The weeks rolled on and Dax's behaviour started to change subtly. When he'd first arrived in Bristol he'd seemed happy to walk around on a lead rope and follow me wherever I took him: into the stable, into the field or around the yard. He was less confident about going out into the lane, so we'd only take a few paces then turned round and come back. I was aiming to build on this gradually, so that I could take him for walks and we could both have some exercise.
Things didn't quite go to plan however!
Dax started to plant his feet and refuse to walk - anywhere! Particularly into his stable. His nippy-ness was also increasing. There were days when we'd seem to have a good connection - he'd call to me when I arrived at the yard, or we'd play in the school together - then days when he'd shut down and seem to not want to know me or engage with me in any way.
I've found it very interesting - and rather un-nerving - how this situation seemed somehow to have left me feeling so helpless and unsure of what to do. It's as if all my training and experience just left me and I felt at a complete loss! I think it was all just too close, and my mind froze. It also left me feeling unable to listen to - and trust - my instincts and gut feelings. I knew they were there, and occasionally they would surface briefly, but somehow I couldn't quite get a handle on them, or follow them through. They seemed like mists that slipped away faster the more I tried to grasp them.
Thankfully one of the other women on the yard is very experienced at taking on horses who have had difficult experiences, and she's great at trying to get inside their heads to see things from their perspective and to understand what it is they're struggling with and how it can be turned around. We explored all that was going on when Dax was showing this behaviour. We considered whether he might be in pain - emotionally or physically. We considered his eyesight. We also wondered about his past experiences and how these might be impacting on him.
After much gentle and patient work, my friend has helped Dax to get to the point where he will happily walk himself into the stable. He now sees it as a safe space out of the heat and away from the flies, where he can tuck into his hay or other treats that I leave for him (usually bits of carrot and celery). We think he was struggling with going from a bright space into a darker one (horses eyes are more sensitive to contrast and can take a while to adjust from light to dark conditions) and also the fact that there is a slight step down into his stable. He always seemed to get stuck at the threshold and then try to 'jump' or rush the rest of the way in. He has now learnt to find his own stable and to walk in calmly by himself and I'm so proud of him, and grateful to my friend for all her support.
Next week I'll share more about my journey with this beautiful enigma and all that I'm learning.