I have been frustrated and close to fed up lately with the lack of bonding going on with the horse. I was just thinking that he didn't respect me as his heard leader and he was asserting his dominance over me at any given chance. So, yesterday I went out with a renewed sense of hope and a lunge whip. I worked the horse in the round pen, fed him his soup (I've been adding 2 quarts of water to his food because I am paranoid about his water intake), and then started with my plan. The plan was to approach him and keep the whip with me. When he was friendly and had his ears forward I would pet him, if he acted aggressive, I would pop the whip and send him off. We went back and forth with this for a while and eventually he started letting me rub his forehead without pinning his ears. Then he lowered his head and I rubbed the top of his neck. I moved to the side and rubbed his neck and as soon as he glared at me, I sent him off. It was like for the first time in his life, he was enjoying being petted! He would step towards me if I backed off and he was seeking out affection!
Today I went back out with the same intentions and worked with him again. When I went to catch him, he walked up and faced me, I scratched his face and he lowered his head into the halter. For the first time, he didn't pin his ears and shake his head when I approached him with the halter! I worked him in the round pen again and he was fine, as usual. Every once in a while I would stop him and pet him. He acted the same as yesterday, never pinning his ears. I started moving back towards his shoulder and belly. I scratched his belly and back, he just lowered his head and licked his lips. I took him back to his pen and fed him and waited for him to finish so we could bond again. I walked out with the longe whip and he turned to me and waited for me to come to him. I scratched his forehead and neck, he immediately put his head down and licked his lips, which was probably due to them being covered in soup rather than him being submissive. I moved back on his body and scratched and rubbed all over him. He only glared at me twice- not really even an ear pin. Once was about his girth area, which he later was fine with having it rubbed and scratched and the second was when I tried to scratch the underside of his tail. That is supposed to be a nice scratch spot, but he clamped his tail shut hard, so I sent him off. He actually enjoyed our scratch session and seemed to understand what we were doing. Before I left, I put my arm around his neck and hugged him and he turned his head towards me. It was our first mutual hug. I felt about 10 feet tall. Then, almost as instinct, I burried my face in his fur behind his cheek and breathed in. I don't think I had ever gotten so close to him before. He was relaxed and calm. Smelling him just flooded me with emotion, I almost teared up. I think the most emotional part of it was that he was free to leave this whole time, but he chose to stay with me and he chose to be submissive, calm, and passive. I can't describe the feeling I left with- a day where my horse didn't pin his ears or act aggressive, a day where I was able to let myself relax and love him.