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.