He's been owned and loved by a woman since he was 6 and he is very old now. But he has retained those bad memories.
To say we're 'discounting' previous history is not in the least the same as saying we're not being considerate of the horse & how they feel about stuff. Just means we don't 'pussyfoot' around them or avoid certain stuff because of (real or perceived)previous experiences, but deal with whatever is in front of us at the time. Regardless of the reason
. Horses are very forgiving, but correct, they never forget. And as they don't think/remember rationally, happenings that were previously associated with fear/pain can indeed trigger the same behaviour, even years later, **if better associations have not replaced those 'memories'.
My horse is now around 18yo & when he was 4yo, green & I'd just had a second baby, I thought it best for him to have some training with someone else. Long story short, after only a week(he was supposed to stay longer), he was frightened & confused, very hard to catch, sore nose & headshy, sore mouth from a bit they said they wouldn't use.... To this day, when he's stressed & I go to take the halter off, he gapes his mouth as if he's dropping a bit - which he hasn't had since that week. I could get him over his bit association with careful training but I don't ride him in a bit so have ignored that.
My kid's first pony was great to handle & ride for them, never an issue. He actively comes to put his nose in the halter. But many years after owning him, they decided they wanted to do ponyclub and rules state that minors need to ride with a bit. So I bought him a leather bridle & bit... and when I first pulled it out to show him, he FREAKED! Obvious terror, didn't want me going anywhere near him with it, thank you very much! Obviously something happened before we got him long ago. It took some considerate approach & retreat to convince him that it was OK, and rewards to instead associate it with Good Stuff. He was then fine about it.
Because she doesn't treat ME like this and I am her main caretaker this issue has never "needed" to be schooled. It is a reflection of a deep fear of being removed of her food which I hypothesize was a training tactic used to control and dominate.
Maybe it's a 'deep fear reaction'. Maybe though it's just her natural behaviour. A lot of horses are like that, who have never been starved, but just a 'dominant' personality & never been taught it's 'bad manners'/against the rules to treat people in the same manner as they'd show 'dominance' over another horse at their food. Of course, we all have to 'pick our battles' & don't need to overcome every problem, as I illustrated above, but regardless of the reason for her behaviour, that is one thing I would definitely want to work on. What if you were unwell, or couldn't look after her any more?
She will allow me to touch her face and ears but will not tolerate anyone else getting their hands near her head. I suspect she was either hit in the face or twitched.
This too may be perfectly normal, natural behaviour. I don't like people reaching for my face either... She may or may not have been 'abused' and it doesn't matter either way. If you want to allow her to say no like that, fine - though it will make veterinary & dental work difficult and also more stressful for her too. Or you can teach her that it's OK - even a Good Thing to tolerate this.
she doesn't get a lot of multi-human handling because most would not understand nor treat her with the respect and consideration she deserves.
of previous 'abuse' or whatever, they deserve respectFUL & considerate handling.