I was, however, questioning every aspect of what I was doing. When I had begun training in earnest, I had already had my arm amputated because of a ten-year battle with cancer. I was the single mother of a little girl, crazy determined to keep her with me while I struggled to make a living, because the previous ten years had shown me, we needed to live every single moment while I made that living.
When "horse trainer" became the job description on my tax returns, it was because of circumstance and a leap of faith. I fell into a part time job giving riding lessons at a small boarding stable in Green Mountain Falls. I jumped at the chance, divorce had separated me from my beloved horses for two years, and here was an opportunity to get back into the life that defined who I was, before cancer and bad choices had spun everything out of control.
Before many months had passed I was earning more giving lessons than I was at my two other jobs, as a restaurant manager and children's book illustrator. I was getting horses in training, in spite of having to completely relearn how to function with a prosthetic. It was exciting, addictive and my daughter was with me. Lucky for both of us, she was a little horse nut too, so as my business grew I was able to decide to go full time, and fulfill a life long dream -- become a horse trainer.
I also immediately learned a few things. I had been a "pro" for many years, I just didn't know it. My previous life with horses had involved a lot of riding and some help along the way from a few kick butt trainers. People would ask me to ride their horses, help their kids, lead a 4-H group, and pay me for it. I started giving lessons to neighborhood kids when I was seventeen as a way to cover my horse bills, had a knack for it and kept it up. I had no clue this made me a professional, I would have told you I just rode for people and giving lessons was a lot easier than babysitting.
I also learned I didn't know nuttin.'
The world of horse shows had changed beyond recognition. Pleasure horses, cow horses and barrel horses were different breeds, all still flying under the AQHA banner. The first time I saw a pleasure horse move I asked, in a naive, pitying voice, what was wrong with it. Cutters were tiny and volatile and halter horses were cartoon images of the bulldog quarter horses of my youth. I was confused.
One day I watched a grainy video of a trainer loading an unwilling horse into a trailer without a butt rope, without dragging, beating or winching. He made getting in the trailer the easiest option and the horse did it. It took him about ten minutes and made my three day method of feeding the horse in the trailer obsolete. His name was John Lyons and I was hooked.
I began my new journey on two different tracks. I began riding with a young paint horse trainer, Devin Warren, entering the bizarre world of Western Pleasure and all-around, and at the same time, buried myself in Natural Horsemanship training. It was fascinating. I threw away everything I thought I knew and embraced this new way of looking at horses.
Fast forward a bunch of years, horses, students and my own time developing as a trainer. I bought an investment horse called Sonita, she led me to a trainer I called The Big K, and my world changed again. Those of you who know this blog know Sonita and where she took me. If you're new, well, look up the Sonita stories, you'll know me pretty well by the time you're done.
So here we are, back to my beginnings as a blog writer. I had a yearning to write and I needed to vent. I'd been training long enough for the shiny obsession of learning HOW to be a trainer to fade and was beginning to question WHY.
Why did we ride long yearlings, when all evidence proved their little bodies and minds were nowhere near ready to be under our influence? Why did we keep horses isolated in 10 x 12 boxes, on a twice a day feeding schedule, when everything from their mental and physical soundness to their digestive health demanded room to stretch, socialize, run and graze? Why did we resort to medication, surgery and domination to suppress the behaviors resulting from the life we subjected them to?
Why were owners so eager to win they were willing to sacrifice their horses health? I had grown up with the attitude of owning a horse for his lifetime. Growing with them and enjoying the benefits of a friend I'd been riding for five, ten, fifteen years. Where had this buy and sell world come from and how did I become a part of it? The higher I went in the show world the more uneasy I became.
Where did all of these incredibly stupid people come from? People who brought home a mustang straight from a BLM sale - for their kids. People who spent years doing ground work and couldn't understand why their spoiled, bored, unrideable horse wasn't selling, no matter what level the tapes said he was on or how many games he could play. People who dropped off their horses for training and never bothered to learn why their mistakes put the horse in training. People who thought they could find ways around actually learning to ride, yet still be considered horsemen. I was dismayed and amazed at the same time.
I began to write stories along with my ranting and training advice. I considered them kind of an equine Aesop's Fables, a way to share my thoughts through my actual experience.
Little did I know, a short time after I began my blogging/venting therapy, my health would start me on still another journey. My body began to betray me and I began to lose much more than my desire to participate in the upper levels of the horse industry. I began to lose my ability to do my job. What the hell was I going to do?
Fate had rolled the dice in my favor again. My blogging had gained me some recognition. It attracted the attention of a client, the mother of a childhood friend and the owner of a small newspaper. She gave me an out to my terrifying dilemma. I became a reporter and eventually a columnist for the El Paso County and Fountain Valley News. "Writer" filled the space for job description on my tax returns.
Getting out of the trenches helped me gain some perspective. I began to see both sides of all issues. I understood the trap trainers find themselves in and why horse owners were so naive. My blog was well-named, I truly am a Mugwump. I was able to wrestle with my dilemmas and questions from a distance, which helped me become kinder and more understanding. My stories continued and began to gain a following.
My life is a bunch of different things, but boring is never, ever one of them. My next twist began about three years ago. First, my weird, progressive, debilitating illness was finally diagnosed. I have Parkinson's Disease. While still adjusting to my new reality, my husband had a stroke. My health was compromising my job, my hours had been cut back to accommodate it, the next logical step was to work from home and become my husband's full time caretaker.
This is where I am today. The blog has stuttered to a halt, for several reasons, primarily because I just don't know what to say. I don't want to become an armchair expert, they just annoy the crap out of me. I don't want to wax idyllic about my wonderful life grooming my two remaining horses and taking an occasional trail ride because A. That's boring as hell, and B. I'm only there because of my stupid body's betrayal, so I would be lying.
I'm impatient, cranky, restless, bored and frantic. Any minute, any second, on any given day. I've always been private, how many years went by on this blog before I even admitted to the one arm deal? I loved being able to be credited or discredited, listened to or told I was full of shit, based on what I knew about horses, not about being brave, or special, or an example to handicapped...ya da da, ya da da, you get my drift.
Now things have changed. If I don't talk about what's happening, I have nothing new to write about, and so many things are happening! There are fears, challenges and rewards, I can share them, I guess. Will that make me one of those people looking for pity, or trying to prove how "special" their personal trials make them? Will I become trite, or worst nightmare ever, maudlin? ARGH! NOT THAT, ANYTHING BUT THAT!
So, I'm laying it out for you. I still have my stories. Most will be from my past, but there are some current ones. My horse adventures and thoughts are on a different plane, but could still be useful. I mean, seriously, how exactly does a crooked, old, PD (Parkinson's) loaded, out of practice horse trainer get a lead change on her youngster?
How do I deal with disease, drug, and over-eating induced fat, plus my decreasing mobility?
Where do I find the time to ride when my husband is an emotional and physical 24-hour-a-day ride himself?
Then, there's the dog thing. Yes, my trainer brain just can't stop, and I'm really getting into my dogs, primarily Brockle, the twice returned pound puppy. So, a lot of my current thoughts and stories are about my fumbling, stumbling attempts at getting a handle on this dog training thing, and the help I'm getting from HMT, the Heavy Metal Trainer. I can't speak from experience, only from my digesting of the new, but it's what's on my mind lately.
This is what I have to offer. I have some thoughts and ideas on where we can go with this blog, thoughts that invigorate me and inspire me to keep writing. If you're game, check in tomorrow and I'll share.
Happy New Year.