On Friday Little Love and I went for a walk with Vicky and her owner. Since Vicky doesn't have boots yet, but had her shoes removed just a week ago, she doesn't do well on stones. Knowing this, I suggested we cut through the forest to the other side and try walking back on the side of the road, where it is fairly soft.
I wasn't sure how Little Love would deal with the fact that we would be walking in the forest on tight trails for the first 15 minutes, so I tacked her up with the saddle. I knew that it would be easier for her at times if I simply sat on top of her and let her decide how fast she wanted to walk. She surprised me, though, by being completely calm in the forest! There are two small bridges we had to cross to get over ditches and when we came to the first one, I gave Little Love a moment to think about it. The small wooden bridge was extremely solid, but what I didn't realize was that it was also extremely slippery. Poor Little Love had her boots on (because I knew she would need them later, on the road) and once she was on the bridge with all fours, it took just one foot to slip a bit that she started panicking. I have seen her do something like this before and soon she was sliding all over the place like Bambi on ice. Despite all the scrambling, I somehow managed to pull her to the other side, but before that her back legs were off the bridge more than once.
I checked her all over and miraculously she seemed unharmed, but kicked back with her left hind up like it had gotten a bit of a beating. She appeared to be sound, which was a relief. I felt so bad for putting her into that situation and not realizing how slippery the bridge was. She had been so trusting and followed me over. But there was no way to take back that bad judgement call.
Luckily Vicky, without boots, managed the bridge fine. Vicky is a very slow and careful horse, I can't see her panicking very easily. We continued walking in the forest and despite the incident on the bridge, Little Love remained calm and composed. She also seemed to be fine physically. I knew there was another bridge to cross, but also knew it was bigger and made from logs rather than boards, so slipping would not be an issue. I just didn't know if Little Love would even consider setting another foot on a bridge ever again.
She cleared the second bridge without a problem. She walked very, very slowly, which was a first when it comes to bridges. I was very proud of her. We continued through the forest and the closer we go to the end of the path, the more excited Little Love became. I decided to get into the saddle and it was a good decision as it would have been difficult to fit through the brush side by side.
Once we were on the road, I got off. I like walking with Little Love and often prefer it to riding. We walked past the only house on that road and Vicky was doing well with her feet. It wasn't until we hit a part where someone had brought more gravel onto the road that she stopped. And she wouldn't move. I found out that this is something she has done before. In fact, when she was a riding school horse, she would actually lay down, making it impossible to ride in a lesson (smart horse!).
I tried walking off with Little Love to see if this would motivate Vicky to move. We had to get her home somehow, after all. She couldn't have cared less about the fact that Little Love left her. She wasn't going to move. After about ten minutes we decided to swap horses and see if I would have better luck. I inspected the field next to the road and found a spot where we could descend off the road into the brush. Using the classical negative reinforcement technique (pressure and release), I asked Vicky to move one foot. She resisted at first, but I merely waited, keeping the pressure on the reins the same, and finally she moved. Soon after she was in the field. Little Love, bless her heart, stood on the side of the road and grazed this entire time as if she didn't have a worry in the world. Which she didn't, but only someone like me who has seen her in her previous life can appreciate her patience in this life.
I took Little Love's back boots off so she would have more traction in the field. It was big challenging to ride while holding the boots, but I managed. I had to get on because I know that when in a field, Little Love sort of "wakes up". Vicky was much happier in the field as well and we made it all the way across, to the small asphalt road that leads to the barn.
Little Love's left hind has been a bit swollen in the mornings since she had the bridge episode, but she isn't lame and the swelling goes down the second you start moving her. Today I took her back to the field, with an idea to ride her at the walk for a bit. I would like to use the fields for this purpose (riding), but it is hard since in Lilo's mind field = uncontrollable canter, especially if she is one her own, without another horse. Today was no different and as soon as we were in the field, I started having the sensation of sitting on a time bomb instead of a horse. When a car drove by on the road, Little Love had a little "fit" and I had to use all my bear down (core muscle strength) to stay with her. Finally I realized that if I didn't walk back, I would actually fall off. We returned to our starting point in a tense jig, but as soon as Little Love was on the road, she calmed down and sighed. It was almost as if she was saying: "Boooooorrriiiiiiinggggg". I realize the field gets her fired up and I would love to let her run a bit, but at this point I'm not sure I could stay with her (not to mention that it's still wet and could be slippery). And, it would be nice if she could learn to move over the field at a normal pace... Work in progress!
Vicky seems to be settling, she has been laying down at night and hanging out calmly during the day in the small paddock on the side of the barn. Today I let Little Love and her say hello to each other over a fence. Little Love walked over with her neck arched, suddenly two inches taller. The two horses sniffed and Lilo stomped her foot and let out of a loud scream. Vicky was much more docile, but attempted a small squeal. She seems to be sort of trapped inside her shell in many ways, I'm hoping she will learn to open up with time. Her owner has only had her for three months and having been a riding school horse before that, her life could not have been easy. I'm looking forward to seeing her and Little Love together in the paddock next week.