Monday, June 27, 2016

And Now for the Other Foot

I continue to work with Tex and the Fly Mask of Doom.  Some mornings he is fine with it.  A few days ago, he walked up to me in the pasture and lowered his head (just a smidge, but the intent was clear).  I slipped the mask over his ears and he stood perfectly quiet the entire time.  The past few days, have been more challenging.  Until this morning, he hasn't left but there has been a lot of flinching, and twitching, and pulling his head back.

I follow the same routine every morning.  I approach (if he doesn't get to me first) and we stand quietly for a few minutes.  He eats a cookie and I assess his tension level.  I stroke his neck, noting whether he is relaxed or whether the muscles under my hand are rock hard.  They were like boulders this morning, large and unyielding.  Eventually, he relaxes and bends his neck towards me.

"Ah," I say.  "That's better."

I stand, holding the fly mask, in front of me.  When he is bending, I lift it to his muzzle and he gives it a sniff.  This is the signal that I'm going to put on the mask.  I run my hand up his neck (no sudden moves toward his face) and put his near ear through the opening.  This is the most critical moment.  With my right hand, I rub behind his ears and ask him to relax and go with it.  Usually, that is enough to reassure him but sometimes he will pull his head back and take a step or two backwards.

This morning, as I stood with my right hand rubbing his poll and the mask half-way on, he snorted and exploded sideways, away from me.  As he launched himself away, his left front hoof smacked me in the ankle.  The pain was immediate and intense.  I doubled over and gasped.

When I stood back up, Tex was standing at a distance watching me and he was very, very worried.  I know he could feel the pain I was experiencing, and he thought he was in big trouble.  I tried to walk, and instead bent forward again, with my eyes watering.

Tex went into a corner and pooped - so he was definitely stressed about the situation.

When I straightened the second time, I was not alone.  Flash had walked over to me.  Flash is an aloof horse who normally doesn't give me the time of day.  More often than not, he will pin his ears when I walk past him.  Flash doesn't want to be bothered by anybody, except Brett.  So, I was surprised to see him standing there with his ears forward.  I turned to face Flash and he put his face against my chest with his nose nudging my belly.  Without even thinking, I leaned into him and stroked behind his ears.

"There, there" he said to me.  "I know it hurts.  Hold onto me until the pain is bearable."

When the pain dissipated, I realized that I was snuggling with Flash.  In the 14 years that we've had Flash, I have never done anything with him that remotely resembled snuggling. I gave his forehead a final thank-you rub and turned my attention back to Tex, who was still watching me intently.

I had to work with Tex for 10 minutes before he let me approach.  I told him I knew it was an accident, that I was a collateral damage victim, and that I didn't blame him.  We went back through the procedure and he tensed when I put his ear through, but didn't move away.  "Brave boy," I said, as I slipped the far ear into its hole.  Once both ears are in, he's fine.  I pulled the sides under his jaw and fastened the velcro.  And then I hobbled to the house.

It isn't broken; all my toes move and I can make a big circle with my foot.  There is a bruise and a swollen spot below my ankle bone but I think its going to be okay.


15 comments:

  1. Ouch!! So sorry to hear about your ankle, I feel your pain. So sweet of Flash to offer comfort in your time of need.

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  2. An American in TokyoJune 27, 2016 at 5:09 PM

    Ow!Ow!Ow!

    Poor Tex, he sure didn't mean to get you in his panic.
    Nice of Flash to come and offer you a hand!

    You have so much more patience than me!!
    (I would have probably yelled and scared Tex more.)

    I wonder what it is about the fly mask that bothers Tex?
    Because it's a new one?

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    1. Most of the reason Tex has trouble with the fly mask stems from how head shy he is in general. Somebody clearly hit him on the face in his past because any movement towards his face with your hand completely freaks him out. It took a long, long time to get him used to his old mask and this one is bigger and therefore, floppier. I know he will eventually be okay with the fly mask; it's just going to take time.

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    2. An American in TokyoJune 29, 2016 at 5:10 PM

      You are such a good soul! He is very lucky to have you (and Brett)!

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  3. Poor Tex. Poor you. Flash is a gem.
    I wonder how Tex would respond to clicker training?

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    1. I've thought about clicker training with him. I think he would do really well with it. It's been a long time -- maybe ten years -- since I've done any of that so I'll have to dig out a clicker and practice my coordination. I'm such a dork -- I can't get the timing right. Either I click too soon, or too often, or not at all. It must be like dancing; which I can't do either.

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  4. OH that had to have hurt! So neat that the horses could sence everything. I bet you have one heck of a bruise.

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  5. Ouch! I hope it is a superficial injury.

    Interesting about Flash. He was standing in for Brett.

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    1. Brett thanked Flash over and over again for comforting me. Flash got lots of cookies yesterday; from both of us.

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  6. Oh no! I'm glad you still have a foot to stand on, that must have hurt. Flash is very sweet to come and check you to make sure you were okay and lend support. They do surprise us sometimes. Tex will get it eventually it takes time to trust.

    It took our Donnie a long time to trust us. He was obviously hit in the head a lot too. We still have to come from the side when he is being haltered or for fly asks but he does tolerate it well now. We can never come directly at him from the front. I'd like to find the person who mistreated him sometime though.... I use the clicker with Donnie (sporadically) but he does do well whenever we play. It might help with Tex. For us it's not so much training behaviors though, it's more about giving him one on one attention and letting him feel he has a job that he does well. Even if it's only touching his nose to the cone for a treat. Feel better!

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    1. Donnie is just like Tex, it sounds like. And, like Donnie, Tex doesn't need clicker training for training -- we've worked out a method is successful for that (slow and steady) but it would give him something to be good at; and thereby build confidence which is sorely lacking on the ground.

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  7. This is whole thing is so touching. Flash, Tex. Amazing. By the way, I have used Arnica gel (from most pharmacies, health food stores, even Walmart) with a Lot of success for swelling and bruising. Non toxic and is hugely effective.

    Keep sharing about these wonderful critters. This should be chronicled as a book.

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    1. Thanks for the comment. Arnica is great stuff. We have some in the barn -- but of course I didn't think about it when I got hurt. I'll have to remember it next time.

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  8. Oh no! Poor you! Poor Tex! I can imagine he probably did feel bad. They do know when their herd mates are hurting -- as Flash demonstrated. That was quite kind of him to come to you and offer comfort. Some of my horses have been so scared at times they'd blow right by me, too. Any horse is capable. I hope it heals up fast.

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    1. Yeah, the thing about horses is they flee first and ask questions later -- and they weigh a lot more than we do. When Flash was comforting me I thought about the way horses are mirrors of our emotions -- he so clearly saw my pain. (Tex too; he just didn't know what to do about it)

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Thanks so much for commenting! I love the conversation.