Sonita's leg was healed well. The huge hole filled with granulated tissue, became smaller and smaller, eventually closing up. The dent where her forearm used to be filled with fluid, stretching the newly healed skin.. It actually stood out farther than her healthy leg.
The next time the vet checked her he was impressed. The scar was soft, flat, and slid freely with the skin in her leg. She was completely sound.
"Should we drain that fluid?" I asked.
"It's there for a reason." Doc replied. "If we drain it, her leg will look withered. There really isn't much under there but bone. That fluid is providing a cushion, I'd let it be."
That leg never slowed her down.
It might have helped me if it had.
Sonita was a force to be reckoned with.
Wild and extreme in everything she did.
She would spook hard and often at absolutely nothing. She zigged and zagged and leaped through every ride.
I had not yet learned to get on a horse and get it moving right away. I was still pretty much starting my youngsters by the seat of my pants.
I would longe them under saddle until they were comfortable.
I would get them used to a snaffle bit.
I would step up and down a few times, and get on.
I would walk until I felt safe, then trot, and so on.
Sonita and I walked a lot.
She was a ball of eager energy. I could feel her back muscles quivering through the saddle, her legs gathered under me. She carried me around from day one without a misstep.
All power, complete confidence, and fluid grace, until she spooked at something.
Then she would leap. Really, really high. When she landed, she would go again. Sometimes sideways, sometimes forward, always high in the air.
Sonita spooked at dogs, kids, other horses, wind, stuff sliding on the roof, dust, and air.
She spooked at my feet moving, my weight shifting, a lift in the rein, me scratching my nose, or wiping the terror induced sweat off my glasses.
Her strength was mind boggling.
I was freaked out of my skull.
I would find myself riding in a semi-fetal position, reins clutched in white-knuckled fists, every muscle as tight as Sonita's. It was not going well.
We trotted a little.
We jumped around a lot.
I kept reading.
"Stay loose." The wise sages in my books advised.
"Let them have their head."
Obviously they hadn't met my little fruit loop.
I went back to the ground, and began an intensive "despooking" program.
I was following the program the local mounted police used to train their horses.
I waved bags, rolled balls, hung banners, laid tarps, and patiently, kindly desensitized Sonita.
She became completely calm with that ball, that bag, and that tarp.
The next one she saw would send us to the moon.
She was incredibly aggressive with other horses. She would kick, strike, and squeal if they broke into her rather large sense of personal space.
She was also herd bound beyond reason.
The first time I hauled her I took her to a local day show with some students. I planned on leaving her tied at the trailer, maybe leading her around a little.
When her trailer buddies left her she became frantic.
The ever white rimmed eyes rolling , her manic screams filling the air, she sucked back and threw herself around until she had scraped up her knees, head, and shoulders against the ground and trailer.
When we brought the horses back she swung around and kicked at them, ears flat.
I was completely flummoxed.
I went out to the WP trainer I was riding with.
I took Sonita.
I rode with him for an hour.
He put my filly in a twisted wire and german martingale.
She almost came over backwards.
We were standing side by side, watching her climb up and down the rails of the trainer's arena walls. Sonita stood, her front legs balanced on the front rails, looking at us, comfortably chewing up the end of her lead rope.
"Send her down the road." Was what he came up with. "As fast as you possibly can."
I left knowing that Sonita sure as hell wasn't carrying that twisted wire bit or the german martingale ever again. I also knew that I was done with the WP trainer. I just didn't know what to do with my little red filly.
Send her down the road?
It wasn't the first time I had heard that.
But I had never ridden an athlete like Sonita. That cat like power, the incredible energy, it terrified and amazed me. I wanted to be able to ride her. I wanted to be good enough to train her.
She would nicker when she heard my car drive up to the barn.
She would pace in her pen, eager to start every day. She was always bright eyed, and ready to try whatever I came up with in my quest to figure her out.
She never tried to kick, bite, or bump me.
She learned at lightening speed, when it was something she could grasp.
When she was focused, she was the most exciting thing I had ever ridden.
I was addicted to the puzzle.
She wasn't quite three.
There was no way I could give her up. Not yet.
I heard of a small one day clinic being held east of town. It was on reining and working cowhorse.
I had only watched the cowhorse class at a couple of AQHA shows.
It had given me a thrill, and a sense of yearning I never felt in the pleasure horse world.
I went to watch with a friend of mine.
I was so excited, that by noon I talked my friend into going home and picking up a couple of her horses so we could ride in the afternoon.
I worked my first cow on an APHA pleasure champion. Luckily the cow was old, and sick, one eyed, and three legged. I was able to work it at .02 miles per hour on that very confused rail horse.
I signed up for the next clinic, to be given in a month.
I brought Sonita.
The clinic had several riders. It seemed like most of them knew what they were doing. None of their horses looked as bug eyed as Sonita.
None of the riders were as bug eyed as me.
We started with reining.
The clinician was kind, took time with every rider, and tried to get a handle on what each horse was about.
When he came to Sonita he looked us up and down. As usual, she was soaked in sweat, picking up her feet one at a time in a nervous dance.
He had us lope a few circles. I did my best to not let him see that I had never loped her anywhere but in our indoor at home.
Sonita was unusually calm. She liked being outside. She liked riding alone in the arena.
"She's a handful isn't she?"
"That's why I'm here. I'm not quite sure what to do with her."
"I like her."
"Say what?" I couldn't believe what I was hearing.
"I can't wait to see if she'll cow." He truly seemed to like my filly.
I couldn't wait to see if I'd live through the afternoon.
We were pretty much all newbies when it came to working cows.
The clinician had us each follow, or track, a single cow around the arena, one at a time.
"Just toss out your reins, and let 'em follow that cow around. Do your best to stay up with it, and whatever you do, don't pull!"
Don't pull? Toss out my what? I was going to die.
When my turn came I was determined not to look like a complete ass.
"She gets a little gassed up sometimes." I said.
"That's OK. Just hang on." He replied.
Easy for him to say.
I took a deep breath, and trotted out after my cow. Sonita's head came up, she zeroed in on the cow and made a beeline to it.
The cow zigged left, so did we, it zagged right, us too.
She lowered her head, pinned her ears, and sped up.
"Hang on!" I heard somewhere behind me.
I shortened up my reins, and grabbed hold of her face.
All four of Sonita's feet shot straight into the air.
A loud "Woop whoop!" came floating to me.
That's his answer? A lousy whoop whoop?
Sonita hit the ground, and spun around, hunting her cow. I tried to stop her, and we were air born again.
"Let her go! Let her go!" The clinician was shouting, a note of panic in his voice.
I grabbed the horn, threw out my reins, and swallowed hard enough to get my stomach back in place.
Sonita shook her head in frustration, and launched after the cow.
We zipped around the arena, her head low, ears flattened, her nose getting up front and personal with that cow's rear end.
I kept my reins loose, and could feel the tension leave her. I like to tell myself the tension was leaving me, but I felt like I was trapped in a pinball game gone bad.
Finally I heard, "OK, pull her off."
I gently said "Whoaaaa...."
Sonita stopped square, and blew.
She was shaking with excitement.
I was trying not to barf.
The clinician rode up next to me and grinned.
"What a horse." His smile got even wider. "What a horse."
"What have you got there?"
"Will you help me? Can we take some lessons?" I couldn't believe I was saying it.
"I can't wait." He answered.
Sonita and I had just finished our first ride with the Big Kahuna.