Wednesday, August 19, 2009


I walked down the barn aisle towards Sonita's stall. I ducked my head and tried not to look like a dork as Todd Bergen walked the opposite direction. Todd Bergen is pretty hot.

He nodded, I nodded, I'm sure he didn't get weak kneed like I did.

The girls had been running around like crazy things getting the big names to sign their NRCHA catalogs. It was pretty cool, the trainers were tickled to be asked for an autograph and most of them liked being raised to rock-star status by a couple of kids at their first World Show.

Even Carol Rose cracked a dusty smile when the kids asked her to sign her name across her ad for Shining Spark.

This was also a pretty slick political maneuver, my kids were getting to know some pretty influential people and I was getting nods from Todd Bergen. The Big K had lit up like a Christmas tree when they asked him to sign their programs. He couldn't help but be caught up in their giddy excitement.

I leaned into Sonita's stall. She stood with her head in the corner farthest from the door. It was her usual spot in a show stall, buried as far from the 24 hour a day lights and the clamor of an unknown showgrounds as she could get.

I slipped in the door and checked her yellow buckets. She had drank from both since I had refilled them that morning. My hand slid across her shoulder and down to the scar on her foreleg. She stood quietly while I massaged the papery skin stretched across the terrible old wound. I wrapped my other arm over her back and rested my cheek against her side. The course fabric of her sheet crackled faintly in time with her breathing.

Sonita's heart thumped a slow steady beat and she lipped the back of my head, sometimes her teeth would barely scrape along my scalp as I dug my fingers deep into the muscle surrounding her scar.

This ritual between us, the deep massage I gave her forearm before every major run, had become as important as te lengthy warm-up we had waiting for us.

My anxiety would slip away as she settled under my hand, my heart would slow and in my mind, we would go through a perfect run. I imagined our minds were connected and I was feeding her a winning go.

I savored the rare moment of quiet with my big volatile mare. It wasn't often we admitted our friendship.

I ran my hand down her legs. They were cool to the touch and the bones felt smooth and strong.

I stood and stretched, my back crackled and clenched just a little, the crappy motel beds were beginning to leave their mark.

Sonita moved around, restless as I unbuckled her sheet, she stuck her head out the door and whinnied. Normally this would bring a reprimand, she was supposed to be still, but I didn't have the heart for it.

I slid the sheet over her head and hung it on the door. As I slipped her halter on Sonita hung her lip over my nose, slobbering me up and steaming my glasses.

"C'mon now, we've got work to do," I told her and pushed her face away.

Her eye rolled back to me, merry at the joke, and she backed away, waiting politely for me to leave the stall first.

I saddled her quickly, my tack had been checked over hundreds of times in nervous anticipation. I double checked her front boots and made sure my skid boots were buckled onto the rings of my back cinch.

I dropped her halter and she raised her head high, looking towards the arena. Sonita snorted hard, once, twice and then lowered her head for the bit.

I slipped the big bit between her teeth, she grabbed at it and began to work the roller. She kept her head low as I clipped her romels to the rein chains.

I grabbed my chaps and tossed them across the back of the saddle, I was going to need help getting them on, my hands were beginning to shake.

Sonita leaned forward as I mounted, but held still until I swung my leg over. She hesitated one second more as my foot caught the off stirrup.

We walked toward the arena, my stomach began to tighten and Sonita tossed her head, making the rein chains swing.

I leaned down and stroked her neck. A nervous sweat had already started to freckle her coat.

"It's OK Sonita," I whispered to her, "This could be the last run."

When this is over you're not mine anymore, I thought, so this time, it's just about us.

"We're going to have a good time," I told her.

She began to quiet under my hand. I straightened as we came to the gate and hung my chaps on the fence. There would be time to struggle into them later, we had a good two hours before we showed.

We rode into the bright lights of the warm-up pen and I realised my stomach had calmed. The Big K loped past and flashed a smile at me. It felt good having him here. He wouldn't go until the next day.

As we stood in the middle and I sat back to send her out into her first set of circles, I understood just about everything was good. Sonita and I were going to compete today at the NRCHA World Show.

Sonita loped off quiet, working her roller in 3/4 time..


  1. Ooooh! How long will the torture last! LOL! I love your blog...been reading the back stories they are great.

  2. I've been reading your blog for quite some time now, and have creeped through the archives as well to read the older posts I missed. I love your writing style, and get excited every time I see a new Sonita story. Hers and Mort's stories are my favourites by far!

    I particularily liked this entry, and how you make the show atmosphere seem quiet and relaxed, as if you're in your own little bubble amidst the bustling hectic show life! I will admit I got a little bit melancholy and sad when I read "after this, you're not mine anymore". Sonita and you seem to be quite the pair, and I can't imagine anyone else as her owner!

  3. I'm a sucker for the Sonita stories, Mugs. Your writing in every one of them just cuts right to the heart of the emotions of the situation, for me.

  4. What a cliff-hanger! You have us all hanging on the end of our seats.

  5. Surely it's an editing error. Surely you didn't stop the story -there-!

  6. Cliffhangers.... so not cool.

    Oooh, I'm getting that butterfly-in-stomach feeling just thinking about the anxiety and excitement of show time! Great writing!

  7. Ooooo I was getting all nervous and show jittery reading your story!! I loved it and I'm ever so anxious to see how it ends. Sonita stories are about my favourtie kind of post from you Mugs :)

  8. Oh Sonita. I just don't have the heart to believe that you did actually sell her. Such good writing Mugs. You blow me away time and again.

    I read a good book today. Chosen by a Horse by Susan Richards. Made me sob at the end. It made me think about how every single horse I've had relationships with have changed me. Always for the better. And they do it unconciously, unselfishly. I love horses. I love MY horse!

    Looking forward to the next Sonita chapter. And where has Mort been? Would love another one with him.

  9. Oh my gosh... you have written some beautiful stories but this is amazing.

    I got that calm before the storm feeling. I remembered what it's like to have a volatile red horse. (Still miss him...)

    I really admire how you took the time to savour your time before your run.

    And as much as I hate to wait, I relish the suspense.


  10. LOL, I googled Todd Bergen, he is hot! I am not a reiner (yet?? more and more intrigued/interested) so only know a few names. Drove by Carol Rose's (that name I know since I am a huge Shining Spark fan) place on the way home from Oklahoma, WOW.

    The story is fantastic, your writing is awesome. I miss those private moments in the stall, the calm before the storm. Heck you make me want to show again, I got sweaty palms reading this, miss the thrill. Keep the Sonita stories coming!!!

  11. Don't leave us waiting too long for the rest!

    And Todd Bergen is pretty hot. And super polite, too.

  12. Joy - I JUST read that book not long ago. Gator's old owner gave it to me - told me to give it to someone else when I was done as it had been given to her. It was very touching.

    Mugs - I think my favorite part was your 'quiet moments' with her. I love that part of getting ready to ride. I'm pretty sure the people at my barn think I'm a little crazy... I have a pretty long grooming/tacking up routine. Just gets me and him in the right frame of mind. I would HAVE to have that time before a show... if I was ever inclined to compete in one. I love the feeling of just me and him in our own little world... especially amdist craziness.

    You really took me there... can't wait for the next installment!

    P.S. I saw you won't be writing for EI anymore - not enough hours in the day huh?

  13. You sure are good at doing cliffhangers, Mugs....LOL...I, too, love the Sonita stories.

    Heh.....just thinking about the time I went down to the Midwest Horse Fair and decided to look for John Lyon's horse, Bright Zip. It was very early in the morning, few people around......after looking at Zip, I turned around to leave, and walked flat into John.....LOL
    I almost fainted and all I could do was go *Uh, Uh, Uh*.....while I pushed a program at him to sign.

    Yeah, I'm a's framed and hanging in my hallway.

  14. Oh no! My eyes are starting to tear already.. *gulp*

  15. You are KILLIN' me!

    And I half think that you are enjoying it.

  16. kel - I'm pretty much 100% sure she's enjoying it.

  17. Autumn...

    I have this viusal of her leaning back in a big black leather office chair, rubbing her hands together, with a big cheshire grin and an evil little chuckle.

  18. Hahahaha... Perfect kel, perfect. :)

    Plotting her next cliff hanger, no doubt!

  19. kel and the rest of you malcontents- I sit on an exercise ball. The rest is kind of accurate.

  20. Diane I - I bumbled into John Lyons at the Denver Stock him to sign his book for me. He was nice enough to wait while I went to buy one and come back for the autograph.

  21. Hey Mugs long time no post from you! I've been missing the Sonita stories.

    Love this one. My gut actually clenched and I got nervous just imagining being there! LOL

    Training question for you... I've heard you and others say that you make sure your horse "has a whoa on him" before you get on for the first time. How is this done? I know you teach yours to come to a halt and rock back but how do you teach them to stop on command in the first place?! LOL

    My background is h/j retraining nutty TBs off the track... my horse and I were the pair that didn't know what whoa meant! Now that I'm gimpy, out of shape and afraid this is the sort of thing I wonder about.

  22. kel- good grief. I use it in my office. At work.
    So I'm wearing my jeans, T-shirt and cowboy boots. I had to take my spurs off though, I kept popping my exercise ball.
    jasmine - I know I have many posts back in my archives on stopping. But you have me confused with somebody else. I don't put a whoa on my horses before I get on.
    Not even a little.
    My horses are cued to stop with my legs and seat after they choose to stop on their own for the first several rides.
    When they seem to get the idea I try the stop cue before they think of it.
    When I can cue a stop I teach them to back a step or two.
    I haven't said a word to them yet, except maybe, "good job," or "oof!"
    but that's it.
    When my youngster can stop off my seat and back a step or two I offer "Whoa."
    I consider verbal cues a gift. An alternative to a physical cue only after they understand what I'm asking for.
    I'm not saying the other guys are wrong, I'm just saying I'm happy with my results.

  23. oh my. I was THERE with you! thats how well you described it. I cant wait for the next installment!

  24. I LOVE the Sonita stories (well, I love the Mort stories too).

    My gray horse mouths my pony tail when I'm brushing his front legs or just standing around, him in hand but being ignored; I can *almost* feel teeth on my scalp but it's never more than a touch; and my palomino... he "kisses" by wiping his upper lip down my nose. I could feel both of these things, reading your descriptions.

    Just wonderful stories!

  25. Me thinks evil chucklin' on a ball might end with smug author on floor??
    Bwa-ha-haha (I'm on a chair)
    So you better not keep us hanging on that cliff too long!

  26. HOC - My balance on my ball is excellent. I ride horses, you know.

  27. As others have said before me. . .your blog is great and your writing style is beautiful. In fact, it is your blog that led me to venture out from turnrow riding and to try my first cowhorse clinic/competition this last weekend, an NVRHA clinic with Jay and Gena Henson. I am definitely hooked and so in love with my little mare. So, thanks!

  28. My sister sits on a ball to I could never understand it...I love Sonita and Mort stories. I think she has inspired me to start working on my blog. So its off to mine to start writing. Will post a link once I get it going.


  29. My blog is...


  30. Aaaah.
    Now I get it.
    You are sneak training during working hours!
    Balancing on the ball, and evil chuckling to train abdominal muscles.

    Now listen you.
    You just have to confirm to the rules like the rest of us.
    Get a normal chair, slouch over your pc and work your *ss off after work to achieve something better than a slouch on the horse afterwards.
    And no more chuckling during working hours. Get serious!

  31. Noooo... That must mean the Sonita story is nearly over! or is it???

    And once again Mugwump you have shown us what an awesome writer you are, but one question, had your hairy yak of horse grown her coat back from being clipped?

  32. Anon - No, Sonita was bald. I got razzed mercilessly. It was brutal. It took many beers to get over the trauma.

  33. wonderful writing. you have us right there with you. Along with everyone else, I'm waiting for the next one.

    Aside: the description of your warm-up (2 hours) has made me completely rethink my own for a dressage class--which is like just under an hour. Now, I think that might not be nearly enough. (gee, ya think?)

  34. milwaukeecob- Not all horses need so much warm up. Thank God.
    My yellow mare takes about 20 minutes. My daughter's mare Loki took about an hour. We had a grulla mare at the last place I worked who was a winning thing in the non-pro classes. She ate everybody's lunch.
    You could leave her in the pasture for 2 months, leg her up for a couple of days, the boss could go to the show and win with no more than a limbering 10 minute lope.
    I wish I had 100 of that mare, I'd be a wealthy woman.

  35. Love these stories...I wonder, however, if they ever get put in a book if they would have the same long, waited suspense!!!

    So...I hope I am not driving you too crazy with this, but I am still on the lead changes :P

    I can totally control Starlette's shoulders and hips. We canter in rectangles, I push her hips out at the turn and she makes really nice corners :). We canter in figure-8's and she holds the lead she starts on (so ends up counter-cantering).

    So, on a whim, the last time I was cantering figure-8's, at the cross-over, I pushed her hip in...and she counter-cantered with her hip in.

    I thought I might have jumped the gun and she didn't quite understand me, so I asked her for her leads from a stop..she gave me both left and right lead. She got really excited (she does that when she's having fun!) and we were also getting some nice launches, too! :)

    I was so pleased that she gave me her leads, I quit for the night after a few times practicing. We also practiced the next night, and she's had two days off (rain).
    Now it's passing showers today...I am hoping that I get a break and can try some figure-8's with a walk in between. I know my mare, she gets things really fast, and once she gets it, is prone to anticipate (you should have seen her once she understood side-passing...she was zipping sideways left and right without me "officially" asking until I made her realize she needed to wait for me!) So I want to play on that and hope to only have to walk a few times before we do changes.

    Hope I'm not driving you too crazy with the leads...I want to go slow and break down the process, and am very thrilled with the results!


  36. HorsesandTurbos:I reckon the suspense does add to the story. I get into a gibbering ball of excitement everytime i see a new story.

    Mugs/Milwaukeecob - I found out the hard way that my gelding needs a fair bit of warm up time before working the cattle, that little spazo tried to buck me off!

  37. Mugs,
    I agree--you try to know what the individual horse needs. But just for grins, would you mind detailing your warm-up? What do you start with, and what's the goal of that. Then, what next, and what are you trying to do with that? So forth and so on. What are you feeling for as you go through your warm-up? What are the clues that it's working or not working?What is the most important part of your warm-up and what is the "finessing"? Just use Sonita for your example. (my mare has many of her qualities)

    --And if you've already addressed this in a previous post, just point me to it.

    Thank you!

  38. you can't make us wait so long between installments next time. the waiting is killing me.