Australian Brumby Challenge ©
One quarter of the way through this Challenge and I still have not put my hand on Scarlett. For this reason, I have given her the nickname of Macadamia, because she is one tough nut to crack. I truly believe that when I do crack her defensive shell, she will be just as sweet as the seed inside the world’s hardest nut. Sometimes I feel I am getting nowhere with her but then I remind myself that a few weeks ago, Scarlett could not eat while I was near her yard. I had to move around 50 metres away from her before she could even contemplate approaching her food bowl. Today, she can take small amounts of hay directly out of my hand and if she does happen to brush my hand while doing so, her reaction is to just move her head away and she will step back towards me within a few seconds for some more hay.
As yet, I have not been able to convince her to eat any form of manufactured feed, therefore, the only reward I can give her when working with her is oaten hay (which she prefers over Lucerne). She does, however love her molasses and I am able to give her her @McDowells Herbal Treatments Performa-a-calm mixed with a little sweet stuff, in her bowl.
She has undergone quite a bit of passive desensitisation this week, which she has taken to like the proverbial duck to water. At the start of the week, I put the pallet platform into the yard I let her into while I clean her yard, with a little hay on it. When she first saw it, she looked at it with caution, realized it held hay and walked up to eat, with no sign of apprehension. After a couple of days, I added the arch with streamer curtain, again, it proved to be a non-event.
On Thursday, I left a small blue tarp in her yard and went off doing other things while staying close enough to intervene, if necessary. Once I was out of Scarlett’s bubble, she walked to the tarp, picked it up in her teeth and shake it around. My main concern was that she may get it between her teeth, frighten herself then be unable to unlock her jaw to let it go, as does happen to some horses. Scarlett had no worries her, she picked it up, moved it, let it go and picked it up again, several times. When I went to work with her, I spread the tarp out on the ground and offered her a bit of food, from the other side of it. No worries here, she quietly walked onto the tarp to get her reward. This particular tarp is quite old and has no rustle left so didn’t make much noise to scare her so on Friday, I did the same with a newer, silver tarp, leaving it in her yard while I moved away to allow her to explore it in her own way. Things went just about the same as Thursday, she approached the tarp, pawed at it, then proceeded to pick it up, complete with rustling, which did startle her, initially, then she tossed it around a bit, before quietly walking away and taking some hay out of her Whoa Steady Neddy haynet. I then entered her yard, spread the tarp out and offered her a handful of hay. She happily walked over the tarp to take the hay from me.
Scarlett has had me wracking my brain trying to work out how show her that if I do actually touch her, she is not going to die. When I have had a handful of hay in my hand, I have begun to stroke her nose with it before giving her a little. She has cautiously accepted me doing this so this morning, thinking outside the square, I dug out a 50mm wide, soft paint brush and began to touch her just above her nostrils with it. At first, her reaction was “OMG that TOUCHED ME!!” and had to go for a trot around the yard. After some time, over several sessions through the day, I was able to give her a single brush stroke, click and reward her with some hay. At the end of the last session, she was beginning to interact with the paintbrush and I was able to do several brush strokes down her nose, while she tried to nibble the brush. I am hoping the paintbrush will be the tool that allows Scarlett to realize human touch is not at all the dreadful thing she currently thinks it is.
I have to return to work on Monday, after nearly three weeks of sick leave, so won’t be able to spend as much time with Scarlett as I have been. (No more just sitting in the sun) It will be interesting to see how we progress with less interaction.
Postscript: I have just come in from working with Scarlett for the last time today. The tears are rolling down my cheeks. She sniffed my hand and instead of backing off, sniffed for about ten seconds, stepped back and thought about it for a couple of seconds, then stepped forward again for another sniff, thought about it again then sniffed and lipped at my hand, at which point, I gave her the last of the hay I was holding in my other hand and finished for the day.
You could say I am just a bit happy. 🐎😊🐎