One of our DreamPower volunteers today described Angel as "an Angel-in-Training" and I think that is a wonderful description of the new horse outside my window. She is indeed an Angel-in-Training!
In the past 24 hours, I feel like Angel took some major, important baby steps. Yes, a true oxymoron! But she really did accomplish a very significant, tiny achievement.
First, last night Angel allowed me to brush her poll (the sensitive area behind a horse's ears) with my bare hand for the first time. For the first time since we met, she tolerated my petting and stroking her all around both ears, across her poll, messing with her forelock and stroking her face with my bare hand. This is huge. Until last night, if I tried to touch her poll, she would violently fling her head skyward until her chin pointed at the sky. Sometimes her front feet would leave the ground. But while eagerly inhaling grain, she tolerated my attempts at petting and stroking all around the top of her head with my hand, for the first time. Sometimes while she was chewing, she actually moved her head towards me, so that I could stroke her face.
Then today, I got braver. Without the assistance of food, I asked her to lower her head in response to pressure from the lead rope. (Tugging down on the lead rope puts pressure on the top of the halter, across the poll or top of the horse's head.) When she has felt strong pressure there in the past, her head would fly up in pain or panic and she would pull so strongly that her front feet would leave the ground.
Because she was relaxed and comfortable, and had been dropping her head and allowing me to stroke her while she was eating, I decided to try it today, without any food. I just felt like she was ready. It later occurred to me that if she were not ready, this would not have been a helpful thing to do. But I tried it and it worked (more than once!). With a very light and gentle tug on the lead rope, she dropped her head a few inches. That is HUGE! I couldn't believe it. So I tried it again, and she dropped her head again! Good girl! She got lots and lots of praise for that.
Helping a horse learn to drop her head is an important first step in helping a horse to learn to relax, submit, and trust their human partner. A horse with their head in the sky is a nervous, anxious horse that is prepared for fight or flight. A relaxed, trusting horse that has their head down in a submissive posture is a safer horse that is more prepared to think and respond without fear or panic.
I wasn't sure that Angel would ever be able to get her head down. Until today, she has shown such a strong, violent reaction to pressure across her poll, I was not sure she would be able to change. A horse with that kind of reaction is a dangerous horse that is not safe around people. But today, Angel took a gigantic baby step towards become a safer horse. Good girl, Angel!