State of the Horses, July 2024


There’s been a lot of quiet progress on the equine front. Mocha and Marker moved to summer pasture in May. Mocha immediately began establishing her rule not just over Marker but the neighboring gelding, Blue. In past years, when it’s been just Mocha, Blue could get away with wandering off to his shed and ignoring Mocha when she called for him. She would come quickly when he called, but he didn’t necessarily respond when she called, which led to a lot of fretting and frustration on her part.

Things changed now that she has Her Own Gelding. I shut them in a smaller corner pasture because I wanted it to get grazed down first. Didn’t want to do it when Mocha was alone because she’d fret and fuss at not being near other horses. Marker hangs out with Mocha. She doesn’t need Blue for company, except when Marker leaves to go for a ride. She’s very attached to Marker now and calls both when he leaves and when he returns. In return, he hangs out with her and, while being pushy by nature, has become less so the longer he stays with her. If she’s pulled out, he fusses. There hasn’t been a lot of pinned ears, squealing, or popped-up hind end kicking threats from her, either. From past experience I know that if she’s unhappy with field partners I’d be seeing a lot of that behavior. Now, she moves into his space when I’m booting him up and saddling, anticipating shared cookies before I put her back in the field.

The pairing and the weather this year meant that I could rotate them between pasture sections, too, something we used to do with our horses when I was a kid. Unfortunately I think this week’s hot spell probably finished that management for the summer. They still have plenty to graze in that upper field for another week or two. But we shall see—depending on when the fall rains come, I might do it again.

She is having more issues with the steeper upper field, and some of the rocky paths she used to choose. However, Marker keeps her moving, more than she would if she was alone or with the mare herd. She is a stay in one place and graze type where he likes to move around while grazing. But she still trots and canters quite a bit. It’s good to see, and she’s putting weight on while still maintaining muscle.

Marker’s come quite a ways this summer. I took him to our first big event together at the end of June, the Ranch Rodeo trail ride that winds its way through Joseph and up to the top of the moraine. He had to handle being around 40-50 horses and mules; being in the front, middle, and end of the line; having a lot of horses moving in and out of his space; having stock dogs trotting behind him; and negotiating both town obstacles and rocky hillsides with a rider. Plus a big, wide ditch with water, about two feet deep.

He got a little worried when we were crowded going on our way out of town, but didn’t squeal, kick, or even pin his ears. Whenever he got nervous, I talked to him, then eventually circled back to put him in a less-crowded space. He did get worried about road markings (that bicycle path marker was eeevvvill, I tell you, EEEEVVILL) and cement retaining walls, but that was really the worst of it. We had a couple of slippery moments with his boots going downhill, but he cooperated with me and we did fine. Boy horse has that invisible fifth leg to catch himself that Mocha didn’t. She opted for precision and slow placement in those situations, while he marches through. But he’s a bigger horse so that makes a difference.

By the time we rode down Joseph’s Main Street, he was DONE, however. Not being a jerk or spooky, just letting me know by the speed of his pace and his overall behavior that he had gone through enough. He was a good boy as we rode near the head of the line through town, and whinnied at his trailer when we came within sight of it. I don’t know if he expected Mocha to be in it or if he was just happy to see the trailer.

Another thing that’s happening is that he is apparently gaited. I don’t know if this is natural or something I’ve done—I got Mocha to do much the same thing on the road, except that it didn’t feel as natural for her as it does him. Don’t ask me what gait it is that he’s doing—it covers ground nicely on the roads, is very comfortable and smooth, and eats up the miles. Might be singlefoot; might be running walk. Or even an amble. That points to a likely Morgan background in addition to the Arabian because while Quarter Horses do have some gaiting in them, it’s not as common as it is in Morgans. It’s easy enough to feel why horses with that sort of gait were prized back in the day when horseback riding was a dominant transportation mode.

Or it could be me—my first horse mentor, Carol Suit, got just about every horse that passed through her hands to gait. I was too young to realize that was a good skill to develop but I must have picked it up somewhere.

In any case, we’re making progress in horse world. I can direct Marker somewhat with hand signals and the use of the lunge whip as a guide. I can open the wire gate, tell him back and whoa, and he stays there until I halter him. He still gets anxious and pushy after I’ve been gone a day or two, but even that is improving.

Progress in small steps.

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