Miss Pepper isn’t feeling well. She has a cold. Horses get colds just as humans do. They can even pass them from one herd member to another. So my sweet mare has a crusty discharge around her eyes and a runny nose. I’ve wanted to take a damp cloth and clean her eyes, but she is having none of it.

In fact, she wants nothing to do with me. She’ll come for her grain, but if I try to touch her at all, she walks away. When I move out of her space, she returns to the grain pan.

What Happened?

Something has upset her, that much I know. Just what caused the upset is another question. Maybe she just feels lousy. A bad cold can do that to me.

I’ve wracked my brain trying to figure out what could have spooked her and have come up with two events that might have done it. A couple of weeks ago when I was feeding, we had a burst of wind that made a loud noise and caused the tailgate to waver. Pepper jerked her head up and hit the edge of the tailgate. At the time I thought it had to hurt.

Then a few days later as I was opening the gate for Pepper, Baby tried to make a break. I closed the gate a bit as Pepper was coming through. She made it out, but somehow in the melee she scraped her back leg. I think it was from a hoof, but don’t know for sure.

Does She Think I Hurt Her?

All I can think is that she associates me with these hurts. No matter the cause, I want to regain her trust. With horses, and people for that matter, rebuilding trust takes time. Horses are prey animals – wary by nature. The process of trust building is slow and steady. It’s positive predictability over time. Horses don’t respond well to fast moves, loud noises and being forced into anything. I also know some humans like that. Don’t you?

Rebuilding Trust

I’ve spent the past days in a trust dance with Pepper. She has to remember that I’m not going to hurt her. I’m asking her to slowly get comfortable again with me being close to her. As she eats, I sit on the bumper of the car beside her. Not too close, but close enough. She reacts to every inch of movement. Slowly I scoot a millimeter closer. As long as I don’t try to touch her, she will allow me into her space. If I raise my hand as if to touch her, she walks away.

I sit, holding the space beside her grain pan. She eventually returns and the dance begins again. I have a feeling we’ll be doing this for a bit longer. Mares are cautious by nature. She can’t tell me what upset her, so I have to follow her lead on this.

Good for the Horse, Good for the Human

Trust building is good for me too. It helps me focus on my connection to Pepper, which I can sometimes gloss over. I get busy in the process of feeding or thinking about all the other things I have to do that day, and I miss out on the true connection.

This is a little gift to me, really. It’s reminder to slow down, be present in the moment, speak softly and connect. One more opportunity from my dear, sweet mare.