My wife, who just has a God-given gift with animals, spent all afternoon Sunday just touching and petting him and rubbing his neck, making sure the human contact was ever present. Then she hand fed him a small handful of feed and gently put his halter on and walked him around. Kaz the Great Dane wanted in on the action but Angus wanted nothing to do with him. He would plant a small kick in his direction whenever the big guy approached his hind quarters. It wasn't vicious, just a warning.
Yesterday was my time to get to know the newcomer. Now not being as adept and natural with animals as my wife, I knew I had to take my time. First, I gave him a little handful of grain. I put a little grain in my palm, fed it, and then repeated. After three or four tries he took right to it.
Next was my first big challenge: getting him to accept the halter from anyone other than my "Dr. Doolittle." Taking it slow, I held it behind me while I gently rubbed his head and neck. I did this for a few minutes and then I just put the halter in front of me in open position while gently putting the lead line around his neck. At first Angus would just look at it. Then he actually sniffed it with his head very close, so I attempted slowly to slip it on, at which he balked. I went through this motion several times until he allowed me to place it over his ears and hook it securely. Then we took a little walk, leisurely and letting him take the lead in where he wanted to go.
I repeated these actions several times during the day and by late afternoon when I walked to the gate calling his name he immediately looked up and walked over to me. Oh, and I also kept in reserve one special item: peppermints. Angus loves peppermints so after a session I would give him one as a special treat. Within minutes the first thing he would do when approaching me was sniff my pockets.
He now accepts me as being okay to be around and we'll soon go on to more advanced steps. Ultimately our plan is to teach him to pull a small pony cart. He's strong as an ox and learns fast and will do fine. It might be fun to let him pull me on the cart out to the mailbox on the main road. Whatever we do, the plan is to get him in a routine where he has something required of him daily. Animals need a task, particularly one like this strong little pony.
I hope this post isn't boring for you but it is intended to pass on a simple but important lesson. In dealing with all living things, humans and animals, nothing is more important than building trust. With trust we grow to love and respect one another, without it we become cold and calculating, not someone anyone or anything truly wants to be around. God expects us to display love, whether it be for a human or an animal under our care. And while love can take different forms, it always requires caring and tenderness. And it takes time to develop.
I truly know that my little Shetland pony is quickly picking up on the fact that we are quickly growing to love him. And the trust that is gradually following will last a lifetime. Since his life expectancy will probably be longer than mine, our time together will be both fun and memorable. God's hand is clearly involved here and I am sure He is happy that a cute little pony that needed a good home has found one. His work is done through us in many different ways. Hallelujah!