Still Learning from Horses

Moondo Pikes Peak 2004

Moondo, in fall 2004, just before he moved from the east side of Pikes Peak (background, left) to the west side.

Moondo, my little red horse, is a complicated character. I wrote about his personality and opinions in the “Horse Lessons” chapter of Between Urban and Wild the book.

A number of years have passed since then, and I can report that Moondo still has very clear views on how the day’s schedule should unfold (according to his agenda), which water source is best (automatic waterer, not stock tank), where he should be scratched (varies by season: at the base of the ears, where icicles collect in his forelock on snowy days, in winter; on the belly, where the flies pester him, in summer), and whether ATV-riding and target-shooting are acceptable activities for neighbors to engage in (NO, and DEFINITELY NOT).

His pasture-mate, Jake, bears the brunt of Moondo’s conceit, and while I sympathize, I can’t help but be amused, most of the time. Jake outweighs Moondo by a couple of hundred pounds. He’s ten years younger, and he’s a dominant personality in the equine pecking order. Yet Moondo regularly manipulates Jake to get his way.

Jake Moondo

Jake: “Got any food?” Moondo: “Did I authorize this visit?”

Moondo prefers the Big Pasture to anyplace else. Jake cares about food, in quantity, wherever it’s located. If Jake heads toward the barn to eat hay when that activity is not on Moondo’s agenda, diversionary tactics are called for. I’ve seen Moondo trot briskly past Jake to take the lead, as if concurring that going to the barn is a very fine idea. Once Jake is plodding mindlessly behind him, Moondo will gently veer gently off course and lead the way to the central basin of the pasture.

A related technique also involves hustling to get in front of Jake, but this one exploits appetite rather than herd mentality. Out in front, Moondo will stop abruptly to chomp grass, as if he’s just stumbled across the tastiest patch that’s ever sprung in the pasture. Jake cannot resist investigating gustatory enthusiasm, and once his head drops to begin eating, his brain apparently forgets where it was headed just moments ago.

The horses’ relationship isn’t entirely brains versus brawn. After he got bit on the nose by a rattlesnake a few months after he arrived here in early 2012, Jake acquired a fresh respect for Moondo’s opinions. I wasn’t there to witness the strike, but I’m pretty sure Moondo was jumping around behind him urging Jake to Leave that thing alone!! Nowadays, if Moondo gets anxious about something, Jake responds to the mood even if he doesn’t comprehend the threat. They both retreat to the center of the Big Pasture, where they stand close together, on high alert.

observant horses colorado

Moondo and Jake watching an Army helicopter flying over the area.

I’m happy about Jake’s reciprocal vigilance, particularly since Moondo is starting to get up in years, having turned twenty-two on May 27. There are different ways of calculating horse age in human years, but if Moondo were a person he’d be in his late sixties to early seventies. He remains mentally sharp, physically tough, persnickety, and generally healthy, but he suffers from a nerve disorder that’s slowly getting worse. I’m glad he has a younger companion to help keep him moving and active, although I do wish Jake wouldn’t shoulder-block the old guy around quite so much. Then again, when Jake got too pushy the other night, I watched Moondo execute a double-barrel kick that nearly connected with Jake’s chin, so I guess he can still take care of himself.

Moondo and I have known one another since 2004. I’m pretty sure he came to the conclusion early on that I’m a little simple and in need of guidance. His expression is both earnest and sincere when he twangs the top line of the electric fence and then looks pointedly at me: You know this thing isn’t on, right? He’s clearly exasperated when I don’t promptly respond to his rolling the hay tank over with a bang: You know this thing is empty, right? (he might not be food motivated, but when the appointed time comes a horse has gotta eat).

I’ve watched Moondo negotiate the terms of his relationship with the three different horses he’s shared the pastures with over the years. He’s not a dominant personality, but he has a talent for waiting out clashes and hammering out power-sharing agreements.

Like his other companions, I find him exasperating at times, but also smart and steadfast. I know a little bit about how his mind works, but don’t pretend a horse whisperer’s insight into his soul. I admire him, as a member of the equine tribe, as a life-long resident of the outdoors, and as a keen observer of this place. He’s annoying and funny, but also a wise guide, pointing me toward different ways of looking at and seeing the environment we both call home.

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