I’ve known Luna for awhile now. She’s an adorable little fuzzy pony, almost entirely black, except for a small star (which is usually completely covered by her bushy forelock). She’s what people picture when they call the rescue, looking for a horse for their kids or grandkids.
However, while she’s as cute as a button, Luna has serious trust issues with people. Luna had very little handling before coming to the rescue, but the handling she did have was probably not very pleasant. When I met her she wanted to have nothing to do with people. Luna would sometimes approach you in the pasture and lean her nose way out toward you, trying to sniff for a treat, while at the same time trying not to get too close. She knew about a few things, including leading, standing tied, and loading into a trailer, but you had to catch her first, and she most definitely did not want to be caught!
However, during 2011, several volunteers at the rescue and I spent quite a lot of time with Luna. We’ve been working with her at her own pace, making sure that things are her choice, and making sure we don’t do things that would worry, upset, or stress her. She has gradually learned that people might not be half as bad as she previously thought! In particular, a few of our high school volunteers this summer did a great job spending lots of time just hanging out with Luna. They would spend time grooming her, leading her around the property, and talking to her.
Luna even got to play on our horse obstacle course this summer. Our obstacle course is great for horses like Luna because the obstacles give the horse a purpose to work toward. Also, because we use clicker training and train in small steps, each obstacle becomes a fun game for the horse. Luna now loves climbing up on the bridge to earn a treat.
One of Luna’s most deepest fears has been having her feet handled. When I met Luna, she did not want to be touched anywhere past her shoulder and would not hesitate to kick or bite if you tried to touch her legs, belly or hind quarters. This has required slow, careful training. We did not want her to feel stressed and we definitely did not want anyone to get hurt. For teaching her to pick up her back feet, I used this method.
Luna and I worked a ton on picking up her feet last spring and then at the beginning of the summer. By the beginning of the summer, she even got to the point where I could trim all four of her feet. I trimmed her several times last year, always making sure to go slowly and making sure that she was calm and relaxed throughout the process.
Our farrier came out to the rescue this past Thursday to trim all of the horses. During the fall he had trimmed Luna’s front feet several times. However, this was the first time that he has trimmed all four of her feet in one trim. I wasn’t there to see it, but Dawn told me that she did great for him! I am completely proud of our little black pony. She has made SO much progress in the past year.
One of the hardest parts of training for shy and fearful animals can be generalization. The animal learns how to do the behavior for one person, but then is still scared or hesitant if someone else tries to get the animal to do the same behavior. Allowing someone else to trim all four of her feet is a major milestone for Luna in her journey toward trusting people.
Good training often takes a lot of time. Progress can be slow, especially when animals have had previous bad experiences. I often find that horse people (as well as other animal people) are looking for a quick fix—that one magic cure that will solve their horse’s problems. However, building a relationship with an animal based on trust and friendship takes time, there’s no quick trick that works overnight.
Luna is still far from a perfect pony or even a pony that would be safe for kids or inexperienced horse people to be around. She still has plenty of rough spots and areas where she needs much more training. She gets scared easily when things are new or different and is terrified of people carrying saddles or other large objects.
However, Luna has made a ton of progress over the past year. Even better, we have someone who is potentially interested in adopting her. Hopefully, we can find an adopter for Luna who will help her to have more good experiences so that she can continue to build her trust and confidence in people.