I had a conversation with J yesterday about my desire and focus for Ashke and how it differed from my relationship with Queenie. I thought it might make a good post for anyone interested in the difference.
To start, I must provide some history about my relationship with the horse. I can remember riding as young as 4 or so, mostly behind my mom on a big black mare named Button. It set the stage for the focus of my life. Close to my 6th birthday, I was put up on a green broke Palomino-Appalousa mare named Muffin, who took off with me down a steep hill, up and over an empty canal bank lined with Russian Olive trees and back to the stable. I stayed on. I ended up scratched and bleeding, in tears. The owner of the stable, known to me as Uncle Merril, told me to stop my blubbering, shorten my reins and take control if I wanted to ride his horses. I did. It became my heart's deepest desire to be a horse owner at that moment. It was the only thing I wished for on every first star, every birthday cake candle.
On my eight birthday my parents got me a Shetland pony, named Seabisquit, from my cousins on my father's side. They assured us that he was wonderful, well trained and easy to handle. That was a bald faced lie. The first time I tried to ride him I was taken under all thirteen of our apple trees, clinging to the pad saddle in terror of my life, as he tried to bash my brains out against the trunks. I finally let go and came limping back, cut and bruised, but not beaten. Our relationship was never anything other than a battle of wits and nerve. I can not count the number of times I bailed off of his back because any other choice was too dangerous. I broke my hand in one of the falls. I'm lucky I didn't break anything else. He bit. He kicked. At about the age of ten I had twin hoofprints bruised into my pre-adolescent chest because of him. He would grab the bit in his teeth and tear at a dead run for home the first moment he could. I would wait until we were close and the ground was soft to punch him in the side of the face, knocking the bit loose and allowing me to slow him slightly, so I could bail off. He was a nasty, mean piece of work, but I only ever came off of him by choice.
It did, however, teach me at a very young age, that brute force does sometimes produce results. It was not a great lesson to learn, and I am sad to say, had a lasting effect on my relationship with horses during my youth.
The year I was thirteen, I was given Queenie for Christmas. She was going on four, green broke and from an Appalousa stallion my Uncle Merril owned. She was three quarters Appy and a quarter Arabian. I spent hours training her, riding in circles and working on the walk/trot/canter for showing her in 4-H. Our first state fair she won four blue ribbons and two rosettes. I think we would have swept the State competition if she hadn't caught something at the County Fair. Most of my riding with Queenie was either transportation - I rode my horse where most other kids rode their bikes - entertainment - I rode my horse where other kids rode their bikes, watched TV, etc. - or freedom. We went every where it was possible to go on horse back and it was pretty common for me to spend 8 hours a day riding her. My only concerns were her staying sound (shoes in the summer) and not exhausting her (putting her away dry and cool). Most of the time I rode bareback in a simple bridle with either a low curb bit with a roller, or a mechanical hackamore. Although there was one summer when I spent most of my time riding Queenie with a rope looped around her neck, not being able to afford the fancy rubber riding rein that came with tiny tacks on the front edge. An idea that makes me shudder now. After we aged out of 4-H I started posse work, riding with an all women's posse made up of 24 riders that rode at various rodeos and in competitions. For ten years Queenie represented freedom and a relationship with a horse that I trusted and who trusted me. But it was very focused on riding - where, when, how long, with whom. My focus was on results, and although I loved her very much and spent a ton of time with her, I am sure she struggled to understand what I wanted. And I never really understood what our relationship could have been. My riding her was almost always results driven - we were training for a show, she was carrying me somewhere, etc. Sometimes it was about the joy of being together, but I think now that was more about the freedom she represented in my life than anything else.
I wasn't the same person then that I am now. And just like I was a much better mom in my late 30's than I would have been if I had been a mom in my 20's, I am a much better horse owner, a much more patient rider, and an all around better person now then I was when I was younger. Age does, sometimes, add wisdom.
Riding Ashke is wonderful, but so is spending time with him doing other things. I am interested in building a relationship where both of our needs are met, where the trust is high, and where his comfort and interest are as engaged as my own. I love that he loves playing with the ball. I want to create an activity where he is going to want to play, where he is as engaged in moving and protecting the ball as he can be. I want him to know that he can be himself and that I trust him to take care of us both. I want him to know he can dodge and move and even rear a little and that I will recognize that behavior for what it is. I want him to want to take care of me, not because I demand it, but because he wants for me to be happy and safe with him, the same way I want him to be happy and safe with me. With Queenie I would demand obediance, with Ashke, I am much more interested in asking him, in encouraging him to do what I ask because I want it, not because he is going to get hit or punished if he doesn't. I would rather go slow and try things outside the box to get the results I'm asking for, then to make fear or punishment a part of our relationship. And just as I recognize I have issues to confront and deal with, I know he has issues we need to confront and deal with.
And the bottom line is I never would have thought about buying a horse ball for Queenie to play with - even if she would have wanted to - because I never really stopped and thought about life from her point of view. Something that both age and experience has changed for the better.