Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sonita Stories/Chapter 9 First Ride

"Could you help me for a minute?" Sharion was out of breath and pissed.
"I can't catch Nova no matter what I do."

Sharion had turned out her new, barely halter broke, yearling filly for a run in the outdoor arena. The filly had no intention of being caught ever again.

The typey, black filly was quick, smart and cutting bred. She was also proving herself entirely single-minded in her determination to stay away from Sharion and spend the rest of her life in the sandy arena.

"I've been trying to get her all afternoon. She'll work herself to death rather than get caught."
Sharion glared at me. "It's not funny, so stop laughing."

I have to admit, the better qualified a horseman is, the more I enjoy seeing a situation like this. Sharion is extremely qualified. There's something so satisfying in knowing a horse will embarrass everybody once in a while. Of course, it could be I'm just rotten.

"Maybe I can get her with another horse." I said.

The Big Kahuna wasn't adverse to working yearlings and two-year-olds off a horse when practice cattle were scarce. The end result was surprisingly well mannered youngsters who respected other horses and led like a dream. I had picked up the habit in my own little training business and had enjoyed quite a bit of success.

"I'll get Sonita."

"You can let her eat first, if you want. I don't care if Nova ever eats again."

I had never seen Sharion this close to losing her temper.

"Are you kidding? I love getting the chance to interrupt Sonita's dinner. Anything to rock her little world is OK with me."

Sonita wrinkled her nose and sighed when I came into her stall with a halter.

"C'mon cupcake, we've got work to do."

She shook her head and stomped when I saddled her. I couldn't blame her, she was tired. I had ridden her hard earlier in the afternoon. Other than rolling her eye at me, she accepted the inevitability of our upcoming ride.

As I led Sonita to the arena I took a look at the sky over Pikes Peak. The shadows were deeper and darker than the late afternoon warranted. A fist of thick black clouds had opened over the mountain's northwest shoulder. The cloud cover stretched long dark fingers east, fragmenting the bright fall sunlight .

In the distance, sheets of rain fell from the encroaching fingertips. A brisk wind stepped up, yanking at my faded, green King Ropes hat, and wrapped me in it's damp chill.

"I'd better get a move on, that weather isn't going to give me much time." I said.

"You'll be alright." Sharion replied.

"It just started coming down in the city. It shouldn't be here for another 45 minutes."

Sonita was energised by the upcoming weather and she shook her head at me, wanting to move. I put her right into a lope and she automatically went into a 60 foot circle. She rode easy on a loose rein, alternating between a series of soft bucks and striking out her front foot in play.

The black filly stood in the corner of the arena, watching us, her head flung high.

"Sonita's sure gassed up." Sharion said, laughing. "This could get interesting."

"She'll be fine, she's just happy. She knows somethings up."

Sonita gave me another set of easy bucks, making me laugh."You should try this some time, it's like riding a dolphin."
"Just go catch my filly."

Nova was meandering around the pen, looking over the fence and studiously ignoring us. I trotted over and pointed Sonita at her hip, she pinned her ears and went right to her. The filly skittered off and I sat back in my seat. Sonita stopped and rocked back on her hind legs, keeping her eyes on Nova.

I sent the filly out five or six times, stopping Sonita every time the filly moved off.
Nova got to where she would lope off and whirl to watch us as soon as we quit her.
Now that I had her attention, I put Sonita on her and drove her around the pen. I kept Nova as close on the rail as I could and just kept her moving.

Sonita was hot, she wanted to lean on the little black horse. She would swing her head and bare her teeth. I'd check her, Nova would speed up, the whole thing would fall apart and we'd lose her. I would spin Sonita in frustration and set her back on the filly. I set her up over and over again. The filly was determined to keep away from us, I couldn't blame her, Sonita was intent terrorizing her instead of quietly working her.

Things become much cleaner as the afternoon waned and the fading light enveloped our little trio. The edge was off both horses and Sonita finally let me lead the parade.

We found the perfect position to drive the filly around the arena and not lose her. Sonita kept my knee at Nova's hip bone and carried her head just about even with her second to last rib. We were close enough to her that I could have rubbed her shiny black coat without coming off the middle of my horse.

After a couple of laps I settled deep into my saddle, with my weight slightly on my outside seat bone and stirrup. Looking at the fence, just past Nova's nose, I clucked to Sonita and pushed with my seat, asking her to step past. She rocketed past the filly, looking her deep in the eye as we went by. Nova sat in the dirt, turned into the fence and shot off in the opposite direction. Sonita stayed hooked to her and whipped through her own turn, coming out in the driving position at Nova's hip.
We repeated this maneuver five or six times. The horses ran a synchronized ballet. Their breath whistled in unison, their legs pounded a rhythm into the dust. I pushed Nova into one more turn and pulled Sonita off. We stood in the middle of the arena, airing up. The two horses stood blowing, heads level with their withers, staring at each other.

"I think you're having too much fun." Sharion was leaning on the rail.

"She really doesn't want to get caught." I replied.

"You don't really want to catch her. Here's the halter, I'm going to finish up in the barn. Call me if you want help."

The rain started to fall as I went back to work. I was so intent on catching the renegade horse, I didn't feel the cold rain on my neck, or notice the deepening night. Sonita was immersed in the game. She loped steadily alongside the filly, I threw my reins loose and our communication came from a soft roll of my calf, or the merest shift of my weight. She would flick an ear at me and guide or turn, whatever we needed to stay in posistion.

The tough little filly danced with my mare, not quite giving up her freedom, but willing to lope and turn in the night.

The rain grew in intensity, and the last of the light dropped behind the Peak. I could barely see, so I dropped my hand and gave over my trust to my wacky, wild mare. Finally, for the first time, we were in complete sync. Sonita knew what I wanted and understood how to get the job done. I marveled at her quiet smoothness, the intensity and perfection of the way she worked the filly.

The tiring horses broke into a trot. I asked for a few more turns on the fence, and pushed Nova into the center of the pen. Sonita pushed her nose into the base of the filly's steaming black neck and we circled. I lifted my hand and Sonita checked back, switched sides and circled Nova the other way. We were magic.

Nova slowed to a stop. She stood leaning into my wonderful mare. I rubbed Nova's neck and shoulders as the rain poured down. After they caught their breath I rode to the rail, with Nova following obediently along. I found the halter and she stood while I tied it in place. The three of us stood quietly in the dark, I could feel Sonita's slowing heart beat against my legs. Nova slung her head across Sonita's withers and let me rub her forehead. The rain streamed against her face, and her quiet eye met mine.


  1. ok now I want to ride a cow horse!!!

  2. Mugs dear girl, I want an autographed copy please, when your book comes out sometime in the next year or so ;)

    Keep em coming M'am. Keep 'em coming.

  3. I've worked jillions of cows in my life, but never once worked a horse like that. It seemed to have a whole nother quality. And you really made me feel like I was there with you. Wonderful writing, mugwump. Love your horse stories.

  4. I've been in dressage for 20 years on and off. And I really love it. But. Your little piece makes me want to drop it all for a reining horse and a Western saddle. Eloquent, eloquent writing.

    You're there. Time for the book now.

  5. I have goosebumps.

    I can't wait to smugly say "yeah, I was reading Mugs way back when she just had a blog".

  6. I like this post. It reminds me of the first time I figured out how to make the horse come to you in the paddock instead of the other way around.

  7. I love the detail with which you draw the personalities of both the horses and the humans in your stories. I'll have you know that it's all your fault I (dressage rider) decided to go out and try a reining lesson - and now I think I'm hooked!

  8. Hmm. Makes me want to have a chat with my own Big K about Mocha and working difficult horses.

    Hmm. There are a couple of minis in the barn...and Miss M would probably appreciate something other than dogs to toss her head and pin her ears at (mind you, she's the Number Two mare in the barn)

  9. Ahhh, Pikes Peak. I grew up looking at that beautiful sight my whole childhood. You made me get all emotional and girly like. What a gorgeous story. Thank you for it.

  10. WOW, I feel like I have just watched the spark of connection between you and Sonita. MORE MORE

  11. Lovely. You have a great "voice."

  12. Your stories are always worth the wait. But this time I think you kicked it up a notch. Ready to dive into the new career with a bang are we? I am not at all surprised that they decided to scoop you right up, cranky and all =)

    Keep up the good work.

    If it happens after I get out of school, I am so down for the autographed book party!

  13. Holly cow...I want one of those cow horses.

    Maybe I should trade my wanna be bucking horse otherwise known as my OTTB for one heck of a Quarter Horse with cow sense.

    They say dressage is dancing with horses, but I would waiver a bet that watching those two horses work was the highest form of dancing.

  14. What an amazing read...I, too, can't wait for the book to come out.

  15. All I can think to say is WOW for that amazing story and the way it was written.

  16. Lovely story, very much enjoyed it, but you know this obliges you to give us some good Sharion news right? I think thats the rule.

  17. WONDERFULLY written. You soooo need to write a book. I cant wait for the next installment on Sonita. when I read your stories on her, she reminds me a bit of my filly I am dealing with - and to read about that wonderful success you had with the "connection", it gives me hope.

  18. Oh wow Mugs, whenever I feel so sick of working my young horses you always seem to have some fantastic post that makes me want to work with them that much more. I don't know if I'll ever work a cow or a horse but I hope that I find a horse that I feel that much conection and willingness with someday.

  19. Wow, I am completelly spell bound. You have a beautiful way with words, young lady.

  20. You all are such a bad influence... made me wonder if I could herd Cooper my, I got Starlette all saddled up (I did use my Western saddle) and tried...I learned:

    1) Don't try to herd an excitable mare after she had 5 days off from riding...

    2) Don't try to herd a recently gelded boy with a mare in full heat...first thing you get is both squealing and crowhopping...

    3) Don't try to ride said mare in pasture next to said ex-stallion right afterwards to get her tired...she will still put in a bucking show...

    4) After you ride out said mare to the point she's listening again, and you try to herd said ex-stallion again, and he takes off rearing and bucking, your mare will forget you are on her back and gallop after him, also rearing, bucking...

    5) After reminding mare you are still on her back, you get a few minutes in of "herding"...then said mare does a nice rollback (is that what she did??) with both front feet coming off the ground...and you wonder if she was turning or getting excited again?

    6) Realize you need to talk you husband into either getting a cow or letting you get some professional training...

    Actually, I had fun, and Starlette really was trying to understand what we were doing...she had both ears listening to me most of the time. I don't know if she'll ever be really good (she's 15.3) I just need something for her to herd...Cooper was too interested in munching grass! My farrier says there is a weekly penning going on somewhere around here, but I don't want to go by myself...guess I'll see if he ever goes (he competes heading/healing/roping professionally out here).

  21. your earlier posts and have to say this one made me feel like you were trying on another personality, "writer". Just a bit over the top for me.. Towards the end the more original grittier MUGS I like came back.
    You have an extraordinary gift. Identify, and HANG ON, to your originality.

  22. OK. Here's the deal. I'm the kind of person who gets pretty single minded when I'm learning something. I approached cowhorse absolutely ass backwards, I learned how to train one while learning the sport. Hands on.
    I'm going to be the same about writing. That's my job now. No parenthesis involved. I intend to try out the new things I'm learning as I learn them. Be it having my editor show me where to put my stinking commas, or practicing my descriptions. I don't mind (much) if you don't like what I'm trying to do, please tell me when you don't, it can only help me improve. But don't think I'm going to stay the same. I've never stayed stuck in one place, and I won't now. If I wasn't willing to learn and try new techniques I'd still be trotting the trails in Palmer Park.

  23. LOVE IT! I have missed your posts lately!

  24. I also love the Sonita stories. I think I love them because I totally get having that bond with a horse that everybody else thinks is just a rank POS...a horse most other people would have put on a slaughter truck. There is something very special about having a horse decide that you are the chosen one that they are going to work's probably the biggest compliment you ever get as a rider.