With all the updates about the New Boy, I haven’t been saying much about Mocha. Part of that has been that I’ve said a little bit about what is going on with the old lady, but not put it out in a single post.
Essentially, she’s twenty-three years old, and old age has come for her. I didn’t really start noticing a change until about April. Up until then, she had been going great guns, sometimes a little slower than usual, but nothing that would raise a warning flag other than “she’s getting older and slowing down.”
Then April happened. Besides losing weight in the seasonal transition, which is normal for her, she started slowing down. Instead of galloping, she wanted to canter easily. This was a change that happened in a span of two weeks. And yet–she had good days where her energy levels were back up to what they had been. However, I also saw that her knees had started getting even bigger–arthritis bone spurs.
She started tripping in May. Most of the time, I was able to catch her and keep her from going down, except for one time on a busy road. But I started riding with two hands on the reins, putting her back in the snaffle so catching her wouldn’t be hard on her mouth. She was still engaged in going out on the road, enjoying looking at things and snoopervising the neighborhood like she’s been doing for the past few years. When we took her to the vet, however, the first thing he commented on was how big her knees had gotten–and he hadn’t seen her for a year. She was reluctant to go into the clinic, reluctant to go into the stocks. Another warning flag. It took her longer than before to recover from the very mild sedation she had been given for her dental work (a quarter dose of the usual amount given for her weight). Still another warning flag.
I rode her up to summer pasture and everything felt all right. Perhaps things weren’t as bad as I feared, and once she was on summer pasture, my hope was that she would gain her weight back and have more energy.
Despite grazing the pasture more aggressively than in past years, she was slow to get her weight back. There were days when she clearly had issues. When she just felt tired. It was rapidly becoming clear that this would be her last summer for regular riding, but I hoped that maybe we could make it last for one more year.
She fell a second time.
I started riding her more in collection because it became clear that this was happening when she was strung out going downhill (but that didn’t explain the first fall). Both falls clearly upset her. I think that was the worst part, feeling her caution afterward and the distressed expression on her face. It was rapidly becoming clear that despite my hopes, retirement for the old mare was coming quickly.
She fell when I was leading her down the road before getting on her.
Two weeks later was the last ride. She didn’t go down, but I was catching her a lot and it was clear that she just didn’t have a lot of energy. Going uphill, she would surge forward like she wanted to break into trot, then slow down. Surge, then slow.
That wasn’t the Mocha mare I know. I rode the last hundred yards in tears, knowing that this was it. I couldn’t keep her going. It wasn’t just the tripping, it was the lack of strength. I had put her on supplements and that wasn’t helping–and more grain wasn’t an option because while the girl likes her grain, she only likes to eat about a pound and a half at a session. More than that and she just seems to get bored with it.
I had already been talking to the barn owner about looking around for a new horse, preferably inexpensive who would need some polishing and could be ready for a new home about the time I get too decrepit to ride. Marker appeared as a possibility at that time, and it was a relief to know that I had a prospect to work with and provide company for Mocha.
It was the right choice. Since retirement, she’s started putting on weight. While there’s a wee bit of jealousy about the new horse, the husband has been spending time with her (he’s coming out with me just because juggling two horses, especially a new one who really really likes people and wants to have lots of attention, can be complicated. Plus just basic safety until the two of us get to know each other better. Even though he’s a good boy, stuff happens). She sometimes watches while I school Marker, but not always. The husband started taking her for walks, but reported that she really doesn’t want to do them more than a couple of times a week.
She’s surprising me because I thought she would be more difficult about going out of work. Not as much as I feared. She’s happy to be hanging out in the field, with daily grain and attention, plus TWO geldings hanging out with her. At the moment she is busily informing Marker that She is the Boss and he’d better keep a respectful distance from her. Having him in the field with her means that she’s moving around more during the day. By herself, she tends to stay in a few places–another horse’s presence in the field with her makes her move around more, which she needs.
I’m not sure how many more years she has. I don’t think this fall is her time, just because she has perked up and gained weight once riding was off the table. However, my guess is that it may be next fall.
At this moment, we’re not seeing anything that suggests she needs anything more than retirement from work, lots of attention, and a blanket when necessary. Given the speed with which she flipped from active saddle horse to must retire–now–I suspect things could change very quickly.
This one will be hard. We just passed eighteen years together, six days ago. I had thought we would age out together, but it appears that isn’t going to be the case. Until the end, however, I’m gonna do my best to spoil the old lady and let her know she’s still loved and is important to me. That even though I have another horse and am working with him and loving on him, I still have enough space in my heart for both of them.
And at least I’ll have Marker’s neck to cry on when the time comes. Given his attachment to her already–I can pat him on the butt when we’re done for the day, have given him his last cookie of the day and the final scratch, then tell him “Go find Mocha” and he’ll be off to join her–he’ll be mourning her too.
I just hope that day isn’t as soon as I dread it may be.