Friday, June 6, 2014

In Which Sonita Teaches Me the Difference Between Feel and Patience


Stop Dammit!
Make Me Biatch!!!
Fine!
Fine!

I flexed my calves against Sonita's ribs asking her to move into the bit. She wrung her tail, hollowed her back, and flung her head in the air.

"Just put her up in there!" K hollered across the pen. 

Easier said than done, you bastard.

"I heard that!"

Let me amend that, Mind reading bastard.

"Can't you feel that?" 

I just loved it when he pointed out my inept riding in front of everybody and their brother at the barn.

 Of course I could feel it. I could feel her front end turn to wood when I tried to push her into the bit. I could feel her lay on my leg and brace from hip to fetlock when I asked her to step her hip in. I could feel her rib cage turn to steel when we set up for a lead change, virtually guaranteeing a cross firing mess through the middle. 

I could feel my body stiffen with anger and frustration. I could feel my hand clench and tighten as Sonita gathered under herself for yet another airs-above-the-ground moment. I could feel her reject contact with the bit, feel her sling her head to the outside of her circle, let her shoulder drop in and her hips swing out.

Yeah baby, I could feel it all. 

Having feel is not all it's cracked up to be, let me tell you.

I stopped and fed out a couple feet of rein. Sonita stood, ears pinned, snapping her tail, kicking at air and whipping her head around to make sure I saw her angry rolling eye and bared teeth.

"Stupid, stupid, stupid!" She shouted her opinion with every pissy stomp and glare.

Yeppers, I felt that too. 


K rode over, and I felt Sonita power up to lunge at his three-year-old. I caught her just as she leaned forward and her front end lightened, backed her up and felt like I had at least one small victory for the day He let his skittery colt give my bitchy mare plenty of personal space, draped his reins over the saddle horn and folded his arms.

"Well?" he asked. 

"It's like I'm riding a brick," I said.

"Every time you push, she pushes back harder. You need to find a way to create softness."

Well now, that pearl of wisdom cleared everything up. "Ya think?"

"I do. You missed your chance when she was coming after my colt. Her hind end was under her, her front was loose and light, I'd have used that, driven her forward and past me instead of backing her off."

 So much for my small victory. 

"Go home, think things through and we'll see what you got next week."

K was not one to put up with my sarcasm, even when I kept it in my head.

I drove home, alternately grumbling and letting things stew. 

Once in a while, it would be nice if he let my trainer brain alone, just for a minute, and actually told me how to do something. Obviously, I wasn't picking up on it, or my horse wouldn't be the jacked up mess she was. 

But sometimes, riding her was so sweet, things were so clear between us, I barely had to breathe what I wanted and it was there. How was I ever going to call that up at will? My thoughts drifted and I rode Sonita in my mind, fluid, soft and forward.

The next day I cleared my afternoon. Sonita and I were going to think and feel and not fight. I didn't want clients or my next ride urging me to hurry. I saddled her and took her to her favorite outdoor arena on the place. 

We started out on the rail, at a walk.

I hung my jacket on a corner post, emptied my mind, relaxed my body, and loosened my reins. My only goal was walking along the rail.

Sonita moved out at a steady pace, head high, eyes boogery, her ears flicking back and forth. She was waiting for...I didn't know. 

A horse wasn't going to fight just to fight. There was always a reason. What were the reasons? I watched a herd of horses in my head. They jumped at each other to make room, protect babies, get at the best grass, but the real fights, they were mainly over sex. To claim the right, to claim the mare, to ward off the stud, sex came into a lot of horse fights. Other than that it was showing who's the boss, or because they felt cornered, fearful, got put on the defensive. Sonita and I weren't about sex. So what was it?

When a horse was trying to be boss, well, they started the action. Sonita wasn't starting anything, she was just waiting. The morning was cool, we were just walking along, yet a light sweat had sprung up in the crease between neck and shoulder. 

We rounded the corner and Sonita spooked at my jacket. A great big, free, jump and snort. I grabbed my reins and she spun in a circle, her neck locked and her eyes bugged out like a Warner Brothers Cartoon. Wa-Ooooga! Her ribs stiffened and she ran against my leg halfway across the arena.

She was ready. Bring it on. But I was still caught in the last train of thought before we exploded into a blur of action and instinct. Why was she so ready to fight?









15 comments:

Heidi the Hick said...

okay, bear with me… is it a mare thing? Like specifically, not the herd boss mare but the sentinel, the watcher? (I think you described Sonita that way before?) Copper doesn't fight me this hard, and doesn't spook hard, but it's like she's easily worried about anything and always checking the surroundings. When she's in a good mood, she is awesome. Light, smooth, responsive, sensitive, and totally willing. Bad mood, she's fidgety, snippy, impatient and cranky, and squeals and crow hops. My gelding is always sweet and gentle and sneaky and tricky.

As for feel and patience??? I'm so slow witted and sluggish I don't know I'd tell the difference. But as I'm now middle aged I'm much more patient with my horses and less patient with every other damn person and thing in my life. And I feel everything. Does that count????

mugwump said...

Yes, it counts....

Becky said...

Maybe because you fought her over stuff that she thought was stupid, (Who cares about collection when there's a jacket monster obviously going to eat you?)

She may have felt there was no point to what you asked. You tried to box her in, stop her movement, and nitpick stupid stuff when you were both about to die, so you were obviously stupid.... which meant in your herd of two she needed to pay attention to what was going on around her and ignore your constant inane chattering in order to make up for how obviously stupid you had proven to be.

That's just me brainstorming, though - Caspian sulls up when I ignore him pointing something out (it's a door! it's a bright door! We might die!) but will accept my lead if I do him the courtesy of at least looking at what he pointed out.

I may be on the wrong track - this is entitled "feel and patience" and my answer isn't about patience. I'm very interested in the answer.

MichelleL said...

And then???

Anonymous said...

Ok, I am NOT a trainer by any stretch of the imagination....But If she is "Waiting" for you, she KNOWS she is going to get reprimanded for something, so she is basically bracing for the attack and anticipating it. My mom's horse ALWAYS spooked at a wood pile below my grandpas house. She would get all antsy and sweaty before she got near the area, then would put up a big fight about going by that wood pile. I got on her one day and my mom was at my granpas watching me ride her...that mare put her head down and walked by the pile like nothing ever happend before...my mom was NOT happy with me and was mad at the horse for not spooking at the wood pile. To me its because my mom was sending signals to the horse KNOWING that the mare spooked there every time...So the mare reacted with her...not me because I didn't care what she did. I do ride cutters, so I can sit a good spook...LOL Maybe Sonita thought she was being picked on by her Alpha horse(YOU)and was afraid of you...Just me brainstorming also...I am curious to know the real answer though!!!

Joyce Reynolds-Ward said...

What Becky said. Smart mare 'tude. Mocha still gets into these modes at age fourteen. The last one is no doubt due to the reality that we're doing rehab riding...growing hoof back after a hoof resection. No turnout, no saddle, light walk work in a bareback pad ONLY (I could ground drive, but, um, I bunged up my thumbs doing that early on, especially when Her Highness decided she was at the Spanish Riding School. I'd much rather ride it than drive it).

While I went to riding with a Pelham for a while (mullen mouth curb/arch curb, short shank, two sets of reins), and I still bring it out when she doesn't want to listen, I'm finding that giving a release and moving forward is the best and most patient solution in our situation. I have to read her every time I ride, and sometimes just going forward has got to be the name of the game.

There are also just some things that have to be investigated. And if there is too much drama about the investigation, well, then, maybe it's time to school a few things like backing, two-tracking, etc. ;-).

zebradreams07 said...

I think Sonita must be related to my mare :P I rode dressage for years and didn't learn feel until I took a break to screw around with my old fart and started chasing cows. I think the fact that she has such ability to really use her back is what makes it SO FRUSTRATING when she doesn't. We've mostly come to an agreement on which issues matter when we're doing something fun like trail riding, but dry work is boring and lifting her bad shoulder is HARD and she'd really prefer to scramble her way through the corners, thank you very much! I'm learning the key with her is to push hard and keep changing it up - if she doesn't know what I'll ask for in a split second, but knows that it will be challenging and that she'll get wailed on if she's not ready she might actually keep herself together. Darn smart horses.

scsarah said...

Not always just a mare thing. I have what can be, a very drama queen, diva gelding.

With that said, there are days I wake up and I'm braced against life. Kinda like I'm waiting for the blue bird of happiness to crap on my head. My whole body, mind, spirit is braced.

Some days, I wake up and I'm ready to fight. I will try to pick a fight via sarcasm, or some other passive aggressive way. Usually I'm home alone so there is no one to fight with. Which made me ponder this thing I have.

If there is no one around to fight with, I have no choice but to give up the fight. So I do some menial physical task that burns the bad energy and let's my mind wander and figure out what is eating me. Sometimes I can't even pin point what the problem/issue was, but by working my body and letting the mind go, the fight leaves. My soul is more centered and settled.

I know when me kids have a day when they want to pick a fight, I just make them work and say nothing. They can't fight me, if I don't fight back.

Some days I can call the drama queen diva gelding and he looks up from grazing and starts walking towards me I can tell he is relaxed. His head is low, his rib cage is swinging, his hips looked relaxed. I know what a sweet ride it will be.

The days I call and he barely raises his head from grazing and then maybe starts walking my way and his head is high, his rib cage likes like a burn barrel it is so stiff, I think, 'he wants a fight today.'

I don't fight. He can't fight if I don't fight back.

I'll saddle him up take him out in the fields or the arena and just get him into a trot. I don't ask for anything. I don't ask him to use his body correctly, I don't steer him, I don't leg yield...nothing. If he spooks I just ride it out and do nothing to correct. I just keep him in a rhythmic trot. As the session goes I can feel him give up the fight. His head lowers, he starts to engage his back end. The tail swishing, the spooking all begin to cease. He can't fight if I don't fight back. Once his spirit is settled, then I can work, train,teach, and deal with him correctly.

If we two legged animals can have a braced day, or day when we are ready to fight, why can't the four legged? I don't think we are so special of a species to have the pissy days corned.

Maybe I'm humanizing my drama queen, but, after all, I am human and can only think that way.

Clancy said...

All of the suggestions make sense to me as possible reasons for her behaviour. The other thing I'm wondering is if she was afraid of the bit or being hurt by it? Did she react the same way ridden in a halter or bosal?

Heidi the Hick said...

Scsarah - I think that was very well said.

(Also, what Becky said about the horse eating jacket monster...)

Ozhorse said...


I want to know the answer to this one. I have a cutting bred gelding, rabicano coon tail chestnut with the same type of blaze (that he got from his grandfather), athletic, super cowy, chomps at his bit shanks and hangs on to them, looks like Sonita. I expect probably related to her. Is ALWAYS shying at something (like many of his siblings).

He has a bee in his bonnet about indoor arenas and showing - partly a training issue from a young professional reining trainer who owned him. I always wanted to know why, and ask you. I think the answer might be the same as this answer.

I forgive him his showing problems because he is so good I never would have got to own such a well trained good horse otherwise. At home, on the range, in an outdoor arena he was a world beater.

I dont think the answer to a horse being tense in an indoor arena is to flog it with spurs until it wont even go in the arena gate.

mugwump said...

Clancy - No she was not afraid of the bit. She was not afraid of my spurs. By the time I owned Sonita I had learned how to use my tools.

Clancy said...

I'm not suggesting you didn't know how to use your tools, it just seemed to me to be a logical question to ask when trying to work the solution to a problem to which there are many possible causes. If she were bitless I'd be wondering whether she was reacting the same way in different bitless bridles or if the fit was correct, since different ones put pressure on different parts of the face.

The other obvious question is whether she was ridden by anyone else and if so whether she reacted the same way with other riders up. Again, absolutely no criticism here; I have seen horses react very differently for different riders, and some who seemed to go much better for less confident, less skilled riders than for people who knew what they were doing. Granted this was very low-level riding school stuff, but some people's energy seemed to suit some horses better than others.

mugwump said...

Clancy - Yes...Sonita had been ridden by others, rarely more than once. At that point, even K didn't want to ride her. Not because he was afraid, or couldn't, but because her hysteria went through the roof when anybody else handled her. I might have been handling her poorly, but she accepted me...
Ride her bitless? I started her in a halter, like I start everything. It was while riding her in a halter we did our first airs above the ground. My progression with my horses is a ring snaffle until they are 4 or five, a hackamore until six, then I bit them. She had been ridden with a hackamore for weeks - she also ended up being the only...yes, I mean only, horse I ever scuffed up with one. We went back to the snaffle, where I knew I wasn't causing damage. Sonita's demons came from how she interpreted the outside world. But also, I apologize for being snappy.

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