“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.