Mojo’s Walkabout

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Mojo after he nickered at me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.