Some stories, by their very nature, take a bit longer to tell than others. Harissa’s story will be one of these, especially when framed alongside the others she came in with, who are steadily trucking along in their training, checking off boxes and working towards true domesticity.
On the property from where she came, Harissa was living in the four mare herd alongside Mirana, Meadow, and Wren. She and Wren were the more wary members of the group when it came to humans, but it became clear to us in simply watching the mares interact with one another that Harissa was, to her horse peers, high up in the ranking. It was also clear that she had tried some of those same lead mare behaviors on humans, and that they had worked.
What I mean to say is that Harissa had a spot in there where she turned nasty. At the suggestion of being pet, her initial reaction was not to flee like the rest of her peers, but to strike out. All horses are an unknown quantity when they first arrive, but Harissa proved early on exactly how these unknown quantities can sometimes be dangerous.
When we got her in the round pen for the first time, this behavior only intensified. We roped her, as is the common first step in our halter starting practice, but instead of giving to pressure, not only was she pushing against it, but lunging at the person on the other end of the line. She was also incredibly herd bound to the point where she was completely unable to use her thinking brain. When offered a release, she was unable to find any relaxation whatsoever, and spent her time pawing great trenches in the sand. Even when we brought the hose out, since the day was so hot, she hardly even registered that she was being sprayed, so caught up in her anxieties was she.
A horse like Harissa is one of the most heartbreaking, because she has clearly had some experiences with people that have led her to not only find no comfort in humans, but to mistrust them to the point of aggression.
So we needed to rethink our strategy for Harissa’s success. The first step would be giving her a bit more time to settle in, to limit the people who came into contact with her, to show her that we don’t always expect things from her. And so far, the time has done her good. She is curious of the people she interacts with, and seems to be developing a better view of people by the day. She still has a long way to come, and we are still exercising caution around her to ensure that she has the best chance at future success, but we do believe that with a lot of time and patience, she can learn to trust in people, maybe for the first time ever.