Friday, October 10, 2008

Me and the Big K

Even when we were at war, Sonita could still lay some track. Who looks the most pissed off, me or Sonita?

Me an the Big K

“Stay on her.”
“I have been on her all day. We've been around the track about 20 times. I walked through every barn on the place, we toured the grounds, I long trotted her for hours. This is not working.”
“Stay on her. I don’t want you to step off until you finish your last go.”
Broken Bow Nebraska is a beautiful place to be in the spring. Everything is lush and green, the air is crisp and clean. Unless of course it’s settled into the first monsoon of the year and you’re wrapped in humidity thick enough to choke on, wading through knee deep puddles and sliding through the Nebraska mud.
Sonita was soaked through. A steady trickle of yuk trickled down her flanks. She hated being wet. Hated stepping in water or mud. Sonita was pissed. She fully intended letting me know how she viewed the world by screwing me every step of the way through every reining class we were in, every day of the interminable NRCHA show.
The Big K was fed up with both of us. Sonita was working at home in a fairly steady and reliable manner. At shows she continued to be a tail- wringing, spit-slinging freakazoid during her reined (dry) work. I was nervous, whiny and sullen. His standard working theory was that both of us needed to be tired enough to quit caring. So if I wasn't riding another horse I was to be on Sonita. No eating, drinking or rest for either of us.
Pissy though I might have been, I still did what I was told. I was really ready to start placing. If that’s what it took, then that’s what I was going to do. I had been on Sonita just about every minute of every day for three days. I sat on her to coach my clients, I even had my daughter warm up my other rides so I could just dismount, show the other horse, come out and get back on the bitch.
I was tired. I had saddle sores. My feet hurt. I had been wet for 100 years. I really hated Sonita.
She was fresh as a daisy and just as crabby as I was.
There was never a horse that could drag a lead like Sonita. If she chose to change it was clean and correct. If she was busy looking around the arena at the judges, her buddies, the tarps or the sky, she would drag her lead.
A lead change needs to come from the hind legs to the front. A horse and rider will be hit a ½ point for being out of lead if they change late in the back legs. Then, for every quarter circle they travel without fixing that lead they’ll be hit another ½ point. If you make it back to the middle of your circle and the rat bastard horse still hasn't changed in the back you get a big fat zero.
If Sonita didn't change clean she would immediately lay on my leg, block me with her shoulder, and virtually insure that I wouldn't get her stinking hip pushed in until one stride before we zeroed.
Yes, I could have stopped her and started her again. Of course then we would earn a 2 point penalty for a break in gait. On a good day, Sonita could rack up 5 or 6 penalty points before we even got through our second lead change.
So far we had yet to have a clean lead change at this show. She had blown every pattern, every day. The Big K’s reaction was to sign us up for reining on the AQHA side, who was co-hosting the show. So we had managed to suck rocks for not just one organization, but two. Sonita was hotter and higher with every pattern. I guess in her own way, she was pretty reliable.
I had decided early on the last day that riding her to death was not the answer. There had to be some relief for both of us. I began riding her hard in the warm up pen for about 20 minutes before each scheduled break. When the arena was free for open riding I would take her in, have her stand in the middle and wait for her to relax. As soon as she dropped her head I would get down, loosen her cinch and take her for a short break in her stall. Then I would keep my eye peeled to make sure the Big K didn't catch me resting my horse and my tired achy butt. Sonita was walking to the center of the pen and standing quiet every time I rode her in by the end of the day. I upped the ante as the day wore on and would take her in and out of the arena at a walk several times, ending each session by standing in the middle, dismounting and loosening her cinch.
Our last class was going to be a late one. The show had started at 7 a.m. and it was now approaching midnight. We had 60 riders in the novice open ranch class. This was a wildly popular non-pointed class that offered cutting, reined work and a fence run for all horses, any age. It was chock full of ranchers and young trainers. Sonita and I had performed well in the cutting and fence work, but we still had the reined work to go. Shit.
We had a few bright spots. We had cleaned up in the cutting. She had a solid score on her fence work. So even though Sonita's dry work on previous days had driven me to contemplating shooting her right there in the arena, yanking my saddle and heading for home, I had managed to hold off.
The Big K was done with his show. He was wandering around, beer in hand, laid back and peaceful. He was beginning to think he was pretty damn funny.
“Looks like your going to be here until it’s time to load up in the morning,” he said.
“I’m not in the mood, K.” I replied.
“You don’t get to have a mood around me. What’s your draw?”
“43rd,” I tried not to snarl.
“You’ll be done around 2:30 or 3:00 a.m. That’s not too bad. Want a beer?”
“I’ll take that bottle when you’re done with it.”
“What do you need my beer bottle for?” The Big K looked a little glassy eyed and confused.
“I've had to go for about 3 hours. If I have to sit here until I show I’m going to need that bottle to pee in,” I said.
The Big K is an extremely modest man. My only weapon was often the fact that I could freak him out. Red faced he held Sonita while I hobbled off to the can. Then he took off to bed, too tired after his own show to stay with me. I snuck back to my stall and gave Sonita a drink.
I sat on her in an exhausted daze watching one reining pattern after another go by. She stood with her head down dozing. I was too tired to work her. Finally they called draw 35. I rode into the warm up pen and we jogged around to wake up. By the time they called us into the arena we were as ready to go as I could manage.
I walked into the arena. Sonita stayed steady and quiet under my hand. She walked to the center and stood solid and alert, but calm. When we loped off I knew we were golden. Sonita stayed with me through the entire pattern. She moved through her changes with hardly a ripple. She stopped solid, spun like a dream and never looked out of our circle, not even once. Half way through the pattern my beautiful silver path opened in front of us and we followed it to the end.
I dismounted at the end, loosened her cinch and headed back to her stall.
The Big K was standing by the gate, bleary eyed and smiling. I barely registered that he had gotten up to watch my go.
“How about that?” He said.
“How bout that,” I answered.
I tried to stay awake long enough to hear the results. I dozed off in a corner of Sonita’s stall.
“Hey, there’s stalls to get done.” The Big K’s voice cut through my dead sleep. I woke up with Sonita’s head in my lap.
I rubbed my eyes and crawled into the gray dawn covered in shavings. He handed me a cup of coffee and my check for fourth place.
“How bout that.” I wondered as I sipped the bitter coffee.
“I guess we could get breakfast to celebrate.” The Big K said.
I fed and watered my money earning mare and we headed toward the concession stand. I was still swiping away at the shavings clinging to my jeans.
“You know you’re buying,” he added.
“I figured.”


  1. Oh mugwump, that was wonderful. I, too have showed at 2:30 in the morning, actually once at 4:30, and drove home to the dawn. There is no way to say how delightful Sonita and your story has been for us readers.

  2. is it your stories so often induce this strange watering coming from my eyes? That must have been a great moment!

  3. damsel178-to be honest I was numb. We ate, loaded the horses and drove the eight hours home. The next day we were riding hard to make up for being out of town. I didn't even remember to cash my check for two weeks.
    Now it's a pretty good moment.

  4. Great story.

    I learned that lesson too. Staying on my mare all day didn't tire her out, it pissed her off. She wouldn't pee with me on her back, so if I stayed on her, she'd hold it all damn day. Wonder why she was pissy lol. At some point, I stopped listening to that trainer - at least about that particular subject. I'd work her on the lunge as soon as we arrived, till she started to sweat, then hop on her in warm up until she would settle and come back to me with minimal fighting. Then I'd loosen her girth (ah, hunter here :)), replace her bridle with her halter and put her back in the trailer or stall so she could munch some hay. Hop back on her 20 to 30 minutes from my class starting and get a trillion times better performance out of her.

    I also discovered that along the lines of a stud having a special bridle for breeding, if I changed her bit from our normal schooling to something a little different for showing, she knew it was time to focus. Strangely enough, I can only get lead changes out of her in that bit, at a show. She won't do 'em at home. ]Ah well.

    Keep the Sonita stories coming, you're reminding me of all the things I want to share on my own blog.

  5. I like hearing about the big K. He sounds like basically the opposite of the big R. Big R is very gracious and helpful, but he likes to call his chaps "honeymoon pajamas." Sorry for the mental image but its the best example of the kind of old-farmer-wit I'm subjected to most of the time.

  6. I can't see Sonita's ears at all in that picture, so I would venture to say that you might have been more pissed off than her. I could be wrong. Nice breaks on that girl!

    Awesome story as usual. I love these Sonita stories. I really admire the way you worked so hard to understand her and train her. It's amazing and humbling for me. Big k sounds a lot like a trainer I've met. Interesting people those guys.

    Loved this chapter. Each is better than the one before. Thank you again for sharing yours and her story.

  7. The light bulb moment---or night, lol. That's what I had last week with my barrel horse-aint it grand?!? LOL I have to say, I wait with baited breath to read your stories about Sonita! Knowing the potential that a horse has, and just not quite knowing how to get it out of them is SO frusterating-I love hearing the stories from the folks who have been there, done that and got the t-shirt.
    Way to hang in there @ that marathon show-I hate things like that.

  8. Nothing to say but that I love your blog and the Sonita stories! (both separately and together XD)

  9. The thing I love the most about these stories is that 99% of the people in the world would have shipped that mare to an auction at least six chapters ago and not cared where she went from there.

    Now I'm going to throw an interesting question at you. You might not answer it until a later chapter; that's okay. You have this hugely talented horse. It sounds like you got her unbroke, am I following that right? So her issues came from within and not being screwed up/abused. Do you/did you breed that mare, knowing that 99% of the people in the world couldn't have ridden her? And if so, did that squirrely disposition pass on or did you find that magic combination where you kept the talent and lost the difficult nature?

    I'm always interested in this stuff. Mostly I've found that difficult mares produce difficult foals, but I've also seen certain stallions stamp such a solid disposition on the foals that they seem to be able to overcome anything in the mare.

    I bred my own squirrely high-performer mare many years ago with the intention to keep the baby, but I deliberately bred her (Thoroughbred) to a QH stallion known for being hot but still sensible. His get liked to go but they still had the no-spook, no-rear AQHA mind, unlike her. She didn't take though. I guess the universe decided one of her was enough!

  10. Fugs - I was told once that the reason foals inherit so much disposition from the dam is because a lot of it is learned behaviour.
    (and they're not hanging out with their daddies! lol)

  11. Mugs - I love these lines:
    "The Big K is an extremely modest man. My only weapon was often the fact that I could freak him out."

    Ah, a power unique to women over (most) men!!
    *evil chuckle*

  12. I like the fact that I can almost feel your mixture of love and frustration leaping off the page.

  13. Hey Mugs, looks like you got a sweet-ass ride in that picture!

    Just tryin' to keep the damn thing on the!

    Love your blog and your stories. I wish you could go full-time for US and write at least one a day...!

  14. I remember the first time I won money at a horse show. It was the first big driving show I had ever been to. I didn't think I was going to win anything against all these big wigs but when I was handed the cheque with my name on it I never thought I was going to stop smiling. First thing I went out and bought was a whole bag of horse treats for my mare.

    "honeymoon pajamas" LMFAO ROFL!!!

    "I was told once that the reason foals inherit so much disposition from the dam is because a lot of it is learned behaviour.
    (and they're not hanging out with their daddies! lol)"
    I got a young mare and I leased her half sister. Don't tell me they don't inherit their fathers habits! Neither of them have seen daddy and they both gnaw on wood like f-ing beavers, just like the stud (they are outside 24/7) None of my other horses, related or not chew wood, ever.

  15. fabulous entry as usual!

    i usually have to read your horse tales chapters at least twice, because i'm skimming so darn fast to take it all in at

    tell me something though, did you ever share your differing methods with the big K, or was he that stubborn/arrogant that his was the only way, and damn anything different?

  16. promise-keep in mind, I added to what the Big K had me do, I didn't discard it.
    fugs-lord no we never bred her! She's a wack job...
    waitintorein-I never tell my stories early....
    latigo liz-how bout that?

  17. haha, i thought so! just hoped ;)

    can't wait for the next chapter, and am looking forward to hearing more about Mort, too!

  18. Fantastic blog! Thanks so much for taking the time. I find myself thinking again instead of reacting.

  19. I've never posted before, but you are my favorite blogger. Everyday I check to see if I'll laugh or cry or both. I train only my horse, and I always learn something when I read your blog.

    This is a long post, so I apologize in advance. I have a problem I hope you can help me solve or cope with. My warmblood/tb cross is 6 and I've ridden him for 2 years. Light, responsive to my aids, quick, smart and clever, curious, lazy and a true joy to ride and train. I foxhunt so his primary job will be a foxhunter. We hunted yesterday for the first time with mixed results. Small turnout, only walked and trotted. He was fine with hounds, horn, radio, ditches, water, mud, whatever. Always watching but not scared of the hounds and cattle and would like to go herd the cattle. He always does his best to do what I ask. He's anxious and nervous which is not surprising since it is his first time. When trotting, we did more of a collected trot, but he stayed light and responsive with no pulling, just excited. When crossing ditches, he paid attention and crossed calmly. When we stopped, which yesterday was a lot, he couldn't stand still. Again, not unusual for a beginning foxhunter. So we just keep moving and moving doing figure 8's, circles, sideways, and more. Even though he was anxious, he moved his feet any way I wanted w/o complaint. He eventualy was able to stand for 30 seconds several times w/o moving. The problem? When he gets anxious and wants to move his feet, his front feet want to leave the ground, not wild rearing, just popping up and down. Not even high enough to scare me, but they are off the ground. I tried to get better at anticipating his upward movement. The behavior did decrease as I got better at moving the feet as soon as I felt him thinking about it. However, I would like very much to stop the front feet from leaving the ground at all. Or when they do leave the ground, what should I do? He's not bolting or bucking or anything else, just anxious.

    Any other time, he prefers NOT to move his feet. He's usually very laid back and his favorite gait is standing. In an arena he's calm regardless of what other horses are doing. He's calm on trails and will go anywhere. I'm not worried about the "can't keep the feet still" but what he does when he can't. This may sound silly, but it almost feels like he doesn't really want to pop up, he just figure out what to do instead.

    I patiently await your comments. If you need any more information or anything, please let me know.



  20. "I was told once that the reason foals inherit so much disposition from the dam is because a lot of it is learned behaviour."

    Try working with embro colts/fillys... you never know if its the genitics or the parenting that messed up there head!

    Great story Mugs. I just won my first pay cheque with a clients horse 2 months ago... still riding the high, glad to hear it never goes away!

  21. Hey Mugs, I hope this won't get lost in the comments but I'll give it a whirl anyway...

    I have a question that I'd like to ask.


    My mom's mare is in her mid 20's. She was a neglect case and we are only interested in getting her to be a reliable trail mount for Mom.

    She is great about not spooking and such, she turns, stops and moves out on command. She is ridden in a side-pull bridle. She will go in a bit, but is much more relaxed and happy in the side-pull, and since she tends to be the sensitive type, really minds it well.

    She has recently stared shaking her head violently and trying to spin out from under Mom if she's held back on the trail. I've checked her out for pain and saddle fit issues, and there don't seem to be any. She goes along fine until she decides that she would like to trot or canter/gallop. Mom is not "ok" with going this fast and I don't blame her, as this mare has the most up and down lope that I've ever had the mis-fortune to try and sit.

    She wants to go fast, Mom takes up the slack in the reins to slow her down, she shakes her head like a dog with a toy. To me, she just looks pissed, and throwing a temper-tantrum. Needless to say, Mom's rides are getting less and less fun when she has to deal with her mare being a royal bitch when she doesn't get her way.


    How would you go about stopping this head shaking and general bitchy attitude? I really think from watching these exchanges that it's a respect issue and she needs a little knocked into her, so to speak. I've thought about getting on her with a small jumping bat and whacking her in the shoulder or neck when she starts her bitch-fest to let her know it's NOT ok to act that way, but I'm looking for any and all advise as exactly how to go about getting her to stop this, and then teaching Mom the same.

    Any advise would be appreciated, if you have the time.

  22. Mugs,
    Don't get me wrong, I didn't totally discard what she taught me. That would have been nearly impossible to do.

    In that particular case though, I learned that listening to my horse would make my horse happy...listening to the trainer, on the other hand, would create problems, and a dangerous situation for me - and my horse.

    I learned a lot of great things from that trainer -- most of which I will never forget, even if I don't consciously recall it.

  23. Thanks for all these inspiring stories about Sonita. I haven't forgotten the thought that the Big K told you- "Do you want to win, or do you want to learn how to be a trainer?" I have a crazy gelding who I've considered giving up multiple times, but he's teaching me how to be a trainer.