Second Chances

One morning after feeding the horses I came in groggy plopping down on the couch for a few minutes before I began the rest of my day. I mindlessly surfed through Facebook to see if there was anything that needed to be seen when my thumb stopped on a post.

A woman was looking to rehome her thoroughbred that had a life changing issue forcing him to be retired. Immediately everyone told her to put the horse down even though he had many good years ahead of him. His main issue was that he no longer could carry weight on his back. Half of the people said to put the horse down to prevent kill buyers from getting their hands on him, and the other half said to put him down because he no longer was viable for any form of competition.

Well, I have something to say about this.

I believe if a horse isn’t in pain, wants to live, shows joy each day, then you fight for that horse. Racehorses, and all other horses, give so much to us. They don’t ask to run around big ovals or small circles around barrels. We train them for it. and they take part due to their relationship with us. When it comes time for them to be retired, they need us to stand by them and do what is right.

I’m tired of people thinking that a second career has to be some form of competition. There are all kinds of second careers for horses. A horse can be a therapy horse. I helped rehome a thoroughbred with a young girl that suffers from bad anxiety. The horse suffered a double bowed tendon from racing, and he wasn’t supposed to do much of anything anymore. These two coming together changed both of their lives. That is a Second Career.

My friend Sherrie Courtney of the very good Thoroughbred rescue Racing for Home, recently took in a horse named Brooke’s All Mine from Gulfstream Park. After arriving at her place, Brooke became terribly lame, and some thought she might have to be put down. However, Brooke still had that spark of life shimmering in her eyes, and Sherrie saw that. She did everything she could for her after finding out she had several chips and a hole in the cartilage. Brooke ended up having to get arthrodesis surgery. This is a rare surgery, which fuses joints, so several surgeons came to observe it. Because of Brooke, they learned how to do it, and who knows how many other horses Brooke will save. That’s a Second Career.

(Brooke is now walking around quite well, and she recently returned home. If you wish to donate to her rehab needs, please visit Racing For Home’s page at https://racingforhomeinc.com/)

My horse Quarter Horse Harley came to live with us to be a companion for my horse Shandoka. He was a great companion for him, and Shandoka absolutely adored him. I think people underestimate the importance of this role with horses, and it is a perfect job for a horse that suffered a career ending injury or getting old. A companion helps prevent ulcers by reducing stress in the other horses. Horses are herd animals, and they need to have their friends. Being a companion horse is such an important job. That is a Second Career.

Harley is now a companion and teacher to Chaco, Dulce, and Sueño. Harley taught Chaco and Dulce about trail riding and keeps them calm. He will also teach Sueño when it’s his turn. When I trailer Dulce for rides, which can make him very nervous, Harley always comes. Harley keeps him calm in the trailer. That is a Second Career.

Let’s not forget about Peanuts who escorted and kept the great racehorse Exterminator calm on his way to the starting line. Exterminator out lived a couple of Peanuts, but he always had the spirit of this pony by his side. If you compete, your horse that needs to be retired, or a horse looking for a home that can’t be ridden, can go with your horse to competitions to keep them calm and focused. That is a Second Career.

When Chaco became severely lame, and even after he had great improvement after his first Noltrex injection, an a person I did not know wrote telling me that I should put him down….that having a “pasture rat” isn’t worth it. He needed to earn his keep. I must say this was a punch in the gut. Chaco has so much life, loves to play, and always tries to find ways to outsmart me on our walks to snatch grass. He ran for a year after going down in a race with three pebbles lodged in his stifle destroying his cartilage. As far as I’m concerned, he deserves all of the time I can give him, because he gave so much to humans. As long as he wants to live, I will fight for him. He is teaching me so much. That is a Second Career.

When the neighbor’s grandchildren come to visit, they always come down to see my horses when they are on pasture. Chaco, my tallest horse, gently drops his head for them and lets them love all over them. Their mother told them that her kids have never been around horses before. When she asked me what kind of horse he was, she couldn’t believe that a thoroughbred could be so gentle and calm. Chaco is educating young kids and older adults about how amazing thoroughbreds are. He is an ambassador even though he can’t be ridden anymore. That is a Second Career.

Horses make great therapy horses. A neighbor down the road works with unwanted drafts and children with physical disabilities. Horses amaze me in how they can heal broken spirits and minds regarding vets or others who struggle with PTSD. Let’s not forget that incredible video of the OTTB in France that walks the halls of hospitals visiting with patients he decides need him the most. https://youtu.be/XypgQoOBuBk

Horses don’t have to jump, do piaffe’s, or wind their way around barrels to be worth their weight in gold. There are so many second careers that a horse can have, so before you toss a horse away due to an non-life threatening injury, consider what else your horse may be able to do. Talk with your vet about the possibilities. Talk with people in different fields with horses such as therapy horses to see where your horse can fit.

There are all sorts of Second Careers that require no competing or challenging riding.

If you have to rehome your horse for whatever reason, you do need to worry about your horse falling into the wrong hands. There are stories all the time. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Don’t give your horse away for free. This brings the bad guys out. If a kill buyer can get a horse for free, they will.
  2. Write up a contract specific to your horse regarding care, visits by you, update pictures, and how if they decide they don’t want your horse anymore, they contact you first. This will usually chase the bad guys away.
  3. Get four references. Make sure they can afford your horse. Find out who supplies them with hay. Ask to talk with their vet.
  4. Talk with other rescue organizations for tips on how to place your horse successfully.

Sherrie Courtney added, “I’ve found that adopting to someone with whom there is some kind of a connection (vet client, trainer’s friend of a friend etc) has worked best for me. So I always know things are ok. I ask for updates (photos) a few times a year so as not to be a pest. Contract can state all of this as mine does.”

When I was struggling with severe exhaustion caused by Covid, I had to lean up against the fence panels to get my breath. I needed to get my horses fed, and my body was fighting me every step, every breath. I tried to not cry, not panic, and breath.

I couldn’t catch my breath.

Chaco walked up to me, put his nose on my cheek, and I felt his breath. His breathing calmed me down, and my breath began to slow down matching his. We stood there breathing together until I got my strength back. He pulled back and looked into my eyes before sauntering off to play with Sueño. His Second Career is all about taking care of all of us, and he is so good at it.

Stop Trying Part 3

My grandpa was probably the kindest person I’ve ever known. Our horses loved him, and when he went in with them, they all ran up to him. I remember the first time he taught me to shake hands with a horse. I have no idea how old I was, and to see it, I need to close my eyes. It is more a sensory image, because I was so small. I know that my mom was standing behind me. My grandpa urged me to hold the back of my hand up to the horse while tucking in my thumb. He always said that you don’t want the horse mistaking your thumb for a carrot. I’m not even sure which horse it was…I think one of the mares. Maybe it was Chiller, our racing quarter horse at the time. I can feel the soft nose on my hand, that warm breath, and a smile that emerged not just on my face but my entire being when the horse accepted me. I then looked up at my grandpa, and there was that smile of his that I lived for.

He had a way with horses that I’ve never come close to. I loved it when my mom dropped my brother and I off at his home, because he almost always took us to see the horses. When we were there, except for the time spent following Charlie the turkey around, I watched him. I watched how he caught the horses, brushed them, checked out their legs, loved on them, played with them, and how he simply stood with them. I think a lot of us forget to do that; just stand with our horses. We’re always doing something….picking their hooves, brushing them, training them, taking them for rides, but we rarely hang out with them. He did and the horses would walk up to him and then walk off. He never chased them.

One day I wanted to pet my horse Big Ruckus. I followed him everywhere, and I never could get a hand on him. The faster I walked the faster Ruckus walked to get away from me. Frustrated and broken hearted feeling like my horse hated me I went up to my grandpa feeling like an utter failure. When he asked me why, I explained how Ruckus would never let me pet him. He told me, “Stop trying.”

He didn’t mean give up and walk away. Rather, in order to find that connection with Ruckus, I needed to let go of my need for it and chase Ruckus around with it. Horses don’t always agree or understand our goals that we impose upon them, so they run away from them. Sometimes the best way to get anywhere is to surrender it and simply be with your horse. My five year old mind wasn’t too sure about what he meant, but I decided to copy my grandpa. I went back down to their pasture, and I stood there doing nothing. Within a few minutes Ruckus came trotting up to me, and I got to pet him. He then grabbed my shirt, and he started dragging me all around as we played.

I’ve spent hours asking myself what was it about me that caused that to happen that day. We were riding around so relaxed, and when we went to a trot, it all changed. He had been a bit nervous in the arena, and this is why I spent a lot of time introducing him to it. When he seemed settled, I asked him to trot. Was he settled? I don’t think so. I think he was anxious horse, but he knew how to bury it like all horses do. However, that day something gave, and he showed me what he had been burying. My failure to acknowledge that the muscles underneath me were saying, “I don’t like this place or this situation,” pushed Dulce to that watershed moment where I could finally do the bodywork he needed, which is a good thing, but…..it isn’t good that I misread him.

Now that it seems time to ride him, I’m hesitant. I finally got him to such a great place, and even though I have the tools to keep him in a good place, I worry about ruining it all, missing out on what his body is telling me.

I can hear my grandpa whispering in my ear saying, “Stop trying.”

I think I was trying too hard with Dulce. I wanted to show everyone what a great OTTB he is by what he could do instead of paying attention to the fact that his mind needed extra help. Work for him meant anxiety, and I want work for him to mean fun. So, I need to stop trying.

I keep thinking about Shandoka, and how we always played together during training. I don’t want to trigger Dulce again, so the other phrase my grandpa said a lot about horses that is being whispered into my mind is, “Get creative.” The word “deconstruction” keeps going through my mind. I need to deconstruct. I need to deconstruct the way he looks at what work is, and recreate a new and better way for us to enjoy our time together.

Some may say he is a hot horse, but that really isn’t it. He gets anxious the moment he sees a saddle, he paws and shakes the trailer when loaded, and that day in the outdoor arena, he went into a posture I never asked for, and began grinding his teeth. Work stresses him out, because it caused him pain. I need to deconstruct everything with him in order to rebuild. I want to show him that our work together won’t cause him any discomfort, and if it does, I will stop. I’m listening to him. Currently, I’m breaking everything down into small blocks, and going over them slowly with him. If I notice any anxiety, I immediately do the Masterson Touch on his TMJ area until he relaxes, and then I break up what we are doing into smaller blocks.

This means that I need to deconstruct my views on training, and explore new and different ways of working with a horse. I never thought my training methods were harsh or wrong, but I do think that there are other more creative ways. I’ve been looking at Mark Rashid, Tik Maynard, Alexander Nevzorov, Carolyn Resnick, Manolo Mendez, Ray Hunt, and others.

I have the chance to create something so different for Dulce and Sueño, and to do that, I need to change me as well. No more goals the way I’ve used them. Throwing out expectations is required, and time to work in a way that allows their bodies to stay in balance. I have no idea what this will end up looking like, but I’ve begun to experiment.

For the past three days I’ve gone out and done what I would call interactive groundwork. What is that? I have no idea how to tell you. All I can say is that I am as involved in the groundwork as they are. We move around together. I keep my eyes on theirs. We yield hindquarters and forelegs, but it is all through a dance that I do with them. Twice I’ve done it without a lead rope and once with. I’ve never done Liberty work before, but it amazed me at how quick Dulce and Sueño picked up on what I was asking them to do. Most of the time we work at the walk, but every now and then we go up to the trot. The thing I like about it so far is that Dulce and Sueño seem to be having fun. They let out these great sighs, their heads and ears are up and on me as we dance with one another. Will this help in the saddle? I have no idea. Time will tell. All I know is that I stopped trying, and that part of me that died with Shandoka came back….that creative side that loves to play with horses….that five year old standing in the pasture imitating my grandpa as Ruckus walked up to me is coming back to life and my horses seem to love it.

Dulce’s Uncomfort Zone

Ever since I brought Dulce home, I found pain in his body. His poll was locked like all racehorses, but his seemed to be locked up in a super max prison. He guarded his entire body, and would pin his ears wherever I touched him until he realized I wasn’t going to do anything but pet him. Petting him with the back of my hand eased his anxiety. His entire body was on guard against any outside force no matter how light the touch was.

The areas where I found the most pain in the beginning were the poll, TMJ, shoulders, and psoas area. I also spotted three straight white lines on his withers.

I tried Tellington Touch first, and he hated it. He stomped his hooves, his tail swished, and those ears became glued to his head. I switched to the Masterson Method, and he responded immediately. I used the lightest touch, or what Masterson calls “ethereal” touch. I barely skimmed the hairs with my fingers. I searched and searched for blinks, which indicate a source of pain, and stayed there with that ethereal touch until he released. A release is expressed through yawns, movement of the jaw back and forth, sighs, head shakes, and my guys like to rub their heads on me. At the end of this blog, I will post links for you regarding any of the massage methods mentioned here.

The thing is if I ever tried to take anything a bit deeper with him, he’d go back into protective mode. His body would tighten up, and we were back to ground zero. He constantly teaches me that my goals are not his.

So, when we had that moment in the arena, it was a watershed moment for us. Somehow, the door opened wide, and he couldn’t slam it shut. He let me in completely; not half way.

He released more and more with the Masterson Method, but I could tell that his ribs were stuck. Yes, I took him to a chiropractor, but it didn’t last. His muscles brought him back to ground zero again. I needed to create the change on a muscular level for his bones to stay in a healthy place, and that rib cage of his was screaming out to me for help.

I began researching and watching video after video. I ordered a book on Osteopathy. We have no osteopaths on the Western Slope, and I feel that osteopathy addresses the muscles and resets the bones. I didn’t feel comfortable doing any of the thrusts, but several of the other moves were easy for me to do. The most important thing is that Dulce responded.

Layer after layer came off. His body was healing, and he was able to bend better as we did his active stretches out of Helle Katrine Kleven’s book Physical Therapy for Horses. I love doing these stretches every day, because they tell me where my horses are at. What can they do or not do? As we progressed, he became more and more supple.

The pictures below are a few of the active stretches she suggests.

Dulce used to struggle with doing this one. He could reach his head straight ahead with a twist, but not straight ahead and up. After all of this work, he now does it easily.
This one used to be difficult for him to do while keeping his head straight. He used to turn his head to the side. Now he can easily reach to the side with his head held straight.
He never could bow before I successfully reset the muscles and his C1 and C2.

The ribs, the ribs, and the ribs. He was so tight in the ribs, and this is when I found April Love who had a very simple method to release the ribs. I fully expected him to bite me, but luckily I got through it before he could. With this one maneuver, I could tell he felt better. He could lift his stomach! He never could lift his stomach before. Often horses for many reasons, saddles and us being on their backs, get their ribs stuck on the inhale position. He had a few stuck there. Love also talks a lot about the first ribs being out. I did the test to see if they were, and lo and behold, on both sides his first ribs were out. I enrolled in her class, and before you know it, I was able to reset his poll, first ribs, ribs and hips.

Before I reset his ribs, he could only go back to mid barrel. Now he can reach all the way to his stifle easily. This stretch is not only great for the neck, but also the outside shoulder and all of the ribs.

Did I stop using the Masterson Method on him? Absolutely not. I used it in conjunction with all that I was learning. The Masterson Method brings him to such a deep state of relaxation now that I am able to use that first before moving to a maneuver that brings about a deeper shift.

I then enrolled in a class on myofascial release. I feel that to keep his muscles relaxed, I needed to keep the fascia supple, and his was not especially around the pectorals, sternum and rib cage. If I even approached his pectorals or his sternum, his guard went up, and he let me know to back away. I went back to the ethereal touch of the Masterson Method for a couple of weeks on these areas before he finally allowed me to do some myofascial release on these areas. I still have a ways to go, but we are making a lot of progress.

His TMJ though was a continuing problem. I could get it to release and the next day or hours later it was tight again. No matter what I did, an I found a wonderful maneuver from the late Dr. Kerry Ridgway, that TMJ was always in pain throwing off his entire body.

Finally, I got an appointment with his dentist. Covid and the Holidays made it challenging. He wasn’t due for another six months, but I knew I needed to get him in. Last year I took him to someone else, which was an absolute mistake. I had a good intention, but that intention blew up in my face in so many ways. I learned the hard way to stay with what you know, and I know my equine dentist is fantastic.

I expected him to tell me that Dulce couldn’t be helped. Instead he showed me how his front incisors had a slight diagonal to them from right to left. He told me that horses with this slight diagonal have severe TMJ pain, but horses who have severely diagonal teeth don’t. He was able to fix his. He told me in a month, his TMJ pain would be completely gone. I can’t even begin to tell you how happy I am that I found a reason behind all of this.

He also suggested something I already do. I feed all of my horses on the ground. This stretches out the TMJ and the poll muscles as they chew keeping these areas supple. He said feeding on the ground helps the teeth stay as well, because it allows the jaw to move from side to side. When you feed at a higher level like a hanging hay net for instance, their teeth get locked. Instead of moving from side to side they only move from left to right or right to left instead of back and forth. At least I’m doing one thing right!

Dulce was always a lovey horse. He’d follow me everywhere after I brought him here, and he was always the first to greet me in the pasture. However, he also had a very grumpy side that Chaco was often the recipient of. This whole journey to bring his body back into balance opened another door for our relationship. He is sweet, happy, playful, and relaxed. He is back to coming up to me each time I enter into the paddock or the pasture. He wants to cuddle and is more willing to move forward with me..and he wants to play.

I haven’t ridden him yet even though I can. I’m hesitant. Even though I have the tools to keep him in a good place, I worry about ruining it all. Mainly, I keep thinking about Shandoka. He and I used to dance with one another, play with one another. We’d play hide and go seek, chase….. When he died, that part of me got buried with him. As I stand and look at my horses, I realize how much they need me to resurrect this.

For us to move forward, and by us I mean Dulce, Chaco, Harley, playful Sueño, and myself I need to deconstruct and rebuild……

If you are interested in learning equine massage techniques, there is a wealth of information on YouTube. First, in no way am I recommending that you do any of this with your own horse. Please consult with your veterinarian before embarking on any of this with your horse, and I am in no way responsible for anything that may occur to you or your horse while working on your horse. Horse massage can be very dangerous to you and the horse. When I discovered a sore spot, I’ve nearly been cow kickek out at; all of which are ways the horse is trying to tell you that he or she is in pain. I never punish a horse for trying to communicate with me. Proceed at your own risk.

April Love’s Channel is https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC6rjOjHZRuq4dS7gUKM263w

Jim Masterson’s Channel is: https://www.youtube.com/user/mastersonmethod

Margret Henkel only has one video posted about myofascial release: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCKcN_6l691fSUD8u68HyXHg/videos

Jim Masterson has two books and three DVD’s that you can purchase. I love the DVD for Dressage horses, because quite frankly, OTTB’s have all of the same issues. However, you need to start with the first book Beyond Horse Massage. https://www.amazon.com/Beyond-Horse-Massage-Breakthrough-Interactive/dp/1570764727/ref=sr_1_1?crid=2QXNJFIOF1F2&dchild=1&keywords=jim+masterson&qid=1612751836&s=books&sprefix=Jim+Master%2Caps%2C420&sr=1-1

Here is a link to his second book on the Dressage Horse https://www.amazon.com/Dressage-Horse-Optimized-Masterson-Method/dp/157076722X/ref=sr_1_2?crid=2QXNJFIOF1F2&dchild=1&keywords=jim+masterson&qid=1612751931&s=books&sprefix=Jim+Master%2Caps%2C420&sr=1-2

If you wish to learn more about Myofascial Release, Margret Henkels has a good book called Is Your Horse 100% https://www.amazon.com/Your-Horse-100-Limitations-Conformation/dp/1570767912/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=margret+henkels&qid=1612752094&s=books&sr=1-1

She also has a DVD of the same name.

There is another great book on myofascial release, but the pictures in it leave a lot to be desired. However, the book offers a lot more different methods of maneuvering the fascia, and this book really helped me begin the release of Dulce’s shoulders and Nuchal Ligament. It is called Equine Structural Integration: Myofascial Release Manual.https://www.amazon.com/Equine-Structural-Integration-Myofascial-Release/dp/0979053501/ref=sr_1_2?crid=1AOES6UMCJMFP&dchild=1&keywords=equine+myofascial+release&qid=1612752199&sprefix=equine+myof%2Cstripbooks%2C249&sr=8-2

The Devil Is In The Side Reins

When I was a kid, my dad would take us up to my school’s baseball field, so he could practice throwing his curve ball. I stood in the batter’s box nervously waiting for him to pitch that curve ball from hell. I took every last nerve and ounce of courage for me to stay in that box while praying to every possible deity that the ball would curve and not hit me in the head or ribs. No offense to my dad, but he was no Clayton Kershaw. Sometimes I jumped out of the batter’s box and other times I stayed put facing that ball down until I either landed my bat on it or it whizzed by. (My dad’s curveball always did curve thank goodness!). This is what it’s like having horses at times…hoping that curve straightens out and goes over the plate rather than hits you head on.

At the beginning of summer, things began to go wrong with Dulce. Part of it was the death of Mojo. As I wrote in an earlier blog, he took it hard. Whenever we went on the trail he was fine, but if we went to the arena, which he used to love to do, he suddenly was miserable.

I am 100% sure he was trained in side reins. They are used quite a bit in horse racing and all horse disciplines due to the belief that it helps the horse get off the forehand and move their driving force to their hind end and gets the horse on the vertical. I listen to Simon Callahan on TVG praise their use quite a bit (for the record, I really like Callahan just disagree with him on this), and if you are in my presence, you hear me have a few words with him through the TV.

Imagine you are in a yoga class, and the instructor asks you to bend forward and touch your toes. Now imagine that the instructor puts his or her hand on your back after you get your hands down to your toes and says,”Okay, I’m going to keep you in this position for the next fifteen to thirty minutes, and I’m going to make you walk around like this.”

Horrified, you start to move around unable to get out of this position, and you notice that you are bringing your chin into your chest. The instructor praises you for your collection when in reality you are trying to figure out a way to escape the pain. At first you can walk on your legs, but your hamstrings and glutes begin to burn bad all the way down to your feet from the constant pull on all of the muscles and ligaments/tendons. What do you do to try and escape this? You lean on your hands trying to walk on them to give your legs a break.

This is basically the same thing that happens to a horse when they are in side/draw reins. Instead of trying to figure out why a horse won’t collect, they go to an easy solution; force them with the side reins. So what happens to the horse? First they move into an incorrect frame bending in a horribly painful way at the pole and in the neck to get behind the vertical to try and find some relief. You never want a horse behind the vertical. The nuchal and supraspinal ligament are constantly being pulled on. While this does cause the back to lift, the sacrum is incorrectly and painfully being pulled too far forward. The pelvis will tip and go flat causing a strong pull on the flexor muscles of the hindquarters. Thus, the hindquarters are pulled towards the back. This causes tension to build up in the ischium muscle, longissimus muscle of the back, and the gluteus medius.. The loin and the abdominal muscles are no longer able to raise the pelvis, thus the hindlegs can not step under. What this all means is that a correct and healthy collection for the horse is impossible to attain.

They then move on to their forehand putting a lot of stress on their chest and shoulder muscles causing the front legs to lose their ability to absorb shock. Why is that important? The muscles of the forelegs then lose their ability to bring the legs forward in a healthy way, and their tendons and ligaments can become injured or strained from the the inability to absorb the shock.

The world renowned equine physical therapist Helle Katrine Kleven writes in her book Physical Therapy for Horses:

“The cervical spine becomes kinked in a way that is physiologically unnatural, which causes tension and blockages in the small, deep muscles. This can cause irritation where the nerves leave the spinal column, as the incorrect positioning of the spine causes the spinal canal to become too narrow. Over time, this can lead to instability of the spine and/or calcifications on the ligaments as these are constantly overstretched. In addition, inflammation that eventually becomes calcification on the nuchal ligament can result.

“When the horse is ridden….nose behind the vertical, the rider is automatically locking the first cervical vertebra opposite the head. Therefore, a sideways longitudinal bend is no longer possible. The horse makes a compensatory movement, in that he turns his whole head between the 1st and 2nd cervical vertebrae when asked to turn.”

She goes on to say that the more the rider pulls and keeps the horse’s neck in hyperflexion, more of the vertebrae become locked, and the mobility of the horse’s spine is diminished.

Can you imagine how painful this is for a horse? There are some auxiliary reins like Vienna and Lauffer reins that can be helpful. I prefer in training to use none of these. I believe in working with the horse’s natural confirmation whatever that might be. That is just me.

Dulce and I were having great rides together on the trail and in the arena until one day I took him to the outdoor arena at the fairgrounds. That is the day that everything changed, and the curve ball hit me.

When I asked him to canter on a loose rein, he suddenly went into the stance of a horse in side reins. He nearly pulled me off of him and over his head his nose was so far down and behind the vertical along with being heavily on the forehand. I stopped him. Pet him. Talked to him. Walked him and when he was relaxed, asked again. He did it again. I thought I would try to ride him through it, but it got worse. He suddenly started to canter with his head sideways. We came to a stop. I got off, checked his bitless bridle. Everything was in the correct position. I hand walked him, longed him, and everything looked fine. I decided to try one more time.

We walked calmly, I gave his verbal cue, and again he went into a side rein stance, then the head went sideways, and he bucked. I got him to stop, hopped off, and this began a six month journey of healing for Dulce that I will begin to cover in the next two blogs, although he and I are still on it as we move back into training. It involves a lot of bodywork that I studied and took classes in and dentistry work all because of side reins that I am 100% sure he was trained in. Something happened that day that triggered him, and for the life of me I don’t know what.

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.

Freaking Cajones

Sueño as you know is now a gelding. My vet warned me that if the wound closed too soon, I would have to squeeze the ball-less scrotum to open up the wound and get the fluid to flow out of the wound again.

Well, despite working him for 20 minutes the next day as instructed by my vet, and letting him be turned out with everyone for the entire day, the wound closed. You can do everything right, but there is often an outside force working against you; weather has been my downfall too many times this year.

My kingdom for some humidity please! Colorado is not known for being a humid climate, and we keep flip flopping between fall and winter.

His swelling was the size of a big cantaloupe from the fluid build up. I tried to exercise him to see if the swelling would go down, but that dang cantaloupe was banging all around like a piñata being hit by a pro baseball player. He couldn’t move forward well at all; it hurt getting smacked by that cantaloupe. Time to call the vet.

A plan was forged, and off to the vet I went to get a sedative. I didn’t mind what I needed to do; I’ve done much more challenging as a medic, but I was a bit concerned about getting kicked, I’ve been hit and bit, and kicked many times as a medic by people not happy that their highs were ruined or because they were angry at their situation. Getting kicked by a horse is a different story. It hurts a lot more, and a kick can easily break a bone.

******************Disclaimer******************

Do not do what I do without talking to your vet first. Your vet may want to do a different procedure or feel that something entirely different is going on. Always talk to your vet first. If you follow what I do, you are doing it at your own risk. Even with a sedative on board, you can get hurt. Let your vet help you.

When I got home, I quickly gave him the sedative, which he took easily. I kept him separated from everyone and waited for it to take effect. It seemed to take forever, and I swear that cantaloupe got a bit bigger since the morning. After thirty minutes, it was time.

I took a warm rag and wiped off all the dried blood. His legs flinched but remained down. I then pried the wound open with my finger, and this is when a flailing leg came at me. Luckily, it was weak from the sedative, and there was no kick in it. As I worked, I held the flailing leg with my other hand. I then grabbed the warm rag after making sure everything was cleaned out of that wound, and I began squeezing gently trying to get the fluids to flow. Once it began dripping, I left him alone to sober up. The next part was trotting him for 20 minutes.

However, the wind, the wind! The wind keeps tormenting me, and it was no different this day. A cold north wind began to blow, and it had a mission; close up the wound.

“Oh no you don’t Wind! I’m going to beat you this time!” Every 15 minutes, I’d squeeze again and wipe along the wound as he sobered up to keep it open.

When I realized we had about fifteen more minutes before he was sober enough to trot, I went in to get a quick bite to eat. When I returned, gosh dang it that wound closed up solid.

“Freaking Cajones!” I yell at the Wind.

Beyond frustrated and feeling like a big failure at something that should be simple, I convinced myself that his blood must be filled with a plethora of platelets.

I took him to the work area, and we began to longe. After 15 minutes, I knew longing wasn’t the answer. The wound and cantaloupe remained.

I decided to try something different. I got Dulce and Harley, and I round penned him for twenty minutes with the other two horses. This means that since it is such a big area, I chased them around the whole time keeping them moving at a good clip.

The great thing about this idea, even though I worried they would wreck or someone would clip someone else’s heel, was that they went at different speeds, they cut, and came to sudden stops; all creating the possibility of opening that wound. I drove and drove determined to get that wound open. Dulce wouldn’t let Sueño stop. Harley was baffled as to why he was included in all of this.

Finally, and this would normally be a gasping moment, his right hind leg slipped out sideways on a bit of mud, and that’s when it happened. His tail clamped down, swished hard, and clamped. I heard a big “Kasploosh” sound. The wound busted open. The cantaloupe busted out, and a huge amount of bloody, serous fluid burst all over both of his legs. If he weren’t a guy, I would have thought his water broke.

He was not happy about me jumping up and down in total glee. I yelled at the wind, “Ha! I beat you! Finally!”

I cleaned up his legs, and the cantaloupe was now one of those oversized tennis balls. The draining continued. I grabbed his light blanket, covered him up to create a wind block for his private area. We walked around, and I apologized to him for everything he was going through.

Harley stood in a corner continuing to be baffled as to why I would pull him into all of this. His nostrils were flared, breathing a little hard, he stared at me hard waiting for me to send him off in another direction. We did have an agreement that he was semi-retired and only needed to go on trail rides for now on.

“I apologized to you too. I needed your help the most. You move and it become a run. Thanks Harley.” I stroked his head letting him know it letting him know it was all over.

I kept Sueño out with the boys that night, and a steady drip could be seen the following morning thanks to Chaco chasing him around every now and then. The swelling was gone. Unfortunately, by the end of the day, it closed again. I called my vet to ask him for suggestions on how to keep it open. All that I could do is rub the inside of the wound with Vaseline, but then you run the chance of dirt getting in there and later causing an infection.

The next day he had an oversized tennis ball of fluid in there, but from here on out it has been easy to manage with exercise. Two hours after each exercise, the swelling is gone. He now only has a tiny bit of fluid/swelling each morning that disappears after his 20 minutes of exercise.

All of this exercise with Dulce and Sueño has confirmed some of my suspicions about Dulce that I will talk about in my next blog. Hopefully, the loss of Sueño’s cajones will lead to healing Dulce’s pain.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

Sueno’s Tomorrow

So, Sueño can jump. He can really jump. The other day I was standing in the field, and he ran by, took a jump, and he was way above my head. This is the second time he did this, and afterwards all I do is run my hands down his legs all day to make sure he is okay. He doesn’t do it often, but when he does, I stop breathing.

He is also really fast. He has another gear that I only see from time to time, but when he kicks into it, I again stop breathing.

We had a horrible windstorm the other night, and I needed to move him into a smaller pen. The winds were howling, visibility was dwindling, and a moment of chaos was erupting everywhere around us. Instead, he stayed calm, followed my lead, and stayed beside or behind me the entire time until I got him safely moved.

I can put my arm across his back and put weight down on his back without him flinching or raising his head. I can jump up and down next to him, and he doesn’t move a step. I can also put a rope around his girth, and he is fine with me slowly tightening it.

He has a graceful trot that would make any Dressage rider drool.

He is curious about the things that scare him. I hang objects along the fence before I bring him down from the pasture. He notices each change, gets a little bit nervous, yet walks up to each and every one of them to explore.

He loves to help, or hinder me depending on how you look at it, with everything I do. He loves the mini, Doc, and Harley adores him. Harley only took to Shandoka immediately. When he met Chaco, I thought he would kill him. With Dulce and Mojo, he was indifferent ultimately coming to accept them both realizing this is my way. Sueño is like Shandoka for him; he is totally smitten. He loves to play with him, and these two run around together quite a bit. If Sueño gets nervous when Chaco tries to play with him, he immediately runs to Harley, and Harley protects him.

Today, my sweet boy, was gelded. I miss my grandpa every single day of my life, and today I missed him even more. He always took care of this stuff. However, if he were alive, he’d tell me if I took in the horse, time to buck up and take care of him; no passing it off. The horse always comes first he would say. If you are hungry, it can wait until you get everything done with the horses and dogs.

I was the adult, and I took care of him. A mare rode by a week ago, and I thought he was going to try and jump the five foot fence we have. I know that some people wanted to breed to him, but I couldn’t handle the idea of any of his foals ever ending up in a kill pen. On Saturday, Breeder’s Cup Day, nine yearlings ended up at a kill buyer auction. They were bought at the Fasig-Tipton sale first before ending up there. Luckily, they were all purchased and will hopefully end up in a good place, but I can’t be responsible for any foal of mine ending up in that position. The Safe Act needs to be passed. Period.

My vet came out today, which is cold and wet from a snow the night before. A cold wind blew, but the sun kept peaking out from the clouds trying to warm up the ground. We knocked him out, and I sat at his head while the job was done. I told him I loved him over and over, and when he finally got back up, I was relieved it was all over. He kept giving me the side eye though, and really wanted nothing to do with me. I couldn’t blame him at all. It took some time before he finally warmed up to me again.

Tomorrow I trot him for 20 minutes before turning him out on the pasture to encourage the healing process and preventing anything from closing up too soon. Tomorrow we begin the rest of his journey as a gelding, and let me tell you, geldings are awesome. People put them down a lot, and I have no idea why. They are wonderful, energetic, and the best partners in adventures.

Life By The Drop

Driving up the winding road to the Plateau I wondered what the heck I was doing. My horses need to be worked, and my mind isn’t in the right place to work them. I’m misplacing everything, tripping over things that aren’t there, and find my brain zoning out more times than I can count. My mind is a scattered mess, yet here I am driving up this ridiculously long hill. Take Dulce for a walk my friend said.

Dulce is a high energy horse, and if I don’t work him, he turns his energy towards my other two in annoying ways. Before Mojo passed, I took Dulce up top for a few walks to introduce him to the smells and challenges of riding through the forest. I like to walk my horses in the beginning, so I can see what spooks them or if they eye something for too long. This way it allows me to identify what to work with them on at home, and I can work with them in the moment on the ground. I think this helps them develop courage to explore, but it also shows them that I won’t ask them to do something that I’m not willing to do with them. It builds trust between us. The only thing that seems to bother Dulce is bodies of water. I think it’s more the smells of all the wild animals around the water that gets to him. I knew the perfect place to go, so taking my friend’s advice, here I am driving up the hill to take Dulce for a walk.

My hands grip the steering wheel tight causing my fingers to tingle. I want to turn around and go home. What if something goes wrong with the other two while we’re gone? I’m not ready for this, but there is no place to turn around easily with a horse trailer. I keep going. I hit the dirt; the road is rough rattling my nerves to all new highs. I put on Bluesville, and Howling Wolf is belting out Backdoor Man.

“You men eat your dinner, eat your pork and beans
I eat more chicken than any man ever seen, yeah, yeah
I’m a back door man”

 I sing along when I hit washboard in the hairpin turns. Are you kidding me? They were fixing these a couple of weeks ago. I have much further to go, but the forest is beautiful today. I don’t have to do the whole walk I tell myself. We can do a small portion of it and then go home. At least I got us both out. It’s a step

Oh man, this can not be happening! I come up behind the grater that supposedly fixes all the washboard roads. There is a huge pile of dirt down the middle of the road as far as the eye can see, so I can’t pass him without possibly flipping the horse trailer on its side. He is going two miles an hour. John Lee Hooker is singing House Rent Boogie.

“I’m tired of keepin’ this movin’ every night
I can’t hold out much longer
Now I got this rent, now let’s get together, y’all
Let’s have a ball”

We crawl up towards the Divide Road, and at this pace it will take me forever to get to our spot. I give up and pull off at this a spot that I always want to go. There is a nice trail across the road, but since I have the dogs with me, that option is out. Cars drive too fast on this section of road.  I figure I’ll walk him around this one little spot, and then we’ll load up for home.

By this time, my nerves are fried, and Dulce needs me to be calm for him. I am anything but. I unload him, get the dogs out, and focus on my breath to try and slow it and my mind down. Usually, within the first five minutes of each ride Dulce has a spazz out moment where he lets out his stress/excitement before he settles down and focuses on the work at hand. I waited for it, and waited, and waited, and it never comes. In fact, we walked together on a loose rein immediately. He gave me time to spazz out and calm down. We reversed roles.

What I thought was a small path along a private fence turned out to be a big path deep into the forest. I never knew this existed, and it is the perfect path for a horse beginning to learn how to trail ride in the forest. The only challenge is that it’s at 9,200 feet, which is 3,200 feet higher than our home. I know this will challenge his lungs a bit. We take breaks as we walked along the path lined by Spruce’s and Aspens to give his lungs a chance to adjust. The air is heavy with the scent of forest. Each breath melts away my accumulated stress from the drive. I get a cellphone signal. I check my cameras, and Chaco and Harley are fine grazing away together.

Dulce took everything in with ease. We went off the trail and pushed through brush and over all size logs. He never hesitated at anything. He is so athletic and brave. We wind in between and around trees ducking under low branches, and he pushes through all of it gracefully. We get back on the trail and head further up. We could have headed back to the trailer, but now my curiosity is peaked. What is it like ahead?

We meandered on and off the trail exploring all sorts of obstacles. All we hear are birds calling out to one another from tree to tree. The wind is absent today as the light shimmers through the aspen leaves. Dulce and I walk side by side with one another when I realize how he is taking care of me. I’m part of his herd. I watched my horses take in Mojo on his terms willingly. They knew he struggled, and they accepted him and that struggle. When he died, they mourned him even though he was with us for a short time. I watched those three amigos take care of one another through it in all sorts of ways. Today I thought I was taking care of Dulce, but he is taking care of me. He’s allowing me to be where I need to be with him on my terms not asking for it to be any other way. Each time we venture out together, he amazes me. He is the most amazing being, and every moment with him is a blessing and a lesson in something. And people wonder why us horse people think horses are so amazing.

After walking three miles, I let him graze while the dogs explore an interesting scent. I look around in awe of the beauty shining through. Dulce rubs his head along my leg, and we head back. I see a man-made obstacle off the path, which usually can make a horse nervous. Horses know that man made stuff don’t belong in the forest. Dulce could care less about it. We walk around it in both directions. Nothing. He looks at me as if to say, “Seriously? This is all you’ve got?”

He easily loads into the trailer. “Okay, who are you? Where is Dulce?” I ask him as he takes a big bite of hay out of his feeder. Driving back home is easier and a bit faster. Stevie Ray Vaughan is singing Life By The Drop.

“Hello there my old friend
Not so long ago it was till the end
We played outside in the pourin’ rain
On our way up the road we started over again”

When we finally head down the road to our home, when I’m coming down the hill, Harley spots my truck and comes running to the top part of the paddock nickering at Dulce welcoming him home. Chaco acts aloof, but the moment I drop Dulce’s window, he’s all happy. I unload Dulce and walk him in. I take off his halter to turn him loose. I expected him to run off to join them, but instead he lingers with me dropping his head into my chest. I hug his head in my arms kissing his poll. He lifts his head, looks me in the eyes, and makes his “Weeeeee” sound before he runs off to join Chaco and Harley.

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.