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!