Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Tao of Ashke

I am of the firm belief that everything that happens leaves its mark on both people and animals. We view the world through the lens of our experience and sometimes it is possible to know what has happened to a person or animal by the manner in which they react to situations.

For example, I am an optimist and have a belief that people are basically good. What this means is that I believe most people will make the right choice more often then not. I don't usually yell at people in traffic, I slow down and let people merge in front of me rather than speeding them up to cut them off. J on the other hand, is a pessimist and believes people are basically out for themselves and given the opportunity they will always make a decision that favors themselves over anyone else. Over the past 16 years we have rubbed off on each other and now fall somewhere in the middle for the most part. However, if J is driving in horrible traffic she reverts to her belief that everyone is out to get her and she reacts accordingly.

Animals are the same way. They can tell you in the way they behave, or in how they flinch, what has happened to them in the past. We have rescued a fair number of animals and all of them have been able to tell us what has happened to them in the past. For example, our dog Joey was about eight months old when we got her as a rescue. She is terrified of men. Whenever a man approaches her to pet her she will act in a submissive manner and pee. She is also scared when voices are raised around her and will cower or hide. Even after almost nine years with us, she still behaves that way in those situations.

We have a cat we rescued five years ago when he was dumped on our front porch. He is a wonderful cat and loves T immensely, however we are pretty sure he was never given enough food before he came to us. If his dish is too empty, he stresses out, trying to wake us up in the middle of the night to give him food, going so far as to nibble on fingertips or earlobes in an attempt to wake us up. When he is given as much food as he wants he gorges himself into being sick. It is a fine balance to give him enough food that he doesn't stress about being without, while preventing him from eating until he pukes.

After seeing Ashke on March 9th, I was expecting him to have issues. In fact, subconsciously I was expecting him to behave the same way Keili did. Keili was the half Arabian/half American Saddlebred that I purchased in 1991. I had great hopes for her. She had the action and confirmation to be a dressage horse and I really wanted to learn to ride that way. I had no idea how badly damaged she was mentally when I brought her home. At the barn I brought her to was a woman who worked there who thought any horse in the barn was hers to do with as she wished. Her idea of how to train a horse was significantly different from mine and I believe she made Keili worse than she would have been anyway. Keili was always scared. From the first time I touched her to the moment I finally sold her, she was terrified. Nothing I could do alleviated that. We could ride the same trail we had been riding for months and she would see a root sticking out of the ground that had been there the day before and instead of galloping over it like she had the day before, she would suddenly shy to the side. This usually happened when we were at a hard gallop and I would tuck and go off of her. Her sense of self-preservation was poor. She was just as apt to race into the street in front of a cement mixer as she was to run in the opposite direction. She couldn't be tied. She broke more halters and lead ropes than I could count. The decision to sell her (I gave her away, basically) was because I had finally realized that every time I handled her, I risked her killing me or herself.

I don't think I realized how scared I was that Ashke was going to be Keili reincarnated and how my shopping for a purebred Arabian was driven in part by my desire to not make the same mistake twice. When I was given Ashke I was hesitant on the inside because I hadn't picked him out, I didn't know his history and a part of me was really worried he would be psycho. Some of that fear was alleviated by researching his background, learning about the farm where he had been bred and how he had been handled. My fear was way under the surface, but was the driving force behind my research. When we first saw Ashke I felt like I was being given something that was broken. He was so thin that I couldn't see how he could possibly want to deal with people any more. J kept telling me he was alright inside, that his spirit wasn't damaged. He was broken in some ways, but as I have found out, not broken in so many more ways.

Friday night when we got there I was expecting a fight and was hoping to sidestep the conflict. The first time Ashke pulled back, the little voice in the back of my mind said, "oh no, here we go again." And then he stopped pulling back and he moved forward. In the two years I had Keili, she never moved forward. She would pull back until something broke. I felt my expectations lift. When he slipped in the trailer trying to turn around, I expected him to charge past me to get out, but instead he waited for me to lead him out. Even scared and shaking, he waited. Every time we exited the trailer he waited.

At lunch on Saturday, stopped by the side of the road, I expected Ashke to react to the traffic flying past where we had stopped. He could have cared less. He was much more interested in what we were eating for lunch, in caging slices of bread from L or in walking across the empty lot to inspect the building. He wasn't spooky, he was interested and engaged. When we stopped at the Flying J in Limon there was a man powerwashing the gas station islands. It was noisy and loud, with debris and water flying every where. I was expecting panic or stress from Ashke. Instead, he stuck his nose out the window and turned his body to watch what was going on. He was interested, curious and engaged.

Every time Ashke has been put into a situation where he has faced something new or been asked to endure a new activity, he has reacted in a way that has blown my mind. His basic outlook on life is one of TRUST in the people around him. Last night I needed to blanket him with a blanket that reminds me of a Carhartt coat, lined with fleece. It was crackly and noisy and completely new. When I got it over his back, he tried to move forward, shivering and shaking. I put my hand on his neck and talked calmly to him. I could feel him shaking under my hand, his muscles quivering as I rubbed his neck right under his mane. He settled right down and let me fasten the buckles to keep the blanket in place. It was an amazing moment for me. He SETTLED DOWN as I was rubbing him, despite the stress of something new draped over his haunches. Not only that, he settled so much T was able to lead him up and down the barn and out into the arena with the blanket on him.

Ashke had to have had a positive relationship with the people in his past. He still sees people as a good thing in his life (not all people - there have been a couple of people he has met at the barn that he does not like). He sees me as a good thing, as someone who can comfort him when he is stressed, as someone who will make things better not worse. That is an amazing thing.

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