Monday, August 24, 2009

mouthy mondays

I have had some great riding these last few weeks and some solid thinking on training our horses. I'm finding out just how much I can still get done even at a slower, mellower pace.
Consistency and common sense seem to be the key. Having a good-minded horse to ride doesn't hurt either.

I know there are some training questions out there, from leaning on the bit to lead changes and I'll try to address those this week also.

And then there's the Sonita deal. You have to believe me, I don't leave you hanging on purpose. I think about where I was with Sonita after each post. I weed through what's relevant and what isn't and eventually come up with what I think is an interesting slice of my years with her. Then I write it. Then I start thinking again. It's kind of how the Mort stories come too. Except I usually find pieces of my life with Mort that correlate with where I was as a trainer or person in the Sonita stories.

Anyway, it's time for Mouthy Monday. I don't have a blog address on this one from Kay either. Sigh.

I wasn’t from a horse family, and I didn’t have much money. I don’t know if it was because of this or my embarrassment over my lack of lessons and horse lingo, but I didn't have very many riding friends either.

I bought my first horse from a barn that was a 20 minute bike ride from my parents house, they wouldn't take me to look so I had to find my own way. I was 14 and after 2 years of saving my part time job money I was the proud owner of a small, green, off the track, chestnut thoroughbred mare - at a barn primarily made up of warmbloods.

Now that I owned her, I realized I didn't have a penny to my name for tack. Luckily some of the older ladies at the barn took pity on me and lent me enough pieces to put together a saddle and bridle.

Over the next year I poured myself over books learning about the things lessons and camp never teach you, trying be a better owner and desperate to fit in. I was still pretty much ignored. I heard it all “green + green = black and blue”, you’re too tall for her, she’ll never made a nice hunter, she’s too small, but I didn’t care.

My parents never did come meet her, my high school friends weren’t interested and I was an outcast among the girls where I rode.

But onward we stumbled, learning as we went about basic care and the importance of patience. After about a year I decided I would try my hand at showing and we went to a hunter show down the road.

My mare stood out with her lumpy braids (my first time using yarn), mismatched tack (but I finally owned it), and me wearing rubber boots and a blazer from Zellers. As the trailer dropped us off I suddenly felt overwhelmed. I sat alone all day holding my mare, listening to kids snapping at their parents/coaches and trainers as their nerves started to get to them. I ate my sandwich and groomed my horse far away from the show rings, as others my age dropped their horse with their parents and went to watch the competition.

That day I learnt what "in the shoot" meant, and that you had to count your striding in between fences, and that it probably would have been nice if someone other then an irritated stranger could have held my horse for me while I took a rushed bathroom break. Our rounds weren’t amazing, we were fast, unbalanced and didn't get our leads. When we were in the line up waiting for the placings to be called, the girl next to me informed me that I was only supposed to use a white saddle pad at shows, not blue and she clearly didn’t think much of my outfit.

I tried to keep positive as I waited for the trailer to come pick us up at the end of the day, I cuddled with my little mare and quietly pulled out her braids. I rubbed her body and legs down as she quietly munched her hay.

As I waited, I started to feel self-conscious of one of the nearby coaches watching me. I knew who she was but I knew she wouldn't know me. Eventually she came over and put her hand on my horse’s side. I expected her to tell me I had put my wraps on wrong or some other correction but instead she quietly said "I knew this horse years ago and she's been waiting her whole life for someone to love her like you do, you’re doing a good job – don’t give up" and then she went back to her group of people.

Ten years later, I still remember that sentence over all of the snags me and my mare ever hit, or the negativity I received from other riders and their coaches as I bumbled around the hunter circuit.

I never got bitter, took my horse for granted or got angry at the people who offered me “pointers” at shows. I also never “traded up” to a bigger, flashier horse. My connection with riding boils down to the love I have for my horse, not the labels on my clothes, the name of my trainer or the number of ribbons hanging on my wall.

Still today, I love that now retired mare, and I think it’s appropriate to say that I had been waiting my whole life for a horse to love me like that, to take good care of me as I made mistakes and to never notice that her tack still doesn’t match.

For that I’ll be forever grateful.


  1. Oh man, the tears! Beautiful story.

  2. Ohhhh...thanks for making me tear up at work!!!

    What a heartwrencher. I never did understand why people are so heartless and cruel at horseshows, especially to kids!

  3. Funny how a few kind words can stick with a person over the years...

    aw... I'm all teared up at work. Good for you and your mare.

  4. Awesome story! Amazing how one positive comment can outweigh all the negative ones.

    Mugs, I love that the Sonita stories keep going and going. I'm going to be sad the day you write the final chapter on her. I never want it to end. :)

  5. Thank you to you and to the writer of that story! It was WONDERFUL! That sentence is what horses are about! I wish I could tell her what a great impact it made for me, too.

  6. I can identify - wonderful story and you two were lucky to find each other!

  7. Bless you for hanging in there! You truly 'get it' and are richer for it.

    I too know of a girl who slogs away with no support from her family and friends and have volunteered my time, etc, to her. I admire her for never giving up despite her family situation.

    Thank you for the wonderful story.

  8. I have never commented before but have been an avid reader since February.
    I spent most of my day today reading up on old Sonita stories, and as a result was feeling very emotionally sensitive when I read this newest post!

    This beautiful story has reminded me why I got into horses in the first place - and why I stay away from the show ring. I'm all teared up here at work!

    Looking forward to the next Sonita installment, but also dreading the eventual end to the story.

  9. One of the things I've told people over and over.

    Kindness matters. Kindness to animals, kindness to kids, kindness to ourselves.

    You *never* know when something you do, or something you say will make a difference for another. So choose what you say and who you say it to carefully.

    This is a perfect example of how one tiny bit of kindness made a difference for one young person.

  10. Wonderful story :) Reminds me of one of my first horses, Mister.

    The Second Waffle

  11. Aaargh - I feel like slapping your parents, sorry!
    I don't believe in being a helicopter parent, but taking NO interest and never checking when your child has taken charge of a green OTTB and she's inexperienced herself... It worked out great as it was due to your obvious natural ability and great attitude, but it could have ended up as a wreck very easily.

  12. I was that kind of kid, too.

    Today I'm trying to 'see' the need for encouragement in those around me. An encouraging word is NEVER waster ... your story proves that. Loved it.

  13. OMG. You've done what nobody else has really done, you've struck such a chord with me, you brought tears to my eyes. WOW.

    I can feel it, I can taste it, and I know the feeling of the love of the horse. WOW. Thank you.

  14. Beautiful story. Thank you for sharing. (And for being true to this horse by keeping her in your life.)

  15. Thanks for the reminder, to always offer kind words instead of judgement. You just never know what will have an impact on somebody's life.

    When I was a kid my hand-me-down bridle didn't match my Argentine saddle either. My parents did have an old orange pickup truck though. It went nicely with my rusty green trailer. It was easy to find at shows.

  16. That is such a beautiful story!
    It reminds me of my first pair of LEATHER riding boots that were given to me by a college student who was retraining a couple of ex-racing Thoroughbreds. Those boots were as old and scuffed and wrinkled as could be but I loved them and polished them like they were brand new. She also gave me two black hunt coats: one wool and one linen and LOTS of great advice in training my mare to go hunter pleasure. Frankly, I worshipped her and was amazed that she took time for ME, a "nobody" teenager.

  17. Awh...this reminds me of what my first horse taught me. To this day I wish I had kept him, but I was in my 20s and some little girl needed a free horse, so I gave her both my horse and my mom's. I never kept up with them, but I like to think they were spoiled in their last years.

    He also taught me that it's just about me and my horse. My mare (and my mini) have that close relationship and I revel in it.

    Thanks for a great story!


  18. Hey everyone,
    I am the author of that story and I just wanted to say thank you so much for taking the time to read it and provide your comments. I am touched beyond words by the responses.
    I love knowing that other people just like me are out there, because sometimes it’s easy to feel insignificant in such an affluent sport.
    I wish I knew where that coach was today because I would love to tell her how much I appreciated that unexpected kindness.
    Barrelracingmom – That girl will always hold you in a special place, thank you for helping her.
    Helen – My parents had no idea she was off the track or if they did, they didn’t know what that meant. I brought a picture of her home the week I bought her, just bursting with pride and all they said was “why did you buy such a skinny horse?”. Lol she was “racing fit” and it didn’t take me too long to turn her into a “hunter” body type, but I was fiercely protective of her so I started to just leave them out of the loop. She was and is perfect to me!
    Albigears – LOL I love the truck and trailer combination!
    Fantastyk Voyager – I just bought my first real leather field boots, second hand is the way to go!!

    I hope that my story inspires even one person to find that little outcast at their barn and give them some positive reinforcement and maybe even an old extra brush you have lying around, because trust me that will mean the world to them.

    Thanks again everyone and thank you to mugwump - who gave me the opportunity to reflect!!

  19. This story is Mort and me to the core. The protectiveness I felt toward him has colored the way I train to this day.

  20. Whew....*sniff*

    Marie Hardesty. That was the name of the neighbor woman whose children were so into horses. Sleek fancy little buckskin and palomino half-arabs. I didn't even own a saddle for my big ol' grade quarter horse......but that classy lady was nothing but helpful, included me in horsey things constantly, helped me with problems that my own non-horsey parents couldn't.....

    Great story......great.....

  21. Lovely! and 10 times as good because you still have your girl with you!

  22. Aww, what a great story, choked me up too... I think most of us can relate to that awkward "outsider" feeling at one point or another. Thanks for sharing.

  23. Lovely story. Mugs, this 'mouthy mondays' thing you have going on is pretty darn cool.

    I have always wanted to stumble across one of those horse-crazy young kids so I can help them start off on the right foot. I know someday I will. Reading stories like this, it's obvious how a few kind words or a little good advice can stick with a person forever.

  24. Wow. Fantastic story! My first horse, Dixie, was given to me, and I felt out of place at the shows, too. There were some AWESOME judges and 4-H leaders that helped me out, and I am eternally grateful to them!

  25. Yeah! Cantered bareback today! And stayed on! And was balanced!!!!

    Now to barrel race bareback ala Mugs LOL!


  26. Oh my. I love love love this story. It hit such a chord with me because I was that girl too. And I recieved similar encouraging words along the way, usually from complete strangers. I used to sneak over to the local arena to watch the weekend lessons and one weekend one of the participants in a clinic, an older lady I had seen around but didnt know, called me over from the corner where I used to hide. I thought for sure she was going to ask me to leave as I was not a club member and certainly couldnt afford to be, either. Instead she told me to go get my horse and gave me her spot in the clinic since her horse was lame. She even stuck around and helped me get ready and offered encouragement, which meant the world to me. The timing of the post is funny as I was thinking of her and her kindness just yesterday.

  27. what a tough, strong willed little lady you were. I respect what you did to have your horse. And I understand how they end up owning your heart and vice versa. What a great story.

  28. Your story is so touching. I really enjoyed it. I too never had the right equipment or the right horse as a kid. That stuff is still not important to me. I have a photo that I love of me and my horse at my first and only western pleasure show where my mare is tied up to my folk's station wagon amongst all the horse trailers. I had ridden the 4 or 5 miles to the show grounds. Thanks for bringing back some great memories.

  29. What a stunning story... on the one hand I get the shivers thinking of how terribly things could have gone wrong; on the other hand this kind of story just proves that one really appreciates something that you worked for.

    HorsesAndTurbos share some tips on cantering bareback please! Or Mugs if you've dealt with this please direct me to the right place.

  30. Horsesand Turbos - I was 15 and still bounced when I rode barrels bareback! Now I would just lay in a puddle of broken bones and bruises, sobbing softly to myself.
    And that would be after trying to crawl on bareback....

  31. That is a wonderfully written, touching story. Congratulations to you and your lil' mare for finding each other~~