I am hoping someone can reassure me I'm going in the right direction, or point me in the right direction if I'm not!
I have a lovely intelligent 13 year old Exmoor mare who I've owned for 4 years. She was born on Exmoor, but on a stud rather than in a free living herd on the moor, but still spent the first 6 months or so of her life with little in the way of human contact. I know most of her history, and as far as I'm aware she's always been treated kindly, but possibly ruled the roost slightly in previous homes. When I first got her I did a lot of groundwork with her, establishing that it wasn't acceptable to run into me or plant and refuse to move.
Over the past year I feel that I've completely failed my lovely little pony, and I'm working hard to get back her trust. I came to realise in July last year that her saddle wasn't fitting properly, and I realise that I'd missed all the subtle signs she was giving me up to that point, and it took her trying to kick a helper in a riding for the disabled session for me to work out what was wrong :( She had gradually become very grumpy to be around, didn't want to be touched in various areas (mainly her neck and girth), and I put it all down to being hormonal and tried various supplements - how wrong was I! Anyway, as soon as I realised the saddle wasn't fitting I stopped riding her in it, gave her some time off, and did lots of long reining work and rode her in a bareback pad. She had the physio out and we spent a long time doing various stretches to work on the tightness she'd built up in her neck. Eventually 4 months on I managed to get a new saddle sorted. At this point I went completely back to basics, it took a while for her to be happy with me putting on the saddle, let alone stepping up to the mounting block. But we got there, and now another 4 months on she's doing fab with ridden work, doesn't bite once when I'm tacking her up and will let me get on and off happily and lead up to the mounting block.
We still however have a problem with her letting me touch the underside of her neck. She is 100% better than she was (I couldn't get near her neck before, and if anyone other than me walked up to her she'd try to take a chunk out of them), I had a real breakthrough the other day when I managed to do a fairly successful join up with her (join up's always been a bit challenging - most likely because of my shortcomings! She would always display all the signs, but then when I'd turn away and ask for follow up she would just stand there and not move an inch!), she did a lovely follow up, and I then spent about 10 - 15 minutes massaging her, eventually working to stroking all the way down her neck, and she almost fell asleep! Since this I've had mixed attempts, and I want to check I'm going about it in the right way. I'm starting by stroking her withers, and top of her neck, and gradually working down to the underneath of her neck. If she pins her ears and tries to bite/snakes her head at me (which she will do sometimes!) I'll keep my hand there (staying a safe distance away at her shoulder), until she relaxes and then I'll move it away as a reward. I then place my hand back again, and generally she'll then accept the stroke and relax into it. If at any point she gets aggressive again I'm just trying to stay calm and keep my hand there. This seems to be working, is this the best way to do it? I was planning on then moving on to doing the same with her with a surcingle on, and eventually with her saddle on. I use a dually with her, and initially tried schooling her with the dually by making her back up if she went to bite me, but this just seemed to get her more angry - it's as if she's saying "look, I'm anxious about this and think it's going to hurt, and now you're telling me off for that, and I'm just not having that!". I'm 100% sure she's not sore there anymore after having physio, and having times when she's quite happy for me to stroke her there. I just think it's anticipation of it hurting as for quite a long time it must have been sore, and she completely lost her trust in me as I didn't listen to her subtle cues, and eventually she had to shout at me to make herself heard!
Does anyone have any other suggestions or things I can do to work on this? Or does what I'm doing sound ok? My eventual aim is for her to accept me touching her anywhere, and more importantly, for her to accept other people approaching her and touching her happily.
I am so cross with myself for not listening to her telling me the saddle wasn't right, and just hope in time she'll trust me again. She's definitely a much happier person since I've been doing things the Monty way - it's amazing how far you can get when you start speaking their language!
Thanks for your help!