to completely relax many times during the walk, but so what.  Both Little Love and I were alert, but in a healthy way.  And we did it all in the rain!  :-)

I really feel that walking outside is something both Little Love and I can learn to enjoy if we just keep working on it.  It is true that there are times that I need to be smart and careful.  But there are also times when I just have to bite the bullet and go for it. The key is to read the situation and the emotions and see if it is something Little Love and I can handle.  I will make mistakes, but then I just have to live with those mistakes (and hope she doesn't get loose from me).  LOL.

PS. I'm happy that in Finland the barn will be at the end of a very small dirt road.  This in itself will help me mentally, because at least I will know that if my horse gets lose from me, she won't have to cross a busy road to get home.  And what helps me mentally, helps my horse.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Day 124 + 125

Blogger was down last night so I could post :-(  But here is what I wrote...

Every day is a new day.  I definitely was in a better place to start with when I got to the barn.  My plan was that there was no plan.  Which was a good plan :-)  After the chores, I pulled a slightly reluctant Little Love out of the field (she didn't stop, but just came very slowly, Col following tightly behind).  I soaked her feet and washed her back, which she seemed to enjoy since she had the choice to leave at any time (which she didn't).  The skin condition on her back is not doing so well.  I took a picture of it last week, but it looks way worse in real life.  Yesterday, instead of just having these spots with no hair, she had weird crusty scabs.  I picked at them and washed them with this solution that is sort of like Betadine soap.  It seems to have worked since there were no new scabs.  But, her hair looks awful on the top of her back.  Like I need another thing to deal with at the moment...
Talking about that.  Pieces are starting to fall into place concerning Little Love's transportation to Finland this summer.  It is going to be a pretty interesting journey and I definitely have to prep her for it in advance.  In fact, we did some loading again today and for the first time, I shut both the back and the front bar, locking Little Love in.  She was fine with it, at least as long as she was eating the small amount of grain I gave her.  Once she had no food, she realized what had happened and she had a little "fit".  She jerked up her head and tried to back out, but obviously just hit the back bar.  The trailer swayed from side to side for a moment.  I gave her a carrot and she took it (which means she wasn't too panicked).  Then I opened the front and let her walk out (she had a halter, but no leadrope).  She went down the front ramp pretty swiftly, but atleast she didn’t run out J 

So, that was a bit of a surprise for her, realizing she was actually in there and could not get out right away.  Next time I'll put her in there, but won't even do the bars.  I want to go back and forth, until I can see that she really doesn't care about being locked in.  I need to practice this A LOT.  Because, when she leaves for Finland, it looks like she will first have to be driven two to three hours north in a trailer just to cross the boarder into France.  Then, she'll be picked up by a huge horse transport on it's way from Spain to Germany (good thing is that there are other horses in there).  Then she'll be at a barn in Germany where she'll wait for the next horse truck to come and get her and take her all the way to Finland. 

The good thing is that I can be there with her at the "transfer spot" in France as well as in Germany, at least when she arrives (I can't travel with the truck, but will go by car).  She may end up spending a few days at that barn and my plan is to stay with her as long as I can. 
 The thing is, I need to make it to Finland before the horse does (she goes through Sweden)  The problem still is that no dates are fixed as of yet, because both transporters don't seem to really make their schedules until a week or two before.  So, we are just talking about ball park guestimates of when she is going.  But, I had to get my own boat tickets, as I’m traveling with family (husband, kid, dogs  - bless all of their hearts for being willing to follow my horse from what seems the other end of the earth to the other !) and those boats fill up fast.  If heavens align, Little Love will be picked up on the same day I have my tickets.  And if not, we will both just have to deal with it. 

Day 125
So today I hooked up the trailer again.  I just wanted to make sure Little Love hadn't gone back to panic mode after being shut in yesterday.  Nope.  She literally RAN in when she saw the open trailer.  I closed the back bar, but left the front open.  She was a bit nervous, but it could have been because Col was walking around in the paddock area and she could hear him behind her. 
Her skin looked a little bit better - I think.  Or perhaps I'm being hopeful and thus blind?  So, I decided to wash her again with the same soap.  I think I just have to stay on top of it.  There were a few new scabs, too, but I scratched them off.  
She is still in heat (her stall was awful, took me forever to clean it), but not so clingy with Col.  Actually, she was more like hostile towards him than anything else.  This made me hopeful that perhaps we could leave the property without major incident.  I decided to try it.  I'm trying to live by the rule "If it's not happening now, it's not happening."  This is so important with Little Love, because sometimes things can get sketchy and if I get stuck on those moments, we'll never leave the yard again.  But it's not easy to challenge yourself every single day. 
She actually walked out the gate fine.  She didn't call out to Col for the first time until after we had crossed the big road.  It was nothing like the other day, though, so we powered on.  Her eyes were on sticks and she kept calling to Col every so often, but despite all this, she seemed motivated to walk.  We got about a half a mile away when I stopped to let her graze.  She was still nervous, but then finally the grass "won" and she calmed down.  She ate grass for ten minutes and I was tempted to walk further, but I thought it a good idea to go home instead.  Why push my luck, right?  Go figure that just about then things started happening.  Believe it or not, but while we had been relaxing and enjoying the sun (and grass), a huge bull (yes, a bull) had crept up behind us and was now standing on the hill, staring at us.  There was a flimsy fence in between us, but that didn't really mean a thing to Little Love. So when he mooed (and she realized he was there), she bolted towards home.  Luckily I have a long rope, quick reflexes and excellent running shoes.  I was able to hold on to her and somehow run with her so that we could get away from this big animal. 
What is it with me, the horses and cows?  For crying out loud. 
Little Love was pretty freaked out, but she did listen to me and not drag me home.  We trotted a while and then stopped to see if she could actually walk, but it was too soon.  So we trotted further, until we were fairly close to the big road.  That was obviously far enough and finally Little Love settled down and was actually able to eat a bit of grass before we walked home.  Phew.  If there is one thing I won't miss from Switzerland, it is these creapy cows.  Usually all the cows have these enormous bells (which I think is animal abuse) so you can hear them a mile away, but there are a few herds around the barn with bells only on a few individuals.  Those individuals do obviously not include bulls. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Day 123 Separation Anxiety

Little Love is in heat.  When I came to the barn today she was standing in front of Col with her tail to the side.  This is nothing out of the ordinary, she's a mare and has been in heat a million times, so I didn't think anything of it.  She wasn't even peeing every ten seconds.  So I didn't think it was a problem.  Well, at least not until I tried to walk her away from the barn.  Emphasis on the word "tried"... She stopped every two steps or so, growing roots as if she had never ever left the barn before.  And mind you, this was just about crossing the parking lot (20 yards...). Once we got to the arena (after a bit of negotiation), she kept turning around, trying to look towards the barn.  Obviously she had brainspace for only one thing and that was Col. 

It was really muggy and normally this sort of weather would have had her half asleep, but nope, not today.  If she wasn't staring at the barn, she was running around me with her head in the air, screaming for her boyfriend.  Mind you, she has never called for him yet from the arena.  But I guess there is a first time for everything. 

My initial plan had been to go for a long walk.  Little Love needs exercise for many reasons, but most importantly because of her feet.  The way she was behaving in the arena, however, didn't encourage me to take her off the property.   I tried working her in hand, but she had absolutely no focus, nor did she find it even remotely interesting.  I let her run around for a bit, which she did quite frantically, hoping she would perhaps calm down.  Nope. 

So, I started from the beginning.  I went back to the barn, let her say hi to Col, brushed her for a bit and then set off again.  This time we went out the gate. Little Love followed me out (which was progress) but started Stopping and screaming the second we were off the property.  Call me crazy (Or stubborn.  Or  - stupid?), but despite her antics, I walked her down the driveway.  I didn't dare cross the big road, so I took a right and walked up the small road that leads to the neighbors house.  This wouldn't really take me anywhere (about a 5 min walk), but I wanted to see if there was any sense going further.  There wasn't.  If it would have been up to Little Love, she would have turned and cantered home, dragging me behind her like a waterskier.  I had to be quite "animated" (swinging a rope in front of her face, for example) to keep her from leaving me point blank. 

We went back home, me walking and Little Love jigging next to me.  Every so often I would ask her to stop and back up a few steps.  I don't think I would have done this otherwise, but if I didn't, the situation escalated to the point where I wasn't sure I could hold onto her anymore. By the time we were going up the driveway,  she was listening to my requests enough not to drag me up the hill.  I tried to see this as a good thing even though I wanted to scream from frustration.  By the time we were past the gate, she calmed down a notch.  We walked back to the barn to say hi to Col - once again.  But, something in me could not give up, so we went back to the arena.  When she realized where we were going, Little Love sighed and that was it, she snapped back to the horse she was yesterday and the day before.  We worked for a good twenty minutes on alignment and ended on a good note.  Phew. 

But, then it all started again when I took Col out to groom him and oil his hooves (by Becky's request, she is gone).  While he was gone Little Love screamed and screamed in her stall, even though she had to know he was just around the corner, tied to the side of the barn.  It is not like this was the first time someone ever took him out (usually she just eats hay and is fine, even when Becky goes off on long rides).  Finally, since she was so stressed out that she was working up a sweat, I let her out of her stall into the paddock area, where she stood behind the back gate 9 feet (3 m) away from Col, staring at him.  But even this made her uneasy and she kept walking back into the barn to check if she could get through to the other side and ultimately closer to him. 

I don't know what is going on, but it has to be the hormones.  I have never seen her this herd bound before.  The two horses have always called out to each other when they are separated, but this was something completely different.  Col was normal, calling to Little Love, but not in total panic.  But Little Love... jeez.  I don't even know what to do with her when she is like this, it's as if nothing else exists for her than Col.  Perhaps I should just leave her be?  Or will that just make it all worse in the long run?  Or should I insist in small increments, like today? 

Anyone else out there with advice on how to handle a mare in love? 

Monday, May 9, 2011

Travel plans

I'm moving to Finland this summer and so is Little Love.  When this decision unfolded, little did I know how hard it would be to find transportation for her.  It seems nearly impossible.  Well, not impossible, but just not easy either.

I have spent the good half of the day talking to different horse transportation professionals.  Ideally I would like Little Love to travel on a big transport with several other horses, because I think she would be more comfortable with the company.  And traveling on a big rig is a lot smoother ride than in a trailer.  Because this is not exactly just a few hour trip.  Let me explain...

There are several routes to take when going to Finland from Switzerland, but the one the horse transporters seem to favor, is the route through Germany and Sweden.  2000 kilometres (about 1200 miles) and a few ferry rides later, the horse is in Stockholm, where the truck drives onto a massive ferry boat and sits there overnight before it arrives in Helsinki harbor.  Sounds like an operation, eh? 
Another way to go would be through Germany and then taking a boat from Travemünde to Helsinki.  This boat trip takes 27 hours, which is about the same time it takes to drive through Sweden AND take the boat from there.   However, if the seas are rough, the boat from Germany can get a bit sketchy, as you can't take the horses off the truck - no matter what.  The seas are much calmer up between Sweden and Finland hence the reason the horse transporters go that way most of the time.
A third and quite interesting route would be through the Eastern European states and then with a ferry from Estonia to Finland, a relatively short boat ride compared to the other two.  However, the roads are not the best in this region and the horse transportation companies don't seem to offer this as an option anyways. 

On top of all this, Switzerland is not part of the European Union, which makes matters a little bit more complicated.  Apparently there needs to be a veterinary control at the boarder.  This means that no European transporter wants to come through Switzerland to pick her up, because it would mean extra stops at the boarder (especially if you have more than one horse).  Finding a Swiss transporter to take her all the way from Switzerland to Finland is not happening.  In any case, this would cost an arm and a leg and she would have to travel the whole trip alone (as she would be the only horse going on that trip) as it's not exactly a common route.

So - I have finally located a person who could possibly take her up to Northern Germany where she could then change to a Finnish transporter.  The Swiss guy is extremely expensive, because there is no other horse sharing the ride (and he is Swiss, everything in this country is expensive).  This also means Little Love is stuck traveling alone for half the trip.  And we all know what a great loader and traveler she is... (although loading into Becky's trailer is looking pretty good...).  In Northern Germany, however, she could be picked up by a transport company with several other horses on the same ride.  This will be a bit better, especially since she is getting on a boat and all that.

Becky offered to drive us over the boarder (it's a 2½ hour trip one way) to Germany, but then what?  Where would we go?  Who could pick us up? (the Finnish transporter won't come down to Southern Germany).  I don't speak German very well, so communicating with some of these transporters has been quite challenging.  At the moment I have contact with one guy who is sending me emails using an online translator.  I'm not always sure I quite understand what he is trying to say...

I can't even begin to explain the amount of anxiety just thinking about this is causing me!  If I could just somehow magically transport Little Love to Finland with some Harry Potter magic, I would.

I still have a few leads on people who transport horses across Europe.  Perhaps one of them will miraculously offer to take her all the way along with 5 other horses that are all calm and composed travelers.   Who knows, maybe we'll get lucky with this...  I'll keep you posted. 

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Day 117 On riding

Last week when we were out for a walk, Becky asked me when I was going to start riding Little Love again.  I told her I didn't know.  Which is true.  At the moment the other possible answer would be "never", but I guess I'm not ready to say that out loud - yet.  But her question made me think.  When was I going to ride Little Love again?  Was I going to ride her? 

I don't know.   I guess that depends on her, more than anything else. 

I have been working her in hand in the arena  a few times a week.  We work on alignment (straightness would be another word) stretching down, collection, lateral movements and transitions.  I am not a certain "method" to achieve all this, but rather a system the two of us have worked out over time.  We only do about 10 minutes at a time, sometimes 15 min if Little Love is highly motivated (and sometimes 1 minute if she isn't :-)  Why do I do this?  The main reason would be to keep her body correctly aligned and to build up muscle, so she can be healthier and live a longer life.  Also, it is interesting, for both her and for me.  And it is a change in the routine.  I figure we will do it as long as she seems to enjoy it.  But, in addition, it builds her up for riding - if I were to ever ride. 

Out of curiosity, I put the bitless bridle on today and walked to the arena with Little Love.  Then, I climbed onto her bare back and rode her for a whole 4 minutes at the walk and a bit at the trot.  I have not ridden her for weeks (or has it been months?) and I have not ridden her at all in the arena since I bought her.  Riding her on the trails is one thing, but the arena... she does not have good memories of that place, I am sure (indoor arena's are even worse, and if I never take her to one for the rest of her life, so be it).  It felt strange to sit on her.   

The first thing I noticed was that once I was on her back, Little Love started to look around and listen to every little noise.  She even spooked a few times, yielding away from a little crackle in the bushes.  This is her way of mentally and emotionally escaping an unpleasant situation (the rider) by focusing her attention to something else.  Sort of like when you are trying to talk to someone and they turn the volume up on the radio and yell "I don't hear you!".  Another word for this is dissociation.  In any case, it was enough for me to want to get off.  So I did.  We continued working in hand and Little Love changed back to her focused self, showing me some brilliant canter departures from the walk. 

I think we won't be riding in the arena again.  And what comes to riding altogether?  Only time will tell.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Day 114 Been there, done that

A flip has seemed to have switched on in Little Love's head.  That switch would be the "I'm no longer horrified of the trailer" switch.  She went in again yesterday, confidently walking up the ramp, stopping inside to eat her grain and walked out.  Today, when she saw me with the grain bucket, I had to hold her back!  When I finally gave her permission, she ran into the trailer.  What the heck?  Is my horse hungry or has she overnight decided that the trailer is her friend?  Could it really be that all those times when we practiced loading and I let her choose how far she wanted to go (even if it was just with the front feet on the ramp) actually helped her?  Did this allow her to decide it was alright to go into the trailer? She never even went half way in before she backed off the loading ramp, and I let her back up every single time.  We did a lot of backing up. 

What I was doing goes against every single piece of loading advice I have ever gotten from the so called professionals.  Well, apart from my friend Sam's adivce which was "place food in trailer, place trailer in fenced arena, let horses lose in arena, then sit and read book while they figure it out" haha  - and just for the record - this worked!  Perhaps there is something to learn about giving horses the choice.  And I mean truly the choice.   

Also, I have (finally) learned that with Little Love repetition is not always the key.  She finds it extremely frustrating when she has to keep doing something over and over again, so usually I ask her to go into the trailer only once each time we practice loading.  However, today when I was brushing and soaking her, she suddenly stepped out of the buckets and headed for the open trailer (she'd already been in 15 minutes earlier).  My first instinct was to catch her, but then I though "what the heck, let's see what happens". 

She walked up to the trailer, put her feet on the ramp and turned to look at me as if to say "can you lead me in please."  So, I jumped onto the ramp and walked into the trailer.  She followed.  Luckily I had a carrot in my pocket, so I could give her the food reward she was obviously looking for! 

I am quite shocked (albeit overjoyed) by this turn of events.  Maybe Little Love understands we will be traveling to Finland in a few months and she really needs to practice loading?  Whatever it is, this is a great development.  I am carefully making plans for the next big step, which would be teaching her to stand in the trailer while we close it up.  This has always been as big of an issue as the actual loading.  She gets nervous with people around, because she knows those people are there to close the gate behind etc. So I'm thinking we could start by having someone stand (passively) inside the trailer, while she loads.  Maybe later this person could just touch the back bar or move it, but not lock her in.  Then later, when we lock her in from behind, she will still have access to the open door in the front. Baby steps is what we need to take as I don't want Little Love to get nervous or scared ever again in the trailer, if I can avoid it.