If this image had a sound, it would be a ferocious snort. Even from a respectful distance, Autumn remains incredibly wary. It is clear that this girl has some serious trust issues, and while we knew she would need time, we always wish we could fast forward to the part where she has an understanding that we’re not out to get her.

There have been areas of progress, to be sure. She was a picky eater from day one, refusing to touch her hay if there was even the slightest chance a human was nearby and watching her. Because she was so thin, we hoped to help add calories (not to mention vitamins) with a grain mash as well, but this shyness to eat made it difficult for us to tell which grain — if any — she enjoyed. “Just put them in separate pans so you can keep track of what she likes,” you might say, to which we would reply that, while we did try that, sometimes the sneaky crows would swoop down and ruin our study. We couldn’t observe her directly, so the only choice was to leave her alone with the grain and hope that we could gain enough information from what she left to build a meal plan that worked for her.

And to our delight, she did begin to eat grain. At first, she requested it dry, and while we typically wet down all of our grain to avoid episodes of choke, we will on rare occasion make an exception. Then, as she grew a bit more comfortable, she began to eat a mash, which meant we could feed her larger quantities. Even still, she will wait far removed from her food while it is being delivered, her restraint based more in fear than in manners. But we are just happy she is eating more regularly, for a horse who doesn’t eat is as unnatural as one who doesn’t breathe.

Feeding her hay has still been quite a challenge. In an ideal world, she would eat out of the haybag that hangs at the back of her shelter, keeping her hay dry and elevated from the ground. Alas, the shelter is still a scary place for Autumn, who ventures in only occasionally, and even then in a tentative fashion. We have tried a range of musical hay nets in various spots around her paddock, but in nearly all cases there is some less than ideal circumstance surrounding the placement. Here, the hay that falls from the net creates a large pit of mud. There, the bag is unprotected from the elements, and Autumn often refuses wet hay. Most recently, we have been attempting to help her see the shelter as a safe space by feeding loose piles close to the entrance — close enough that she can make a quick exit if she should feel the need for one. Progress is slow, but it seems that she is growing more comfortable with the idea of spending more time in the shelter.

She is also gaining a bit more of an understanding around the routines here at SAFE. Trusted volunteers enter her paddock twice a day to pick, and though she snorts and avoids them, she can exist around them without completely losing her marbles. They, as instructed, ignore her entirely, showing her that they come in total peace, or even better, not even putting any meaning or expectation on their presence.

Autumn has even been known to take a few bites of hay in view of people on occasion, a pretty big change. She’s still leagues away from harassing you at her haybox, but we look forward to the day when we have to shoo her away.

Terry continues to spend patient time with her, working on earning her trust. Meanwhile, the rest of us keep our distance and root for her. Quietly. From afar.