And Then There Was A Herd

It lightly rained throughout the night before turning to snow. The drought’s tight grip on our area eroded enough for good mud to develop, which we haven’t experienced for a long time. As I walked out in the fading darkness of morning I slid here and there trying to get to the horses. Sueño was the first to greet me at the fence. I shined my flashlight around, and all of the horses were safe and sound. I made my way back to the house to make up their food for the morning.

When I headed back out with their buckets, I saw both Dulce and Sueño waiting for me at the fence covered in mud. Dulce went to the muddiest spot in their dry lot for his morning roll. Sueño who wants to be just like Dulce when he grows up, went to the second muddiest spot for a morning roll. I shake my head and count my blessings they had their blankets on. Otherwise, I would be trying to brush it out all day long.

Harley and Chaco are perfectly clean. “Why can’t you be more like these two?” I ask Sueño as he gives me a nose kiss.

The fact of the matter is that Dulce is like Sueño’s big brother. He wants to be near him as much as possible, and he copies a lot of the things Dulce does. Dulce teaches him how to play, and for the most part is real gentle with him.

Harley is like Sueño’s favorite Uncle. Sueño looks up to him, admires him, feels safe with him, and has a lot of fun with him. Harley is his protector, and if Sueño crosses the line, he gently scolds him. If there is a wild animal roaming around the fields at night, he likes to stand right by Harley until any perceived danger is gone.

Chaco is a whole other story. He is my gentle giant, and he loves everyone he meets. Children fascinate him, and he would love to stand with a baby all day long. He never wants to hurt a soul, but as I’ve mentioned before he has a huge mischievous streak. He also ranks at the bottom in the herd. He is more like the middle child regarding Sueño, and he wants to pick on Sueño constantly.

When Chaco came here, he learned how to socialize with other horses. I’ve mentioned how he was scared to play at first, and Shandoka gently taught him how. Once Shandoka opened that door, holy horse he plays every chance he gets. When I introduced him to Harley, Harley was anything but accepting, Harley was on the attack. His ears were back, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen him run so fast after anyone or anything. It took a long, long time for Harley and Chaco to become close. It wasn’t until Harley spent a night alone when Chaco had his surgery that they finally became a two horse herd that Harley was the boss of.

Dulce was a lot easier to assimilate, but when he got to feeling stronger, Chaco quickly learned that he was not going to be the ruler of Dulce. Instead, he was at the bottom of the herd once again. Chaco simply would rather have a friend than be the boss. He accepted it easily, because he now had a companion that understood him; two veterans from the track.

When Sueño arrived, Chaco knew things were going to change. No longer would he be at the bottom. He now had a fellow horse that he could push around for a change, and he was on a mission to make sure Sueño understand that. I think he learned a bit too much from Harley.

Usually, when I bring horses together, I take it slow, and I lead them around together letting them munch on the pasture while I stay in between them. Once this goes well, I usually get on the horse that has been there for awhile, and pony the new horse around. I’ve found that when two horses work together, they come together pretty easily. I didn’t have this option with Sueño. For one thing, Sueño wasn’t the best at leading around, and the thought of being between the two of them wasn’t a good thought to me. I tried several other options all of which were a total fail with Sueño scared to death of Chaco. If I even tried to have them in the same area together, Chaco would immediately go after and corner him. Sueño would come running for me and hide behind me if he could get away. If he couldn’t, I had to go break it up. There were a few very scary moments. Chaco who is three hands taller than Sueño simply overwhelmed and terrified poor I began to wonder if I needed to keep them separated from one another.

Finally, I came up with an idea after Doc left. I suddenly had another pen available to me. For two nights in a row I put Chaco in Doc’s/Mojo’s pen away from Harley and Dulce, so there was no other horse for Chaco to get jealous about or drag into his shenanigans. I put Sueño in the pen right next to him. This way if he got a bit too stressed about Chaco, he could walk over to the other fence and visit with Harley or Dulce. However, I put all of his hay and alfalfa along the fence he shared with Chaco, and I did the same to Chaco. When it was feed time, I put their feed buckets right next to one another’s on each side of the fence. This way they HAD to eat together, they would socialize more with one another, and it would only be the two of them; no interference from any other horse.

Chaco and Sueño learning to play with one another

After the second night I turned them all out together one morning. As I put hay in one of the feeders they both walked up to the feeder on either side of me. Chaco began eating, and then Sueño watching him with a little bit of hesitation dropped his head down and snatched some hay for himself. They then touched noses. I stood there wondering if I was going to be body slammed by two horses, or would this remain as calm as can be? It was perfect! They got along! I couldn’t believe it.

A half hour before I brought the horses down from the pasture, I decided to see how they handled being together. Prepared to break anything up, I opened up the gate, and Chaco immediately sauntered down to be with Sueño, they nipped a little bit at each other playfully before settling down to eat some more grass. It worked!

Does this mean that Chaco stopped giving him a hard time? Not really. When Chaco gets playful, he enjoys chasing Sueño around, and when I think, “Okay, I need to go out and break this up,” Dulce will step out of the barn to block Chaco. Dulce and Chaco start playing, and Sueño heads to Harley who then plays with him or they eat together. Sueño is getting braver though. I noticed this morning when Chaco went after him, instead of running away, Sueño turned to face him, and they played together. I beamed all morning.

Chaco is no longer at the bottom of the herd. Sueño will always respect Chaco. When I walk Chaco, Sueño loves to follow him.

We were a herd of three plus one.

Then one day something changed, shifted, and they became a herd of four.

Not Taking Any Bull

It’s a crisp, chilly Fall morning. Chaco, Harley, and I are gearing up for a trail ride. The scent of pine and moist soil wafts through the air, and all of my tension evaporates. It is election day, and we headed to the woods to get away from all of it for a bit.

I notice there is still some snow all around, and I’ve never ridden Chaco through snow. I constantly want to protect his leg, but he is doing really well of late. I pat him on the neck and whisper, “I know you’ve got this.” I hop on, and the three of us saunter into the depths of the forest.

My friend Laura Lee talks about how I always look up. I love looking up at the clear, blue sky through the boughs of the trees and today is no different. It always helps me relax, and that is where my eyes go.

Chaco is really swinging his back, and Harley is staying right by his side gazing all around. We come to our first patch of snow, ande he walks through it without hesitation. We then hit mud, and he is as sure footed as one could be. I relax even more. My brain empties, and I’m completely within the moment.

We then come across a big pile of steaming bear scat. Yep, the storm and the cold didn’t drive them into hibernation. Chaco stopped, looked at it, and looked around. I whisper not to worry. The bear moved on. He steps forward and off we go again. The rest of the ride was uneventful, fun, enjoyable, and I relished every moment with Chaco and Harley. They are such blessings in my life.

As we work our way back to the truck, I think I see a black blur moving up ahead of us. So does Chaco. He stands perfectly still. Harley takes a look and moves a few steps backwards. Not seeing where the black blur went, I ask Chaco to go forward, which he does. We move about a hundred steps when I see a bull up ahead of us. He is huge, white, with brown spots, and he has huge horns. He looks like he belongs in the NFR tossing some cowboy in all sorts of directions willy nilly before throwing him to the ground. Gulp.

Chaco has seen cows across our irrigation ditch and across the street, but we’ve never had the chance to work them together. I wanted to, but because of his leg, I never wanted to put him through it. It can be a lot of hard physical work for the horse. I decide to try and avoid this behemoth and do huge loop around him.

We plunder through thick trees. Since Chaco is so tall, by head is hitting branch after branch. Luckily, I have my helmet on. Crunch, crack, squish are the sounds we make. We finally head back towards our final destination, the truck, when I see that the bull is right in our path again. He is determined to keep us from going where we need to go. I see a black blur, and I know why; he is protecting a calf.

There is a rule to never get off your horse when cattle are around. They are erratic, dangerous, and the human usually comes out on the losing end of any tussle. My grandfather in Oregon had his knee dislocated two times, and once I was chased by one of his bulls out of the pasture right into a hot wire. My arm buzzed for an entire day after that. I don’t like bulls at all. Gulp.

“Chaco, I need you to get some attitude. This is no time for you to be sweet, and Harley, no hiding behind him like you used to with Shandoka. Chaco, if you decide to toss me, toss me away from his horns and the trees please. Let’s see if we can do this.” I then cluck, and lightly swing the rope back and forth over Chaco’s withers. He immediately tucks his chin into his chest, tossed his head from side to side and walks straight for the bull surprising the heck out of me. I didn’t want him to trot, because I didn’t want the energy level of the bull to go sky high. I wanted to push him off gently. Chaco got that, so he walked towards him with energy,attitude and assertiveness, but not enough to get the bull angry.

The bull stared at him hard as if to say, “You aren’t moving my feet dude.” However, Chaco is 17.1 hands. He really puffed up when he moved forward, so I’m sure he was even taller for that short amount of time. Harley may not be tall, but he is a wide Quarter Horse. We became a wall made of horses that even the bull decided he didn’t want to mess with, and off he went! He trotted away from us. I quickly patted Chaco’s neck and Harley’s. I’m over the moon proud! Thoroughbreds can do anything, and Harley, who is expected to chase off cows but doesn’t like to, was so brave.

We then make the turn for the truck, and I see that the bull wasn’t protecting one calf. He was protecting ten or twelve and three cows. One of the cows was almost as big as the bull. Chaco and Harley come to a dead stop. There is no way for me to get them to the truck, because my truck is surrounded by all of them. They are probably wondering why in the world they are still on the forest during hunting season and want to get a ride the heck out of there. Usually, they are off by now.

And then the bull emerges to join them.

“Okay, Chaco, I have a plan. You and Harley, please work with me.” I then loop them around to the left where the cows aren’t. I hear a truck heading up the road towards us as I ride my boys along the road’s edge and then I loop back to my truck, and we gently push all of the cows and bull back into the forest keeping them safe from the big truck that barrels down the road.

However, one youngin’ remains staring us down as I hop off. Chaco is feeling good. Harley is wondering where his hay is. I quickly unsaddle Chaco and load them both up before everyone returns. The kid stands there as if to say, “I will be in the NFR one day. You watch.” He has no fear of me at all.

I get in my truck and drive off with the kid watching us as we leave.

My Four Legged Baryshnikov

Tales from the trail #341

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.


Smooth Ride

Dulce is coming along nicely. I had the chance to take him to the indoor arena a few times, and he did surprisingly well. He is really soft and responsive with his S Hack and Side Pull. He also showed me one day that he does care about taking care of me.

The first time I took him to the indoor, I didn’t even expect to ride him. My plan was to walk him around, do some groundwork, and then come home. That’s kind of what we did. He did so well, and got so calm I decided to get on him. I thought we’d just walk around the arena in as many different ways as we could and go home. Then he wanted to trot, and I decided why not? After trotting for a bit, I could feel that he wanted to go to the canter, but he was waiting for me to give him the go ahead. I thought that the ground seemed soft enough if I came off, so why not? Oh my gosh, he was perfect! He was amazing, and he was so smooth. He never tried to take off with me, and his gait was beautiful. He covered a lot of ground with ease, and not once did I feel uncomfortable or feel worried. We flowed together, and there was not one person around to see it. I thought about pulling out my camera to video it, but I decided against it since it was our first time at the canter.

The next time we went it was a different story. He and I had different agendas. I wanted to canter him in front of someone, and he wanted to play. My friend Jessica and I went together, and he was totally in love with her mare Riser. Never mind how much he wanted to play with Cisco. I was frustrated at first, but then I realized how important this ride was. He learned that being around other horses doesn’t mean it is time to race, and he learned that I was still there much to his chagrin.

The third ride was great yet again. I was by myself, and I took this video the second time I cantered him. The thing I love is there was a man replacing sodas in a machine, and the man slammed the door to the machine shut spooking him. It was a loud metal sound that echoed down the hallway next to the arena. Being on a horse while they are cantering or at a gallop when they spook is challenging to stay on. Instead of overreacting to the man, he took care of me and gently moved to the side as he cantered. They also had a roping event the day before, and he could smell the steers in the cattle chute. He wasn’t too sure of that smell. Again, instead of tossing me or bolting, he took care of me, which gives me a lot of hope for our relationship and future.

The second video shows how amazing he is to ride in my opinion. One thing is for sure, I love him and I love working with him. Let me point out that all of this was bitless. Just because he was a racehorse it doesn’t mean he needs a bit to control him or ride him. I had him on a loose rein, which doesn’t mean it was hanging down to his knees. It means that I wasn’t holding the reins tightly, that I wasn’t all over his face, but I could quickly gather up the slack if I needed to for whatever reason. Thoroughbreds do not need a hard on the mouth bit to be ridden. Since I’ve had Dulce and Chaco, I’ve never ridden them with a bit. It is a great feeling.

OTTB Troubles With Trimming

When I was a kid, one of my favorite things in the world was go watch our horses work on the track in the mornings. We’d leave before the sun rose, and head to the barns. The smell of warm oats and hay, horses dancing around, Spanglish words floating along the airwaves was heaven to me.

I never sat in the seats at the track. I stood on the rail waiting for my horses to come around back home. Often there would be a thick blanket of ocean fog sleeping on the track. Sometimes I could only hear the sound of their hooves running by, but usually they would emerge at the last minute for me to see them gliding over the ground with grace and speed.

Back at the barn some horse usually threw a shoe. The farrier would come in and go to work. I stood outside watching wondering how in the world they did what they did. A lot of people don’t know that racehorses are usually tranquilized before trimming AND they are trimmed from the left hand side. This means that they trim and shoe the right sided hooves from the left side of the horse. Don’t believe me? Then watch the video:

Here is a screenshot of it

Why do they do it this way? Well, they trim them in their stalls, so there isn’t much room to work. Also, if the horse is tranquilized, then the horse is difficult to maneuver if needed.

When racehorses are retired from the track, I start them off as if they were two-year-olds or younger. There are a lot of things that were never asked of them like other horses. Getting their hooves trimmed is one of those areas. They never had anyone trim them on both sides with a clear head.

A lot of people think OTTB’s are misbehaving when they act up at a trimming. They really aren’t. They’re telling you how nervous they are. If they’ve been tranquilized each time they were trimmed and shod, guess what? They never learned to stand for a farrier properly.

When I start working with an OTTB, I spend a lot of time walking around all sides of them petting them all over and running my hands down their legs on both sides. This will tell me if they are used to being handled on the right often. If the horse has, the horse is calm; if not, they aren’t. If the horse isn’t calm, I spend a lot of time running my hands down their legs until the horse feels comfortable with that.

When I first lifted Chaco’s right hoof just a few inches off the ground, he dropped to his knees. I think it shocked and freaked him out that I went to that side, and wondered why I was doing it all wrong. It scared me to death. It was the one and only time he did that. When I work with a new OTTB, I start picking up their hooves on the right, I lift them only an inch or so off the ground at first. When they’re comfortable there, I go for a bit more as long as they remain comfortable until I get to where I can comfortably work on a hoof.

When I began trimming Chaco, I discovered he was a salsa dancer. As I held either of his front hooves, his hind end danced all over the place while I worked. It made us both a nervous wreck. I thought time would resolve this; it didn’t. One time he almost fell again, and I was fed up with doing everything the “normal” way. Sometimes, you need to let go of the way things should be done and create something that works instead. Who says a horse has to be trimmed one hoof at a time anyway?

Rather than working on one hoof until completed, I worked on him clockwise. I would start on the left front picking the hooves, then go the hind, over to the right hind followed by the right fore. I then nip the lateral quarter on the left fore and work my way around. I got this idea from a local farrier I watched a couple of years ago work on a green horse. He was nervous, so instead of focusing on the one hoof, he kept going back and forth between the left front and right front.

Working this way kept Chaco calmer. Instead of dancing and getting anxious, he became curious as to what I was doing. Now he stands calmly for me while I trim. He tends to want to pull away more on the right side than the left, but that has even improved. Considering his operated leg, I still use this method with him as it relieves the stress on that leg as I trim.

If your OTTB is a struggle being trimmed or shod, get creative. Keep in mind that your horse might need to relearn how to do all of this. Ask your farrier to try working clockwise. If you have more than one horse to be trimmed or shod, ask your farrier to work on the front hooves first going back and forth between the two as he or she works on them. Your farrier can then go on and work on the other horses, and then come back to working on the hind hooves after done with the other horses giving your OTTB a mental break.

I find that instead of forcing my horses to do it a certain way and supporting what they can do, the quicker they come around to accepting being trimmed as a good thing instead of like a dental exam. Chaco told me he was scared, so I changed my ways. Now he falls asleep as I work on him. Listen to your OTTB, and you tw0 will go the distance.

Holy Cat!

Goldie the Stow Away

Time for our second adventure. Not sure he looks at it like that, but I’m sure one day he will…..I hope. Trailer is hooked up…check. Key in the ignition for a quick get a way….check! Pull the cat blankets and food out of the trailer…check! Look in the tack for cats….check! Go get horse and load him up…..check!

Dulce loads up easily, and is calm in the trailer thank goodness. I close the window and off we go. I pull in, get out, and I immediately notice that the trailer isn’t rocking back and forth like last time. Dulce is patiently waiting inside the trailer. I hear a moan. It’s a an odd sound, one that I never heard a horse make before, and then the sound comes from the trailer again much louder. Oh my gosh, a cat is in the trailer! I open the side door, and there she is holding on for dear life in the hay feeder. Even though my hay field is kitty corner, an accidental pun intended, from my neighbor’s place, I doubt she’ll find her way home. I quickly close the door, apologize to Dulce, and turn around and head back home. When we get back, she is curled up in the feeder much calmer now. I lift her out, and she takes off. Only me stuff like this happens to. I wonder how long it will be before Goldie forgives me.

Note to self: Always check the hay feeders before I drive off.

When I decide to desensitize my horses to sounds in the horse trailer, I go all out. Surprisingly, he takes it all in stride. When we get back to the arena, he stands calmly waiting for me to open the slant. I can’t believe the night and day difference from our last trip. He learned.

We walk into the arena, and he begins lunging himself. This time he is much calmer about everything. He must have learned the more riled up he gets the longer he works.

Before I know it, I decide to put the saddle on. He stands perfectly. I ask him if it’s okay for me to ride him. He drops his head to my heart. I climb on, and he stands perfectly. His attention isn’t on me enough though, so we yield hindquarters and walk off a few steps and repeat. He does really well considering he’s nervous. Only wanted to toss me once to go for a run. I stay on him until I feel like he and I are working more like a team before I hop off. I would have loved to trot him, lope him, but we need a bit more work together before I add speed. Everything I’m asking of him is so different for him. Even though I want to do more, I need to take it slow. Take a few steps and give him some time off to think about it. I’d rather take it slow and get it right instead of rush it and have huge gaps all over the place in our relationship.

That’s what this is all about; us learning each other and how to work together. I don’t believe in forcing a horse to be submissive. Instead, I need to learn from him even more than he needs to learn from me. He is so smart. Give him a day off to think about it, and the following day he is ready to take the next step.

I can’t wait to see what he’s like the next time around minus a howling Goldie I hope.

P.S. Goldie did show up tonight after her escapade as a stow away. However, she is avoiding the horse trailer as if it is laced with the plague, but she is following Dulce everywhere now. I think he has a new friend.

Steers and Cows Oh My

Today I woke up and decided today was the day. It was time to step up Dulce’s training. We were going to go on our first field trip away from home that had nothing to do with a vet visit thank goodness. Butterflies swarmed my stomach wondering if he was up to it. It seemed not too long ago I wondered if he would make it through the night, and now I was hooking up the trailer for our first adventure.

How far were we going? Only a quarter of a mile down to the neighbor’s arena. Dulce and trailers aren’t friends, and to be honest a lot of thoroughbreds never get the chance to learn how to be calm in a trailer. Often they are tranquilized first before loading. The trip from Kentucky and making him leave his best buddy didn’t help him out at all. Now Dulce needs to learn that even though we go somewhere in the trailer he gets to come back home and be with his buddies. It took awhile for Chaco to learn this, and I imagine Dulce will need a bit of time as well.

I headed up to the pasture to get Dulce, and we had a nice chat on the way to the trailer. It must have helped, because he loaded up beautifully and remained calm. Off we went to the neighbor’s, and when I opened the window all bets were off; chaos erupted. He pawed at the floor of the trailer that the whole thing shook as if the earth quaked. I dropped the ramp, and he lost sight of me. He panicked and he tried to turn around in the slant. Once he saw me, he calmed down a bit. I realized quickly where I went wrong. I didn’t drop down the rear window, so he could see me. Note to self: Never make that mistake again!

My sweet, calm horse didn’t exit the trailer; instead I had a racehorse on my hands. On the muscle he pranced alongside me with nostrils flared. The cat took one look at him and ran as fast as possible in the opposite direction. Me? I had the biggest grin on my face. For some reason I love seeing and working with a horse like this. Maybe it is because this is known to me; it reminds me of the old days with my grandpa and all of our racehorses. Saddle work was out of the question today; groundwork was it.

Once we got into the arena, all he wanted to do was run, so I lunged him. He made his, “Weeeeeee” sound, tossed his head all around, bucked and settled down into a fast canter. We worked all over the arena, and instead of showing signs of tiring out, he seemed to gain more energy. Better hooves, better gut and better teeth created a fiery Dulce.

I watched him run around me in awe. He has such raw power, such agility, and beautiful, graceful, strength. We fell into a rhythm together as we danced our way to the north end of the arena where the steers are. My neighbor is a roper, so he has several steers. Being a bit nervous he stood behind me at first. I stepped forward towards them and then Dulce took a step behind me. He trusts me. Good.

At first I wondered if I should even bring him down here alone, but Chaco is on sabbatical for a couple of weeks as he heals from a bruised hoof. I didn’t want to bring Harley and leave Chaco alone, so I decided to do this solo with Dulce. I thought it might be a good way for the two of us to learn how to trust one another, to lean on one another, and to feel secure in new and different situations.

He spent about ten minutes checking them out before I asked him to walk off. We began lunging again, and again he was hotter than heck. He kept trying to tilt his nose to the outside of the circle dropping his shoulder in, so I kept asking for him to tilt it in towards the circle. After about ten minutes, he had it down. We then worked the other direction doing the same thing. Intermittently, he would call out for the other two before bringing his attention back to me. I’m not sure who got the bigger workout; him or me, but by the end of it we were both tuckered out and relaxed.

We walked back down to the steers, and I felt pretty good about our first adventure together. Maybe it was our second if you consider the trip from Kentucky to Colorado, but whatever way it is we did okay. We had our bumps, which I fully expected. I realized he may be five, but he’s more like a two year old. I kept stroking his neck, and finally his full attention was on me. We’ll get there.

Before I loaded him I made sure that back window was open. After the fourth try, he was in, and a lot calmer this time around. I drove us home, and the other two were at the fence waiting for him. This time no turning around in the slant. He did paw a couple of times, but as soon as I put my hand on him, he calmed down.

Not an hour later did the neighbor to the south of us receive his yearly cattle. Each year over a hundred head come down to this property for a few months. I got Dulce desensitized to them just in time.

Next time I take Dulce to this arena, I’m getting on. Today was schooling. As we cooled out together, I thought about Dulce’s sire. I loved watching him race. He ran with such smarts and easy power. His turn of foot always intrigued me as to what it felt like to ride. I asked the two jockeys that rode him, two of my most favorite jockeys, what their experiences were. Julie Krone said he was sensitive, smart, agile, and really easy to ride. Gary Stevens said the following:

I saw how Dulce turned it up the moment he was out of his home environment, and I can’t wait to hang on and enjoy the ride.

A Coyote, A Horse, and Three Dogs

I let my hips sway with his back, and each step he loosens up more and more. I exhale and place my reins on his neck and completely let go of any apprehension. I raise my arms out to my sides and lift my face to the sky in gratitude. We both ride away from our worries.

Chaco and I on the trail right before we came across a black bear.

These tales come on the backs of some beautiful Thoroughbreds.

* * * * * * *

It’s been awhile since I rode Chaco. I love riding him, and I trust him with every ounce of my being. I’m not riding him much, because of his leg.  After a couple of miracles, he is perfectly sound, so I decide to take the chance on a short trail ride. I fear messing his leg up, but he is bored out of his mind. He needs to get out, so I promise myself we’re going to go for a short, easy, and relaxed ride.  I miss being with him in this way. He is so easy to ride, so intuitive and responsive, and he moves across the ground like Baryshnikov. You hardly feel the ground while on him. I’m resigned to the fact that all we will do are short rides, and that’s wonderful. He loves it, and I love it.  As soon as I get on him, which can be difficult, because he is so tall, a smile spreads across my face. I lean forward and whisper, “I so miss us.”

I let my hips sway with his back, and each step he loosens up more and more. I exhale and place my reins on his neck and completely let go of any apprehension. I raise my arms out to my sides and lift my face to the sky in gratitude. We both ride away from our worries.

Chaco’s leg before today has been up and down. Last month it hit me hard between the eyes and in the heart that I will one day say goodbye to him not because of old age but because of his leg. I pray for a miracle every day and eventually I was led to a couple of them.  One night I found out about a way to feed a horse turmeric, and how the combination of Turmeric with Boswellia could be the anti-inflammatory punch I needed. After I found out about Total Gut Health for Dulce, I found out about Total Equine Relief made by the same company. The Turmeric was already working wonders, although he still had bouts of pain whenever he took a sharp turn at the canter. When I finally got TER, that changed things. It doesn’t have any of the side effects of bute, and it works in two hours. Ever since I put him on this, life improved for him. Each time I see it, I stop to take a picture, because I feel like I got my miracle even if it is for a short time.

We’ve decided after Christmas to try IRAP. ProStride hasn’t worked, and I don’t know if IRAP will do any better. Chaco deserves the best we can try for him. He is the sweetest horse with the biggest heart. He takes care of Dulce, he dotes on Harley, and he loves anyone that needs extra attention. A distant neighbor stopped by a couple of weeks ago to say hello to the horses, not me, and Chaco dropped his head to him and let the man rest his head upon his. Later this neighbor told me he had cancer, and how Chaco lifted his spirits on a bad day.  Chaco is a healer. I want to give back to him that which he gives so freely to everyone.

We’re riding along on the easiest of trails with our dog Winx out in front, and Chewy and Bella behind. No one is around for miles, not a human sound to be heard except for my breath. I listen to the sounds of his hoof beats, and I smile. Reluctantly, we turn around with me using my body to guide him to turn back without using the reins.

That’s when we hear a yipping sound. All three of my dogs stop dead in their tracks facing west. I know this sound, the dogs know this sound, and Chaco knows it. I look west, and there he or she is. Her silvery coat sparkles in the Fall sunlight when the coyote yipped at us again. Chaco stood quietly as I called the dogs to stay with me.

This isn’t the first time I’ve crossed paths with a coyote on the trail. In fact, I have a pretty fond memory of going on a trail ride with one. It was the second time I ever rode Shandoka on the trail. It was a stupid move on my part, because I went alone. Not the smartest thing to do on a very green horse, but I believed in him. He did great on his first trail ride with my friend Laura Lee, and I couldn’t handle waiting for another day with someone else. I loaded him up and we drove down to the Basin.

We started out, and Shandoka was great despite being as green as a green horse can be. I finally got him pointed to the area I wanted us to ride into when a Coyote suddenly showed up. I expected Shandoka to react. He didn’t. We rode along while I kept my eye on the coyote and my other eye on Shandoka. The coyote quietly followed along with us, and I noticed Shandoka relaxed dropping his head down. Whenever Shandoka got nervous about something, the coyote went first to show him it was safe. I think my jaw was on Shandoka’s withers the entire ride as I watched Shandoka and this coyote dance with one another on the trail. A few times the coyote walked alongside Shandoka, and he looked up at me and smiled as if to say, “Don’t worry, I’ll get you through this ride safe and sound.” When we got back to the road where the truck was parked, the coyote disappeared. I looked all around, but I couldn’t see him anywhere.

My Unci said that Coyote was a trickster, but when he appears in an unusual way such as this, it is a Blessing. It felt like it, so when I saw this coyote while riding Chaco, I simply wanted to keep my dogs safe. Coyotes can lure dogs away, and then the pack kills them. I kept my eye on this one. He was on the other side of the canyon, which is wide and deep. He couldn’t get over to us that fast. Just then I saw him head down into its depths.

Coyotes don’t scare me as much as mountain lions do. They say that you cross paths with a mountain lion ever three hours you’re in the forest.  I’ve come face to face with one, heard them, seen their tracks, and once I was followed by one while riding Shandoka.

We were heading back to the trailer after a fantastic ride through a new area. He and I worked so well together that day, and I was on cloud nine. On the way back we were both relaxed and comfortable. He was on a loose rein, and I looked around enjoying the trees when suddenly the hair on the back of my neck got prickly. Shandoka went from relaxed to alert and tense. I gathered up the rains, and slowly we walked through this area we had to get through to get back to our truck when Shandoka went from tense to life threat mode. This area is filled with oak brush, so you can’t see if something is crouching on the other side of the bush to jump out at you. When a horse hits flight mode, all bets are off, and it’s a struggle to communicate. Shandoka wanted to run. I wanted to let him, but if I did, the animal that I thought was following us would break out into a run making us his prey.

We spiraled in circles, zig zagged and anything I could do to keep him from breaking out. It took every ounce of strength I had to keep him with me instead of with his fear of what was following us. Shandoka was a huge horse, the most powerful I’ve ever ridden, and I don’t know how I kept him at a walk. As soon as we got to the trailer, I hopped off, and Shandoka literally loaded himself with saddle and headstall still on. I closed the trailer as quick as I could, got into my truck when I saw him. A mountain lion emerged from the Aspens pausing for a moment staring into my eyes, and before my next breath, he was gone.

The dogs and I are moving along the trail when the coyote appears on our side of the canyon within minutes. Dang they are fast and agile. Time to pick up the speed and get the dogs in the truck. We have a half mile to go, and I’m worried about doing this to Chaco’s leg. I wanted him to enjoy an easy, relaxing ride; one that didn’t tax his leg. However, if we kept going at this pace, the coyote would be on the dogs quick. My dogs are too curious about the coyote to go slow. We long trot over rock and dirt. Chaco is unphased. Chaco feels my urgency, so he immediately moves into an extended trot.

On one of Chaco’s first major trail rides we came across a bear. I think on our way down the trail he caught a whiff of this female bear, at least we assumed she was a sow. We came to this spot on the trail where he was hesitant about stepping forward. The entire way down he led the way without a problem until this one spot. My friend then went to the lead, and he followed easily. We came across elk, which horses normally don’t like the smell of, but he didn’t care about them. On the way back when we came upon that spot, we saw her. There she was off in the trees maybe 150 feet from us, a black bear. Chaco didn’t back up, didn’t get nervous, and in fact he stepped forward towards the bear when we tried to get a picture of her. We think she had cubs nearby, so we decided to move on quickly. Chaco and I were in the rear with the dogs tucked up close to his hindlegs. He never minded any of it, so I wasn’t worried about him with this coyote.

As we long trotted, Winx stayed in front of us, and Chewy and Bella were tucked in close to Chaco’s hindlegs. Chewy had no interest in hanging around with the coyote, Bella wanted to chase him off, and Winx was looking for some shade to lie down in. I knew if I needed to chase off the coyote, Chaco would help me do it, but luckily the coyote hung back far enough for me to not consider it.

We got back to the truck, I hopped off, and there was the coyote about 200 feet away sitting in some sage brush gazing at me as I gazed at him. I knew we all were safe at this point. I stepped forward a step to get a better look at him. He seemed to have a big smile on his face. Like my dogs he sat their panting in that relaxed sort of joy they have after a good run. Another blessing.

A coyote, a horse, and three dogs enjoying the trail together.

Different Horse Different Night

Here I am again underneath a cloudy sky watching my horses; specifically Dulce. To my west lightning strikes the earth every ten to thirty seconds. A storm is coming reminding me of a year ago tonight. I walked Shandoka in endless circles while it drizzled rain begging God and Shandoka for some sort of miracle. Dulce is in the barn Shandoka stood in that night, and Dulce is struggling like Shandoka did but not as bad. So far his problem can be solved. Different horse different night I chant over and over to myself.

He had his third dose of the worm medicine today. I was asked if I wanted to do this, and if I thought it was a good idea to worm Dulce five days in a row. Well, no I don’t want to do this, but I need to do what I have to do to get him right. When I took Shandoka in years ago after he came to live with me, he was filled with worms too. One night he coliced four times after I wormed him. Not only was he getting colic from the worms, he got colic as he shed off the worms. It’s not a fun process at all. I had to worm Shandoka four months in a row to knock the worms down enough. I believe he had irreparable damage from the load of worms he carried, because he got colic after the initial problem about every three to six months for the rest of his life until a year ago this night when the colic fought its final battle. No I don’t want to do this with Dulce but I have to.

Dulce takes the wormer like a champ, forgives me immediately, and joins Chaco rubbing his nose on Chaco’s side each morning. He had a challenging morning Saturday….severe gas pains before pooping two times. I’m sure he started shedding the worms, and the worms may be acting up in there as the wormer embarks on mass murder. Now in addition to gas colic, I need to watch for an impaction. I put a bunch of peppermint and mineral oil in his feed to ameliorate that nasty gas. When I die, God and I are having a long talk about why He/She made it so horse’s can’t burp.

Last year on this night I knew Shandoka wouldn’t make it even though I begged and bargained and prayed and got furious over what I knew I would be forced to do. When I look back at pictures of him, I think he started dying the day before it all hit the fan. He looked tired in the pictures. The normal sparkle and power in his eyes disappeared. I thought it was the heat at the time, but now I’m not so sure. I want to delete those pictures, but for some reason I can’t.

Under a cloudy sky I sit with Dulce on a warm summer’s night wishing I could fix this, realizing all I can do is nurse it along, and pray that we come out good on the other side. It’s night six, and I think God must hate me to put me through this again on the anniversary of Shandoka’s death. Probably not, but it is easier to think that way than to face all of this again. I wanted to avoid this night by focusing on anything else but this. Instead, it’s right in my face saying, “It’s time to let go of the guilt you’ve carried this past year.” People tell me to relax about Dulce, but when you watch your amazing horse and partner thrash from insurmountable pain, you don’t relax until they are completely out of the cycle of colic.

I go through the littany of things that I remembered doing, I go through my checklist, and I know I fought as hard as I could for Shandoka. I did everything that worked in the past. Nothing worked that night. Nothing. All I can do is forgive myself and hope Shandoka forgives me.

I’m talking with Shandoka and Dulce as the moon journeys from east to west playing peekaboo with the clouds. I see a backwards question mark and Lenin’s face and pointy beard. Yep, I see Lenin in the clouds. I need some sleep, but here comes a light rain. I stay out in it. It feels good, so I close my eyes and listen and feel this cool rain splash all over my face washing away my tears.

Chaco comes up to me and sticks his nose on my nose. I’m lying flat on my back looking straight into his eyes trusting him completely. He grabs hold of my blanket shaking it around like a wet rag before he lets it go and puts his nose on my nose again waiting for me to blow into each of his nostrils. That’s our thing. Not sure how that happened, but it is our thing. Those eyes, how they look at me. I melt into a big smile before he saunters off to tease Dulce for a bit.

I see signs of improvement from this worming program despite the tummy pain earlier this morning. Dulce played with the other two a couple of times, and he finally left the barn for a short period last night. I’m waiting for him to do that tonight. Ever since he started to not feel well, he goes in the barn at dusk and stays until the sun is up the next morning. I drag him out twice during the night to make sure he walks. Seeing him out in the moonlight playing with Chaco last night was a good thing. Two more doses of wormer…just two more doses.

I also have my own plan. When we’re done with the wormer, I’m putting him back on Marshmallow Root, which is really good for an inflamed digestive tract. I will put him back on Gastromend to heal up any damage the worms may have caused, and I’ll continue adding his probiotic, peppermint, and aloe vera gel to his feed. I’m also going to treat him with the homeopathic remedy of Nux Vomica, which fits him perfectly. Maybe we can avoid the steroid.

I let out a sigh when the rain stops. The clouds move east, and the stars shimmer above. Stars sparkle and dance around leaving me in awe as to how in the world we even exist in this amazing swirl of galaxies far far away. I look at Shandoka’s grave missing him terribly when I notice that a deer is standing on his grave. She is about three feet away from me, and I try to not breath for fear of scaring her off. We look at each other for about thirty seconds when she decides I’m no threat and starts to graze. Shandoka’s name in Ute means Storm Bringer. Between the storm and the deer, I feel like he is telling me he does forgive me.

Chaco and Harley are such a huge part of Shandoka’s story. I don’t want Dulce to be though. I want Dulce, Chaco, and Harley to be part of another story; a new story. We have a lot of adventures to go on, and it is time for Dulce to get over this hump…to knock these worms and colic to the curb, put some more weight and muscle on, grow out these hooves, and to get out there and have some fun. I want to ride all three of them whenever possible. I so miss riding. It’s time to get back out there. My three boys are waiting for me.

Dulce saunters out to the water bucket and takes a long slurp of water. When he’s done, he lets me hold his head in my arms. He is such a sweet boy. I look at my watch. “Only a few more hours until sunrise Dulce, and we can start our new story.”

Different Day, Different Horse, Different Ending.

I’m The Lucky One

Up we go!

Thank goodness no one was on the road this morning, because I can drive down the middle of the road. I have Chaco in my horse trailer behind me, and if I make one wrong move, we both could go over the edge falling 1,000 feet straight down. There are no guardrails in this stretch; a sheer rock face on one side, and a straight drop on the other. This is Colorado, and normally I love this drive, but one of the loves of my life was depending on me to not make any mistakes. The road is narrow, and I’m driving a 3/4 ton truck with a horse trailer, both of which take up the entire lane.


As you know Chaco had surgery to remove three huge chips from his stifle. The chips caused a lot of cartilage damage, and his surgeon suggested that I get IRAP injections for him. Problem is it is a series of five injections over five weeks. Another option was Pro Stride, and that requires only one injection and can last for close to a year.

I hate the idea of injections. Growing up in horse racing, I saw other people misuse this practice to make their horse appear sound. They used cortisone, which also can cause laminitis. IRAP and Pro Stride do not use cortisone. Instead, what is injected is created from the horse’s own blood. The only main side effect is pain from the injection, and it prevents further damage of the cartilage from inflammation caused by movement. I don’t want to mask anything, but I want to prevent anymore damage. Chaco deserves all the help he can get; he deserves it.

How and why does it work? Pro-Stride concentrates the blood’s natural anti-inflammatory proteins. When this highly concentrated solution is injected into a joint, it binds and stops the inflammatory proteins that are causing pain and cartilage destruction. It can be injected into a joint that has previously been injected with steroids, and since I have no idea if that ever happened, it made Pro Stride a possibility. Also, it only takes thirty minutes for it to be created and injected, which makes it even more appealing.

The main problem for Chaco and I has been weather. We got record snowfall this year with a record amount of avalanches. The only vet I could find that did it on the Western Slope is based in Durango, three major passes and narrow roads away. Every week I checked the weather, and almost every single day it snowed. People told me stories of semis swerving on icy roads. May comes along, and when the weather should be turning to rain, it is still snowing in the mountains I was feeling desperate for Chaco, because every now and then he got sore. I stopped riding him, and all I thought about was going to Durango to get this done. Finally, a week after Memorial Day there was an opening. Sunshine for four days. I called Durango and got an appointment. The other direction to Durango was buried in a huge rock slide, so going over Red Mountain was my only option.

We headed out early on a Tuesday morning, and my stomach swished side to side as if I were on choppy seas. It wasn’t about the drive as much as it was about what Chaco and I were about to do. I didn’t want him to hate me. He and I have gone through so much together, and now I was going to let some man stick a really long needle into his joint. Uggh!

Luckily, no traffic, so we navigated the narrow roads and the many hair pin turns with ease. One day I need to count how many turns there are, but you can only go 20mph max through the turns. With Chaco back there, we went 15. I didn’t want to stress his joint. We descended into Silverton after passing several areas covered with avalanche debris. Four cars in front of me turned around and headed back to Ouray after seeing the debris fields.

In Silverton, I tried to get him to drink some water, which I knew he wouldn’t do. I climbed into the trailer to check on his legs and to pet him for a bit to make sure he knew all was okay. After my last attempt to get him to drink, we headed back to the road and over the next two passes. Again, we encountered hardly any traffic, so the drive was stress free. As usual Durango was filled to the max with traffic and people driving way too close to the horse trailer. I tried to not yell at them as we headed east of town towards the vet.

Chaco checking out the scenery in Silverton

The vet has his offices in the hills and his road is filled with beautiful pastures and horses. I found his place easily but not him. No answer at the door. I finally called, and found out he was in the back. I quickly unloaded Chaco who was very excited to get out. Chaco kind of forgot that I was on the other end of the lead rope, so I had to zig zag him around until he remembered me. He loaded into the stocks easily, and this is when I thought I might throw up. I could tell he was nervous the moment the gate closed. All I did was focus on him, petting him, stroking his head and neck telling him that I loved him. Slowly his head dropped into my chest, and I held his head.

The vet pulled his blood easily, and put it into the device that separate the platelets. I kept talking to Chaco letting him know that I was right there with him. The vet then pulled out the platelets, and I helped him with the next step. Back into the machine it went, but his time for only 2 minutes. Again, I helped him get the injection prepared. I held Chaco’s head as he injected the fluid. Chaco fought it. I can’t imagine doing this five times for an IRAP. Finally, we got him still enough that the vet was able to get it all into his stifle. He let him out of the stocks. and Chaco and I both were covered in sweat.

Loaded in the stocks
Drawing blood
The machine that separates the platelets
The vet withdrawing the platelets after the first round. There was another round after this.

I was shaking and Chaco was exhausted. I loaded him back in after visiting with a couple of horses. I then helped the vet learn how to run his new credit card machine, and then finally we headed back over the three passes, hair pin turns, and narrow roads again with little traffic.

When we got him, he had to be on small turn out for the next three days. I felt his leg, and there was no heat. However, he was sore, which is no surprise from the shot and dealing with the drive. I ran cold water over his leg for a bit, which he seemed to like. He was thrilled to be back with Dulce and Harley albeit separated by a fence.

The next day I noticed he was still sore, so I turned him out on a small amount of pasture to walk around and get those muscles and tendons moving, and I ran more water over his leg. After time on the pasture, he walked much better. After three days, I noticed he was finally putting all of his weight on his right leg and resting his left. Yes! I turned him out with Harley and over the next few days brought Dulce back into the mix.

He has since galloped hard with Dulce several times, and no soreness yet. I think this was the right thing to do, although I still haven’t ridden him. I’m pretty nervous about it. My plans for Chaco are to do a lot of trail riding, which he loves. I don’t plan on competing in anything with him. He has given so much of himself to horse racing for several years of his life. He is actually considered a war horse, because he started thirty six times. It’s time for him to do what he wants, and that’s trail riding. We’ll see how it all goes. I know he’s bored just being turned out on pasture, so it is time for me to get over my fears and concerns and climb back into the saddle with him.

Part 2

After writing this, I watched Royal Ascot. There is nothing like watching Ryan Moore and Frankie Dettori, two of my favorite jockeys, to give me the courage to go outside and get on Chaco. Jockeys have always encouraged me to ride, and even though they are across the Pond, they still do.

I headed out, pulled my saddle out for the first time in three months, and caught Chaco. Caught…that is so funny. All I have to do is walk into the pasture, and he walks up to me. We did a bit of work together, and then I climbed on. Most horses you can’t do that with. You need spend a few days doing groundwork before you get back on after a long time off. The thing is I trust Chaco with my life, because I know he will always take care of me. We ponied Dulce for the first time, and they worked so well together. No matter what I ask of Chaco, he does an excellent job at it. People tell me how lucky he is that I took him in, but they got it all wrong. I’m the lucky one. I’m the lucky one.

This felt so good.
Chaco and Dulce working together