I had put a face to the image of “Ink Spot.” I finally met him. The journey very much began that very day, possibly even before. I was excited to get to know my new horse and was ready for this challenge. I stepped onto the new, yet un-paved path..
When Ink came home, I put him into a stall with an attached paddock. Similar to the size he was in at Joe’s. I wanted the big bay to be outside, but I wanted to get to know him and make sure he wasn’t going to hurt himself before I turned him out with my other horse in the pasture. The pasture was the goal. I wanted him to experience life out there. To relax and unwind in the presence of a horse I knew would help him do that. Even though Ink appeared tough and strong, I could sense he was a velvet fist in a iron glove.
My first interactions with Ink, happened in between visiting my other horse and riding her. I would rest my head on the pipe panels at his paddock and just stare at him. He was quiet and very observant. He wasn’t in to me very much in the beginning. I was just another person in his way. But I knew, Ink needed time and space. So I gave it to him. Slowly I began to go into the paddock to give him a treat or a pat. He was not into physical contact. He was not scared, he just was a macho horse with a huge wall up. As a person, it was disheartening because I cared for him so much and he didn’t care for me.
One of Ink’s issues was during feeding time. He would pin his ears as you’d open the manger and put the hay in. Once the hay was in, he would become very aggressive and agitated, if you didn’t quickly walk away. I had many people telling me different ways to deal with this, which would have been logical with a different horse, but Ink needed understanding. So, I would simply ignore his reaction for now.
I dreamed of grooming the big bay into a gleaming shine. But that was easier said than done. For a reason I will never surely know, Ink did not like the grooming process. It could be perhaps, that at the track grooming is minimal. It could be he just simply didn’t like it. Thoroughbreds are known to be thinned skinned. I wasn’t going to bother too much with grooming in the beginning, because it was unnecessary while he was still settling in and getting used to his new life.
A month or so later, Ink was turned out with my other horse. A sweet, older mare who I knew would show him the ropes. She was tough and was known to demand attention. Once they met, Ink was able to go out into the pasture with her, where, sure enough she put him right in his place. I had already had a chance to develop a basic trust with Ink before I simply turned him out, which allowed me to determine if he would be good with another horse. My instinct was, that the horse I saw inside, would be one that Errika (my mare) would bring outside. That’s just what she did!
Ink’s social skills involved abruptly nosing up to other horses. “Like me, me, me!” He seemed to say. He appeared to have little to no understanding of personal space. But it was good to see him so kind, loving and willing to be with his fellow animal. Although I knew inside he was just a big softy, I had little actual external proof to base my facts on.
Ink wasn’t the easiest horse to be around. I quickly learned about his unique quirks. He did have a more “fight” reaction than flight. He preferred to show you how it was, rather than the other way around. But as quickly as I learned about his quirks; kicking, nipping and wind-sucking, I also learned about what made him react the way he did and then why. Learning the reason behind the reaction was my one of my first challenges with him. I knew that this was my first step into getting to know the big bay and eventually how I would communicate to him that certain reactions were not acceptable.
I spent the first months getting to know Ink by taking him on walks. I wasn’t comfortable with him, because of the reactions he offered, to jump into anything. But, even if I was comfortable, I knew the best course of action was to move slowly. The hand-walks, started in short durations, gradually increasing time and distance traveled. My next goal was to be able to walk Ink from the pasture to the barn. Within the walks, that’s where we really learned about each other. I became more understanding of who he was and more trusting of him. Eventually the walk to the barn was not so exciting or scary.
Our next adventure began in the roundpen, where I was able to get to know Ink in a different way. The roundpen created more of a meeting ground for us. A mutal place where I would have the direct line to dial his buttons and vice versa. To start the long, tedious process to disassemble the very strong wall he had placed up.
This was going to be special. It was going to be the first chance at a look inside the mind of a very wise horse.