Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Do we call it horse jogging?

As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, so I won't write today as much as show. Today, K and I headed out with Little Love and our dogs to enjoy a beautiful fall day and shoot some video of this new sport we are working on. 

The video was shot with my phone, so sorry about the lack of zoom and the lower quality. In the second video, keep watching to the end–you'll get to see a little canter as well. Hope you enjoy!

-- Melissa

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Canter, anybody?

Little Love has been quite energetic on our walks lately and I'm thinking it is due to several factors.  First of all, her feed has been balanced to contain more protein.  Secondly, her feet are feeling lots better (partly a direct result of the change in feed).  Thirdly, the paddock is quite muddy, so the horses aren't moving a lot while outside.  And fourthly, the weather is cooler, always something that makes horses and children alike wig out a little.  She is also getting into better shape, which is a good thing!  However, this means that we need to keep up with her pace which sometimes is quite challenging. 

Today I had planned to go to the end of the road and bit beyond.  I didn't get to the barn as early as I wanted to, but was happy to see that the crowds hadn't made it out yet to the national park.  So when we walked down the road the sun was shining between the trees, my dog was running ahead and there wasn't a single person or car in sight.  Little did I know that that was about to change, within minutes.  You would have thought there was gate at the entrance to the national forest (there isn't) and someone opened it at exactly 10.50 am because suddenly there were cars and people everywhere.  And I mean EVERYWHERE.  I could have kicked myself for going for a walk on Sunday morning when the weather was brilliant.  Of course there would be everybody and their mother out there, it wasn't like this was the first time this had happened.

I decided to turn home and since I had promised Little Love we would trot back at our usual spot, she was ready to go.  But there was no trotting.  Between the cars that were coming in and the one's leaving (apparently most people were just getting dropped off), there was no room for a horse and a person with a dog.  It didn't help that everyone was trying to be very careful around my big black horse, who usually is not afraid of cars.  But, when you have three of them crawling behind you, not passing but rather like stalking you, it can unnerve even the most seasoned traffic-safe horse.  That coupled with the fact that Little Love really wanted to trot, turned our relaxed Sunday walk into a challenge.

I have to say Little Love was mostly polite when she jigged next to me.  Yes, jigged.  It was sort of like piaffe but moving forward.  A few times she became a bit too energetic in this "jig" and I had to really assert myself and ask her to back up.  I tried to keep my cool, but I was quite irritated to tell you the truth.  She would just not walk, it had to be trot or nothing.  I never, however, was worried that she would actually take off and go home, despite the fact that she even had her tail up half the time, as if she was an Arab or something. I can tell you that judging by the faces of the people driving by, she looked pretty impressive.  The amazing thing is that she accepted my "discipline" (asking her to stop and back up) even thought I admittedly yanked on her face quite hard a few times.  A year ago she would have either taken off without me or reared when I tried to stop her. 

By the time we got to our regular grazing spot, she was so over it.  In hindsight I'm starting to think it was all about the audience LOL.  We headed back home and since I had promised her a trot, I grabbed her mane and clucked.  She didn't need much encouragement!  We trotted up the hill and I got that feeling you get when you are trotting next to a vaulting horse that is about to canter.  "So, are you going to canter?" I thought. I did nothing to stop her.  In fact, I may have encouraged her a bit. :-D  After all, I was sort of curious to see what would happen.  Little Love transitioned into a right canter and because I was on the left side, it made staying with her a little more challenging (it is easier to canter on the side of the canter, especially if you are on the "same lead"). But, we cantered up the hill, nevertheless.   On the top of the hill we both went into walk, but I felt like jumping up and down from excitement.  "More, more," I felt like screaming. 

So, I took my dog back to the barn and headed out again, but only down the private section of the road, where there weren't all those cars.  My thought was to take Lilo back to the grazing spot, let her graze for a while and then attempt the canter up the hill again since.  Both Melissa and I have had a strong feeling lately that Little Love feels a need to canter and I was pretty excited that I had figured out a way to do it without actually riding her (or getting left behind). 

When  Little Love was grazing, I was enjoying the sun and wondering how I could get her to pick up the left lead instead of her stronger right lead when we cantered up the hill.  That's when we heard the sirens.  Little Love snapped her head up immediately, her nostrils flaring.  What is it with horses and sirens?  Not a great combination, in my experience.  I suppose the siren sounds sort of like a pack of howling wolves. I thought it was perhaps a police car or an ambulance passing on the bigger road two miles away, but when the sirens grew stronger and stronger, I realized the vehicle was coming down the dirt road towards us.  Little Love realized this, too.  She bolted out of the field and I just about had time to grab her mane when we were already flying up the road.  I realized she was quite freaked out and if I didn't slow her down, we would fly all the way back home.  Or rather she would fly, I would drag. 

I let go of her mane and as I ran next to her up the hill, I pulled on her face.  At first she just kept going and I felt myself struggle to keep up with her.  Luckily the hill gets steeper at the top and she sort of had to slow down.  Which is when I got her attention.  She stopped at the top, but spun around to listen for the sirens.  It was completely silent.  We were at the mailboxes, which is only a 100 yards from the barn, but she couldn't see her home, which made her nervous.  I, on the other hand, was amazingly calm.  I walked her around at the intersection a few times, asking her to slow down a bit and when she did, I turned her towards home.  We walked back with adrenaline gushing in our veins but in a controlled manner. 

Phew, what a day.   Despite the challenges, I did learn that Little Love can perform a very slow and collected trot in hand.  I also found out that I should never take her near an ambulance with its sirens on.  And,  most importantly, I learned that I can canter next to my horse!

PS. When we were back at the barn, we heard the sirens go on again.  We never saw the ambulance, but hearing it close by was definitely enough for Little Love.  I am grateful we were not walking down the road when that sight went by...  

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

It Really Clicked

I went to the barn today before reading K's post, so I had no idea what had transpired yesterday with the clicker. I was lucky to get a beautiful day with no wind, so it was a great opportunity to get in a long walk with Little Love. All the horses were out in the paddocks, so there was no anxiety about anyone being gone. I had an easy time getting Little Love out of the paddock (except for the ridiculous amount of mud at the gate - sometimes I really get frustrated with Finnish fall :-) ). 

I did a bit of grooming, put her boots on, and headed out. She didn't hesitate leaving the yard, and we got to the first grazing area without incident. As we started to move past, Little Love raised her head high in the air and, without provocation from the other horses, called out quite loudly. Someone immediately called back, and I thought "OK, here we go. Is she going to to try to turn back? Am I going to have to give in and go back or can I entice her to stay with me?" A second later, Little Love called back again to the horses...and that was that. She simply brought her head back down and walked on with me as if nothing had happened.

We did a nice long walk, taking in a few forest trails which is a new experience for the two of us together. And while I'm sure you are all tired of reading it :-) I continue to be amazed at the combination of calmness and alertness in this horse. She is a perfect walking partner. About an hour later, we returned to the same grazing spot on our way back to the barn. At this point, Little Love raised her head and called again. Again, someone answered her call, and Little Love responded. Again, she brought her head back down and walked on calmly with me back to the barn.

At the barn, I let Little Love graze while I called K to ask some advice about one cut on the horse's leg. In passing, one of us mentioned our experiences with the calling out. I'm not sure who mentioned it first, but I was amazed to hear that one quick and simple clicker session had had such an obvious and positive effect on the horse! 

I remembered reading something about the clicker bypassing some certain functions in the brain, enabling animals to quickly and permanently make behavioral changes, so I came home and googled it again. Turns out, what I was remembering was that the click seems to bypass the cerebral cortex or "thinking part" of the brain and goes straight to the more basic and instinctive amygdala. This could explain why clicker training has such an impact so quickly, because the behavior quickly becomes an instinctive habit for the animal. 

-- Melissa


Yesterday when I arrived at the barn, Manta and her owner had already left for a trail ride. So, when I took Little Love out of the paddock, both Kira and Metku became worried and called out to her several times while I was grooming. I didn't have a lot of time, but decided to go for a walk anyways. Little Love left the yard enthusiastically, but as soon as she heard Metku's frantic cries, she became nervous, too. I powered on, walking down the hill and stopping to graze for a moment. The wind was picking up and I could feel rain drops on my face. We started walking further down the road, but soon heard the neighs of the two horses who had been left behind at the barn. Little Love spun around, screaming her answer. She tossed her head and jigged beside me; wanting to turn back. I could feel my pulse get quicker. Should I go home or should I bite the bulled and keep going? Having been in the situation so many times with Little Love, I knew this could go either way.

I decided to walk further. Little Love followed, but every so often would trot a few steps and then plow to the side of the road to grab a bite to eat. This is really uncharacteristic of her; usually she doesn't try to eat grass unless we have agreed upon this. I pulled her face away from the grass, slightly agitated. What was going on? Little Love responded by lifting her head as high as she could and screaming to the horses back at the barn. We were so far away that I thought we wouldn't be able to hear them anymore, but we could. Little Love called again, loudly. She was getting more and more nervous. I was starting to think about turning home.

When Little Love yanked at the rope again to grab leaves from a tree, as if her life depended on it. I felt around my pockets for a treat, but instead found my clicker. I hadn't remembered shoving it into the left pocket, but there is was. I pulled a carrot piece out of my other pocket. Little Love was neighing again, her head turned to look back at the barn on the other side of the field. I walked on, holding the clicker, waiting for the right moment, hoping I was not too late, that there would be a moment of calmness long enough to click. A few seconds later it came; Lilo turned her head towards the road, her ears forward. It was just a second, but that was all I needed. Click. Immediately Little Love's facial expression changed from tense to curious. She knew what the click meant. I gave her a carrot. She ate the carrot, but then neighed again, trying to spin around me. I kept walking and for a moment Little Love looked down the road, striding forward. Click. Her expression softened. She got a carrot. Walking confidently forward, she turned to look down the road again. Now she was expecting the click. We walked further, and I clicked and treated a few times. Little Love never called back to the barn again. In fact, I think she sort of forgot about that. Five minutes later we ran into Manta and her owner, and continued our walk together.

Afterwards I thought about what had happened and how powerful the clicker had been in that situation. It had literally turned Little Love's anxiousness to a calm and composed focus. I remembered how in Switzerland she had been scared in the in door arena in the winter when the wind slammed into the metal structure with such force that is sounded like the roof would blow off any minute. All the horses had been nervous, some (like Lilo) even bolting from one end to the other, hauling their helpless riders across the arena. On winter days like that I would enter the arena with Lilo in hand, holding a target training object (I had a long stick with a sponge taped to the end), a clicker and a bag of carrot pieces. When the wind was howling in the corners and other horses were bucking and rearing around us, Little Love would be standing stock still, touching the target with her nose. She was visibly comforted by this exercise, calming down as soon as she saw the target training stick. It was as if she knew it would keep her mind off everything else, providing her with an out from a scary situation; a situation in which she had been punished before.

It is amazing how the mind works, how it tries to find ways to cope. I realize now that perhaps Little Love was trying to do just that when she plowed into the grass, frantically taking bites as her herd mates were screaming in the background. Maybe she knew that if she focused on eating the grass, she would be able to calm down and collect herself. It is equally amazing to realize how much more powerful the positive can be compared to the negative. It has the potential to be like a reset button that allows you to start from scratch. At least in Little Love's case I feel that I am learning ways to stop the old fear-based patterns from repeating themselves. I also feel she, too, has understood the importance of this and is working towards gaining more control over her own emotions.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Extended trot

On Friday Little Love and I went for a walk. I had planned to go beyond the "end of the road", but when we got there, a huge bus was parked in the middle of the parking lot. Ever since the forest area around the barn was declared part of the National Forest, there have been "tourists" pouring in to walk on the nature trails, look for mushrooms and pick berries. The weekends especially are busy and our formerly quiet forest is filled with people.

When Little Love saw the bus, she became nervous. She isn't usually bothered by vehicles, but somehow this bus set her off (it was white, which might have added to her anxiety, she does not like white objects). So, instead of pushing past the bus I decided to turn around and walk back. But walking was not on Lilo's agenda. Fine, I thought, let's trot then. I grabbed her mane and clucked. Immediately Little Love picked up a fairly energetic trot. We ran side by side down the road. There was a slight incline and I gripped the mane tighter as Lilo's stride got longer and longer. Suddenly I realized she was flying down the road in extended trot and I was flying right beside her. It is really hard to describe this, but it is almost like there is a vacuum that sucks you in so hard that your feet barely touch the ground (if you have ever vaulted and done this next to a cantering horse, you know what I mean). Obviously holding on to the mane is crucial, without that hold I would have fallen on my face; Little Love was going to fast for me to keep up with her on my own.

We trotted almost the entire length of the road and that's quite a long way. I thought my lungs were going to explode by the time we started walking. Half way up the hill Little Love had started to extend her head down, stretching over her back. This slowed her down a bit and made holding onto her also more challenging, but feeling her relax into the movement was wonderful. We walked back to the barn and I swear both of us were smiling.

I wasn't able to go to the barn yesterday, so when I showed up today, Lilo was waiting at the gate. Usually when we start our walk, she always stops on the road, as if see how serious I am about going. Today she didn't stop. Had she missed our walk yesterday? Do horses miss things like we do?

It was Sunday and our little dirt road was filled with cars. They weren't just driving by, but they were also parked in the weirdest places like in the mud on the side of the field. There were people in the forest, some squatting down picking mushrooms, others walking through the rough with plastic bags, baskets, dogs, kids - you name it. Little Love was very alert, but also very attentive. She touched my arm several times and I assured her that we would be alright, despite the crowds.

And we were. We took a different route, taking a left onto a short road that leads to a single family house. Before the house we entered the forest and actually walked into it, down a grassy path. Little Love was worried, as she does not like trees, but she managed her anxiety very well. I decided to try to control her as little as possible, so when she started walking quicker, I merely followed. Similarly, when she stopped to graze, I let her. In other words, I let her decide how fast or how slow we moved through the forest. I have noticed that when she is allowed to have control over her movements, even if a bit erratic, it is much easier for her to manage her fears. Obviously, if she for example bolted out of the forest, I would have had to change my strategy, but as long as I was able to follow with ease, I did my best not to interfere with her movements.

We trotted on our way home; I grabbed the mane again when going up hill. I'm really getting into this "technique". Melissa and I will have to see if there is a way to videotape it for your to see!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Under the right circumstances

We have been getting a lot of rain lately and the horses are standing ankle deep in mud in the paddock. These are not ideal conditions, but it is what we have for now and probably the weeks to come, as well. The down side of this is that the horses don't want to move a lot when they are outside, since it is a bit icky. The plus side is that I really don't have to worry about soaking Little Love's hooves anymore.

Every day we have been walking down to the end of the dirt road. If we are alone, this is a twenty minute walk one way. If, like yesterday and today, we are with Manta, it is more like 25 minutes one way. That is how much slower things get when there is another horse with us. Despite the rain and wind, Little Love has been very calm. I used think twice before taking her on the trails when it was windy, but now it is just another weather pattern among other weather patterns. Weirdly the horse that used to be the "freaky one" at the big barn in Switzerland is now known as the "calm one". Just the other day the barn owner said it was good she was paired up with Metku, since when they are out in the paddock Metku gets nervous about so many things, but since Little Love doesn't, Metku calms down fairly fast. Little does she know she is talking about a horse that used to jump the fence when the going got tough.

A week ago I was talking to one of my son's sport coaches and he asked me, since he knew my decades of experience in coaching children, if I thought that it was possible to know what kind of an adult a kid would become by just looking at them at age 9. Or could people change? So, could the kid that was an unfocused troublemaker in elementary school become a goal-driven and hardworking athlete in high school? My answer was yes. Under the right circumstances.

The same obviously applies to horses and my horse is living proof of that. I know I have mentioned this change in Little Love before and you must be getting sick of hearing about it by now. But for me, not a week goes by that I don't find myself marveling over the fact - again. I'm sure when one day the "novelty" has worn off it will all be just part who she is, but for the moment, I'm still in the "OMG this is unbelievable" - state. It has made me look at every single horse I know with fresh eyes. Who are these horses really? If they were no longer in pain because of their feet or if they didn't live in a stall 24/7 or if they did not get ridden in drawreins every day, who would they be?

Of course, this only leads to the next thought; what else could I offer Little Love, what else could I do for her to help her be the horse she was born to be?

Sunday, September 11, 2011


I have to admit, I was worried when I first heard that we needed to start making sure Little Love moved more in order to keep her in better condition and to alleviate some of the impact the sugar in the feed was having on her. I was so enjoying my time "just hanging out" with her and not having to ask anything of her. But I recognized the necessity in what we were planning to do, and so I resolved to do my best at making sure she got the necessary exercise without resorting to force tactics. 

First, I have to say it helps so much that K spends most days working with her, because I benefit from the good habits and routines they establish together. Based on this framework, I have been working on extending my walks with Little Love and doing a bit of trot work in our makeshift arena, but today was like nothing I have experienced before with a horse. Little Love and I ran together side by side (well, OK, I was a little behind her side! :-) ) on our outing, and what an amazing feeling that was! 

I have continued to marvel at the calmness this horse can exhibit and even envelop me in, but nothing prepared me for the feeling I would get from moving beside her. It has also been interesting for me to see that, even though she has been reluctant at times to walk away from the barn area with only me and to leave her horse companions behind, once we get going there is a change in her when she is moving. In movement, she seems even more at peace and happier in her own body. This experience has reiterated to me the unavoidable need horses have to move and our responsibility as owners and caretakers to give them ample opportunities to do this - and with as much freedom as we possibly can.

-- Melissa

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Monumental truths

A few years ago when I first saw videos of people working side by side with their horses using a cordeo (a loop made out of rope around the horse's neck) I liked the idea of this sort of partnership. Humans seem to always want to control the head of the horse and I was looking for something different. Excited, I made myself a cordeo and introduced it to Little Love. She pinned her ears back and tried to bite me. The thing is that with the cordeo, I had to walk next to her and I was too close to her liking. She didn't mind someone leading her with a halter, since they were walking in front. But side by side and moving? No way.

I abandoned my dream of working with just the rope around Lilo's neck. This was a horse who had always been very particular about her personal space. She didn't like to be touched, but she also didn't like people standing too close to her, no matter how well they thought they knew her.

Not ready to completely give up my idea, I started working on lunging Little Love with a rope halter and moving beside her. It was very delicate work, since if I went too close, she would threaten me with a kick or a toss of the head. A few times I saw her teeth as she pulled her upper lip back as a threat. But, gradually, with patience and utter respect of her boundaries, I was able to walk and trot side by side with her. Given, I had to keep 3 meters (9-10 feet) of space between us and cantering would still produce flying hooves. It was a far cry from working with a cordeo, but something had shifted.

Over time we worked out a routine in the lunging with cues for collection and canter departs and what not. Little Love allowed me to narrow the distance to a few feet. In fact, I dare say she actually liked it, as she would eagerly connect with me through movement. We would take turns imitating each other, stretching the stride and collecting the stride. Sometimes I was almost close enough to touch her, but not quite. And I never would have, because I knew that was out of the question. There were still days she didn't want me anywhere but far away. I had learned to accept that this is just how it would be.

Then, at Becky's place a few months ago, when we were trotting side by side up a long hill, I grabbed the front of the saddle while I sprinted next to Little Love. I needed her to help me get up that hill. She didn't like it, but she allowed it. After all, I wasn't touching her directly. But I was very close, perhaps a bit too close. But it worked because she was so focused on following Col, and had less brain space to worry about her human coming so close. We started jogging together down the trails, side by said, but not touching. I always made sure to keep at least a half a meter (about two feet) between us.

Over the years I have learned to accept Little Love as who she is. I decided long time ago, years before she was my horse, that I would never touch her unless it was absolutely necessary. There were days when I wouldn't brush her at all. I did my best to refrain from petting her or stroking her neck. It was really hard in the beginning, because we are used to touching our animals and often when I forgot, she turned her head away or pinned her ears back. I won't lie; there were moments when I felt utterly rejected. But I kept at it, trying to rein in my instinct to touch. If this was the price of our partnership, I was willing to pay it.

I don't know when things started changing. Sometimes change is so gradual, that you barely notice it happening. Or perhaps parts of it happen in an instant, but we are too busy to notice. It is hard to say. One day horse who didn't let you touch her ears no longer cares if you pull on them. Or she rubs her face against your hand, begging you to scratch her. Or she lets you take care of the cut on her leg. Or, she lets you closer while lunging. Was I this close last week? Surely I wasn't. And then, one glorious day in September when you are on a walk together, she invites you to hold on to her mane while you trot up a hill, side by side, shoulders touching.

Is this what you achieve when you stop pushing for what you want and start listening to what the horse wants? Is this the difference between taking and giving? Because you still remember what it felt like to take and it never felt like how it does when you lean into your horse, the same one who for years has not wanted you in her space, as she pulls you up the hill, your feet pounding the dirt underneath in unison. Her main between your fingers is coarse as you grab onto it tighter and you watch her ears and eyes for any sign of distress, but there is none. The horse with her powerful trot grabs your weight and it is as if you are flying, you beautiful black mare has helped your feet grow wings. How different this is from the vaulting you did long time ago, when you never asked for permission, but merely imposed yourself on the horse.

When you get to the top of the hill, you let go and your heart is full of so many answers. She touches your arm as if to reconfirm what you already know; without really knowing when it happened, you have broken through an invisible wall. Only seconds have gone by, but those seconds hold such monumental truths that even if you tried for the rest of your life, you could never find words to describe them.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Preparing for the winter

How do you know its fall? It is a definite sign when you realize your horse's coat is getting thicker. The temperatures haven't dropped drastically, but it looks like Little Love is preparing for the future. Which is a good thing, since last I heard they are predicting a really cold winter for us. I am looking forward to that with mixed feelings. It would be nice to have some snow (emphasis on the word some, not the same as tons), but when temperatures linger below -20 Celsius (-4 Fahrenheit) for weeks on end... it gets a bit old. I'm starting to think ahead and have looked into getting metal "spikes" (well, they are really like these raised screws) for Little Love's boots, so we can get up and down those hills also when it gets slippery. From what I remember, the first times the temperature starts going into the freezing digits is at the end of October (next month! Yikes).

Thinking about the future has also brought me back to the question about the saddle. I know I was sort of on the fence about purchasing one, but have finally decided to go for it. I don't plan to start riding Little Love a lot, in fact, quite the contrary. I'm hoping to use the saddle for short trots and canters while we are on the trails and perhaps when the snow is too deep for me to tread. Although, if it is too deep for me, it may also be too deep for my horse! LOL. I definitely need to build up the muscles on her top line before I even consider sitting on her back. And ask her for permission. I have contacted a saddle fitter and am now hoping to hear back from her, so we can get the process moving forward.

In the meanwhile Melissa and I have been taking walks with Little Love to build up her stamina (and help burn some of that sugar :-). Yesterday I ventured quite far on my own. Little Love seems quite comfortable on our walks, she takes new thing in stride and looks for me when something is not quite right. I, too, have learned to stay in my body and be with her, even if I'm not actively seeking contact at all times. Yesterday when my husband called during our walk, I immediately noticed a change in Little Love's focus. She started scanning the surroundings with heightened interest. Someone has to keep an eye on the environment, after all, and if I'm on the phone, I'm obviously not doing it. When I heard it was not an emergency, I told my husband that I would call him back later. I have learned my lesson about cell phones and horses!

Tomorrow it is time for the trimmer to come again. It is about time. I trimmed Little Love myself about two and a half weeks ago, but her hooves seem to have kicked into a whole new pace when it comes to growing. Which is great, of course, but means she needs to be trimmed more often. Especially her bars are quite high at the moment and I can see it affecting her. I would have trimmed her myself, but the trimmer wanted to see for herself how and where the hooves had started to grow after her last trim (I only take the bars and heels down when I trim). Especially the right front is a bit tricky.

Then, on Saturday my friend Selma, the osteopath, is coming to work on Lilo, Kira and Metku. Hopefully she will be happy to see the progress we have made with undoing the tensions in Lilo's ribcage. I certainly have made my best attempt in completing all the stretches, but we'll hear the verdict tomorrow!

Monday, September 5, 2011

The feed

In my last post I mentioned that the barn owner had sent some hay off to get it analyzed. I don't know if this is common practice in other countries, but in Finland it seems to be getting more and more popular. I grew up thinking hay is hay, and that horses could eat as much as they wanted of it. Turns out I was wrong. There can be major nutritional differences in the hay we feed our horses. Bad hay doesn't necessarily look bad. Years ago I was told to smell the hay and look at its color, and that would somehow tell me if it was good or not. Turns out it's a bit more complicated than that.

The hay Little Love is eating at the moment is high in sugar and low in crude protein. The sugar in the hay is 166 g/kg when it should be between 50 - 150 g/kg (or even lower) and protein is 70 g/kg when it should be between 80 - 100 g/kg. She has been eating this hay for quite a while, but it hasn't caused her obvious problems until just recently when the herd was split in two. This separation definitely calmed down the situation and at least Lilo is less anxious. She started to gain weight immediately. She also stopped moving around in the paddock. Which, given the diet she is on, is the worst thing that could happen.

The change in her was gradual, but by yesterday morning I knew something was not right. Little Love didn't want to come out of the paddock (first time ever). In fact, she didn't even want to move an inch. She had seemed a bit sore on her feet on the walk two days back and Melissa had reported her reluctance to go for a walk the day before, but now I realized the sugar overload was really getting to her. I sort of panicked a bit; the last thing I needed was a horse with laminitis. So, I did what I had to; I forced her to move. I took her into our makeshift arena and lunged her for some time. She was really stiff in the beginning, but after a few minutes, looked like her old self. I also called the barn owner and told her to cut down the hay a few kilograms.

She looked a heck of a lot better today. She still didn't walk over to me when I fetched her from the paddock, but followed me out without a discussion. I put the boots on and we went for a power walk down the road. Lilo stopped three times, but I told her this was non-negotiable. If we continue feeding this hay, she will have to be exercised more. Not that exercise wouldn't do her some good in any case, she really has next to no muscle on her top line, but with the amount of sugar she is consuming, exercise is extremely important.

The other noteworthy thing about the hay is that it is extremely high in iron. This apparently is typical to hay in Finland, as the soil here is rich in iron. The norm for what Little Love should be getting is 480, but with the hay she eats, she is getting 1582, which is four times too much(now she is getting a bit less, as I cut the food down). Not all of it will absorb, but it definitely doesn't encourage me to feed a ton of commercial grains etc. which also contain a lot of iron (among other things).

I'm new to the horse feed business, but just seeing this analysis really opened my eyes. It was also interesting to see the immediate effect the lack of exercise (combined with the sugar rich hay) had on Little Love. I think we don't usually think about these things enough and realize how much the hay our horse eats can affect every little thing. So many people are afraid to feed their horse grains because they are convinced it isn't good for them. But in the meanwhile the horse may be eating hay that is wreaking havoc on their system.

Saturday, September 3, 2011


This week the barn owner made the executive decision to split the herd. I completely understand her reasons for doing it. Since Metku entered the herd, Kira has been extremely stressed out. I don't think it is because of Metku, but because the herd became too much for her to handle. Perhaps she is also in constant pain, as there have been issues with her back. She is grumpy, lashing out to other herd members without much warning.

Manta with her "food anxiety" has not been much better, chasing Little Love and Metku around and around at feeding time before settling down to eat. Because of the rain, the paddock has been really slippery and watching my horse skating around, trying to avoid getting kicked, is heartbreaking. Finally, when the barn owner saw Lilo defending herself against Manta with both back hooves, she decided it was enough.

I do believe horses will work things out if you give them time. I do, however, also believe that some horses have so much baggage that it makes working things out a very long and painful process. And there are no guarantees it will end well. Especially when food aggression is involved, it can get sketchy. The sad thing is that there were times when the herd had absolute peace, but then other times where Lilo and Metku were terrified to come anywhere near the front gate. Feeding time was becoming dangerous not only to the horses, but the human feeding, too.

The barn owner said she was open to trying the four horses together again some day, but for now they have been split into pairs. My husband came over to help build the fence to divide the paddock in half. Below you can see the pictures Melissa took of this event, the horses were very eager to take part in the process. In fact, at one point all four of them were around my husband, trying to see what he was doing. Good thing he is comfortable with horses!

After the separation, things have calmed down significantly. Little Love is paired up with Metku and the two of them hang out together at all times, as if they were Siamese twins. Manta and Kira are together respectively, and this solution works very well for both of them. I dare say everyone is content - even when you take one out of the mix. Today the barn owner and I took Lilo and Kira out for a walk, and both Metku and Manta stayed behind in their own paddocks. No calling, no nervous pacing and definitely no displaced anger between them (well, there was a fence there, after all). I have also noted the Little Love has gained a bit weight. I don't know if this is wishful thinking or a direct result of not having to watch her back at all times. Either way, it is a welcome change.

PS. The barn owner has finally received the results of the "hay analysis". Interesting to say the least and perhaps gives some more ideas of why Lilo isn't gaining weight even though she is eating a ton. I will reflect on the analysis another day with more time!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Long time, no sea

I have been MIA for a week and I apologize. We bought a house in June, but only just last week got the keys. We spent the weekend remodeling, didn't finish, but at least got to a point where we could move in. I had next to no time to go to visit Little Love, but thankfully Melissa stepped in! I did visit Lilo here and there, but just briefly to say hello.

Once our furniture and boxes were in the house, we still had to clean up at the rental we had been staying at, pack up all that stuff and haul it over. As I was driving the last load over to our new house at 8 pm on Tuesday, the barn owner called. I knew instantly that she didn't have good news. I was right. Her daughter, who had been doing the "evening barn" had called in panic: Little Love had a really swollen front leg.

Of all days, THIS was not a good day for my horse to get injured. I was stressed out, hadn't eaten, sat down or had as much as a drink of water since morning. But, I told the barn owner I would be there as soon as I could. I drove to our house, unloaded part of the car (the part with the groceries in it, my family was starving) and rushed to the barn with completely irrational thoughts racing through my head (did I mention I was stressed out and exhausted :-).

Luckily the reality was much better than all the scenarios I had been envisioning during the drive to the barn. Little Love's left front was swollen from knee down. She was quite muddy, but after some rinsing and scrubbing, I was able to locate the source of all this; she had a cut on her shin. It wasn't very big, but it was extremely sore. I suspect she had been kicked. I cooled it with cold water, scrubbed it with Betadine soap and applied an antibiotic cream. Little Love was not happy, she hates this sort of stuff. Apparently she hadn't even let the barn owner's daughter pick her hooves, she had been so out of sorts over the sore leg.

So,as if I had nothing else to do, I am now going to the barn twice a day to clean out the small wound and dress it to prevent infection. I'm also walking her to keep the swelling down. I'm starting to suspect Little Love arranged this so I would make time to go to the barn, LOL. At this rate all the boxes in my house will be opened and emptied by Christmas! Jokes aside, she is doing much better. At first it seemed like nothing much was changing (for better or for worse) but tonight the swelling had gone down significantly. So hopefully we avoided a big infection, yet again.

The interesting thing is that on Tuesday, when I was completely stressed out and absolutely and utterly scattered because of the move, the moment I entered Little Love's stall to see her leg infinite peace entered my being. It was as if there weren't 150 unopened boxes in my house, as if I wasn't starving, tired, wet (did I mention it was pouring?) and at the end of my rope. Even when she is hurt, my horse manages to somehow bring Zen to every moment I spend with her. I left the barn that evening late, but completely calm and centered and feeling like the luckiest person on earth.