When I work at Crosskennan Lane Animal Sanctuary in Antrim I work with mostly rescue horses and ponies. Here I meet with raw emotions and pure reactions. They have learned to take care of them self’s or should I say they have learned that people do not always take care of them.
When I meet them I do not even reach out to begin with, but just stand around. And when I move I do not approach them directly but take one step at a time. If my moving does not frighten them I approach slowly every step looking and feeling if it is still ok with them. If not I retreat.
Listening and watching are so important to build up trust.
When I have them with a head collar on a long line I still take it one step at a time. Most of the time the shoulder area is the place I can start to touch them. Scratching as they do to each other. Breathing slowly and standing grounded I create a safety zone. They might not trust that immediately but will recognize it. When they let me touch them is when the magic happens. We can have a whole conversation without visible movement. They relax or try to. Their eyes become soft, their head drops maybe just an inch it is all I need to see. Some really struggle and you get waves of activity and feet that need to move! Letting go is never easy not for them and not for us. Their breathing will slow or get deeper. Their lips start to quiver and relax. And finally the yawn comes, often a small one first slowly working to a big yawn with stretching of the neck and a tongue that moves about. Stress release and then the quiet standing attentions turned inwards, processing what just happened.
I stay with them while they process, to give them the safety I promised.