Thursday, June 26, 2008

Horse Stories/Sonita/ Chapter 2

Before I get into Sonita, I need to ask you guys something. Will some of you actually try my training tips, and then tell me if they work?
I can see them in my mind, I can teach them if you're with me, and we're both on a horse.
I have never tried to write down how I train.
In my head they're perfectly clear, but I don't know if that means my written version of TOF makes any sense.
Talk about a writing exercise!
If you guys find holes in my sequence let me know, please! I'll try to fix them.

Sonita/Chapter 2

I got another call from the Goober.
"That filly crawled out of my round pen and went over the barb wire again. Her leg is really torn up. I'm bringing her out today."
"Wait a minute. How bad is she?" My heart was slowly sinking to the vicinity of my stomach.
"Bad enough that I don't want to doctor it."
"So you're going to sell me a crippled horse?" My heart fell into my acid filled stomach with a gentle plop.
"No," he replied testily, "I'm bringing you the horse you already bought.
Then I'm taking home the other horse you bought, and decided you didn't want."
"Just hold on a sec," I knew I was getting screwed somehow, but the sound of my heart doing the back stroke around my stomach made it impossible to think.
"I thought you were trading me. Can't I look at those other colts?"
"You're brand inspection is done. I'll be there in an hour."
The Goober hung up the phone. My heart flipped over once and sort of gurgled it's way to the pit of my stomach.
I had just enough time to call the vet, and have him meet my new investment at the barn.
We all knew when Sonita had arrived. The sounds of kicking and banging on trailer walls rattled down the canyon, well ahead of the grinding gears of the Goobers truck.
Of course I had an audience.
I was the new trainer at the facility.
I rode the pleasure and all around buckskin horses they raised.
The Big Chief wanted to see what I had decided to buy instead of one of his horses.
It seems his wife and grand kids did too.
A few assorted boarders, clients, and friends managed to show up, just to round out the gang.
I put on my best, "Of course I know what I'm doing." face, and opened up the big door of the indoor arena.
The Goober pulled in, hopped out of his truck.
"Get ready to catch her, she isn't tied."
I stood at the back of the trailer, arms spread, knees slightly bent.
"OK, I'm ready."
"You catching a horse or a fly ball?" The Chief asked.
"She's going to go over like a bowling pin." The vet added.
They leaned against the rail, arms folded.
I'm always up for providing a morning's entertainment.
The Goober opened the stock trailer door and my little filly peeked out into the arena, broken lead rope dangling.
Her bugged eyes were white ringed. Her sides heaved, and she was soaked in a nervous sweat.
It occurred to me I had never seen Sonita not soaked in sweat.
I straightened up.
"Come here baby." I crooned. "This is all a little crazy, isn't it?
Let's get that leg looked at, OK?"
She let me lead her out. She swung her head around, snorting, but she stood by me as I rubbed her withers.
The Goober wasted no time picking up his HYPP positive colt and loading him back into his trailer.
"He looks good. Nice doing business with you." He grunted. He was swung his rig around and motored on out of there.
I think we came to a mutual, silent agreement that this was our last business transaction. The finger I chose to wave at him, as he climbed up the road, clinched it.
The vet came over to look at my new filly.
Her leg was a mess. Most of the muscle in her forearm was gone.
He poked and prodded around the wound.
"There's a lot of old scar tissue here. She's hurt this leg more than once. My guess is that barb wire fence wasn't the first one she's jumped. Every time she gets hurt, it's harder to raise this leg high enough to get over. So she hits it again."
"Is she crippled?" I asked.
"For now. I've seen horses get along pretty good with injuries like this. You're lucky you don't need a lot of lift in her stride. She'll be able to swing that leg forward just fine."
"How do I care for it?"
"Keep her clean. There's nothing to stitch. We'll just have to wait and see how it does.
Keep her in a stall and run, she'll try to jump out of the pens."
The Chief started to laugh, just a little.
The stalls were three times the cost of the pens. My investment was just humming along.
"What have you done?" The Chief put his hand on my shoulder.
Sonita settled in to life in a run as best she could.
She paced up and down, looking over to the other horses.
She was afraid to come into her stall.
It became pretty apparent she had never seen a barn.
At feeding time she would trot into her stall, grab a mouthful of hay, and trot back outside to eat it.
Her leg was weepy and raw.
Still, Sonita had something about her I had never seen before. Every aspect of her conformation tied into the next in a sweet, smooth line. She was a tight, compact, athlete. There was a fluidity in her nervous energy that made me itch to ride her.
Her wild rolling eye would settle on me, and soften.
She was gentle and quiet when I doctored her.
She would nicker when I came into the barn.
I became almost frantic in my desire to heal her.
I had, what in my humble opinion, was a flash of genius.
I paid a visit to some friends who worked in occupational and physical therapy.
I explained Sonita's situation and asked for some help.
They got out their books, and we worked out a plan.
They taught me a lot about lost muscle tissue, scar massage, and wound care.
The scar massage was the most important. They gave me hope that the pretty little filly would be usable.
They gave me something to do.


  1. mugwump, In my opinion, you are a seriously good writer. That's my professional opinion as the published author of ten books, for what its worth. I loved Sonita's 2nd chapter and can't wait to read more. As for the training tips--its a great gift for those who are in the place to use it, I think. I trained horses for many years and am somewhat set in my ways, but none of what you said sounded wrong to me. Though I did resonate a little with your statement about your ponies being frustrated. I gave up reining and cutting many years ago for various reasons, but one of them was how frustrated the horses got with the endless drilling.

  2. mugwump, I'll happily give the training tips a shot (and holler for help if necessary). Reading them, they certainly seemed to make sense, which is more than I can say for some of the training books I've acquired. And Sunny could stand LOTS of turning and bending work, so your timing is perfect.

    Looking forward to Sonita's next chapter!

  3. Laura, thank you. I love to write. I started this blog for just that reason.
    I try to avoid the endless drilling, but it still is a job requirement.
    I pride myself in keeping my reined cowhorses sound. Something not many in my profession do. Of course, my horses are also always behind the industry standards.:)

  4. I can't wait for chaper three!

  5. You have a really distinct writing style that always leaves me hungry for more :)

    Are there any other training tips you're planning to post soon? My horse already knows turn on the forehand very, very well and isn't ready physically for lead changes yet, so I can't really test either, but I would be happy to test something closer to what we're working on!

  6. I love the stories of your need to put together a book.

  7. Love the stories.

    Right now I hate vets, vet bills and the things my one mare always finds to maim herself on.
    My mare Indigo always manages to injure herself. This morning she managed to give herself a puncture wound on the back leg and it hit a vein. I found her with blood squirting out like a water jet. An emergency trip to the clinic, a bill and my whole outfit dyed red later and shes alright >:C

    I hope everyones day in this blog is going better than mine.

    The story cheered me up.

  8. Mugwump, I've a question. I just wrote a post on it and I think I kind of have a feel for your answer through your posts, but I'd love for you to address it specifically.

    What do you really, really love about working with horses? What gives you an ear-to-ear grin and makes you want to keep riding/being around horses forever? If you could do one (or more) thing(s) with horses forever and ever, what would be your favorite?

    Just curious!

  9. fssunnsd- Thank you! Can't wait to hear..

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  11. Mugwump:

    I enjoy your Sonita story, and I'm thrilled to read through training tips on turning on the forehand. This is the kind of level I'm looking for after spending 3 years intensively working with a Western Trail/Pleasure Champion here learning to start horses. The ground work, and getting them to do simple turns, move forward on the walk trot and canter, and shifting their hindquarters, I've gotten down. But, I need more advanced tips like these. I'm going to try out that turn training.

    I have a question though, is your inside leg on the girth or behind, and if so how far behind? I actually learned to shift the hindquarters (while facing the fence at a diagonal) by laying the inside leg on slightly farther back than the normal leg position. No outside leg pressure was applied. This was initially prepared for with ground work using the end of a lunge whip (the blunt end) and tapping at the point where the leg would be later, and getting the horse to shift his hindquarters away from you.

  12. Hmm...I think what I described was what you call a "leg yield"?

    I have the problem here that I know the german names for the terms, but not the english really.

  13. austriancurls-I'm not sure how we're saying anything different..If I want to move the haunches over I apply one leg.
    Left leg pushes haunches right, right leg pushes haunches left.
    My leg is at about the back cinch.
    Which would be 6 to 10 inches behind the cinch.Whatever works.
    A leg yield would be continuous motion guiding the horse in a diagonal line across the arena.
    His body is facing the end wall, and the head and shoulders stay straight. (On both horse and rider)
    If I have to tip the nose to the outside to help them I will, but the horse needs to be comfortable moving diagonally while holding himself in a straight line before I lead change.
    My inside leg acts as a support, so I don't get heavy handed while maintaining the straight of my horse.

  14. Cool, Ok, a leg yield is a half-pass then, when the outside legs cross in front of the inside legs and the body is held straight (not a shoulder-in or shoulder-out).

    And, what I learned then is the initial steps for the turn on the front end where applying my left leg back toward the back cinch (or I would call the third position behind the cinch) pushes the haunchs to the right as you describe. OK, I got it :) This is the next step I needed, as I can make the hauches move, just not in motion performing a turn on the forehand.

  15. Austriancurls-Just to keep it clear-For me, a half pass has the nose tipped slightly away from the direction being travelled.
    Then your horse will be following his shoulder on the diagonal line.
    A leg yield has the nose and neck lined up with the shoulders. The hips will be first to step into the new line of travel, so the movement becomes forward from the haunches, instead of following behind the shoulders.
    Eventually, I have my horse's nose tipped into the line of travel.

  16. ugh...ok, I know I shouldn't get bogged down into terminology, but I think this would be a Travers? But, then again this is post was about turning on the forehand, so I don't want to be a bad poster and turn it into a discussion on the leg yield *blush*. Sorry.

  17. It can be anything you want to call it. I will always let you how I interpet a maneuver. In all reality, I train on a horse, in my head. So what's really happening is,I'm thinking to myself, and it goes something like this "OK, we just finished that leg thingy, now I have to get the butt thingy sorted out. I wonder if I have time to go out for lunch?"
    If you guys get too technical I'll just start teaching my "Thingies on Horses", I feel a clinician being born...

  18. Heheh...ok, ok :) I was already wonderfully happy with how you wrote it. I'm really really sorry, I'm just trying to translate in my head. Not trying to get technical at all. Love the lunch bit :)

  19. just found your blog, and I am already in love! I would love to give your training tips a try as I have a 6 year old appaloosa that really really wants to be a wp horse! And seeing as how I am a H/J...this could get interesting!

  20. I've tried two things you've mentioned. Gathering a horses face towards me for mounting is one. I've been pretty pleased with the results. Even my noodle necked arab eventually decided she'd rather spend her time stopped than turning in circles. The thing I really like about it though is I dont have to do much. I just hold the rein and they can either move or not move. Then, when they stop, I let them straighten out, pause, and then down to business.

    The other thing I started doing, also with my noodle necked and poorly balanced arabian is the "ride like Ben Cartwright" thing. I dont have quite as far I can go and with the arabian mare I do it at a trot but she's really gotten a lot better at balancing and going at the speed I want her to. The field I ride in is about 0.8 miles around but even if I only trot one or two sides it really helps her balance.

    I'll keep you posted as I have the opportunity to try more of this stuff out.

  21. Thanks Gillian, I love to ride like Ben Cartwright. I'll get cranked up at work and bebop around my students singing the Bonanza theme song at the top of my lungs.
    I know it doesn't have words, I make them up as I go...
    "Think of the song...and sing
    Little Joe's hot,
    but I'm not,
    I'll take Hoss,
    He can't ride,
    by my side,
    so I'll run him down....
    you get my drift.