Coming Home

Leeloo and Juniper Move in

Leeloo and Juniper officially moved-in to our new track system last Friday. It was not an easy transition for anyone. Okay mostly for Leeloo and I, Juniper settled in pretty quickly.

Leeloo’s former barn is within sight of our current house as mentioned in this post and I was, and still am, concerned that being so close may encourage something drastic on Leeloo’s part, like attempting (and failing) to jump or fight through the fence to go “home.” I was also concerned about the invariable herd dominance interactions that always happen whenever horses are introduced to one another. I have had some good experiences in the past with taking two horses that didn’t get along on a trailer ride together. The shared trauma of the trailer ride didn’t necessarily make them best friends, but they seemed to get along better afterwards. With those two things in mind, I decided to haul Leeloo with us to get Juniper so that she would feel like she had traveled some distance and would have a chance to spend time in the trailer with Juniper.

I talked out my introduction plans with Marin, the barn manager of Leeloo’s most recent barn since she knows Leeloo better than I do in terms of how she interacts with other horses. In addition to the trailering together idea I had also intended to put one of them in the round pen and leave the other on the outside so they could meet over the fence. Marin suggested putting them both in the round pen together so they had to interact and get used to each other but without corners so no one could get trapped. Also being able to observe their new home from a contained space could help them feel more secure as would putting something up to act as a wall of sorts for part of the round pen because there is no shelter of any kind in that area. I was skeptical because Leeloo is taller than the panels are, but we have a large piece of roofing rubber that we aren’t doing anything with that would work well as a “wall” and it couldn’t hurt – so we hung it up.

My friend Hilary was kind enough to trailer us and we met early Friday morning to get Leeloo loaded into the trailer. Leeloo loaded fine as always, but she doesn’t like staying in the trailer; when I leave, she wants to leave with me. Hilary kept her distracted from the other side of the window as I tied her and got the divider shut. Then we headed out to pick up Juniper. Leeloo was unhappy and pawing the entire trip and continued in a state of  distress the whole time we were picking up Juniper. I hoped having Juniper in the trailer would make her feel better, but she didn’t seem to notice.

Once we got to our house and unloaded I led Leeloo, Hilary led Juniper, and we walked all around the track. Then we put them both in the round pen together. We left Leeloo’s halter on in case we needed to get her out quickly and left Juniper’s grazing muzzle off so she would have all her resources to defend herself if needed, and to remove any additional stressor. The result was that Juniper immediately started gorging on the grass in the middle while Leeloo ran around the edge freaking out. Leeloo would occasionally roll, which was apparently a good sign because rolling, shaking out, and snorting, helps horses release stress hormones; so she was trying to calm herself down, it just wasn’t working. She would run around the edge of the round pen and then go in and herd Juniper around, making her run and switch directions. It was almost identical to what you see trainers do when they first work with a new horse in a round pen. I was too busy watching and stressing out myself to film it; but it was truly fascinating to watch. Eventually Leeloo stopped herding Juniper and let her eat while she paced for a while longer before finally giving up and huddling by that “wall” we had created on one side of the round pen.

After some time of calmness (on Leeloo’s part, Juniper was still busy eating) we decided to take them on another tour of the entire track system and then let them loose in it. I had assumed, since they seemed to have worked out all their issues in the round pen, that there wouldn’t be any more dominance interactions so I put Juniper’s grazing muzzle back on and let them go. However as soon as they were both loose Leeloo would chase after Juniper and Juniper would defended herself, though she always gave way. Eventually Leeloo managed to herd Juniper down to the shelter area and Juniper stood outside the shelter while Leeloo stood in one of the bays with her head in the corner. That is where Leeloo spent the rest of the day. At one point Juniper was over it and headed back up to the round pen area to eat and Leeloo chased after her and tried to herd her back to the shelter but Juniper held her ground and wouldn’t go back, at which point Leeloo gave up and she spent the rest of the daylight hours moping in the shelter while Juniper ate around the round pen.

Saturday morning I went to do chores (I have to do chores every day now – why did I think this was a good idea?!).  They were both separated but calling at each other. Leeloo however was shaking and still seemed very distressed and did not want to leave the shelter area. I walked over to where Juniper was and got her shut into the round pen so I could feed her breakfast. Juniper eats her breakfast very slowly because she gets to have her grazing muzzle off for that and the grass is far more tempting than her breakfast is. Once I had Juniper eating I went over to the shelter area to pick up poop and this time when I walked over to the round pen area Leeloo followed me, and proceeded to pace around the outside of the round pen. Once Juniper was finally done eating I put her grazing muzzle back on and opened the round pen gate. Juniper trotted out and then she and Leeloo acted like they hadn’t spent the whole day together yesterday, with squealing and kicking and being foolish, though no one was hurt. They quit sooner than they had the day before at least and then Leeloo went to pacing in and around the round pen. Eventually she stopped pacing and stayed in the round pen and hid behind the “wall” and just stared at Juniper, who ignored her. Leeloo creeped on Juniper like that for several hours.

Eventually Leeloo left the security of the round pen but she still stuck close to the “wall” just on the other side. Thank you, Marin, for that suggestion!! That “wall” was Leeloo’s refuge for the whole day. As the sun was setting Leeloo herded Juniper over to the shelter area and this time Juniper cooperated and went with her and they both hung out in the shelter, though in respective bays.

In the end I think the move-in plan worked as well as could be hoped. Up to this point Leeloo has always lived with at least other ten horses in, or immediately adjacent to, her paddock so I knew going to just one pony would be a huge change but I hadn’t realized how stressful it would be on her. Leeloo has moved a lot in her past. By the time she was six years old she had lived at seven different boarding facilities and we were moving to her eighth. However, she has been at this last barn for seven years. She had gone from moving, on average, every nine months to staying in one place for seven years.

In many ways I think Leeloo’s experience with this move echoes my own experience when we moved in 2019. All through college and grad school I moved almost every year and it was never a big deal, but then in 2006 we moved into our previous home and stayed there for 13 years. When we moved again in 2019 it was a much bigger shock for me; it was far more disruptive and caused significantly more emotional distress for me than any of the previous moves had. I think Leeloo felt the same about this move.

In addition to going from moving constantly to staying in one place for seven years, Leeloo had also grown up, and in the process became the single most dominant horse of a herd of close to thirty. Going from the unquestioned boss of thirty horses to the boss of one indifferent pony was a huge shock.

Luckily by Sunday morning Leeloo had calmed down enough to actually lay down for a few minutes. She didn’t stay down long, she was clearly trying to get comfortable and just couldn’t, but the fact that she was willing to try at all made me feel better. Then she and Juniper spent the day standing near each other but not engaging with each other. They looked like a couple who had been arguing about something stupid and were giving each other the silent treatment. But at least Leeloo wasn’t shaking or pacing anymore so I’m calling it a win.

We have horses at our house!

1 thought on “Leeloo Comes Home

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