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!


  1. This is wonderful progress, amazing how when you just let Little Love THINK IT THROUGH, she does! I'm so proud of you both, this is just brilliant reading your journey. God, she's beautiful.

  2. I think it is fascinating to WATCH her think these things through. I feel like I can't take any credit for this process, because I'm not really doing anything. But I guess that is the whole point to this; just letting her work out whatever needs to be worked out.

  3. She's quite a pretty little mare. The progress she's made since I started reading this blog is amazing. Just out of curiosity, is riding in the cards for the two of you, or will she keep her companion status?

  4. You have given her the time to be able to think things through rather than push her into the decision like in her previous life. There are no time constraints and that is so important. It is so rewarding to have that connection and progress. And on a personal note, Sierra and I made it all the way back to the front gate of our paddock the other day so I'm all warm and fuzzy too!!

    I'm thinking with the trim Lilo will get better. If those bars caused so much discomfort it may have been painful to stand on three legs for so long. Once the discomfort goes then I think she will lose the anger and anxiety of trimming especially as Sarah knows what she's doing.

  5. Kamila: Congratulations for the progress with Sierra!!!! Another example of taking time :-) Love that warm and fuzzy feeling that follows! And what comes to the bars, I think you are right. I'm so relieved I have Sara now who can trim and also monitor my trimming in between her trims.

    Kate: Good question. I honestly don't know if I will ride her, but I am thinking that perhaps I will for short periods of time on the trails IF Little Love is alright with that. Especially in the winter riding might come in handy, as the snow gets quite deep and I might not be able to keep up with her in certain places. I don't have a saddle, which is sort of a problem and honestly don't even know what kind of a saddle would be the best for our circumstances. Lilo has previously had problems with saddle fitting. So, that all said, this whole saddle ordeal will be something I'm sure you will all get to read about. If we go there, that is :-) I'm sort of going at this on a day to day basis... And at the moment what we are doing (which is not much) feels really good for both of us!

  6. I'm betting Lilo ends up deciding y'all should ride.

  7. Yes, that is the point, just WATCHING her think it through... I find when we watch the horses think it through, we're thinking it through too! :) Talk about a "frying pan upside the head" syndrome... They're such great and benevolent teachers, these horses, when we stop to listen...

  8. LOL June, I wouldn't put it past her. We'll see what happens, sometimes I think she has a plan of her own...