Sunday, July 31, 2011

Herd dynamics part 2

I went to the barn this morning to help the barn owner deal with the four mares.  When I got there, she was sitting in the tack room, thinking.  Apparently she had been thinking all night :-)  I asked her how Kira's leg was doing and she said it was alright (thank goodness for that!) She said she wanted to put Kira out with Metku first, and let the two of them sort it out.  Then we would bring in Little Love and see how that worked out.  Then, after all the drama (if there was any) had quieted down, we would bring out Manta and put her in a pen next to the paddock.  If this did not work out for any reason, we would re-assess and make a new plan.  Play musical horses and paddocks.  Whatever it took.

Sounded like a good plan to me. 

We put Kira out with Metku.  Metku was extremely eager to make friends with Kira, who had a whole other opinion about that.  She pinned her ears back, gesturing for Metku to move "the heck out of there".  Metku didn't move.  She is either really really dense and doesn't "get it" OR this is her strategy: "I don't care what you do, I won't move."  So, Kira turned around and double barreled Metku into the chest. 

"Oh, you want me to MOVE?"  Metku said and slowly moved away. 

Three seconds later she was back in the same spot, asking to get her ass kicked - again.  And sure enough, Kira turned around with her hooves flying through the air.  This time they hit Metku on the side, since she actually had tried to move (she is really overweight and not the fastest horse on the block).  The barn owner and I were watching this, hoping Metku would get Kira's message fast or we would have to go save her from getting completely beat up.  Luckily the second kick was enough to snap Metku out of her act and from then on she would move out of Kira's way from just a pinning of the ears or a threatening head toss.  We watched the two horses for 30 minutes and when we were sure they had an understanding, we brought Lilo in. 

Lilo was sooooo happy to get to be with Kira.  She obviously sees Kira as the boss and follows her with no questions asked.  Part of her distress yesterday had obviously been due the fact that Kira had to be isolated because of the injury, which left the herd with no leader.  Without Kira Little Love was lost and confused. 
Today Kira let Lilo get fairly close to her, but made sure she also kept her distance.  Little Love was very polite, as usual, following the lead mare's every cue.  It was amazing to watch the way they synchronized all their movements. 

Metku (this, by the way, means "trick" or "prank" in English...) was really excited and tried to join the two mares who were trotting around.  Little Love stayed in the background as Kira asserted herself and chased Metku away, over and over again.  Lilo's behavior, of course, was correct; she should let Kira deal with Metku, at least in the beginning.  This is what went horribly wrong in the herd yesterday when Manta decided to butt in and chase everyone away from Kira.  So in a way, she took over Kira's job, which in turn really upset Kira. 

After about a half an hour of this dance between the three horses, Lilo started making contact with Metku as well.  She would trot past her, with her neck arched.  Then she would stop and do her "Spanish Riding School" act with little rears and kicks accompanied with screams.  I had my camera with me, but every time I got ready to take a picture, the two horses stopped.  I wasn't obviously fast enough.  Here is what I managed to capture, which is not much. 

Once the three horses had reached some sort of peace = Lilo and Kira were moving around mostly as a pair and Metku was finally politely waiting to be invited to join them, we brough Manta out to a fenced area adjacent to the bigger paddock.  She was not happy.  She lunged at the fence, screaming and baring her teeth every time Lilo or Metku as much as flicked an ear towards her.  Kira came by to say hello, but then walked away as if to say "can't do anything for you, sorry."  Soon Manta realized that Kira was right; there was nothing she could do.  She found some left over hay from yesterday and settled down to eat.  She was definitely less stressed out now that she knew she couldn't go sort things out between all the horses or keep watch over Kira.  Which is a good thing.  All the horses were quite tired from yesterday's rally and needed to relax. 

After a while Little Love wandered over to Manta and at first Manta chased her away from the fence line, but soon chilled out and let her come by.  They even stood side by side for a while.  It didn't happen as easily for Metku, though.  Every time the Friesian mare as much as took three steps towards Manta, she attacked from the other side of the fence.  But, Metku was relentless.  At steady intervals, she kept trying to make contact with Manta.  After about two hours of seemingly zero progress, Manta finally gave in and came to the fence with her ears forward. I believe this may be the first time altogether that Manta touched Metku other than to bite or to kick.  For twenty seconds the two horses pressed their noses together as if they were locked into a kiss.  Then they both screamed at the exact same time and separated.  Following this interaction Manta still chased Metku away from the fence, but not as furiously as before.  Something had changed. 

To get an idea of how the horses are set up at the moment, here is a picture.  You can (if you look closely) see Manta on the very right in her own separate area.  Metku is on the front left, hanging out on her own and Kira is eating on the far left.  Little Love, who can't relax and has to watch the situation and every horse closely, is in the middle.  This is how the horses spent most of their time this morning when I was there.  The barn owner said she was going to keep the horses this way for at least another day, perhaps two, depending how Manta behaved.  She is definitely the key figure in this whole equation.  If only she would get over her co-depency with Kira and let Kira be the leader (or perhaps Kira needs to be a stronger leader?). 

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Complete chaos

I wasn’t there this morning when they put all four horses out together, but apparently all hell broke loose.  In hindsight, it probably would have been a good idea to introduce Metku to the herd from behind a fence (sort of like we did with Little Love), but this didn’t happen.  Interestingly enough Metku wasn’t the problem really, even though her presence in the pasture caused all kinds of things to start happening.  Basically the minute the horses were in there, Kira, Manta and Lilo started “fighting”.  There were apparently all three going at each other, teeth and hooves flying.  This was all happening in one small corner of the paddock.  At some point Kira got really pissed off and kicked both Manta and Little Love.  Little Love was really confused and started kicking back.  She double barreled Kira in the left hind pretty had.  As a result of this, Kira was definitely out of order, especially because it was also really slippery after the rain at night.  Poor Metku was standing on the sidelines looking at this drama and probably wishing she was somewhere else. 
The humans present had to take Kira out of the game, since she was hobbling around on three legs.  You would think this would have calmed things down, but apparently it sent both Little Love and Manta into a frenzy; they cantered around looking like they were either going to jump the fence (Lilo) or bust through it (Manta).  Metku stood around wondering what all the fuss was about. 
Once the people figured out that Kira was not injured too seriously, but that she was sort of compromised nevertheless, they built her a small paddock next to the bigger one (because it really wasn't working that she was in the barn and the others outside).  This seemed to calm down the situation significantly.  When I arrived, the set up was as follows:  Kira was in her small isolation pen, Little Love was standing at the water source close by and Metku was hanging out at the bottom of the paddock nickering and whinnying in a small voice ("Hello?  Anyone want to be my friend?".  Manta stood guard around Kira’s fence line, to make sure neither Lilo nor Metku could get close to her.  Eye witnesses reported that Manta had already been very agitated the night before in her stall when Metku had arrived to the barn and you could tell that she was ready to die rather than let Metku get anywhere near Kira, Manta's great love. 
When we put hay out at feeding time, we made sure to make a dozen piles so everyone would get her share.  Little Love was obviously not moving away from the gate and the water source (I'm thinking this is because it is the closest she can get to the barn, which is where she would rather be when shit hits the fan = the stall is her safe place) so we gave her a big pile there.  Manta went completely ballistic, forgetting she had to guard Kira, chasing both Little Love and Metku around, not letting them eat.  Since Lilo didn’t want to move away from the gate/water area, she got trapped in the corner at one point and Manta double barreled her in the left hind.  I could see it hurt and for a while Lilo didn’t put weight on the leg at all, but in about 15 minutes she was walking on it again and later when she trotted, she looked sound.  No swelling. 
Eating was a bit tricky and Little Love got the least amount of hay, but only because she wouldn't venture off to look for more once her pile was gone.  Also Manta came around to bother her a few times, but somehow Little Love managed to wiggle back to the pile and at some point she was eating from the same pile as Manta. 
Every now and then Metku tried to come and make acquaintance with Lilo.  When Little Love saw her approaching, she became really big, trotting around with an arched neck.  Then she would approach Metku, scream, perform little mini-rears and kick outs (not towards Metku, but away).  She never touched Metku, but made sure she moved away.  Metku always moved eventually, but didn’t seem to be in a big hurry.  She is either a little slow or really not that submissive than she lets on.  She was definitely very vocal, making small little shrieks and nickers every time someone as much as looked her way.  She definitely tried to make friends with Little love and Kira (who chased her away from the fence between them)  Manta came at her with her teeth bared and bit her several times and also kicked at her more than once.  There was no half way with Manta, it was all or nothing. 
I hung around for a few hours and as the day progressed, Manta became a little more subtle and forgiving.  Little Love would leave her post at the water source only in two situations: 1) Manta threatened her, which is when she would move three feet away just to turn back again (she really doesn’t take Manta seriously) and 2) Metku came too close which is when Lilo would run to meet her with an arched neck and then proceed with her antics.  Since Lilo was parked next to the water source, the barn owner put water buckets out in several locations for the other horses, but Little Love let everyone drink, even Metku.  She moved politely to the side when Metku came around, but once Metku was done drinking, Little Love chased her off.   
Kira stayed in her small paddock and pinned her ears back at pretty much everyone who approached, but especially Metku.  Manta seems to have a codependency with Kira, although Kira is not always such a willing participant in that relationship.  She often gets quite irritated with Manta, especially when she chases the other horses.  This is why it’s really not a good thing that It is Kira who is separated from everyone.  She is after all the leader of this herd and could keep Manta in check. 
Tomorrow morning I’ll be here to help put the horses out.  I’m thinking the best approach would be to put the three mares who are used to each other i.e. Kira, Manta and Lilo, out together and then put Metku out separately but next to the three.  This only of course if Kira is physically fit to deal with the herd.  Then we can proceed from there. 
I feel horrible for Little Love who I can see is stressed out and confused.  When other horses get physical, she really panics and doesn't know what to do.  It has been a long long time since she experienced anything like this and it looks to me like she would rather get out of there than figure it out.  On the other hand, she demonstrates suberb skills in driving her point through, like with Metku; she never touched her, but definitely showed her dominance.  It is Manta that seems to be the key figure.  She looks least to me) to be quite insecure and is defending herself, her friendship with Kira, her food - everything.  She sometimes gets into a state of mind where even if the other horse is already moving away, she feels the need to keep pusruing the horse (she takes it a bit too far, so to say).  When I went into the paddock, she even tried to push Little Love away from me, getting in between us.  It was really interesting to watch how she guarded Kira's paddock's fence line for hours so the other two horses could get near Kira (at the same time Kira was chasing her off the fence). 
Well, tomorrow is another day.  Hopefully we can get somewhere with these four horses. 
PS. I hope you all noticed that Melissa posted as well!

Side Plot

Hello I'm Melissa, and I guess I am going to become a small part of this story now as well. :-) I am so happy to have K and Little Love in Finland and to have this opportunity to work so closely with two individuals who are traveling the same path as I. Up to now, I have typically felt that whatever I do with horses has been a sort of compromise. Never having owned a horse myself, I have recently mostly been at the mercy of others with vastly different goals from mine. So if I did what I felt was right in my heart, I risked being a disappointment or annoyance to the horse owner who mostly just wanted me to make sure the horse got enough physical exercise (no matter what it took to make the horse move forward). But if I tried to do what I thought would be pleasing to the owner, I felt like I was betraying the horse, since there was very little time left to care for their (or my own) emotional needs. And allowing the horse to have choices was generally a no-no, since it encouraged free thinking, which usually gets a horse in trouble with its owner. Needless to say, I am excited to experience a relationship with a horse and owner in which I don't have to worry about these things! 

I have only spent a few hours alone with Little Love up to now, but already I can say what a different horse she is from the one I met a few years ago in Switzerland. I remember when I first met her while visiting K (not long after the two of them had started to work together), she seemed so reactive and ready to flee if threatened, it was scary for me to walk her in hand from her stall to the wash rack...and her stall was the first one in the barn next to the door that led directly onto the wash rack! :-) Keep in mind that, up until about three years ago, most of my horse experience had been on the backs of these patient creatures. It was really less than three years ago when I first began to experiment with doing anything else, so still today I am not completely confident with myself when walking next to a horse, a rope in my hand attached to its halter or neck. But at one point yesterday, while taking one of my first short experimental walks with Little Love up the road next to the new barn, I suddenly realized how unbelievably calm I felt in her presence. Little Love was not 100% calm, and she clearly does not trust me to be the protector and soother that K has become for her, but she was having an amazing calming effect ON ME. In analyzing this experience later, I think it stems from the fact that I have (as I have seen K do) made a vow to remain as congruent in my emotions, truthful about them, and present with Little Love as I possibly can. And in only a couple of hours alone together, this has already made all the difference for me. Judging from Little Love's behavior and patience with me, I think she appreciates it. Now I hope I can stay true to that vow, and I cannot wait to see where it takes us! 

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Closing a chapter

I’m finally back in Finland after four crazy days in Switzerland during which we finalized packing up our home, sent our stuff off and cleaned the house from top to bottom.  I did take a moment to visit Becky and Col, which I felt was important.  I really wanted to talk to Col and tell him how Little Love was doing.  My friend in California, who is talented in animal communication, said that Little Love was a bit sad and worried about Col.  He was fine, the same old Col, but I have to admit that somehow the atmosphere was different without Little Love.  Less harmony. 
While I was gone, my friend Melissa visited with Little Love once.  It was her first time hanging out with Little Love “alone” (meaning without me) and apparently Lilo was at her best behavior.  Not that I ever expected anything else J  Melissa had a good time with Little Love.  I’m so happy she is in both of our lives and am looking forward to seeing her relationship with Little Love grow and expand.
This morning, when I finally woke up in Finland again, I couldn’t wait to get to the barn.  When I’m away from Little Love for a few days, I feel such an ache to get back to her, it is nearly unbearable.  It’s hard to explain and I’m not sure I truly understand it even myself.  She is my peace, she is my Zen. 
It was pouring by the time I made it to the barn.  I had called the barn owner beforehand and promised to feed the horses their lunch so she could go home early.  I took Lilo inside to eat, in hopes of soaking her feet while she ate her hay.  She was a bit bug-eyed, which is what she often is when it rains.  She used to get quite nervous on rainy days at Becky’s, but after months of living there, she finally relaxed and a rainy day was just another day.  But now that she’s at a new place again, her old “rain trigger” is back again.  Bad things have obviously happened in the rain or during rainy days long time ago and those memories die hard, if they die at all.  I took her into the barn aisle and she was fine, but when I asked her to put her foot in the bucket, she panicked.  She immediately “told” me she needed to go into her stall.  In the stall we managed to soak the front feet for 18 minutes, but then the thunder got quite loud and Lilo didn’t feel safe with her feet in buckets.  Totally understandable! 
I think she has gained a tad (a very small tad) of weight and her feet looked a bit better.  She has been wearing boots outside in dry weather, which I think has helped.  At least there were no more tears or breaks.  I think it’s true what one of my readers suggested, which was that perhaps she “wears” the hooves short.  I’m fairly sure she will never have a lot of hoof height.  And that is just how it is.  But it would be nice if the horn was a bit harder.  But that will come with time, I suppose.  If we are lucky. 
A new horse is coming to the barn tomorrow evening.  She is a Friesen mare and her name is Metku (ok, that’s not her real name, which sounded long and complicated).  They will be putting all four horses out together on Saturday morning.  This is an event I would love to see, but it looks like I won’t be able to be there until later that day.  Family obligations, so to say.  Sometimes you have to what you have to do.  I’m hoping the fourth horse will bring some balance to the herd, as Manta and Kira are quite tight.  Or rather Manta is tight with Kira.  I have a strong feeling that Kira and Lilo could be great friends, given a chance.  But, in an case, four horses are usually better than three.  I am looking forward to studying the herd closely in the coming days!   
I am now officially moved out of Switzerland.  And I have to admit that last night when the airplane took off, relief was strongly present.  A chapter in my life has closed and a new one is about to begin.  I will always remember Switzerland as the place where I took a different turn on the path of the horse.  Or no, that's not right.  I took that turn in California, but it was in Switzerland that I started blazing a trail.  What will happen in Finland?  Only time will tell.

Saturday, July 23, 2011


With her persistence and "passive manipulation" Little Love seems to have gained some sort of status in the herd.  She is no longer standing alone further away, but is most of the time hanging on the "edges" of the group.  When Manta tries to chase her, Lilo takes two half-hearted steps and then turns to look at Manta with her ears pinned back.  Even when she gets pushed out by Kira, Lilo doesn't go as far as she used to.  When the other horses put pressure on her, she moves, but she doesn't really move away, but rather walks around, to get into a better position.  I guess you could say that she is "making the impression of moving" rather than actually doing it :-)

Here Little Love is thinking about getting into the "sweet spot".  She is no longer under "her tree", but a lot closer.  Manta is still making sure she is between Lilo and Kira.

The two horses are obviously allowing Little Love to come much closer to the cover than before.

Here Little Love is in the background.  She does this "infiltration" in such a subtle way that sometimes it really takes a while for the other two to even realize she is there.  Or perhaps they no longer care?  Today when I was watching the herd for a while, it was mostly Manta who tried to chase Little Love away.  Emphasis on the word "try" as it looks like Little Love is not really allowing Manta to chase her.  And rather than chasing Lilo away, Kira would chase Manta, who would then take it off on Lilo.  In a week the fourth horse, a Friesan mare, will arrive.  That will shuffle up the pack all over again.  It will be very interesting to see that! 

I took Little Love out for a little walk today.  I wanted to see what would happen if we walked down the forest path without another horse.  It didn't go that well.  Ten points for Little Love for the effort though!  To get on the path you have to walk in between these big, black garbage cans and green mailboxes.  She did that part fine, but once we were surrounded by trees, she panicked.  She started running, wanting to race through the forest rather than walk through it.  She nearly stepped on me and I ended up in the bush, getting partly dragged.   I had to really assert myself to get her to stop.  Once I got her attention (by swinging the rope around in front of her face, but before that I had to pull on her hard one time... not something I do lightly), I turned her around.  We managed to get out of the scary forest at a walk, sort of.  So, our very first forest walk was about 20 yards long (well, 40, if you count the way back). 

Once Lilo was on the road, her panic went from a 70 to about a 40.  We walked down the hill, but I could feel her anxiety starting to rise again, so I turned her back home.  I stopped her several time on our way back and at first she wasn't really listening to my voice, but after about three stops, she started to calm down.  This "stopping drill" seems to help her self-regulate her anxiety.  Years ago, when I first met her, her anxiety would go from 0 to 100 in a second and once it did, there was nothing, absolutely nothing, that would bring it down apart from putting her in her stall.  And even in the stall it would take a while.  So, if she "lost it" during a trail ride, you just had to somehow hold on to her and get her home (preferably not at a canter). 

Now her anxiety can get quite high, but she can manage it and actually lower it without going home immediately.  Certain familiar things, like stopping and backing up gently, may help her regulate the emotions.  I often have treats in my pocket (I did today) and when she stops from my voice cue only, I say "Good Girl" and then give her a treat.  Eating a treat and the familiar pattern (cue to stop, stopping, "good girl"(conditioned secondary reinforcer), treat, walking again) sooths her and soon I notice her breathing get calmer.  By the time we got to the barn today, she was at a 10 on her anxiety scale so I stopped on the road and waited.  She spun around me a few times, obviosly thinking of her friends in the paddock; she couldn't see them, but she could hear them calling to her.  I focused on my breathing and a minute later she started grazing. 

I am so proud of her and happy she can manage to go from a 70 (out of a 100) panic attack to 0 within just ten minutes.  And all this while walking down the road "alone" (no other horses).  Each time we manage this, it is a testimonial of our trust.  I think it has changed her life in more ways I could ever imagine.  She is no longer immediately afraid of new things, but will rather "wait and see", or even investigate.  I think a big part of being able to do that, is being able to deal with your emotions, whatever they are.  

I will be going to Switzerland tomorrow for four days to finalize packing the house and meeting up with our movers.  My friend Melissa is going to visit Little Love and start her own journey with my wise mare.  I can't wait to hear what she has to say about the connection she builds with Little Love, I have a strong feeling that those two will be great together.  I have no doubt that Little Love has a few lessons in store for my dearest friend :-)    I'll keep you posted!

PS. Here are two pictures from Germany, from the barn that was built into a II WW bunker.  I was finally able to get them off my camera and onto the computer.  Just thought you might be interested in seeing them, since it was a pretty special place!

The "aisle" of bunkers

Bunker no 227, Little Love's home for two weeks

Friday, July 22, 2011

Happy trails, not so happy feet

Yesterday morning Kristiina, who owns Kira and manages the barn, took us (Lilo, Melissa, my two dogs and me) on an introductory tour of the forest.  There are lots of trails and although she has made a map of them all, it was good to have a guide when we ventured out for the first time.  Also, Little Love was definitely calmer with Kira leading the way. 

The trail was literally a small path in the forest.  Little Love is not a big fan of narrow paths, as she gets uncomfortable when branches and other vegetation touch her behind.  Maybe it's some form of claustrophobia or perhaps it reminds her of something that happened long time ago.  It was also fairly warm and the bugs were out.   But, considering all that, Little Love did extremely well in the forest.  Given, she wanted to be as close as possible to Kira, which made it a tad challenging for me, since I was walking, too.  We managed some sort of balance, although there were moments when I was taking the "off road" route next to the path...

Twenty minutes later we popped out of the forest onto a narrow dirt road.  Little Love was pleased and since she has such a long stride, she took the lead confidently, leaving Kira to trail behind.  The dirt road definitely worked better for me, too, since now we could walk side by side without a problem.  I will need to practice walking together on the path, so that I can walk ahead safely, instead of having to scramble on the side.  I was very proud of Lilo, though, as she crossed two small bridges without even blinking an eye!  She also figured out how to walk with her boots on around rocks and roots, although a she stumbled a few times with her front feet; the boots are sort of bulky and probably don't give her the feeling she needs to have the precision needed in the forest.

We walked back to the barn in 20 minutes, every now and then stopping for some grass.  As we passed several Ys in the road, Kristiina told us where they all lead to, so that we could go explore on our own as well.  She also said Melissa and I could take Kira with us any time.  This is great news, since I know how much more comfortable Lilo will be in the beginning if another horse goes with us.  I'm really looking forwards to exploring the trails; it looks like you can go on for hours!

Little Love was definitely tired when we got back to the barn.  She hasn't walked that long in one go since I walked her in Germany two and a half weeks ago (seems like a lifetime ago!).  She still looks fairly skinny and I talked to Kristiina about maybe giving her some more hay as well as the "müsli" (grain).  The bugs are so relentless this time of the year that the horses tend to be moving all the time, which means Little Love isn't prone to gain much weight.  I have been putting on her fly mask for the past few days and despite all the trees she rubs herself on, it has stayed on her head.  The mask helps her so much, since she gets really upset when the horse flies go at her head.  I'm happy a friend of mine gave us some fly spray that actually works, looks like Lilo has the least amount of bugs on her out of the three horses!

Tonight when I went to the barn, it was still really hot and muggy.  All horses were in the pasture, which is great, since that means Little Love is eating grass as well.  When I took her out of the paddock, though, I was sort of shocked to see her feet.  Her hooves have not been in the greatest shape, but now they were absolutely thrashed as if she had run a marathon on them in the past 24 hours.  Even the back hooves that looked semi-decent were torn on the edges.  Kristiina's daughter showed up to feed and she told me that the horses were running around last night because of the bugs.  The ground is really hard and dry, so it looks like Lilo's hooves took a beating.  Yikes.  I think I need to start keeping boots on her all the time for the time being if I want her to have any hooves left to stand on.  She didn't seem too bothered by the state of her feet.  I put her in her stall and once she settled down a bit, managed to soak her left front for exactly 13 minutes.  It's a start, but obviously not enough.  Soaking is going to be a challenge, as she needs to stand still.  Because of the bugs, the only place where this is possible is in the stable, but she still doesn't feel so comfortable in there, even when the horses are inside.  

I have connected with a trimmer I trust, now we just have to figure out when she can come as she has quite a drive to get to where we are at (but she is willing to do it, which makes me happy!).  I'll be gone a few days in Switzerland next week (tying off some loose ends, so to say), but perhaps the week after that.  If I can keep the boots on her feet for a week, maybe there will be something to trim?  Wishful thinking.  Perhaps I could find something feed her that would make her feet grow faster...

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Sneaky Girl

Today I spent some time watching the horses interact in the paddock.  There is a wooden structure at the bottom of the paddock which acts as a cover from sun and rain.  The horses seem to find the spot right under it and beside it the best and most coveted place to be.  When Kira and Manta are down in the pasture, Little Love immediately parks herself under the pine trees, her bottom half under the canopy.  Needless to say, when Kira and Manta show up, they hog the "sweet spot" leaving Little Love to settle for another patch of shade under single pine tree on the left, some twenty feet away. 

This was exactly the case today, too.  After walking Little Love down the road (it was awful, the horse flies were crazy aggressive) and letting her graze for an hour while visiting with some people, I put her into the paddock.  Seeing that Manta and Kira were up in the paddock area, she walked over to "her" pine tree.  But she was watching the two horses.  At first I thought it was a longing look, but when I saw her meander towards the shelter, I realized she had been plotting something. 

Little Love made a circle, walking around the paddock until she came to the wooden shelter.  Without looking at the two horses dozing in the shade, she passed under the cover.  She never stopped, she never acknowledged Kira or Manta; she simply brushed by quietly.  When she was already walking away from the two horses, Kira pinned her ears back, screamed and kicked out.  Little Love kept moving back towards her tree, in no way disturbed by Kira's tantrum.  She stopped under "her" tree and turned to look at her two herd mates.  She waited two minutes.  Then she walked towards the wooden cover again, this time approaching it from the other side.  Right when she was underneath it, only a few feet away from Manta and Kira, she stopped to scratch her face (as if it needed scratching, to me this looked like a ploy).  The scratching lasted only three seconds and Kira didn't react to it, but Manta took the bate.  She lunged towards Little Love, trying to pass in between her and Kira.  This upset Kira, who considers herself the "boss" and thinks Manta has no place telling Little Love off, since that's her job.  Both horses "chased" Little Love off, who had turned around and was heading towards "her" tree.  But Manta and Kira wouldn't let her stop there and chased her even further.   When Little Love kept moving away, Manta and Kira settled under "her" tree, staring her down. 

And what did Little Love do?  She calmly walked over to the "sweet spot" under the cover.  It took about five minutes before the two horses realized what she had done.  Of course, once it dawned on them that they had been robbed of their "sweet spot", they chased Lilo off.  Little Love slowly walked to "her" tree and stopped to watch Kira and Manta.  It wasn't long that she started her rounds again, brushing by close enough to get their attention, but never too close to seem confrontational.  It didn't take but two minutes and the two horses had moved away from the "sweet spot" again and Little Love had it to herself. 

It was incredible to watch this interaction take place over and over again.  It was so systematic, yet subtle.  Silently, in her own passive way, Little Love was asserting herself and frankly she seemed to be getting what she wanted, even if it was for just a short while at a time.  It was absolutely intriguing to watch her bate the two horses and then get pushed away.  If you only saw it happen once, you would have felt bad for her, being pushed around like that.  But having seen Little Love work the situation over and over again I could see that there was something else entirely going on between the three mares.  Little Love was calm, never taking even a trot step when the two horses told her to move (yet always politely moving away), and somehow she always ended up in the coveted "sweet spot" - time after time. 

Sneaky, I would say, extremely sneaky :-)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Ok, so it wasn't the rock.  Apparently when they had opened the pasture gate Little Love had been the first to go in and inspect the entire area before the other horses dared venture much further than the gate. It's interesting to see this "brave" side of her, it's definitely something new!  After she had checked out the area, she came back to the paddock area and settled into the shade under the canopy.  I think the main reason she doesn't want to be in the grass pasture are the bugs; they're pretty bad.  I have really heavy duty bug repellent which helps a bit, but not enough.  I took her down there today with a halter and she ate for about 30 seconds and then decided it was too much.  Manta and Kira stayed behind but even Manta gave up after an hour.  Kira is not too happy with the bugs, but she endures them because of the grass.

Lilo has always been real sensitive with the insects.  She gets fairly upset when there is even just one fly on her, let alone twenty (or fifty...).  Well, at least the "bug season" is a lot shorter here in Finland than in Switzerland.  But it's really a shame that she is missing out on great pasture time, but what can I do?  Her fly sheet would be dangerous down there, since she would probably get stuck on a tree branch in no time.  I was thinking of trying it out when I have the time to watch her, maybe tomorrow.  Although I'm not sure it will help a lot either since the bugs have a way of getting around that stuff. 

Today when I got to the barn, it was early morning and the horses had just gone out.  Manta and Kira were down in the pasture, but Little Love was hanging out under the trees in the paddock.  She was happy to see me again.  I tied her to the tree, this time she stood patiently while I put on her boots.  We walked down the road, past the neighbor's house and even further.  She was alert, but listening to me.  We hiked down the road about five minutes and then turned back; I didn't want to push it the first time.  Little Love's confidence surprised me, although I have to say she started walking a heck of a lot faster when we turned home.  By the time we were back at the barn, she was anxious, not wanting to stop and graze at her usual spot in front of the barn.  I walked her to the paddock and as soon as she saw the other two horses, she calmed down.  So, we turned back and spent 45 minutes grazing. 

We also went into the barn.  Standing in the aisle Little Love was significantly calmer than before.  She was also very curious, touching everything in sight, even the scary white garbage can. I turned her around several times in the center and even though it is a tight turn (her bottom sort of brushes against the walls if she isn't careful), she didn't panic.  The barn has an interesting lay out with a stall in each corner and four short aisles going each way.  The best place for Lilo is the center, where there is the most room.  She is a long horse!

Little Love is settling in well, but today when I was with her, I felt a sadness from her.  Perhaps she misses Col, they were quite a tight team in the end.  I feel so bad I had to separate the two, but that is how it is for horses; they must live with our decisions.  Despite her sadness, there is also a certain kind of peace that surrounds her.  I can see the changes that have happened in her in such a short time and I do believe she is finally becoming the horse she really is; kind, curious and strong. 

Monday, July 18, 2011


I hadn't been to the barn since Friday, so when I saw Little Love, my heart jumped from joy.  She was sleeping in the shade under a pine tree, but when I called her name, she perked up.  She immediately started walking towards the fence with her ears forward.  When she was closer, she let out a happy nicker.  She has only nickered at me a handful of times, usually when Col was gone on a jumping lesson and I showed up to entertain her.  But this nicker was definitely a "Thank God you are here, thought you had left me again" sort of nicker.  Brought tears to my eyes.

Since we were on route from the summer cottage to my parents house, I had my whole family with me; husband, kid and two dogs.  This, of course, meant that my time with Little Love was sort of limited.  My husband only has so much patience to hang out at a barn. 

I took Little Love out for a quick brush.  Kira and Manta called out to her, but Lilo didn't care; she was obviously on a mission to spend some time with me.  Apart from getting quite annoyed with the dozens of horse flies buzzing around, she was really calm, leaving the herd willingly.  I let her graze for a while, then I walked her to the other side of the barn where there are a few good sized pinetrees standing in a line.  There used to be a post there, where you could tie your horse, but they took it down for some reason.  Hopefully the barn owner will replace it, because although my goal is NOT to tie Little Love (like at Becky's), at the moment that is just a distant dream.  When the trimmer comes (and some other times, too), she will probably have to be tied.  So, I tied Little Love to one of the trees.  She didn't like it much, but I gave her carrots when she stood still.  I only had her tied up for about two minutes, but we have to start somewhere. 

Afterwards I walked her onto the road.  She was relaxed, so I decided to walk her up the road some 30 yards.  This went well, even though I could feel her get more anxious.  I think we could have ventured even further, but since I had some time constraints, I turned back and let her graze.  Mia, the owner of Manta, showed up to feed the horses and I decided to put Little Love back into the paddock.  I was curious to observe the herd while they were fed.  When I first arrived, I had sensed another "shift" in the dynamics; Manta and Kira were standing together while Lilo was further away, alone.  I wanted to know what that was all about.

Once the hay showed up, Manta became aggressive.  Last I had seen her, she had been in heat and very curious and friendly with Little Love.  That behavior was all gone and she fiercely defended her relationship with Kira, making sure Little Love didn't go near the black mare.  Kira on the other hand, seemed to accept Lilo just fine, which is really interesting since apparently she has always been the one who doesn't accept new comers.  So when Little Love and Kira were eating out of the same pile of hay, Manta chased Little Love off and took her place.  Lilo didn't question this in any shape or form, she merely moved away and found another pile of hay.  After a while Kira showed up again, slowly inching her way to the same pile of hay.  Manta followed and soon Little Love had to run off again.  This carousel went on for a few minutes, until all three settled for their own pile.  I didn't stick around to see if Little Love was allowed to eat all her hay, but I hope she did.  I would prefer free feeding, but at the moment this is not an option at this barn.  But perhaps in the future?  It certainly eliminates all this fighting over food.

The other thing that came up as I was leaving was the pasture grass.  I saw that they had fenced in smaller pasture area on the other side of the paddock.  The gate was open, but the horses were in the paddock when I arrived.  Mia told me that in the morning Kira and Manta had been in the pasture to graze, but Lilo hadn't followed.  A horse doesn't decline the chance to graze on new grass unless there is a reason.  I asked Mia if she had seen Manta or Kira chasing Little Love out of the pasture, but she told me that both mares had been way at the bottom of the pasture, well out of Lilo's sight.  She didn't think Little Love wasn't going in there because of the other two horses.  I agreed.  I suspect that the large gray rock in the middle of the entrance is perhaps the real reason.  Little Love can be quite afraid of rocks and this one is fairly massive.  Tomorrow I will definitely work on taking her through the entrance and teaching her to pass the rock.  Hopefully this will help her overcome her fear and enter the pasture when I'm not there.  Of  course, I also hope Kira and Manta are not chasing her out of there either.  Perhaps I need to spend some time at the barn just observing the situation. 

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Herd dynamics

Yesterday Melissa and I went to the barn together.  The herd dynamics had changed a bit, the three horses were now moving as a unit together, rather than Manta and Kira as a pair with Lilo trailing behind.  Kira still seemed to be the leader and it will be interesting to see if she maintains that position. 

We took Little Love out of the paddock and this caused some minor distress in Kira and Manta, who stayed at the gate and called out.  After while, however, they walked off, accepting her temporary absence.  Little Love seemed much calmer than the day before.  She stopped to graze in front of the barn door, which meant she was relaxed.  We brushed her briefly after which I took her to the other side of the barn.  It was raining lightly, something that used to bother her quite a bit (if you can remember), but despite the weather, she did much better with leaving the paddock area than before.  We also ventured onto the road and although her stress levels definitely went up, she was able to manage her anxiety.  We never went further than 20 feet from the barn, but that was enough for the time being. 

Next we went inside the barn, but like the day before, this was too much for Little Love to handle.  I think we need to practice standing in the aisle of the barn while the other two horses are inside.  Maybe the company, even if the horses are in their stalls, will help Little Love maintain her composure in the tight space.  It is imperative for her to learn this fairly soon, as she really needs a trim and calling out the trimmer when my horse can't even stay in the barn for a minute, is a waste of time and money.  Not to mention setting Little Love up for failure. 

I won't be going to the barn until on Monday.  I'm hoping this two days on "her own" in the herd will help Little Love establish her place in the group and recover further from the transportation.  Every day she seems to look better, gaining back the lost weight and finding her energy again.  In the mean while I am taking care of "family relations" at the summer cottage.  My family has been more than understanding when it comes to Little Love's needs, but every now and then I need to work on my relationship with my family as well :-)  I think anyone with horses AND a family will know what I'm talking about... it's called human herd dynamics.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Lilo's new life

I went to the barn first thing in the morning.  Little Love looked a heck of a lot better than last night.  She had obviously had lots to drink and eat.  When I arrived, she was in her paddock.  She lifted her head and trotted to the gate, happy to see me.  

I brushed her a bit and took her out of the paddock.  I wanted to give her the opportunity to look around the yard and barn.  Both Manta and Kira ran to the fence and neighed with a soft voice.  They both sound like girls (which of course they are).  Compared to Col's dying elephant screams, the voices of the two mares are like mermaids singing :-) 

Little Love was curious, but also a bit nervous.  I took her into the barn where she looked around and touched everything in sight.  After a minute she became a little "panicky" and we rushed out the small door.  She wanted to make sure Manta and Kira were still in the paddock, so we walked over to check.  Then she inspected five fence posts, a tree, a turned over wheel barrel, the muck pile, three water buckets drying in the sun, a pile of wood, the fencing for the dog kennel.  Basically she looked at every stick and stone and pinecone in sight, just to make sure they were all ok.  Every time Little Love disappered out of the vision of the two other mares who were standing at the gate, they took turns neighing loudly. 

"Hey new horse, don't you go anywhere," they seemed to say.  Little Love never answered back, but every so often she turned and wanted to march down to the fence to make sure the horses were still there.  I followed her, mostly letting her decide that she wanted or didn't want to do. 

Once we both felt like we had investigated enough, I asked the barn owner if she would be open to letting the horses get to know each other.  She was ready.  The horses were ready, too.  When the lady undid the fence between the horses, all three rushed to the other side: Little Love to the bigger side and the two other horses to her side.  Turned out Manta and Kira were not interested in Little Love at all, but rather wanted to eat the grass that was on her side.  Little Love, on the other hand, trotted around the big paddock, investigating the fence and the little shelter. 

After a while she approached Manta and Kira very carefully.  They sort of ignored her, until Kira informed Little Love she was too close.  With her ears pinned back Kira turned and screamed, kicking out into the air.  Little Love backed away, but stayed close by.  I hung around, talked to the barn owner and watched the "social dance"  between the three horses for two hours.  I was amazed to see how savvy my horse was in this business of horse relationships.  I know she is a fairly assertive mare, yet she kept her distance and approached each horse carefully and very very slowly.  After a while I saw her and Kira eating grass with their heads almost touching.  Little Love had crept into that position only to maintain it about 20 seconds, after which she moved away from Kira.  Smart girl.  Very subtle.  I was proud of her. 

After three hours I was getting ready to leave.  I wanted to say goodbye to Lilo so I walked into the pasture.  When I got close enough to her to touch her, Lilo turned and walked off, as if to say: "Don't take me out of here, I want to stay."  I told her I wasn't going to catch her, but rather would like to give her a carrot.  I stood still and waited.  She came to me, but obviously didn't want to get caught.  I think I will take that as a sign that she felt good in her new circle of friends. 

Little Love also discovered a green toy ball hanging from one of the pine trees.  She licked it and pushed it, making it sway back and forth.  When I left at noon, she was still playing with the ball, bumping it with her nose. 

Here are some pictures I took with my phone.  Naturally the moment we took the fence down and put the horses together, my camera battery died.  So, I only had my phone, which isn't the greatest picture taking device.  But, at least I managed to record this historic moment on some level.


I went back in the evening, just so see how the three mares were doing.  The barn owner reported that Kira and Lilo had shared a pile of hay.  This apparently was unheard of, as it took 1½ months for Kira to allow Manta to do the same.  In general Kira has always been the "lead mare" at this barn, a mare who doesn't accept new-comers easily. But, somehow Lilo managed to accomplish the unthinkable in just a few hours.  I can see how, she really seems to be extra savvy when it comes to relationships in the herd.  Which is pretty amazing, since I know she has been living in solitary confinement most of her life.  I believe she has been waiting for this moment for a long long time and is now in her element.  It will be interesting to see how the relationships evolve in the weeks to come and what place in the herd Lilo will eventually take.   

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


I can't say I slept a lot last night, but the morning arrived all the same.  My friend Melissa and I met up around noon and headed over to the barn to wait for Little Love's arrival.  The transporter guy had said he would call an hour before his arrival, which he estimated to be around 1 pm.  Time was definitely crawling forward, but finally, at 12:57 he called.  He was about 35 minutes away. 

Melissa and I walked down the road to an open area where we thought it would be best to unload.  Little Love's new home is at the end of a very small dirt road and it was highly unlikely that a huge horse truck would be able to make it all the way up there, not to mention turning around afterwards.  We sat at the fork in the road for about ten minutes until we saw the massive horse truck slowly pull around the corner.  By then I was sick from anticipation. 

Little Love was the last horse to be dropped off, but she stood quietly in the truck.  She came down the loading ramp calmly and carefully.  Her eyes were on sticks, but it was obvious that she recognized me.  The transporter gave me her passport (along with her expired vet papers... thank godness there was no control at the harbor) and told me that she had loaded onto the truck like a pro.  He had stopped twice on his way through Sweden and each time she went back onto the truck like she had been doing it all her life.  He said she was a really kind and easy horse, and a suberb loader.  Wow. 

Little Love was covered in a coat of grime and had lost about a 100 kg in weight.  She looked angular, rather than round.  Her feet were in better shape than I had aniticipated, but she had a fleshy rub on her bony bottom.  Other than that she was still the same horse I left behind in Germany.  She walked eagerly down the road, her eyes the size of dinner plates, but following my lead trustingly.  When we arrived at the barn, we walked over to the pasture to say hello to her new girlfiriends: Kira and Manta, who were beyond curious, falling over each other to see the new horse. 

After saying hello, I put Lilo in her stall, just so she could have a moment to chill.  She was very confused with the bedding, as it is not shavings nor straw, but cut up flax plant (linen bedding :-).  It was obvious she was thirsty, but she shyed away from the water bucket.  We gave her hay and she ate it half-heartedly, turning around in her stall in between each mouthful.  After a while I took a brush and went in to clean her up, which seemed to calm her down.  She was very pleased to be around me.  In fact, at one point I left the barn to get something from outside and according to Melissa this caused Lilo some distress.  I told her immediately that I would never ever leave her again like I left her in Germany.  This was her home now and we would be together.  I had to go home and sleep, but I would always come back.  This seemed to settle her a bit. 

After a while it was obvious that Little Love wasn't happy in the stall (well hello, the other horses were outside!), so I took her out and we walked her into the little fenced area next to the bigger paddock where the two horses were.  The barn owner had set this up earlier, to give Lilo a space to be where she could touch the other horses, but still be separated by a fence.  All three horses were very curious and eager to get to know each other.  Here is a picture of them saying hello for the umpteenth time
There was a lot of screaming and peeing going on, since Manta is in full blown heat and Kira and Lilo just were being mares.  It looked to me that Lilo seemed to assert herself quite a bit and the two other horses accepted that quite well.  Manta seems very submissive and Kira is definitely the leader of the two.  But with her newly gained self-confidence it may well be that Little Love will take the lead mare role in this heard. 

I was a bit worried because Little Love was not drinking.  She seems to have a thing about drinking out of buckets as she had no problem with the automatic water dispensers in France and Germany.  I recall her having this same issue when we first moved to Becky's.  Today she checked out the water bucket in the pasture about 30 times, but would not drink.  Other than that she seemed to be doing fine, she even rolled twice.  Melissa, who hadn't seen Lilo for almost a year, couldn't believe how much she had changed from the nervous and insecure horse she used to be.  That horse would not have taken a journey across Europe in stride. 

After 4½ hours of hanging out at the barn we decided to leave her be.  The barn owner sent me a text message two hours later to inform me that Lilo had consumed a half bucket (they are big buckets) of water and had pooped twice.  Which is all good news.  Hopefully she will be able to relax a bit tonight.  Tomorrow I'll be going over in the morning.  Because all three horses seemed very peaceful today and there was no major commotion between them, I feel confident about putting them together tomorrow.  Hopefully it will go well and the three mares will find peace together. 

I, on the other hand, am exhausted.  I can't describe the relief I feel now that Little Love is finally here.  I thank everyone for the support; all the emails, blog comments, telephone calls and text messages I have received.  Every little bit helped me get through this.  Which in turn helped Little Love.  Now we can close this long long chapter and start a new one.  I am beyond excited!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


I didn't want to write here until I had something concrete to share.  Actually, I didn't really want to write here unless it was good news.  Hence the silence for a few days.  But sometimes no news is good news. 

I sent the transporter an email yesterday (Monday), asking him to confirm Little Love's arrival on Wednesday.  So far he has managed to ignore my phone calls and text messages but he has always responded to my emails.  But this time he didn't respond.   So I called and left a message.  Twice.  No response.   

I tried to believe that this meant that he was indeed still planning to deliver Little Love at the new barn tomorrow.  Because thinking the unthinkable was not an option.  So, I got into my car and drove three hours from our summer cottage to Helsinki, to be ready for her arrival.  By the time I got to my parents house in Helsinki and checked my email - yet again - the pit in my stomach was the size of a soccer ball.  Why was the transporter not responding back to me?  Last time he went MIA on me, he was on a vacation and left my horse sitting in Germany for a week.  It was starting to look a lot like déjà vu.

But then, at almost 9 pm, when I was in the shower (instead of staring at my phone and willing it to ring), he called. 

"I'll be dropping your horse off tomorrow around 1 pm."

Seriously, I thought I was going to cry.  We left Switzerland almost two weeks ago and finally tomorrow Little Love's journey across Europe would be over.  I am carefully hopeful, but the skeptic in me is saying I shouldn't believe it until I see it.  But how can I not be excited??  I will see her again tomorrow! What will she be like? Dissociated?  Scared? Skinny?  Will her feet look awful? (they didn't look too great nine days ago when I last saw her)  Or will she be alright; present in the moment and calm in the mind?  Perhaps she gained some weight resting in Germany?  She will come out of the car all shiny and healthy...

How am I going to sleep tonight? :-)

Friday, July 8, 2011


First of all:  THANK YOU everyone who has been following Little Love's plight from Switzerland to Finland - you support is priceless.  Thank you also to those who have taken the time to comment.  It is so true what you all said on Wednesday, that I need to a) let go a bit (hard for a control freak like myself)  b) remember Little Love will forgive me for all this  c) take a deep breath and just wait (and know that she will be okay) 

I can't help my obsessive nature thought.  Last night I woke up at 3 am and couldn't stop thinking about Little Love.  This is really not helpful at all, since at night everything seems worse than it really is.  You start feeling like there is no hope. I just have to remember that this will all be over at some point; Little Love has to make it here one way or another.  Even if that means I need to get a car and trailer and go get her myself (I already looked into ferry tickets, but the problem is that as we are in prime holiday season, getting a car and trailer on a boat at short notice is nearly impossible...) Although, it looks like perhaps that won't be necessary.

Disheartened by the email of the Finnish transport guy, I wrote him back yesterday.  I didn't want to rant at him too much, in case he got pissed off and decided it wasn't worth it dealing with my horse (or me) anymore, but I did write a fairly stern email.  He answered me back with a one liner: "The horse will be picked up on Monday and arrive in Finland on Wednesday."

So, my hopes are up again, but with some caution.  I'm not sure how far I can trust this message, but I have to hang onto something.  Perhaps he will deliver this time.  I have to say it's actually the first time he is giving me a exact day instead of saying something like "we'll pick her up maybe around Tuesday or Wednesday".  So, does this mean Little Love will be here in five days?  I won't believe it until I see it... but wouldn't that just be wonderful??!!!  Crossing my finger...

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

I didn't think it could get any worse...

but it could. 

I wish I could have blogged earlier, but the internet was down at our last hotel and on the boat there was no opportunity for internet.  I am in Finland now, but my horse is nowhere near to arriving here any time soon.  But, I'm getting ahead of myself.  Let me go back to where I left off last time...

Sunday I woke up to a sense of dread; this would be the day I would leave Little Love to fend for herself at the strange bunker-barn without as much as an idea of when I would see her again.  I could barely get my breakfast down, I felt so anxious.  At the barn, though, my spirits lifted.  Little Love seemed content in her stall, despite having to deal with the grumpy stall-bound mare next door.  I took her outside and all the stallions from miles away called out to her.  She of course responded by growing tall and arching her neck as if to say: “Here I am boys, just come and get me.” 

We put the front boots on and headed out for a walk.  After crossing the inside practice track we discovered a forest with grassy paths crisscrossing every which way.  We investigated several of them, but finally ended up walking on the track.  I had asked Heike, the lady at the barn, if it was alright to walk on it and she had told me to stay off the outer track, which was where the racehorses mainly trained.   Little Love was energetic, but stayed by me, never getting nervous or overly excited even though there were lots of things to look at.  Some people have really done a number on those bunkers, fixing them up as summer houses, if you can believe it. 
After an hour, we strolled back to bunker number 227, Little Love’s temporary home.  Heike showed me a paddock three bunker rows down and told me it could be Little Love’s for the time being.  It was L-shaped and the size of a big arena.  On the other end there was another paddock with two older mares in it (but you couldn’t touch noses) and when you turned the corner, you had a visual of a young stallion.  Little Love trotted off to investigate the area, disappearing out of sight for a while.  Soon she cantered back, stared both of the mares down and then rolled on both sides.  I sat down and read a book for a while, but once I was convinced she was alright, I went back to the bunker to muck her stall, which was an absolute mess.  
I also had a long talk with Heike.  She told me that there were two young men who came in the morning to muck the stalls.  She would tell them to muck Little Love’s stall, too.  She promised she would put Little Love outside every day for a few hours in her paddock.  She would also feed her in the early morning and in the afternoon.  I felt a little better about leaving Little Love after talking with Heike; she was really nice and talked about the racehorses she took care of.   She obviously cared a lot for the horses, even though her world of horses is light years away from mine.  When she asked me what I did with Little Love, I sort of gave her a vague answer, mumbling something about doing dressage before but taking a break now.  I really didn’t feel like elaborating too much about my philosophy when it came to horses.   Sometimes it really just isn’t worth it.  I’m sure she had some kind of an inkling when she saw Little Love’s bare feet J  But she never asked directly.  
After lunch, when it was finally time to leave, I brought Little Love back to her stall.  It felt absolutely horrible to leave her, knowing that she’ll probably be standing in that stall for about 20 hours a day, bored out of her mind, waiting for her ride.  I realized that it was a life she used to live not so long time ago, but somehow it still felt really bad.  I so hoped in my mind it would only be for a day or two.  Little did I know then that it would be much, much longer.
We drove a good six hours to the coast of Germany and spent a good time at the amusement park the next day.  I can't lie; I thought of Little Love a lot and kept sending her a message to stay strong.  Once we got to the boat harbor, I called the transporter guy, since I hadn't heard from him since Saturday.  No answer.  I left him a message.  
The next day, I discovered my cell phone had intermittent reception on the boat, so I tried calling the transporter again.  I don't know how many times I called, but each time he didn't answer, the pit in my stomach grew bigger.  I felt that the only reason he wasn't answering, was because he was avoiding my calls.  
I was right.  When I finally arrived in Finland this morning, the first thing I did was checked my email.  There was a message from the transporter telling me that he WAS TAKING A VACATION for a few days and that he would have a truck coming towards Finland next week Tuesday or Wednesday.  I nearly burst into tears there and then.  I mean - seriously. 
This. Cannot.  Be.  Happening. 
What is wrong with these people?  Why didn't he tell me all this on Saturday?  Or better yet, on Thursday before I even took the horse up there?  I would have had enough time to arrange alternative transport.  Anything than to leave her sitting there for a week and a half!!!!
I called everyone I knew, and even people I didn't know.  I talked to so many horse transporters that I lost count.  I had a lead with a guy in Holland, but he said he couldn't take her because it meant he would have to change to a bigger truck and he wasn't willing to do that unless there were more horses.  He could only take Lilo until Malmö, Sweden, where someone else would have to bring her up to Helsinki (I actually found someone who could do it).  I'm still waiting to see if he gets more horses (and leaves later), in which case Lilo would miss the Swedish ride but could go up to Hamburg and join another truck bringing 6 horses to Finland on Satuday.  But all this is AGAIN with people who are saying things like "I think I'll be going down there to get those horses. Depends a bit if we get their papers in order."  Vague.  That is the name of the game.  Vague.
So, at this point I am just waiting.  If the Dutch guy has a spot for her on Friday, he will call.  If that happens, I have to decide if it's worth going there at all.  Because, what if something goes wrong and the two transporters don't meet like is supposed to.  Then she is stuck at yet another barn.  At least the place she is at right now is something she is used to and something I have seen with my own eyes. 
Today I also called the barn in Germany where Little Love is staying.  Unfortunately I didn't get Heike on the phone but a man whom I suspect to be her husband.  He knew right away who I was, which tells me that the Finnish transporter (or Heike) had warned him about me.  He told me to relax, that my horse was doing fine, going out every day for a few hours.  In fact, he told me that Little Love "was having a holiday".  Right.  His attitude towards a "hysterical horse owner" such as myself was obvious between the lines.  For him horses are money making machines, nothing more.  So I don't think he really understand where I'm coming from calling and asking about my horse.  And when he says she is fine, he means she is alive and breathing.     
But at the moment it is all out of my hands. Completely.  I don’t think a minute has passed since we left that I haven’t thought of her.  It's like she is with me all the time and it's hard for me to focus on really anything else.  I have tried to connect with her and have felt that she is alright; bored and waiting and sad maybe, but alright.  I hope my feeling is correct.  I know my husband is struggling to understand what this is all about, but at least he hasn’t tried to imply that she is “just a horse”.  Because she isn’t.  She is my friend and I know that my heart will ache relentlessly until we are together again.  Whenever that may be. 
PS. And please, if you are at all savvy in animal communication, please talk to her and tell her to stay strong.  This nightmare will be over some day. 

Saturday, July 2, 2011


I was a bit nervous this morning when I went to the barn.  Little Love probably felt it, as she was again pretty high when I took her out of the stall.  She was also watching all the other horses going into the pastures and obviously wanted to join them.  But there was no chance, because today we were leaving for Northern Germany.

The lady showed up with her two horse van at eight o'clock exactly.  She had a really nice side-loading truck.  I was fairly hopeful when I saw how spacious it was.  Maybe Little Love wouldn't mind getting into it?  I walked her over to the ramp and she came up half way and stuck her nose inside.  "I don't think so," she seemed to say and started backing up.  I immediately tightened my grip on the lead rope, putting pressure on her face.  I had decided early on that this was not negoatiable; she would have to go in and I would make the clear right from the beginning.  I learned something from the experience I had loading her that awful day in the rain when I took her to Becky's; it was best not to prolong the loading situation too much because once she slipped into complete dissociation, you were up for a battle. 

Little Love tried to turn her head to look at the horses in the pasture.  I turned it back to look at me and the truck.  She stood still and I kept a slight pressure on the halter, but when she swayed forward, I loosened it immediately.  She took a tentative step forward, then another.  But again she lost faith and started backing up.  But there was that annoying pressure again.  She stopped and looked at me.  I could see her thinking.  Then she tried backing up one more time.  When she realized she would always get the pressure from going backwards (but no pressure from going forward - basics of negative reinforcement which works like a dream if you have perfect timing), she sighed and walked into the truck.  Loading had taken all of three minutes.  It wasn't as perfect as I had wanted it to be (no pressure), but we had not gotten into a huge fight.  It had been more like a firm negotiation.  She stood in the truck and I was so proud of her.  What an amazing girl she was!

The drive up took about 7 hours.  It could have been faster but there was a major traffic jam which set the truck back about an hour.  According to Francine, the driver, Little Love rode in the truck quietly.  My family and I drove ahead with our car and arrived at the barn beforehand.  Which was a good thing, as the barn was not really a barn, but rather an old military training center with over 300 bunkers.  These bunkers had been converted into houses, storage space and yes - barns.  We drove around aimlessly, looking for the right stable and finally found someone who could give us directions.  When we drove to the fifth row of bunkers, we saw a lady feeding a bunch of harness-racing horses.  Turned out she was the right person.  She showed us the bunker next door with six stalls, a wash rack, a small room with a cot for sleeping and a bathroom/shower.  Wow.  I had never seen anything like it before, it was literally a stable inside a cave.  How strange.  I didn't think this trip could get any weirder, but apperently it could. 

The bunker/stable didn't really have a door, but rather a metal gate which was locked for the night.  Heike, the woman, showed me where the key was hidden.  I put Little Love into one of the stalls.  There was only two other horses in the barn, both injured harness-racing (trotting) mares.  Apparently they weren't allowed to go outside because of their leg problems and were kept in the Finnish guys barn because it was quieter.  Little Love settled into her stall.  She peed, she pooped, she drank and she ate.  Nothing makes a horse owner happier than to see all four importent functions woring after a long trip.  After she had chilled for a moment, I put on her front boots and went for a walk.  All the horses that were outside called out to her and ran next to their fences.  Harness-racing horses are really so different than your regular riding horses; much more animated and energetic.  Little Love picked up some of that energy and pranced next to me.  But once she saw some grass, she had her head down in no time :-) We discovered a huge training track for the race horses, lookes like it goes around the whole area.  We walked on it for a while, but then turned back, as I didn't know how big it was.  I also didn't want to suddenly get run over by a bunch of practicing race horses!  Although many of the barns (bunkers) looked quite empty - I guess it's race season. 

I talked to the lady who worked there and found out that she was the wife of a racer.  Her husband was off in Paris at a race and was coming back with a bunch of horses at 2 in the morning just to turn around and leave again at 6 to Holland for another race.  The lady would come in the morning to feed at 5 am (early!).  She said she would put Little Love outside in one of the paddocks every day for a few hours.  She fed dinner around 3:30, after which she locked up for the "night".  She was really nice and asked me about feed etc. but other than her being there during the day, there was nobody else looking after the horses.  Once they were locked up for the rest of the day and night, that was it.  Yikes.  Not exactly what I had been imagining in my mind.  I called the Finnish transporter to find out about his schedule, but he wasn't 100% sure yet.  Which doesn't give me a ton of confidence.  Little Love might have to stay here for a while.  On the other hand, her vet papers will expire by next Saturday, so technically she should be in Finland by then or she'll need new papers.  The Finnish guy assured me that she would be taken care of, but I'm wondering if our perception of "taking care" is really the same...

Tomorrow morning I'll be going to the barn and taking Little Love out again one last time.  We'll definitely take a walk and then hopefully I can put her in one of the paddocks and hang out with her for a few hours while my husband and son go off to an activity park.  After lunch we will have to start heading out towards the German coast.  We don't have a boat to catch until Monday evening, but we had planned to go to an amusement park on Monday.  A big part of me wants to stay with Little Love for as long as possible (which would be until Monday noon), but my family has been more than understanding about all this drama with the horse that I just can't ask them to make one more sacrifice.  So, to the amusement park we go.  But I know it will be really, really hard for me to leave Little Love.  Will she be alright?  Will they take care of her and not leave her standing in a stall for days?  When will she leave?  Will she load into the truck and will they have patience to get her in there without violating her with whips etc.?  I have no idea.  I just have to trust these people, there is no other option.  I just have to tell Little Love to be strong and hope that within a week I will see her again, in one piece and in good mental health.  Then we can start our new life together, just the way we both want it.