Sunday, August 28, 2011

Taking Advantage

In case you have been missing K's posts, she has been quite busy with trying to get herself and her family settled into their new house here in Finland. She's had very little time to get to Little Love, not to mention trying to write about it. But she will be back soon! :-)

Today Little Love and I didn't do much except graze and take a couple of short training walks (who is training whom? :-) ), but I got to witness some interesting developments in the herd - or at least between Lilo and Kira, the herd leader (up to now, anyway). While Little Love and I were hanging out around the barn, both Metku's and Manta's owners showed up and set to tacking up their horses to go out for a walk. Since Little Love and I had been out for a while already, I said that I could put her back in with Kira, so that Kira wouldn't have to be alone outside. (She had already been calling out to all the horses a bit frantically, wondering where all her herd members were without her.)

As K has mentioned, Little Love has been slowly working her way up in the herd pecking order - or at least not letting Manta try to push her around anymore. Today, I felt that she was reluctant to go into the pasture when she realized she would be alone there with Kira. I had a bit more time to spend at the barn, so I ran inside to grab our notebook and came back to hang out with the two horses. From the start of their time alone together, I noticed that something was happening. In fact, at the beginning I felt that Little Love enjoyed the fact that I had joined them and was trying to keep Kira away from me. They spent some time alternating between nuzzling each other's faces and doing some mare squealing. I even saw some hoofs fly in the air a couple of times, but interestingly, it seemed to be Kira who ended up moving away. Hmm...was Little Love taking advantage of this opportunity alone with Kira to move herself up even further in the the herd?

I started writing in the notebook and didn't pay much attention for a bit. I did see that the horses kept separating, standing apart for a while, and then coming back together. After a while, I looked up from my writing to see Little Love "herding" Kira around the pen, moving her left, right, and then in circles. At one point, Kira almost looked like a cutting horse so quickly was she spinning away from Little Love's shoulder - or was Little Love practicing some of that natural horsemanship stuff on Kira? :-) But the most interesting part of this was that Kira seemed to accept it pretty well. In fact, I got the feeling that she and Little Love were really enjoying each other's company while the others were gone.

I wish I had gotten some of this activity on film, but as I was leaving I did manage to snap a few pictures of them settling down together for a bit of nuzzling (and still a little squealing - they are mares, after all). Oh, and by the way, Little Love seems to be coming into heat, which is a good indicator that she is starting to feel at home here!

-- Melissa

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Finding My Balance

The weather seems to have changed again and the evening was really warm (I was in a t-shirt). This is a welcome change from the fall weather we were experiencing a few days ago. Monday all the horses seemed extra alert and energetic, and it reminded me of the times in Switzerland when snow covered the mountain tops for the first time in the fall; even if the horses didn't live in the mountains, they could "smell" the snow. They would do "Arab impersonations" in their individual paddocks with their tails straight up in the air and their nostrils like dinner plates. Riding was nearly impossible for two or three days, at least in Little Love's case.

Despite being "on the edge" a bit on Monday, Little Love managed to hold herself together while I trimmed her hooves in the barn. Even though all the other horses were outside in the paddock, she stood still and allowed me to pick up her feet and do my thing. I believe she has never cooperated with trimming this well, it was amazing. It really took everything she had to stay still because after the trim, she literally ran out of the barn and pranced around like the Arab I was talking about earlier. The tarps in the neighbor's yard, which she hadn't even looked at the day before, were suddenly transformed into horse eating monsters. When I let her loose in our makeshift arena, she trotted around nervously and even tried a few bucks! My dog Chai often behaves the same way when I clip her nails; she holds perfectly still for the procedure, but afterwards will run around like a maniac. The built up steam has to go somewhere, I suppose!

Tonight Little Love and I joined Metku and her owner on a trail "ride" (Metku's owner rode, I walked). It was the first time Metku's owner rode outside in a bitless bridle (LG bridle) so she seemed a bit nervous. Little Love on the other hand was very, very calm. In fact, she was walking so slowly in the beginning that I thought she would fall asleep. Her strategy worked though, as her presence seemed to calm both Metku and her owner significantly. Soon we were all creeping down the road together :-)

We walked towards the lake and then turned around to come back. I suggested a short trot and Metku's owner agreed. Little Love and I ran ahead and all was well until Metku decided to pass us. Her owner did nothing to stop her. I think the lady has never tried running next to a big horse at the trot, because if she had, she wouldn't have dreamed of passing me. Or she has infinite trust in my ability to keep up with a 16.2 hh horse... Little Love immediately upped her pace and soon we were flying down the road. Good thing I practice sprinting on my own sometimes! I finally asked Little Love to slow down, because I couldn't keep up with her and was afraid I would fall behind completely (my rope is only so long!). She did slow down, but obviously wanted to run after Metku, too. I was about to call out to Metku's owner but luckily she slowed down on her own at that moment... She was so excited about the trot (her first trot in a bitless ever apparently) that I didn't have the heart to tell her to never pass me like that. Next time we trot together, I will be sure to talk about this BEFORE we pick up the trot :-) LOL

As the sun was setting behind the trees, all four of us came back to the barn happy and relaxed. I have been quite stressed out this week, but again my time tonight with Little Love really helped bring life back into perspective. The next two weeks will be quite hectic as we are finalizing our move (i.e. finally moving into our house), but it's good to know that my horse will always help me find my balance if I loose it. I went home in a completely different state of mind than when I left it to go to the barn. I think at moments like these even my husband thanks his lucky stars for Little Love!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Sharing Energy

This is Melissa. I think I'm going to start to write in a different font, so that you can easily tell the difference between my posts and K's. If you cannot see this in italics for some reason or you have a better idea, please post a suggestion.

Well, it's going to start to be boring for you all to read about all my good days with Little Love, but today was another one. I was a bit nervous about what to do with her, because K had told me that she was a bit on edge yesterday due to all the rain we have been having. It was raining again this morning when I arrived at the barn, so I didn't know what to expect. But true to form, as soon as I was near Little Love, I was calm again. More on that later...

I decided to just behave as if it were not raining, so we set out on a walk. We walked to our usual grazing spot with no problems, but I decided to try to push us a bit. I told Little Love how much I love walking in the countryside and that I hope to be able to go on long walks with her someday. I also told her that I thought it would be good for our relationship to push ourselves in order to learn more about and hopefully increase our level of trust in each other. Then, as I have seen K do, I told her that I was going to ask her four times and that if she really insisted on not going with me, I would give up after those four tries. She followed me the second time I asked! :-) So we took a short walk up the road and came back to graze near the barn.

I've been trying to analyze the level of calmness I find when I am with Little Love. And the level of calmness we seem to find together. I have always loved animals, especially dogs and horses, but I've thought for some time that horses have some sort of magic in them that I have not found in other animals (although I suspect there might be something similar in giraffes?). I have especially found this to be true in Little Love and the way she brings calmness, relaxation, and awareness to me when I am in her presence. Today I started to analyze where this comes from. Does Little Love have some extra special horse magic in her, or is this the result of the way she has been handled and related to 100% of the time since K became her owner? Could all horses have this extra special magic if they were treated with such trust, cooperation, and respect and given the freedom to make choices whenever possible?

I also want to quickly relate an experience I had at the end of our time together today. In recent months, I have found that when I am with many horses and even some dogs, I have an almost palpable urge to touch them. This has also been the case with Little Love since she came to Finland. I know that she does not enjoy being touched very much, so I refrain. But my compulsion to do so was great today. So what I did, with her permission, was to run my hands over her back, sides, and hips while keeping a few centimeters between my hand and her skin. In other words, no contact. I'm not sure she was even 100% OK with this, but I sensed that she tolerated it as a gift to me. What I felt was an amazing sense of warmth coming into my hand and a flow of electricity into my body, energizing me. I imagine that this is something like what it would feel like to have a reiki treatment, and trying reiki is something that has been on my mind for the past several months. So today, I came home and booked myself a reiki treatment immediately. I'll know more about it next week!

-- Melissa

Do any of you have any experiences with reiki or other forms of energy work, especially with horses? If so, please share them with us!

Monday, August 22, 2011

About the visitors

I wanted to write about the visitors we had, but needed to reflect a bit before I did it.  I'm not sure I had enough time to process everything, but here are some of my thoughts.

Being around horses used to be a social thing for me.  What I mean is that I would be at the barn grooming and riding horses, but at the same time socializing with the other people who were grooming and riding horses as well.  As we went about our horsey business, us humans would talk.  Blah blah blah.  I could be brushing a horse while I was listening to Mary complain about her husband.  Blah blah blah.  I could be riding a horse while telling Susan about my trip to the mountains.  The subject didn't really matter, the main point was that while we were talking, we were also interacting with an animal.  Or rather, we weren't interacting.

Then I met Little Love.  It didn't take me long to realize that so many things went better between us when I was alone with her.  At first I thought it was because she didn't like people.  It wasn't until later that I realized  it wasn't about how many people were around us, it was about my own focus.  If I was distracted by a friend, Little Love made it loud and clear that it was not alright; she forced me to pay attention by escalating her own behavior.  And sometimes even my own focus wasn't enough; she would pick up emotions from anyone who was in the same space with us.  So many times I had to leave the arena because the energy in the space was too much for her or me. 

I have, however, slowly become aware of her wish to teach.  At first I thought it was my own wish reflecting back to me, as teaching is one of my favorite things to do, but lately I have realized that perhaps this is Lilo's wish, too.  When I first met her five years ago, she was aggressive and hostile, but I was drawn to her, nevertheless.  She has taught me more than any horse before.  Perhaps this is a classic example of the saying "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear"?  But how to help this anti-social horse become the teacher she obviously wants to be? 

Sunday an old friend visited with her horse-crazy daughter.  This friend and I go back over 30 years when we first started riding. She stopped as a teenager, but I kept going.  Her visit to see Little Love was fueled by her growing interest in horses; she is looking to be reconnected after decades of separation.  I was a bit nervous about her coming to the barn, knowing that Little Love would most likely not exactly be the picture of a "traditional perfect horse" that you can just pet and groom until you are blue in the face.  But, I was also very curious to see how it would all pan out.  Would the teacher in Little Love appear?  Or would she simply be irritated that I invited "a stranger" to see her?  Were we ready to partner up in teaching?

I'm sure you already guessed... the teacher appeared.  I have to say that it probably worked because I was in teacher mode as well.  Which meant I was fairly focused.  My friend and her young daughter had so many questions and observations, it was nearly overwhelming.  But, at the same time, it was highly rewarding.  Why doesn't she have shoes?  Who is the leader in the herd?  Do horses make friends? 

When I was grooming Little Love outside, both mother and daughter were watching her intently.  The little girl rides in a riding school twice a week and the riding school environment is the only place either one of them had seen horses.  Little Love stood calmly under the trees, but her eyes were constantly watching the surroundings and she was interacting with me by turning her head, touching my arm etc.  My friend was blown away by Little Love's alertness.

"I can't believe how... alive she is," she said, searching for the words.  "Compared to the riding school horses, that is.  They just stand there as if they don't even see you.  Little Love is so present all the time.  It's not like she is nervous, she is just alert."

What a brilliant observation!  Wow.  Little Love licked and chewed.  I could see how much she appreciated the insight.  And it was only the first of many. 

"I watched you approach the horses in the pasture and put your hand out so they could sniff it.  What is that all about?"
"You are so respectful of Little Love and she is so respectful of you.  I've never seen that between a human and a horse."
"She seems to read your thoughts, it's like you two are a team."

I talked about learned helplessness, why animals "act out", animal communication, emotional awareness and what not.  We spent two and a half hours observing not only Little Love, but the other herd members as well.  The questions never stopped.  Do horses understand what we say to them?  Why do some of the ponies in the riding school bite humans?  Why do we keep horses in stalls? Why don't they teach this stuff in riding schools?????

In the end we stood watching the four horses interact in the paddock.  My friend sighed.

"I feel so peaceful.  Coming to this barn is like meditating, or like recharging your battery.  You are so lucky."
She had hit the nail on the head with those words.  I am so lucky.  I was also so very happy I had been able to share this world with my friend and her little daughter. I know it had opened their eyes to see horses in a new way, as sentient beings with emotional lives.  And I was so proud of Little Love who had made it possible by just being who she is.  When they drove home, the girl was very silent in the car, her mind obviously working on what she had seen and learned.  Her mother sent me an email the next morning with some of the questions that had come up on the way home.  I invited them to come and see Little Love again soon.

I saw the barn owner in the evening and told her about my visitors.  She said her daughter had had someone visit too over the weekend, a person who didn't know anything about horses.  This girl had watched the four horses do their dance in the paddock for a half an hour and declared that she hadn't felt that peaceful for years. 

I told the barn owner we should start selling tickets to this place.  LOL.         

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Moving up

When Little Love first arrived at her current barn, she kept a very low profile when it came to interacting with her herd mates.  She was cautious and careful.  She spent hours merely studying the other horses, watching what they were doing, quickly moving out of the way when they approached her with their ears pinned back.  She took every precaution to make sure she did not get into a confrontation.  She seemed like she was a follower, yet when you saw her interacting with the other horses, you never had the sense of submission from her part.  Was she really at the bottom of the pecking order or was she merely waiting for her turn? 

Today I spent some time observing the herd with a friend of mine (we have had some visitors this week, but I'll have to write about that later, once I process my thoughts).  I haven't had much time to do that lately, but as soon as I stood there for a while, it was obvious that something had changed in Little Love's attitude.  The main difference is with her relationship with Manta.  Where before she used to move out of Manta's way - although halfheartedly with her ears pinned back - she now barely acknowledged Manta's presence.  When Little Love walked to the water source and Manta made a mean face as if to say "Don't you dare come here!", Little Love walked right past her and drank out of the bucket without batting an eye.  Manta threatened her again, but just one look from Lilo stopped her antics.  She watched Lilo drink and walk away without interfering.  Ten minutes later, Lilo circled around Manta, tossing her head back and ears against her neck.  Manta backed away, obviously unhappy, but letting Little Love chase her away quite easily.  This seemed to upset Kira who showed up with her mane flying around fiercely. She tried to chase Lilo away from the herd and Little Love moved, but making a point of doing it very slowly.  Impatient, Kira turned around and kicked at Little Love, trying to push her away from the rest of the horses.  Little Love whirled around and kicked back - hard.  Both horses moved away from each other after this, so neither really lost face, but it all left me wondering if Little Love has finally decided to take her real spot in the social hierarchy.  I have never seen her challenge Kira like that before.

I feel that this herd, although at most times seemingly tranquil, has something cooking under the surface.  Perhaps that is the reason Little Love is not gaining weight nor is she going into heat like usual.  Perhaps she is still unsure of her place in the herd.  Or she knows exactly where she stands, she just has to make sure everyone else knows this, too.  She is not rushing out there in the middle of the herd to claim her space with kicks and bites, but rather is working her strategy the way she always does it - slowly but surely. 

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Osteo visit

This morning my friend Selma, who is a horse fysiotherapist and osteopath, came to take a look at Little Love.  She first worked on Kira, who has been having some accute back problems.  Kira's owner (the barn owner) has been quite worried about Kira's escalating aggression and frankly it is starting to worry everyone else as well, since it is affecting the herd in many ways.  Last night when the barn owners adult daughter came to let the horses in, Kira was standing at the gate, kicking at everyone who tried to approach, including Manta, her "wing man".  She has been extremely grumpy for the past two weeks, lashing out at both Lilo and Metku without much warning.  At first we all thought it was because of Manta's injury and her being separated from the herd, but it has become increasingly clear that there is another reason as well; Kira is in pain. 

Poor Kira's back was quite locked up, but luckily Selma was able to bring her some relief.  She also discovered that Kira had some issues with her head, meaning that the bones in her head were sort of stuck.  Kira, like Lilo, doesn't like strangers touching her, but when Selma put her healing hands on Kira's forehead, I thought Kira was going to fall over from sheer relief.  I've never seen her hang her lower lip, but she did today.  Just seeing that made me wonder if perhaps she had had a headache.  Why not?  It's difficult to diagnose a headache in an animal, but I would imagine they can get them just like people.

By the time Selma got to Lilo, all four horses were so done standing in their stalls.  Usually they get out once they have had their morning hay, but because Kira needed to be as relaxed as possible when Selma was treating her, we kept them all in.  Little Love no longer needs the whole entourage with her in the barn;  I can easily pull her out of the pasture and bring her in, and she is perfectly relaxed.  But - there was no way we could leave her in now and put the other three horses out.  So, in they all stayed.

After watching Lilo move at walk and trot, on a straight line and on a circle, Selma asked us to come back inside.  She said that it looked to her that Lilo was "stuck" in her thorax area.  A closer inspection confirmed this.   

 Little Love is not a big fan of osteopaths, because they do the one thing she hates the most - touch her all over her body. The fact that Metku was kicking her door and Manta and Kira were impatiently pawing in their stalls did not help one bit. I had to use all my negotiation skills (and some carrots) to convince Lilo that bodywork was a brilliant idea.  Selma did some minor adjustments, but it was increasingly more difficult to deal with the fact that all horses wanted to go outside.  We decided to stop and continue at a later date.  Before we did, however, Selma showed me some rather elaborate and complicated stretches I could guide Lilo to do.  This would help her improve the mobility of her chest area as well as the elasticity of her spine in the withers area. 

Selma is coming back in two to three weeks to check on Kira's progress and she will check Lilo again then.  She said that despite the fact that Lilo has next to no muscle and has been through quite a bit in the last eight months (going barefoot, falling over, traveling across Europe), she is doing relatively well in her body.  She encouraged us to move as much as possible.  Long walks, that sort of thing.  I told her we were working on it!   

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Off to a Good Start

Melissa, here. Today was my day with Little Love, and what a good day it was for us! We ventured completely away from the barn alone for the first time. We walked about ten minutes out to the bottom of the hill where K has been taking her to eat grass, grazed there for about 15-20 minutes, and then walked back. Little Love was amazingly calm the entire time and responded to my voice requests with very little need for contact on the lead rope and halter. I have learned from spending some time with Little Love and K together how important it is to use as little contact as possible, to always give her the chance to first respond to my voice, and to take away the contact as quickly as possible when she has responded to it. And I could see an immediate reaction in her today when I tried to adhere to these guidelines.

I am, by nature, a person who likes to (try to) make sure everything is under control beforehand, which means I am constantly taking preemptive action both mentally and physically. What I realized with Little Love is that, even though I think I am allowing her space (= no contact/pulling on the face), I am always ready to tighten on the rope at the first sign of problems. I'm not even sure how much Little Love feels this physically, but I am 100% sure she feels my energy and emotions. What I have now set as my main goal with Little Love is to keep the lead rope loose (as I once heard a dog trainer say, "hanging loosely in the shape of a smile" :-) ) and my mental / emotional state the same at all times. And if err in my response timing, I will allow myself to respond a bit late to a situation rather than trying to preempt one. In time, we'll get the timing down better, but for now I would rather give her too much trust than too little.

When we came back to the barn, I let Little Love graze there without the lead rope attached while I took off her boots and brushed the mud off them. I have seen what an amazing connection K has made with Little Love, and I think a large part of that has come from the trust she has given her and the freedom she has allowed her.  I want to work up to allowing her more and more freedoms when she is with me as well.

Great day! :-)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Pacifist

On Monday Manta, who during the weekend had finally been upgraded from stall confinement to a small paddock outside, decided she was done being "sick".  Between the noon and afternoon feeding, she busted through the hot wire and joined the herd.  As last time, Manta's presence in the herd created turmoil.  Suddenly nobody could relax at feeding time.  It wasn't long that the barn owner contacted me, because she was fairly sure Lilo was not eating most of her rations.  This is not because she is at the bottom of the pecking order, but rather because she can't be bothered to fight over food.  It is as if she is above such behavior.  She really tries to avoid conflict as much as possible without being submissive in any way.  

Perhaps Lilo feels that she has had enough conflict in her life to last her the next twenty years.  And it's true; when I met her, her life was one big conflict.  It was all about Little Love against every human she met.  I can't imagine how much she must have suffered from the constant state of argument she was in.  Just thinking about it breaks my heart.  So now she makes sure to stay away from any drama.  Can you blame her?

Or perhaps this is who she is; she doesn't believe in violence and fighting.  She would rather walk away than engage in a bloody battle over a pile of hay.  Peace is what she seeks, peace is what one feels in her presence, peace is her middle name.  My horse is a pacifist. 

She is also becoming quite the culinary expert when it comes to plants.  It is intriguing to watch her select her menu and chew it down with efficiency.  A few weeks ago she was really into plantain, which I have been familiar with since childhood when my grandmother told me about it's medicinal value.  The list of benefits of plantain is so long that I will spare you this time, but I would like to mention it's effectiveness as a general detoxifier.  Did Little Love subconsciously know this and that's why she ate lots of plantain?  Her newest favorite is milk thistle which is loaded with antioxidants.  Also, thistle's active ingredients are specifically good for the liver and kidneys. There are other greens she obviously chooses to eat, but I have yet to figure out the names of these plants.  I'm sure that whatever she chooses to eat, it is no accident; she goes at it with such conviction. 

Yesterday Melissa and I walked with Little Love to the first dirt road crossing.  Lilo was alert, but stayed with us mentally and emotionally.  We stopped to graze at the intersection before returning back to our "safe spot", the grazing area at the slope near the barn.  Today I felt confident we could venture further and I was right; Little Love took me beyond the first crossing and turned right down the dirt road.  She was calm, pacing herself to me rather than the other way around.  We walked almost all the way to the end of the road, which is where on Saturday we had taken the forest path to the lake with Kira and Metku.  This walk was different than any of the walks we have ever done together; I felt that we were walking completely and utterly as equals for the first time.  Or maybe "equals" is the wrong word.  It was rather a sense of not having to worry about anything between us, we were just two friends, walking together. 

Later, when we were coming back, two people  who were Nordic walking, came around the corner.  Little Love heard them before she could see them.  The poles (that are like cross country ski poles) the walkers use make a funny whizzing noise on a dirt road and Little Love's mental alertness went from 0 to about 70 in a split second (100 being the state where the eyes pop out of the head and you brace yourself because you know your horse is about to take off).  We went home a lot faster than we had ventured down the road, but it was never out of control.  In fact, we tried a bit of trot up a a hill as I knew this would help Little Love.  Unfortunately I'm a lot slower than her, once she really gets going LOL. 

Once we got back to the familiar grazing spot near the barn, Little Love was back to her Zen self.  Interestingly enough my pulse never really went up during this episode; I remained calm and confident even when Little Love was anxious.  I realize it is because I trusted her, even when she was a bit scared; there was nothing between us.

Back at the barn I told the barn owner about the Nordic walkers.  She laughed and said: "Yeah, wait until it's winter and you'll see your first cross country skier!"  Yikes.  Now that will be a test of Zen, if there ever was one!

PS. Lilo's fecal count came back good, so at least I know she doesn't have worms.  Now we are waiting for the results of the hay analysis.  Once I know the quality of the hay, it will be easier to find a supplemental feed for Little Love that is in balance with the nutrients she is getting from the hay.  She definitely needs something to help her gain weight before winter.  I have been asking the barn owner to keep giving her more and more hay in the evenings and mornings (when she eats in her stall), but it doesn't seem to be enough.  Just today I told her to give her another 2 kg at night.  I have never seen Lilo eat this much, but at the same time be this thin.  She is also obviously hungry, eating every piece of hay she can find in her stall.  Hopefully I can find a solution to all this. 

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Leading the way

Tonight when I arrived to the barn, the barn owner and Metku's owner were getting ready to go for a trail ride.  They were both tacking up with saddles and bridles, but told me they would really only walk, since this was Metku's first time off the property so if I wanted to join in-hand, I could.  I asked Little Love what she thought and she was ready to go as well.  So, we put on the boots quickly and slipped on the halter and off we went. 

Because neither Kira nor Metku wanted to leave the yard first, Little Love and I took the lead.  Lilo walked in the front confidently, leading the way as if she had always done just that; lead the way.  From Metku's owner's request, we decided to stay on the wider roads instead of venturing onto the narrow paths in the forest.  This, of course, sounded good to me, since I know how much Little Love is afraid of the forest.  We walked down to the first intersection and turned right onto the dirt road.  Kira was significantly slower than the other two horses, so we waited for her every now and then. 

We were an impressive sight as we walked with three black horses all the way to the end of the road, which is about a mile and a half from the barn.  Many of the neighbors were out on walks as well and there were lots of "oohs" and "aahs" when we strode by with our black mare entourage.  The sun was setting in a mostly clear sky and the night was so very still; what a perfect evening for a long walk.  The barn owner told us about the lake nearby and suggested we explore the road leading to the lake.  This route is off limits for cars, but luckily horses can get past the metal gate set up in the middle of the road.  We made our way down the field, dove into the forest and hiked up a winding (but not narrow! :-) mossy path until we were near the lake.  Then we turned around  and came back down the same way we had gone up. 

Little Love was amazing.  She walked on my side, slowing down if she noticed I was falling behind.  She stopped from voice cues only.  She waited for her friends politely.  The only time she became anxious was when we turned around in the forest and started heading home.  At first I thought it was because we were going home and because there were some knats buzzing under her stomach, but once we passed the last tall fir tree and came into the clearing, she immediately calmed down.  Obviously it was a bit too many trees for her :-)  But despite her anxiety, she never took a trot step nor did I have the feeling of totally losing control.  She merely walked fast, at times scrambling over tree roots without exactly looking where she was placing her feet.  I had to pull on her face a few times to ask her to stop, as I could not keep up with her (not to mention waiting for Metku and Kira...).  But after that part of the walk was over, she was back to her considerate self.  Her brave self.  Her confident self.  Now I know why we had to struggle so many times on trail rides years ago: so that we could both appreciate this life we now have. 

Friday, August 12, 2011

Taking hold of emotions

Last night Sara, our trimmer, came to trim Little Love.  I can't tell you how much I have waited for this day to happen; finally my horse is getting trimmed by someone who knows something!  Talk about relief. 

I was a bit nervous about the trim, since despite my efforts Little Love had not exactly learned how to stand still in on the barn aisle.  Naturally I had talked to her about Sara's visit and asked her for her cooperation.  She is not the easiest horse when it comes to picking up her feet.  She will let people do it, but to hold them and trim them for long periods of time... not her favorite thing to do.  If you have been reading my blog, you may remember the experience we had with the "insecure trimmer" back in Switzerland in the spring.  She took way too long and was so nervous that in the end I was holding Lilo's leg so she could trim... 

Before Sara came, I took Lilo onto the aisle to wash her feet.  We have gotten a lot of rain in the past few days and the paddock is fairly muddy.  I wasn't going to even attempt hosing her feet off, but rather just ran some water in the bucket and went at it the old-fashioned way with a brush.  I positioned Lilo in the middle of the barn, which is the only place so far she has felt comfortable enough to stand still for more than five seconds.  Lilo, however, had a whole other idea.  Instead of stopping, she marched past me into the small grooming area between Kira's and her own stall, picked an apple out of the bag of apples sitting on the low cupboard on the back wall, turned around and stopped at the cross ties as if to say: this place is better.  I totally agreed!   We hadn't even practiced going into the grooming area since the first two weeks in Finland because it had been way too scary compared to the center.  But it's not about the practice with Little Love, it's about giving her time.  When she is ready, she will make the initiative herself.  So, when Sara came ten minutes later, Little Love was standing calmly in the grooming area, ready to be trimmed!

Sara was great.  Not only does she work confidently and quickly, she has a very positive attitude.  Little Love liked her immediately.  It was obvious, however, from the very beginning that Lilo did NOT LIKE to be trimmed.  She pinned her ears back, made faces at me and Sara and all the horses, snapped her teeth, tossed her head and what not.  But instead of biting any of us humans, she attacked her lead rope and tore into it like she wanted to kill it.  I offered her a brush and she grabbed it with her teeth.  She lowered her head and bared her teeth at me.  She was obviously very, very upset.  But, despite all this, she never let her anger interfere with the trimming process.  I don't think I have ever seen such self control from a horse; I was so proud of her.  The barn owner, who was watching, couldn't believe her eyes and frankly neither could I.  It was obvious that Lilo knew this was important, but she made sure we knew her opinion about it all. 

Fifty minutes later Sara was done.  We walked Little Love back and forth on the road to see how she was moving.  I could see the difference immediately.  Her bars had been really long and high, and just trimming those down obviously made her feel a heck of a lot better.  True, she doesn't have a ton of hoof height (especially the right front is problematic) and there are things that should be fixed (if there was enough hoof to trim away), but all in all it didn't look too bad.  Sara really did a great job!  

Today when I went to the barn, I could still see the difference in Little Love.  Picking her feet up was much easier (those bars had probably bothered her more than I realized) and she was definitely more balanced.  Depsite the rain we went for a walk down the road.  Lilo grazed for fifteen minutes at her usual spot at the bottom of the hill.  I don't know whose idea it was, or if we both sort of had the idea at the same time, but we walked further down the road.  This is the first time we did this and Lilo was definitely nervous.  At the same time she was eager to go.  We walked a few hundred yards up the hill and into the forest and by two houses until we were at the bigger dirt road.  At this point we decided to turn back and Lilo became quite nervous and even spooky, wanting to get back to the barn as fast as possible.  I walked with her, but made sure she was still remembering my existence, by stopping her periodially.  Despite her heightened awareness of her surroundings, she stopped each time merely from a voice cue.  Wow. 

By the time we got back to the grazing spot at the bottom of the hill, I decided to try diverting Lilo's intention to go home immeditaly.  She was very much set on going back to the barn, but I stopped and asked her if she wanted to graze.  She took two bites of the grass and then spun around me, obviously agitated.  I asked again.  She repeated her two bites and spin.  I decided to give it five tries, but already on the fourth one Lilo brought her energy level down and started to graze.  We spent another fifteen minutes on the side of the field eating.

I am so floored by this shift in Little Love's ability to take hold of her emotions and control them.  She was really not happy about the trimming yesterday, but she obviously knew it was for her own good so she cooperated, despite her own feelings (which she did make loud and clear!).  And then today, the way she was able to calm down on our walk without having to go to the barn to do it, was amazing.  I belive we have turned a new leaf in terms of trust and cooperation.  I'm not even sure I have truly even understood what this all means and how it has happened, and will need time to reflect on these changes. 

When we got back to the barn, it was sunny.  Little Love grazed some more in front of the barn while I took the boots off.  She looks to have gained some weight, too, which is great!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Sheep, grass and displaced anger

Kira is frustrated because Manta is still not with the herd, but is spending her days in the barn.  This frustration is starting to get the best of the Queen of the Herd and she is taking it out on both Little Love and Metku.  This was evident from the two big, swollen hoof marks on Lilo's right rump today.  Thank God for no shoes... Little Love seemed quite tired, which is probabaly due to the fact that Kira has been lashing out in displaced anger all day. Also, it rained a lot at night, and I know that until she gets used to it, the sound of the rain on the barn roof is usually enough to keep Lilo awake and alert all night.  

Melissa and I were at the barn together.  We took Little Love out of the paddock for a quick look over and brush, then we wandered down the road together with our dogs and my son.  Here is a picture Melissa took of us going down the road past the mailboxes I have been talking about in my earlier posts.

We walked down to the same spot as yesterday, which is at the bottom of the hill, in between the two fields.  I suppose it would have been a great day to venture out further, since Little Love was as calm as she ever will be, but we parked at our usual grazing spot and let her have grass.  Sometimes I just don't feel like pushing the envelope.  I figure we have all the time in the world to venture out some other day, so I'm not in a hurry. 
When we walked back to the barn, I took Little Love into the "arena".  This is no real arena, but merely a small, square-shaped field the barn owner has fenced in with some of the left over electric tape.  It's a little bit down the road from the barn, so none of the horses feel 100% comfortable staying there on their own, but I'm hoping that with time Little Love will learn to relax enough in the area to actually be loose in it.  The only catch to this little "arena" is that the field next door is the home to about thirty sheep.  You can't always see them, since their field is enormous, but today they had decided to grace us with their presence for the first time.  When Little Love saw them, she stopped in her tracks with her head up high.   It looked like her eyes were going to pop out of her head.  I have to admit, with their head down, eating the grass, they looked like a bunch of rocks plopped into the middle of the field.  Except that some of them were moving... I had just given Little Love a piece of apple, and she held it in her mouth without chewing on it, obviously thinking that it wasn't a good idea to eat in case she would have to run for her life in the next three seconds.  But, even though the sheep made her nervous, she didn't try to take off.  She merely took a few trot steps and stopped to stare at them again.  We circled around the arena another time and then walked back to the barn.  When approaching subjects like sheep (or any other animal, for that matter) with Little Love, it's best to make it as short as possible.  If you linger for too long, Little Love's anxiety usually escalates to the point where she no longer can control her emotions and it's her DNA that takes charge.  She can get used to the sheep, but she will need dozens of similar experiences where her adrenaline may be pumping, but isn't controlling her emotions completely.   

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Success is success, however small

Little Love's knee looks completely normal now, which means I didn't need the antibiotics after all.  I did, however, go get them from the pharmacy.  I figured that having them was sort of like an insurance against ever needing them :-)  haha. 

Manta is doing much much better as well.  She is still kept separated from the herd and that is causing some anxiety in all the horses.  The wound on her shoulder is oozing puss and blood, which is good.  Her owner thinks she saw the tip of a wood sliver today when she was cleaning the wound and squeezing the puss out.  If this is the case, I hope the sliver comes out on its own so Manta doesn't need the vet to open up the shoulder and dig it out...

Little Love is starting to really enjoy her life as part of the herd.  The barn owner calls her "the peace keeper".  She has a reason for that, as it is obvious that when the three black mares are together Kira accepts Metku as part of the group.  But the second you take Lilo out of the paddock Kira squeels and kicks out at Metku, chasing her to the other side of the fenced area.   Then Kira spends the rest of the time waiting for Lilo to return as Metku stands by (far far away) and does the same.  When I walk Lilo back to the paddock, both horses rush to the gate to meet her, obviously overjoyed to see her.  Metku especially is quite attached to Little Love.  In fact, it's becoming somewhat a chore to get Little Love out of the paddock without letting Metku slip through the gate as well as she is not only attached to Lilo's hip, but also not exactly respectful of "human space". 

You would think that all this drama would make Little Love apprehensive to leave her friends, but it seems to be quite the contrary; the second she sees me, she comes to the gate and lowers her head for the halter.  I can tell she is eager to spend time with me, which needless to say makes my heart sing :-) 

Today we ventured out down the road.  We haven't gone down the road alone for a while and I was curious to see if Little Love had made any progress in terms of being less nervous when walking away from the barn without other horses.  The weather wasn't exactly ideal for this excursion as it was really windy and dark rain clouds were passing over head.  But somehow I had a feeling that this would be the time to go out.  Perhaps Little Love told me she was ready?

Little Love stopped twice when we left the yard.  Neither stop was a "I'm growing roots" sort of a stop, but rather a "are you sure?" type.  Both times I told her we would only walk to the bottom of the hill, not any further.  This was enough to convince her to follow me.  She stopped a third time at the mail boxes some 100 yards down the road, but I barely had time to ask her to follow me, when she already did.  She was calm, but alert; the Little Love I remember from those few times we had great walks "alone" in Switzerland. 

It started to rain.  The drops came down heavy and hard.  We found a birch tree that gave us enough cover and Little Love settled down to eat grass.  I couldn't believe it; it was raining and she was calm enough to eat??!!  This was a milestone, if any.  The rain stopped as soon as it had started.  We stayed at the bottom of the hill for over 15 minutes.  Every now and then Lilo would lift her head, look over the fields and past the forest line.  But then she would settle down again. Once or twice we heard a horse, most likely Kira, calling out from the barn, but even though Little Love acknowledged the call by looking towards the barn, she never called back.  I felt that she could have walked further, but I didn't want to push it.  Besides, I had promised her we would walk only to the bottom of the hill.

I think we could have stayed there even longer, if it weren't for the garbage truck.  We both saw (and heard) it at the same time on the other side of the field, coming down the road adjacent to our small barn road.  I didn't know if it was going to come our way, but I know my horse well enough not to wait and see.  As I heard the truck approaching, we walked up the hill briskly, took the right turn at the mailboxes and returned to the barn just in time to turn around and watch the truck pick up the trash next door.  Little Love is not a big fan of garbage trucks and since our outing had been pretty much perfect, I wasn't going to risk spoiling it with a face off with a garbage truck on a narrow country road. 

Maybe we only walked 200 yards down the road today, but it was a great accomplishment as it was the first time Little Love was truly comfortable with leaving the barn "alone".  It's funny, because a few years ago, if my horse would only leave the yard to go down the road, I would have thought that I had failed.  But now I see this as a success.  It's all relative, isn't it?  But I guess a few years ago I would have also forced Little Love to go further, which would have resulted in an awful and anxious trail ride.  And we would have both returned to the barn in a state of fury. 

I rather prefer this other way.

PS. I made a mental note for future reference to remember that the garbage gets picked up on Tuesdays around 3:30 pm.  Don't need to meet that garbage truck quite yet, but maybe some day we can do it.  I'm up for it, if Little Love is.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Vet visit

So in the end we did have to call the vet, but not for Little Love.  Manta, who had cut herself on the shoulder on Tuesday (I think I might of mentioned this in a sub clause at some point), suddenly developed a major inflammation around the already healing wound.  It was really strange how it happened, as she literally within an hour or two went from being completely alright to not being able to walk and having a high fever.  I never saw the cut when it was fresh, but it was a puncture wound and apparently almost an inch deep.  Those are always quite scary and very hard to clean. 

Of course it was Sunday and the regular vet was on vacation.  So it took a while to locate a vet that could and would come to our little country barn.  But finally there was someone.  I decided to have her look at Little Love at the same time, just in case we would have a similar relapse as Manta.  Lilo's leg was still a bit swollen this morning, but much less than yesterday.  By the time the vet got there in the afternoon, almost all the swelling was gone.  The vet, however, thought it would be a good idea to give her some antibiotics anyways.  Which is no surprise, since usually vets are fairly ready to give antibiotics whenever there is a hint of infection.  She did tell me to wait until tomorrow and make the call at that point.  But she made sure I understood that if there was any swelling at all, I should go ahead with the antibiotics.  

I'm not a big fan of antibiotics.  Having taken quite a bit of them myself during my life, I don't think they are the answer to every situation.  Yes, sometimes you have to go there (like in Manta's case), but if you can avoid it, don't do it.  They do mess with your general immune system and knowing how weak Lilo's immune system is at the moment... well, I'm not keen on more drugs.  I will definitely go to the pharmacy to pick the antibiotics up and then we'll just have to see.  I had a long talk with the barn owner and she seemed to be on the same page with me concerning this matter.  Which is great, since it means that I don't have to explain myself too much.  

I hope Manta gets better soon; she was fairly miserable today.  Her owner left her in the stall, but she didn't even seem to care.  Poor Kira was completely out of sorts because her herd was not complete.  She called out to Manta periodically, to check if she would answer, but Manta was too tired to go there.  Hopefully the antibiotics and pain medication will help her recover enough that she can join the herd again soon.  We already built her a small pen next to the paddock, so she can at least be close to all her friends tomorrow if she feels ready to walk outside.  She was such a trooper with the vet; it was obvious she was in a lot of pain, but she endured all the poking and proding nevertheless.  This is definitely a horse that will endure anything from humans.  Lilo, on the other hand, was not nearly as cooperative and when the vet passed under her neck to get a better look at the leg, Lilo threatened to bite her.  While the lady was feeling the leg, I told Lilo she was here to help and it was important to let her do that.  I guess I was pretty convincing, as when the vet went to take her temperature (but not before asking me if this would be safe...) Little Love sighed and stood still until the vet was done.  She is not an easy patient, but she does listen to stern advice :-)

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Out of the woods?

The leg was still quite swollen this morning.  It was not, however, much worse than last night.  Which gave me hope.  After all, Little Love had been standing in a stall all night so swelling was expected under the circumstances.  The leg also didn't appear to be as hot.  I managed to run water over the leg for 15 minutes.  I did it outside, because that's where Lilo was the calmest and most accepting to the hose and water.   I walked her around the barn area for a while, but then put her back into the paddock.  She immediately went to the water source for a drink, something she likes to do when I put her back into the herd.  Metku, who had obviously missed her, joined her at the water buckets.  It was funny to watch the two of them together, trying to choose which bucket they would drink out of; they seem fairly comfortable with each other as you can see from the two pics I took with my phone...

I returned in the evening to discover that a lot of the swelling on the leg had gone down; I could feel the tendon.  Yay!  I ran cold water over the leg again for 20 minutes and then let Lilo graze while we waited for Manta and her owner to get ready for a walk.  We walked for 45 minutes and the entire time Little Love was walking really energetically in the front, as if she was on a mission to exercise herself.  It could be that she was also really annoyed by the few little knats that had braved the rainy weather and were trailing behind her.  She really hates bugs and sometimes even one single bug is enough to get her irritated.

When we got back to the barn, the leg was nearly normal looking.  I still added some anti-inflammatory drugs to her evening and morning feed.  I'm going to the barn again tomorrow morning, so I can check the progress, but I'm hoping we are out of the woods and I won't be calling the vet first thing Monday morning! 

Friday, August 5, 2011

Did I mention she had a swollen leg?

I went to the barn to check Little Love's leg this morning and it looked about the same as yesterday.  No heat, some swelling on the inside of the knee.  Little Love herself didn't look a least bit troubled by her injury. I trotted her up and down on the road while the barn owner watched, but she didn't appear lame.  I hosed it with cold water, which was challenging, since Little Love does not want to go into the "water stall" to save her life.  So we did it outside, where she spun around me and tried to avoid the water at all cost.  I put the "cold clay" on it and left her in the paddock.  At noon she still looked alright.

I went back to the barn seven hours later and the swelling had doubled in size.  Great.  There was also some heat over the knee, right under the small cut.  Definitely an infection starting to happen.  I worked on getting Little Love closer to the water area and managed to negotiate a deal with her.  She stood in the middle of the barn while I hosed the leg with cold water.  She was fairly freaked out by both the drain and the hose, so we weren't able to cool down the leg as long as I wanted to, but I didn't want to get into a fight.  I managed to scrub open the cut and applied antibiotic cream to it. I also dug around in my belongings and found some anti-inflammatory drugs left over from our previous escapades in Switzerland.  I put some in her evening feed and talked to Manta's owner who is feeding in the morning to add some to the morning feed as well.  I'm hoping this all will do it, but if not, I'll have to call the vet and get some antibiotics.  The good thing is that Little Love still doesn't seem too bothered by the leg, so it must not be too sore.  Perhaps I can tame the infection with the already excisting drugs I have?

When I drove home, I beat myself up in the car for being the worst horse-owner in the world.  I know it's silly, but since I've owned Lilo, she has had so many medical episodes that I'm starting to think there is a message behind all that and that message is for me.  She used to be so "healthy" in her past life, but I guess when you keep a horse in a stall nearly 24 hours a day, not a lot happens to them.  Now it seems that if it isn't her skin, it's her hooves.  And if it's not her hooves, she's losing weight.  And if she isn't losing weight, she falls over and gets cuts all over her body.  Or just randomly gets a cut and then it gets infected.  I know she has a better life now than she used to, but sometimes I wonder...  I guess I understand why people keep their horses in a stall, at least they know the horse is "safe".  Selfish, but also so damn convenient.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Teachers and students

Yesterday I noticed that Little Love had a cut on the inisde of her right front, just above the knee.  When I saw it, it was already well scabbed over and looked to be something that had happened the day before.  There was no swelling, so I left it like that.  This morning, however, the area was swollen and some of the swelling had "slid down" to the knee area, making it look quite big.  The cut itself was clean and looked to be almost completely heeled.  Little Love was walking normally, but when I applied some "cold clay" over the area, she wasn't happy.  Hopefully this doesn't turn into something I need a vet for...

After applying the clay, Melissa and I decided to take Little Love for a short walk.  Manta's owner had showed up to clean a small puncture wound on Manta's shoulder (which was already healing well) and said she could go with us.  This was great, since I wasn't sure we would get very far on our own.  I also think it's great for the horses to go out with each other in pairs; it helps with the bonding.  And since Manta and Lilo were not exactly best friends to start with, a walk together could help in that respect.  Not to mention giving Kira and Metku some time together in the paddock.

We walked down the road and Manta's owner showed us the way to a lake we had seen on the map.  To get to the lake, you have to walk to the end of a dirt road and then take a path through the forest.  It's a fairly long walk, so we didn't go all the way, but rather just explored the beginning of the forest path.  I told Manta's owner about Little Love's anxiety concerning the forest and she was open to just hanging out and helping Lilo get comfortable.  It was perfect!  We stopped at a narrow clearing with lots of grass (but trees all around).  Manta started grazing immediately and after a few seconds of walking around and checking out the surroundings, Little Love followed her example and grabbed some grass as well.  She was definitely not as relaxed as Manta, but the grass was pretty tempting and she ate vigorously.  After a while we started to slowly head back, letting the horses graze on the way.  As usual when heading home, Little Love walked quite fast, leaving Manta behind.  Melissa walked with Little Love, practicing slowing down together, stopping and being able to keep the rope loose through all this.  She did a superb job and Little Love was working with her really well.  She has a way of showing people when they aren't releasing fast enough or are applying too much pressure.  At the same time we were also training - with help from my younger dog Chai - Melissa's dog Indie how to go out with the horses; it was her first time.  She did brilliantly as well.  So between all the horses, dogs and people, there was lots of learning and teaching going on. 

We had been gone for 45 minutes and accorcing to the barn owner, Kira and Metku had been sort of lost in the paddock without Lilo and Manta.  Kira had stayed at the gate, calling out and Metku hung out in the back, waiting.  Both were pretty happy to see Manta and Lilo!  When we left the horses in the paddock, Little Love was pairing up with her buddy Metku.  I don't know if I was imaginging it, but perhaps the swollen knee was a little less swollen?  I'll have to check that first thing tomorrow morning.

I didn't take any pictures today, but in the beginning of the week I took a picture of my dog in the forest near the barn.  The picture isn't even taken at a particularly tight spot.  I'll post it here so you can get an idea of how narrow the paths are.  I can understand why Little Love feels confined in between the trees.  I hope that more experiences like the one she had today will help her gain confidence in the forest.  Manta's calm presence was invaluable; what a great example she was of a horse that is completely comfortable with her surroundings.

Chili walking in the woods

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


This morning when I got to the barn, the barn owner was already there brushing Kira in the cross ties.  We were waiting for both Metku's and Manta's owners to get there so we could try the four horses together outside.  I took Little Love into the aisle as well, just to take a closer look at her hooves and hair.  I haven't cross tied her since we started our new life together and believe I may have promised her to never do it again, if possible.  Lilo used to hate cross ties, but since Kira was in the aisle, too, I figured it was worth a try. 

She still hates them (and can you blame her?).  The moment I started brushing her, she pinned her ears back and even lifted her left hind, threatening to kick.  I believe she was saying: "I thought we had a deal about this??!!!"  Which of course we did.  I undid her head and let her stand in the aisle loose.  Which was a tad challenging since Kira was right there in front of us and there was all kinds of other interesting stuff to explore.  But luckily we are at a barn where people are not freaked out by loose horses :-)  And I have a little more patience than I used to have. 

When the other two owners showed up, we put the horses out.  To be on the safe side, we first let the three black mares (Kira, Lilo and Metku) go out again together.  They had already bonded yesterday and there were no problems with these three together.  Of course, the fact that Kira was in full blown heat might have aided this "union", at moments she was almost affectionate (and other moments not!).  Looks like Lilo is getting into heat as well...

Lilo on the left, always careful.  Kira in the front, peeing (she is in heat, after all) and Metku in the back, just happy to be part of the gang :-)
  Then we brought Manta out.  On Saturday when she entered the big paddock, she attacked Metku and after that everyone else.  What would happen this time?  I think everyone at our barn had had a serious talk with the bay mare, including all the horses.  And on top of that she had been separated from the herd for two days, so we were hoping she had gotten the message; if she wanted to be part of the herd, she needed to behave. 

I'll let the pictures do the talking...

Meeting, one of many

Synchronizing (the brown horse is Lilo, she just rolled!)

Kira and Manta saying hello to Metku (without trying to kill her!)

It was interesting to watch Little Love's part in all this.  She seems to be the complete opposite of Metku, who wants to make contact, who begs to be in the middle of things, who seeks the others.  Little Love will hang out on the outskirts as an observer; she is the shy kid on the block who never confronts anyone, yet will stand up for herself if she gets cornered.  She doesn't want to cause any drama and always approaches every situation cautiously.  Since Kira and Manta have always been very tight, it is obvious that if Lilo wants a true friend, it has to be Metku.  It was quite moving to see her attempt friendship with the big Friesian mare.Her "Spanish Riding School" antics have now been replaced with curiosity and careful kindness.  It reminded me of the way she approaches unknown humans - not much different!  Metku is the perfect partner for the introvert Lilo; out going, "talkative" (I've never heard a mare make so much noise!) and down to earth. I took several pictures of the two, but for some reason unknown to me, I can't get them to post correctly.  But here is one anyways (sideways, more like), just because.

I cant' tell you what a relief it was to see all the mares getting along.  The fact that three of them are in heat might have something to do with it (Manta is in heat as well).  Maybe the "happy family" will be broken in about three days when they all snap out of it?  We'll see...