Blending In

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harley and Mojo right before our first walk

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

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

This is right by where Mojo lives.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mojo sleeping on my shoulder….

One Trailer Ride

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One trailer ride.

Getting Our Butterflies in Formation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One Sweet Moment

This is about my Kill Pen rescue Mojo. Each morning I carry one bucket of feed out into the chilly morning air. The sun is still sleeping on the east coast, so my path is pitch black without the moon’s light. I can hear a nicker. It’s soft at first, and as I make my way through the tall grass, it gets louder and louder until Mojo’s sweet nose reaches over the horse panel to touch mine. I hoist the bucket over the panel where he dives in with fervent pleasure to eat his morning feed.

Sleepy Mojo relaxing in the afternoon sun

Each morning I carry one bucket of feed out into the chilly morning air. The sun is still sleeping on the east coast, so my path is pitch black without the moon’s light. I can hear a nicker. It’s soft at first, and as I make my way through the tall grass, it gets louder and louder until Mojo’s sweet nose reaches over the horse panel to touch mine. I hoist the bucket over the panel where he dives in with fervent pleasure to eat his morning feed.

Mojo aka Vallier was a thoroughbred racehorse. When I decided to start the fundraiser to bring him here, I looked at his race record real quick. I didn’t care if he won or lost, if he was considered a war horse, or how much money he won. I wanted to see where he had been, and one place stuck out for me; Oaklawn. I’ve never been there, but my grandparents went there many years ago. They eloped to Hot Springs, so they could go to the races afterwards. This is how long horse racing has been in my blood, and seeing Oaklawn in his chart, I felt like my grandparents had a hand in all of this.

I put up the GoFundMe not expecting much support or help at all only to be more than surprised. Right after I put it up, my husband and I drove to Norwood, which is a small town south of us. To get there you wind your way through mountains, valleys and canyons. My signal is spotty the whole way, however somehow my mom kept getting through. “Did you see someone donated $250? $200? $500? “

I thought my mom was wrong somehow. I can never raise money for anything, and suddenly I’m able to for this horse that somehow landed in a kill pen in Oklahoma? I finally got a decent signal, and lo and behold several donations came in from people I knew and people I’ve never met. Each and every one brought tears to my eyes when I realized I was going to be able to save this horse and give him a home. One donation really got to me. It came from one of his former trainers. People bad mouth horse racing a lot nowadays with good reason, but they don’t know the people like I do. I grew up learning from each and every one of them….they taught me how to love and care for a horse, and Ron Moquett continues doing that. He had Vallier for a short time, but he came forward and helped him out.

I called the kill pen and finalized the deal. I sent the money via Paypal, and I called a man by the name of Brandon, a horse shipper, that agreed to bring him to me. He’d pick him up first thing the following morning.

Now Mojo is here. He has a routine that I diligently stick to. His life was upended and now more than ever he needs a routine to help him feel safe and secure, so I walk out in the dark each morning to feed him. I take him hay, and then I go feed the other three. When I’m done there, I go back to him, and we spend some time together before I head in to eat my breakfast. After doing work and chores, I head out around 11am to take him for his walk.

We go on a walk each day to bring back his muscles along with his weight gain. They have atrophied away, his neck is so narrow that it seems to not even belong to him at times. So, we go for gentle walks at his pace each day to try and nurture them back to strength. Sometimes he is with me mentally, and other times the shade is down. He walks with me, but he isn’t really there. The kill pen took a toll on him mentally and emotionally, so I flow with whatever he needs to present to me at the time. Today he was spry. He had pep in his step, he kept nudging me with his nose, and he walked along side me instead of behind me. We were companions today, and I loved how it felt.

Each time I’ve taken in a horse there is a moment when I’ve truly connected with the horse for the first time. With my horse Shandoka it was when he let me gently rub my fingters around an old wound, with Chaco it was when I brought him back from the hospital after his arthroscopic surgery, with Harley it was pretty much immediate, and with Dulce it was in the pasture when we fell asleep side by side. Each one of them absolutely special, unique, and never forgotten.

I didn’t expect to have that kind of moment with Mojo for awhile. You see there are so many times he looks at me, and I see the horse that he is. I want to reach out to him and bring that horse forward fully and completely, but the moment I feel that he retreats. He pulls this invisible shade down over his eyes hiding what I saw only moments ago.

I brought him back to his corral after our walk. I usually walk back to the porch and get his second feeding for the day, but Mojo stopped me. He tilted his head in a way to say, “Please scratch right behind my ear.” I did, and he loved it. I scratched in a wider area when he lifted his head over mine and rested his head on my shoulder. His eyes looked into mine. I held my breath for a second expecting him to pull that shade down and disappear, but he didn’t. I slowly exhaled and synchronized my breath with his. We kept looking into each other’s eyes when he relaxed even more. I reached up with my other hand, and I gently massaged around his poll. He let out a long sigh deeply resting on my shoulder. I’ll admit that my shoulder hurt. His head is heavy, and even though I have strong shoulders, his head was heavy. Did I say that? I didn’t care about the pain. I’d gladly experience it each and every time he chooses to rest his head on my shoulder, because this was the sweetest moment. In that moment, he trusted me completely, and in that moment he let go of all the bad that had fallen upon him the past year. His eyes almost completely closed, I let out a sigh of relief, because in that moment I found him.

Dulce is a Human Whisperer

My sweet horse and ride Dulce

I’ve been going through a few things with Dulce that I’ve been trying to work out. I’m no horse whisperer, but my horses are human whisperers. Usually, they’re really good at getting through to me, but if I don’t hear them, it’s a full on scream. Dulce started screaming.

Despite several successful rides, Dulce started going downhill with no explanation. He got worse in the trailer stress wise. To say that he rocked the trailer would be an understatement, and it got to the point that Harley wasn’t too thrilled about getting in there with him. He suddenly got very gassy again, and often kicked at his tummy. He would poop at least 15 times, and I began to worry that I would cause him to colic. I needed to solve these puzzles, or I decided I would retire him. He comes first.

One thing is that when I start to get ready to go, Dulce gets Harley and Chaco running all over the place. If I catch Chaco, he tries to separate us. I decided he needed to be round penned before I load him in the trailer to blow off steam. My grandpa once told me when we were watching a racehorse act up before a race, that you need to let certain horses express their nervous energy before they’ll concentrate. Dulce is that horse.

I love doing round pen work, because it creates a dance between you and your horse. It opens up a whole new dialogue with your horse, and when they’re having issues, sometimes this is the best place to return to. He runs in circles with you standing in the middle. You direct his feet asking him to change directions and gaits. He may come at you, but you try your best to not move and again direct his feet away from you. You get him to change directions, so he knows that you are deciding where he goes like the alpha in a herd would. This creates respect, and then comes that moment. The circles that they trot around you get smaller, they’re keeping their eye and ear on you, they’re licking their lips, and then you turn your back to the horse and wait hoping that he will stop and walk towards you. When they do, it is exciting. It never gets boring. They then will walk with you in whatever pattern you walk. Dulce did this, and he loaded into the trailer more calmly afterwards. One problem fixed.

The gas, as you remember if you’ve read my blog, Dulce struggled with last summer. He had bad gas and would get colicy every single day until I put him on Ramard’s Total Gut Health, which he is still on today. I think he gets so excited and hot right before we leave that a lot of stomach acid starts circulating in his tummy causing excess gas. I’ve tried all sorts of pastes, and whenever I give him a paste, he gets extremely agitated. I decided to take a different route. An hour before we go, I mix up one scoop of the TGH in 4 oz of Aloe Vera Gel, not juice. with a tablespoon of honey. Honey is very soothing for upset stomachs. I mix it up thoroughly, pour it over a little bit of food with some alfalfa pellets that are softened with warm water. He loves it, laps it up, and no more kicking at his tummy. Second problem fixed.

Even though he loads calmly into the trailer, he doesn’t stand there calmly at all. He paws at the ground, rocks the trailer, and tries to get out by going through the window. I realized he thinks he’s in the starting gate at the track, and he’s itching to bust out. I closed the window, and oila, he totally calmed down and now stands perfectly calm. Harley no longer hesitates to load with him in there. Third problem fixed.

The pooping issue was easily solved. I give him Yea Sacc, which is a yeast culture, an hour before we go on a ride. It is designed to reduce digestive upsets or disturbances caused by stress. Since I started giving it to him before each ride, he now only poops twice. Huge change. Fourth problem fixed.

With these problems fixed let’s go ride. Next blog is about Dulce’s first trail ride! Woohoo!

Vallier’s/Mojo’s Spa Retreat

Before I go into his spa retreat, I wanted to lead with the good news first, which could end up burying the rest. But, oh well! Vallier (barn name Mojo) gained 17 pounds his first week here. I’m not sure if we will see much next week, because often their bodies will take a break before another weight gain. We’ll see what happens though. We’re heading in the right direction, and that’s all that matters.

Sweet Mojo

This blog will answer some of the questions I’ve received since we all brought Mojo home.

The first question is why does he have to be in quarantine? Good question. Well, we have no idea if he picked up a disease such as strangles or pigeon fever for example. We need to keep him in quarantine to see if anything emerges, and to protect my other three horses. However, I’ve decided to rename his time in quarantine as a spa retreat.

This poor guy needs the break that the quarantine time is providing. He needs to relax. He needs to sleep. He needs to be able to eat without being pushed off by other horses. He is getting fed in bed (four small meals a day), his nails (hooves) done, hair done (full body wash), bodywork (I do equine massage), select treatments (He has been wormed twice; once with a light wormer and this past Monday with Equimax. Next he will go through a round or two of sand clear), and dentistry work (Monday). When we go for walks, he can see my other horses, yet he never tries to walk towards them. He isn’t ready to be around others, so I see this time as meditation and retreat time. It’s allowing his body and mind to heal from what he went through.

He has nicer hooves than I could have hoped for.

After I wrote this, something interesting happened tonight. The UPS driver came, my dogs were barking at him, and suddenly Mojo started to run around. It’s the first time I saw him do something besides walk. The horse has some moves! He seemed perfectly sound. Later Dulce and Harley were playing, and Mojo watched. That is a first. He never showed an interest. Both are very good signs.

Second question is why aren’t I feeding him alfalfa and oats? Have you ever fasted before ? If you have, imagine fasting for ten days and then eating at McDonald’s afterwards and throw in some chocolate cake. You will be so sick! You will be running to the bathroom probably ever thirty seconds.

That’s the same for horses. Alfalfa and oats are really rich, and all they will do is make Mojo sicker than sick. They could make him colic at the worst, and get really bad, cow patty, watery, diarrhea, which will only cause him to lose more weight. I’ve successfully put weight on three other OTTB’s with the diet he is on, and if anything needs to change, I will. This is a work in progress, and he will tell me what he needs.

I pay attention to how he is after he eats, I watch for any changes in his poop, I make sure he is farting easily, I look to see if he is chewing at his sides a lot indicating bad gas, and I look to see how much he’s eating throughout the day. So far, we’re doing good. He gets beet pulp, which is low in sugar and starch and puts weight on horses; flax seed, which is filled with omega fatty acids and puts on weight, timothy hay pellets, and a bit of Nutrena Safe Choice feed. All low in sugar and starch, which is so important. He also gets California Trace Minerals, which he gobbles down, two tablespoons of salt, a splash of Forco (not even close to one 1 oz) Vitamin E, Flax oil, and an MOS prebiotic. I figure he ate poop to try and survive in the kill pen since they stop feeding them when they enter into the system. The MOS prebiotic binds on to salmonella and e coli bacteria escorting them out of the body. He also gets Aloe Vera Gel, not juice, to address any stomach ulcers he may have. Several studies in Australia were done that showed aloe vera gel can heal stomach ulcers. Eventually, I will add marshmallow root, but for right now this is it.

When a horse or person have starved, their organs shrink in size, so I don’t want to overload anything. This is why he gets small meals instead of two big ones. It is all in a mash to make it as easy for his system to digest. He also gets free choice hay. It will be awhile before we see changes on the outside of his body, because first the changes need to happen within. Once he heals inside, we’ll see great stuff happen outside, but that is a ways off.

The important thing is to go slow and steady. When you start to see improvement, you immediately want to feed more, and that is when you really need to stop yourself. Just give a bit more to see how the horse does….stay there for a few days. If everything goes well, add a little bit more. I started out feeding him once a day. When I saw he was stable there, I went up to twice a day and so on. I don’t plan on adding anymore food to his bucket for another week. I want to see how he does. If he does well at eating four small meals a day, I may not increase the feed for another two weeks, and then add a bit more beet pulp….see how that goes, and then maybe some more hay pellets….see how that goes. Slow and steady.

Why do I walk him if he is so thin? Doesn’t that hurt his weight gain? I did the same thing with Dulce. Horse’s are built to be mobile. It is important to keep their guts healthy and to prevent colic. They have this incredibly long digestive tract, so movement is really important to maintain motility. Also, his topline, and all of his muscles for that matter, have atrophied. I don’t want to put weight on him without muscles to support it. Otherwise, that topline, which is non existent, could stay that way. Walking him helps with his digestive system, and slowly but surely it helps build up muscle. It will help his topline redevelop. It also helps his hooves stay healthy and develop into the beautiful hooves I know he will grow. It also stimulates all of his organs that are starting to get stronger and hopefully more of a normal size. It also helps release tightness and stiffness. Each time we walk, he starts blowing out his nose, which is a sign that his back is releasing. He starts yawning and shaking his head, which is a sign of poll and TMJ release. It also helps us develop a relationship, and he gets to go out and see things. It’s great for his mind. We’re learning each other on each walk.

As you can see all the muscles that form the top line have atrophied. Slowly but surely, he and I will build them back up.

Do I hate horse racing because of what happened to Vallier? No. One of his trainers helped bail Vallier out. Others who knew Vallier came forward to tell me tidbits about him. Did you know that the one time he won a race, he had to dodge a loose horse that dumped his rider?

I don’t even know if it was someone from the track that dumped him in that field. I have no idea who did it. What I do know is that people that knew him in the past, cared about him and came forward to help him out. This is the horse racing I knew as a kid. Everyone on the backstretch helps each other out and the horses when needed. I know with the latest news that came out this week you probably don’t believe me. With regards to those people, they need to be banned for life and go to prison if all of this is true. All cheaters like them need to be banned from the sport, and there needs to be a unified, investigative body constantly watching and testing horses to protect them and the jockeys from selfish people such as this.

True horse people always put the horse first. I saw it all the time, and I saw it when all of these people that I’ve never met and good friends come forward and help out Vallier. It will always bring tears to my eyes, because my gratitude runs so deep.

I was asked by one person if I regretted getting a kill pen horse at. The answer is no. I will never regret bringing him here, nor will my husband. We are totally in love with him. He is a joy to spend time with. He loves to be loved, and he is happy each time I go out to him. He walks up to greet me, putting his head over the panels reaching his nose out to mine. He is a blessing in our lives, and each time I look into his eyes, I see more and more life in him. He is coming back. He has a ways to go, but he is coming back into the world with a good heart. I’m honored to be a small part of that.

Vallier Found Me

Rarely do I even bother to look at Twitter when I wake up, but for some reason this past Sunday morning I did. I was scrolling through posts retweeting a few when I came across this horse in desperate need of a rescue. He was in a kill pen. I wrote to Ann to ask where the kill pen was. and from there my day became about rescuing a horse named Vallier.

I often donate what I can to horses needing to be bailed out. I know the whole debate about not doing this, because it keeps the kill pens in business…how they hold the horse’s hostage, etc. How do you turn your back? What these horses go through in these pens and then when they go to the slaughterhouses is ungodly. They live in a hell that I can’t even imagine mentally and emotionally, let alone physically, surviving.

For some reason this horse named Vallier stopped me in tracks. My heart froze, and I looked at my husband saying, “We need to get him out of there.” I felt this horse’s panic, and I felt the same way about him as I did Dulce; I needed to get him here.

How did he get into the kill pen? I guess he was abandoned in a field by someone, picked up, and shipped to the kill pen. I’m not sure how long he was there, but I think it was for a decent amount of time.

After a whirlwind of events and five hours after posting a GoFundMe, I started working out the details with the kill pen. I sent them the money, arranged to have him shipped here (I don’t think I could have handled going to a kill pen and leaving with just one horse.) , and we finalized the details of the sale and paperwork. The following morning Brandon picked him up, and Vallier was on his way to Colorado. The next morning at 9:30am we loaded him into my trailer and we headed here.

My friend on Facebook and from back home, Mary Anewalt-Perrine asked me what Vallier is like. I decided to answer her in this blog. When we first met, he was very timid. He loaded up easily, and he immediately began eating the hay I put in his bucket. When I got him home, he was pretty scared….not spooky, but scared about what was about to happen to him. I took him to his corral, and he immediately grazed. I got him some hay, and he stopped grazing and dove into the hay. He really had no interest in me; just the hay, which was perfectly fine with me.

He likes to have his ears scratched, his jaw rubbed and his neck stroked. The first day he seemed very beaten down, tired, mentally and emotionally exhausted. I’d lie if I said I didn’t cry more than a few tears watching him. I will never understand how people can toss away a life like this. Personally, I think if an owner wants to send their horse off to slaughter, they should be the ones to haul that beautiful being to Mexico or Canada. They need to see what they are about to do.

By the evening, I saw a little bit of his personality. He likes to nicker at me as I walk towards him; especially when he knows I’m bringing fresh hay. He finally took a couple of Standley hay cookies from me, and he quickly realized they weren’t too bad. This is when he started to let his guard down for a bit, and he let me love on him. Before long though, he went back to being aloof. I respected that and gave him his space.

The next morning I noticed he liked watching these two calves play in the neighbor’s field to the west of us. He was paying more attention to his environment. Despite being totally exhausted and eating all night long, he continued to chew on his hay as his head bobbed trying to give in yet fight off sleep. He ate the entire night through, and I never saw him lie down. When I came back from the vet, he no longer could fight it off. He was down and out for about thirty minutes.

When he woke up, he was more sociable. He followed me around a bit in the pen. He rested his head on my shoulder for fifteen minutes. He rested his cheek on the back of my neck, and then he put his nose to my cheek breathing, resting, sighing…..

He should be aggressive. He should be mean and angry. He is none of these things. You can tell that he was loved throughout his life until he ended up in the wrong hands of someone. He is very gentle. He wants to have a relationship, which is such a lesson in itself about forgiveness. He shouldn’t want a relationship with any human being, but here is reaching out to me when he can.

He is sweet, and he loves it when I blow into his nostrils. He likes it when I play with his upper lip, and he likes to lick my hand. When my friend Jessica and her nephew came to visit him, he was timid. It will take some time for him to trust people walking up to him. He comes out of hiding and then brings the guard back to duty. However, I got to see more of him on his second day here.

This morning was a very different day. He was pacing and nickering for me wanting his bucket of feed. He ate it all down in fifteen minutes. He then nickered away at me for his fresh hay. When I was done with all of my chores, I went in with him, and the guard wasn’t on duty. He was lovey, wanted me to pet him, followed me around, and his ears were up in a different way. They stood up in curiosity, his eyes seemed clearer…..that fog from the past few days wasn’t so visible anymore, and he was awake. He finally is feeling safe enough to sleep.

He likes it when I brush him. He lets me run my hands all over him. I’ve never worried about standing behind him. I can tell that he was hit on the left side of his face. He flinches if I move my hand too fast, which he doesn’t do on the right side. He acts as if he thinks I may hit him. I spent a lot of time moving my hands all around his face and petting, scratching or massaging him letting him know that my touch isn’t going to be a hit or a slap.

His ears are always on me, and the sweetness that emerged yesterday stayed out today. He also began grazing as well as eating the hay, and he cleaned his bucket three times. When I walked out to him this evening, he once again nickered to me. I noticed how different he was standing. He was standing like a horse. He was standing as if he knew all of that other stuff was behind him. He was tall instead of sagging and beaten down. His spirit is rising and healing. We have a long ways to go, but this evening I saw his desire to get there.

Taking the Hoof by the Horn

Harley chewing on my file handle

When I was given Harley, he was a God send for Shandoka who badly needed a friend. They became instant buddies, and he became my best friend within a short amount of time. His hooves needed a lot of help. His toes were way too long, and I believe his coffin bone had descended in his hoof capsule. He tripped constantly, and he didn’t like farriers at all.

One night a farrier came to work on him and Shandoka, and I’m pretty sure Harley wanted to trample him to death. He was furious with him before he even touched him, and the white’s of his eyes were blinding. His ears were so pinned to his head that I thought they would never stand up again. His previous caretaker would put on a pair of shoes in April, and Harley would still be wearing that same pair of shoes in October when they were pulled off. This has caused a lot of long term issues with his hooves, and I can’t even begin to tell you how overwhelmed I felt. I knew that he needed to be barefoot trimmed, but there is nobody around here that did true barefoot trimming in the style of Pete Ramey or others.

Harley is a sweet, gentle horse, so seeing this side of him shocked the heck out of me. He was telling me something, and I listened.

He told me that I needed to take a crash course in barefoot trimming. I found Pete Ramey’s list on Facebook that is sadly no more, bought his book and several videos in a night of pure panic realizing it was going to fall upon me, and I got help from Pete directly through his list as well as Heather Dwire who guided me how to trim Harley. Luckily, Derek Green came over for his set up trim, because so much had to come off the first time. I don’t know if I would have had the nerve to take all of that off the first time around. I hadn’t been up to that point.

After Derek left, it was all up to me, and this is what I’ve learned and continue to learn from Harley who is the best teacher.

  1. Harley was such an angry, pain in the butt when I first started trimming him. He would plant his feet, and fight me every step of the way when I tried to lift his feet the moment he saw my farrier tools. If I went out just to pick his hooves, no problem. The moment I pulled out my nippers or my file, holy cow the fight was on. Most times I had to pull one of his legs forward at the knee or mid cannon bone to get his hoof off the ground. It was so exhausting. His hind legs, the moment I got a hoof off the ground, he would start trying to kick it free of me. When he realized that I wasn’t letting go, he would lean backwards trying to throw me off balance. He pooped on me twice; that was fun. I think my arms were always two inches longer at the end of our sessions, and I definitely stunk afterwards. I stuck with it, but I quickly realized the way I was doing things wasn’t working. It wasn’t getting through to him that he no longer had to worry about shoes going on his hooves. So, I started doing only two hooves a session, and I would go back and forth between the two, so I never stayed on one hoof for too long. His patience increased. He started lifting his hooves when I asked. I started to not trim his toes with my nippers; I just stuck with the file, and he totally mellowed out. After doing this for awhile, we can do all four hooves in one day and in a short time. He stands perfectly for me. He lifts his hooves when I ask, and when he asks, he gets a lot of loving breaks. Harley taught me to be flexible.
  2. Let the horse have some revenge on your tools. I let Harley take out his frustration by biting on the handle of my file. He holds it in his mouth while I hold on to it, so it doesn’t stress out his teeth. It’s a pacifier basically.
  3. Listen, listen, and listen to the horse
  4. When you need to have guts, take a deep breath, and then go for it. There were so many times I didn’t think I could do what he needed me to do, but he let me even during our arguments. Of course Heather was nudging me in the background. I was so worried about making him sore, but even during our arguments their were moments of trust that gave me the go ahead and bring the toe back a bit further. He allowed me to do what I never thought I could do.
  5. Give hugs as needed
  6. Let the hoof speak to you. Everything you need to know is there in that hoof. If you don’t understand the language, go and ask for help. Hooves have their own language, and it takes awhile to learn it. I am far from fluent….I speak broken hoof language at this time, but I’m learning more and more words each day. Harley’s hooves scream at me sometimes, and sometimes like yesterday, they serenade me. Harley’s hooves are teaching me another language, and he taught me to ask for help.
  7. Be patient with yourself. When I lose patience with myself, Harley loses patience with me and it falls apart. This is when I walk away for a bit. I usually lose patience, when I can’t understand what his hoof is trying to tell me.
  8. Don’t lose patience with the horse when they’re having a melt down. You’re just shooting yourself in the foot. This is when the horse needs you to remain calm and let them know they are safe with you. Harley said that to me over and over, and I adjusted over and over for him. Listen, listen, and listen.
  9. Really pay attention to what the horse needs. Pete Ramey always asks, “How does the horse move? Is he comfortable?” Harley’s heels probably should come down a little bit more even though they are within the normal ranges of sole depth at the heel…but just a bit more on the high side. You don’t want horses to be stood up at the heel. Think about what it’s like walking around in high heels all day, 24 hours a day. Well, that’s what it’s like for horses that have high heels, and it causes so much dysfunction in the hoof. I tried taking his heels down a bit more, and he didn’t move nearly as well as when I kept them where he naturally wore them down to. Harley taught me to pay attention, and answer those questions that Pete asks each time I trim.
  10. Pete taught me a lot about the hairline at the coronary band of the hooves. It is always dynamic, always moving, and it is not an accurate tool to base the trimming of hooves upon. I’m always looking at Harley’s hairline, because if it goes up at any spot, I know I have a flare to work out. As soon as I do get it worked out, Harley’s hairline mellows out. That hairline is part of the hoof’s language. Pay attention to when it speaks to you. Harley has taught me that not all receding hairlines are about baldness.
  11. Harley will always have problems with his hooves. He probably has remodeling of his coffin bones…maybe a ski tip, and a negative palmar angle of the left hoof. The NPA has improved but not disappeared. I should get x-rays, but whenever I do, it is such BAD news. His hooves show me what is going on, and I don’t want the x-rays to confirm it just yet. I keep following Pete’s guidelines, and it’s amazing how well he is doing….how well he moves….how fast he can run with the thoroughbreds at twenty years old. His quarters always want to flare out….his toes still want to run away if I don’t trim him every two weeks in the summer, and these issues will probably never change, but I keep trimming him with the intention of creating that change. Harley supports this, and today none of the quarters in any of his hooves were flared out! Okay, probably because it’s winter and their hooves barely grow during the winter. However, this is the first time. Harley has taught me to not give up.
  12. Because of everything I do for Harley, rehabbing my thoroughbreds’ hooves has been a lot easier. He prepared me for them. He taught me for them and others, and he gave me the confidence to trim other horses besides mine.

He is a kick in the pants, always trying to pickpocket my phone, and loves to grab hold of my hood when I’m not looking. Harley took care of so many kids on trail rides, he took care of Chaco and I after losing Shandoka, and he is one of the best hoof teachers out there. I don’t know what I’d do without him.

If you want to learn more about barefoot trimming and Pete Ramey, please visit his website at http://www.hoofrehab.com. He has a page dedicated to several articles that he has written about diet, laminitis, hoof capsule rotation, etc. He also sells videos and the most detailed book out there on barefoot trimming. I highly recommend all of it.

Ulcers or Maybe Not Part 2

On our first walk down to the hay field

A few people asked me how Dulce is doing. Before I start, let me tell you that I’m sick. I have a nasty cold, and my brain is backfiring quite a bit. With that said, let’s get to it.

Dulce is doing great for the most part. He now has pellets galore, he hasn’t had anymore episodes of gas colic (knocking on all the wood and anything else I can find), diarrhea no more, and the weight fluctuations have stopped. I did take him off of Butyrate for a week, and there was a decline. I put him back on it, and all was well.

Every now and then there are some mild ups and downs, but they don’t equate to any weight loss. However, during training, he gets so worked up that I can feel all of the gastric acid shooting into his stomach. It makes me cringe, and a large part of this I fear is my fault.

When I went to pick him up in Kentucky, I was offered to bring home a mare with me as well that was his pasture buddy. We weren’t set up at the time to take in another horse, so I had to bring him alone. I think this hurt him mentally and emotionally. I wish I would have brought her home anyway. So, now I need to undo what I did.

Whenever I load him into the trailer to leave the house, he has a meltdown in the trailer. I have to immediately jump into the truck and drive off, and once we do, he immediately calms down. The thing is these meltdowns may not only cause him to hurt himself badly, his stomach goes to heck and back.

This of course concerns me, because I don’t want him to develop ulcers. Also, I worry about his gut health going downhill on me again. I started pondering what to do and how to undo his fears of being permanently separated from Chaco and Harley, which will not happen.

I had dreams of Dulce before I got him. Shandoka was running straight for me, he runs right through me, and behind him I see Dulce. Dulce comes right to me and drops his head to me. Maybe Shandoka was the answer here. When I agreed to take Shandoka, he was separated from his sister. He called and called for her. I knew that I needed to get him to trust me, depend upon me like he did his sister. As soon as I got him halter trained, I took him for walks in the field that surrounded his paddock area.

Shandoka and I walked who knows how many miles together over the course of his life. We didn’t have a pasture at the time, so I’d walk him around and let him graze along the side of the road. He learned to trust me no matter what drove by….a semi, motorcycle, or a car with a nice glasspack exhaust system. I decided that maybe this is the answer for Dulce. Maybe it would help calm him down like it helped Shandoka.

After I work with Dulce, we go for a walk down to my hay field. The first time we went down there, I was sure I made a mistake. All we did was circle and do figure 8’s, because he was so hot and his mind was everywhere and anywhere but with me. I kept focusing on my breath to keep my energy down hoping he and I could find balance. Finally, after twenty minutes, he took one bite of grass. I took that as a win, and we headed back to the other horses. Since then he has improved each day, getting calmer and calmer. I haven’t even tried out the trailer yet, but soon I will begin to incorporate that into our walks. I will load him before and then after the walk before I reunite him with Chaco and Harley. My hope is that this will teach him that no matter where we go, he will come back home.

For his gut, to help him through this training period, I’m flooding it with good stuff. He is still on the butyrate, the MOS prebiotics, and Ultra Gut Health. Now I have him back on gastromend as a preventative for ulcers, and FORCO, which is really good for nervous stomachs. It also will flood his gut from beginning to end with wonderful bacteria. I also give him Aloe Vera Gel. Studies in Australia have shown that aloe vera gel is much better than juice for the prevention and healing of stomach ulcers. The second best choice is Aloe Vera powder. I will write more about the use of herbs in another blog.

Hopefully, the bases are covered, and we’ll see progress. I absolutely love working with him. He has such heart, courage, and intelligence. Hopefully no ulcers will develop, and his gut health will continue to improve. Even though things are well, I believe it will be another six months before he finds his balance. So far so good, because I can still rub his tummy and he eats like a horse as the saying goes.

Rip Off The Band-aids!

Oh, how I love Chaco. He has so much heart

I haven’t posted an update about Chaco for awhile, because I mainly have nothing good to say. I try to keep a positive outlook for everyone, but inside my heart breaks for him every single day. I don’t think a day goes by that I don’t shed tears over his right hindleg. I see the pain it causes him each day, and I feel like I’m failing him each day. Why? I can’t make it stop. We have tried and are trying everything we can to keep him as sound as possible. The fact of the matter is that his suspensory will probably give out in his left hindleg one day, and that day will be his last. Feverishly, I’m trying to do everything I can to prevent this. I look at Chaco as the walking wounded after useless band-aids were used to keep him racing.

If you’ve read this blog from the beginning, you know that Chaco went down in a race after clipping heels with another horse. Two other horse went over Chaco; you can see two hoof prints in white hairs on his pelvis. It is believed that he fractured a rib and his pelvis. The pelvis fracture is usually an instant death sentence, but somehow he healed thanks to the care that he received. However, three major chips broke off from his stifle in the wreck, and instead of having them removed, I believe he was blistered. His trainer states that he didn’t know that Chaco had them, and maybe he didn’t, but I doubt the vet missed that. The trainer also stated that I should blister Chaco instead of having the chips removed, because that is what he does for all of his horses that have chips.

Blistering is a band-aid. Not one surgeon or vet that I spoke to thought blistering was the answer for chips; they all said arthroscopic surgery was the best and only choice. It doesn’t heal anything, doesn’t ameliorate a thing, and to be honest all it does is create more damage. The longer the chips are in there, the more damage there is to the cartilage. Blistering or pin firing just makes it so the horse can’t feel the damage that the chips are creating.

Why do I bring this up again? Because three more horses died at Santa Anita in three days. They aren’t only dying at Santa Anita, but at other tracks as well and in other sports besides horse racing. Why are they dying is the question often put to me by so many as if I would know. I never know what to say.

Maybe I have known all along as I watch Chaco rest his right hindleg… again….leaning his weight to his left hindleg… again.

My guess is that there isn’t any one reason except for the use of band-aids regarding all of these deaths. There is so much pressure to make money, to pay the bills, to have winners that become sires, and to keep horses running that the use of band-aids for injuries is widespread. Injections, shockwave therapy, overuse of anti-inflammatories, pin firing, blistering and on and on and on are all band aids to cover up pre-existing conditions.

My guess is that every single horse that died at Santa Anita had a pre-existing condition like Mongolian Groom did that required rest to heal. My guess is that there were minor lesions or stress fractures beginning to form, but due to the pressure put upon trainers by people that want to see horses run, instead of sending them to the farm to rest and heal up, band-aids of all sorts are thrown at these horses to make them sound enough to race. Not only does this put a horse’s life at risk but the jockey’s as well. I don’t know how a jockey hasn’t been seriously hurt or worse since all of this began. Whenever a trainer puts a horse out there with a pre-existing condition, not only is that horse in danger, but all the horses in the race are at risk of getting hurt….and all of the jockey’s lives are in jeopardy. But band-aids are cheaper I guess…..

No amount of shockwave therapy or drugs will heal stress fractures. Time and rest is what heals them. We need to change our way of thinking regarding horse racing; look to other countries and adopt what is working such as cross training and more time out of the stalls. Jockeys and trainers have suggested over the years that horse racing shut down for a month or two during the winter months. This would be a perfect for horses to have time off to rest and heal up….to get out of the stall and be a horse and run around in the pasture, which would actually strengthen their bones.

In Australia, they give their horses breaks from the track. Winx got two breaks a year. While racing, she developed a chip, and instead of blistering her, they had it removed and did the proper rehab. She came back to racing after she was cleared, and look at what she accomplished. Winx is a shining example of how right everything was done in my opinion, and this is what we need to bring to horse racing here in the United States.

If you want to be part of the solution, please call your Representatives and Senators asking them to vote “yes” on this bill. It will not solve all of the problems, but it is a great start to creating positive change in the horse racing industry. This will create a centralized agency that will oversee all of horse racing and create unified rules across the country. Right now each state regulates itself, so there are all of these different jurisdictions from track to track. You can read the bill here https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/1754/text. Here is a list of the current Senators and Representatives https://www.govtrack.us/congress/members/current. This is where change can start, but Congress needs to hear your voices loud and clear.

I would love it if all racehorses diagnosed with chips were banned from racing until they were removed arthroscopically. Also, how did the chips develop? Were they from a trauma like Chaco, or were they from stress to the bone. If it is the latter, those horses should be red flagged and watched closely throughout their career. I feel bad for the vets that examined Mongolian Groom and other horses that have died. If their owners/trainers are using banned methods to mask lameness such as shockwave therapy or osphos, it makes it very hard for them to diagnose problems. All of these masking agents and bute and osphos….they need to go. Everyone complains about lasix, and I don’t like lasix, but the true problem lies in bute and all of the other drugs that mask lameness. Lasix does not do that. These other drugs and methods will destroy American Horse Racing in my opinion.

If we can get this law passed, it’s time to rip away these band-aids that lead to so much tragedy and suffering. Santa Anita has implemented many great changes, but as with the recent deaths and the death of Mongolian Groom, the changes aren’t catching all of the horses at risk. Dr. Bramlage in his report on the death of MG during the Breeder’s Cup Classic stated that the vets on scene needed to get an xray at just the right angle to see the lesions that led to his death. Basically, anyone could have missed it. We need a think tank to come together of people from all parts of the industry, especially the grooms, and people from the outside of the industry to come up with better ideas. The safety of the horse and jockey always need to come first.

If Chaco’s chips had been removed, a $2,500 surgery, he may not have been able to race again, or he may have, but he could have had a second career. He would have been sound. I wouldn’t be crying on his shoulder literally every single day. All I know is I’m so grateful that I got him, that we were able to get the chips out, and how blessed I am to be able to take care of him. He is the most amazing horse. He lets me do whatever needs to be done for him without a complaint ever. He misses going out for rides, I can tell by how he looks at me when I go to catch Dulce or Harley to go work, yet his attitude still remains positive and loving and playful. It’s time for me to go out and give him a shot of Adequan that isn’t working as well as I hoped it would, and he will stand there patiently, calmly, and nuzzle me after I pull the needle out of his neck to let me know it’s okay.