The most recent entry on Victoria Cummings's blog 'Teachings of the Horse' reminded me of when I first had Dee. Unlike Silk (happy birthday Silk!) I don't think Dee has suffered ill treatment as such, but I think she has been pushed around a bit. At the riding stables, if the lesson was starting now, then the horse had to be ready now, and there wasn't time to tolerate a mare's moods or idiosyncrasies. At the end of the day the horses at a riding school are their stock, or working tools. All the staff at the school where I bought Dee were very caring and the horses were well looked after, but the horses had so many people handling them of such varying experience and capability that it must sometimes have been hard on them.
When I moved Dee from the riding stables, and became the main person handling her, she would not let me groom her neck and didn't like having her head touched. She could also be a nightmare to tack up. She would turn her tail to me every time I tried to approach her with tack, and often put her ears back and look quite menacing. I never felt I was in any real danger from her, but it just was not possible to get near her. For a while I did not groom her head or neck but just stroked her there every time I brushed the rest of her. Then I started 'stroking her' with a small and very soft brush, and gradually built up to grooming her fully. She now particularly likes having her forelock combed and becomes very sleepy and relaxed. With her tack I just tried not to hurry, talking to her quietly, stroking her and making reassuring noises. She would always eventually decide to allow me to put on her tack, but to begin with it could take 20 minutes. I discovered that she preferred to have her saddle put on before her bridle. I feel this is a matter of trust for Dee - if I trust her to have her head completely free while I put on her saddle, she will trust me to tighten her girth (cinch) with consideration. Once the saddle is on she is happy to be bridled.
It is such an obvious fact that kindness brings its own rewards - that you will have a happy and willing mount if you treat your horse well. We all respond to being given time and being treated gently. Yet so often when we are in a hurry or are feeling threatened, pressurised or overlooked we can forget this. For me the fact that Dee is now always willing to be tacked and enjoys being groomed is a constant reminder.