Friday, June 27, 2008

Horse Stories/Sonita/Chapter3

The idea behind scar massage is to stop the newly formed scar tissue from attaching to the muscle beneath it. Scar tissue is very delicate, the skin around it even more so. Gentle, stimulating massage will keep it flat, and help prevent a big, tight, gnarly mess from forming.
It also feels great.
Sonita would be lulled into a doze when I worked on her leg. For half an hour every morning, I would sit on a bucket, rub a gob of Eucerin hand cream around the wound, and go to work. She would stand with her nose resting on my shoulders, hip cocked, and grunt with pleasure. Every now and then she would flip my hat off my head.
I'd pick it up, whack her with it, and put it back on.
"Nobody messes with my King Rope cap." I told her.
Sonita would toss her head and roll her eyes, but nothing would convince her to step away from that massage.
The rest of the day Sonita dedicated to raising hell.
She had decided the barn was a good place to be. She liked it inside. She also decided that the horse on either side of her needed to stay out.
She would lunge at the bars separating the stalls, teeth bared. She would squeal and spin around in circles, sending shavings flying.
She began to kick the walls.
Leg or no leg, Sonita began training.
We had a wonderful tie wall in our indoor. It was solid with heavy, oiled wood planking, and reached up seven feet. A sturdy ring was bolted in about six feet up, every ten feet or so. The horses couldn't get hurt. They couldn't reach each other. They couldn't chew. It was a beautiful, patience training machine.
I would start each morning tying out my first three or four horses of the day. It's a habit I still maintain.
I would ride through them, and return them to the wall. When I finished, I would put them up, get my next set, and so on.
If I had a horse being fractious on the wall, they would stay tied until they relaxed, and I would put them up.
Being a baby, Sonita's only job was to stand tied.
I would longe her a bit, get most of the stink off her, and then tie her.
I keep a close watch on my babies. All they have to do is stand quiet for maybe five minutes, and I put them up.
Sonita stayed on the wall for hours.
She would fuss, and buck in place. She would strike at the wall repeatedly. She would whinny and holler at the other horses as they came and went.
As I led them up, she would pin her ears, squeal, and strike.
She would sweat buckets. She never seemed to tire.
If she did by chance stay quiet, for even a minute, I would get her and put her up.
As soon as I put her in her run she would start her whirling dervish routine.
"She's a busy little girl." The Chief said.
"I know, I hate this." I replied. "A two year old has no business being tied all day. She really should be out in the pens."
"We can't go there, she'll be jumping her way to Teller County."
"She seems even wilder when I put her up."
"Have you tried keeping her with you?"
"I don't want her tied all the time Chief, she'll go nuts."
"Go nuts?" The Chief always looked like he was about to burst out laughing when he talked about Sonita. "I'd say we're there."
"Why don't you put her in one of the holding pens?"
At the end of our arena we had two small pens made out of panels.
"Don't you think she'll jump?" I swung a nervous look at the pens. They didn't look sturdy enough. Or high enough.
"Give it a try." The Chief encouraged. "Panels are easier to replace than my barn walls."
I got a bucket of water, a little hay, and put them in the pen nearest the door
As soon as Sonita quit squirreling on the wall long enough to take a breather, I put her in the pen.
She spun around once, looked out the door, looked at us, and quietly went to munching her lunch.
It was the most peaceful I had seen her since she came to the barn.
"She just wants a little company." The Chief said. "She's lonely in her run."
Smart guy, the Chief.
Sonita began teaching me the fine art of compromise.
If she stood quiet for a few minutes, I would put her in her pen. She would happily spend the day watching me work.
Slowly, she learned to stand for longer periods of time.
I started to saddle her. The promise of spending her day lazing in her pen made the process fairly painless.
I worried about exercise. I was afraid I would slow down her healing.
I also realized that working her in the arena was a lot less stressful than exploding and charging around her stall.
I added some turn out in the arena after I massaged her leg.
I was studying John Lyons, Ray Hunt, and Monty Roberts pretty intensely at this point in my life.
I began playing with her loose in the arena.
She was the smartest horse I had met in years. I worked on my body language and hers. How do I move her away? How do I get her to come?
Sonita seemed to get into it as much as I was.
She learned to circle me at a lope. Sonita was never much into the slower gaits. She moved sound and sure with only a slight shortening of her stride. Her bad leg seemed to be healing well.
I had her working round at the end of the arena. No round pen here folks. Just me and my girl. She was impressing me more every day.
She learned to come when I called so fast, and so hard, that I decided my horses should learn to wait for me to come to them instead.
Sonita would come flying at me with those wild eyes, pinned ears, and flashing front legs, at roughly 1000 MPH. I realized she was only doing what I asked , but that chicken mu shu kept flashing before my eyes.
To this day, all my horses stop at least ten feet from me and wait until I walk to them. "Join Up" my butt.
Sonita was an enthusiast. I started teaching her to move her nose away from my finger when I tapped her muzzle.
At this point she wanted to stay with me once I stood by her shoulder. She would swing away from my tapping finger, but only a step or two.
I followed her nose, she kept stepping.
Pretty soon, I was jogging around the outside of our circle, and she was executing a perfect, inside hind planted, spin.
If I went the other way, she would follow.
This would also unleash her inner Doberman. She would flatten those ears, lower her head, and fly after me. I would run like hell around that circle.
It only took a turn or two before I would be laughing too hard to run any more.
We'd stop, she'd snort, and ask for a pet. It was the coolest thing I'd ever taught a horse to do.
When I look at in in retrospect, I realize she was the one in the middle, and I was the one running around in the circle.
I'm not entirely sure who was training who. Sonita, on the other hand, knew exactly what was going on.
At that point in my career I couldn't train a horse to spin like Sonita was if my life depended on it.
I had more horse than I had ever come across. I was hooked. I just needed to figure out what in the world I was going to do with her.


  1. I'm completely enthralled... I love a good read, especially with a horse or a dog. However, I must say, I am disappointed because I usually get a good one and read cover to cover. YOU aren't letting me!!! :) That's probably good though... at least for my employment anyways! Keep it coming!

  2. Wow, she sounds like an awesome horse! I love reading your horse stories :) Was she doing all of this with a gaping wound in her leg, or was it starting to close up?

  3. She was healing during all of this...slowly. It was a big nasty, granulated hole. Most of her forearm was gone.The vet was right though, it didn't inhibit her movement much.

  4. Can't wait for the next installment. What a challenging project, to say the least. I am not someone who ever really enjoyed these very high-energy horses--its fun to hear how you coped with it.

  5. Laura Crum- I started my horse life with a high energy horse, and since I ended up riding reined cowhorses, I guess I just got used to the rush. I picked up the first ans second of your books today...I'm looking forward to it.

  6. AGGHHHH! Hell you have done it to me again. Just when it is getting good you make me wait until the next installment.

    Damn you know how to keep me coming back for more; your are more adictive than Days of Our Lives. LOL

  7. mugwump--Thanks for trying my mystery novels--do let me know what you think. And keep coming with the Sonita story. I, too, have ridden a lot of reined cowhorses (like you, I apprenticed to a nationally known trainer, who shall be nameless, partly because I said some not very nice things about him in my March post on equestrianinkblogspot--titled "The Real Horses Behind the Books") and I've been aboard plenty of lively ones. My favorites have always been a little more laid back. Oh, and one thing I really laughed about--"the goober" saying "she's a lively one," Yes, I had that same experience--the breeder making a similar comment about a colt I chose, and me realizing (much later) that it was as close to a warning as he could bring himself to give (!)

  8. Mugwump--sorry--if you want to read the post about the nasty reining horse trainer on the equestrianinkblogspot, its April 2nd--titled "The Real Horses Behind the Books".

  9. SOSHorses said...
    AGGHHHH! Hell you have done it to me again. Just when it is getting good you make me wait until the next installment.

    Damn you know how to keep me coming back for more; your are more adictive than Days of Our Lives. LOL

    I agree!! Maybe mugs should rename her blog "Tales of our Ponies" or "As the Barn Turns" lol

  10. Mugs: I have a question for you. You've mentioned before that you worked for a colour breeder, and then there's your pretty yellow horse. I was wondering if you have any hints/"tricks" to help a palomino enhance his/her colour? Besides blanketing or keeping indoors, both of those are not feasible. My friend has a very pale palomino gelding. When he was a yearling he was so light he was almost white (he was "cream") He gets a little darker each year, but he's never going to be very dark. He's about 15 now and a very pale gold colour. I read in a magazine that adding paprika to his feed would enhance & deepen his colour. Do you know if there's any truth to that?

  11. cdncowgirl-I really don't know.I bought my yellow mare because of her breeding, her color came with.
    I wash them before a show, that's it.
    The people I worked for raised duns, buckshins, and grullas.
    The horse I finally bought from them was a bay.She was the only NRCHA money earner they raised.
    I went to my first palomino show last month. I saw a lot of different shades of yellow.
    Being able to work like I need them to is a pretty enough color for me.:)

  12. Mugwump,

    I'm very flattered that you've included Equestrian Ink on your links. Thanks so much, and I'm enjoying your blog.


  13. cdncowgirl- we feed soy meal at our barn. We have a pair of brothers, one is a palomino and the other one is a palomino paint. The palomino used to be very washed out compared to his brother. It took over a year of feeding soy meal but now they really are the color of a gold coin. They both get to go out in the sun too, no blankets or anything. It takes a long time but its fairly cheap. Plus the soy helps their coat and hooves supposedly. Thats my two cents anyway.

  14. Gillian, Thanks I'll pass that on to Kimfer (my friend with the pally).
    She & I had read the same article (I believe it was in H&R) however she didn't quite remember it correctly... she was feeding her poor guy cayenne pepper. I happened to be at the barn one day when she was feeding and asked her what she was doing. I was like, "Ummm, it said paprika I believe!"

  15. Ooh, cayenne in the feed? I'm sure my mare would love me for that...

    If you're going to feed paprika, just make sure that you understand it has naturally occurring capsaicin, which is prohibited by the USEF at least (don't know about western disciplines) as it's a pain reliever. The concentrations that the horse would be ingesting are very unlikely to test, from what I understand, but just something to keep in mind.

  16. mma- thanks for the head's up. Right now Kimfer just competes in our provincial barrel club. No drug testing (although sometimes I think there should be).
    She does hope to rodeo someday, but that will probably be with her grey filly not the pally gelding (just don't think they can achieve that together).