Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Wednesdays with Tex: Meltdown

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.

13 comments:

  1. Sometimes highly reactive horses benefit from supplementation with magnesium and thiamine (vitamin B-1) - I know Mark has recommended these to people. I don't use a lot of supplements, but have found that this one:

    http://www.statelinetack.com/item/animed-via-calm/BWA59/

    has made a big difference to Red, who tends to be very nervous, anxious and reactive. This one also has tryptophan in it. Don't know if it would make any difference for Tex, but it might be worth a try.

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    1. Tex has been on magnesium for a number of months. I put him on it at the same time we treated him for ulcers and he improved. I'm not sure if it was one or the other, or both, but it had definitely taken the edge off. Our vet said she has something stronger we can use if the magnesium isn't helping enough. I'm not quite ready to go there.

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  2. There must be something about this mask that is triggering a memory with him. It really sounds like he can't control himself.

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    1. Either the fly mask or having something put across his face; I've wondered what it is, too, that sets him off.

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  3. I'm wondering if Tex might have missed you while you were away and gotten confused because he didn't interact with you for few days. I'm sure he'll come around again though. Sometimes it's three steps forward and one step back.

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    1. Tex is definitely better with daily interaction. The repetition of a daily routine and interaction helps him settle. Being gone didn't help for sure.

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  4. Poor Tex! He is lucky you are so patient with him. Oak feels that way about the saddle and we are working on that right now. Baby steps with these nervous, skeptical equines.

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  5. I wish I had a suggestion. It almost sounds like his visual perception is impaired. But the other perception--memory--can be so strong.

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    1. When we took him in a number of months ago for a complete evaluation, I specifically asked our vet about his eyes. She did a thorough examination and said that they were fine. So, I think it is a memory thing.

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  6. An American in TokyoJuly 7, 2016 at 10:13 PM

    Oh no!! Poor Tex!! I wonder whatever is the matter? All of a sudden, too! It's great that you are so patient with him.

    I've been watching a lot of Warwick Schiller's videos lately. Do you know him? I like the way he thinks and explains. Not that there is any miracle cure for Tex, but maybe something helpful(?) to add to all your other tools for helping him deal with life's scary things?

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    1. I'm not familiar with Warwick Schiller. There are many excellent trainers out there. The methods used by Mark Rashid resonate with me and I'm a strong believer in picking a trainer and then staying the course. Of course, if I disagree with the philosophical or physical approach of a trainer, I don't stay but I continue to be impressed by Mark -- and his method of softness and understanding is working very well with Tex.

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  7. Oh Annette, this just breaks my heart. Poor Tex! Oh I cannot even imagine how awful he must feel to react in this way. Just keep doing what you're doing with him. It takes the time that it takes. You will get there! Just practice patience and consistency, always with him. With everything in his world. He will come through for you, and he will feel so much better. And sometimes, for whatever reason, it seems to be the darkest before the light. Keeping you and Tex in my prayers.

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Thanks so much for commenting! I love the conversation.