Anyway, Aspen's owner brought me her friend's horse to work with for the next 30 days. We just kind of swapped the two horses, since Aspen had originally been booked till June.
Magic is Foxtrotter gelding about 5 years old (I think!). He is broke to ride, but tends to be nervous, spooky, and jumpy. Last year he threw his owner when the owner reached down to adjust his stirrup on the right side. I was told that if you approach Magic from the side, he will run off; but if you approached directly from the front and rubbed his head for a moment, then he would allow you to move to the side and halter him.
Magic is here to learn ground manners and to be desensitized. His owners want me to train him like he's never been started before. I worked with him yesterday for the first time. Sure enough, he would only allow me to approach him straight on. My first impression of him that he is a fearful horse that tries to hide his fear behind an air of dominant bravado. I need to do things to build his confidence in himself, me and people in general.
I would approach from the front and rub his head. After a moment of this, he would lower his head and I would move to his side. As soon as I stepped to the side, his head would fly up and I could feel him tense up. At one point, he was between me and the fence and must have felt "squeezed" because he just bolted forward. I liked that he voluntarily turned and came back to me after his "escape".
Yesterday was all about proximity and approach and retreat. I went in and out of his pen a gazillion times throughout the day, each time approaching his head, waiting until he relaxed and then moving to his side. I would scratch his neck/withers/ back for a bit and then return to his head, then repeat with the other side. I would then leave him while he was relaxed, sometimes giving him a treat.
He spooked at the hose when I watered all the horses. He spooked at me when I climbed over the fence. I hadn't planned to work Piper or Valentine, but I went in to their pen and quickly ran through a few ground work exercises with each of them while Magic spooked in the background. I also made a point of doing Raven & Sweetheart's initial groundwork in view of Magic. I believe horses can learn by watching and I thought it would help Magic to see the other horses standing calmly while I desensitized them.
On the plus side, Magic eventually stopped spooking so much and started watching curiously to see what I was doing with the other horses. Hopefully he will remember that on some level when it's his turn to be fully desensitized. I suspect I may be in for a rodeo still though!
I never even bothered to put the halter on him yesterday, on the theory that if he couldn't relax while I was simply standing next too him, that the halter would just add more pressure and make him feel more tense. I think he's accustomed to always wearing a halter and having people grab at the halter as soon as they get next to him. I wanted to change things up and do the unexpected.
I may put the halter on today for safety's sake, even if I don't really use it and just repeat yesterday's sessions. When he bolted past me yesterday, it would have been easy for him to kick out at me as he went by and I wouldn't have been able to do anything about it. I'm grateful he didn't, but you never know what a scared or nervous horse might do. If he had the halter and lead rope on, I could have pulled his head toward me to swing his rear away and reduce the chances of him connecting if he did decide to kick out.