Monday, January 2, 2012

Mouthy Monday

Alexis shared a glimpse into three horses which shaped her life in the horse world.

I spend most of my days chasing my two kids, trying to take care of all of our animals, making my best attempt to be a good mother and a good wife. I try not to let my mind wander away from the everyday routine, but once in awhile I catch myself drifting off into a memory. My memories of horses long gone, of horses that taught me more than any book or video ever could have.

 Yes, there's something to be said about learning techniques from a more experienced trainer, but there's nothing in the world that can replace learning things first hand through trial and error. It gives you a better feel for your horse, not to mention strengthens your own reflexes and timing. There are some things that can't be taught--only learned. That sounds paradoxical, but it's true.

A long bodied, fat paint gelding taught me to FEEL the difference in a right lead and a left lead. He was a heel horse, he was supposed to go in his left lead, it was ideal for a team roping horse. I was 9. I wanted to run turn the first barrel on the right side of the pattern and be quick, a horse needs to be in his right lead. It wasn't easy, and even as young as I was, I did get frustrated. But through several summers of riding bareback, just spending time on my horse, I figured it out. It wasn't something that someone showed me, or anything that someone told me either. It just **clicked** one afternoon.

A long legged, long headed sorrel gelding taught me how to be humble. I was riding horses for a good friend of mine, a gal with the trucks, trailers, horses and everything else I could only dream of.
I was mounted on horses that cost over five figures almost daily( a fortune to me!), I was in heaven!

A girl came by one day to show her string of barrel horses to the boss lady, and the boss lady wanted me to take a few of them through. She'd hurt her back recently, which was the cause for my present employment. I'd been there early that afternoon, and had looked through most of what had been brought in. There were only 4, and one stood out to me. He packed a famous brand on his left hip, it was known throughout the barrel racing world as the mark of a mouth watered. I already knew I wanted him for me, but didn't think there was any way my parents could afford him.

 One by one, I took the horses through the pattern, boss lady watched, asked what I thought, then visited with their seller. We saved the one with the brand for last, I could feel my palms getting damp as I walked up to slip his bridle on. He was above and beyond anything I'd ever ridden; at least in my mind he was. Sort of like going from driving a go cart at home, to going to a big track and getting behind the wheel of a Nascar stock car. He was quiet, calm, everything felt good. He warmed up easy, went through the pattern as quiet as a lamb, then took my breath away when I took him through full speed. He was my dream horse...and then the other boot dropped. He had egg bar shoes on, was rumored to have navicular, and would occasionally duck the first barrel.

My parents did manage to buy him for me, and I never had a bigger reality check than I did after we owned him. I worked my butt off to get him in shape, to keep him sound, rode several hours a day, never left the barn it seemed. But when you have damaged goods to start with, it's hard to piece it back together. We'd do great for a few runs, then it would all fall apart again. His mind and his body had been pushed far beyond what he deserved. He tried, Lord knows he gave me what he could. I learned to recognize what was fair to ask of him, and what was just out of the question. He eventually went on to become a trail horse, then a kid's horse, both of which amazed me to no end. He was the definitive "point" in my life, the horse that taught me to step up and RIDE. Not train, not pick and pull and over analyze, but to swing a leg over and screw down...or get left behind.

A little blue blooded sorrel mare taught me one simple lesson....I don't get along with mares. End of story. Hers was another story of being exceptional, then being punished as a result of her excellence. When a previous owner realized they couldn't ride her, and couldn't sell her because of the issues they'd given her, they did something deplorable. The insured her sky high, tied her solid in a ramshackle trailer, then did their best to end her life. How she lived through it, heaven only knows. Live through it she did, despite their efforts.

She was distrustful, gorgeous, bred to the hilt, and a walking time bomb. The slightest things would set her off, she'd fly backwards and do her best to escape her present situation, no matter who or what was around. My dad and I managed to get past most of the snarls in her mind, I was able to compete on her a little. She just couldn't handle the pressures of hauling, no matter how careful we were she had a meltdown every trip. We sold her to a girl who was desperate to use her as a broodmare, only to find out a year later that she died in the process of foaling. It seemed like a cheated end for such a talented horse, but then again she was happier in that last year than she'd ever been. Turned out to pasture, no riding, no hauling, no fear. She taught me what type of horses I wanted to make, and reinforced the things I didn't want to put a horse through.

Those three horses are etched into my memory, they made me who I am today. My kids may never spend hours and hours in the barn the way that I did, it's their choice if they choose to or not. If I have to go to baseball or soccer games instead of rodeos, I'm OK with that. I will always hope in the back of my mind that they'll put down the ball or bat, and go pick up a halter instead. Dedication, perserverance, sure, sports can teach those things. Things that any kid can learn through trial and error on any given day.

The lessons learned from asking an 1100 pound animal to trust you implicitly, and being honored by earning that trust....that's something a kid can't learn from a ball.


  1. "The lessons learned from asking an 1100 pound animal to trust you implicitly, and being honored by earning that trust....that's something a kid can't learn from a ball."

    That is for sure! Kids that grow up with horses learn some important life lessons and life skills.

  2. Thanks yall! Very proud for Mugs to have chosen me for today (=

  3. This gave me chills.

  4. A very good article. It sounds like you learn a lot from your horses. I have to take issue with one point at the beginning, though, where you suggest that lessons and advice from a professional are "no substitute" for what you can learn on your own through trial and error. You kind of make my point for me actually, when you say it took you several summers of riding around bareback to learn to tell your leads through your seat. Once you could sit a canter, I could have taught you that in a couple of lessons, and so could any other competent trainer. And the whole process probably would have been a bit easier on your horse.

    Yes, you could, and did, learn on your own. And you learned *how* to learn on your own, which is something you ultimately must understand in order to be an expert rider. But that doesn't mean that learning on your own is better than learning with a trainer, especially in the early stages.

    Sorry, I don't mean to pick on you. And it doesn't sound like you abused your horses in the process of learning. (Though a good trainer might have made you back off the navicular horse a bit earlier.) But I see so many horses suffering both abuse and minor cruelty as a result of owners who don't think they need lessons.

  5. I use a similar version of your closing line as one of my major selling points for riding lessons, and it's my main reason for being in the sport. The mutual respect between a horse and rider is amazing to behold.

  6. Aegle-
    My saying that some things are better learned through trial and error is simply an observation of scads of people that throw money at every issue they have with their horses. The ones that won't put in the time and effort themselves rarely care whether they learn anything or not. Also, at 9 years old, I was lucky to have a horse. Lessons weren't in the budget, so I did the best I could. You can not imagine the things that I went through with my "navicular horse", so back off. Yes, I'm getting snippy, you don't get to read a little snippet Mugs posts and then take on an older wiser been there done that approach with me. After thousands and thousands of dollars, come to find out the "navicular" horse didn't have navicular, he'd had his mind blown like a dandelion on an Amarillo afternoon. Physical soundess was not his problem. And if you don't believe me then kiss my ass.

  7. Mugs-

    I don't know where to put this so here it is. I rode my mare for the 1st time in 11/2 months on a cold bluster day. She gave me some attitude while tacking, and I thought " this will be fun". The sun was setting and I wanted to ride so I bridled up minus the martingale and cavason. Both are fairly loose. I mainly ride in a fat hollow mouth snaffle, but lately I've been playing around with other snaffle types. The latest is a happy mouth hollow one ring elevator type. She goes really well in it.


    No cavason or martingale and she was perfect! Thanks Mugs!

  8. Alexis~your story sounds a lot like mine. I learned a lot of skills on my own. Later I got a trainer who tried to groom me into a show rider, which I hated. Needless to say lessons didn't last very long. But, I still ride bareback all the time and credit my love for that from my youth. Loved your story;)

    Aegle~Everyone has an opinion and you know what they say about them. Your preaching reminds me of the women of the hoity toity show world that I avoided like the plague.

  9. Hmm. Wow. What strong responses. I guess I didn't state my point in the best way.

    Arctic Woman, I'm sorry you met a snobby trainer who tried to put you down a path you didn't want to take. There are better, and more down-to-earth, trainers out there. Taking lessons doesn't equal snobby, hoity-toity, or headed for competition.

    Alexis, I'm not faulting you for not being able to afford lessons. It sounds like you worked it out, and that's admirable. However, it seemed to me that you were suggesting that you were better off that way, and that perhaps others would be just as well to go it on their own. I think it's important to put out an alternative view because, again, some people end up doing real harm to themselves and their horses that could be avoided with a little guidance.

    Not everyone who takes lessons is throwing money at their problems. I worked hard for my lessons (and I know I was lucky to have the chance.) Many of my students have, too. It is possible to approach lessons with humility rather than with the intention of buying a solution. Mugs often talks about her lessons with her trainer that way. Trainers who are real horsepeople have little patience for those who won't put out effort -- mine always demanded that I work much harder than I ever would have worked on my own.

  10. It is a great story and brought back memories of all the horses in my life that gave me similar lessons.

    Aegle must think he/she is on another blog. The writer was sharing the past, not asking for advice.

  11. "But I see so many horses suffering both abuse and minor cruelty as a result of owners who don't think they need lessons."

    I have also seen a lot of riders terrified and horses lamed by Major cruelty with "trainer" lessons.

    Encouragement to improve is not achieved by slamming a persons experience.

  12. Very very good article. I have owned a total of three horses and rode a total of 4, in my life, and each one of them taught me a valuable lesson! Something that I would never of learned otherwise. The most important lesson, was patience. Something I was very short on, early in my motherhood days, and wished I would of had then. But now as a grama, it really comes in handy. THANK YOU For this article!

  13. Re:"The lessons learned from asking an 1100 pound animal to trust you implicitly, and being honored by earning that trust" - On our place the other evening, something spooked our horses and when I went to feed 'em I saw the fence wire knocked down and the horses standing down the lane. Because it was getting dark the electric fence was sparking on the ground. I unplugged the fencer and fixed the fence. I figured I could just call the horses and they would come and eat their hay. Well, nobody would come down the lane and it was dark now. I called my horse to me and grabbed a bit of his mane, "Wilson, walk" I said, and he went with me down the lane till we got to the spot where the wire had been down, Wilson paused, "It's ok, walk", I told him and Wilson started walking again. All the other horses followed us to the hay without incident. It means so much that my horse trusts me!

  14. Alexis ~ I enjoyed your post very much and hope that your kids do get the horse bug some day. I love that my adult daughter and I share a passion.

  15. Wow what's with the massive overreaction to Aegle? She didn't say the writer was an awful person for not having a trainer, just that the horses may have been helped by one in a couple of cases. I have to agree with that assessment. So the gelding didn't have navicular and instead was burned out? Wouldn't someone who's seen show burn before (a trainer) have been able to call that and maybe found a way to work with it? Maybe, if we're talking about a good trainer, which is what Aegle was saying.
    I have a friend who's self taught, she's got a great glued on seat and works great with her horses. She admits that a trainer would help her immensely with certain things that she just doesn't "get".
    I'm just not seeing why things are getting nasty just because someone's saying trainers have their place.

  16. Wow. The not wanting to see an opposing view point has me speechless.....and that is a hard thing to do.

    People do not realize a good arguement is null and voided when a certain demeanor and/or attitude is purposefully used to cover up not wanting to listen/learn/accept.

    I'm 51 years old, 52 in a few weeks. I was one of those girls who wanted a horse, but my parents disagreed with that concept. So I was horseless and would have killed for a horse and lessons.

    Over the years I self trained myself by working in as many different horse barns, situations, set-ups as I could find.

    The breeding farm, the show barn, the hunter jumper barn in a gated equine community, and the hack stables all taught me what to do and what not to do. All invaluable to me in my search for my identity as a horsewoman.

    However, after 40 plus years of riding and working with horses on a regular basis, I started to take "hoity toity" dressage lessons.....gasp! I wanted to try it, knew nothing about it and decided I needed help.

    My lessons have been hard fought for, most appreciated, and I work damn hard at improving myself and my little Arab gelding.

    Do I agree with everything the trainer says? No. I'm 51 and have learned to question everything. EVERYTHING.

    Does she treat me with respect? Damn straight she does, because I work on the lesson plan all week until the next one. And it shows.

    Does she point out my short comings? Like.... I lean forward, my heels come up every now and again, I'm not using my hips correctly, I don't have enough contact, and Lord knows countless others. Oh yeah she tells me. How else could I learn?

    Does the trainer I use let lame horses ride. Big NO. There are two horses where I board she will not ride, or give lessons to. She believes it is abuse, and akin to a human running for an hour with a pulled hammy, groin, or a sprained ankle. And if your horse comes up lame she does not charge you, even for gas money. She understands sh^! happens. Wonderful, wonderful trainer.

    Are there others who take lessons and do not learn a damn thing? Hell yes, because they do not want to learn; they do not want to hear criticisim; they want the trainer to do the work; and, they want an easy fix.

    As with everything in life, from going to college, to marriage, to raising children, to working with horses, takes work. And you only get out of life what you put into it.

    Right now, the horseless girl of 42 years ago can buy riding lessons, and damn straight I'm putting my all into it.

    So, if you ever visit where I board, ride, and train, don't look for the hoity toity; we are all old, been there done that, opened minded, love our beer, cigars, and a good colorful joke. You would never guess the old lady in the baseball chap, armitas, corona (with lime)in my hand, with a dressage saddle and bosal on my horse is the hoity toity dressage enthusiast who will be showing, in full dressage regalia (bit included for Arab gelding!), in the Spring just because Arab gelding and I have worked hard to do so.

    Basically I'm an advocate for both self taught and seeking help with someone who knows more than you may know. One thing about know when to cry uncle and seek help.

    Dang, I guess I could have left it with just the paragraph above and left out all the other stuff.....LOLOLOLOL

  17. scsarah- I want to come ride with you and your trainer....

  18. Actually Mugs, I was thinking it would be wonderful to head west and ride with you.

    Be that as it may, the cold beer is awaiting. Or this time of year coffee/hot chocolate and kaluha and/or brandy....*grins*....since I'm currently not in the warm arms of South Carolina....*sighs*

    Ceegars are optional.

    We are a 'rustic' bunch. That is what a potential boarder said to the BO once.....LOLOLOLOL. Needless to say she decided not to board there.

  19. It's not that I don't want to hear another point of view, or that I disagree with everything that Aegle said. My issue is that this was just a little paragraph about what those horses taught me. Honestly, what good does it do to point things out about how this or that could've been done differently?! I was a kid then, it was years and years ago. Berating me for no trainer or lessons or suggesting that I abused any of them is pointless because it's over and done with. For the record, they all were well taken care of and very loved.
    For all of you that are so convinced that the "Burn Out" or "Navicular" gelding was so's his story. He was 12 years old when we bought him. Had eggbar shoes on but was sound all the way around. He would get sore if he was kept in a stall 24/7 but at his age it didn't surprise me. He was a 1D/2D barrel horse. The first competitive horse I'd ever owned. I won LOTS of money with him when he felt good and when he was happy with the world. When we went to little local jackpots he worked great, we won money and everything was flowers and butterflies. When I started hauling him farther and farther to go to rodeos and bigger barrel races, the pressures of hauling and being stalled started to get to him. He was 100% sound, he'd have every joint xrayed, had taken him to the best lameness vet in our part of Oklahoma. There was NOTHING wrong with him physically. Mentally, he was fine as long as we were close to home and I didn't ask too much of him.
    Go ahead, pick away. I'm done explaining and will be done reading comments. Initially I was SUPER excited to see something I had written up on Mugs blog, but now I guess I'll just act like it never happened.

  20. A - Hope, hope, hope you read my post today.

  21. I just wanted to say I enjoyed your story. There is a lot we can learn from just doing!

  22. This may be the only comment you have ever had from someone who shows Hackney ponies. I was a "back yarder" for fifty some years an was fairly successful. Then I got a pony I couldn't deal with and got help from a wonderful trainer who seemed to think it was really ok that I wanted to do it myself. Time passed and I ended up with one at the trainers and one at home. Now more time has passed and I am so freakin' old that I am very happy to have the one I show at the trainers (same trainer) and let him do all the work. I will say that the close bond between pony and me is missing in one I never work myself, but I feel lucky to still be showing.

  23. Well I hope y'all don't jump all over me...
    A I loved your post, however I do think you over-reacted a bit to Aegle's comment, I seriously don't think she was berating you. She mentioned that she thought you did well by yourself and for your horses.
    As for your later response about being judged by a paragraph... when that's all that's been put out there that's all there is to go on right? And I don't think you were being 'judged' it was just a counterpoint to your statement about being better off without lessons.

  24. I know Im late to the party, but I just wanted to say this.

    I learnt both from a trainer, and on my own. When I was 12 my dad bought me a barely halter broken, head-shy yearling filly and kind of just went "Okay, go be free together." In short, I had very little supervision and little help with her.

    I was taking riding lessons at the same time, at my mom's two hours away from my horse. The lessons helped immensly. I learnt how to properly catch, groom and lift up the feet of a horse (although that did not stop my horse from kicking me the first time I tried with her).

    I still value what I learnt in those lessons, I probably wouldn't know how to do a quick-release knot, I might think crops were strictly a tool of cruel abuse.

    I did learn a lot from just working and riding my horse though. The trainer didn't teach me to stick to my horse like glue, my horse did. I probably didn't learn how to ride as quickly as I could have if I had continued to ride with a trainer, but that worked for me. It let me take the time to really learn it, to see the improvement and it gave my horse time to learn it with me. If she or I needed to take months with it, we took months with it.

    I think both learning from a trainer and learning from a horse are great ways to learn.

  25. Based on the commentary here, I think that I was growing up in no man's land. I could not afford a horse, but took lessons. The kids at the barn didn't usually give me the time of day, because I only rode once a week and never showed. A friend who had her own horses and was "self-taught" treated me like a sucker for taking lessons. I just couldn't win, but I loved horses and riding too much to let it stop me.

    Now that I have my own horse, the years of lessons that I paid for with my own blood, sweat, and tears have paid off in spades, but I also enjoy the opportunity to ride solo and figures things out on my own (occasional lessons are still on the cards). There is a big difference between following directions in a riding lesson and listening to the horse's feedback as a guide. Of course, that requires knowing what you want (lessons) and how to read the horse (time with horses). Looking back, I do not think that I could really cut anything out.

    I agree with Mugs in her more recent post.

  26. I'm one of those people that learned more from the horses than she ever learned from anyone else... trainers/coaches.. etc.
    Tbh, I didn't learn shit from being "taught" by people.
    I did learn from wise, old, "damaged" horses.
    I did learn from bringing up youngsters.
    I did learn from unstable, bitchy mares that were smarter than most people that I've ever dealt with.

    Some people can intuit what works with what horses in a subconscious way that can't quite be understood.

    Some people can't intuit at all and need to be walked through every step. And truth be told.. many of them never really ever learn to speak the language.

    Yet others are somewhere in the middle.. they have the idea, but need to be shown the application.

    A trainer is not a necessity for everyone, but is indispensable for many.
    Nor is a trainer all-knowing. IMHO.. I'd rather a person learn on their own and research than be educated by a shitty trainer.

  27. Alexis, it sounds like your dad was a pretty good horse trainer, and knew how to keep you and the horses safe while letting you learn from experience. Mine could never have done that, even if we could have afforded a horse (I think he knows the difference between the end you feed and the end you shovel up after, but not much more.)

    It took me until I was 30 years old for someone to finally make it click that my leg needed to go "this" way (by moving it into position) before I was able to progress and learn to develop a seat. I guess I'm one of the slower ones when it comes to riding, and the older I get the more accepting I am of the fact that I need the help!

    But there are other things in life that you have to learn by doing yourself. It's not limited to horses.

  28. I think it is a terrific story! I always hope my kids would show interest in horses, but alas, they did not. Being around horses and learning from them is a truly wonderful way to grow up.

    This isn't fugly and I am offended by AE for deciding this was the place for one's "two cents". Thanks for keeping people that probably have really neat stories to tell not share them for fear of comments like yours AE (including me). I really hope that doesn't happen as I look forward to reading about these stories on "Mouthy Mondays".