Wow! This is going to be so interesting to see what happens next.
I like your description of him as a foster child. That really strikes a chord with me. Horses are so dependent on their community, and I often think about how devastating it is for them personally to be moved from pillar to post at human will. One of our ponies in particular fitted this description when she arrived with us. And like your observation of Diego, she also took about four years to really accept her foster family was truly her adoptive family.
Yes, it's most apt. I spent 5 years working with "emotionally disturbed," children, nearly all of which had been abused and often fostered. We used a "residential" model, a home, with the usual amenities.
I then spent 15 years teaching foster and adoptive parenting skills to those families wishing to adopt or foster. Many of the "reactive" behaviors I see in horses and a dead ringer for those I saw with children.
The thing to remember, I think, that I taught with great emphasis was that each is an individual and there is no "recipe," outside of patience, commitment, and a good sense of humor.
Like the child, possibly even moreso, the horse knows if you are committed. They will do all the tests they need (and here's where the uniqueness of person/horse comes in) to determine your commitment. It requires you do understand the warrior mindset, and be fearless in your dealings with them - you must be worthy of a warrior that has survived as they firmly believe that their behavior (reactivity) is the reason they survived.
The horse that has been abused and develops a set of behaviors, including fighting back, will not easily give it up, "for fear of death." It's very real. It's not a fantasy, and any survivor of harshness, danger, fear can attest to what I'm saying. I am one, so I know all too well how the struggle to trust, and the challenge to control survival behaviors can be.
Altea can to me half dead from dealing with loss and isolation, loneliness and pain (ill health) and I sensed early on that this was not going to be a quick bonding between us. Bonnie, yes, a quick bond. A baby and caretaker bond. Lovely to experience, but nothing like the bond that will come between Altea and I as she tests me and I demonstrate my commitment and patience to her again and again.
When I read the stories of AND members and their interactions with there horses I'm pleased and encouraged as I recognize the same commitment and sometimes even the same struggles and methods of coping that I taught to and saw in the foster and adoptive parents I worked with.
Those that were successful, at any rate.
The horse that has been taken from his herd while wanting the old herd wants, if it can have it, the new herd - but will test test test, especially if the "herd," is made up of other than horses.
I used to teach the same thing I make a pest of myself about here - congruence. For me that's what commitment helps attain: make your mind and it's intent congruent with your words, your posture, your voice tone, your scent and breath scent.
Learn how to touch and go - that is to enter the stimuli boundary of the horse, and retreat to allow the horse to process your excitation of his mind. With children I used to tell people do not "smother," as a gentle pat of the shoulder is enough, at first, to open the relationship beginning.
Altea is changing. She is antimated in ways I've not seen in her before. She moves with power and grace much of the time now, not just the occasional exploration. She is horribly bossy of Bonnie, not so much as a mom, but now as though Bonnie has become a junior herd mate. She will share feed but Bonnie must behave with obsequiesness at every turn. Step back first when told. Approach at the proper speed, on the proper side with the proper expression of eye and ear.
Morning turn out, where the first hay of the day is scattered out in the paddock, is the most wonderful thing to observe.
Altea plays little jokes on me. Yet more than ever she is attentive to what I might need. Before she was always in the way if in the stall when I mucked out. (I like this as a training exercise). Now, with no urging beyond conversational exchanges, she move about to stay out of my way but still in the stall with me.
I used to have to cue her to move over. Now I need only show that I want to fork up manure at some spot and she sorts out the logistics and acts independently to clear a path.
This evening, heavy rain beating down on the metal roof, wet, wet, wet, and cold, I said to her, 'Altea, you are blocking the light, I can't see where to clean next," and she moved over.
Not once, but from then one with no urging from me. She watched her shadow, and if it fell where I wanted to clean next, she would move her shadow away as I moved in that direction.
Sometimes she did this by doing no more than turning her head and neck. Horses have excellent night vision. She could see what I could not. Had she figured out ast some point in her 14 years that humans are partially disabled in horse sensory perception?
Poor dumb creatures, these horses. LOL
Donald, Altea, and Bonnie Cupcake