Last summer Image and Sylvie were living in the back paddocks with access to the run-in shelter which is part of the barn. From there I would move them in and out of their stalls without haltering.  When we are not in training mode they may only get a halter on when the hoof trimmer comes.

One day they needed to come in, so Sylvie came first and I closed her in her stall.  Then I opened the door and invited Image to his.  He knew what I wanted, but he had some business to attend to.  Sniff, consider, mark some fresh mare manure.  Pause perhaps again.  I stood, allowing him whatever time he needed.  Then he walked across the aisle to his stall – pausing again at his door to sample the hay pile I left there.

Once in his stall he gave Sylvie a noisy stallion greeting since they had been separated for all of half a minute!  She responded, coming close to the hatch between their stalls, making her little mare noises in return.  Then they both settled down to eat their hay.

Katharine and Image

Last summer it was three years since Image came here to Fourwinds Farm.  And last summer was the first time that he responded positively to me touching his body.  He had liked having his head rubbed, but really did not enjoy having his body rubbed, scratched or brushed.  So for a couple of years I had simply not touched his body unless necessary.

One day I was standing with the horses in the run-in and Image was reaching for an itch.  I saw it was a difficult stretch for him so I offered to help.  I scratched the spot for him and he responded with that gesture of horsie happiness – outstretched head, quivering lip, and half closed eyes.  Ahhhh…..  Then a few weeks later he showed me another good place to scratch and he responded again.

It may not sound like much but I knew our relationship had shifted.  A new kind of trust was beginning to happen, both ways.  Since he arrived I had been very clear – emphatic even – that he must be very careful around my small and weak human body.  And he had made it clear he did not want much touching.  Since this shift, we are both exploring more intimate physical interaction.  When I go to let him out I don’t overreact to his gestures of touching my hand or pretend nipping.  He doesn’t ever actually nip and his touches are gentle and graceful.  And if I prefer it, he will back up at the tiniest gesture from me.  Or he will ask me to rub his face and head.

Stallion time.  I’ve allowed him time to process as he has adapted to his new home and family.  We’ve both learned to stay calm and soft with each other.  And three years on he allowed me to help him scratch an itch.

Photographs © Sarah Baker Forward