Sunday, August 3, 2008

Horse Stories/Sonita/Chapter 8

Here's my question of the day. If I tried to write a book, what should it be about? Let me know what you think...

Warm up pens can be a complex, scary puzzle. I have always felt that if you can survive the warm up pen at a big horse show, you can take on just about anything. There are unspoken rules that guarantee your survival in the pen. The uninitiated are soon terrorized out of the arena and back to their stalls.
Luckily, the Big K had prepared me well.
The warm up pen for cowhorse, or reining competition, splits off into two sets of circles. One set lopes left, the other right. You can practice your spins in the middle of those circles. If you are feeling bold, you can practice your rundowns through the two sets of circles. Circles always have the right away. Straight lines, and spins have to yield to the circles. If you rest your horse, you can move him slightly to the left or right of the center of the two circles. Or stand in a quiet spot on the rail.
One by one, the riders will stand their horses along both of the short walls. Your horse airs up, and everybody visits a bit. Eventually, the pen is empty in the middle, and everybody is in two lines, facing each other across the length of the arena. Then the serious run down practice begins. Each rider runs long straight lines. Some slide into the walls, some stop short. Everybody clips right along. It looks like an old time, U.S. Calvary verses the Indians charge, or a barn dance. Do Si Do.

Nobody will explain the rules to you. They are simply understood.There is a lot of trust in the warm up pen. There has to be, at any given time 30 or 40 horses can be warming up. Each rider is responsible for the behavior of their horse. You will never see someone with a red ribbon in their horse's tail. Riders have to count on your resting horse to stand quietly as they pass. They trust you to yield your horse to the right away, every time. You are counted on to lope left with the people loping left, and right with the people loping right. Remember the rattly old merry go round, in the park you hung out in, as a kid? Did you ever try to jump on or off while it was moving? Add another one spinning the other way, some other kids randomly running across both of them, and you'll get the picture.
Intimidation is at it's highest in the open warm up. Trainers will roar past you at an alarming clip, play chicken during rundowns, slide stop right in your face.
"Don't get bullied out there." The Big K told me. "Look them in the eye and keep going. You'll be fine."
Yeah, right.
I came out into the pen to practice in the morning. Sonita was so gassed up I could only lope circles. Miles and miles of circles. She shook her head, she fought the snaffle. Yes, I was hanging on her face. I was freaking. People gave us a wide berth.Nobody talked to me. She wouldn't stand, she would try to kick at the passing horses. When I held her in she would crow hop. I felt like an idiot.
"What do I do?" I asked the Big K.
"Keep loping. Don't quit riding until you show. Calm down, take a breath, and get back in there."
"I don't show until tonight."
"I said, don't get down until you've shown. Now go."
Yikes. I was learning that the Big K didn't play nice at horse shows. So I dove back in and started to lope.
Six hours.That would be six, long, hot hours.
Did I mention I was in the pen for six hours before I finally showed?
Class after class went by us. Sonita was exhausted. I was whipped. She slowly, ever so slowly, began to come down. She quit lunging at horses going by. She stood quiet when other riders whizzed past us. She let a few sympathetic riders stop and visit with us, without snaking at their horse. I was able to loosen my reins and breathe. I guess there's a reason he's the Big Kahuna.

They finally called my name. I was in the hole. I would be first in after the drag. If they were going to drag, that meant the tractor was going to be in the arena. Sonita had a thing about tractors. She had been fed by them, she had seen them working industriously around her barn her entire life. It didn't matter. Tractors were horse eating beasts no matter what I tried to tell her. The sound of one starting up, the sight of one coming towards her, would send her into a blind, flying panic. She would leap, and buck, and twist to get away from them. We had successfully avoided the drag all day, by sneaking outside every time they were ready to fire the tractor up. I felt like I had pulled a fast one on the Big K. He was big on confronting issues. I was big on surviving the damn show.
Now here I was, the tractor was chugging through the arena, and the gateman wanted me standing in the alley, ready to go. My poor, exhausted, sweat streaked Sonita began to wake up. She stood mesmerized by the tractor. Her head began to go higher and higher as she focused on her dreaded enemy. I could feel her shaking through my saddle.
The tractor clanked through the end gate on the opposite side of the arena. For some horrible reason, it stopped as soon as they closed the gate, squatting right in our future line of travel. It continued it's malicious chugging. The gateman swung open our gate.
"C'mon, you're up."
"The tractor hasn't left." I pointed weakly across the arena.
"Don't keep the judge waiting, now git."
So we git.
It was a run in pattern. Which means we were supposed to start with a run down and slide stop at the end of the arena. A slide stop right up the butt of the still running tractor.
I took a deep breath, held it, and we ran into the arena.
We covered about twenty feet, just far enough for the judges to know we had begun our run. Sonita skidded to a stop, spun around, and bolted back into the alley way.
Right into the Big K."Turn around and get back in there!"
"I can't, the judges saw me!"
"I don't care, get that horse in the arena!"
I gathered my eight foot reins, dropped any smidgeon of pride I might have hoped to hang on to, and over and undered Sonita in fine Matt Dillon style. We shot back into the arena.
Have you ever seen the Warner brother cartoons where a character sees something really scary? They fly into the air, all four legs blow out every which way,and a giant AAOOOGA! sounds as their eyes telescope out of their heads.
That was me and Sonita, roughly every ten feet. AAOOGA! I'd whip her towards that tractor. AAOOGA! We'd go again.
She'd buck. She squalled.
But dammit she was going down that arena. She might of been facing death by a tractor, but the Big K was in the alleyway watching.
Why the judges didn't whistle us, I'll never know. Maybe they were amusing themselves. Maybe they had gone out for Starbucks. What I know is, it took about a hundred years to finish that first rundown. And about two seconds to finish the one on the way back. Luckily the gate was closed by the time we came screeching into our second stop.
We finished that damn pattern, Sonita and I. Step by tortuous step. I dismounted, loosened her cinch in the middle of the arena, and headed back to the stalls.
"There you go." The Big Kahuna said as we staggered past.
Only three more show days left. Yippy Skippy.


  1. I don't know what effect you may have been going for here, but when I got to the cartoon character analogy, I was LOL! Sometimes it's good for a newbie to see that the pros have those kind of days too.

  2. Well, you could do a training instruction type book or you could do a book a bit like the blog that goes through the meaningful parts of your horsey life and how you developed your perspective, how you train, etc.

    Are all warm up arenas like that? I get alot of pressure to show, but I haven't mostly because I've never shown and know nothing about breed shows and how it works. Any advice on that?

  3. I like your Sonita stories the best of all the fine writing you've done, but then I am a "story" writer (mysteries), so perhaps am a bit predjudiced. I think the problem, or at least the problem that most authors encounter, is what to write that will fit a niche that publishers consider "saleable". That is unless you are interested in self-publishing--in which case you please yourself, but then have to wonder how to sell it. In my own case I write about horses in the mystery format (with an amatuer sleuth series protagonist--the books are considered "cozies" in the trade) because that's what I was able to sell. My first manuscript was a much more realistic, cowboy ambiance sort of thing, but no one in the mainstream publishing industry was interested in it. I think non-fiction training type books might best be marketed to small specialty houses that cater to the horse industry, though I wouldn't know much about this, never having tried it. Anyway, you know, Mugwump, that I really like your writing, and will give you what help I can if you choose to write a book and try to get it published.

  4. You could do a blog book:
    Blog Books: Your blog. Automatically slurped into a real book.

    I plan on doing some sort of book, not sure what kind yet, via the Blurb site as it’s one of the best looking options for self-publishing that I have seen so far. I have heard from one gal that tried it (for an artsy-type photography book) that the quality wasn’t the best, but for certain types of books it might be just fine. And you can’t beat the print-on-demand option for publishing. It means not having to keep “stock” on hand to sell yourself. Someone else takes care of all that. And as far as I can tell it also doesn’t require a large investment of funds up front!

  5. A training book because you make it so easy to understand. You create (for me) pictures with your words. I struggle with some other trainers/authors sometimes. I think all of your stories so far address training in one aspect or another. You definitely have a gift for writing. And I'm greedy, I want to read it all at once!

    Another great chapter today. Thank you again.

  6. I think you have a lot of options for what you want to write about. The fact that you have a popular blog is a huge asset to you in marketing yourself to a publisher. As Laura pointed out, publishers are interested in what they can sell, and sometimes it can be tough to fit yourself into their niche.

    However, you've got the writing skills. The rest is just clever marketing. If you need any help, I'd be happy to give you some free consultation (I work in publishing/marketing and am a freelance editor and book designer).

  7. mugwump, i think that you could write a book as a compendium of all your stories with a focus/tie-in of "trust in leadership". women especially need role models of women that can identify trustworthy leaders, be a leader, and you know well the core value of trust in leadership with horses. americans have lost their trust in almost all leaders - political, corporate, and education, even religious. women all too often look to the wrong kind of leaders to be their life partners. wrapping all your stories in that blanket would be number one bookstore purchase for me!

  8. Warm up pens... fun. (yup that's sarcasm)
    I just got back from our prov. finals (barrel racing). We had 2 arenas taken away this year so we were left with the actual stadium where we competed, the holding pen and one warm up pen. At the mandatory meeting before the event started it was said "Due to lack of space ONLY the horses warming up are allowed in the warm up pen. If you need to cool your horse or give it some exercise then walk it around the grounds. ONLY the 50 or so due up may be in the warm up pen"
    So what did I see while warming up? People in tanks and shorts riding bareback or walking horses.
    What did I do? I told them to get out. Politely, or at least I tried.
    I would ride over and say "I'm not trying to be out of line, BUT it was mentioned at the *mandatory meeting* that ONLY horses warming up use this arena"
    Most people went "oh sorry I didn't know" and left. (ummm, remember... mandatory meeting)
    What did I do if they didn't get out? I was an ignortant bitch. Lope hard fast circles just past them.
    They left. mwah hahahaha (or however the evil laugh is typed! lol)
    BTW at the mandatory meeting there was less than 100 people. Entries were much more than that.

  9. >>I felt like I had pulled a fast one on the Big K. He was big on confronting issues. I was big on surviving the damn show.<<

    I hope you know it makes everybody here feel SO much better to have a professional trainer admit to those feelings, too!

    But hey, you made yourself do it and that's what counts. That's kind of my whole point on the VLC say, OK, I'm scared and I'm still gonna do it. That's the only way you get over it or the horse gets over it.

    I think you should write a training book that is illustrated with your stories as real-life examples.

  10. My opinion, write about what you know. Horses. You have a way of telling stories that pull you into your thought. To read what you write it is like watching a movie in my mind. My favorite things you write are telling about something that has happened, the story about Jerry blocking the saddle pad, the BOB horse bucking and the *CRACK* of the correction.
    Sonita, Mort, you have such a descriptive way of telling about events.

    Pick a horse, tell the story, from the begining, you can take it toward training issues, or just as recreational reading.

    Thats my two cents worth. I love reading your stories.

  11. VLC Said: "I think you should write a training book that is illustrated with your stories as real-life examples."

    I agree with this. As a novice rider, I appreciate your vivid descriptions of safety and processes, your honesty when it comes to what you've seen elsewhere and the impact that it has on horses, the simplicity of your philosophy, and your unapologetic reasons for what you do and why you do it. Your "horse stories" sections are a wonderful way to underline the things you are teaching.

    I think you need to prepare some pieces for an agent. A sample of horse stories, a sample of training philosophy and methods, and a cover letter explaining what sort of project you have in mind (i.e. the one above) as well as a compelling reason that you're different from what's out there but similar enough for there to be a market (for example, your assertation that the new wave NH stuff is just old school, and your real views on simplicity and fairness/firmness for horses). The agent will help you craft a book that the market will like, and will help you get it sold to a publisher. If the market is simply for horse stories, then your agent may suggest just a book of short stories with a training moral at the end. Or perhaps the agent will suggest several different books. You certainly have it in you.

    I think this would be an amazing project, and I encourage you to pursue it.

  12. Hey, you instantly made me feel better about my run at the State fair where I had to break to 2 hands to keep Jas from running out of the arena, and I had a mini stroke or something and spun her 7 times in one direction and 3 times in the other.

    As per the book idea, I think it would be very cool to have a book by a female trainer for once. (to give some others hope, you see)

    I *personally* like the books that tell the stories of each horse... little mini stories like your posts about Sonita and others on here, rather than the ones that read like a "How-to" manual.
    You can tie training tips in without going all collge professor on people.

    There are many excellent suggestions on marketing/agents/publicity here... I say go for it!

  13. Mugwump:

    "Horse Stories"

    That is what it should be about! :) Just different stories about different horses. It is wonderful, it is like a trainer talking to you late in the afternon as it turns to evening. As his wife and kids come out to the veranda to join you and ask if you want a beer. And, you sit there and drink a beer with them, and he smokes a cigar. And, he talks and you listen.

    Man I miss old Walter. Keep it up Mugwump. Make a story that would burn bright in the hearts of all trainers dead and gone, a homage, focussed solely on the horses, because that is all that they ever focussed their own lives on.

  14. mugwump. i love your blog. thats all, i have more to say some other time, but i want you to know i check for updates way more often that necesary. it all just works togeather, the stories mixed up with the phiosophies. and it all is fun stuff to think about when i ride my (ahem, my DAUGHTER'S) pony.

  15. ever read the monty roberts book "the horses in my life" make a book like that. I know yours would be a billion times better than that book, and it was a good book.

    Write about everything from your first horse you ever rode, how you developed your training method and the horses you trained that taught you significant things.

    Any way I would buy your book any day. If you need illustrations or graphics I would be courteous enough to offer you my service (I do web design and a bit of horse graphics) Just ask, I am always here :3

  16. If your book were to be full of stories like this Sonita saga, I'd snap it up in a heartbeat, and I think there are a lot of people out there who would, too. As an aside: was Sonoita Blue on her papers? If so, my twerp 10 year old is a great-great-great-great-great-great-nephew or something...

    What is refreshing about your style is that you don't claim to know all the anwers to the life, universe and everything questions. But you have the instincts to do what the horse needs, rather than follow some written-in-stone horse trainer manifesto. And your writing is so descriptive it lets us relive the stories with you.

    Can I say again: I love the Sonita story. And the Mort story. And the big warmblood story...

    I have the luxury of being a horse dilletante - I own an elder statesman who will be with me until it's time to say goodbye, and a ten year old goofball with a kind heart and a prankster personality. They both have sufficient ground manners to keep people safe but occasionally I let small transgressions by - I can afford to, there's no time limit and it's not a matter of my livelihood.

    I truly respect what you do, and that you can do it well.

  17. Book - much like you're blog a true story about your life with horses and the training of them. A how it all began to where you are now sort of thing. You are such a great writer and that's what makes a great book! I know I would buy it - please GO FOR IT!

  18. I totally agree with VLC. A training book illustrated with your real life experience and examples. They way that you write is very comprehensible and your horse stories would just add to what you have to say training wise. I would totally buy it, both for the training AND the stories.

  19. I agree the training stories-training essays hybrid book would be excellent. If you want another suggestion to think about, a more Q & A type format. Not literally with a question and answer necessarily but short chapters with your thoughts on common or not-so-common issues. That was my first thought when you asked about the book idea. I like other peoples' answer better though.

  20. I like your stories of horses, too. There is a market for youth fiction, I have read about -- having an appeal to teens. I suggest a "coming of age" story about your teen years and how your horse helped you through that. There would be a lot of identification of teens who feel like they don't fit in, but find a way to cope other than drugs, etc.

  21. P.S. I love the Sonita warmup pen and show story. My boy went "nuts" on me the first (and only) time I brought him to the local show to run timed events. I haven't had the guts to take him back, but I know more shows will take the starch out of him. I hope!!

  22. I have never personally been involved in the horse world you described. Sure made me experience that world, and the event, as I read! Thanks for the view! Looking forward to more. Wow! Six hour wait? I was thinking you sure are a trooper because I'm afraid I would have said forget about it.

  23. Heh. My trainer used to do that to me sometimes. Not quite as badly, but still. "He won't settle down!" "Keep riding."

    I loved your other post on ground work, by the way -- you do such an excellent job of explaining each of your building-block steps and WHY the next one relates the previous one. Next time I'm working with a horse with less than perfect manners, I am going to use that process.

    If you were to write a book? An obvious choice would be a memoir, simply about your experiences riding and training horses. The other obvious choice, which I would enjoy just as much if not far more, would be a training book.

    You could focus on any number of things -- retraining spoiled horses, starting horses right, getting horses 'broke,' any infinite number of combinations. Your book would stand out simply for its down-to-earth, step by step nature. I often find it difficult to locate books that both explain the theory and reasons behind the training (very important to understand) AND clearly lay out each step.

    Your style of writing is very well suited to instruction; you're neither patronizing nor incomprehensible, you break things down effortlessly but retain their complexity and shades of grey, and your wit keeps it very interesting.

  24. lol Ive been in that situation many times. Do I keep going in the show ring, or do I deal with the 'boss' outside?

    The only time I ever got scared at a show (inside the pen was always better!) Was when my HUS horse almost fliped over on me. Came out ok and asked 'the boss' what was that?, what did I do?? And he was like are you ok? Then I knew that we did almost go over..... then I cried :P

    Do your trainers teach 'lessons' to the newbies? watched to WP trainers ride an amature into the rail the other day. Shes been cutting everone off for 4 shows now though. And its never her falt.

  25. I think a training book would be good, mixed in with stories. If you have ever read the kelly marks books, i would imagine a format a bit like that. I think the main reason people use the NH way is because there are so many books out there for NH training, and almost none for the older methods - it all seems to be a bit of a mystery to an outsider.

    your blog combines the perfect mixture of wit, helpful hints, stories and 'everyone has off days' attitude to make it an easy and fun read

    I guess i just want to say thanks, and keep blogging!!

  26. Thanks for the thoughts-I'm taking some notes, and have plenty to think about on my endless hours on the road....

  27. You really could set up your book much like your blog. You could have one book for each thread... Horses you've known, training philosophies etc.

    If you choose to self publish, you'll have to have a whole plan in place to promote and sell your books. I think you'd do okay to have a sell link on your blog, but that means people have to buy it with a credit card (something I'm trying to avoid...!) You'll also be wise to hire and editor to catch any little punctuation or spelling mistakes. We all make those mistakes, without noticing. Don't feel bad about it.

    Although self publishing means things go much quicker. The publishing world is s-l-o-w. I'm sure Laura could tell you, being a published author.

    If you decided to pitch it to an agent or publisher, there are lots of blogs you can investigate for info. (you can email me if you want to know where to look.)

    Storey Publishing does a lot of excellent non-fiction horse books. You should definitely check them out! I don't think you'd need to go through an agent to submit to them.

    In any case, I really think you should put a book together. I've been struggling to get my fiction published for a few years, so I know how much work it is, and how compelling and unique the writing must be. I think you've got something special here.

  28. A warm up pen that has more than about 4 barrel racers in it can be scary, too! Not only do you have the left, right circles going on, you have the gals doing rollbacks off the fence, furious long trotting with horse's noses to rider's knees, and of course, as with any bunch, the gate sour horse who doesn't want to do anything. Intimidation plays a factor here as well, not only in the warm up pen, but in the alley way itself. I can remember when I was a teenager not being able to get my horse anywhere near the alley/gate because of all the horses that were going nuts because they were in a 15 foot proximity of the alley/gate. LOL--good times!

  29. Write a book. and can let you self publish a book and sell it on Amazon. You should go for it.

  30. How about all of the above? Really Mugs, you don't have to stop at just one!

    Your blog is like a connect the dots puzzle for me. I sustained a pretty good head injury 13 years ago and there are some things that I just don't remember. (Technically speaking, the pathways didn't get rebuilt-yet). Your blog doesn't give me the headaches I get from other reading when I'm trying so hard to remember what I know I should know. You just make it so easy.

  31. I agree with orsunshine - I think all of the ideas presented are perfect for you, but I would also suggest not putting everything in one place. The scope might get crazy, and it could end up lacking focus. You could plan for more than one book.

    One of the cool things you do is weave this web of stories that relate to one another (more or less) but are also great on their own. I would love a series of short stories about each horse (mixed with fiction, or not, as you see fit). I would also love the training with real-life examples like VLC suggested.

    Honestly, you should just write about what comes naturally. You could just re-package the Sonita stories and I'd buy it!

  32. Howdy mugwump, I'm joining your fan club and want on the waiting list for your first book. Love your humor and your willingness to share your own moments of self-doubt. Also love that you make me laugh until I pee my pants. Well, maybe not the pee my pants part, but hey, I'm 55.

    My thoughts on a book - the man you mention as one of your foundation influences, Monte Foreman, would video sequences with horses and then analyze them to explain what was going on. I would love, and would learn from, vignettes about horses and owners that are then broken down into the basic learning blocks.

    I appreciate your focus on the training implications of the predator/prey relationship of human and horse. I appreciate your descriptions of how to utilize pressure and release - they have great clarity.

    Thanks for this blog!!!!


  33. Mugs- Wow. I love your stories.
    "If I tried to write a book, what should it be about? Let me know what you think..."

    It should be about what you write here. The heart and knowledge you have.