I think anyone who has ever owned an animal understands that they all have their own distinct personality. For example, we have a cat that steals cash and receipts off the dresser to carry around the house. Many times the money for lunch is suddenly missing and is just as likely to be found in the closet as the kitchen. We've learned not to leave cash laying around. We have another cat that says "Bless you" or perhaps some other expletive any time you sneeze. For the record, you can't fake him out. It has to be a real sneeze, not an attempt at a fake one, or he doesn't react. He also loves to sleep flat on his back with all four legs stretched to the side. Anyway, my point is that all animals have personalities that interact with our own, which is part of the reason we like them. The challenge for us is to figure out their quirks and foibles in order to empathically mesh our lives together.
I wrote an earlier post where I talked about the Tao of Ashke, which was basically his outlook on life. Despite everything that has happened to him, he still seems to trust people, or maybe he trusts us and understands what we rescued him from. My philosophy has been to get him to work with me without breaking that trust, and so far the results have been unexpected, to say the least. Last night, however, gave me a peek into his soul.
We went to the barn and although he hadn't finished his dinner (he does eat slow, which is a good thing, but may make it difficult to ever house him with another horse) he was interested in whatever entertainment we were providing. I walked him out of his stall into the grooming area, which he did without hesitation. Amazing! J and I groomed him, getting more long hair off so he looks like a patchwork quilt. He pawed at the ground with his front right foot every time I touched a place that was itchy. He let me do his belly with no issues at all. And all four feet. Its good that the farrier is coming out soon, because the boy likes to paw with his front right. I can see wear marks on the bottom of his hoof.
When we were done grooming him I decided to give him the opportunity to show me he could walk without the come-along. He did. No problem. We did stop a couple of times to look around, but then he picked right back up and walked without hesitation. Progress! I was so pleased!
At the arena I let him loose. He walked over to the fence and stared off into the distance. Both J and I tried to get him to run with us, but he wasn't interested at all. I think he was missing T. Every time T has ran with him, he has raced all over the arena, but last night T wasn't able to come and so Ashke wasn't interested. After a couple of minutes of coaxing, we decided we would do a walk-about.
Ashke was wonderful. We walked out of the barn yard and down the lane to the street. At the street we turned left and walked to the corner. At the corner we turned right up a slight hill to a dead end that turns into a walking trail/bike trail. We walked down that trail until we hit the road. And then we walked back. Ashke kept us at a pretty good pace, with his ears up and although he stopped at every pile of horse poo and the occasional mouthful of grass, for the most part he was interested in going.
I think that desire to go - to look at what is over the hill or around the bend or just plain down the road, is an integral part of an endurance horse. A horse that doesn't want to go or doesn't like to go is going to hate going for 25 or 50 or 100 miles over terrain they have never seen. Ashke loves looking at stuff, sniffing and snorting quietly as we walk. And his attitude at the obstacles we faced was amazing.
Car passing on the road: Check!
Large pile of debris: Check!
Walking on asphault: Got a funny look at the change in tempo, but still no problem.
Walking between white vinyl fencing through a fairly small opening: snorting, but no hesitation.
Walking between the huge upright construction fencing announcing the road closure: again snorting, but no hesitation.
Bicycle on the bike path: his head came up and he turned around to see what it was, but was interested, not scared.
There were only two incidents in our walk-about. The first was when we were making our way across a subdivision road. There was a noise behind us and Ashke skittered around, snorting, to take a look. His beautiful eyes were wide open and his head was up but he wasn't scared so much as curious. There was a family unloading their SUV in the opening to their garage. There were lots of lights and movement, and it was getting pretty dark by that point, so it was difficult to see. After a moment of looking, I asked Ashke to walk and we did. He didn't try to stare behind us or act nervous. He was just interested.
The second incident was when we were almost home. We were walking on the opposite side of the road from where we were when we walked out. There was a mailbox right on the edge of the road. Ashke swung his nose up to see what it was and bumped it. It clanged and bounced around. Ashke skittered sideways and behind me a touch, putting me between him and that evil mailbox. He didn't try to bolt or even to push me forward, he just was trying to turn to face the mailbox. And then he snorted. I laughed. He has such a great personality.
In retrospect, I am so glad I got him. And I have to thank L and JJ again for driving me down to pick him up. Ashke is going to be an incredible mount, a wonderful partner in adventure and an exceptional endurance horse. At least the peek I have had into his soul makes me believe so . . .