Happy 20th birthday, Miss Olena Chic (Mocha)!
I met Mocha a few days after she was born. At the time I was just a lesson rider at the barn, and cautiously peered into the foaling stall to look at the little chestnut filly who was the much-anticipated result of breeding one of the barn owner’s well-bred mares to an up and coming young stallion, Chocolate Chic Olena. Mocha’s dam Annie had a show record of her own, but more importantly she was an extremely protective mother who would bellow at any horse led by her stall, so I had to limit my look to keep Annie from getting too agitated. I can’t remember if I helped lead Mocha in after Annie after a day’s turnout but I’m sure I did–she would not have been the only young one I did that with at that barn.
Memories of Mocha over the next few years are sketchy. I led her to and from turnout, but for the most part since she was supposed to be the barn owner’s personal horse, I didn’t handle her much. Then things changed slightly when Mocha was four. I realized she was up for sale, but wasn’t in the market. If I had been, I probably would have bought her older half-sister who was for sale at the time, Erika, a lovely dunskin mare who had gone through cutting and reining training down at Oregon State. But I was also just starting a teaching position, and wasn’t in a space where I could buy a horse. I do remember leading her in from turnout one day, and murmuring to her as I pulled off her halter “I wonder who you are for?”
A year later, the answer was ME. Circumstances changed. I went to the barn owner with a price range and told him I was looking to buy and what did he think about these possibilities I’d printed out from Dreamhorse? He offered me Mocha, with a price right smack in the middle of my range.
I’d forgotten she was for sale. So the next barn trip, we did the trial ride. I later found out that I was the first person up on her in ten months, ever since the last rider had dropped a rein and Mocha stepped on it, nearly cutting her tongue off. Nonetheless, she was docile, listened, and I enjoyed the ride. She was five and a half years old. Pretty green, but by this point I had been in lessons for a while and was actually looking forward to being able to leave my own impression on a horse rather than schooling rehabs or tuning up school horses.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that while she had strong opinions, she also enjoyed working under saddle and had a lot of energy. Her canter was erratic and I decided to spend some time working at her in walk and trot to build up her muscles–after all, she was coming off of a ten month layoff while her mouth healed. We started in a regular jointed snaffle, but I soon moved her to a French link and then later to a KK Ultra bridoon for snaffle riding. I bought a cheap Western saddle that fit me, figuring that I could buy a really nice new saddle later, once she’d had enough time under saddle for her back to muscle up. At some point, I bought a nice used Collegiate Senior Eventer saddle and started her going in English tack as well. Six months later, I bought the Crates Reiner I now use for her in Western.
One reason for buying the English saddle was that I decided it would work better for getting her into a better quality canter. We spent that first winter working on building up her hind end, and in the spring I started asking for lope. It got better. At the same time, we were in weekly lessons. Once I bought the reining saddle, we started working on reining work.
A few years later, things were such that I was ready to take her to a schooling show, and an opportunity opened when one of the other boarders wanted to take her horse too. The show was at a facility a few miles away from the barn. When we got there, we unloaded the other horse first. Mocha started trembling with excitement and I remember the other horse owner cautioning her husband to watch out as I turned Mocha and led her out, thinking that she would leap out.
It was a huge show. We got a stall, and Mocha started calling to other horses and fretting. Eventually she settled, but she was still pretty wound up. I took her into the warmup pen because the show was proceeding pretty slowly. We rode around the pen in the crowd until she settled, and then I parked her on the edge so that she could watch what was going on in the arena. Right away she showed a lot of interest in staring at the other horses. This big show even had a couple of saddle seat classes with some high-stepping Saddlebreds, which made her sharp and alert. But the show drug on forrreeeevvvver, and it was late when we finally got to warm up in the big arena. I can’t remember if we scratched without ever getting into the arena or if we made it into one class, but nonetheless it had been a good experience for a first show.
We went on to do 1-2 shows a year for the next few years. I didn’t have a trailer so going was dependent on what other people were doing. Mocha started needing hock injections at age nine–to be expected with the extreme sickle hocks she has which are great for reining competition, but not so great for potential arthritis. These went on for five years at about nine month intervals. Nonetheless, even with only 1-2 shows a year, by our last big show she had the show ring routine down to the point that we left a three-day show with mostly first and second place ribbons.
Then disaster struck, about the time that hubby and I decided to buy a retirement place in Wallowa County, in Mocha’s fourteenth year. I went to the barn one day to find Mocha barely able to move around her stall. It took me at her head and the barn owner supporting her hindquarters to get her out. Her right hind was sore (we never did figure out why), and there was a HUGE hole in her left front hoof. Not an abscess hole, but in the white line between sole and hoof wall. The farrier was due in a couple of days. When he came, he shook his head.
“White line disease. That’s what killed her mama.”
She ended up going through a hoof resection, and having nearly a third of her hoof wall cut off. Support was provided by an oval-shaped bar shoe. She had to wear a bell boot over that shoe at all times, and for six months she was unable to leave the stall unless she was attached to a person. I could ride her with a bareback pad, but only at a walk. Toward the end of the six months, I ended up riding her in a short shanked curb with double rings that I could rig up as a Pelham, with snaffle and curb reins. Riding her bareback at that point was like riding a coiled spring. When she was finally able to go into turnout, she went crazy that first day, bucking and kicking and running.
I thought it was over. But it wasn’t. For the next year and a half, until we moved her to Wallowa County, I played whack-a-mole with that damned white line disease. It would get better, only to erupt in another hoof. I ended up buying a special soak called White Lightning to fight it and reinforcing gallon freezer bags with duct tape because that was cheaper than buying the specialized bags. Mocha was patient, but it was also obvious that she was tired of all this stuff. At one point, the barn manager pulled me aside to tell me that I needed to know that Mocha was severely depressed when I wasn’t around, that she perked up and would show less pain when I came. I knew that she looked for my arrival. Her stall was right by the barn door and she clearly knew the sound of my car. Many times I would either get a nicker or see her standing in the middle of her stall, ears forward, looking at the door. At this time we stopped the hock injections because the inner joints had fused, and the outer joints were getting too tight to easily inject.
Then we moved her to Wallowa County. For fifteen years, she had lived in a stall with occasional turnout and regular riding. She went from that to living in an outdoor pen 24/7, with broodmares, stallions, foals, and PIGS around her. It initially did not go well. She fretted and fussed, pacing her pen. She didn’t eat well. She was distressed. She lost far too much weight, to the degree that the new barn owner and I feared we might get reported. She colicked once. She had a minor case of laminitis followed by huge abscesses in both front feet. But…the white line was retreating, even though everything else was problematic. And then we x-rayed her feet, to discover that she had old rotation (i.e., not from the laminitis), and that the angle that she had been shod and trimmed at for years was wrong. She’d lost about a quarter inch off the tip of both coffin bones in her forefeet.
Thank God for good farriers, vets, and barn owners. We tried pads on her feet, but she hated them and wouldn’t move. I got frustrated about her not moving in the pen and being sore as a result. Movement, and she was less stiff and sore. I’d get her moving good, then put her back in the pen…to come back to a sore horse. By this time, the hay pasture had a handful of horses as the barn owner was moving the herd back home slowly from the various pastures around the area where they’d been living. I asked the barn owner if she thought throwing Mocha out into the big field would hurt her–after all, she had a lot of experience being the rehabilitator of last resort for injured horses who might get better on pasture. She said “turn her out.”
For three days, at feeding time, Mocha would come to the gate and call for hay. Then something clicked, and she realized that she had food 24/7, and all the grass she could eat.
Things got better from there. We learned that Mocha developed intense attachments in a herd setting. That Mocha grew a very thick and warm coat, so she didn’t need blanketing. That this little stall princess THRIVED in pasture life 24/7. After a year of pasture life, she made it known that she did not, would not, happily stay in a stall any more, thank you very much.
And then she did things like adopting an elk yearling as her baby.
About a year ago I started noticing that the strength she had maintained up until the white line struck had returned. Over the course of the last year she’s gotten stronger and stronger. We’re able to do things we’ve not done for a while. And she came out of this winter fat and sassy–a tribute to the good management she experiences.
On April 30th she’ll have completed her fifth year in Wallowa County, in better shape than she was when she came here. And she made it to 20 years, when five years ago I wasn’t so certain she would last a year.
Happy birthday, Mocha. Here’s to another lovely year ahead.