Thursday, July 16, 2009

All Roads Lead to Stephenville/ Sonita

Brum, brum, brum brum. My big diesel roared along the two-lane highway. I had my best friend in the front seat, our two girls and my dog in the back, a trailer full of horses and The Texas Playboys cranked up on the C.D. player.

I can't think of a time I'm happier than on a road trip to a horse show. I love the excitement of being on the road, the anticipation of meeting and riding with friends I only see at the shows. I know my clothes, my tack, my horse and my kid are clean, there's an uncracked jug of Margaritas in the cooler and there's always the hope of that first big win dangling in front of you.

We were on the way to Stephenville, Texas and the National Reined Cowhorse World Show. The girls chattered and fought in the back. When my little dog Dinah got sick of them she would hop up front and perch on Kathy's knee.

For much of the thirteen hour drive we were on back country roads. The flat brown countryside was spotted with dirty snow and intensified the giant winter sky.

We traveled through tiny towns and would stop when we found a promising diner with a field close by so we could let the horses out for a drink and a stretch and then do the same for the girls.

For the most part all three mares were quiet and steady. Sonita had only a little nervous sweat under her blanket and even drank a little from her yellow bucket.

I felt calm and relaxed. I didn't have a shot in hell of placing, which took a little of the stress off. This was my last show with Sonita, we were going out with a bang. All I wanted was to have a clean run for our last hurrah. I was a happy little Buddha.

I knew my mare well enough to understand I had no guarantees. Sonita was who she was, if we had a good ride it would be great, if we didn't it would be OK. After this show she was going home to her new owner. I had no intention of not enjoying her for who she was.

When we pulled into Stephenville the girls were out cold, a tangled mess of arms and legs, their soft snores filled the cab of the Ford and strands of their long hair stuck in the corners of their mouths. Little Dinah Dog was curled in the middle of the heap, her bat ears were tuned to us and her eyes grew bright as we turned into the show grounds. She knew we were almost there.

I parked in front of the barns and whacked on the bottoms of the girls feet. They groaned and whined as they felt around for their boots. Kathy and I jumped out of the truck and were slapped in the face with the cold wet washcloth that passed for air in Stephenville. We dug around until we found our books and headed off to the show office, Dinah tucked in at my heel.

The girls stumbled out into the cold night, yanking their jackets on and making faces at us as they went to unload. The mares stomped and whinnied. Horses in the barn called back to them, eager to assure and be assured.

The smell of burnt coffee greeted us, blinking and squinting at the bright lights, as we stepped into the office. A young woman, with a tired slump to her shoulders, stood behind the counter, patiently explaining the stall designation to a tall man in a cowboy hat. She straightened and smiled at us over his shoulder.

"C'mon in, I'll be with you in a minute," she said.

"You've got a late night going," I replied, the clock told me it was a little before one in the morning. How our thirteen hours had turned into fifteen was a mystery.

Kathy stepped up to the desk and grabbed the phone book. She wanted to call the motel we were staying in and assure them we were coming. She kept her voice low, but I could tell by the sound of her voice she was apologising for the late hour. She turned and grimaced at me. She had obviously awakened the owner of the motel. Our finances didn't allow us to stay somewhere that could afford a night clerk.

I leaned against the wall. We were here. Pretty soon our horses would be bedded in their stalls, a clean, warm blanket on them, their water buckets full and a good feed in front of them. We would head to the motel, the girls would tumble into bed and Kathy and I would crack open the margaritas. I still felt calm and happy. I was going to enjoy every minute of this show. Who knew when I'd have a horse who could get me here again.

The tall cowboy gathered up his paperwork and turned to walk out the door. I looked up into the craggy face of a man I had only seen on the cover of magazines. Todd Crawford tipped his hat and walked out the door. The winter air came rushing in as he left. The hair on the back of my neck stood up. I might have passed it off as the cold, but cold couldn't explain the sudden twist in my stomach. This was the big time. My happy little Buddha disappeared with a whimper. I was terrified. We were at the World Show.


mocharocks said...

AAAggghhhh! My stomach's in a knot just reading this...I can't wait for more!!!!!

AareneX said...

more more more more more more MORE!!!

kel said...

Am I traveling with you or have you been traveling with me? The description of the kids, ice chest and anticaption is one I have seen and felt many times. Do we have the same taste in Margy's? I prefer the already made ones, Jose Cuervo, on the rocks with salt - for road trips. Why waste all that pesky time mixing. I have been know to drink from the gallon jug. :)

I have developed a taste for Mike's Hard Cranberry Lemonade too. It goes down really easy. Not exactly the same kick at the Margy's but it will do in a pinch.

Love the story, can't wait to hear more...

mugwump said...

kel- We don't screw around when it comes to our Margaritas, we take a bottle of pre-made AND a bottle of tequila. Ahem.
I like the Mikes Hard Lemonade.

Shanster said...

Cool, cool, cool! :)

Sydney said...

More, more, more!

kel said...

You know mugs... it is always that extra bottle of tequila that gets me in trouble. I mix a little in the first one, a little more in the second and then the mix is gone and I end up drinking straight tequila. :) My husband says "Tequila is the nector of the gods or the blood of the devil" he can't figure out which.

Gosh I could use a Margy right now. hmmmm.

Albigears said...

Mmmmmmm yes, and Hornsby's Hard Apple Cider...

lifeshighway said...

oh my gosh, I am holding my breath.

AKPonyGirl said...

Did you spend your Saturday mornings at the movies known as cliffhangers?

more more more!!!

mugwump said...

kel-That's what the Mikes is for, all that left over tequila.
akponygirl- I'm not that evil. It's just that...wait...did you see that bug?...I'm ADD.

Lucky SC said...

We qualified in 2007 (hubby and I) in Novice Non Pro (him) and Novice Non Pro and Non Pro Bridle (me) and we couldn't swing the finances to go.
This story of yours is extremely special to me, and I'm really enjoying it.

Todd Crawford. Yikes. Glad I'm a Non Pro :)

Lucky SC said...

And Margaritas? Mmm.
I was always extremely happy with Cuervo Gold, (on the rocks with salt) but hubby made the mistake of buying me a bottle of Patron silver a few months ago. Oh man. I'm hooked, and spoiled rotten.

HorsesAndTurbos said...

Argh! She's torturing me! I am the kind of person who gets a good book and reads it all night long into the wee hours of the morning because I can't wait for the ending...and now I'm hooked on this! Between Sonita and Mort, I am learning this another Mugwump lesson being taught?

I'm getting better at sitting on my mare spooking...I've found if I don't try to rebalance with my legs only, but grab her mane (I keep it long) and hold on and then pull myself up, I don't fall off and it's much easier to get back centered again.

She did it today at the mounting block...eyed it up a few times going by, then suddenly it was "OMG, What Is That!" and spooked sideways - she looks for stuff to spook at when bored, and we've been working on using her behind, which makes me use my stomach and behind and thighs..but I digress. I was still pulling myself up, calmly pissed, and I wacked her on the side of the neck with that bag of kittens that Mugs suggests (HaHa!) and told her to quit it in a loud, firm voice...even called her Dummy - she sighed, and continued on, not spooking there again.

Oh, after that she proceeded to turn on her forehand and her haunches perfectly!

My mare...she does keep me on my toes!


mugwump said...

Lucky SC- I'm glad you're enjoying this...I didn't have to compete with Todd. He's open, I'm limited open. Which means I've earned less than $10,000 in my career. He's earned just a wee bit more (Im sure you know the divisions, I was just 'splainin to the other guys).

KD said...

Always leaving us hangin'......
I like your relaxation routine, but I'm a bourbon kind of girl myself. Tequila is dangerous!

Sharon McMaster, BSc(H), MLT, EMT said...

Can't wait for more ... I love your Sonita stories!

SomePerson said...

That is no fair! You can't leave us hanging like this! I was right, you did seem to be un-mugwumpily calm at the begining :P.

SillyPony said...

You have an award on my blog!!!

lopinon4 said...

Holy Cripes, my stomach is knots!! You have GOT to get the rest of this posted soon, Mugs!! My health is on the line here. ;)

badges blues N jazz said...

HAHAHAHAHA... cant wait to hear how it goes. VERY well written Mugs. I could totally picture the kids all tangled up in the back seat sleeping. To cute!

autumnblaze said...

AAAAGGH. I'm like HorsesAndTurbos... I'll read a book in one sitting. Patience, grasshopper! :) Loved this!

Also along the lines of HorsesAndTurbos... I think the spooking is done. At least more than a leg splay. Last lesson my instructor pointed out, when stressed, I close my hips. I had no idea HOW much I did it. I haven't been since at my new barn and we've been 'exploring'... alone, still. Downed trees, ditches, drain pipes, narrow pass throughs and trails, cotton tail bunny's appearing as a white flash... I ensure my hips stay loose, he might looky loo and snort, maybe try and turn around (drainage ditch/pipe in a narrow pass thru) but I just pointed him back and kept instisting it was okay... zero drama. Oh and the footing is better so we can zoom around at a trot or canter, he has less time to stare and ponder things skeery, same for me... no more waiting with bated breath if he'll pass something ... we just go.

I've been in heaven for the past two rides.

gillian said...

I have a training question. I've been hesitating to ask, because it feels stupid, but its becoming increasingly pressing so here goes:
I've gotten OK at getting a calm walk and trot out of a horse, given enough time. There seems to be something about cantering/loping that makes them all crazy in one way or another. They all get super excited. The more skilled/experienced among them just get hot, and strong, but its manageable. My little arabian mare, the moment she feels off balance she comes to a screeching halt (on her forhand no less.) The boys both drop their shoulders horribly. One also likes to buck and speed up a bit and then break gait when he gets too excited and then he's pissed when I make him keep going. The other one I cant really steer when we get going, plus he leans like a motorcycle.

My current solution is to make them all really proficient trotters. Lots of poles and transitions and circles and whatnot. That helps, but I want them to canter, and there seems to be some kind of mental block for the lot of us. Does anyone else have this problem? Its like Jeckel and Hide sometimes.

I'm convinced that riding like ben cartwright is what helped my little arabian mare, but I just dont trust the boys to listen to a damn word I say when we get out on the field and canter.

mugwump said...

Autumnblaze- You go. Here's an English to Western term that shows how different, yet alike, we all really are.
closed hips = butt clench.
Hee Hee
Gillian- If you can trust your horses not to buck my answer is you have to lope. A lot. On a loose rein. Without steering or pulling. You have to go and go and go.This can be around the arena or in the field. But you need to get going.
The horss will learn running off isn't so much fun, especially if you make them speed up every time they try to slow down and don't let them quit until they are begging.
They will quit leaning if they don't have anything to lean on.So keep the reins loose and send them forward with strong even legs every time they tip. The horse will learn to stand up to balance himself.
It's pretty fun once you get over the AAAAAAHHHHH factor.
This goes back to why I want a comfortable WTC on my babies first thing.

autumnblaze said...

mugwump - Hahahaha! Soooo true really. :)

Fyyahchild said...

Gosh...we're almost there though and I'll be sad when its over since I'm enjoying the story so much. Take your time Mugs.

I swear my BGM knows when I've had enough of her. Now she's been saintly for the last couple of rides. Hmm.

Took my first WP lesson and got to ride a bred pleasure horse. Wow, that's nice! She was a really sweet little thing and her lope was just amazing. I even got to wear the big ol' spurs. LOL It was at the same barn as my old H/J trainer. She was surprised to see me with the western trainer because she thought the flat work would bore me, and apparently I just don't seem like a western rider; whatever that means. I pointed out I'm old and enjoying the break from my jumpers. Hmm, again.

mugwump said...

FYYAH- riding is riding and a good horse is a good horse as far as I'm concerned.

Joy said...

Now that was some excellent writing. I was right there in the cab of the ford with you all. Only thing wrong with it; it was too short.

Tequilla makes me, uh, mouthy. That can be trouble. I do love the 'ritas though. And then I get in trouble. I'll stick with my beer.

gillian said...

Hmmm, I was worried you were going to say that. I was hoping for some kind of formulaic way to teach them everything they need to know, build up all the right muscles and none of the wrong ones before asking them to do anything. Then, you ask and its all perfect and put together right away. (Can you tell I'm a bit of a control freak?)

Ok, ... they must learn on their own. I will get over both the Ahhhh! factor and the Ahhhh they're doing it wrong! factor.
... This may take some time to work up to. :p

Redsmom said...

Terrific story, as always, Janet. I can't wait to hear the rest. You really bring the reader along with you in all ways.

Riding is riding = why I like you so much as a trainer/writer.

From you, I'm learning no more excuses for bad behavior at shows but that when the gate shuts, as you said, its all over till you can train at home some more.

Redsmom said...

P. S. Any word on how to cue to sidepass when you don't have a helper on the ground? I need to work with Matty on that. I know he knows how, its getting him to do it.

Ponyice said...

Love it!! Hanging on by one toe in the stirrup in anticipation for the next entry :) Focus your ADD some more and write, since I know now this is an old story since you said it was cool in Texas. Heck, it hasn't been cool here since last year.

I learned how to make the best barn margaritas back when I showed in days before premix, ahh Jose is such a good friend.

Alyson said...

Redsmom, put Matty on a circle at a walk, then as you push with your inside leg, bring his head and neck into the inside of the circle with your inside rein.
You are using his head and neck as leverage to push his ribcage and hip outwards.
Once you get him reliably moving off your leg with the help of that leverage, you can start refining it down to just your leg and using your hand to hold him straight.

Redsmom said...

Thanks, Alyson, I['ll try it right away!

gtyyup said...

Wonderful story...and I'm waiting along with everyone else for the next installment!

I haven't done the pre-made Margy's...but it sounds like a dang good idea! I do like the Mike's Hard stuff...any flavor will do...and they sure tasted good at last Saturday's cutting when it was 100 degrees!

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