Sunday, January 2, 2011

Building a Relationship - Part 1

From the beginning, it has been clear that Angel has a deep fear and mistrust of people. If you raise your hand to pet her anywhere forward of her shoulder (anywhere near the neck, head or ears) she swings her head and evades the contact. If you press her, she will swing her butt toward you and walk away quickly. She has not yet threatened to kick me, but I think she would, if I did not allow her to leave. She did threaten to kick the vet during her first vet exam.

A breakthrough came when Garry Stauber was brushing her and discovered that she likes to be brushed on her face and around her ears. She will not allow you to pet her face or touch her ears, but she loves being brushed on the forehead, all around her ears and down her nose. She will lower her head and ask for more. But if you raise a hand and try to pet her with a bare hand, she will walk away in fear. On the fifth day, she allowed me to briefly pet her face with a bare hand, for the first time. I think that - among other things - she has been ear-twitched (restrained by holding onto an ear). She is extremely reactive to a hand even brushing across her poll or ears.

I started by giving her grain in her feeder and then petting her and grooming and stroking her while she was eating. She was so involved with her food that she tolerated grooming and petting, as long as she was eating. Every time she ate grain, I would stand beside her and quietly brush and pet her. Motivated to stand still and eat, she gradually accepted more contact with my hand. I have only done this at liberty (without a halter), so she is completely unrestrained and free to leave whenever she wants to. I want her to stay as long as she is comfortable and leave when she is not.

In the past 48 hours, six different "new" people have come by and inter-acted with Angel (the vet staff and friends). Watching her inter-act with people she did not know showed me how deep her fear of people runs. The friendly(er) and calm(er) Angel who was coming out with me over the past few days left in the presence of new people. She became fearful and unwilling to accept treats or be brushed by people she did not know. Those inter-actions showed me how important consistency is going to be with her. She is going to have to learn, one person at a time, that she is not going to be hurt again.

At midnight Friday night (New Year's Eve) many of the neighbors shot off fireworks. I went outside to be with Angel, because I did not know how she would react to the loud noises. When the first round of firecrackers went off, she spooked and ran down her paddock. After that, for the next 15 minutes, she stood perfectly still and appeared to be watching the show. Every New Year's and every Fourth of July, Nick would be frantically running during the fireworks. Angel stood perfectly still, following the loud bursts of noise and color with her head.

On New Year's I traditionally give all the horses carrots. That's when I discovered Angel did not know what a carrot was and would not eat them. I ended up mixing the carrots into her grain and they were gone by morning. Today she was more than happy to accept a carrot from me! I told her that civilized horses eat carrots and she is on her way to becoming a civilized horse.

Three times now I have turned her out in the large grassy paddock next door to where she lives. The first time I did that, it occurred to me (after I had let her go) that I might not be able to catch her again! We did not yet have a relationship and she had no reason to leave all that grass and come with me. The last two times I have turned her loose to graze, when I walked towards her with a halter in hand, to take her back home, she has trotted past me and straight to the gate. She has stood at the gate, waiting for me to come to her and put the halter on her and take her home. She is obviously a smart horse! It only took one time for her to figure out what I wanted and now she is waiting at the gate.

I believe that Angel has great potential because I see a real capacity for relationship. (This is despite the fact that the vet called her "a conformational nightmare.") One of the things I enjoy most in life is seeing the possibilities both in people and in horses and trying to bring out the best in them. I think Angel has a deep desire to please, but she has been badly mistreated and right now, she is a dangerous horse, because of her fear.

Two nights ago I was reaching through the pipe panel, stroking her neck and telling her good-night. She was standing quietly and allowing me to pet her neck. Her head gradually dropped lower and lower, until her chin was resting on my shoulder. When I could feel the full weight of her head on my shoulder, she let out a very deep sigh and I could feel her body relax. That was when I thought this girl might have a chance.

1 comment:

  1. Oh dear, "conformational nightmare" sounds so harsh in print. All physical challenges aside, this mare has landed in the right place - no one could be more patient and kind than Martha. I'm looking forward to seeing what kind of progress they can make together.