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Chaco’s Journey

This is the post excerpt.

Follow Chaco’s journey as we work towards removing three bone chips from his stifle region from a two year old injury.

When I picked him up at Albuquerque Downs racetrack a year ago, I felt unsure about my decision to take on another horse, but then I saw him. I walked up to him, put my hands to his nose, and he took a big whiff. I lowered my head towards his, and all the nervousness and doubts vanished; I fell in love.

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I asked about his previous injuries, and I was told he had hurt a fetlock and broken a rib in a fall during a race; however, he is fine now. To be honest with you, I would have taken him home no matter what. I looked into his eyes, and I could see that he needed something different. I could give that to him back home where he could be a horse, live like a horse, graze like a horse, and play like a horse. For the past year he has done all of the above with gusto. Around here we call him Chaco.

Last week on our year anniversary, I walked him to the paddock when he suddenly took an off step. Three more steps later he couldn’t walk on all four legs. Panic went through every ounce of my being. I recently lost my beloved thoroughbred Shandoka, so seeing Chaco like this, made my heart come to an abrupt halt. Slowly, we limped back to the barn (it took us about 15 minutes to walk 30 feet), where I put him in a small run. By the end of the day, he could walk a bit better.

A few days later we went to the vet where he was diagnosed with three bone chips in his stifle. It is an old injury, because the bone that these chips came off of healed. We can’t tell where they came from, and they migrated away from the bone. Back in 2016, Chaco was brought up along the inside during a horse race. His other races showed he preferred to go on the outside away from any trouble and traffic, but this day he was on the inside where he ran into trouble. Heels clipped and he went straight down with a horse falling over him. Initially, I was told he had a broken rib, but after finding out about the chips, I learned they suspected he also broke his pelvis that day. My theory is a horse kicked him in his stifle before falling over him creating these chips.

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One of my options is to let him go on like this, get injections and put him on bute. I am passionately against injections, and the last thing I want him on is bute. Bute is an anti-inflammatory that masks pain. It is the reason why a lot of horses will keep running with a broken leg on the racetrack. It also causes ulcers, and it causes colic. I just lost a horse to colic, and I will do everything I can to not watch another horse die that way. Chaco, I believe, had ulcers, which at least 90% of racehorses have from being kept in a stall for 22 to 23 hours a day. When I brought him home, I treated the ulcers herbally, and he now cleans his bucket every day. Recently, he put on seventy five pounds. Bute will bring the ulcers back, the weight will come off, and he will be in pain in a whole other way all the time.

Joint injections can cost $65 to $250 per joint monthly. Joint injections can cause a deterioration of articular cartilage, joint infections, joint inflammation, corticosteroid induced laminitis (life threatening condition), and it may not even work! You can see why injections do not thrill me at all as an option.

What gets me every time I think about this is that he raced for a full year with these chips, and he worked a year with me never complaining. He gives 150% during our trail rides and training sessions each and every time. A friend of mine who competes in show jumping asked me if he’s real bucky or balks at doing work. He never has. Never. I think he’s hurt this entire time, but he put my desires and safety ahead of his pain out of concern for me. He wants to please me, so he ignored his pain, which the thought of breaks my heart.

I’ve thought about not getting the surgery, doing the injections, but what if we are on the trail ten miles or even one mile out, and he goes dead lame again? Trying to get him back to the trailer could be next to impossible. I could let him be a pasture horse for the rest of his life not doing injections or anything, but he went this lame after being on the pasture. My mind wanders to the day it started to rain, and we galloped lap after lap in it. His stride was long and strong, his breath was rhythmic. Our bodies moved together going from steps to suspension where we flew threw the air. When we finished, we were both soaked, but together we were on Cloud 9. I can’t take that away from him.

When the swelling is gone, you can see where the chips are, and yes, the swelling goes up and down every day.

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This is how he stands most of the day to find comfort and relieve the pain.

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Now it’s time to put his well-being ahead of everything and get him sound and healthy. The other option for him is arthroscopic surgery to remove the bone chips. He will be completely sound, 100% in two to three months after the surgery. He won’t need bute or injections. He will be able to play and run with Harley (his buddy), go out on the trail, and gallop with me in the rain pain free. He deserves this, because he loves all of these things.

Problem is Bill and I can’t afford it right now. We recently had to fix something on our home that turned out to be a bigger problem than originally expected. We can pay for all of the post-surgery exams, but paying for the surgery as well is simply more than we can do right now. I want to be transparent on everything. The cost of the surgery will be $2500. The reason why I am asking for $2,900 in donations is to cover the costs of what Paypal will take out. I chose Paypal instead of GoFundMe, because more of your money will go towards the surgery. Also, you do not have to have a paypal account to donate. You can use your credit card or debit card. Every day I will update how close to our goal we are here on this blog and also on Facebook. Also, in a few days, I hope to figure out how to raffle a painting of mine, and sell some giclee prints and another original painting of mine on this site. I will make an announcement when I get that set up, and all the funds for those sales, except for shipping costs, will go towards the surgery.

If you choose to donate, I promise to continue the transparency by posting regularly on this blog. I will share with you everything we go through, so you can see how every single dollar is going to his health, healing and well-being.

I promise you he will never end up on the track again. He will live out the rest of his days with me. A friend said I should post my goals for him post surgery. Here they are:

  1. Love him forever
  2. Maintain his happiness, health, and well being
  3. Go out on the trail, and let him see the world.
  4. Hopefully develop him into an ambassador on the Western Slope of Colorado for Off Track Thoroughbreds. Over 10,000 thoroughbreds are sent to the slaughterhouses in Canada from the United States each year. He can show people how versatile OTTB’s can be, so maybe we can save some lives.
  5. Enter into some competitive trail riding competitions, pole competitions, and maybe some equitation work to show how smart and talented thoroughbreds are.
  6. Possibly work with kids as a therapy horse
  7. Let him run and play

If you have any questions about the surgery, please feel free to email me at Contact. I will be more than happy to answer anything. I know that I’m asking for a lot, but I wouldn’t ask if he didn’t need this. He has given his heart to all of the humans in his life. Lots of times horses with this type of pain can get mean. When he hurts, all he wants me to do is hold his head and love on him. He wants to play when he feels better, and he is missing going out and working together. I want to give back to him, if at all possible, what he has given to me. If you wish to donate to the cost of his surgery, please click on the Paypal button below, and donate whatever you wish. Bill, Chaco, Harley, our five dogs, and myself thank you from the bottom of our hearts for being part of Chaco’s Journey.

10/8/18 Between this and my FB charity, we raised $275. Tomorrow thanks to everyone, I’m calling to get the pre-op appointment scheduled.

As of today, 10/9, we have raised $900. As of 10/15, we’ve raised $1,100. We also scheduled the surgery for 10/23. Thank you from all of my heart.

“You don’t throw a whole life away just because he’s banged up a little.”

Tom Smith, trainer for Seabiscuit

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Build a Barn and the Horse Will Come

I hopped out of the truck, walked over to my horse trailer about to drop Dulce’s window when I came to a dead stop. I slowly turned around to look into the eyes of a very big bull.

I hopped out of my truck, walked over to my horse trailer about to drop Dulce’s window when I came to a dead stop. I slowly turned around to look into the eyes of a very big bull. There is a rule around here to never get off your horse around cattle, but my horse was in the trailer. He took a few steps towards me as we stood there looking into each others’ eyes.

The last time I was this close to a bull on the ground was when I was ten years old. My brother and I went to visit my grandparents up in Oregon. My grandpa needed to move the cattle into another pasture. I never saw him ride a horse, and he did everything on the ground with his cattle. He told me that the bulls would be scared of me since they didn’t know me. It was his version of a joke I guess as this bull charged after me. I ran for my life screaming for help while he laughed. I flew over the fence only to hit the hot wire with my right arm. My grandpa kept it turned it up all the way due to the bulls always knocking down fence, so my arm buzzed for the rest of the day into the night. I’m not a fan of bulls.

“I don’t eat red meat buddy, so you need to be nice to me.” He took a few steps closer. I wasn’t sure if I should run to the door of my truck risking him pinning me or stand there. “Why does this stuff happen to me?” I moaned.

I stood there and looked into his eyes. He didn’t seem aggressive at all. Behind him I saw that there were several cows in the old BLM corral with the gate wide open. There was no grass in there at all. In fact there is hardly anything for these guys to eat in this drought in the forest. I wondered if they went in there because they were scared by a bear or mountain lion, or if they hoped a truck would come get them and take them to food.

What I saw in his eyes haunted me. I felt like I carried the same look in my own. He pawed at the dirt that should be grass, and not being able to help him, I climbed back into my truck. I rolled my window down and told him, “Don’t worry, someone will come to check on you soon. Maybe you can be moved to the next section.” I drove off feeling guilty at not being able to do anything for him.

I drove to another place that would be a good spot to ride Dulce, which was much farther up the road. I kept thinking about that bull. I felt like him….as if I’m standing there trying to protect everyone yet helpless to do anything. I’m waiting and waiting for something to change, but this drought is affecting my life on so many levels personally; not just physically.

All sorts of thoughts roamed through my mind; thoughts not good before a ride. When I pulled over, I took a few breaths, reminded myself that Dulce needed me completely present, cleared my mind, and I hopped out of the truck again. No cows or bulls anywhere.

Dulce and I had a great second trail ride through the forest. I am in awe of him and how brave he is. When I literally climb on him, he stands so calm waiting for me to get myself situated. He walks off with his ears perked and confidant. I point him in any direction, and off he goes. He has no problem pushing through brush, trees, climbing over logs, walking by uprooted trees where the roots are taller than we are, weird looking rocks; he takes it all in stride.

I don’t even know how to describe how amazing it is to sit on a horse like him. I can feel his power, his strength, his ability to take off at a full run in a split second, yet he chooses to work with me in this silent partnership. It humbles me all the time, and cracks my heart open filling it with an indescribable euphoric joy. I love working with OTTB’s. I love retraining them if that is even the right word. Maybe it is more repartnering with them? Because, no horse will do what you hope unless they are willing to; and that comes from developing a relationship.

When we get back, he loads up on the first try. Woohoo! I get back in the truck, and I decide to stop and see what brand that bull and cows have. Maybe I’ll recognize who they belongs to, but when I get there, they all are gone. I hope they went to the one water hole in the area.

I head down the long, winding road home, and all sorts of thoughts crowd in again that I’ve been trying to avoid. Mojo again….what would he have been like on the trail? Awesome I know. Will Dulce’s gut recover well from this ride? Dreams…my husband often asks me what I want to be when I grow up. I tell him that I have no dreams anymore. I simply want to get through each day with healthy, happy horses and dogs. I’ve given up on my dreams for the horses, because each time I try to aim for something, it all goes wrong…Shandoka when I started him on barrels, Chaco when I started training him for Dressage….Mojo….and now I worry that Dulce’s gut can’t handle the stress of doing anything. I would rather he be healthy than anything go wrong for my hopes and dreams.

Maybe the bull wasn’t being desperate for help. Maybe he was showing me that even during this horrible drought, he has hope that help will come…..that things can change, and that this dark cloud can transform.

Then the question that a lot of people asked me recently is do I plan on getting another horse strolls into my brain. Well, I think about that a lot. Mojo was perfect, because he was a year younger than Dulce, and he and Dulce really liked one another. The fact of the matter is I don’t know how long Harley will be here with us; he’s 20. I hope he lives another fifteen or more years, but who knows if that’s possible. Chaco’s stifle injury on the track has probably shortened his life as much as I hate to admit that (I don’t want to admit to it at all.). I often wonder how long his left hind leg will hold out compensating for the right. The Pentosan, Glucosamine, and Hyaluronic Acid have really helped him out. He is standing more square, and he rests his left leg more often. However, winter….uggh….winter. It’s so hard on him that last winter I almost packed up the horses and dogs to go camp in the desert until the Arctic cold moved on. Dulce can’t handle being alone at all. Harley can’t either. Chaco is the only one that remains somewhat calm.

Watching Dulce struggle after Mojo died, his gut issues flaring back up, I know that yes, I need to get another horse one day, because he and Chaco are joined at the hip. He really needs to have another buddy if Chaco goes before he does to literally survive that. The same goes for losing Harley. Yes, I want to get another Off Track Thoroughbred. They have my heart. They always have since I was a baby. I believe thoroughbreds give so much of themselves for our enjoyment that I need to give back to them in whatever way I can one at a time.

I would love to get another Uncle Mo gelding in honor of Mojo. Mojo and I weren’t done, so I would love to get one of his siblings….to keep at least one of them from ending up in a bad situation like he did; it would be my way of giving back to Mojo what he gave to us in his short time with us. If not an Uncle Mo, maybe an Indian Charlie (sire of Uncle Mo) or an Afleet Alex, which was Mojo’s damsire. If a Tiznow appeared, I would definitely consider taking one in since Mojo was abandoned in a field with a Tiznow mare. Of course I will bring home whatever horse speaks to me the most like my others have. Maybe in the Fall or next Spring a horse will find me. If you know of any racehorse (gelding) that is related to Mojo that needs a home, please let me know.

After Mojo died, a friend sent me winnings she bet on a horse the day that Mojo died. The horse’s name is Got Mojo. She told me to do whatever I wanted with it. I’ve held on to the check not feeling right about accepting it. I thought about tearing it up, so she could donate it to another horse or rescue. I went back and forth on it until I came to this realization that one day I need to get another horse.

My husband and I decided to cash it, and we are going to build another horse stall with it. If a horse doesn’t call out to me in the future, then Harley won’t have to share his barn with Dulce. He likes to have a lot of space to himself…lol. Ever since Shandoka died, that area of the barn belongs to him, and he reluctantly shares it with Dulce. Whatever may happen, I believe that by building this extra stall, another horse will come be with us one day.

Feed Time

Harley, Dulce, Chaco and Mojo

So, I was asked by someone who follows my blog what I fed my horses, and what I do to take care of them. Another person asked me if I intend to rescue another horse. I will ask the last question in the next blog, but first I want to thank anyone that reads my blog.

Warning: This is boring, but I hope it answers questions.

First of all, I’m not a rescue, not a non-profit, but I do rescue horses to keep here for good. It’s a personal thing. I grew up in racing, and now I choose to be on this side of racing; giving them a home when they’re done racing. I do have an llc, but that is for my trimming, which I don’t charge for, and horse massage, which I rarely charge for. I obviously am a bad business person. I just wanted to make it clear that I don’t ever claim to be a rescue and rehoming organization. My goal is to give a thoroughbred a good, loving home one horse at a time.

So, I keep my horses on a low starch and sugar diet. I don’t feed any grains at all…no oats, corn, or sweetfeed. Molasses is banned from the property. Why? Bad for gut health and hoof health. They are no longer racing, so there is no need for them to be on that anymore. They also have white salt added to their feed. They also are only fed alfalfa as a supplement. In the summer they get a handful on their feed 2x a day. In the winter, they get a pound in the morning and evening. That’s it. Again, it is really high in sugars, and it can cause gut stones. I use it as a supplement to buffer their stomach acid.

Chaco and Dulce are fed beet pulp, timothy hay pellets, and Neutrena Safe Choice for Easy Keepers feed with a scoop of flax seed. I add vitamin E oil, flax oil, California Trace (a mineral supplement that balances out their mineral intake and is great for hooves and coat), Opti-zyme, and that handful of alfalfa. They both get individual supplements added, which I will detail below.

Harley is fed Teff hay pellets and some of the Safe Choice. He is an easy keeper, so he only gets this because of the supplements that I give him. Plus, he may climb the fence panels to get to their feed buckets if I don’t give him anything. Basically, he gets hay with a handful of the Safe Choice for taste.

They all get this in mash form.

Mojo was fed four small meals a day consisting of what I feed Dulce and Chaco. He also was on OptiZyme, an MOS prebiotic, butyrate, Total Gut Health, Nutrient Buffer, Equishure hindgut buffer and gastromend. He also got vitamin E and California Trace. He loved it all and cleaned his bucket each and every single day.

Chaco gets shots once a week of Glucosamine and Petosan to treat his chronic arthritis in his stifle. He was injured while racing, so when I brought him here, we ended up getting arthroscopic surgery to remove three chips. He also gets Hyaluronic acid, a joint supplement made up of natural herbs for his arthritis, and at times he gets turmeric with boswellia. I tried ProStride on him, but he really thrashed when the needle went into the joint. It was missed, and we ended up spending $800 for a week of comfort. This is why I don’t even consider IRAP. Because of this, he is on Pentosan and Glucosamine. He also receives a prebiotic in addition to the Opti-Zyme

Dulce had gut issues as noted in earlier blogs. I’m constantly trying to stay ahead of any issues keeping him nice and stable. He is on gastromend right now, but he will go off in a few months. He does not do well at all on any kind of buffer; stomach or hindgut. The handful of alfalfa is what works for him. He also is on Total Gut Health, which really helps him, hyaluronic acid, and when he goes off the gastromend, he goes on herbs for his gut. I find that fluctuating back and forth seems to really help him. I believe his gut, when I got him, was high in bad bacteria, and that is why he had such severe issues last summer.

Harley receives a glucosamine/omega oil supplement and a pre/probiotic in the morning and Optizyme in the afternoon. The main thing Harley needs is the California Trace and Vitamin E for his hooves.

They also have 250 gallons of water available to them 24/7. I change it out every other day scrubbing the troughs to prevent green algae from taking over. In the winter, their buckets are heated, and we haul out hot water to their buckets to encourage them to drunk and hopefully prevent impaction.

I trim all of their hooves, which I learned from Pete Ramey and my friend Heather Dwire. Chaco has a hard time with trims due to his stifle. I have to ice his stifle while I trim his front hooves on the first day, and I give him Buteless afterwards as well as his shots of Pentosan and Glucosamine. The next day I ice his stifle for 20 minutes before I trim his rear hooves. This is the trim that hurts him the most, because he has to stand on his injured leg the most while I trim his left hind hoof. Afterwards, I ice him again for twenty minutes, do some bodywork, give him Buteless, and I put him on the pasture. I doubt a farrier would want to come out two days in a row to trim him or give Chaco all the breaks he needs. Being able to trim my horses helps them out; especially Chaco. Harley has a negative palmar angle on his left front hoof from how he used to be shod before. Because of his age, I will never be able to fully reverse it, but with corrective trimming, it doesn’t get worse. He grows sooooooo much hoof that I need to trim him every two weeks. Dulce came here with hoof issues but his hooves are normal for now…..knock on wood!

Chaco’s hind hooves are booted whenever he is on hard ground with Easy Cloud boots to absorb the shock and protect his stifle. When we go on trail rides, all of the horses are booted with Easy Gloves.

I’ve studied horse massage and various styles over many years, so I do most of the bodywork on my guys. Dulce suffers from a tight TMJ, so I do a lot of release work on him. Chaco’s groin area is super tight and sore from overcompensation for his stifle. Because of that, his poll gets really tight, so Chaco gets a lot of work every couple of days. Harley tends to be very stiff in the poll, and he gets some discomfort in his back every now and then. He is not too fond of massage stuff, so we do active stretches, which he loves and benefits him quite well.

Chaco, Dulce and Harley

They are all worked in whatever way is appropriate for them 3x a week, but they also work out each other in their play time. The other day Chaco and Dulce were full on racing each other while Harley egged them on.

They do have stalls that they can go into whenever they want, but I never lock them in the stalls. I want them to be able to move around at will. Much better for their gut I believe. I put hay in piles all over to encourage them to walk all over as if they are on pasture to eat. This puts a lot of miles on their hooves, and again it is really good for their gut. If Chaco has to rest his leg, or any of them gets hurt, I have a small turn out area where they can still move, have shelter, but can never break out into a run or a trot easily.

They do go on pasture bright and early in the morning, and are usually brought down around noon when the heat really begins to spike. Why? Sugars begin to rise in grass the moment the sun hits it, and as it gets hotter and hotter, the sugars go higher and higher. This is not good for the gut or the hoof. Some horses can adjust fine, but I figure why tempt fate? After six to seven hours of pasture time, they come off the pasture on their own. I rarely have to bring them down; it’s as if they know it isn’t good for them to eat that much sugar, and they head down usually when I go out to move them down.

During winter nights, I put blankets on them. I do remove them during the day unless an arctic cold front decides to come for a visit that is intolerable. During the summer, unless it is too hot, I put flysheets on them. I prefer to not put all of that pesticide on them if at all possible.

Finally, I grow my own hay. I hand pick all of the weeds all summer long, because again I don’t want to put herbicide through their gut. I know they say it doesn’t bother them, but as a former beekeeper, if you saw what I saw when herbicide is sprayed, you wouldn’t want to do it. My hives would start dying off within two weeks. My hay field was neglected by the former owner for many years, so I unfortunately have to pick A LOT of weeds.

I hope this explains what I do, answers any questions or doubts. I encourage you to ask any rescue what they do if they already aren’t posting it. I think it is a good thing to ask.

Forest Ride

Every now and then these two old timers like to stop to talk to me, or maybe I should say talk to each other in front of me. One was a rancher and the other did rodeo for a good portion of his life. They sometimes include me in their conversations, which start off something like, “How are your horses doing? You riding those thoroughbreds? They aren’t too much for you?” I try to answer before they start debating. The rodeo guy things thoroughbreds can pretty much do anything in an arena, and the ranching guy believes they spook at everything, they have bad minds, and they only belong on the track. They both agree that they can’t be ridden on the trail. I rarely get a word in.

This discussion I’ve heard so many times. Several people told me Shandoka would never amount to anything, and I should just take him to the sale. We proved them all wrong, and I endeavor to show everyone what thoroughbreds can do to hopefully convince someone out there to adopt one. It’s the reason why I write this blog and post the pictures.

Dulce is third OTTB I’ve trained for the trail. I wish I could pony him with another horse, but it never works out for me this way. Instead, I pony him. Before I get into the saddle, we go for walks, we explore things together, and I do everything I ask of him to do. I’ve done this with all three, and it pays off. Today I took Dulce for his first ride under saddle up in the forest.

Dulce is a horse that needs to be walked first in the beginning. His mind gets agitated with excitement, so I need to relax his mind first. If I got on him and go for it, we will do battle the entire time. My expectations will be defeated, and all he and I will do is get totally frustrated with one another. I can’t stress this enough….in the beginning, throw your expectations out the window and pay attention to what your horse is telling you he or she needs to feel more confident. How did I know he needed me to walk him first? He didn’t want me to get on him, and I saw the concerned look in his eye; so we walked. I let him walk until I saw him relax and feel comfortable. His head lowered and his eye relaxed.

I took Dulce and Harley back to the trailer, and I got on him. This time he stood perfectly. He was on the muscle a bit, and I kept saying, “Easy, easy,” and within a hundred feet, he mellowed. I’m asking a lot of him. Harley won’t pony him, so he must lead the way on his first ride into and through things he never experienced on the track. He needs to push through the brush first or walk buy weird looking downed trees first instead of following a seasoned horse that can show him it’s no big deal. Harley follows us and that does help, but it’s not the same.. This is a lot to ask of a newbie, but gosh dang he is so brave and smart. As you can see in the video, he didn’t jump, bolt, buck, rear…..nothing. He walked along calmly with his ears forward interested in everything. He eyed a few things but kept going. He had no problem with moving forward. He did so well that I was able to ride him one handed. I kept the ride short, because I wanted to release the pressure from him pretty quick to reward him, so we only did three miles today.

Dulce rode over rocks, along the rim of a steep canyon, pushed through oak brush taller than me in the saddle, rode through some dense forest, and he dealt with some smells that made him a bit nervous. We wound around pine trees, and we climbed up and rode down a hill. Riding in the forest is so different than riding out in the BLM down below. It can be so claustrophobic, and you never know what is around the next corner. A rabbit ran out in front of us, and he stopped to watch it never spooking. He did everything I could have hoped for.

The great thing about trail riding a horse is that it is a nice break from arena work, they love it and it lifts their spirits, and it teaches them to put all of that arena work to use out on the trail. It also helps them learn to use their hind-end naturally, because each time you do hills, they naturally need to shift back on to that hind end. It also strengthens them physically and mentally in different ways that arena work can’t do.

I always want to say something: Ignore a horse’s pedigree. Focus on the horse that is right in front of you. Don’t let people put ideas in your head on how your horse is going to act because of the sires in his or her line. If I listened to that, I never would have attempted this due to who one of his sires is through his dam. If you have preconceived ideas about how your horse will act, you will create a horse that acts like those ideas. Thoroughbreds love the trail. They absolutely love it, and if you take your time with your horse, you too can have a great trail horse.

I can’t wait to get back out there with him. It felt so good to be out there again on such a brave, smart horse. Gosh, he takes my breath away.

Life By The Drop

Driving up the winding road to the Plateau I wondered what the heck I was doing. My horses need to be worked, and my mind isn’t in the right place to work them. I’m misplacing everything, tripping over things that aren’t there, and find my brain zoning out more times than I can count. My mind is a scattered mess, yet here I am driving up this ridiculously long hill. Take Dulce for a walk my friend said.

Dulce is a high energy horse, and if I don’t work him, he turns his energy towards my other two in annoying ways. Before Mojo passed, I took Dulce up top for a few walks to introduce him to the smells and challenges of riding through the forest. I like to walk my horses in the beginning, so I can see what spooks them or if they eye something for too long. This way it allows me to identify what to work with them on at home, and I can work with them in the moment on the ground. I think this helps them develop courage to explore, but it also shows them that I won’t ask them to do something that I’m not willing to do with them. It builds trust between us. The only thing that seems to bother Dulce is bodies of water. I think it’s more the smells of all the wild animals around the water that gets to him. I knew the perfect place to go, so taking my friend’s advice, here I am driving up the hill to take Dulce for a walk.

My hands grip the steering wheel tight causing my fingers to tingle. I want to turn around and go home. What if something goes wrong with the other two while we’re gone? I’m not ready for this, but there is no place to turn around easily with a horse trailer. I keep going. I hit the dirt; the road is rough rattling my nerves to all new highs. I put on Bluesville, and Howling Wolf is belting out Backdoor Man.

“You men eat your dinner, eat your pork and beans
I eat more chicken than any man ever seen, yeah, yeah
I’m a back door man”

 I sing along when I hit washboard in the hairpin turns. Are you kidding me? They were fixing these a couple of weeks ago. I have much further to go, but the forest is beautiful today. I don’t have to do the whole walk I tell myself. We can do a small portion of it and then go home. At least I got us both out. It’s a step

Oh man, this can not be happening! I come up behind the grater that supposedly fixes all the washboard roads. There is a huge pile of dirt down the middle of the road as far as the eye can see, so I can’t pass him without possibly flipping the horse trailer on its side. He is going two miles an hour. John Lee Hooker is singing House Rent Boogie.

“I’m tired of keepin’ this movin’ every night
I can’t hold out much longer
Now I got this rent, now let’s get together, y’all
Let’s have a ball”

We crawl up towards the Divide Road, and at this pace it will take me forever to get to our spot. I give up and pull off at this a spot that I always want to go. There is a nice trail across the road, but since I have the dogs with me, that option is out. Cars drive too fast on this section of road.  I figure I’ll walk him around this one little spot, and then we’ll load up for home.

By this time, my nerves are fried, and Dulce needs me to be calm for him. I am anything but. I unload him, get the dogs out, and focus on my breath to try and slow it and my mind down. Usually, within the first five minutes of each ride Dulce has a spazz out moment where he lets out his stress/excitement before he settles down and focuses on the work at hand. I waited for it, and waited, and waited, and it never comes. In fact, we walked together on a loose rein immediately. He gave me time to spazz out and calm down. We reversed roles.

What I thought was a small path along a private fence turned out to be a big path deep into the forest. I never knew this existed, and it is the perfect path for a horse beginning to learn how to trail ride in the forest. The only challenge is that it’s at 9,200 feet, which is 3,200 feet higher than our home. I know this will challenge his lungs a bit. We take breaks as we walked along the path lined by Spruce’s and Aspens to give his lungs a chance to adjust. The air is heavy with the scent of forest. Each breath melts away my accumulated stress from the drive. I get a cellphone signal. I check my cameras, and Chaco and Harley are fine grazing away together.

Dulce took everything in with ease. We went off the trail and pushed through brush and over all size logs. He never hesitated at anything. He is so athletic and brave. We wind in between and around trees ducking under low branches, and he pushes through all of it gracefully. We get back on the trail and head further up. We could have headed back to the trailer, but now my curiosity is peaked. What is it like ahead?

We meandered on and off the trail exploring all sorts of obstacles. All we hear are birds calling out to one another from tree to tree. The wind is absent today as the light shimmers through the aspen leaves. Dulce and I walk side by side with one another when I realize how he is taking care of me. I’m part of his herd. I watched my horses take in Mojo on his terms willingly. They knew he struggled, and they accepted him and that struggle. When he died, they mourned him even though he was with us for a short time. I watched those three amigos take care of one another through it in all sorts of ways. Today I thought I was taking care of Dulce, but he is taking care of me. He’s allowing me to be where I need to be with him on my terms not asking for it to be any other way. Each time we venture out together, he amazes me. He is the most amazing being, and every moment with him is a blessing and a lesson in something. And people wonder why us horse people think horses are so amazing.

After walking three miles, I let him graze while the dogs explore an interesting scent. I look around in awe of the beauty shining through. Dulce rubs his head along my leg, and we head back. I see a man-made obstacle off the path, which usually can make a horse nervous. Horses know that man made stuff don’t belong in the forest. Dulce could care less about it. We walk around it in both directions. Nothing. He looks at me as if to say, “Seriously? This is all you’ve got?”

He easily loads into the trailer. “Okay, who are you? Where is Dulce?” I ask him as he takes a big bite of hay out of his feeder. Driving back home is easier and a bit faster. Stevie Ray Vaughan is singing Life By The Drop.

“Hello there my old friend
Not so long ago it was till the end
We played outside in the pourin’ rain
On our way up the road we started over again”

When we finally head down the road to our home, when I’m coming down the hill, Harley spots my truck and comes running to the top part of the paddock nickering at Dulce welcoming him home. Chaco acts aloof, but the moment I drop Dulce’s window, he’s all happy. I unload Dulce and walk him in. I take off his halter to turn him loose. I expected him to run off to join them, but instead he lingers with me dropping his head into my chest. I hug his head in my arms kissing his poll. He lifts his head, looks me in the eyes, and makes his “Weeeeee” sound before he runs off to join Chaco and Harley.

Let’s Do This For Mojo

You know that phrase, “Heart Horse?” People use that phrase all the time about a horse that they are strongly connected with, and Shandoka was my heart horse as was Big Ruckus, Pride, Josephine, Inga, Charlie’s Guess, Konak, Vehicle, Scubber, Chiller, Mojo, all the horses I trained on at Bradley’s, etc. I can honestly say I haven’t met a horse I don’t love. I think it drives a few of my friends nuts, but it is a true statement. They will attest to it I’m sure.

When I was a kid, there was this horse in the stall next to our horse Vehicle at the track. He was a mean son of a gun. If you got too close, you’d get bit hard probably losing chunks of flesh in the process. He had good reason to be like this; his owner. His owner was a wealthy man who brought down a new woman hanging on his arm each time his horse ran. When they came back to the barn, he would stand there and hit his horse to show off for his current girlfriend. They stood a safe distance away, so he couldn’t bite them while they laughed at his efforts to try. I hated it! I would stand with Vehicle loving on him protecting him from that ugly energy. I glared hatefully at them, but they never noticed; they were in their own world. I was just a kid.

I spent so much time with this horse determined that he would know someone out there cared for him. He tried to bite me many times, but after a lot of carrots and standing in front of him not moving no matter what he threw at me, I finally got through. One day he let me pet him. It was the best day, and yes, I loved him as much as any horse ever even though all I could do is run my hand down his nose. He taught me so much.

I love my horses with my whole heart and more, and I work hard at creating a good relationship with each one of them in whatever way they need. Mojo was no different. I honestly think the moment I brought him his first bucket of hay; our relationship was cemented forever. I miss him each day, and my other three have struggled with his loss as well. Dulce’s gut issues returned for a week, and the space between us became nonexistent. If he could have sat in my lap, he would have. Chaco stopped eating, which wasn’t good considering he needs his joint supplements. Harley spooked at everything refusing to leave the barn at night waiting for Mojo to hang out and eat with him. Things are finally back to normal for them, although Harley is still is a bit jumpy.

I want to thank everyone that reached out to me. It meant the world, and you’ve helped me through the worst of it. One thing I’m asked is what can they do for me regarding all of this. Well, here it is:

The SAFE Act is sitting in Congress going nowhere. I honestly believe if Mojo never ended up in that kill pen, he’d still be alive. I know considering what is going on in our country right now, it may sit there until the next election is over. That doesn’t mean we can’t start a writing campaign lobbying for its passage. I know that Mojo touched your hearts, so I invite you to write about him in your letters to your representatives and the congresspeople that sit on the Agricultural Committee where the bill currently sits. Below are pictures of Mojo that you can download and include in your letters, so they can see him when you talk about him. This is an ugly part of our world, and a stain upon the world of horse racing. I’m tired of being told that it is a necessary evil. That is a lazy answer for those that don’t want to change anything.

The SAFE Act is a bipartisan bill, but it’s stuck in the Agricultural Committee due to the new Chinese Trade Act. Several of us have tried to get answers on whether the export of horses would happen in this bill, and as of yet, none of us have gotten anywhere on this question. If you would like to read about the bill, you can read about it here https://www.animalwelfarecouncil.org/?page_id=594#:~:text=The%20S.A.F.E.,of%20American%20horses%20for%20slaughter.&text=HR%20961%20claims%20to%20prevent,raised%20in%20the%20United%20States.

And here: https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/961/text

Here is a list of everyone on the Agricultural Committee: https://agriculture.house.gov/about/members.htm

If you don’t know who your representatives are, you can find out here: https://www.house.gov/representatives/find-your-representative

Let Mojo be your inspiration to get involved and put an end to this business once and for all. Let’s do this for Mojo and help all of these other horses. Thank you so much for everything.

When Mojo was picked up from the kill pen
What he looked like while racing

Run Mojo Run!

I really can’t handle talking about what happened to Mojo, and I’ve received so many questions. This is my poor attempt to answer them in one place.

There are two words in the horse world that strike fear in every horse person; one starts with the letter “L” and the other is Colic. We try to push these words into the darkest regions of our brain hoping that if we do, they will never come knocking on our door.

I’m not sure what is wrong with me, because it seems like God has put me on some path to figure out the issue of colic or torment me with it. All I want to do is scream at the top of my lungs, “Why in the world did you do this to horses? Create this horrible design for the most wonderful, willing, amazing, loving creature?” I lost Shandoka to it, and I fought like hell to get Dulce to a better place, and now my sweet Mojo.

When he came here, he was in bad shape. However, everything came back fine on him, so he was put on the diet for horses that are recovering from starvation and two supplements. He was on a low starch and sugar diet the entire time he was with me. The two supplements he was on were vitamin E and California Trace. I had to worm him, because he had tapeworms. When I heard about the tapeworms, I immediately worried. They can cause a lot of damage to a horse’s gut. He began to gain weight, and he started losing his shaggy coat.

As we approached 930 pounds, my red flag was ready to go off. This is when a horse goes out of what I call starvation mode. Starvation mode is when a horse seems to suppress their issues (again this is my observation), and when they get above 915, the body emerges from starvation mode and is in a flux. Their organs are still adjusting, and those suppressed issues emerge. One did. I always thought he could have ulcers, because he was starved for ten days, although he NEVER showed any signs of it. He cleaned his bucket, and he loved me scratching his belly and rib areas. The only sign that popped up was his poop became mush.

We adjusted his diet. We worried about the effects of medicine because his disposition seemed so fragile. We decided to take a gentle route with nutrient buffer and gastromend and see how he responded. We also put him on Bio Mos, butyrate, and Yea Sacc in case the bad floura were taking over. He immediately responded. His poop improved, and he began to gain back the weight he lost. However, I knew he needed his teeth done. He had some small ulcers and cuts all over his tongue from the points on his teeth.

I scheduled the appointment, and I was right; lots of points. I noticed how much longer it took for him to rebound from the sedation compared to my other three. Red flag in the breeze. When he did rebound, he loved his new teeth, and the amount he ate increased. Great sign!  I had to throw out a lot more hay for him. I was thrilled, but that red flag was gnawing at me despite everything seeming like we were on the right track.

The day this all started, he seemed great. He cleaned out his bucket in the morning and nickered at me when I brought him his hay. However, his personality was off. This was not unusual, but it is something that I always noted. I left to go work with Chuter, and when I came back his personality was still off. He was eating fine though, and there were no signs of colic at all. I spent a lot of time with him that afternoon brushing him, stretching his poll, and hanging out with him.

When I got his feed for him that evening, he didn’t nicker at me, took a few bites, and  for the first time I saw him bite at his right side three times in a row. Since he came to live with me, he always finish his bucket. Red flags everywhere. I threw out his feed, and I took him for a walk. He improved. He farted, which is the best sound ever. I took him back to his paddock, and he pooped. Great sign except he became really uncomfortable afterwards. I called my vet, and we did the normal treatments. He also received 10cc’s of banamine. We walked and walked. He pooped a couple of more times without any more pain. He relaxed and farted a lot. When we got back, he lied down, and he constantly farted. I thought we were through the worst of it because the gas was passing so easily. I got my cot and prepared to spend the night with him. I lied down, and he got up and came and stood over me while he slept. I couldn’t sleep at all, so I watched him. I listened to him breath, and I memorized everything about his nose, jaw, and his relaxed lower lip. I will never forget his head over me with the stars overhead. Even though I thought we were through the worst of it, something still bothered me; my stomach remained clenched.

A few hours later, he dropped his nose to mine and nuzzled with me. He walked to the barn, pooped, and this is when all hell broke loose. He was in horrible pain. He dropped, and for the first time tried to roll. The worst sign. I got him up, snapped the lead rope on, and walked him. He couldn’t think, and he walked me into the fence several times. I didn’t care. The next couple of hours I did everything I could think of while talking with my vet. I gave him more banamine, did acupressure, belly lifts, colic pump….anything and everything. He got to the point where he could barely stand and collapsed twice. I called my vet back to my place knowing there was nothing we could do. He had the heart of Afleet Alex to the end. He fought hard.

I held his head in my chest telling him I loved him over and over and over again wishing that if I said it enough it would undo what I knew happened. Come on God, you can’t do this to me again! Give me a miracle please!!!! He either had a twist, blockage, or a rupture. I just wanted it to stop. I wanted him to be better again, to hear him nicker at me for food, and to go back to the moment not so long ago when he gave me that sweet nose nuzzle.

His heart rate was 80bpm, it’s supposed to be 40. He had absolutely no gut sounds on the right, and his gums were going pale. The surgeon was four hours away. I made the decision, which I hate making. I hate it with a passion, but he was shaking from the pain. There was nothing any of us could do. I stayed with him through it all. I was there when he fell to the ground, and I held his head whispering to him over and over how loved he was. I told him Shandoka would come for him and to follow him; he knows the way. He took three agonal breaths and was gone. He was only with me for a short time, but oh my God the pain. I didn’t want to let go of him. Ever since I got him, I’ve wanted to hold him and protect him, and I couldn’t do it this time. I felt like I let him down because I couldn’t figure it out. I let my husband down because he hoped Mojo would be his trail horse. I let all of you down because you all loved him so much. It’s amazing how much I loved him. I have no way of expressing that to you, but he was so loved the entire time he was here….so loved by me, my husband, my other three horses, and my dogs and cats.

A thought as to why it could have happened, was our crazy weather and possibly the sedation could have set off a chain of events. We all worried about gut damage from the tapeworms and ulcers. This is one reason why he was on gastromend. He also got 20mg of Hyaluronic Acid twice a day. There was a study done on the use of HA on joints of horses, and a good side effect that they noted was that it appeared to heal gastric damage if absorbed through the gut. They stated that they needed to do more research on this, but I decided to put Mojo on it. He was a stiff horse, so I thought it could help his joints feel better as well as hopefully heal up any gastric issues he might have. We simply didn’t have enough time for his gut to heal up.

The day before this happened, we had rainy weather. Our barometric pressure plunged. If anyone suffers from barometric pressure headaches, you get why this could be an issue. You feel the dropping pressure in your head, and you are convinced your head might explode from the pressure. Twelve hours later the barometric pressure soared back up, and then we had winds that gusted to over 50mph. We wondered if those drastic changes weakened any area in his gut. Mojo was also a horse that internalized his stress. He didn’t express it outwardly like my other three do. I don’t know if the winds could have brought on the bad gas that then weakened a bad spot in his gut. Mind you no one understands why colic hits or how to fix it. It’s a condition that there are very few treatments for. You basically try the standard options praying they work.

The possibility that feels the most right to me is that the colic was secondary to another issue. We can’t know what is going on unless we open them up, which brings its own inherent risks. My friend Hannah just lost her mare last night. They thought it was impaction colic until they opened her up. It turned out to be a blood clot, and there was too much damage to save her. I’m wondering if the same thing in a different area could have happened to him…or maybe he had a tumor. He could have had a gut stone. I didn’t feed him alfalfa, but who knows what he was fed before he got to me. Too much calcium in a diet can cause these stones, and they cause colic that a horse can’t recover from. I believe it was secondary to another issue, because he never showed any signs of gastrointestinal distress until this moment. He never chewed his sides for the occasional gas bubbles. He loved it when I curried his belly and along his ribs. There was no indication of any problem.

I staggered back to my cot. The moon rose an hour ago, and I tried to look at her instead of him. My horses were in the upper part of their paddock as far away as they could get from him except for Harley. Harley stayed in his stall next to Mojo the entire time. They were mourning in their own ways. Despite Mojo never being able to be in with them for more than an hour, they all had a relationship with him. He was part of their herd in whatever way Mojo could do it.

I was asked if I would have known this was going to happen, would I have not taken him in? We wouldn’t change a thing. I hoped to bring him here for a long, safe life, but I guess it was to bring him to a safe place where he could die. I wouldn’t give up one moment with him knowing what I feel right now….the pain of saying goodbye and letting go. I wouldn’t change anything. Will I take in another horse? Yes, one day in honor of Mojo, but not for a while. We need time to heal. In the meantime, I’m going to continue trying to get lawmakers to pass the Safe Act telling them about Mojo. They need to hear what a kill pen does to horses. These places need to close. If you would like to lobby your representatives about the Safe Act, please feel free to talk about how Mojo touched your life in your letters.

The light was bright as I looked at Mojo, and the air was still as if afraid to breath. I looked at my feet trying to tell them to move and walk away back to the house, but I didn’t want to leave him. I kept thinking about how many people’s lives he touched. He may not have liked to race, but he sure inspired a lot of people. He touched them in ways that were unexpected, and because of that, he was a great! As great as any horse that ever touched a track!

There were no clouds….nothing moved. Our walk through the forest came back to me; at least he got to go up there once. This is when I saw it. I saw a shadow move across my feet like something was running by and then another shadow right behind. I looked above me and all around. There was nothing that could have caused those shadows. Maybe Shandoka did come for him, and they were running towards greener pastures together.

“Run Mojo Run,” I whispered.

Mojo’s Walkabout

“Others make a point of trying to attain the precision and poise they see in those who have the ability to choose from a great number of horses, those qualities found in only a very small number of horses. This leads to a circumstance in which these imitators of such studies mortify the spirit of a noble horse, and remove from it all of the goodness of temperament Nature has given it.” Francois Robichon de La Gueriniere.

I’m not sure what happened with Mojo the year between his last race and when he showed up at the kill pen, but I do have ideas of what it was like for him at the kill pen. I’ve never been to a kill pen, because I think it would destroy me. Instead, I’ve watched, what I can handle, several videos of what the horses go through. To understand Chaco, I watched the race he went down in four times. That’s all that I could handle, and since Mojo came to live with us, I’ve watched what I can handle about kill pens. The quote above doesn’t really fit, but it does.

Mojo was restrained, forced into a life completely opposite of anything he knew, and the experience mortified his Spirit. I see small steps of improvement here and there, but the one thing that hasn’t changed much is how low his energy is. He walks slow, he eats slow, he responds to things slowly; he’s alert but his responses are lethargic at best. There are times a fog descends over his eyes.

I’ve noticed since he came here how he fights lying down to sleep. When he first arrived here, it was on the fourth day he finally collapsed and slept for the first time on the ground. To this day he still fights it. He usually stands and rests instead of lying down and getting deep sleep. Maybe once or twice in a 24 hour period he will lie down. When he does, he only stays down for maybe 15 or 20 minutes before hopping back up. He will go like this until he becomes completely exhausted finally giving in and sleeping deeply for an hour. The poor guy is exhausted, and there is nothing that I can do to help him out with this. I swear he is sleeping while he eats sometimes. He needs to work through it, and luckily Harley is becoming his safety blanket.


Why is this happening? He couldn’t lie down and sleep at the kill pen, because it simply isn’t safe. Horses are packed tightly into each pen, and lying down could cost a horse its life; he or she could get trampled to death. Usually, my other three go down like dominoes and wake up the same way. I watch Mojo on the cameras standing there, his head sinking as he tries to stay up. Harley, instead of lying down with Chaco and Dulce like he always has, now lies down next to Mojo. This brings some comfort to Mojo, and he succumbs to the idea of lying down on the ground for about 15 to 20 minutes. I watch his struggle every single night on my cameras. I am right now.

Horses experience a wide range of emotions like humans do. They have a fantastic memory, and they dream like we do. The two times I’ve sat with Mojo as he slept, he had some major dreams. One of the times after he woke up, he didn’t want me or anyone else around him. He pinned his ears at me, and if I took a step towards him, he took two backwards. I backed way off and waited for him to realize he wasn’t at the kill pen. The people at the kill pen are not gentle with the horses as they move large groups of horses on and off the trucks. I could tell he didn’t realize he was here with us; he was stuck in his dream of that place. Horses go through PTSD too. After a couple of minutes, he realized who I was and walked straight up to me burying his head in my chest. I held his head as tightly as I could hoping somehow this embrace could wash those memories away.

There are times I walk away from him with tears in my eyes feeling like I don’t have the skills to draw his Spirit out. I’m often asked when I’m going to start riding him. Besides the fact that physically he isn’t close to being ready, it would cause him severe back pain, and the fact that he is as stiff as a board literally (I will talk about his physical therapy next week), mentally he is far from being ready. If I were to get on him right now, I feel like his Spirit would stay like this. I want his Spirit to be revitalized, energetic and enjoying life fully before I think of getting on him.

Every day I work with him my intention is to let him know he is safe. I feed him at the same time each day to create a feeling of stability for him. We go for our walks, which he does look forward to. He often is waiting for me at the gate when it’s time, and boy does he love his feedings. His last feeding is around 8pm at night, and he is especially happy if I hold his bucket for him while he eats. He loves it when I curry him when I feed him around noon. He likes it when I sit with him as he eats his hay….small steps.

After he moved into the paddock next to my other three boys, he seemed a bit happier. Each day I bring one of the other three boys in with him, he seems okay for about five minutes before he hides behind me or stands in a corner with his eyes bulging trying to be invisible despite Harley, Dulce or Chaco solely wanting to eat hay. He has no confidence when it comes to being with them though he really wants to have a relationship with them. Again, I think this goes back to the kill pen, and being forced to stay in a pen with a multiple number of other horses. Mojo is not a dominant horse, and considering all of the scabs and marks, he was picked on a lot. He doesn’t know how to be a horse anymore, and rushing him will only traumatize him further.

Mojo after he nickered at me

That’s the key to everything; him feeling like a horse again.

I got the idea that he needs to get out of here. I’ve walked all of my horses for miles and miles. It is a great way for a horse to build trust in you especially when you take them out on the trail. I often don’t have the ability to pony my newbies with another horse, so I pony them. They learn that I’m not going to lead them into anything that I can’t do myself, and if they get spooked by something, I can help them on the ground with it. It helps me see through their eyes, and we both learn how to work with one another in a unique way. I guess it’s a thing now on Facebook. Who knew?

I also need to help him bond with my other horses by figuring out ways for them to work together. Mojo has no confidence with other horses, so my theory is take him for walks through the forest with me and ponying him with Harley or Chaco. Eventually, maybe I can pony him with Dulce on simple trails, but Dulce himself is learning so not the best combination right now….green with green.

I think if Mojo exits his safety zone little by little, goes and explores the world, and then comes back home he will realize he is safe. No matter where we go or what we do, he will always come back here, which I feel is important for him to experience and believe in. I think this will chip away at his fears and insecurity bit by bit while becoming more confident with me and my other horses. I also hope that it will start to lift this deep fog of depression that he goes in and out of.

The other day I decided to take him to the forest. I didn’t know if I was making a mistake, or was on the right track with my thinking. I loaded him into the trailer, which is always a step of faith for him. He stands at the bottom of the ramp looking up at me trying to decide if he will follow me. On my part I have to suppress any and all desire for him to load. If he senses that I really want him to step up on that ramp, he backs up. If I stand in my trailer looking down at my feet holding the lead rope loosely, it gives him the the time and space he needs to take that first step.

I understand why it’s so hard for him. He is wondering if he will come back or will he end up at another kill pen. Each time I ask him to walk into my trailer, he decides to trust me. Usually, it’s the right hoof that he puts on the ramp first. I then reach out to pet him and reassure him before I step back and keep my energy low. This is when he puts the toe of his left hoof on the trailer refusing to put his heel down in case he decides to retreat. He looks at me with searching eyes. I reach out to him again telling him what a good boy he is. He continues to dance that toe around on the ramp before he finally steps up and slowly walks in. Once he is in, he never balks, never retreats, but he does want some reassurance, which I give plenty to him.

Nervously, I close the trailer, and I drive the long, winding hill to the Uncompaghre Plateau. It is early, 8am, so there is no traffic on the road. The air is crisp and remains cool as we continue to climb. Some deer cross the road ahead of me as butterflies dance in my tummy. Am I rushing him? Is this the right thing to do, or am I going to make things worse for him? I decide if he shows any signs of being nervous or scared, I will reverse course immediately.

After driving over washboard, dirt roads, we arrive at our destination. It’s a small loop, an easy trail, and well away from everyone. It’s as quiet as can be when I get out of the truck, and the air smells of pine. I let my dogs out who run over to an old corral to sniff something interesting. I drop the window and Mojo doesn’t poke his head out right away. He looks cautiously at the new surroundings. His eyes are wide but no white is showing. I tell him I love him, and slowly he pokes his head out. I drop the ramp as I glance back, and I see that he’s interested in what’s around him; not scared. We unload and his energy is high.

I take in a deep breath, exhale long and slow and say, “Are you ready Spaghetti?” I walk towards the woods, and he takes off with me right by my side. He walks through the thick trees, through duff, and over small logs without a second thought. He looks all around in curiosity without spooking once. He lets out a light nicker as he turns to look at me. His eyes are bright, and his Spirit is starting to Rise.

Blending In

I pulled the saddle out of my trailer tack, and gently put it on Dulce’s back. He’s doesn’t appreciates it being tossed on. I slowly cinch him up, and then I put Harley’s boots on. Headstall slides on easily, I climb up on the fender wheel of my trailer (mounting block) when I get a text. I want to ignore it with all of my heart, but I know….I know who it is.

I pull out my phone, and I’m right. My neighbor grew nothing in his field last year but weeds, and next to my property they are about five feet tall. He wrote to say he was about to burn. Mojo, Chaco and Dulce have never been around that kind of fire. Chaco and Mojo were home alone. I hop off my trailer, throw my saddle back into the tack, quickly load the horses and head home.

I put Chaco where Mojo used to be, my husband could handle walking Harley despite chanting to himself over and over, “You are not the boss of me,” which Harley pretty much is, and I took out Mojo and Dulce for a walk together. This would be the first time Dulce and Mojo would be together with me in the middle, but not the first time he’s gone for a walk with one of my boys.

I take the introduction process slowly with new horses. Two of my friends lost horses, because they went too fast. They ended up with a horse that got a broken leg. I like to put the new horse in a corral next to my other horses letting them eat with each other, sniff one another, and even play over the fence with one another. I then take them for walks with each other with me in the middle. I then will take them into the main paddock with just the new guy on the lead rope, and if I feel they need more bonding time, we go on rides together with me ponying the new guy. I find that all of this helps them bond, brings them into the herd gently, and it gets them to learn how to work together.

Before the burn, I began the introduction to the herd with Harley. Harley is the main boss even though he defers to Chaco every now and then if there is a plastic bag blowing around. I figure if Harley accepts him, the others will much faster. Also, I’ve noticed how at night Harley spends more time around Mojo than the other two, and he chased Chaco and Dulce off a few times while they were trying to get Mojo to play. Mojo doesn’t play; at least not yet. He eats, sleeps, or stands at a distance watching the other horses play, but he has no interest in taking part even a little bit. He loves to eat with them, touch noses, but that is where the interactions stop.

One day, I took Harley along with Mojo and I on our walk. I couldn’t believe how well it went. Usually, I have to break the horses apart a few times, I didn’t have to once. I think they all know that Mojo had a hard time, and they are willing to put some of their playful and mischievous shenanigans on the shelf for him. After his first of two walks with Harley, he seemed to relax a bit more with all three of the horses.

Harley and Mojo right before our first walk

On the day of the fire, I had no idea what would happen. I knew the flames would climb into the sky, the smoke could be thick, and I had no idea if Dulce would be playful, grumpy, or his sweet self. Mojo seems to really gravitate towards him of late. I have a window between stalls, and whenever Dulce goes into the one next to Mojo, Mojo puts his head through, and they touch noses. They often eat together, and I’ve even seen Mojo nip Dulce back a couple of times. Dulce is determined to gently bring Mojo back to the living. He is still pretty weary of any high energy directed his way, but little by little each day he becomes more comfortable.

Harley, despite being only 14 hands, loves to poke his head through the window to say hello to Mojo too.

This is right by where Mojo lives.

During the burn, all I can say is they could have cared less about the fire mainly because they had fresh green grass to graze on. They thoroughly enjoyed being together often squishing me as they got as close as they could to one another. A couple of times when the cracking got a bit loud, they’d lift their heads to look, and then their noses dived back down to eat.

Right before they forgot I was there, and I got squished.

All I can say is that I have high hopes that this will all work out. They seem to be coming together slowly. Chaco will go for a walk with him this morning, and Chaco is the one Dulce is more weary of. Chaco is a full hand taller, and he tends to test boundaries. He starts nickering now when I load Dulce and Harley up to go for a ride, and he nickers when I bring them back. He still seems to be sad a lot of the the time, but I’m seeing a happier horse more and more. He really perks up when I come out or when the horses head over to hang out with him. I used to feed him away from the fence that separates them, because he was so scared to eat next to my other boys. Now he ignores the piles of hay away from my boys preferring to eat next to them. He also is holding himself more and more like a horse instead of letting his body droop. His head is held higher, and his whole body rises more often, which I love to see. He is shedding off a bunch of hair, and put on a few more pounds. He weighs 915 pounds gaining 80 all together. My goal for him is 1050.

It’s Easter night, and we are at the tail end of a bad wind storm that raged for several hours today. I love watching how horses take care of each other. Earlier, when the winds were at their worst, Chaco and Dulce stood by Mojo. Then they moved further up the paddock, and Harley came down to be with him. Now in the dark of a moonless evening, the winds are still howling, albeit not as loud. Harley is sleeping by Mojo, Dulce is standing in the barn by the window, and Mojo is on the other side while Chaco stands in front of them all. He has a herd supporting him. I love having cameras!

I would love to put Mojo in with them right now, but everything about him says to take slow steps. Don’t rush anything, so we won’t. Building up trust with him each day is much more important, but we’re getting closer to him being turned out with one horse at a time. I believe Harley will be the first.

And he still loves to have his poll stretched out every day, which is one of my favorite, daily moments with him.

Mojo sleeping on my shoulder….

One Trailer Ride

If you’ve been following my blog, this is the next installment about Mojo who was rescued out of a kill pen. Lately, I’ve seen the mental toll the kill pen had on him.

Mojo meeting Harley, Dulce and Chaco for the first time.

If you’ve been following my blog, you know that Vallier/Mojo is my newest OTTB to join the Reenchanted Horse Ranchita here in western Colorado. He was rescued out of a kill pen thanks to the many donations and retweeting and resharing of many people. Now he is here, and he is deeply loved and cared for. He is a gentle soul, and slowly I see more and more of his personality.

This week marked a milestone. He is now out of quarantine, and I thought he would be in the corral next to my other three horses by now. That’s what I wanted, but when I paid attention to him, my hopes for him had to be tossed out the window. So often we impose upon horses our desires for them instead of watching them to see where they’re at and what they need. He is telling me to put the brakes on things. Let’s take baby steps.

When he came here, I noticed several scabs on his hindquarters and hip area from being bit by other horses. When horses are experiencing anxiety, they let it out in all sorts of ways. Mojo is not a dominant horse; at least he hasn’t shown me that side yet. My guess is that in order to survive in there, he constantly moved to get away from the others as they bit him on his rump. Now, instead of wanting to be with other horses, he is scared of the thought. Horses are herd animals, so they usually want to be together. This is different, and it makes me sad for him that he isn’t dragging me over to them each day.

He is fine if I’m standing with him and there is a fence and distance between him and my other horses. He wants to feel like he can get away. Chaco and Dulce are very playful and mischievous. Chaco is a hand taller than he is, so he seems more dominant even though he tends to be a more submissive horse. Dulce, the same size as Mojo, on the other hand is very dominant, and I believe one day will be the leader of the herd. However, he is also very kind and loving, and his relationship with Harley and Chaco proves that. I can see how he may not like sharing Chaco with Mojo though. Harley is presently the boss of them all, and he does not like sharing his hay with anyone. You will often see him pushing Dulce and Chaco off one pile of hay to another. Harley has a sweetness in his heart, he always tries, and with his age, he is a wise and a steady horse for the others. Although, he can rile things up more than the thoroughbreds do. Oh, herd dynamics. I could go on and on about everything I learn and notice.

Where will Mojo fit in? He will be somewhere close to where Chaco is in the herd. As I bring him down to spend time with my other horses on their respective sides of the fence I see moments of extreme anxiety flash through his eyes. He doesn’t jump, spook, bite, or move away. He simply looks at me.

He is interested in Harley, my 20 year old quarter horse; the boss. Harley lets him smell him without trying to nip at him or play with him. I decided to take Harley up to Mojo’s corral on a lead rope to see how it would go. Mojo sniffed him once, and then went to the other side of the corral with absolute fear filling his eyes. It broke my heart. I immediately took Harley back to the main paddock, and I returned to Mojo. All he wanted me to do was hold his head.

He feels safe here. I’m not concerned about moving him next to them until he’s ready. For now we do daily meet and greets. Next I will start walking him with Harley and let them graze together. After that, I will pony him with each horse around the property. Each step will help him relax, and feel like he is part of their dynamic instead of separate from it.

The next issue that I feel comes directly from the kill pen is the day I was going to take him to the dentist. For four days prior to our appointment, I loaded him and unloaded him into the trailer. No problem at all. It was as easy as slicing pie. The day of his appointment I had my truck attached. I think he sensed he would be leaving. He 100% refused to load, and I had no one with me to coax him in. I canceled the appointment, disconnected the truck, and lo and behold he loaded. He didn’t want to leave. Without the truck attached, he knew he’d be staying here.

Driving into town I pondered what happened, and how to fix this. I thought about a conversation with my aunt. She said something along the lines of this, “For all of his life he was loved and taken care of, and then one day he wasn’t.”

This hit me right in the heart. Tears for him streamed down my face as I realized what a long journey he has ahead of him to leave behind what that one trailer ride brought to him. I then had an “ah ha” moment. It was one trailer ride that changed his life. One trailer ride that meant the difference between being cared for and suddenly not. One trailer ride brought him to a place where he is cared for again. He can eat all day and night, no one is biting him, he has shelter from the weather, I scratch around all of his wounds each night for him, and what if another trailer ride takes him away from all that?

One trailer ride.

Getting Our Butterflies in Formation

I was watching an online class by Tik Maynard, and he talked about getting butterflies during competitions, I guess a well known jumper once said, “The difference between my butterflies and your butterflies, is that I get mine moving in formation.” Dulce is such a smart horse. He is kind, he is powerful, he is brave, he is curious, he is playful, he is caring, and he is really good at causing butterflies to scatter.

The moment he knows we are going anywhere, he does what he can to cause butterflies or situations to scatter with the wind making it hard for me to stay collected. I’ve learned though. I learned how to help him, which I detailed in my last blog about Dulce, and I’ve learned other ways to help us.

For instance, when I feed in the morning, I unplug everything all of the extension cords that run to the cameras, and then I walk away. He knows that something is up, but he stays relaxed. I hook up the trailer the night before….these simple steps reduce his anxiety about leaving Chaco and his home. He moved around a lot before he came here, and he gets separation anxiety.

Best laid plans with him though always seem to scatter with the wind, and the day of our first trail ride was no different. Everything I thought I had perfectly planned, was not. I couldn’t find a darn thing, and each time I came up short, he got a bit hotter. I thought it was a sign that I should let it all pass and try again another day. However, I was determined to get Dulce out there. Despite all of the obstacles, I got him loaded with Harley, and off we went.

My plan was to ride Harley and pony Dulce. Immediately, that fell apart. Harley began spinning the moment he realized he was to be the lead horse despite our practicing it several times at home and in the arena. I hopped off, put a saddle on Dulce, and said a prayer. This is not the ideal way to take a horse out for his first trail ride. Usually, you pony him and give him a chance to figure things out without a rider on his back. However, I’ve never done it the ideal way. Shandoka’s and Chaco’s first trail rides were with me riding them; not ponying them. Why should this be any different?

What is so cool about this video is that there is some solid, white, flat rock in the ground. Usually, horses will try to avoid this if they’ve never come across it. They’ll walk around it. He had no problem walking on it at all.

I got on Dulce, and he immediately acted up. He thought it was time to be turned out on pasture, and was ready to take off at a full run. I did a one reined stop, hopped off again, and decided to walk him alongside Harley for a few hundred feet to see what would happen.

Within a couple of minutes, his excitement level dropped from a five to a three. Much more manageable. I hopped back on, and it was as if he knew exactly what to do. My only goal at this point was to remain present with him and help him. I slowed down my breathing, relaxed my back, and I softened my hands. His ears were forward, and he moved forward at a good clip. One thing about Dulce is that he takes care of me when I get on him. He may act up for the first few minutes, but not out of malicious intent, but because he feels so good. He immediately settles down and focuses on the work in front of him. He is a real honest horse.

Poor Harley was none too thrilled. Harley, likes to stop and smell the grass, eating along the way whenever possible. Now he was trotting alongside Dulce to keep up.

There is something so amazing about that first ride; when all of your work and time with your horse comes together in a beautiful moment. He didn’t fight me, struggle or spook, but stayed as present with me as I was with him. Not one word needed to be said between us, because we both knew what the other one was feeling. To feel such a powerful being beneath you willing to work with you instead of overtake you is a blissful, blessing that is beyond words.

What made me really happy was that he loves being out there. It is so good for the horse’s mind to go out on trail rides. It not only heals the rider’s soul, but it heals the horses mind. It brings their soul back to their nature despite the human on their back. We ask them to do so many things, and to me this is one of the best ways to give back to them; let them travel over the ground and see new things….be out in the open country.

This is the third Thoroughbred that I’ve trained to ride on the trail. Lots of people tell me it can’t be done, because they are too spooky and dangerous. I’m hoping that Shandoka, Chaco and now Dulce (and one day Mojo) will convince any doubter out there that a Thoroughbred can do anything. They are as versatile as any horse out there.

Dulce is an incredible being, and we have a long way to go until he isn’t a neon green trail horse. Riding him now two times on the trail, I can feel how he knows who he is, and he doesn’t let me forget it. With that said, somehow he and I both got our butterflies in formation, and it feels so good.