Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Sonita - Getting Ready

OK you guys, I have gotten completely discombobulated in the last few weeks. I completely spaced Wordy Wednesday. I think we're suppoosed to be going with Mouthy Monday anyway, aren't we? Oh well, I'll try again Monday OK? In the mean time....

It's true that I am a worrier. When it's time to show I bring it up a notch. As the World Show approached I managed to crank myself up to never imagined heights of panic.

I was convinced I was going to make an absolute ass out of myself, with or without Sonita's help. In my gut I knew we had absolutely no business competing at this level.

I had a terrible habit of over-spinning when I was competing at a tough show. Normally I would have a chance to redeem myself in another class, but at the Worlds I would vie for a spot in the top ten, first go. If I blew my pattern I would be done.

Sonita always picked up on my anxiety. Her mediocre-at-best stops would become impossible. She would lean on my leg and sling her head in the air. If she dragged a lead it often became impossible to change her, she would hang on me, letting the world know with every wring of her tail just how hard my spur was demanding she change. If I was gassed up she would defy my shaky authority, Sonita wasn't the type of girl to be led by a rider with no confidence.

I lay awake at night running patterns through my mind. They ran clean until I slept, then one pattern after the other turned into a festival of penalties.

The NRCHA motto was "All Roads Lead to Stephenville." I was sure I would have a heart attack long before I finished travelling that long road.

I couldn't completely fall apart. I had three youth riders who had also qualified for the World Show. Two were on ex-barrel horses and one, my daughter, was on our snaffle-bitter. I already knew from reading the magazines that every other kid at the World Show was going to be on a finished bridle horse.

It was important to stay calm and focused for my kids. They were wildly excited about the trip. I often suspected it was as much about missing two weeks of school as it was about the show.It would have been fantastic if I could share their excitement.

All three of the girls had me busting with pride. They had worked hard on horses who were considered sub-standard on many levels. They hung in there and had faith in their mounts. I knew I owed it to them to be calm, have fun and have confidence in my own horse.

I also had to shrug off the added pressure of my students being qualified. I had taught two of the girls from their first ride on. My third was a nervous little girl who had lost her trainer just a few months before the competition. I had helped her earn her final points and got her qualified.

My little posse was being watched. I'm not being paranoid when I say there were those who wanted us to fail. I was a bit of an upstart, from my group of kids on their every day horses, to me and Sonita. Our reputation wasn't stellar. We didn't have any money, we weren't on fancy horses and my kids weren't the children of established winners.

But we had qualified in spite of ourselves. It couldn't be all luck, there were too many of us. So we were being watched.

In order to keep my wits about me I did what I always do under pressure. I became a screaming, raging, psychopathic bitch.

I showed up at the barn hours before daylight and worked through my rides in the dark. As I rode in the gray half light of dawn, Sonita's eyes would burn holes in me as she paced up and down her run.

She worked herself into the same mood I was in. She struck and cow-kicked at the rails in her run so often I had to wrap her legs. The owners of the horse next to her asked to be moved to another stall when Sonita tore a chunk of hide and meat out of their little gelding.

My students would wander in for their lessons and we would begin to drill. World qualifiers or not, I practiced them on the bits and pieces of reined cow work their riding levels allowed them to understand. I was sharp and demanding. Still honoring my promise to the Big K, I didn't practice Sonita on her reined work. Mostly I sat on her and gave my lessons. I loped the perimeter of the arena, shouting instructions as I burned off the nervous energy which coursed straight through me into Sonita.

Sonita was getting as lean as a greyhound. I was getting fat as a pig, working my mindless way through too much junk food and coffee.

I became obsessed with Sonita's winter coat. She grew hair like a freaking Hereford. It didn't matter that she was double blanketed. Our barn didn't have lights so she willfully grew hair. Acres of red, curly hair. I was mortified.

"Don't fret so," The Big K told me, "she's a cowhorse. They're supposed to have hair in the winter."

"None of yours do," I snarked as I looked over at his sleek young horse, glowing with health, vitality and a short summer coat.

"Even Loki (my kidlets filly) stayed slick with just blankets, I on the other hand look like I'm riding a yak."

"I can put mine under lights, so I do," K told me, "but if I didn't have any I'd sure be worrying about my fence run over my horse being haired up."

I didn't feel like listening to him, not even a little.

"The Morgan guy offered to body clip her,"I said.

"You think you're going to get laughed at for a little hair? Wait til you show up with your horse looking like a hunter jumper. We don't body clip. We just don't."

"He said it would grow in before Stephenville."

"I think you should forget the body clip and work off your nerves by riding some colts for me."

"I've got my own colts to ride," I snapped.

"I also know you're about driving that mare crazy riding her all the time. Come over here and ride some, I'll work with you on my horses. You've gotta get your head on straight."

I could tell he was laughing at me. It just pissed me off.

"If you're gonna clip her, don't let him cut that stupid little diamond shape over her tail. At least let her look western," K added.

I went home and took the Morgan guy up on his offer.

He body clipped my bright cherry colored mare and she turned into a skunk-tailed dun. A dull, roaned out dun. A shivering, furious, now equally psychotic, bitch of a dun, complete with the top of her tail clipped into a neat diamond.

I called K and took him up on his offer to ride his colts. The World Show was two weeks away.It was time to get a grip.


  1. ahhhhh FINALLY... going to read it now!

  2. LOL about the body clipping! Yes, I have turned many a lovely black-bay into mouse-gray with a pair of clippers. But hey, it beats cooling them out for 3 hours.

  3. THIS
    "Sonita was getting as lean as a greyhound. I was getting fat as a pig, working my mindless way through too much junk food and coffee."

    Just cracked me up!

  4. OMG! Too funny about the clipping and the diamond tail. I can't wait to find out how you and the kids did at the show!

  5. Woooo more Sonita! I love Sonita stories, I can't wait to see how it ends. I love the clipped Sonita description, after turning our lovely bright orange chestnut into a colour comparable to that of cold milky coffee, we now use the clippers soley on the white pony! Although the temptation to clip my pally mammoth is certainly there. Hopefully next winter I'll have lights...wooot!

  6. Dumb ass question - what are the "lights" are they heat lamps or something to foool the horses system into thinking it's summer?

    We body clipped every spring - allergies suck and it was either clip or not be able to breath while grooming... They grow in pretty quick and colour change doesn't last long, some of the colours are quite cool :)

  7. Deered - if you have lights on over your stables during winter, it mimics summer day length and tricks your horses body into thinking it's still summer as the days are long. As far as I'm aware you can use ordinary light bulbs, nothing speical and have them on from about 5.30-6am-ish til the sun is up and again from sundown til about 10pm or so. Or at least those are the hours that work for me in Aus.

  8. Forgot to mention what's probably a rather obvious point - you need to rug more heavily than if you didn't use lights, to accomodate for the fact that pony has no winter coat.

  9. Love it! Just dont make us wait!!!! How did you and the girls do?

  10. That was hysterical. I loved your description of dealing with stress. Me, too. Just call me another binge eating grouchy psychopathic bitch. And the clipping...too funny. I have never clipped anything: I always put up with the hairy yak look in the wintertime. I just thought clipped horses looked way weird. Great Sonita story. What a saga.

  11. Thanks Sezz
    I've been out of the scene for a while, and I didn't do anything too fancy here in little old NZ - showjumping/eventing/pony club/local shows. Clipped them in spring, belly/trace clipped in winter if we were working through.
    My horses/ponies thought covered yards were a luxury - they would have thought they'd gone to another planet with proper boxes and lights rigged up!

  12. Deered - Heh, my poor girl's a bit the opposite. I suspect she had every creature comfort known to horse for the first 9 years of her life, living as a pampered show pony and now she's living with me, teaching me about all things western and having to - horror of all horrors - ride OUTSIDE the arena and go trail riding. I suspect she thinks I am entirely oblivious to the horse eating monsters hiding behind trees and lets not forget about all those sheep masquarading as palomino devouring creatures. Mind you, her level of creature comforts is slowly increasing. She's very at home in her new stable and whilst she has been known to have the odd freak out while trail riding, she doesn't actually do anything aside from start at something (I wouldn't even call it a shy) and try to avoid approaching said "scary object"

    Actually, whilst I'm on the topic, Mugs have you done a post relating to making a horse go somewhere it would rather not? For example, if I ask Blondie to approach a scary area to our left, I turn her head left and bump with my right leg, she will turn her nose left but travel right through her shoulder (ie poking it out and following with the rest of her body). I generally win the battle through persistance with my leg bumping, but the fact that she resists and has a minor win through being able to travel to the right at all bugs me a bit.

  13. Loved this last post!! Cracked me up, is Sonita really for real??? Or are you making some of this stuff up!!! Talk about personality plus!!! Or scary horse plus!!!

  14. lol I laughed thinking about clipping Sonita. My old mare Naigen had touble shedding the winter hair on her legs and on top of that she had cannon kerotosis (hormone problem that causes hair loss and oily flaking skin) so I clipped them every spring. She tolerated the loud clippers but made really sour faces at me for hours afterwards.

  15. I am looking for advice. I am training this mustang for this woman, she is gentled and everything, but she had a lot of respect issues, which I worked on, now she doesn't really fuss much. She is being difficult to catch in the round pen (Should I just keep her running?). But anyways, I was messing with her bareback, leaning over her, putting my leg over her (she is itty bitty so its really easy to do with the mounting block). She seemed concerned at first, but after a while, she seemed like she didn't have a care in the world, falling a sleep and such.

    Anyways, I had been putting pretty much all my weight on her, and my leg was almost all down her side. I slide on and she takes off like a bat outta hell; I bail, get trampled :P, that's an interesting experience! But yeah. I kind of picked up from the son that every time someone had tried to put a leg over, she'd get ready to take off, so they'd always stop at that point... So it would be a learned evasiveness (P.S. I wish owner had told me before I got trampled!).

    She also didn't seem like the typical spooked horse, you know, trembling, snorting, ears of terror, wide eyed. She seemed quite content. So I'm wondering if I am right that is a learned evasiveness, or if you think it is something else? Do you have any advice with how to deal with this? Btw, the reason I didn't stop her with reins, was because 1) Her "mommy" wanted her in a sidepull, and was gonna hold her (that worked well :P). 2) I only had a hold of her mane (Don't trust ground people >.<)

    Oh, and she was pretty spoiled, they feed her extra cuz she likes to eat, she pushes her owner around with her head, and her owner is always petting and praising her. When she trampled me, she was like, "You are a very bad girl!" As if the horse cared :P.

    So is she just a spoiled horse used to getting her way witha learned evasiveness, or did I miss something? And if so, what should I do about it. Mugwump can give me advice or anyone, I am open to listening to all opinions so I can think deeply about this. You can also be mean if you want, it's not a big deal. I'm 19 if that helps with angry emails or something :P. Thanks for all your help and advice!

    My email is

  16. Howling for more, here!

    I made the mistake -- ONE TIME -- of allowing the daughter of a WP show junkie clip my mare.

    OMG. My plain-headed dark bay mare looked like the lead singer for The Bad Haircuts. And it took weeks to grow out so she looked normal again!

    I wanted to put a bag over her head. Or maybe mine.

  17. I don't blame you for trying body clipping. I've been to the world show (not as an exhibitor) and I have seen WHO'S THERE.

    I probably would have done the same, only to be just as pissed at the results.

    Great writing, great story...with more I hope.

    Did you get tempted to kick her outside in the dark minus a blanket in hopes of rapid hair growth?

  18. Sezz- I turn the head right, push with my right leg and leg yield past.
    Jonas - The horse is spoiled. The owners are worse. If I was in your place I would quit them and train another horse. The owner is setting you up to be hurt. I'm deadly serious here. You can't train a spoiled horse when the person who spoiled her is telling you how to ride.
    Laura Crum - Sonita and I were too much alike.
    Everyonethinks - It was bitter cold when I clipped her. I just added another layer and felt like an idiot.

  19. Thanks for the advice Mugs, I'll let you know how we go.

  20. Thank you Mugs, I'll think about what to do, I'm strapped for cash and have rent to pay, which is why I'm training other people's horses to begin with. I enjoy training horses, but not the owners :(. I also would feel horrible for not helping her out, it's a little old lady. But I'm thinking if I do go back, I'm doing it completely my way, and if she doesn't like it, she can just fire me I guess.

    I told her (in a nice, friendly way) what she has to do to make the horse more respectful to her.. She says she works her.. But her idea of work is a couple of rounds in the round corral, which.. I'm not big on that as a cure all training aid, but that pudgy little horse needs some exercise, and not the kind where she is threatening the owner all the time with her ass, I know people love their horses... I just wish they would understand that horses aren't people and aren't going to love them back like that... Maybe a rare case, but every horse I have met, would gladly pass up it's owner for a pile of hay :P.

    So I don't know what to do. I guess getting rent money is pointless if I end up having to go to the hospital. I'm worried I might have to go if I can't walk properly by Monday :(. Which then ruins my appointments with other clients. Grr.

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  22. "The NRCHA motto was "All Roads Lead to Stephenville." I was sure I would have a heart attack long before I finished travelling that long road." That made me LOL!

    Also, I'm glad I'm not the only psycho-bitch around here! Fortunately, slamming the escape door on the trailer makes a satisfying clang and lets the world know I need a moment... LOL.

    Edited to say: Jonas, you've already found out its a no gain situation if you have to pay the ER. However, you should go and get looked at. I have this broken toe I never got looked at and it healed all crooked. Now sandals are right out!

  23. Oh, and Mugwump, my Dude is a sorrel hereford hair grower as well. And every time I think he's fnished shedding, another 10 pounds of hair comes off. I could build a mini out of what I get off him every Saturday in Spring! I tried trace clipping Matty myself one time. When I got finished I had to lie and say my kid go ahold of the clippers when I wasn't looking!

  24. Jonas - I am completely with you on needing to pay rent, but sticking to a situation where you end up hurt won't help you. Not only that, but trust me, the owner will feel free to talk smack about you and can really hurt a fledgling business.
    I learned the hard way, I was willing to take on some pretty tough horses, but only if the owner stayed out of the pen and stayed quiet.
    I would warn them once in a peaceful, but firm way, if the owner agreed I would try one time. The first time I heard a peep I left.
    The other hard lesson I learned was you can't save all the horses. It was the toughest thing I had to learn.
    If you can get the old lady out of the pen I'll try to help.
    I am on your side here.

  25. I've been lurking but not posting. Great story Mugs! I'm SO glad to know I'm not the only one who turns pyscho when the heat is on. I can't even stand myself sometimes.

    Sorry but now I want to update because I feel out of touch and I love this blog and all of the support and advice. I've lost almost 30 pounds and at least 2 sizes since we made New Years Resolutions! Now, just 40 more to least I'm almost half way there. Anyone else hate how sitting on a horse makes you look that much more pudgy?

    And, a quick update on my beasts too. After a vacation and loosing a shoe I didn't ride December for a couple of weeks. She totally lost it the first time I rode her. Something VERY scary in the corner of the arena. I should sign up for bronc riding...don't know how but I stayed on through her squealing spining and bucking fit. She was so mad she would buck every time I tried to move her. Got through it one step at a time. Since then we've been working at least every other day and she's been very nice to ride.

    And Tax, my six year old OTTB, just decided he knows how to canter. I mean, I know we've been working on it forever, but it was like it finally just clicked for him. Yay! So we have a solid w/t/c and he's really moving off my legs. We taught him how to do roll backs for fun.

    Mugs - I read your recent post where you talked about moving one leg at a time and getting them to back. That worked miracles. Both of them are backing like western horses these days!
    You have a great ability to explain things in a way that is easy to apply.

  26. Redsmom - I am famous for how bad I am with clippers. My clients would fly to the barn to clip their own horses (and mine). I leave dents, draw blood, you name it.

  27. Fyyahchild - Congratulations! On the weight loss and the progress on your horses. It's nice to have you back.
    I'm still fighting my weight tooth and nail. It drives me crazy.

  28. So nice to be back! Mugs - just wanted to say hang in there. I have good days and bad. Yesterday I was feeling stressed and lazy and far too tired so I downed a large coke and fries from McDonalds at 9:00 on the way home from the barn. Then I felt like crap and I still kinda do. The only thing I can do is not beat myself up today and just get back to eating right. And finding something you love to do as far as exercise helps. I mean I think riding horses helps me but I started jogging and now that I'm more fit from riding jogging was super easy to start. What I discovered is that I LOVE jogging. Especially now that its not killing me. I get out early and I just shut my brain off and go. Almost like meditation. I run with my dog and just pretend to be something wild and free running through the field with her. Silly but it works for me.

    And I don't think it would have to be running either. I'm doing some Yoga too. It's really the mind/body connection I'm enjoying and re-learning to have control of my balance, strength and flexibility. I know its hard to make the time (especially now that you've joined us in the 9-5 world) but I know I'm glad I'm doing it.

  29. Fryahchild! Congratulations! I know how hard it is to take it off. You've inspired me to try tai chi again. I did it once before (and I mean literally once) and it opened some kind of door for me where I was able to stay on my diet.

    Mugs, I have new pics of my fat a## up on my horse (and pics of kidlet on the mare, too) from June 6. You'll have to copy and paste the link. I hate how fat I look, but Matty is just so Ky-oot!

    I have one foot that congenitally turns out like a duck, so I'm laying off the spurs except for pole bending.

  30. +1 for yoga. It's like dressage for humans - you gain suppleness and balance and very precise control of your body, as well as muscle tone. I'm also told it's the best thing in the world for the random joint problems that show up as you age.

  31. Redsmom - I hadn't looked at your blog before. Beautiful horses!

    I figured since so much of riding is about controlling your body that yoga would be a good. Plus I'm short and stubby so anything to lengthen out my muscles is Aok with me. My sister is long and lean and has also lost 30lbs since we started riding. She looks frickin amazing on a horse right now. I'm never going to have that but at least I can look a little less like a hobbit!

  32. WOOHOO! Another fantastic Sonita story! :) Thanks, Mugs!

  33. Fyyah, thanks! I'm especially proud of Matty, age 23. The lady who had him as a lesson horse for 10 years took great care of him. I got him about 2 years ago.

  34. Great story, mugs--thanks! Can't wait to see how this all turns out.

    Fyyahchild: Way to go! You have inspired me to find an exercise that I actually like (besides riding). I may have to give jogging another look, you made it sound so good. Or maybe tai chi? Yoga would do me good, too. Hmm.

    Older topic, but today I started playing with installing the "push-stop" on my horse. Hadn't tried it yet since he has a very good Whoa already, but thought it might come in handy someday. Got him trotting forward on a loose rein, reached down to push on his withers and WOW it was like I'd hit the OFF button! Dead stop, calm, what-do-you-want-now attitude. Pretty cool. Works perfectly at the canter, too. LOL, didn't even know it was in there. Obviously installed by the person who broke him, thank you very much!

  35. LOL, this Sonita story was soo funny! And how marvellous that you got the three girls qualified too! Can't wait to hear how it went.

  36. Still learning - It may not have been there before...there is a nerve in there somewhere (Sydney knows the specifics I think) which makes a horse want to stop when you put pressure on it. It's really handy in colts.
    I've found well trained horses grab onto this right away, I think the rhythm makes sense.

  37. Interesting. Your explanation makes more sense because this horse didn't come with a lot of buttons installed.

    Very handy to have an OFF button!

  38. Hey Mugs,
    On the dieting, 2 things that have helped my husband and I are Catabolic Foods, and an Eliptical Machine. The Eliptical is very low impact, but it really works your ass off. My hubby has lost over 115lbs and I'm on my way to my 40lb mark.

    I was wondering, how did that guy get Sonita clipped without getting killed???

  39. Char - I'm going to have to look both of those things up....Sonita liked the Morgan guy. She just stood there,in cross ties no less. She had never been cross tied or body clipped. She was used to having her ears and bridle path done though.
    He left the legs for me to do though.So they were a little choppy.
    You've also got to keep in mind, Sonita was very well mannered.I worked on her behavior constantly.

  40. Hey, Mugs! Good news, the lady said she would stay out of the arena, so now how do I handle this horse? Thanks so much! :D

  41. I know my comment is just sooo late, but I have to say this post made me LOL! I've been reading this blog, since finding it about a month ago, from the beginning -working my way up to present time. I ride primarily Morgan horses (not the Saddle Seat variety) and I am just soaking up so much of your advice and knowledge - I wish you lived closer to me so I could come learn a thing or two first hand :). Anyway, I often body clip my Morgans and I always put that neat little diamond right over their tails - HA HAAAA! I love it!!!