Last week, I helped Brett with morning chores before leaving for the airport to pick up Camille for our mother-daughter getaway. Tex had been flighty about his fly mask for the past few days and it took some time to get it on. He stepped back a few times, but never actually left me. I suggested that Brett leave the mask on for the days that I was gone so he wouldn't have to deal with putting it on and taking it off. He readily agreed. Half the time, Tex won't let him him close enough to touch him - much less deal with the dreaded fly mask.
Saturday evening I was home in time for chores. Tex was wary when I went into the pasture to take off his mask and he jumped backwards when I undid the Velcro. Then he stood, on eggshells, while I took it off.
The next morning, I walked into the pasture with his fly mask and instead of coming to greet me, he turned and left. Eventually, I was able to approach, give him a cookie and stand by his side -- but his head was high and his muscles were tense. I gave him the cue for putting on the fly mask and he left. At full speed. And he didn't stop running, or start breathing, for what felt like an eternity.
I hung his fly mask on a fence post and got his halter. While I waited for Tex to stop running, Brett cleaned all three pastures, put out hay, and walked down to the mailbox for the morning paper.
Flash seemed embarrassed by his pasture mate's behavior. He came over to me, and stood by my shoulder, inviting me to stroke his face. As I walked towards Tex, Flash followed me. Tex watched me interacting with Flash but it didn't help his anxiety level. Usually, when Tex has a meltdown he runs to the far end of the pasture and then watches me approach. I walk slowly, but with clear purpose. When I get to his bubble, he tenses, I pause, and he usually relaxes and let's me into his space. Sunday, I couldn't even walk in his direction. If I walked, he galloped, snorting and striking at the air. If I stood still, he trotted in a wide circle around me and then slid to a stop behind Flash.
Flash had finished more than his share of the hay before Tex finally let me into his space. He accepted the halter with no fuss, dropping his head for me while his sides heaved and sweat darkened his red coat. I walked to the pasture gate and he followed on a loose lead. Tex pulled back once when I put ear number one into the fly mask hole, but then tolerated the rest.
Sunday evening, he was still nervous. I decided to leave the mask on him and just use the time to hang out; to take down his tension level. With his tension high, we weren't going to accomplish anything as it was. I ran my fingers from his poll, down his crest, across his back, and down his hind leg; stopping whenever his lips quivered so he could release. By the time I finished he was relaxed. I'm sure I could have removed the fly mask but I didn't. Tex looked at me a few times in disbelief before wandering over to his hay. Monday morning, he was better but not totally sure. So, again, I did nothing more than say good morning and give him a friendly rub.
Monday evening, I went into the pasture with no agenda whatsoever. I was going to let Tex tell me if he wanted his fly mask removed. He and Flash were at the far corner of the pasture and, when he saw me, Tex walked halfway to me and then stopped. I walked towards him and he turned and walked off. Not yikes; not "help", not even "I'm not sure." No, it was "I changed my mind."
I have one rule with Tex. He isn't allowed to turn his butt to me. He can leave and run away and be scared, but he cannot turn his back to me. So, when he turned and walked away I clucked at him and raised my arm. Nothing. I went back to the pasture gate and got his halter and lead rope. I had no intention of haltering him but I wanted the lead rope to swing. If he was going to play games, I needed to be able to send him away when he turned his back on me.
Back in the pasture, Flash approached me with Tex following, his head on Flash's flank. I gave Flash's face a rub and then walked up to Tex. He stood still and didn't leave so I never did use the rope. I left it looped over my shoulder. I stroked Tex's neck and told him I appreciated him not running off. He stood for a minute, then nudged my hand. Okay, Buddy, I'll take off your fly mask and then you can have a cookie.
Since then, I've been putting on Tex's halter in the morning before the fly mask. It's less worrisome to him, and with the halter on, he is much braver. I want him to be successful and confident; not worried, with failure escalating to panic.