Getting to know a new horse is always a long series of trials and errors. Horses with an unknown history make this a much larger challenge, especially when they have obvious issues going on. In Bay Girl's case, the more time I spend with her, the more I can begin to predict what her responses to things are going to be, and know what her nuances are. At this point, I can take a stab at what Bay Girl's history may have looked like. My guess is that the issue at hand is two fold: she is largely unhandled, but the handling she has had has all been very rough, particularly relating to her face. She is one of the most headshy horses I have ever met.
On Friday, I brought out one of my halters as per my plan, just to let her check it out and see what her reaction was going to be to it. She was largely unfussed until I moved it towards her face for her to see - then she reacted violently and shot backwards as hard and fast as she could. She of course had her other halter on, and was connected to me by her leadrope, so she didn't go far, but it was an interesting reaction. She could not have reacted more violently had I stuck a cattle prod up her nose. This isn't her just being unsure of the halter... this is her having a triggered memory and responding accordingly. Following this, she did let me rub on her face with my hand without fuss, so it will be interesting to see how this develops. I'm thinking a bit of clicker training would do her some good!
She also, on Friday, allowed me to handle all four feet without issue! I hadn't even tried to pick up her hinds until now, given her reputation for being a serious cow-kicker, but she offered both hind feet to me in a completely relaxed way. She has some thrush on her right front, but now that she is allowing me to handle her feet I should be able to clear that up pretty quickly. Her feet are all right, fairly flat and unattended but she is comfortable on rocks and lands flat for the most part. There is definite improvement that needs to be made, but we'll get there over time.
Yesterday, a first happened: she was waiting for me at the gate at the end of the day when I went to go get her!
What a good feeling that was!
We went through much of the same routine - grooming, foot handling, rubbing on, etc. I was sharply reminded of how careful I need to be around her face - when walking under her crossties, my shoulder accidentally bumped the crosstie on her right side (the side she is strange about), and it wiggled her halter. To my surprise, she panicked and set back hard in the crossties. Thankfully, the crossties are bungees and her halter is rope and can't break, so she bounced right back forward, nosepiece of her halter pulled down around her nostrils. Oh great, I thought, as she snorted loudly and wiggled her lip against it. This is going to be fun trying to get that back on her. I unhooked the crossties (carefully, as she jumps when they bump the wall), talked to her quietly, and managed to gently pull the halter back up on top of her nose. She let me retie the halter too, all of which is good practice for the future. Clearly, I need to be exceedingly careful with everything I do, as I still don't know what all of her triggers are going to be.
After our grooming session, I let her loose in the roundpen, just to see what she would do. I was hoping to get a few pictures of her, but as you can see, she wouldn't stop following me around!
Whoops got caught trying to get into the bucket on the other side of the fence!
How cute is she?
Overall, progress is forward. I think I'd like to start doing some clicker training with her, starting with the idea of "whoa" for whenever she feels like she needs to leave. The most important thing right now is that I solidify our friendship in her mind. I want her to see my coming as something good, and know that she can trust me. Considering that shortly ago she was completely uncatchable, I think we're making good progress in that way.