She is a 6 year old mare and the new owner has had her for 2 months now. I've worked with her for a few weeks now, for about six sessions. She is extremely head shy and has been brutally abused by the previous owner. I’m trying to help her the best way I can but she has a very rough history.
Previously she would be lassoed to be caught because she wouldn't let anyone near her anymore. So they would strangle her with a lasso until she would give in. It is very likely that the abuser was a right handed man (she is less afraid of women) that hit her in the head, neck, back and front legs with at least a rope or a lasso and most likely also a whip. She is almost unapproachable.
The first days it took me 10 minutes to even get to a distance of 3 meters (~10 feet) of her. When I first met her she had a lead rope attached to her halter 24/7, because she couldn’t get caught otherwise. But it was all tangled and she would constantly step on it. The halter she has on, has been on her for probably a year, because she wouldn’t let anyone even come near her, let alone touch her or her head for that matter. I have managed to get the lead rope of the halter and changed it with my long line for a few sessions I’ve had with her, which after I have removed the long line. I’ve done some initial work with her using some of Monty's methods and it has worked wonders but mostly I’ve had to basically make up the techniques on the go since she’s VERY nervous and anxious about everything and there are no clear cases like he in the Uni.
She is especially scared of ropes. In the beginning I could work with her only without any rope, if I had a rope in my hands (even if it was coiled up and tightly against my body, without swinging around) she would just bolt if I came closer than 4 meters (~13 feet) to her. When I got to the point I could barely touch her shoulder, she would just shake. I would just rub it for a second and then walk away and repeat it multiple times. Eventually she came and followed me. This was in the first day.
Second day, I managed to get the lead rope off of her and I just barely got the long line on her, because even with the slowest movement of the hand or the most passive body language, without looking in the eyes and slightly turned away from her, she wouldn't let my hand closer than 50 cm (~20 inches) of her head (except by chance, to the tie ring, if I slowly slided one hand up the long line). She walks perfectly when leading. She comes from the slightest pull on the rope and turns wherever I turn without any fuss, stops immediately when I stop and even backs up when I back up, with her nose not further than my shoulder. So I just walked with her, stoped and slowly rubbed her shoulders and walked away again. Repeating this many times. This could only be possible if I was as passive with my body language as I could and with VEEEERY slow movements, keeping my adrenaline down and my heart rate as low as possible. I stopped at a good point to have a positive ending.
The third day, I did all the above but also tried to move my hand closer to her withers but she started to resent it, so I returned to only the shoulder but now instead of shaking anymore she has started to make the gesture of biting. I’ve tried to go as slow as possible, always walking away and as gentle as I can. Sometimes she is just very unpredictable. Now after multiple sessions advancing incrementally, I’ve managed to get to the point that it only takes 3-5min before I can approach her, even clipping her to the long line, if I’m just in the right spot at the right moment (she has a 15 cm (6 in) piece of rope hanging from her halter, which I've left there so that it would be easier to catch her without scaring her with a longer rope or long line).
I’ve managed to desensitize her to the rope a bit. By walking in front of her, swing the rope a little whilst she walks towards me and the rope. Using "reverse psychology" so to speak. It has worked incredibly. Walking towards something that scares her, makes it less scary for her. She immediately after some steps starts chewing and dropping her head. She doesn’t react to it as bad anymore, when I approach her with the rope. I've also rubbed her shoulders with the ropes (because she doesn't really like someone touching her withers. I can even swing the rope a bit around her feet and back. I can swing the rope by her side, without her being scared and now I can also even snap it next to her. But all of this I always have to start from the beginning everyday. Everyday she takes less time getting used to it.
As I said she’s extremely head shy, probably a 10/10 case. But since she didn’t let me touch her head or neck, I tried to just keep my hand on the long line, close to the tie ring and when she would stop pulling her head up I would let go. Repeating this many times, until there was no reaction anymore. I also tried to make her comfortable to just having my hand touch the connecting strap underneath the jaw, not grabbing it but just having it there. She’s fairly okay with that, but today she accidentally tossed my hand up when she lifted her head and my hand barely touched her jaw but it scared her and she scraped me with her front hoof. Which she hadn’t done before at any point. Luckily it just barely touched my hip. I continued, more cautiously of course, but I did manage to rub her cheek a bit and even got to rub her forehead a few times. But only if I first touch the side of her cheek and slowly advanced to her forehead. Touching her muscle or even high up her neck or ears is impossible. Especially where the vet puts the injection on the neck, if I would stop my hand there, she would probably bite me or even try to strike me with her front hoofs.
So my question is, how can I get to the point that I can change the halter. If she doesn’t have some kind of halter, it is literally impossible to get her on a lead line or to even put on a halter for that matter. I don’t have the possibility that Monty has with the mustangs, to have a space where I could always safely put on a halter, if I could get the one she has on now, off of her. There’s no one else willing to train her with gentle methods here and taking the time to listen to her needs. So I really hope I can get some advice to help her not to be so scared anymore. She needs to be checked out by a vet and farrier, but at the moment it is just impossible to even get her halter changed.
If any certified instructors or someone from Monty's team could help. I would be extremely grateful and she would be a more relaxed and happier horse.
Ps. I have videotaped all of the sessions I have had with her.