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.