Saturday, September 13, 2008

Sonita/Chapter 10

This is Sonita and me, finally getting competitive enough to be photo worthy. As you can see, I still had a death grip on my reins. I think by looking at her expression you can get an idea why I had trouble letting go.
Sonita/Chapter 9
We were on our way. Sonita and I had negotiated a usable partnership. She spent roughly seventy percent of her time making life hell for everyone around her and the rest, well the rest was brilliant.

She finally understood what we had been alligator wrestling over. It was all about the cows. Sonita lived for the chance to work a cow. She wanted to follow them, sort them, herd 'em up and move 'em out. She wanted to eat them, the little Doberman.

She had begun to place at our shows. Erratically, and only when all the moons were aligned just so, but sometimes, we were in the money. I liked it.

Unfortunately, that was only half of what I needed from my redheaded step-child. She hated the dry work portion (reining pattern) of reined cowhorse competition. She saw no purpose, and felt no obligation just because I said so.

Our training became broken up into two parts. The first, was the cow work, which was blazing along like a house on fire.The second , constant drilling on her dry work. Sonita took an enormous amount of warm up to even get her thinking. I started each day with 100 to 150 foot circles, twenty on the right lead and twenty on the left. The first 10 would be on a loose rein, and then I'd begin the battle of collection.

She was naturally collected, and cat-like in her responses, any attempt on my part to take charge of her way of going disintegrated into an immediate duel. A duel to the death if she had her way. My legs sent her blasting forward, my hand caused her to gape and shake her head. She would be so angry, I couldn't begin to get through to her.

"What do I do with her?" I asked the big K.

"You have to get off her face, she'll never gather up until you two quit fighting over who gets her head." He said for the umpteenth time.

"I get that, but how? She'll run until she dies."

"No she won't."

"Yes she will."

"Go set up for rundowns, and STAY OFF HER FACE! I want you to do at least 20 stops each way. She'll get tired soon enough. When she wants to slow down bring her down to a walk, and we'll go from there."

His face was set and angry. My mare was foaming and chomping at her bit. I felt totally useless. I was incapable of doing this right. The Big K, never a fountain of information, was at a loss. I could see the disappointment in his face.

I set up for my rundowns. The Big K's outdoor arena is well over 100 yards long. I sat one end , with Sonita shifting uneasily under my hand and squinted at the teeny tiny Big K waiting for me, so incredibly far away. I forced myself to feed out more rein, took a deep breath, sat back and headed for the center post on the opposite side of the arena.
Sonita jumped forward in her usual shot-out-of-a-cannon style and leveled out when she realized I wasn't going to pull her in. She gained speed with every stride and by mid arena we were going faster than any horse I'd ever had the pleasure of being freaked out on.
"Park her ass into the dirt!" The Big K yelled as we roared by.
I lifted my hand, and then pulled her down. The stop wasn't pretty, but before I had time to do anything about it he yelled again.
"Just turn and go, this isn't about stopping. Just Go!"
So we went. Sonita powered into a flat-out run within two or three strides, she was so strong and out of control I was terrified. But the disappointment that had darkened the Big K's eyes out-weighed everything. I gritted my teeth, sunk farther down into my seat, and got ready for the next bone jarring stop.
It was endless. Sonita would not slow down. The only concession she eventually gave was a solid, deep stop at the end of each run. She knew I would release her through the turn, so she began to really bury her stops. Somewhere, through my mind numbing fear, I filed that away.
"We're almost to twenty!" I shouted.
"Keep her going until she slows down!"
I lost count somewhere around thirty runs. Remember, that's each way. Sonita was tiring. We were going slower, but each time we came out of our roll back she would take off with everything she had.
I felt her begin to stagger, and pulled her down mid-run. Sonita stood, head down, legs spraddled, her entire body shaking with each whistling breath.
"Why'd you quit?" The Big K yelled.
"I'm not going to kill her. She's going to run all out until she dies." I yelled back.
I sat my horse, anger slowly bubbling up inside me. Anger at myself, my trainer, my horse.
"Well, I guess that's not going to work." The Big K added.

I stepped off, and loosened Sonita's cinch. She almost fell over when I tugged at the girth.
I went to her head and lifted her forelock. She stood quiet and let me rub her ears. Foam dripped from her sides, rivulets of sweat streamed over my fingers as I stroked her face. The hollows over her eyes pulsed under my hand, beating in rhythm with her ragged breathing.

My anger faded as I rubbed my wild, willing and courageous mare. I realized she was doing what she thought I wanted. It hit me with such force I leaned against her and dropped my forehead to her withers.

I turned my back to the Big K and began to lead her around the arena. It was going to take hours to cool her down.


manymisadventures said...

I am very familiar with those moments when you're trying and trying, and it just. isn't. working.

Sometimes it's hard to come up with a new way to attack the problem.

Love hearing about Sonita's story with you, can't wait to hear more.

Little Bird Lucy said...

Mugwump, I love your stories! More! More! I look forward to each new chapter in the Sonita and The Big K sagas. I am an English rider and your blog has lit the fire in me to give Western riding a try. I've even convinced my English riding buddy to go to Western horse camp with me this upcoming summer!Thanks again for the blog on dealing with a pluggy horse. "Pluggy Tucker", however, does not send his regards. Hah!

mugwump said...

Gotuckergo! Make sure you let me know if it's working on Tucker. Tell Tucker I say "Good Boy!" no matter what he thinks.

Laura Crum said...

mugwump, I'm glad you stopped when you did. I actually saw someone ride a three-year-old mare to death in just that way, with the trainer yelling at them to keep going. I said I thought she'd had enough--they ignored me. I couldn't keep watching and left. When I got back to the arena an hour later the mare was dead. Just keeled over at the end of a rundown. I never forgot it. The owner was distraught. But he hadn't known enough to call a halt to it. You were smart. Great story.

LA Nickers said...

Super photo! YOu guys look great together.


PS: Got a first-ride story to share - with a young horse? Stop on by!


Char said...

Ahh, those wonderfull "epiphany moments" when you realize that your horse is worth it's weight in gold and you are an incredible jack-a$$.

I love those. My horse gives them to me on a regular basis.

*sigh* I'm glad I'm not the only one.

Heidi the Hick said...


She was incredible.

It's so hard to figure out sometimes what the heck we're supposed to do with all that horse...

Unknown said...

I think I am stuck momentarily at one of those moments with my mare.

Awesome. Another Sonita story, another!

verylargecolt said...

I think letting go of the face is the hardest thing to do on a hot horse, but if you don't, you create all of those unintended consequences and problems you have to fix later...and the older you get, the scarier it is to let go.

Hell, at first the VLC scared me because his head was always down by his knees. I had to keep remembering, it's how he has been carefully and selectively bred to travel, he's NOT going to buck, pitch away and stop worrying!

Redsmom said...

Great story! Please continue!! How did you communicate to her to slow down?

mugwump said...

manymiss-sometimes it's just luck that helps you figure it out
lauracrum-I've seen them die too...part of why I retired.
vlc-once I finally got it through my head that holding their face only makes everything worse it became instinctive to let them go....not that I don't still get clutchy on occasion

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