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


  1. The bunker is surreal!

    Glad everything is going well there - I think Little Love will have those other two mares sorted out in no time.

    The anxiety thing is very interesting - shows how listening to a horse's fears and helping her to cope with them, instead of just trying to override them can make such a big difference.

  2. That bunker is crazy looking...
    It's amazing how Little Love has been able to draw herself back in when she goes into her anxiety mode.... you've been such a patient teacher, or I should say guidance counsellor! I love hearing about her new place, the two mares (that's a separate book in itself! :) ), and the antics going on... good reading!