You know that phrase, “Heart Horse?” People use that phrase all the time about a horse that they are strongly connected with, and Shandoka was my heart horse as was Big Ruckus, Pride, Josephine, Inga, Charlie’s Guess, Konak, Vehicle, Scubber, Chiller, Mojo, all the horses I trained on at Bradley’s, etc. I can honestly say I haven’t met a horse I don’t love. I think it drives a few of my friends nuts, but it is a true statement. They will attest to it I’m sure.
When I was a kid, there was this horse in the stall next to our horse Vehicle at the track. He was a mean son of a gun. If you got too close, you’d get bit hard probably losing chunks of flesh in the process. He had good reason to be like this; his owner. His owner was a wealthy man who brought down a new woman hanging on his arm each time his horse ran. When they came back to the barn, he would stand there and hit his horse to show off for his current girlfriend. They stood a safe distance away, so he couldn’t bite them while they laughed at his efforts to try. I hated it! I would stand with Vehicle loving on him protecting him from that ugly energy. I glared hatefully at them, but they never noticed; they were in their own world. I was just a kid.
I spent so much time with this horse determined that he would know someone out there cared for him. He tried to bite me many times, but after a lot of carrots and standing in front of him not moving no matter what he threw at me, I finally got through. One day he let me pet him. It was the best day, and yes, I loved him as much as any horse ever even though all I could do is run my hand down his nose. He taught me so much.
I love my horses with my whole heart and more, and I work hard at creating a good relationship with each one of them in whatever way they need. Mojo was no different. I honestly think the moment I brought him his first bucket of hay; our relationship was cemented forever. I miss him each day, and my other three have struggled with his loss as well. Dulce’s gut issues returned for a week, and the space between us became nonexistent. If he could have sat in my lap, he would have. Chaco stopped eating, which wasn’t good considering he needs his joint supplements. Harley spooked at everything refusing to leave the barn at night waiting for Mojo to hang out and eat with him. Things are finally back to normal for them, although Harley is still is a bit jumpy.
I want to thank everyone that reached out to me. It meant the world, and you’ve helped me through the worst of it. One thing I’m asked is what can they do for me regarding all of this. Well, here it is:
The SAFE Act is sitting in Congress going nowhere. I honestly believe if Mojo never ended up in that kill pen, he’d still be alive. I know considering what is going on in our country right now, it may sit there until the next election is over. That doesn’t mean we can’t start a writing campaign lobbying for its passage. I know that Mojo touched your hearts, so I invite you to write about him in your letters to your representatives and the congresspeople that sit on the Agricultural Committee where the bill currently sits. Below are pictures of Mojo that you can download and include in your letters, so they can see him when you talk about him. This is an ugly part of our world, and a stain upon the world of horse racing. I’m tired of being told that it is a necessary evil. That is a lazy answer for those that don’t want to change anything.
I really can’t handle talking about what happened to Mojo, and I’ve received so many questions. This is my poor attempt to answer them in one place.
There are two words in the horse world that strike fear in every horse person; one starts with the letter “L” and the other is Colic. We try to push these words into the darkest regions of our brain hoping that if we do, they will never come knocking on our door.
I’m not sure what is wrong with me, because it seems like God has put me on some path to figure out the issue of colic or torment me with it. All I want to do is scream at the top of my lungs, “Why in the world did you do this to horses? Create this horrible design for the most wonderful, willing, amazing, loving creature?” I lost Shandoka to it, and I fought like hell to get Dulce to a better place, and now my sweet Mojo.
When he came here, he was in bad shape. However, everything came back fine on him, so he was put on the diet for horses that are recovering from starvation and two supplements. He was on a low starch and sugar diet the entire time he was with me. The two supplements he was on were vitamin E and California Trace. I had to worm him, because he had tapeworms. When I heard about the tapeworms, I immediately worried. They can cause a lot of damage to a horse’s gut. He began to gain weight, and he started losing his shaggy coat.
As we approached 930 pounds, my red flag was ready to go off. This is when a horse goes out of what I call starvation mode. Starvation mode is when a horse seems to suppress their issues (again this is my observation), and when they get above 915, the body emerges from starvation mode and is in a flux. Their organs are still adjusting, and those suppressed issues emerge. One did. I always thought he could have ulcers, because he was starved for ten days, although he NEVER showed any signs of it. He cleaned his bucket, and he loved me scratching his belly and rib areas. The only sign that popped up was his poop became mush.
We adjusted his diet. We worried about the effects of medicine because his disposition seemed so fragile. We decided to take a gentle route with nutrient buffer and gastromend and see how he responded. We also put him on Bio Mos, butyrate, and Yea Sacc in case the bad floura were taking over. He immediately responded. His poop improved, and he began to gain back the weight he lost. However, I knew he needed his teeth done. He had some small ulcers and cuts all over his tongue from the points on his teeth.
I scheduled the appointment, and I was right; lots of points. I noticed how much longer it took for him to rebound from the sedation compared to my other three. Red flag in the breeze. When he did rebound, he loved his new teeth, and the amount he ate increased. Great sign! I had to throw out a lot more hay for him. I was thrilled, but that red flag was gnawing at me despite everything seeming like we were on the right track.
The day this all started, he seemed great. He cleaned out his bucket in the morning and nickered at me when I brought him his hay. However, his personality was off. This was not unusual, but it is something that I always noted. I left to go work with Chuter, and when I came back his personality was still off. He was eating fine though, and there were no signs of colic at all. I spent a lot of time with him that afternoon brushing him, stretching his poll, and hanging out with him.
When I got his feed for him that evening, he didn’t nicker at me, took a few bites, and for the first time I saw him bite at his right side three times in a row. Since he came to live with me, he always finish his bucket. Red flags everywhere. I threw out his feed, and I took him for a walk. He improved. He farted, which is the best sound ever. I took him back to his paddock, and he pooped. Great sign except he became really uncomfortable afterwards. I called my vet, and we did the normal treatments. He also received 10cc’s of banamine. We walked and walked. He pooped a couple of more times without any more pain. He relaxed and farted a lot. When we got back, he lied down, and he constantly farted. I thought we were through the worst of it because the gas was passing so easily. I got my cot and prepared to spend the night with him. I lied down, and he got up and came and stood over me while he slept. I couldn’t sleep at all, so I watched him. I listened to him breath, and I memorized everything about his nose, jaw, and his relaxed lower lip. I will never forget his head over me with the stars overhead. Even though I thought we were through the worst of it, something still bothered me; my stomach remained clenched.
A few hours later, he dropped his nose to mine and nuzzled with me. He walked to the barn, pooped, and this is when all hell broke loose. He was in horrible pain. He dropped, and for the first time tried to roll. The worst sign. I got him up, snapped the lead rope on, and walked him. He couldn’t think, and he walked me into the fence several times. I didn’t care. The next couple of hours I did everything I could think of while talking with my vet. I gave him more banamine, did acupressure, belly lifts, colic pump….anything and everything. He got to the point where he could barely stand and collapsed twice. I called my vet back to my place knowing there was nothing we could do. He had the heart of Afleet Alex to the end. He fought hard.
I held his head in my chest telling him I loved him over and over and over again wishing that if I said it enough it would undo what I knew happened. Come on God, you can’t do this to me again! Give me a miracle please!!!! He either had a twist, blockage, or a rupture. I just wanted it to stop. I wanted him to be better again, to hear him nicker at me for food, and to go back to the moment not so long ago when he gave me that sweet nose nuzzle.
His heart rate was 80bpm, it’s supposed to be 40. He had absolutely no gut sounds on the right, and his gums were going pale. The surgeon was four hours away. I made the decision, which I hate making. I hate it with a passion, but he was shaking from the pain. There was nothing any of us could do. I stayed with him through it all. I was there when he fell to the ground, and I held his head whispering to him over and over how loved he was. I told him Shandoka would come for him and to follow him; he knows the way. He took three agonal breaths and was gone. He was only with me for a short time, but oh my God the pain. I didn’t want to let go of him. Ever since I got him, I’ve wanted to hold him and protect him, and I couldn’t do it this time. I felt like I let him down because I couldn’t figure it out. I let my husband down because he hoped Mojo would be his trail horse. I let all of you down because you all loved him so much. It’s amazing how much I loved him. I have no way of expressing that to you, but he was so loved the entire time he was here….so loved by me, my husband, my other three horses, and my dogs and cats.
A thought as to why it could have happened, was our crazy weather and possibly the sedation could have set off a chain of events. We all worried about gut damage from the tapeworms and ulcers. This is one reason why he was on gastromend. He also got 20mg of Hyaluronic Acid twice a day. There was a study done on the use of HA on joints of horses, and a good side effect that they noted was that it appeared to heal gastric damage if absorbed through the gut. They stated that they needed to do more research on this, but I decided to put Mojo on it. He was a stiff horse, so I thought it could help his joints feel better as well as hopefully heal up any gastric issues he might have. We simply didn’t have enough time for his gut to heal up.
The day before this happened, we had rainy weather. Our barometric pressure plunged. If anyone suffers from barometric pressure headaches, you get why this could be an issue. You feel the dropping pressure in your head, and you are convinced your head might explode from the pressure. Twelve hours later the barometric pressure soared back up, and then we had winds that gusted to over 50mph. We wondered if those drastic changes weakened any area in his gut. Mojo was also a horse that internalized his stress. He didn’t express it outwardly like my other three do. I don’t know if the winds could have brought on the bad gas that then weakened a bad spot in his gut. Mind you no one understands why colic hits or how to fix it. It’s a condition that there are very few treatments for. You basically try the standard options praying they work.
The possibility that feels the most right to me is that the colic was secondary to another issue. We can’t know what is going on unless we open them up, which brings its own inherent risks. My friend Hannah just lost her mare last night. They thought it was impaction colic until they opened her up. It turned out to be a blood clot, and there was too much damage to save her. I’m wondering if the same thing in a different area could have happened to him…or maybe he had a tumor. He could have had a gut stone. I didn’t feed him alfalfa, but who knows what he was fed before he got to me. Too much calcium in a diet can cause these stones, and they cause colic that a horse can’t recover from. I believe it was secondary to another issue, because he never showed any signs of gastrointestinal distress until this moment. He never chewed his sides for the occasional gas bubbles. He loved it when I curried his belly and along his ribs. There was no indication of any problem.
I staggered back to my cot. The moon rose an hour ago, and I tried to look at her instead of him. My horses were in the upper part of their paddock as far away as they could get from him except for Harley. Harley stayed in his stall next to Mojo the entire time. They were mourning in their own ways. Despite Mojo never being able to be in with them for more than an hour, they all had a relationship with him. He was part of their herd in whatever way Mojo could do it.
I was asked if I would have known this was going to happen, would I have not taken him in? We wouldn’t change a thing. I hoped to bring him here for a long, safe life, but I guess it was to bring him to a safe place where he could die. I wouldn’t give up one moment with him knowing what I feel right now….the pain of saying goodbye and letting go. I wouldn’t change anything. Will I take in another horse? Yes, one day in honor of Mojo, but not for a while. We need time to heal. In the meantime, I’m going to continue trying to get lawmakers to pass the Safe Act telling them about Mojo. They need to hear what a kill pen does to horses. These places need to close. If you would like to lobby your representatives about the Safe Act, please feel free to talk about how Mojo touched your life in your letters.
The light was bright as I looked at Mojo, and the air was still as if afraid to breath. I looked at my feet trying to tell them to move and walk away back to the house, but I didn’t want to leave him. I kept thinking about how many people’s lives he touched. He may not have liked to race, but he sure inspired a lot of people. He touched them in ways that were unexpected, and because of that, he was a great! As great as any horse that ever touched a track!
There were no clouds….nothing moved. Our walk through the forest came back to me; at least he got to go up there once. This is when I saw it. I saw a shadow move across my feet like something was running by and then another shadow right behind. I looked above me and all around. There was nothing that could have caused those shadows. Maybe Shandoka did come for him, and they were running towards greener pastures together.
“Others make a point of trying to attain the precision and poise they see in those who have the ability to choose from a great number of horses, those qualities found in only a very small number of horses. This leads to a circumstance in which these imitators of such studies mortify the spirit of a noble horse, and remove from it all of the goodness of temperament Nature has given it.” Francois Robichon de La Gueriniere.
I’m not sure what happened with Mojo the year between his last race and when he showed up at the kill pen, but I do have ideas of what it was like for him at the kill pen. I’ve never been to a kill pen, because I think it would destroy me. Instead, I’ve watched, what I can handle, several videos of what the horses go through. To understand Chaco, I watched the race he went down in four times. That’s all that I could handle, and since Mojo came to live with us, I’ve watched what I can handle about kill pens. The quote above doesn’t really fit, but it does.
Mojo was restrained, forced into a life completely opposite of anything he knew, and the experience mortified his Spirit. I see small steps of improvement here and there, but the one thing that hasn’t changed much is how low his energy is. He walks slow, he eats slow, he responds to things slowly; he’s alert but his responses are lethargic at best. There are times a fog descends over his eyes.
I’ve noticed since he came here how he fights lying down to sleep. When he first arrived here, it was on the fourth day he finally collapsed and slept for the first time on the ground. To this day he still fights it. He usually stands and rests instead of lying down and getting deep sleep. Maybe once or twice in a 24 hour period he will lie down. When he does, he only stays down for maybe 15 or 20 minutes before hopping back up. He will go like this until he becomes completely exhausted finally giving in and sleeping deeply for an hour. The poor guy is exhausted, and there is nothing that I can do to help him out with this. I swear he is sleeping while he eats sometimes. He needs to work through it, and luckily Harley is becoming his safety blanket.
Why is this happening? He couldn’t lie down and sleep at the kill pen, because it simply isn’t safe. Horses are packed tightly into each pen, and lying down could cost a horse its life; he or she could get trampled to death. Usually, my other three go down like dominoes and wake up the same way. I watch Mojo on the cameras standing there, his head sinking as he tries to stay up. Harley, instead of lying down with Chaco and Dulce like he always has, now lies down next to Mojo. This brings some comfort to Mojo, and he succumbs to the idea of lying down on the ground for about 15 to 20 minutes. I watch his struggle every single night on my cameras. I am right now.
Horses experience a wide range of emotions like humans do. They have a fantastic memory, and they dream like we do. The two times I’ve sat with Mojo as he slept, he had some major dreams. One of the times after he woke up, he didn’t want me or anyone else around him. He pinned his ears at me, and if I took a step towards him, he took two backwards. I backed way off and waited for him to realize he wasn’t at the kill pen. The people at the kill pen are not gentle with the horses as they move large groups of horses on and off the trucks. I could tell he didn’t realize he was here with us; he was stuck in his dream of that place. Horses go through PTSD too. After a couple of minutes, he realized who I was and walked straight up to me burying his head in my chest. I held his head as tightly as I could hoping somehow this embrace could wash those memories away.
There are times I walk away from him with tears in my eyes feeling like I don’t have the skills to draw his Spirit out. I’m often asked when I’m going to start riding him. Besides the fact that physically he isn’t close to being ready, it would cause him severe back pain, and the fact that he is as stiff as a board literally (I will talk about his physical therapy next week), mentally he is far from being ready. If I were to get on him right now, I feel like his Spirit would stay like this. I want his Spirit to be revitalized, energetic and enjoying life fully before I think of getting on him.
Every day I work with him my intention is to let him know he is safe. I feed him at the same time each day to create a feeling of stability for him. We go for our walks, which he does look forward to. He often is waiting for me at the gate when it’s time, and boy does he love his feedings. His last feeding is around 8pm at night, and he is especially happy if I hold his bucket for him while he eats. He loves it when I curry him when I feed him around noon. He likes it when I sit with him as he eats his hay….small steps.
After he moved into the paddock next to my other three boys, he seemed a bit happier. Each day I bring one of the other three boys in with him, he seems okay for about five minutes before he hides behind me or stands in a corner with his eyes bulging trying to be invisible despite Harley, Dulce or Chaco solely wanting to eat hay. He has no confidence when it comes to being with them though he really wants to have a relationship with them. Again, I think this goes back to the kill pen, and being forced to stay in a pen with a multiple number of other horses. Mojo is not a dominant horse, and considering all of the scabs and marks, he was picked on a lot. He doesn’t know how to be a horse anymore, and rushing him will only traumatize him further.
That’s the key to everything; him feeling like a horse again.
I got the idea that he needs to get out of here. I’ve walked all of my horses for miles and miles. It is a great way for a horse to build trust in you especially when you take them out on the trail. I often don’t have the ability to pony my newbies with another horse, so I pony them. They learn that I’m not going to lead them into anything that I can’t do myself, and if they get spooked by something, I can help them on the ground with it. It helps me see through their eyes, and we both learn how to work with one another in a unique way. I guess it’s a thing now on Facebook. Who knew?
I also need to help him bond with my other horses by figuring out ways for them to work together. Mojo has no confidence with other horses, so my theory is take him for walks through the forest with me and ponying him with Harley or Chaco. Eventually, maybe I can pony him with Dulce on simple trails, but Dulce himself is learning so not the best combination right now….green with green.
I think if Mojo exits his safety zone little by little, goes and explores the world, and then comes back home he will realize he is safe. No matter where we go or what we do, he will always come back here, which I feel is important for him to experience and believe in. I think this will chip away at his fears and insecurity bit by bit while becoming more confident with me and my other horses. I also hope that it will start to lift this deep fog of depression that he goes in and out of.
The other day I decided to take him to the forest. I didn’t know if I was making a mistake, or was on the right track with my thinking. I loaded him into the trailer, which is always a step of faith for him. He stands at the bottom of the ramp looking up at me trying to decide if he will follow me. On my part I have to suppress any and all desire for him to load. If he senses that I really want him to step up on that ramp, he backs up. If I stand in my trailer looking down at my feet holding the lead rope loosely, it gives him the the time and space he needs to take that first step.
I understand why it’s so hard for him. He is wondering if he will come back or will he end up at another kill pen. Each time I ask him to walk into my trailer, he decides to trust me. Usually, it’s the right hoof that he puts on the ramp first. I then reach out to pet him and reassure him before I step back and keep my energy low. This is when he puts the toe of his left hoof on the trailer refusing to put his heel down in case he decides to retreat. He looks at me with searching eyes. I reach out to him again telling him what a good boy he is. He continues to dance that toe around on the ramp before he finally steps up and slowly walks in. Once he is in, he never balks, never retreats, but he does want some reassurance, which I give plenty to him.
Nervously, I close the trailer, and I drive the long, winding hill to the Uncompaghre Plateau. It is early, 8am, so there is no traffic on the road. The air is crisp and remains cool as we continue to climb. Some deer cross the road ahead of me as butterflies dance in my tummy. Am I rushing him? Is this the right thing to do, or am I going to make things worse for him? I decide if he shows any signs of being nervous or scared, I will reverse course immediately.
After driving over washboard, dirt roads, we arrive at our destination. It’s a small loop, an easy trail, and well away from everyone. It’s as quiet as can be when I get out of the truck, and the air smells of pine. I let my dogs out who run over to an old corral to sniff something interesting. I drop the window and Mojo doesn’t poke his head out right away. He looks cautiously at the new surroundings. His eyes are wide but no white is showing. I tell him I love him, and slowly he pokes his head out. I drop the ramp as I glance back, and I see that he’s interested in what’s around him; not scared. We unload and his energy is high.
I take in a deep breath, exhale long and slow and say, “Are you ready Spaghetti?” I walk towards the woods, and he takes off with me right by my side. He walks through the thick trees, through duff, and over small logs without a second thought. He looks all around in curiosity without spooking once. He lets out a light nicker as he turns to look at me. His eyes are bright, and his Spirit is starting to Rise.
I pulled the saddle out of my trailer tack, and gently put it on Dulce’s back. He’s doesn’t appreciates it being tossed on. I slowly cinch him up, and then I put Harley’s boots on. Headstall slides on easily, I climb up on the fender wheel of my trailer (mounting block) when I get a text. I want to ignore it with all of my heart, but I know….I know who it is.
I pull out my phone, and I’m right. My neighbor grew nothing in his field last year but weeds, and next to my property they are about five feet tall. He wrote to say he was about to burn. Mojo, Chaco and Dulce have never been around that kind of fire. Chaco and Mojo were home alone. I hop off my trailer, throw my saddle back into the tack, quickly load the horses and head home.
I put Chaco where Mojo used to be, my husband could handle walking Harley despite chanting to himself over and over, “You are not the boss of me,” which Harley pretty much is, and I took out Mojo and Dulce for a walk together. This would be the first time Dulce and Mojo would be together with me in the middle, but not the first time he’s gone for a walk with one of my boys.
I take the introduction process slowly with new horses. Two of my friends lost horses, because they went too fast. They ended up with a horse that got a broken leg. I like to put the new horse in a corral next to my other horses letting them eat with each other, sniff one another, and even play over the fence with one another. I then take them for walks with each other with me in the middle. I then will take them into the main paddock with just the new guy on the lead rope, and if I feel they need more bonding time, we go on rides together with me ponying the new guy. I find that all of this helps them bond, brings them into the herd gently, and it gets them to learn how to work together.
Before the burn, I began the introduction to the herd with Harley. Harley is the main boss even though he defers to Chaco every now and then if there is a plastic bag blowing around. I figure if Harley accepts him, the others will much faster. Also, I’ve noticed how at night Harley spends more time around Mojo than the other two, and he chased Chaco and Dulce off a few times while they were trying to get Mojo to play. Mojo doesn’t play; at least not yet. He eats, sleeps, or stands at a distance watching the other horses play, but he has no interest in taking part even a little bit. He loves to eat with them, touch noses, but that is where the interactions stop.
One day, I took Harley along with Mojo and I on our walk. I couldn’t believe how well it went. Usually, I have to break the horses apart a few times, I didn’t have to once. I think they all know that Mojo had a hard time, and they are willing to put some of their playful and mischievous shenanigans on the shelf for him. After his first of two walks with Harley, he seemed to relax a bit more with all three of the horses.
On the day of the fire, I had no idea what would happen. I knew the flames would climb into the sky, the smoke could be thick, and I had no idea if Dulce would be playful, grumpy, or his sweet self. Mojo seems to really gravitate towards him of late. I have a window between stalls, and whenever Dulce goes into the one next to Mojo, Mojo puts his head through, and they touch noses. They often eat together, and I’ve even seen Mojo nip Dulce back a couple of times. Dulce is determined to gently bring Mojo back to the living. He is still pretty weary of any high energy directed his way, but little by little each day he becomes more comfortable.
During the burn, all I can say is they could have cared less about the fire mainly because they had fresh green grass to graze on. They thoroughly enjoyed being together often squishing me as they got as close as they could to one another. A couple of times when the cracking got a bit loud, they’d lift their heads to look, and then their noses dived back down to eat.
All I can say is that I have high hopes that this will all work out. They seem to be coming together slowly. Chaco will go for a walk with him this morning, and Chaco is the one Dulce is more weary of. Chaco is a full hand taller, and he tends to test boundaries. He starts nickering now when I load Dulce and Harley up to go for a ride, and he nickers when I bring them back. He still seems to be sad a lot of the the time, but I’m seeing a happier horse more and more. He really perks up when I come out or when the horses head over to hang out with him. I used to feed him away from the fence that separates them, because he was so scared to eat next to my other boys. Now he ignores the piles of hay away from my boys preferring to eat next to them. He also is holding himself more and more like a horse instead of letting his body droop. His head is held higher, and his whole body rises more often, which I love to see. He is shedding off a bunch of hair, and put on a few more pounds. He weighs 915 pounds gaining 80 all together. My goal for him is 1050.
It’s Easter night, and we are at the tail end of a bad wind storm that raged for several hours today. I love watching how horses take care of each other. Earlier, when the winds were at their worst, Chaco and Dulce stood by Mojo. Then they moved further up the paddock, and Harley came down to be with him. Now in the dark of a moonless evening, the winds are still howling, albeit not as loud. Harley is sleeping by Mojo, Dulce is standing in the barn by the window, and Mojo is on the other side while Chaco stands in front of them all. He has a herd supporting him. I love having cameras!
I would love to put Mojo in with them right now, but everything about him says to take slow steps. Don’t rush anything, so we won’t. Building up trust with him each day is much more important, but we’re getting closer to him being turned out with one horse at a time. I believe Harley will be the first.
And he still loves to have his poll stretched out every day, which is one of my favorite, daily moments with him.
If you’ve been following my blog, this is the next installment about Mojo who was rescued out of a kill pen. Lately, I’ve seen the mental toll the kill pen had on him.
If you’ve been following my blog, you know that Vallier/Mojo is my newest OTTB to join the Reenchanted Horse Ranchita here in western Colorado. He was rescued out of a kill pen thanks to the many donations and retweeting and resharing of many people. Now he is here, and he is deeply loved and cared for. He is a gentle soul, and slowly I see more and more of his personality.
This week marked a milestone. He is now out of quarantine, and I thought he would be in the corral next to my other three horses by now. That’s what I wanted, but when I paid attention to him, my hopes for him had to be tossed out the window. So often we impose upon horses our desires for them instead of watching them to see where they’re at and what they need. He is telling me to put the brakes on things. Let’s take baby steps.
When he came here, I noticed several scabs on his hindquarters and hip area from being bit by other horses. When horses are experiencing anxiety, they let it out in all sorts of ways. Mojo is not a dominant horse; at least he hasn’t shown me that side yet. My guess is that in order to survive in there, he constantly moved to get away from the others as they bit him on his rump. Now, instead of wanting to be with other horses, he is scared of the thought. Horses are herd animals, so they usually want to be together. This is different, and it makes me sad for him that he isn’t dragging me over to them each day.
He is fine if I’m standing with him and there is a fence and distance between him and my other horses. He wants to feel like he can get away. Chaco and Dulce are very playful and mischievous. Chaco is a hand taller than he is, so he seems more dominant even though he tends to be a more submissive horse. Dulce, the same size as Mojo, on the other hand is very dominant, and I believe one day will be the leader of the herd. However, he is also very kind and loving, and his relationship with Harley and Chaco proves that. I can see how he may not like sharing Chaco with Mojo though. Harley is presently the boss of them all, and he does not like sharing his hay with anyone. You will often see him pushing Dulce and Chaco off one pile of hay to another. Harley has a sweetness in his heart, he always tries, and with his age, he is a wise and a steady horse for the others. Although, he can rile things up more than the thoroughbreds do. Oh, herd dynamics. I could go on and on about everything I learn and notice.
Where will Mojo fit in? He will be somewhere close to where Chaco is in the herd. As I bring him down to spend time with my other horses on their respective sides of the fence I see moments of extreme anxiety flash through his eyes. He doesn’t jump, spook, bite, or move away. He simply looks at me.
He is interested in Harley, my 20 year old quarter horse; the boss. Harley lets him smell him without trying to nip at him or play with him. I decided to take Harley up to Mojo’s corral on a lead rope to see how it would go. Mojo sniffed him once, and then went to the other side of the corral with absolute fear filling his eyes. It broke my heart. I immediately took Harley back to the main paddock, and I returned to Mojo. All he wanted me to do was hold his head.
He feels safe here. I’m not concerned about moving him next to them until he’s ready. For now we do daily meet and greets. Next I will start walking him with Harley and let them graze together. After that, I will pony him with each horse around the property. Each step will help him relax, and feel like he is part of their dynamic instead of separate from it.
The next issue that I feel comes directly from the kill pen is the day I was going to take him to the dentist. For four days prior to our appointment, I loaded him and unloaded him into the trailer. No problem at all. It was as easy as slicing pie. The day of his appointment I had my truck attached. I think he sensed he would be leaving. He 100% refused to load, and I had no one with me to coax him in. I canceled the appointment, disconnected the truck, and lo and behold he loaded. He didn’t want to leave. Without the truck attached, he knew he’d be staying here.
Driving into town I pondered what happened, and how to fix this. I thought about a conversation with my aunt. She said something along the lines of this, “For all of his life he was loved and taken care of, and then one day he wasn’t.”
This hit me right in the heart. Tears for him streamed down my face as I realized what a long journey he has ahead of him to leave behind what that one trailer ride brought to him. I then had an “ah ha” moment. It was one trailer ride that changed his life. One trailer ride that meant the difference between being cared for and suddenly not. One trailer ride brought him to a place where he is cared for again. He can eat all day and night, no one is biting him, he has shelter from the weather, I scratch around all of his wounds each night for him, and what if another trailer ride takes him away from all that?
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.
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.
Before I go into his spa retreat, I wanted to lead with the good news first, which could end up burying the rest. But, oh well! Vallier (barn name Mojo) gained 17 pounds his first week here. I’m not sure if we will see much next week, because often their bodies will take a break before another weight gain. We’ll see what happens though. We’re heading in the right direction, and that’s all that matters.
This blog will answer some of the questions I’ve received since we all brought Mojo home.
The first question is why does he have to be in quarantine? Good question. Well, we have no idea if he picked up a disease such as strangles or pigeon fever for example. We need to keep him in quarantine to see if anything emerges, and to protect my other three horses. However, I’ve decided to rename his time in quarantine as a spa retreat.
This poor guy needs the break that the quarantine time is providing. He needs to relax. He needs to sleep. He needs to be able to eat without being pushed off by other horses. He is getting fed in bed (four small meals a day), his nails (hooves) done, hair done (full body wash), bodywork (I do equine massage), select treatments (He has been wormed twice; once with a light wormer and this past Monday with Equimax. Next he will go through a round or two of sand clear), and dentistry work (Monday). When we go for walks, he can see my other horses, yet he never tries to walk towards them. He isn’t ready to be around others, so I see this time as meditation and retreat time. It’s allowing his body and mind to heal from what he went through.
After I wrote this, something interesting happened tonight. The UPS driver came, my dogs were barking at him, and suddenly Mojo started to run around. It’s the first time I saw him do something besides walk. The horse has some moves! He seemed perfectly sound. Later Dulce and Harley were playing, and Mojo watched. That is a first. He never showed an interest. Both are very good signs.
Second question is why aren’t I feeding him alfalfa and oats? Have you ever fasted before ? If you have, imagine fasting for ten days and then eating at McDonald’s afterwards and throw in some chocolate cake. You will be so sick! You will be running to the bathroom probably ever thirty seconds.
That’s the same for horses. Alfalfa and oats are really rich, and all they will do is make Mojo sicker than sick. They could make him colic at the worst, and get really bad, cow patty, watery, diarrhea, which will only cause him to lose more weight. I’ve successfully put weight on three other OTTB’s with the diet he is on, and if anything needs to change, I will. This is a work in progress, and he will tell me what he needs.
I pay attention to how he is after he eats, I watch for any changes in his poop, I make sure he is farting easily, I look to see if he is chewing at his sides a lot indicating bad gas, and I look to see how much he’s eating throughout the day. So far, we’re doing good. He gets beet pulp, which is low in sugar and starch and puts weight on horses; flax seed, which is filled with omega fatty acids and puts on weight, timothy hay pellets, and a bit of Nutrena Safe Choice feed. All low in sugar and starch, which is so important. He also gets California Trace Minerals, which he gobbles down, two tablespoons of salt, a splash of Forco (not even close to one 1 oz) Vitamin E, Flax oil, and an MOS prebiotic. I figure he ate poop to try and survive in the kill pen since they stop feeding them when they enter into the system. The MOS prebiotic binds on to salmonella and e coli bacteria escorting them out of the body. He also gets Aloe Vera Gel, not juice, to address any stomach ulcers he may have. Several studies in Australia were done that showed aloe vera gel can heal stomach ulcers. Eventually, I will add marshmallow root, but for right now this is it.
When a horse or person have starved, their organs shrink in size, so I don’t want to overload anything. This is why he gets small meals instead of two big ones. It is all in a mash to make it as easy for his system to digest. He also gets free choice hay. It will be awhile before we see changes on the outside of his body, because first the changes need to happen within. Once he heals inside, we’ll see great stuff happen outside, but that is a ways off.
The important thing is to go slow and steady. When you start to see improvement, you immediately want to feed more, and that is when you really need to stop yourself. Just give a bit more to see how the horse does….stay there for a few days. If everything goes well, add a little bit more. I started out feeding him once a day. When I saw he was stable there, I went up to twice a day and so on. I don’t plan on adding anymore food to his bucket for another week. I want to see how he does. If he does well at eating four small meals a day, I may not increase the feed for another two weeks, and then add a bit more beet pulp….see how that goes, and then maybe some more hay pellets….see how that goes. Slow and steady.
Why do I walk him if he is so thin? Doesn’t that hurt his weight gain? I did the same thing with Dulce. Horse’s are built to be mobile. It is important to keep their guts healthy and to prevent colic. They have this incredibly long digestive tract, so movement is really important to maintain motility. Also, his topline, and all of his muscles for that matter, have atrophied. I don’t want to put weight on him without muscles to support it. Otherwise, that topline, which is non existent, could stay that way. Walking him helps with his digestive system, and slowly but surely it helps build up muscle. It will help his topline redevelop. It also helps his hooves stay healthy and develop into the beautiful hooves I know he will grow. It also stimulates all of his organs that are starting to get stronger and hopefully more of a normal size. It also helps release tightness and stiffness. Each time we walk, he starts blowing out his nose, which is a sign that his back is releasing. He starts yawning and shaking his head, which is a sign of poll and TMJ release. It also helps us develop a relationship, and he gets to go out and see things. It’s great for his mind. We’re learning each other on each walk.
Do I hate horse racing because of what happened to Vallier? No. One of his trainers helped bail Vallier out. Others who knew Vallier came forward to tell me tidbits about him. Did you know that the one time he won a race, he had to dodge a loose horse that dumped his rider?
I don’t even know if it was someone from the track that dumped him in that field. I have no idea who did it. What I do know is that people that knew him in the past, cared about him and came forward to help him out. This is the horse racing I knew as a kid. Everyone on the backstretch helps each other out and the horses when needed. I know with the latest news that came out this week you probably don’t believe me. With regards to those people, they need to be banned for life and go to prison if all of this is true. All cheaters like them need to be banned from the sport, and there needs to be a unified, investigative body constantly watching and testing horses to protect them and the jockeys from selfish people such as this.
True horse people always put the horse first. I saw it all the time, and I saw it when all of these people that I’ve never met and good friends come forward and help out Vallier. It will always bring tears to my eyes, because my gratitude runs so deep.
I was asked by one person if I regretted getting a kill pen horse at. The answer is no. I will never regret bringing him here, nor will my husband. We are totally in love with him. He is a joy to spend time with. He loves to be loved, and he is happy each time I go out to him. He walks up to greet me, putting his head over the panels reaching his nose out to mine. He is a blessing in our lives, and each time I look into his eyes, I see more and more life in him. He is coming back. He has a ways to go, but he is coming back into the world with a good heart. I’m honored to be a small part of that.