When Sueño jumped off the trailer, Brandon, the shipper said, “He’s really sweet except he can be a little bit stubborn.” He then told me all about the troubles of loading him.
For the first few days I kept Sueño in a smaller pen to give him time to decompress from the trip, adjust to the higher elevation, and to give us some time to get to know each other before I let him up on the pasture.
What I didn’t know was how the walk up to the pasture and back down were treacherous paths for us. It became obvious immediately that he knew how to walk on a lead rope, but it wasn’t always a joint venture. He flung himself all around me, into me, and tried to go over me. When I decided that we needed to work on this before I turned him loose, he decided he wouldn’t leave the pasture refusing to budge. Each time I moved his feet, he’d try to drop his shoulder into me to knock me over, or rear up and over my head.
I don’t like this at all.
This is dangerous….
Bill has to push him from behind to unstick his mind, and this is when I planned our first training session for the next day. I hoped to not do anything with him for at least two weeks, but alas, three days and that stubborn streak screamed for my attention.
Two things were going on:
He didn’t know about respecting space
He used physical intimidation to get his way like he would with his fellow yearlings.
There are several different ways to teach about space. One is that you draw a circle around yourself, and each time the horse steps into it without your invitation, you back the horse out.
This is where we started, and within five minutes he picked up on this. After we got this down, we started practicing walking. I got my long stick (the same kind that most trainers use), and I first sensitized him to it. I let him smell it, mouth it, and then I rubbed his entire body with it. I wanted him to know that this stick isn’t anything to be scared of.
We started to walk the outer edges of the big paddock. Anytime he tried to drop his shoulder into me, which he did a lot, I’d poke him with the stick in his shoulder. At first it was a light tap, if he continued, the pressure graduated to a constant pressure with the end of the stick, and if he still continued, he got a stronger tap. He only got the strong tap twice. Usually, he moved off the pressure with a light tap. Of course as soon as he moved off of the light pressure, I stopped applying any pressure to let him know this is what I was looking for.
He picked up on this lesson really quick. We practiced going in both directions several times.
Where we had the most problem was walking back and forth between the paddock and the pasture. Bill was at work, so I had no help with me if I couldn’t get him down from the pasture.
All horses will challenge you. All horses.
We approached the entrance to the paddock and then backed up. We did a lot of approach and retreat. All went well.
We stepped one stride in and backed up. Went well. Repeated successfully two more times.
I then walked him in, turning him immediately to walk back through the paddock…
Feet locked up, head in the air. I tried to move him again, and here came the shoulder to knock me over. I poke him with the stick requesting my space, and then he rears up, and if I wouldn’t have moved, he would have landed right on me.
The challenge is on.
I start moving his feet, and before I know it, he’s longing a tight circle around me trying to drop his shoulder into me. I push him off with the stick. I get him to move in the other direction. He stops to rear up again. I’m waiting this time. I back up, so he can’t land on me, and then I go back to moving him in both directions and backwards without any reaction from me. This caught him by surprise; he expected me to give in.
We then stop moving. I walk up, pet him, hug on him, and we start walking and trotting in circles slowly moving towards the paddock’s gate. Holding my breath, the moment of truth is here.
He walks right through without any issues. I immediately let him stop, he drops his head to my chest, and we love one one another for about five minutes. After a good rest, we start walking back and forth from the paddock to the pasture. No more stubborn streak….just willingness and walking alongside me in a safe way.
I wish I could say I haven’t run into this again, but I have whenever he’s unsure of something or doesn’t want to do something. Usually, it takes a little bit of approach and retreat along with approaching from a different angle. There are times when he gets nervous about something, and he forgets about my personal space.
He’s a baby that wasn’t handled much. Thus, he’s a little bit wild, because he isn’t sure of what I’m asking all the time, which means he’s a little bit stubborn and impulsive. Everything I do with him is basically a new experience, and I sometimes feel overwhelmed for him. I put him through a lot bringing him here, and he’s gone through so much adjustment in a short amount of time. At times I feel really guilty about it. He takes it more in stride than I do sometimes.
I said it before, and I will say it again, he’s the sweetest horse. He is full of love, and he loves to be loved on. Time will smooth all of this out. We’re just beginning.
Suddenly, the forest heats up. Chaco and I are meandering down a narrow path. I put my reins on his withers and pull my hoody over my head. Chaco is the most sure footed horse I have, so I don’t worry about doing this on the trail until it gets stuck on my head and I can’t see for a few seconds. I ask him to stop, and despite my muffled voice, he does on a dime. I finally get it off, tie it around my waist, and off we go.
Chaco, despite his stifle injury from his racing days, has the most fluid walk. My hips slide with his, and his rhythm hypnotizes my mind into silence. I listen to him breath, I feel his footfalls, and I’m completely aware of how blessed I am to ride such an amazing horse. My dogs Chewy and Winx are ahead of me, and Bella follows behind sniffing everything when suddenly Chewy and Winx scatter.
Snapped out of my reverie, Chaco and I find ourselves face to face with an elderly couple and two dogs. Ever since Covid, it is next to impossible to go for a ride in the forest without coming across another human. Rides where I never saw another human are suddenly filled with them. Also, a lot of the dogs accompanying humans have never been around horses, and this can be a dangerous mix. Luckily, my horses love dogs, so it keeps things calm.
Chaco curls his neck with his chin to his chest as he tries to see the two dogs sitting at his hooves. “This can’t be happening again,” I mutter to myself.
I back Chaco up, and the dogs follow. One stands on Chaco’s hoof looking up to him wagging his tail in glee. Chaco is immediately smitten, but I worry about him stepping on their paws by accident. I look at the owners with a big smile, and say, “You really need to get your dogs.”
They look at me flustered. The woman speaks in gaspy sentences, “Well, but….he’s a horse! Will he bite me?”
Oh my gosh, the female version of Bill Abendroth is standing before me. Bill is a friend that went to the same high school I did a few years ahead of me. Several years later, never mind how many, we are friends. He is absolutely sure that horses are carnivores, and I found his unknown biological twin. Here she is standing in front of me sweating terror down her face.
“No, if he were mean, you’d know by now. He is a gentle giant. You can get them. I have a hold of him. I really don’t want to move him, because I don’t want him to accidentally step on your dog’s paws.”
She looks at me in utter fear, and it appears her stomach may be ready to join in. Her husband is behind her, and he is as immovable as a petrified forest. I try to help by backing Chaco. The dogs follow him, and the same dog now tries to reach his nose up to kiss Chaco by propping himself up on his hind legs and leaning his front paws on his left fetlock.
His owner makes several feeble attempts to get her dogs. She reaches out to them while standing frozen to the ground gasping something. Her voice is dried up. I back up Chaco again and turn him around to try and ride off. Her dogs are on his front hooves immediately.
I could get off Chaco, but I don’t want to. I’m in an area of the forest where there is no place for me to climb up on, so I can easily climb back on him. He’s really tall. I didn’t wear my stretchy jeans. I wore my normal jeans, and if I get off, these jeans are in trouble. I can get my toe into the stirrup, but the amount of effort to catapult myself on would mean my jeans would rip, and I’d be riding in my underwear. Nope, I’m not getting off this time. They can get their dogs.
I’m about to turn Chaco around to face them again when Winx sweeps in from out of nowhere and herds her two dogs off back to them. My hero! They pick up there dogs yelling sorry scuttling off in the opposite direction.
I love on Chaco for being such a good diplomat. He really is a gentle giant at 17.1 hands. I decide then that he will be the one to help train Sueño for trail riding. Nothing phases him, and he moves so comfortably and confidently through any environment and situation.
We ride off into another area of the forest luckily finding no one else ahead of us. The forest desperately dry still brings me some sort of peace. I gaze upwards through the aspen and pine trees at the clear blue sky popping through here and there. There is nothing like riding a horse through the forest. I always feel as if I’m reaching back through time reconnecting with one of my ancestors who once upon a time did the same thing. Or at least I imagine it to be so.
Winding our way through the forest I hear the couple’s dogs bark. Chewy, my scaredy cat dog, takes off at a full run back for the truck, which is a half mile away. No amount of calling stops him. I know that he will jump into the back of the truck waiting for us, but…..
I don’t like this at all.
I only wanted to walk Chaco, but now I gather up the reins clucking at him to step into the trot with moving into the two point position. I cluck again to ask him to long trot, and off we go. He flies over the trail with ease. I barely feel his hooves touch the ground. Are we touching the ground, or riding through the clouds? I need to crouch over his neck to keep from getting hit by pine boughs, yet he doesn’t change his gait. His ears are on me and the trail ahead. Chaco has the most beautiful gaits, and I often say he is the four legged version of Mikhail Baryshnikov.
Riding him is a privilege. My thoughts blow away with the wind he creates as we quickly move over the ground. I feel his foot falls gently touching the earth. I feel the muscles in his neck, my breath moves with his, my body and his become one as we fly threw the forest in a magical moment I will never forget. Reluctantly, we stop when I see the truck. I lean forward wrapping my arms around his neck. He brings his nose back to my foot holding my toe in his mouth.
I look at the pickup, and I see Chewy sitting on the tailgate panting wondering where the heck we’ve been.
I close up the trailer and slither into my truck feeling defeated. I drop my head to the steering wheel trying to breath. The trailer starts to rock as Dulce tells me to get moving; he doesn’t like being in the trailer unless it’s moving. I start the engine, and as soon as the diesel purrs, he mellows out. Down the winding washboard roads and hills we plunge.
I try to shake off the bad feeling of a ride that appeared to go wrong at every turn. I pump up the volume on Michael Franti singing Stay Human. Doesn’t help. I put my window down to let the warm, summer air hit my face, and I shift my focus. “What good happened today?”
The ride started out well. Dulce handled descending down the hill while going over polls incredibly well. When he did get nervous about anything, he never panicked. He simply took a few steps back. I gave him time to examine whatever made him nervous, and when he relaxed, he’d step forward easily. He was relaxed yet alert. Nothing seemed to make him nervous. He responded to me, and what more can a girl ask for? A green horse doing all of these things on a trail he’s never been on is beyond perfect.
We weren’t riding alone though. My dogs were with us, and I brought Harley, my 20 yo quarter horse, along. Harley has been on every trail around this area. I thought he would keep Dulce calm on this brand new trail and be a good teacher. Harley was more interested in high elevation grass. Every time I paid more attention to helping Dulce through another obstacle, he tried to drag me off the saddle as he dove for a big bite. If Dulce and I went to the left, he’d turn right. Harley’s mind was on green grass and that was it. Being in a drought, who can blame him? My right arm sure could as I tried to stop him from snatching. He jerked me around in every direction. I tried to keep my frustration with Harley at a minimum, because I didn’t want my emotions to agitate Dulce.
When we finally got down into the small canyon, I noticed a camper up ahead in an area that made me wonder how in the world they got it there. My experience with riding by campers isn’t always the best, so I decided to ask Dulce to climb a steep hill to the south of them through thick brush and over some rocky spots, which I’ve never had the opportunity to do with him before. All we can do is try.
As we climbed, I shoved any doubt I had out of my mind. He is so athletic, and he relished the challenge. He climbed over obstacles with ease. His enthusiasm to climb the hill became contagious, because Harley didn’t try to snatch one blade of grass. Dulce jumped up onto a rock cliff, and before I knew it we were at the top of the hill. I think my smile extended a lot more than from ear to ear when Harley tried to yank me down to the ground hard yet again.
“Harley, stop it!” I yell. He looks at me with a mouthful of grass and a smirk.
“I’m going to ignore you Harley.”
We ride into this one area that used to be a homestead. Unfortunately, a lot of wire from old fences was all over the place. When I spotted it, I asked Dulce to back out of the area, and he did it without any problems. Harley didn’t want to back up. An old spring still flowed, and the grass is five feet tall. No wonder they had their homestead here. It was the greenest most lush spot I’ve seen all summer. The old trees created the most beautiful, cooling shade. I didn’t want to leave.
We head off when we came to a dried up water crossing. Any type of water outside of his home environment is the one thing that seems to scare Dulce, and this dried up area held on to all of the smells of water was no different. Dulce refused to walk over it.
“Okay Harley, you’re up. Time to teach Dulce that this isn’t scary.” Harley crossed a lot of water with Shandoka and I years past. He has this. I try to get Harley to lead the way, but he refused. He and Dulce both begin backing up.
“Are you kidding me Harley? You and I have crossed over this I have no idea how many times. Come on Harley, help me out.”
Harley backed up a few more steps with Dulce following. Frustrated with Harley that he was teaching Dulce this was scary, I give him one more chance to show Dulce how brave he is. Total fail.
He looked at me as if to say, “Listen woman that feeds me and makes me go on these long walks, if he’s scared, why am I going to take the lead? There is some really nice grass on this side of the crossing. I have no incentive to go across.”
I hop off and walk them back and forth across this area easily. I climb back on, and we ride across it. I throw Harley a side glance of displeasure. He could care less until I shorten up his lead rope keeping his nose by my knee. We work our way up another hill where a creek that usually runs across the path is dried up. We go through the same thing as the last crossing with Harley refusing to be the teacher….again. After climbing back on, the ride goes well until we head back and hit the same water crossings. Even though we ended up riding across them once before, they wiped it out of their memory. Back to hopping off, teaching, hopping on, and riding across.
“Harley, you are not earning your hay today at all!”
“Well, let me try to drag you off your saddle again for some yummy grass right over here!”
That was our discussion for most of the ride back.
We get to the hill where we need to drop off back into the canyon. Dulce did fantastic at navigating the steep grade while climbing over poles. I decide to cut to the left around a big aspen, so we can hit an easier part of the hill, when Harley decides to go around the opposite side of the pole. I nearly went off the back of the saddle this time.
“Harley!” I yell out of total frustration. He is usually the best trail partner rarely giving me any problems. “Why are you doing this to me?” I exclaim as I hop off Dulce again, and get Harley on the right side. I climb back on, and ride down the hill into the canyon when a strange dog comes running up to us.
I look around for his humans who obviously are in the camper. I call out to them several times asking them to come get their dog because he keeps following us. I ride towards their camper calling out for them to get their dog again. Dulce AND Harley were fantastic about it all. The dog was great, and he only wanted to play with my dogs. No answer. I call out again, and this time they close the door of their camper.
“Really? Instead of getting your dog, you’re closing the door? Seriously?”
My pot was boiling at this point. I didn’t want to chase the dog off with the horses, because I didn’t want to teach him to go after horses out of fear. I hop off for the upteenth time, and I chase the dog back to his camper where he finally stayed. I walk my guys over to this huge, downed Ponderosa, and climb back on Dulce.
By the time we make it back to the trailer, I’m frustrated, exhausted, and beating myself up for being the worst horse trainer in the world. I load them up, and this is when I tried to find something good from all of this.
My answer was that I never got bucked off. Dulce took it all in stride no matter what Harley or those campers through at us. He overcame new obstacles with ease and struggled with the same issue of water. I’ve exposed him to deer, elk and black bear scent, walked him through my irrigation and where my irrigation forms a huge puddle with ease. I need to find some water out in the woods and go sit by the water’s edge with him until he finds a way to walk up to it. A strange dog didn’t even phase Harley or Dulce, and Dulce is extremely athletic. I get excited about the rides that we will be doing one day. So, this is how I made some lemonade out of huge lemons.
I unload the horses, Harley last. I look into Harley’s eyes and shake my head. He did help teach Dulce to deal with all sorts of negative stuff.
And Allah took a handful of southerly wind, blew His breath over it, and created the horse…. Thou shall fly without wings, and conquer without any sword. Oh, horse.…Bedouin Legend
Some say that the horse was created in such a way that their life is about developing a relationship with humans to help us accomplish whatever it is we feel the need to do on the back of a horse. People spend exorbitant amounts of money to find their special horse.
I believe horses at times are looking for their human. They really want that relationship, but they don’t often get the right to choose their human; they are the prospers or victims of what some may call fate. Sueño kind of fell into my lap. I wasn’t looking for him at all yet there he was. After seeing so many yearlings in kill pens this year, I knew that I needed to bring him home.
His journey was long and not always easy. Waiting was intolerable at times depriving me of much sleep wondering if he was stressed, was he scared, was he eating enough, drinking enough, and was this trip doing any damage to his gut despite being given ulcergard? Of course I couldn’t help wondering, will he like me? Will he be willing to develop a relationship with me.
When Brandon dropped the ramp, he at first didn’t want to step off the trailer. I stood their waiting for him to make his choice as he surveyed his new surroundings. The cottonwood gently swayed with the afternoon breeze. His gaze seemed to be locked on the tree’s dance. After a few minutes, he stepped off, and he came to life. Lots of energy wanting to walk and explore.
My other horses were on the upper pasture alert to the fact that something was going on. They couldn’t see him right away, but once they did, they erupted galloping around with the occasional buck or crow hop.
I walked over to my truck, and that’s when I saw it. Sueño wanted to walk with me. The first sign of a choice. We took him into his area, and I said goodbye to Brandon. I immediately refilled his water bucket, because he decided it would be fun to spill it. I showed him his hay, and I introduced him to his barn. He was skittish, not very aware of me, but such sweetness oozed from his demeanor.
My horses immediately took to him, and he globbed on to them. It won’t be too hard to bring these guys together, although I may take my time due to his small size. He is 13.2 hands and 724 pounds. Dulce and Chaco are 17 hands and 1150 pounds. We’ll take it slow.
I spent the night with him, and most of the night I listened to him eat his hay right next to me. Dulce and Chaco stayed close. Harley acted like he didn’t care, except every now and then he would chase off Dulce and Chaco wanting Sueño all to himself…or the hay. Not sure which.
Over the past two days I’ve spent a lot of time with him. Not much work has been put into him, which is fine by me. I don’t have to untrain and retrain many things. He finally lets my hands run down his hindlegs and lift his hooves. He is easy to catch. He was extremely head shy on both sides, but we have worked through most of that already. He now loves it when I scratch behind his ears. He easily accepted a fly mask, and he is getting better about being fly sprayed.
When I first walked him, he had no idea about giving space. He was either dropping his shoulder into me or trying to go over the top of me. After a lot of walking one day together, he is now fantastic being led. I can be light with the lead rope with him after one day of working with him, which is exciting. He is smart and learns quick. He also lets me put my arm over his back and put a little weight on him. At first his head flew up, but he immediately relaxed and let me do it a few more times. He can be stubborn at times, but when that streak shows up, he is telling me how insecure he feels.
Today I turned him out on the pasture for the first time. I wondered if I’d be able to catch him. I walked right up to him, and he let me scratch him. He dropped his forehead to mine, and we stood there for a long while together. I whispered to him, “Yes, I’m your human. You found me.”
When he was done cuddling, I walked off, and he did it. He began following me all around the pasture without a lead rope.. He got to make his choice.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.