Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Weather turns serious

On Sunday, Little Love and I took a luxurious and long walk with the barn owner and Kira. We learned a new path into the forest that leads to a nearby lake. It was great to learn about new paths and forests, and I am looking forward to exploring this area more with Little Love. I wish I had had my camera with me, because any words I try to use cannot do justice to the beauty of this evergreen forest with its mossy floor strewn with granite rocks. I was very proud of Little Love, because the paths (old logging roads, I think) were completely frozen in some places, and she had to carefully choose her path to keep her back legs from sliding out from under her. She is learning to be very good at this, and she is listening to me for assistance and guidance as well! :-)

This has been an eventful week at the barn - and in Finland in general. A huge wind storm blew in very early Monday morning, and the wind speeds got so high that we had warnings in our region to stay indoors and avoid driving. Over 200 thousand homes were without power due to the large number of enormous trees that fell on power lines, and this included our barn. Our water comes from a well and is pumped to the surface via electricity, so power outage = no water. Luckily, the Finnish power companies had seen this coming and prepared by having extra workers on hand (some things work unbelievably well in Finland!), so the power was restored at the barn by late afternoon. (Not everyone was so lucky: I just read before writing this that in more rural areas there are still people without power today on Wednesday. Luckily we are having unseasonably warm weather and not our usual late December freezes.)

Unfortunately for K's friend Marjo, Monday was the day she had signed up to visit Little Love. Poor Marjo and her pre-teen daughter were trying to deal with washing the mud from Little Love's legs and grooming her while she was jumping around high as a kite when the power and water went out. Luckily, the mother-daughter duo seem to be adventurous types, because they dealt with it beautifully. They ended up having to put Little Love back in her stall, and I guess they just started looking around for what they could do to help. I had put Lilo's front boots on her to go into the paddock the day before, because the ground at that point was still frozen, hard and uneven. But later in the day, it got unusually warm, the ground turned to mush, and the boots got sucked off Lilo's feet. Apparently they ended up buried quite deep, but Marjo and daughter trekked into the muddy paddock (during this massive wind storm, no less), hunted them down, and dug them out. And apparently, they really enjoyed this whole adventure! :-) Huge thanks to Marjo for cleaning the boots and getting them back to the barn so quickly!!

Luckily and miraculously, no trees fell in the immediate barn area. But, the horses spent most of the day indoors, and, with the added stress of what must have been very frightening noises outside, I knew that Little Love would probably be in a "special" state of mind when I went to the barn on Tuesday. The horses were still in their stalls eating breakfast when I arrived, and Lilo did look as if she hadn't gotten much sleep the night before. I decided it would probably be best for her to go on outside with her herd and spend some time with them before I tried to drag her away from the barn and her friends. So I hung around and helped with the mucking. At one point, the barn owner yelled for me to look at Lilo. She had placed herself in the softest area in the middle of the paddock, and she was rolling on her back very contentedly. Then she jumped up, ran/slid across the muddy paddock, did a few bucks and kicked in the general direction of another horse. She definitely had some nervous energy to get out!

When I did take her out of the paddock for some activity with me, the whole herd literally ran to the gate to come with us. :-) Since it was close to lunch time anyway, we decided with the barn owner to just let everyone come on inside. During the morning, a new storm had started to blow in, so the wind was picking up again. But it wasn't too bad, and Little Love stood calmly next to the barn while I washed her feet and legs. All went well, and we headed out. I knew she had that nervous energy to get rid of, so I decided we would go to the small gravel parking lot nearby, and I would lunge her at trot for a while. She walked most of the way fine with me, but as we got closer, the wind started to pick up more and we could hear large gusts coming from the other side of the nearby forest. Lilo decided she wanted to go home, but I managed to get her to the parking lot. She got really mad at me when I asked for trot (as if to say "Are you kidding? You want to play around with this nonsense when there is danger so close by?!"), but I persevered and we were able to do some good trot work. She was irritated at me the whole time and looking around warily (I can't blame her for that with those loud and powerful gusts), but still I could see how good she felt in the movement. She wasn't comfortable enough to go long with her head down and back stretched out, but she kept stretching it down and forward over and over again for short stretches, releasing the tension that she probably had in her back.

After the lunging, I would like to have gone for a long walk away from the barn, but since Lilo so adamantly wanted to head back, I decided we would walk near the barn instead. With the wind picking up more and more each minute, even this proved to be quite difficult. I think she was suffering both from a mild case of being herd-bound (from being in her stall so much the day before) as well as simple fear (and old fearful memories?) of the wind. What I took away as a success for myself, however, was that I am able to rationalize what she was going through and realize that this will not affect our relationship going forward. Meaning, in the past, I would have thought "Oh no, this is how she is going to be with me form now on, and I will never be able to take a good walk with her again". But from my experiences with Little Love, I have learned that sometimes circumstances can be temporary, and the best thing to do is deal with them and let them go. The next time I go there, I will have no expectations (or only positive ones) and then deal with what comes, and I am sure we will get back to our nice, calm walks and rides. As horses do, I will try to "deal with it and go back to grazing".

The storm continued all yesterday afternoon and it seems more trees fell and more homes are again without power. I should take some pictures outside my apartment building, because here in the city it looks like post-Armageddon with so many huge evergreens lying on their sides every which way. But today it is calm, warm(-ish), and the sun is shining. Little Love will have a day off today, so I hope this sunshine lasts and we can take a warm walk in the sun tomorrow!

-- Melissa

Friday, December 23, 2011

Weather woes continue

Our weather was colder still this morning, although now it is getting warmer again this afternoon - go figure. So we had to go without the back boots again due to the hill and slippery roads. But the front boots with their spikes (is that the right word?) are awesome!! And Little Love seemed to be ok without the back boots now when I was not on her back at all.

Lilo seemed a bit stiff when I took her out of her stall this morning, but moved fine once we got going. It was so hard and frozen yesterday in the paddock, I'm guessing she didn't move much and probably very tensely when she did. Today the horses went in pairs to the smaller paddocks, and Little Love was so reluctant to move on the hard, uneven ground that we decided with the barn owner to leave her old front boots on in the paddock as well. She was happily eating hay when I left, but I hope she doesn't stand in that one spot all afternoon.

Today we did a good one-hour walk and a few long stretches of trot. Lilo did a slower trot, so I think her feet were a bit tender, but she seemed happy to be moving. So I gave her the freedom to decide when to trot and when to stop.

I've been nervous about taking care of Little Love by myself for over two weeks - scared that I would not be able to do a good enough job. I've never owned a horse myself, so I have always been more of a backup person carrying out the necessary regimen rather than primarily responsible for the regimen. And it seems, in Finland, we have to deal with some extra concerns due to our weather. I grew up in Oklahoma, and there a horse will literally survive physically if you just turn it out in a field somewhere - and many people do just that! ( I used to think this was horrible neglect, but maybe those horses are the happiest?)

But anyway, the point I want to make is how much I am enjoying spending this extra time with Little Love. And I have learned so much more than I ever knew about what horses need physically and emotionally. I continue to be amazed by what a horse can really be, and I love working on my relationship with her! I think her trust in me is growing, although it is still nowhere near what she has with K. Sometimes I feel bad about this, but on the other hand, how can I expect her to trust someone she has really only known a few months as much as someone she has known for a few years? I wouldn't completely trust someone that quickly either! But no matter, it is so fun to learn about trust with horses and how important it is in what they are willing to do (and where they are willing to go) with you.

-- Melissa

Thursday, December 22, 2011

It's fairly cold at the moment, and the snow that fell a couple of days ago and melted immediately at my house had not melted at the barn. The top of the big hill is frozen again, and we have no other passage away from the barn. Luckily, the sides are still passable, but I had to leave Little Love's back boots off today. It seems like this may be an ongoing dilemma for the foreseeable future: having to leave the boots off to get down the hill and away from the barn but unable to do much trot (which I know she really likes to do) due to the boots being off.
It's supposed to be below freezing but clear for a couple of days now, so we may have to just walk in-hand until it either (a) warms up enough to get rid of the slippery-ness or (b) snows enough to go without the boots. Hopefully something will change one way or the other!

Today, Little Love and I set out for a ride with the barn owner and Kira, and we planned to go for about an hour if Lilo's feet could take it without her back boots. Unfortunately, Kira didn't seem to be feeling well, and we ended up back at the barn in only 35 minutes (of which, I rode about 15 minutes). Since the ground was frozen and quite hard, I could also tell that Lilo's back feet were feeling tender, because she was walking very slowly and picking her path carefully. So it was fine with me to come back early.

(On a side note, Little Love is getting to be really good at standing patiently while I climb onto strange rocks to hoist my inflexible body into the saddle. For now, we always go to the same place for me to mount, so I think I need to start scoping out other rocks as well. Either that, or work on my flexibility! :-) )

Back at the barn, I thought I would put the back boots on and go lunge her at trot up by the mailboxes - we don't need to descend the slippery hill to get there. In this way, I thought, she could move a bit more if she wanted. Unfortunately, we were barely able to walk away from the barn much less do any lunging, because the back boots were just so slippery. We have just enough snow to create a slippery layer of powder everywhere.

So we carefully walked to the mailboxes and back, took the back boots off AGAIN and went out for a bit more walk - just to the parking lot at the bottom of the big hill and back. At least this was what I told Little Love we were going to do, but as we got close to our stated destination, I changed the rules and decided we should walk still further. But Lilo was not having it! I think she knew that the other horses were just about to go out to the paddock, plus she probably felt like she had already given me enough of her patience with this back and forth to the barn, taking boots on and off, etc, etc. But once again, my deeply embedded old lessons about "being the boss" and "not letting the horse get away with things" started to set in, and I persisted. We were about to start "arguing" when I realized that this was silly - I had told Lilo what we were going to do, she had complied very graciously and patiently, and I, very ungratefully, pushed her to do more. Luckily, I was able to get my silly ideas in check, and we turned around and walked home.

I stuck around the barn a bit to help out with some of the mucking and filling the water buckets, and I got a special treat of seeing Little Love standing in the middle of the paddock under a tree fast asleep. She looked so peaceful and content. Ironically, my mind was thinking about how nice it would be for Lilo to be in a bigger pasture with more space to run and be more like a wild horse. It seems, as humans, we always want a little more than what we have. But at that moment, Little Love opened her eyes, licking and chewing, and looked at me as if to say, "Yeah, but this is pretty great here, isn't it?" And she is so right!

-- Melissa

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

K is away for a couple of weeks for a family Christmas vacation, so Little Love and I are on our own for a while. Please bear with me as I also utilize the blog to keep her up to date on what is going on at the barn. Hopefully I don't bore everyone too much with all the mundane details! :-)

Today was another rainy one, but luckily as I pulled up to the barn there was a break in the precipitation. After gathering all the grooming equipment and boots, I took Lilo out of her stall. The horses had been separated into two smaller paddocks last week, and yesterday they had been reunited in the big paddock. They were happy to be together again, but some re-assessing and re-organization of the herd seemed necessary to them with a little kicking involved. We were afraid Lilo had been on the receiving end of one of these kicks, so I was happy to see that there were no cuts on her legs and she seemed totally sound.

We did a one-hour semi-power walk. Little Love was a bit reluctant to leave the barn (the other horses were still in their stalls at this point, which probably contributed to this hesitation), but once we got going she offered her nice big walking stride. I love to walk when her when she is ready to go like this. At one point, we were coming to the top of a small rise which ends at a crossroad just as a bicycle zoomed by in front of us. We caught just a glimpse of the rider's helmet and the top of the bike. As Little Love raised her head high and spread her eyes wide, I was again struck by the many things we take for granted, as humans, that horses should just accept. But she probably caught such a quick glance of this that she had no idea what it was, and judging from the way it glided by, she probably couldn't fit it into any of her mental boxes of safe encounters. Being a flight animal, why shouldn't she react quickly and strongly? Luckily, her trust in me has grown enough to overcome a short, quiet encounter like this, and she followed me to continue on our way.

At the end of our walk, I decided to take her into the small gravel parking lot to give her the opportunity to move a little more if she wanted. I asked for trot, and she gave me some. But because I hadn't taken a longer lunge line with me, she got irritated at me being too close to her (this is a pet peeve of hers). So we did a little trot, played a little "chase the human" at trot to give her the chance for some more movement, and then walked on home.

After some final grooming and stretching, Little Love was ready to go back into the herd and hang out with her friends. It is such a wonderful feeling not to put a horse back into a stall or a postage stamp-sized paddock to stand around by itself all day! :-)

-- Melissa

Sunday, December 18, 2011

More rain

When I thought it couldn't rain anymore, it did.  Here is a picture of the field next to our former "grazing place", now also knows as "the lake".  There is so much water everywhere, it is unbelievable.  Normally there is a narrow ditch that runs across this field, but as you can see, it is slightly overflowing!
Despite the rain, Melissa and I took Little Love and Vicki for the long 7.5 km loop.  Vicki's owner is on vacation (in the sun) and she needed some help with her horse, so we volunteered.  We tacked the horses up with saddles, but ended up walking most of the way.  Vicky has been finally giving some signs of coming out of her shell, but riding definitely puts her into one of her "checked out" places, so apart from the long trot through the forest Melissa felt it was best to just walk her in hand.  Even though Vicky is definitely paying more attention to her surroundings and the people around her, she still has a long way to go to become "normal".  Often when the going gets tough she just disappears into her own world, and becomes nonreactive to her environment.  So, when Lilo is walking side by side with me, scanning her surroundings with her ears forward, Vicky is walking behind Melissa with her eyes glazed over.  But, like I said, she becomes more "present" every week.

Here is a picture of Melissa and Vicky (and a bit of Lilo) on our walk, at this point we were already heading home.  Now that I look at the picture, I realize how dark it was even thought it was almost noon.  At this time of the year we get about 6 hours of solid daylight in a day, but with the cloud cover being so thick, it doesn't really get that light.  This is why we are wearing all this reflective gear, just to make sure we can be seen when on the road.

Here is another picture of us after our ride.  We were soaking wet, but luckily only on the surface since all of use were wearing rain gear (the horse blankets are not only reflective but waterproof as well).  Phew, it took us almost two hours (Vicky walks slow:-), but it was totally worth it!
 PS. We were trying to find something positive about this weather and the only thing we could think of was that at least all this water is not coming down as snow.  As much as we are wishing to have snow, it would be impossible to handle great volumes of it at once.  Hopefully it will snow soon, but when it does, the snowfall isn't excessive!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Did I say it was wet?

Christmas is definitely approaching, because I seem to have less and less time to write my blog!  Otherwise it doesn't seem like December, at least if you look at the weather.  We did get snow this past week, which was exciting - as long as it lasted.  Friday afternoon a snowstorm hit the coast of Finland, bringing not only snow, but high winds as well.  We took the horses inside fairly early, to avoid any accidents with the fences and trees and whatever else was going to fall over in the blizzard.  By the time I went to bed in the evening, we had two solid inches and I fell asleep dreaming of the foot deep snow that would be awaiting Little Love and me in the morning when we went for a trail ride with Vicky and her owner.  Right.  I woke up at 4 am to the sound of rain hitting our house.  Rain, rain and rain.  So much for the snow.  Most of it was gone by morning, only the roads are left icy and slick with the water that has been coming down ever since.

The new boots that were working well from the beginning are now working even better after I managed to find some "slip guards" to attach to the bottom.  And boy have we needed them!  I have to thank my husband for putting them on the boots with his screwdriver.  To give you an idea of what i'm talking about, here are two pictures of the boots and the eight little metal "spikes" my husband was able to drill into each boot.
Despite having a pair of non-slip boots, walking down the big hill from the barn to the main road has been treacherous.  It hasn't a walk in the park with the stormy and rainy weather either.  The paddock is a complete mess and since the horses are moving in the mud very little, Melissa and I have made an extra effort to get Little Love out for a walk every day, despite the cats and dogs that have been raining down. And  Little Love seems to be happy to go with us even if it means just walking back and forth on the road.

Today the weather took another turn and we woke up the the morning to find the ground frozen again.  Going back and forth between below freezing and slightly above is starting to get really, really old.  What happens in the muddy paddock is that the top layer freezes, but when the horses walk on it, it breaks and they sink in.  The rough edges of the ice scrapes their legs and can even cause bleeding.  Little Love usually down right refuses to go into the paddock on such mornings and this has encouraged the barn owner to come up with other solutions.  She has fenced some other areas around the barn, areas that get used only on days like today when going into the usual paddock is out of the question.  this way we can keep these "emergency paddocks" intact for the frozen days. Here is a picture of Little Love and Vicky in our make-shift arena where they spent the day while Manta and Kira hung out in another similar area on the other side of the small pikadero (they were so happy to go in there this morning that they kicked up their heels and tore around for the first 30 seconds).

Monday, December 5, 2011

Wet week

I received Little Love's new boots in the mail on Friday and couldn't wait to try them on.  I ordered a pair of Old Mac G2 boots because having seen them on Manta's and Kira's feet, I realized these would be the boots to use in the snow.  Lilo's current boots (EasyBoot Simple) have been great so far, but they don't stay on her feet when the going gets tough (such as in tall, wet grass).  Also, the traction is not so great either.

So far I have had the opportunity to try the Old Mac's twice and I have to say that they do have better traction than the Easy Boots.  Also, I notice that the sole is thicker and Little Love doesn't seem to feel the bigger stones as well as before, which of course is great!

These past few days our biggest challenge has been the weather.  It has rained, hailed, stormed and been extremely windy on top of it all.  The paddock is a mess, there isn't a dry spot anywhere. Luckily the mud is still fairly shallow at the bottom of the hill, which is where the four horses huddle together under the trees most of the day.  I've made some attempts to go out for a walk, but yesterday I had to turn back after 15 minutes because the amount of water coming down from the skies was overwhelming, especially since the wind made it all come at us sideways.  Today, on the other hand, we were surprised by a hail storm, which freaked Little Love out quite a bit.  Luckily I had the saddle on, so I was able to hop on and trot most of the way home.  Movement always helps Little Love deal with difficult things.

Despite the rain, we did have a really nice morning on Thursday when Melissa and I were are the barn together.  Thursdays Melissa and I have barn duty, meaning that we put the horses out in the morning, muck the stalls out, fill waters, feed lunch.  We also do something with Little Love together, such as long reining or taking a walk.  Last Thursday the morning was cold and the fields around the barn were frosty.  The sun, a novelty at this point, was out and the forest was very still.  These are the best moments in life, moments I can share with my two best friends.  I took a picture of Melissa walking Lilo down the road.
Here's another picture of my two dogs, Chai and Chili, warming up in the tack room after our walk together.