Fall ride and Mocha thoughts

Yesterday was one of those blazingly beautiful fall days here. While the tamarack needles haven’t turned yet, the various deciduous trees and bushes are starting to change color, some quite spectacularly. I saw some lovely early morning pix from Joseph with bright red street maples with the snow-covered mountains in the background. A stunning day.

I spent a good chunk of it inside sewing, making items for bazaars and online sales–hot pads and bowl cozies. Once I was done, though, it was gather up the tack and go to the ranch to take a little ride. Mocha had been grumpy the day before about schooling lateral work in the arena. Well, it was a cold day and the old lady is entitled to arthritis considerations. At least she is no longer going arena-lame (gimping in the arena, then fully sound once all four hooves are out). A little round pen work plus support boots (more for psychological support and warming of the lower legs and fetlocks than anything else) plus insisting on working in contact took care of that, I think. But today I thought we both needed a break from schooling so we went for a road ride. Still on contact, still not allowing the casual slop we had fallen into while rehabbing her from a couple of soundness issues and building up her strength.

She was eager to step out and do something different. Even with busy traffic and one person honking at us, she remained calm on the busy part of the ride. I think she’s the best road horse I’ve ever straddled; on the other hand, she’s also the most trained and best bred of the lot. Those things count.

Then we turned onto the gravel road and picked up a trot for about a quarter mile. I was watching the sun set over Ruby Peak and checking my phone for time, because this part of the valley goes through sunset an hour or so earlier than official sunset this time of year. It’s all about sun placement and the mountains. This year she has been a lot more comfortable trotting on the gravel roads and shown positive results (plus eagerly anticipating the stretches where I feel comfortable trotting her), so we’ve worked that into our sessions. I wanted to ride up a slight hill and I knew we’d have to hustle to get there and back before it got too dark–plus I was lightly dressed for the cold breeze off the mountains that starts once the sun’s behind them. She trotted those segments, ears forward, energetic, and even though I was working her on contact relaxed and looking at things. That was a big change from the summer, where the first few sessions started out with ears back and grumpy grunting mare because she Didn’t Like having to work like that. But after a week, she settled back into things and it’s been pleasant ever since.

When we reached the hilly road (always one of our favorites), she stepped up the hill nicely at walk and trot. Here was where I was hoping to see some nice colors, and my hopes were fulfilled. The brush by the road is halfway through turning bright red, the ditch and wetlands adjoining the road were full of cottonwoods and other trees/bushes turning. I half-wished for my big camera, but didn’t really want to stop. We did stop further along to talk to a couple in a car–he wanted to pet Mocha, and it was his 89th birthday. An old hand, he knew just what to do and wasn’t offended by her standoffish attitude (she takes a while to warm up to people she doesn’t know, especially under saddle where there’s no chance of a treat). We visited for a few minutes, and then went about our ways. Then I turned her, and got that stunning view of the snow-covered Seven Devils and Wallowas as we went back.

But I had some time both on the ride and driving back home to think about how far she’s come in the four years she’s lived here. When we moved her to Wallowa County, it was kind of a last-ditch thing. Her white line disease was not going away. She had lost muscling along her topline and just wasn’t right. Changing from stall life to pen life was traumatic for her, especially that first week or so when she was adjusting from being a Stall Princess to a penned horse living outside 24/7. She had and still can have issues with herd life–right now she’s sporting some bites on her right side because the gelding who has claimed her as part of his special group gets annoyed when she wants to hang close to the mare she was pastured with during the summer or when she doesn’t want to join up with the herd. Usually she wants to hang out with them, but sometimes she wants to do her own thing. Plus I’m not so sure but what she doesn’t provoke some of that behavior–I have seen her do it before when in turnout at the previous barn. She would annoy one big dominant gelding until he got frustrated and tried to chase her, and then she would run and turn quicker than he could to keep away from him. But yeah, she would come in with bite marks from him, too. This gelding is bred similarly to her, and he’s also pretty catty, so she can’t use her old tricks on him, plus he’s a bit younger than she is.

Still, she’s nineteen. These days, with good management, that’s not elderly as much as it is late middle age for a horse, especially here where it is not unusual to see horses in good shape and working well into their twenties (good grass and hay). She’s regained muscling along her topline and her haunches have filled out. Her neck has filled out again. Pasture life year-round agrees with her, but all the same, this is the year I’m starting to really notice signs of aging. Little things. More white around her blaze, especially the top part where it is a star (her papers read star, blaze, and snip for facial markings). Resting hind legs. Until I started emphasizing more contact and making her use herself, she had started stumbling a little on downhills. That went away with work on contact. She’s still a high-energy, sensitive, and reactive horse, and her teeth remain good, but there’s just those little changes which make me wonder how many more years we have.

The other thing I thought about were the years she has had dealing with pain issues. The hip injury during her breaking-in (minor, but I wonder if it led to other issues). The severe cut on her tongue ten months before I bought her. The hock fusion. The possible SI joint fusion. The white line disease. The non-laminitis coffin bone rotation and erosion. The WLD alone ate up a couple of years, and who knows how long that coffin bone problem had been going on?

All those have probably reduced the years she has left. I dream of still being able to ride her ten years from now, but I’m also well aware that things can change without warning, sometimes very quickly. For what it’s worth, I think it’s going to happen quickly when it does happen. So I savor these lovely ride days like today, and contemplate what I need to do to prolong those opportunities. Meanwhile, I have a pleasant saddle mare to enjoy, even if she’s a little stinker sometimes–like when she plants herself in front of the tractor carrying the big hay bale, clearly thinking it should be HERS. Yeah, she is turning into a crotchety old lady at times.

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