Friday, April 17, 2009

Sonita, (whew!)

"Crystal, I need some help," I asked.

"What's up?," my friend asked.

"I need somebody to ride Sonita for me."

Crystal looked puzzled. The World Show was looming. I was working Sonita daily, a solid, tough work-out designed to hone her skills. I was sharpening her responses as best I could, getting her to move lightening quick off a shift in my seat or a lift of my hand. I wasn't letting anybody else handle her at all, much less throw a leg over her.

"You know how Sonita is. It occurred to me somebody might want to try her out in Stephenville. I don't want her to take somebody's leg off."

"Well, what do you want me to do?" Crystal asked.

"Just ride her. Get on, cruise around and have a good time. Sonita could use the break and I want her to be friendly in case somebody wants to take her for a spin," I still couldn't believe I was saying it. I heard myself casually discussing selling my horse as if she was a car. My voice sounded hollow and false. I felt a little sick.

Sonita felt my unease and pinned her ears. She turned out of her stall and went to the back of her run. She squealed and struck at my other young mare, Loki.

Loki had spent the last few years stalled next to Sonita. She was used to her nonsense. Loki yawned and stared back at her with a mildly insolent look in her eyes.

"I'd love to ride her, are you sure? I can take her out?"

Crystal took Sonita's halter off the hook and began to slide open the stall door. She looked excited and scared. Two emotions that suited a first ride on my psycho show horse.

"Yeah, go ahead, I have plenty to do," I answered.

I caught up my line-up and led them to the rail. I kept a half an eye on Sonita as Crystal groomed her and hauled out her saddle. Crystal kept up a steady line of excited and nervous chatter. I only heard half of what she said.

Sonita stared after me with her head flung high. She pawed the ground and grimaced as Crystal tightened the cinch.

"What do you want me to ride her with?" Crystal asked.

"Just use a ring snaffle, I won't make you deal with Sonita and a full bridle all at once," I answered.

"Go where you want, do whatever feels safe," I told Crystal as she threw her leg over.

I stood and watched as Crystal trotted my horse across the fields and headed out to the trails. Sonita moved out sure and strong, her roan speckled flanks already flecked with nervous sweat. She was too well behaved to do anything but head out the way she was pointed, but I saw her ears rapid-fire back towards me and the white of her rolling eyes as she watched me as long as she could. Crystal sat high and tight in the saddle, her nervous tension showed in her back and the fists clenched on too tight reins.

It was hard not to admire Sonita's strong, muscled lines. She had grown up into such a fine horse. I was proud of my pretty red mare, she held a straight line and disappeared out of my sight without a single wring of her tail.

They were gone all afternoon. I worked through my rides one by one. As I left the arena with each set of horses I would stop and stare at the last place I had seen my mare. I would stand and watch again as I headed back to the arena.

What if Sonita hurt her? Where the hell were they? I had no idea how I would explain this to Crystal's husband if they didn't come back. I was sure wishing I had given them a few more parameters than I had. Crystal was a trail riding fool, I had no idea where they could be.

It was dusk and I had dropped all pretense of feeling all right about what I had done. I was letting my imagination run wild. I saw visions of my horse mangled and dead alongside a busy road, Crystal blood-stained and broken, sitting next to her corpse, too stunned to move. I saw Crystal, dragging on the ground behind my crazy girl, her foot caught in the stirrup. I saw Sonita gleefully stomping what was left of my friend into the ground.Why had I ever thought it was a good idea to send my dear, sweet, wonderful friend out alone on my little spawn of Satan?

I saw Sonita's white blaze in the gloom of the evening first.. They headed in at the same steady trot they had left at.

I swore off ever watching CSI again and let rage flood over my relief. They were fine, how dare they be fine? My angry words were cut off when I saw the huge smile on Crystal's face. She sat deep in the saddle, her legs relaxed and the reins hanging loose. Sonita's tail swung side to side in a happy rhythm and her eyes shone calm and content.

"Oh man! What a horse!" Crystal almost shouted her excitement, "She is so much fun!"

"I was getting worried, " I said, "did everything go alright?"

"I let her run, I guess we went further than I thought."

"You ran her?" I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I never opened her up anywhere but down the fence at a show.

"She can really fly! I've never gone that fast.I almost had a stroke,I swear."

"Did she stop for you?" I asked.

"As soon as I said Whoa, she is so good!"

Crystal kept up her rapid fire commentary as she hauled hay down the aisle. I looked over my show horse. My world qualifier. My nut job. She whiffled at my fingers and gently brushed her nose against my shirt. Her muscles were relaxed. I ran my hand down her legs. No heat. No swelling.

"I'll ride her again if you want!" Crystal's voice was muffled as she called from the hay room.
Sonita's eyes were bright. She stood quiet, waiting patiently for her dinner. She was tired from the ride and happy. I ran my hand down her neck and threw the cooler over her back.

"That'll be fine Crystal, anytime you want."


HorsesAndTurbos said...


You all have probably seen this before...but it's too funny, just in case!

gtyyup said...

Glad you found it!!

What an interesting outcome...two tense beings leave the barn...two relaxed happy beings come back to the barn hours's magic I tell you!

Really it's just what the doctor ordered...

FD said...

Oh wow, talk about a gut punch moment.

Anonymous said...

I love the way you absolutely trust Sonita with your life... but fully expect her to stomp you into the dirt whenever she feels like it, too! What a fascinating paradox that horse must have been.

HorsesAndTurbos - I hadn't seen that before! Oh my gosh! I knew something was up, but I wasn't expecting THAT! My husband now officially thinks I'm insane, I was laughing so loud.

gillian said...

That is my dream for my little arab. To be able to have someone else be able to get on and have fun.

manymisadventures said...

What a good story.

It's not quite the same, but one of my greatest joys of owning horses is the ability to let someone else ride. It's just friends or family -- they just walk, and their steering isn't the best, but my girls are so patient with them. They walk slowly and carefully and try to avoid running into walls.

My favorite part is watching the huge grin and confidence grow on people's faces. I love being able to give that joy to them.

Esquared said...

I'd love to be able to do that someday. I'm getting really close, but since I'm the only one whose ever ridden the horses I train it's really tough for me to do that simply because I don't know how they'll act with others. But recently I put my brother, who on a scale of one to 10 with 1 being beginner is about a -5, on my 3 year old and he survived. I also put a friend on my 4 year old and let them do whatever the felt like and they survived to. I can't help worring about being sued or having someone get hurt, but I'm getting way better about it. Sonita sounds amazing to ride!

Jocelyn said...

what a great story!

I agree with gttyup ! loved it!

Joy said...


Tammy said...

"little spawn of Satin". Laughing....

Are there any pictures of Sonita? When I found your blog last year, I went back & read from the beginning, but can't recall now if there are pics or not...

stillearning said...

Ok, so I was POSITIVE that you still owned Sonita, but now I'm wondering if Crystal has her???

Way to stretch a story out, mugs :)

mugwump said...

HorsesandTurbos- I have to look at the video at work on Mon. My computer is too slow....

gtyyup - It went a long way to getting me over thinking I was the only one who should ride my horses. It was the beginning of me truly understanding that if I'm a good trainer than my horses should be trained for others to ride. Plus, it's pure ego to think I'm the only one who can make my horses happy, not reality.That was a bit of a jolt, believe me.

anon - I never worried about Sonita hurting me. I did worry about other people and horses at first. She has never bit(or even nipped), struck or kicked anyone. I worried about coming off her, but that only happened a couple of times. Sonita was kind of like a tornado on a leash. But she didn't really have any meaness in her.

esquared - keep in mind, Crystal could ride the hair off about anything. So could my daughter. I didn't and still don't put greenies or fools on any of my show horses, especially Sonita.

mugwump said...

stillearning - I'm just telling the story as it comes. I'm not stretching anything out on purpose. I don't know if you guys have noticed, but I'm pretty ADD. I write where my mind goes, there's no big plot or plan.

onetoomany said...

Darn it, I had a nice post typed up and blogger just killed it! Pretty much I was saying that I know all to well the feeling that I am the only one who can ride my mare. Lately I've been getting other people on her and have been surprised everytime she behaves herself.

Laura Crum said...

I loved the story. That photo of Sonita really shows what a strong looking mare she is. Funny thing, my son's horse, Henry, is the exact same color, and is a really similar looking horse. He's got the dark copper red with white roaning thing, and the white socks and blaze. He's a stout QH, but of mostly racing lines. Gentle as the day is long, though. Sonita looks like she could be his sister--though obviously, they're pretty different under the skin.

SOSHorses said...

Squeeee!!! That was fantastic, but I can totally understand your nervousness. I would have been scared out of my mind.

I have let someone ride off my my girl one time and one time only. I spent the day sick to my stomach and strung tight like a banjo string.

The difference I guess is I was not then and not now considering selling Bonnie, but I surly can understand how you must have felt. I know I was never so relieved to see her face that afternoon.

Vaquerogirl said...

Ha! Great story. I sure do know that feeling, of anticipation and fear and then relief! Whew! I can't remember which trainer it is, but one of the California Cowhorse trainers- he rides his horses 'sloppy' so that his amateurs can handle them. He doesn't want the horses to learn 'perfect' because he wants his horses to think for the riders sometimes. I guess it works for him.. I sure wish I could remember who it was!
Anyway- Kudos to you for making two souls happy!

Tammy said...

Thanks for posting the picture.

mugwump said...

Tammy - Now that I have posted the "labels" section, all you have to do is hit the words Sonita and Big K and all the posts about her will come up. There are several pictures of her....

mugwump said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Justaplainsam said...

ahh I hope Crystal buys her....

I think training the horse so that other people can get on them, and show them to there best advantage is one of the hardests parts of training. And letting go of the horse either to its owner, or having it leave your barn is the hardest.

HorsesAndTurbos said...


So true. While I am not a trainer, my boarder is leaving...the owner's son missed him too much, and so she found a place closer for him. I could have been given him, but after lots of thinking, decided to let him move on...he's simply too untrustworthy around non-horseii people. And he's not what I would pick for a second horse. But I will miss him and worry about him.

I did decide to adopt my foster mini...he's too hard to place, has been with me for a year, and anyone can handle him. I am worried my mare will be too lonely, and she loves my mini, so I made the decision to keep Cooper.

I don't think I'll board again at this time. I've learned a lot about old horses, and want to board the old ones in the future, but for right now this moment I'll just keep my mare and my mini.


Heidi the Hick said...

I have such a weakness for red horses...

Helen said...

Oh wow, talk about a gut punch moment.Funny isn't it. I find myself choking up a bit at the happy tail-swishing moment. Was that the bit you meant?

Brenda said...

I love the labels! Great idea! I think for anyone wanting to know about your training areas, it is a wonderful way to find specific topics! How did you ever come up with the idea? great insight! I think when I get posting more, I would like to do that too!

mommyrides said...

In response to "justaplainsam" "and letting go of the horse". My clan and I are moving from AZ to our homeland of Ontario Canada and I decided to sell my QH gelding instead of take him on that long and lonely trip to who knows where. I don't even know yet we have no place to put roots. I never imagined just how hard it would be to say good bye to my Romeo. He was just the sweetest, loving, personality filled boy I've ever owned. Sigh. I don't know about the rest of your followers, or even yourself Mugs, but how does one get over that? His pictures still make me cry and that was 4 months ago!! Silly horses, they really do get under your skin, now don't they?

mommyrides said...

In response to "justaplainsam" "and letting go of the horse". My clan and I are moving from AZ to our homeland of Ontario Canada and I decided to sell my QH gelding instead of take him on that long and lonely trip to who knows where. I don't even know yet we have no place to put roots. I never imagined just how hard it would be to say good bye to my Romeo. He was just the sweetest, loving, personality filled boy I've ever owned. Sigh. I don't know about the rest of your followers, or even yourself Mugs, but how does one get over that? His pictures still make me cry and that was 4 months ago!! Silly horses, they really do get under your skin, now don't they?

autumnblaze said...

:) That's all. Just :).

Redsmom said...

I love Sonita stories. I could picture Crystal's delight in letting Sonita run full out and discoverng all her "gears." Like Laura, I have a Sorrel whom your stories of Sonita bring to mind. What was her breeding? have you ever said? Mine's a Sonny Dee Bar, stocky fellow ; one of those too smart horses.

FD said...

Helen, yup that's the moment I meant. It resonated on a couple of levels. One; I sometimes think we need our horses rather more than they need us, and two; some years ago now, I was pushing a very sharp, cranky and unforgiving WB colt up through the grades so he could be sold. At one point I was nicely concussed, (not his fault) and the only person available to ride him for two weeks was only willing to hack, not school (and giving him the time off, ha ha, not happening). Towards the end of the two weeks, I came onto the yard as they came back from their ride and he was relaxed on a loose rein, ears pricked and a totally different horse. It shamed me rather.

I couldn't see the picture before - even standing still, Sonita looks like a horse with a helluva engine.

mugwump said...

Laura Crum - I'm glad you could appreciate how strong looking she was in that photo. She was haired up and sweaty too. That was about 90 days before the NRCHA Worlds.
She was a her "beastiest".
Vaquerogirl - The Big K used to have me bang around and hang on them, stuff like that. He always maintained a pro couldn't ride like a non-rider, no matter how they tried, so we had to work on increasing their tolerance.Of course it's an intersting fact, he rode Sonita once, and never got on her again....
justaplainsam - Part of why I had to throw in the towel as a trainer was I couldn't control my personal investment in every single horse I rode. It tore me up.
Heidi the Hick - me too.
Redsmom - Crystal never did take Sonita through all her gears. She could never quite make herself commit to that last gear.

mugwump said...

Brenda - I got the idea from Yum BTW.

Shadow Rider said...

What an excellent outcome! I bet next time someone else rides Sonita, she won't even stress now.
I have run into that time and time again with letting other people ride my horses. One I just couldn't, she wasn't safe for any but the most expert rider, and even a friend who I knew could handle her only rode her once. (she was like riding a powder keg)
Shadow, my 23 yr old standby I have loaned out occasionally, and she is generally excellent for other riders as long as they are experienced, and it's on the trails. She slows down, relaxes, gets lazy. She knows they aren't going to expect much out of her, so it's a holiday. When I ride, she knows she will have to work, and she makes me work too.

I have learned to back off on my training, and teach less. Horses like Shadow, who are highly schooled and I have ridden for many years, get so sensitive, the average rider can't ride them. The horses I know I am going to sell I train to the level of an advanced beginner, and stop.

slippin said...

The first time that someone rode my horse was on my birthday(I am a twin, so actually it was BOTH of our birthdays.)My sister kept complaining to me that she wanted to try riding cutting, so for her birthday, I paid for her to get a cutting lesson on my mare. She had fun, but I didn't! It was very nervwracking for me because I kept wanting to yell out and say, "No...don't do it that way! Kick her when they say kick!" But I sat on the fence wringing my hands and kept a forced smile on me the whole time!
My sister was the athlete and I was the horse crazy one. I was(still am)the tiny one that wasn't allowed to run track, play basketball, run cross country, or do anything because I was too small. In high school I wieghed all of 70lbs soaking wet and people were amazed that I could stay on a horse that moved so quickly..and I cleaned stalls when I was a sophmore. When I first started showing cutting, I had people look at me like, "Oh, yeah, like you are really going to stay on" and I would get snickered at...but when I went to rancho Merietta to the PCCHA show drew up dead last in the 2,000 limit class out of 50 horses and ended up winning the whole thing, people were in tears all around me. There were so many people that just about had their jaws on the ground, but everyone feared me after that! ONce they saw me unload my mare, they were like, "OH NO...Not her!" LOL

Hey Mugs,
Did you hear about the Super Stakes in Fort Worth? The guy that won the open cutting marked a 230!!!! Thats pretty dang amazing!!! thats two 77s and one 76! I have marked a 76 before, but I am sure that it was NOTHING like what that one was!!!

Brenda said...

Shadow Rider, that is exactly right! Not everyone can ride a well trained horse. I understand about backing off training and lessons. I know I have. I'm beginning to wonder, and you and mugwump are saying the same thing, if we all get a little burned out? I know a lot of people who love giving lessons, and still are, even after 30 years, but as I think about it, I don't think they train. Do we put so much of our ourselves into our training, then just become disheartened, because people can't ride their own horse? I'm not talking about someone who rides alot and sends their horse for a tune up. I'm talking about the occassionally rider, then they don't know how to ride because they don't ride enough. I have had show kids too, and I don't think I'll go back there. I love tuning on a good horse though!!! What do you think about all of this, mugwump? Will you train again, or occassionally?

oh, and I glanced at the crockpot site!!! I will love it, as most of my meals are usually out of the crockpot!

HorseOfCourse said...

"Of course it's an intersting fact, he rode Sonita once, and never got on her again...." LOL
Did you really sell that horse?
I can't imagine you did.

mugwump said...

Brenda - I'll train my own and help my friends, but I don't take money anymore. Two reasons, this newspaper job is mentally intensive enough. The other is I want to come back to the show world as a non-pro.
In order to do that I can't act as a pro in any way for 5 years in the AQHA,NRHA and NCHA and 3 years in the NRCHA. So it makes the temptation to give a lesson here or there easy to turn down.
I used to encourage my clients to come ride their horse once a week. Sometimes they did, sometimes they didn't.
I learned to train an open horse, which means essentially train them for myself, or a non-pro horse which is to train them to go home and ride.

Brenda said...

I hear you. I'm training less, but more to give myself time to ride my own horses then go on to compete. I hope your job is giving you time to ride, too.

chamoiswillow said...

Sonita is an absolutely gorgeous mare. Correct, compact, and well-balanced. She is a stunner.

Londoner said...

you're so right about the jealousy factor - I may get in trouble here but it does seem to be a female thing. The only reason male YO's I knew wouldn't let someone get on their horse was that it was too dangerous for their ability.

Actually, to be honest that usually didn't stop them - watching riders getting chucked off their youngsters at shows gave them a worrying amount of pleasure. If someone gets on my horse I try to go the opposite way - compliment them loads, critique them, suggest shows they'd be good at together. It's so restricting, for the horse, and the rider, to be jealous. Who can say in this day and age that they have lifelong job security? If the time came to sell,I want to know that my horse can tolerate a bit of a bouncy sitting trot (lol, I say this like mine isn't) or a different two-point position.

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