Sunday, January 23, 2011

Week Four: An Exquisitely Sensitive Mare

That's how I would describe Angel: "an exquisitely sensitive mare." Angel arrived in my keeping four weeks ago today. The more I get to know her, the more "exquisitely sensitive" she seems to be. If she ever calms down enough to be predictably safe, she will make an AWESOME therapy horse, because she is so incredibly sensitive to human emotions and states.

How do I know this? Personal experience! When I go out to spend time with her and I am feeling sad, upset, angry, scared or perturbed in any way, Angel will walk away quickly. If I try to make her stay, she will pin her ears and be visibly upset.

But - if I am aware of what is happening and I can stop myself, step back, breathe, check in about what I am feeling and find my center, I can go back to her and she is like a different horse. She is a breathing equine biofeedback machine! Now, truly, many horses have this capacity. But the horses I have always had in my life had enough training, good experiences, self-control and probably kindness that they do/did not react to the degree that Angel does. Because she is so fearful and we are still getting to know each other, any strong negative emotion that I am feeling results in strong negative behaviors from her. I wish I had videotapes of our encounters the past two weeks.

A few days ago I took Angel down to the round pen, to give her a chance to run around a little bit. She has been eating good food and gaining weight for the past four weeks, and she has also been showing a lot more energy. As she was running in the round pen this week, she fired out with both hind legs in a sudden, high, explosive kick that scared me. I was far away from her, in a completely safe location, but the speed and power of that double-barrel kick scared me.

I've never owned a horse that kicks. This is a new experience for me. And not one I'm comfortable with nor pleased about. She kicked at the vet during her first vet exam and kicked three times during her first body work session. She has not yet connected with a human being that I am aware of (since she came to the shelter and subsequently to my house), but I don't like the kicking! She has not yet kicked at me. But I think it is only a matter of time, if I am not very careful.

This week I cleaned all the "boogers" out of Angel's eyes. It was the first time she has let me touch her eyes. I was happy to get them cleaned up and looking prettier. And I was very happy that she trusted me enough to allow me to mess around with her eyes.

She is allowing me to pet her head and poll and ears and head. She drops her head consistently when asked and is keeping it down longer and longer. She really does seem to want to please.

It appears to me that Angel kicks when she is scared or in pain. So the way to be safe around her is to help her feel safe and to not inflict pain. That sounds simple, but is probably not as simple as it sounds.

When I am scared or in pain, I frequently lash out at whoever happens to cross my path. I generally don't kick people physically, but I can deliver a mean verbal kick. Angel and I will both be working on feeling safe and learning to control ourselves when we are upset.

We played around some more with the pedastal, but I am questioning my judgement on that one and may decide not to do it right now. Haven't fully decided yet. You can see the famous purple pedastal in the corner of the photo at right. I'm thinking that since her "default" fear reaction is to fling her head to the sky and rear, it might not be the smartest thing to teach her to step onto a pedastal before we have a stronger relationship. We played around with it today and she has no idea what I want her to do. So she just stands very close to the pedastal and drops her head lower and lower and waits for me to praise her. That may be the best use of the pedastal at this time in Angel's life. :)

1 comment:

  1. Martha, what great insights into behavior Angel is teaching you! I see this "mirror effect" in both people and in animals. Mastering our own emotions is key to having good relationships with others, but damn it's hard!