This winter, I have made an effort to have Percy out with other horses more. He is out with them daily in the summer, but for various logistical reasons, it's more difficult in the winter. But I began to wonder if his hyper vigilance could be reduced by having more company more consistently. I realized that he is the only one who does not have nose-to-nose contact with anyone when he is in his paddock. The lesson ponies are together and have their own shed; the other ponies share a paddock and a shed; Mariah has her own paddock and stall access, but shares a fenceline with one set of ponies, but Percy's paddock doesn't allow him to reach anyone if he is alone. He is surrounded by all the others- on the southwest, west and east sides. I noticed that anything appearing from those directions doesn't bother him. It's novelty to the north and south that worry him...there are no other horses between him and the horizon. Mariah always hangs out right along the fenceline with the ponies, and they do the same with her. Percy hangs out next to the fence which keep him closest to either set of ponies, but he can't reach them. Hm.
Weather conditions have assisted me this winter as we've had some nice snow- not too much rain and (knock on wood), no miserably icy footing. If there is precipitation, he stays alone since there is only room for one under shelter in his paddock. But any days that are precipitation free, I put Mariah in with him. On days I will be home to juggle if necessary, I also put the ponies in with him. I do think it has helped. One windy day after I had fed hay, I was leaving the paddock when big gust of wind caused a blue tarp covering some round bales in the bunker suddenly flapped up over the concrete wall with a crack. All three youngsters startled...and then went right back to eating. Now I have seen Percy react to that same piece of plastic before. If it's windy, he can stand and stare at it, sure it's going to come over that wall and eat him. He was right along the fence next to it as that's where I had coincidentally put the hay piles. He did not respond any more than the other two. Usually I see their different temperaments in a situation like that. Ande is pretty unreactive, Rumer usually startles and then calms, but Percy leaps away in horror and then stares. But all three were exactly the same (Ande was justifiably startled by the suddenness of it). So that was just one example of my feeling that he is far better off emotionally with company...right in with him, not just within sight.
The next marvelous thing I noticed was how he responds to me in the presence of some excitement. Ande and Rumer love to be let in with him as his paddock is bigger than theirs and well, it's just plain different. So they get pretty excited when they can see what I'm up to. They start pacing back and forth, pushing each other which leads to making faces at each other and then heels start flying and the wild rumpus has begun. The easiest way for me to move them is to let them into the round pen from their paddock, then open the round pen gate and let them in with Percy. Once in the round pen, it's all they can do to keep a lid on it through their anticipation. I click and treat them for standing while I fiddle with the gate. Percy comes over and so I offer a fist through the panel for him to target, and ask him to back away from the gate. He complies, I open the gate, and Ande and Rumer tear through and explode leaping and bucking and farting into the new paddock. But Percy stands and waits. I click and treat. Shut the gate, click and treat. And I look into his eyes and he is just as quiet and placid as, well, as I could possibly hope for. He doesn't look like he's struggling to hold onto his sanity in order to do what's expected. He just looks happy to be with me and being asked for well-known behavior. He follows me to the fenceline as I leave, ignoring the mayhem behind him and the hay piles. So he gets several long hugs and rubs before I leave.
So THAT is my glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. If this work has truly created a horse who doesn't notice chaos when it's right around him, then hopefully we can continue on to create a horse who can manage the world.