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.

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.

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.