Its been a quiet week with Tex. We had scorching weather through Sunday so the horses spent the days in the barn, where it is cooler, and went back out to the pastures at night. There are fewer flies in the barn so the horses also got a break from their fly masks.
Tex met me at the gate each morning and walked to his stall on a loose lead rope. When I removed his halter, in the stall, he politely ducked his head and quietly waited for its removal. There were a couple of exceptions though and they involved watermelon. Tex loves watermelon and Brett added a few pieces to the horses vitamin buckets in the morning. The first time, Tex spotted the watermelon and dove for it before I could get his halter off. The second day, he started licking his lips as soon as we walked in and could barely hold still for me to get the halter off. I tried working with him on lowering his head, but he was very impatient with me -- "outta my way, there's watermelon!"
I did notice huge improvement in Tex's comfort with me in the stall. Up until now, Tex has been extremely claustrophobic in the stall. It was so bad when we first got him that he would snatch a bite of hay and then run into his turn-out to eat it; he went back-and-forth until his pile of hay was gone. He did reach a point where he would stay in the stall and eat, but only if he was alone. If Brett or I walked into the stall, he walked outside where he would wait for the halter or to be groomed or whatever we were doing. Just this week he became comfortable with me in the stall. The first time, I walked in and he turned to walk out. Then he paused, and turned, and walked back to me. I was jumping up and down, doing fist pumps inside, but, outwardly, I just praised him verbally for being an exceptionally brave and wonderful boy.
We stopped bringing the horses into the barn Monday when the temperatures dropped to 90-ish (instead of 100-ish). Yesterday, before I could ask Tex to lower his head for the fly mask, he did so on his own. And he kept his head low while I put it on. No drama whatsoever. It seems like a small thing, but it was huge for Tex.
He's not "cured" and he never will be. But, he's holding it together for me. He's learning to trust me -- and to trust Brett as well. He still has his moments, and he always will. Horses are programmed to "run first, ask questions later." There is no middle step, like we have, that says "wait, this might be safe. I'll investigate and then decide." This is particularly true for situations that involve a past experience of pain, injury or fear. They become hardwired to flee; particularly if their first experience with something was bad. The good news is that, with time and work, they can develop a bond of trust with a person that is strong enough for them to keep the lid on. But the flee reflex is always there and if they are with someone other than their bonded person, they may not be able to keep calm.
Horses that are raised in a safe, fair environment don't have many flee patterns hardwired into their brains. If their initial experience with a trailer, or a halter, or a human is positive then they don't react with flight. Additionally, some horse breeds and personalities are more prone to worry and "run first" than others. Quarter horses, in general, are level-headed citizens so Tex is this strange mix of calm and friendly, blended with "holy crap, I'm outta here."
Tex did react with 'flee" twice in the past week. The first time, I was wearing a light jacket. I reached my hand to him, he took one sniff of my sleeve, and jumped backwards. I took a step forward, and he turned and walked away. I lifted my arm and said "go, then. Get out of here." He trotted three steps, stopped, turned and walked back to me. The second time, I lifted my hand and scratched my neck (bugs, ugh). He snorted and jumped back. But, again, he paused and then immediately came back to me. He's never going to be rid of the initial fearful response, but what I love is how he deals with it now. He doesn't melt down, he comes right back to me.