Yesterday, my neighbor had a visitor whom she called a "horse whisperer". He was a very nice man, who obviously loved horses. He was also going through some emotional turmoil. Silk took one look at him and headed deep into her stall and stayed there until he left. I didn't try to coax her out. I accepted her decision because I felt that she was sensing something about him and wanted to keep her distance. It did remind me of a time when it was scary to go in the barn with her.
When I first bought Silk, at age ten, she had been confined her whole life in a box stall. She was a show horse, perfectly groomed and intensely trained. They never turned her out with other horses. If she was lucky, she got a half hour in the round pen each day to buck and roll. Right after I bought this horse of my dreams, I was really horrified when she turned her back to me and tried to kick out each time I went into her stall. Immediately, I ditched the fancy prison and moved her to an outdoor corral with a small in and out shed where she could sniff her horse buddies over the pipe corral fence. The change was instantly noticeable. I never forgot how territorial she was about being in an enclosed space.
In Virginia, the horses were in the barn at night and out in the pasture with the herd all day. Silk still acted annoyed if I came into the stall with her. I always made an effort to groom her in there, but I could tell that her stall was a space where she wasn't really happy.
As soon as both horses moved into our backyard in Connecticut, I began spending a lot of time with them in our barn. It's not really a barn, merely a couple of large stalls with dutch doors on either end and windows on the sides. Someday, we'll have the perfect new barn, but for now I have to admit that this one works quite well. I realized during our first summer that once winter arrived, the horses would be confined inside fairly often. I started making an effort to do things in the stalls with the horses around me. I mucked and groomed and hung out after feeding. Some days, I even sit on a stool and read a book while Silk dozes next to me.
Their stalls are their safe space, but I need to also feel safe in there. With our first snowfall and ice storm yesterday, I really appreciated how easy it was to take care of the girls even though they spent the whole day indoors. The vet, the farrier, my daughter and her friends can come and go from our barn without any stress or drama. So, when a stranger came by and my horse retreated into her stall, I respected her reaction and gave her some space of her own.