Sweet Moondo

In the background of all the unnerving events of 2020, a more private anguish has been unfolding for us.

Back in early March, on one of the days I was rushing off to one appointment or another, I was driving past the feed boxes where the horses were eating their breakfast—except only one was munching. Jake’s head was down, all business with the hay, but Moondo was standing off to the side, uninterested. I stopped to check on him, but could see no obvious injuries or signs of distress. He greeted me cordially, as always, but a horse not eating on a chilly winter morning was cause for concern. He’d been even more finicky than usual for much of the winter, and had lost some weight, so I called the vet and scheduled a check-up.

The diagnosis, two days later, was chronic kidney disease; the treatment, effectively, palliative care.

In a pattern that would repeat at irregular intervals over the next few months, Moondo’s appetite returned, and he maintained his regular daily schedule, leading Jake out into the pasture to graze and nap and, at the allotted times, sauntering back in for water or to wait near the gates at feeding time. The notable change in his daily plan was giving him time alone in the morning with extra portions of grain and hay, as we tried to entice him to eat enough to maintain his weight.

This last development outraged Jake, but the extra calories helped stabilized Moondo somewhat. Doug and I got used to our own new daily schedule, with the added feeding and with twice-daily reports to one another regarding quantity consumed, or not. Every ten days or so, Moondo would lose his appetite, and nothing we could offer appealed to him. He’d wander away, leaving his leftovers to a mule deer doe and a family of ground squirrels. I tried different feeds and combinations, eventually discovering that plain oats would sometimes entice him to eat a little, like a queasy person nibbling a saltine cracker.

What he craved most, though, was the thing I was least able to provide: fresh grass. Although warmer weather in April and May brought a weak flush of new growth, the persistent dry weather meant the plants were unable to regenerate under the horses’ grazing. June was parched and throughout the first half of July, every monsoon thunderhead that formed either failed to rain or dropped its precipitation somewhere else.

Still setting the schedule, July 2020.

I started hand grazing him, the two of us meandering along the driveway, through the meadow next to the road, or in a circle around the hay garage, where he usually dedicated focused attention to a patch of mountain bluegrass near the gutter downspout. Out in the meadow, Moondo trailed like a hound, nose skimming the ground for the scent of favored grasses like low-growing blue grama and dropseed. I’d mostly hang on to the end of the lead rope and let him pull me along wherever he wanted to go, although once the bunchgrasses began setting seed, however sparse, I would steer him to patches of fescue and mountain muhly. He would gather the sprays of stems with a deft twirl of his upper lip, yank, and chew with something close to enthusiasm. If he spotted a Platte thistle, he would drag me over to it and take his time nipping off flowers and buds, rolling them carefully on his tongue to find the least prickly angle on which to bite down.

He’d been getting a little wobbly, so I was careful to avoid steep terrain or rocky ground. One day when we were across the driveway from the barn, however, he threw me a sly glance before he hopped up the cutbank and set to work grazing the bunchgrasses on the sharply angled slope. He’d had his eye on that patch for a while, but I’d been stopping him from climbing the bank, worried he’d fall. He’d seen his opportunity and taken it, so I let him graze for a while, zig-zagging across the slope until I maneuvered him to a place where he could step down with relative ease.

I thought I might be able to buy enough time, and sustenance, to get him through until it rained. Despite a couple of hours of hand-grazing each day and as much hay and grain as we could persuade him to eat, by mid-July Moondo had gotten painfully thin: a mobile lesson in equine skeletal anatomy. He still was acting like himself, mild-mannered yet opinionated, but he began to spend long hours withdrawn into something more like a stupor than a doze. Grazing at the bottom of that steep bank near the barn one afternoon, he paused in his eating and adjusted his feet. I thought he was going to have a pee, but no: his eyelids drooped and he dozed off. I had to wake him and lead him slowly back to the pasture.

A day or two later, out along the road, he nosed past the patch of seedheads I’d taken him to, looking for something he couldn’t find. When he also bypassed a Platte thistle with juicy open flowers, I knew he had turned a corner, and was heading to a place where I couldn’t follow. We put him down on July 20th, burying him behind the barn near his old friend Max.

Moondo came into my life in the fall of 2004. Having space for horses was part of what brought us to this area, but I did not anticipate how much their presence would alter how I think about and understand the human relationship to place. Thanks to Moondo and his pasture-mates—first old Blue, then dignified Max, and now survived by Jake—I’m aware of different dimensions of the landscape. I often think about different ways of sensing, of seeing, and I try to imagine what I cannot sense, cannot see. I’m confident I know this place differently and more deeply because of Moondo, but I’m also certain I know precious little compared to him: he was hypervigilant and curious, feeling the land under his feet and the wind through his mane 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Events this summer have pushed me to think a lot about privilege, about loss and change and death, about what I value, and about the values members of a human society share. Losing Moondo has magnified the months-long sense of unbalance and insecurity, but if he were still here, his presence would offer the same counsel it did for nearly 16 years. Pay attention. Position yourself to catch the first light of the sun. Accept that the wind will blow, and learn where the ripples of the hillsides swirl it toward calm. Take cover from the thunder, but be prepared to tough it out when the cold of winter sets in. Leave the rattlesnakes alone. Savor the grass. Just stand still sometimes, and be where you are.

On one of the days in mid-July when we were out in the meadow, Moondo abruptly stopped nibbling and set off at a determined march across the meadow. He tugged at the rope, hauling me along until we reached the edge of the ridge, where the ground fell away toward the northeast. He went there not to eat, but to look. We stood there for several minutes, side by side, gazing across the wooded slopes and rock-jumbled grasslands between here and Pikes Peak, quietly taking in the view.

What a place.

What a horse.


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28 Responses to Sweet Moondo

  1. Melissa says:

    I grew up on a farm in South Dakota and escaped away to a city. I found your blog through Linda H. Your writing reminded me of how much I miss my childhood horses. Thank you for opening up those long buried feelings. To Moondo 💜

    • Andrea Jones says:

      Thanks so much for visiting the blog, Melissa. I’m glad I could give you a chance to remember horses past. I’m a different sort of horse crazy now than I was as a girl, and I feel crazy lucky to be able to have them in my life again.

  2. Beth Browne says:

    A lovely tribute. So sorry for your loss. It seems so unfair in these difficult times. My heart goes out to you.

    • Andrea Jones says:

      I appreciate it, Beth. It is a challenging year, but in so many ways I’m feeling more fortunate than ever for where we live, and for the company of the horses, who don’t know anything about the other stuff: they just keep doing their thing.

  3. I’m sharing in your and everybody else’s sense of loss, sadness, and tears, Andrea. May Moondo enjoy his views, his fresh grasses. thistles, and oats in perpetuity.

    • Andrea Jones says:

      Thank you so much, Tanja. He was a good boy, and I’m glad I’ve been able to share some of his personality in this space over the years.

  4. Marcy Welk says:

    What better life could either/any of you hope for?
    I’m glad you could say goodbye to each other so gracefully.

    • Andrea Jones says:

      Marcy dear, you are right. We have it good, not that the goodbyes are ever easy, are they? Too many of those. Thinking of you and yours, hoping everyone is well. Love back at ya all. AJ

  5. Jenny-Lynn Ellis says:

    Oh, what a loving tribute to a true friend! In such a relationship, it is never clear who is leading whom, it seems. Thank you for this piece, as lovely as a deep patch of spring grass.

    • Andrea Jones says:

      Life with Moondo felt like a partnership, Jenny-Lynn–so the delights were sometimes countered by aggravation. But like a lasting marriage, the ups outnumbered the downs.

      He was my muse, too, of course, so any credit for the merits of the piece goes to him.

  6. Kayann says:

    What a moving tribute to a wonderful horse’s life. Long may his spirit run on your beautiful land.

    • Andrea Jones says:

      Kayann, he loved it up here, and I’m so glad we were able to bury him on his home ground. Sending all best.

  7. Bonnie Asselin says:

    Thank you for sharing. A beautiful life. His and yours.

    • Andrea Jones says:

      Lovely to hear from you, Bonnie, and thank you for your kind words. I am so lucky in so many ways. Hoping all is well with you.

  8. Linda M. Hasselstrom says:

    I had to read this in installments because I kept being unable to read because I was crying. For Moondo, and of course for Oliver, and Sage, and Rebel, and.. well, you know. Hope Jake is doing OK.

    • Andrea Jones says:

      Oh dear, Linda, I didn’t mean to make anyone cry, but then again I’m not sorry to have invited you to think of your own trusted companions. They are all such individuals, and leave such distinct legacies.

      Jake had the freedom to express his initial grief with a rawness I envied, and then settled into his solitary life with a pragmatism that shocked me, frankly–although I suspect he was a little glad that all the food and attention was his alone. Spoiler alert: he’s no longer on his own. And she’s a mare.

  9. A lovely horse. My sympathies to you on this loss.

  10. RAYBE says:

    Honey these condolences come late as we struggle to adjust to loss and regeneration this side of duck pond..and for my tardiness I can only apologise. A treasured critter ,but particularly of the equine or canine variety , is a blessing to be forever cherished . .clearly Moondo had a significant impact on you and your wisdom and will be held dearly in your life to come.Much love ..Lucky sends his best wishes …struggling with his dementia sweetie XXX

    • Andrea Jones says:

      Raybe, sweet, thank you, and please give Lucky a cuddle from me. Wish I could be there sometime soon so he could nest in my suitcase again. We are fortunate to be able to share our lives with these critters, but the passages are hard. Love to you.

  11. C.M. Mayo says:

    Dear Andrea, I am so sorry for your loss of beautiful Moondo. He was a handsome horse. Thank you for sharing his story.

    • Andrea Jones says:

      He was handsome, C.M., and funny, albeit usually unintentionally: he was a serious type. It’s meant a lot to be able to share some of my experiences with him via the blog.

  12. Hans Heijmans says:

    Annie, thank you for writing this beautiful obituary about Moondo. I know how much you and Doug cared for him, and this essay shows it. His gentle spirit will always be with you.

  13. Ah, Andrea, you made me cry. What a lyrical and tender tribute to this horse, and an emblem of your grieving.

  14. Michael A. Smith says:

    A really beautiful and wonderful post. Glad you had each other, and sorry for his loss.

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