Thursday, March 8, 2012

Sonita, the Big K and Me

I was out of breath. Sonita stepped forward. I pulled her back.

“You’re working too hard,” K said.

I leaned over the saddle horn and she stepped forward. I pulled her back.

“She isn’t breathing as hard as you are. She’s the one doing all the work.”

I sat back and shifted, wheezing. She pinned her ears and swung her hindquarters. I picked up my romels and moved her back.

“So what’s happening here?”

“I don’t know, I guess I get too excited,” I finally said. I sure wasn’t going to admit the buffalo were FREAKING ME OUT!

Sonita rattled her bit hard, making my body shake. I picked up my reins, gathered her, relaxed.
She stepped forward. I pulled her back.


Oops, K was irritated. Sonita stepped forward. I pulled her back.

“Either ignore her or make her stop! You and that horse keep picking at each other like, like….”
“A couple of queens in a bar bitch slapping each other?” I smiled sweetly.

I loved watching K turn red in embarrassment, snort back a laugh and try to stay mad all at the same time.

“If you know what I mean then get out there and ride your horse!”

He stepped in on his bug-eyed little colt and I booted Sonita into a lope. If we weren’t out of there in a hurry K had no problem helping us along, and his two-year-old really didn’t want to boss Sonita around.

Sonita relaxed into her swift, powerful circles and I was able to think. The only time she was ever at ease while we rode was when she was corralled in a big circle. How was I ever going to make her be still?

Sonita was never quiet, never at peace. She fretted, she twitched, she picked at life, not just with me, but everywhere she was. She tore down stalls, terrorized stable mates, had been known to about skin the unwary barn cat, opened doors, ripped out hay feeders, untied knots, jumped fences, kicked down fences, climbed fences, all in the name of everything Sonita.

The vet had declared her “busy,” more than one trainer had called her nuts, boarders at the barn simply gave her a wide berth.

Peaceful interaction was a rarity. The buffs were so quick, I was still in her way, and she was always two strides ahead, leaping beyond the bit, my legs, and my thoughts. I rode with gritted teeth, not so much determination, but to stop from biting through my tongue.

My holes as a trainer never more obvious then when we stood, as a group, watching the action in the show pen.

All of the professionals’ horses stood quiet and at ease, on a loose rein, often with a hip cocked, their eyes half closed, taking advantage of the break. They didn’t paw or try to step away. They never nosed the horse next to them, pinned their ears or snapped their tails. Even the studs stood quiet and relaxed.

The trainers themselves, gestured and waved, laughed, visited or shouted at clients. Their reins hung in relaxed fingers or draped across a saddle horn. Their legs might be relaxed in the stirrups, or kicked out one by one and stretched. Often they would talk on the phone, one leg crossed over the saddle horn, deep in casual conversation. They paid absolutely no attention to the horse they sat on, it might as well have been a bar stool, an easy chair, or a three rail fence.
Meanwhile, Sonita pawed, moved, jiggled, shook, whinnied, while I pulled, released, pulled, released, put her to work, stopped working, sweated, cussed under my breath, pulled some more, hung on, let go, AAARRRGGHH!!!

“You’ve got to simplify your thinking,” K said. ”Take your brain off the horse. It isn’t a rest if you’re crouched over her waiting for her to react.”

I just couldn’t get it done.


It was my lesson day. Over time, lessons had changed from one afternoon a week, to all day affairs, to two days a week. I rode colts under K’s semi-careful eye, put a handle on stiff, boring horses he didn’t want to ride and in exchange was given the privilege of having K slap me into some kind of shape. He didn’t charge me anymore and no longer felt the need to treat me like a student.  I got yelled at and harassed like the rest of the help and loved it.

Today, a group of clients was showing up to work their horses and watch the progress on their futurity prospects. This was a fun bunch of people and normally I would be looking forward to the afternoon. But I was having trouble mustering up much enthusiasm.

My stomach wasn’t playing fair. It was gurgling, shifting around, and nailing me with periodic pokes and stabs. The results were so rough even the horses gave me odd looks while I cleaned that morning.

Horrifying sounds and the smells to match kept blasting or oozing from every available orifice. A thick, metallic slime had coated the back of my teeth and I was feeling a little woozy.
This had the makings of a bad go, so I hurried to get my horses loaded and head out to K’s. If this was going to lay me out, I wanted to get in as many hours in the saddle as possible while I still could.

I managed most of the day by staying downwind and sipping herbal tea from my water bottle. K gave me an odd look or two, but didn’t comment, and he didn’t make me work any extra, his usual reaction to even a hint of self-pity, so I felt like I was getting by.

Now this. All I had to do was be available for turn back, opening and closing gates, shagging cattle, bringing K a fresh horse or sitting on a spent one, no big thing. Unless of course every word spoken came with a noxious, deep, three-beer-burp, and every step up or down from the saddle, every lean, every shift, ended up with a rousing rendition of Symphony of the Dead Cats played with plenty of bass.

The storm in my stomach kept building. Sweat dripped steadily into my eyes, trickled down the sides of my nose and off the end of my chin. I wiped my face with my coat sleeve and realized even my sweat stunk.

“Janet,” K said, “go ahead and take this one.”

Who me? I stared at him. I didn’t work cattle when he had clients. They did. I was counting on it.

I looked at the cow I had brought into the pen. She was fresh and new and I was supposed to have held her back. K didn’t want the clients to thrash on her and use her up.

He kept me pinned with his blue-eyed gaze, all wide-eyed innocence on the outside and pretty pissed off on the inside. I wondered how many times he had yelled to my unresponsive ears, “Not that one!” while I sorted her out and brought her in. I was so sunk in my misery I hadn’t heard a word.

Now he wanted me to ease her down the fence and make sure she was lightly run. Lord, he wanted finesse. Which meant focus? My stomach groaned louder than I did.

I went for it. Sonita was happy to go, unhappy when I wouldn’t let her crawl on top of the cow and create a wild show run.

We lined up down the fence and made our run. With every stride the sound of my exploding intestines filled my ears, it was cannon fire, land mines, exploding tires, accompanied by a smell we couldn’t run fast enough to escape.

Please God, get me out of here. My exploding guts were the only response.
When we finished our run nobody said much.

The sulphur filled air had everybody glassy eyed and I stood as far from the group as I could politely manage to let Sonita air up. Nobody argued. K kicked out my cow and judiciously left the doors to the indoor open.

As the fresh air blew in everybody revived and began to talk back and forth. I sat my horse, shifting, front to back, side to side, feeling my misery mount. I was never going to live this one down. Ever. A soft burp slid past my grinding teeth. Still pure poison. I could just imagine how the conversation was going to go once I gave it up and went home. Swamp gas seeped up from my saddle and surrounded me. Sonita snorted over and over, like she had a nose full of no-seeums.

I folded my hands over my belly and rocked a bit.

“Hey Janet,” K said.


Here it came. The jokes were going to start. I was never going to be able to show my face in the cow horse public again.

“Look at your horse.”


I looked at my horse. Red, sweaty, …wait.

Sonita was standing quiet, all four feet planted, her ears were forward, and she was looking around with a calm, interested expression and working her roller with a relaxed and happy mouth. My hands were wrapped across my rebelling belly. Her reins were draped over the horn.

“Looks like you got your mind off your horse.” K grinned at me.

I ripped another one.


  1. You have made me laugh many times before. But this was the BEST!! (I would have been worried about soiling my saddle!)

  2. I'm glad I read this before I went to go get a cup of coffee. :) Oh man, talk about your rides from hell.

  3. OMG you poor thing. While hysterical that sounded truly miserable. Thank goodness the experience came with a good lesson!

  4. Logging in and seeing this was like growing up and discovering there actually IS a Santa Claus. Another Sonita story? NO WAY!

    I swear I just got sympathy cramps for you. How embarrassing. Also, I have the strangest urge to open my office door and turn on the air--- be careful how you use your descriptive writing.... this was a little too real! :D

  5. Hahaha... that was classic! Kudos to you for still riding and at least some good came of it...

  6. OMG.... Your farts don't smell like Roses?

  7. Who said anything about farts? Ladies don't fart.

  8. So glad for another Sonita story! Do you miss her personality? Or did she help you appreciate the "easy" ones?'

  9. Tooo funny....I would have blamed it on the horse cuz your correct women don't “audibly” fart. I think it’s because we all have such dainty butts!

  10. RHF - yes and no...Sonita and I were complicated

  11. So very descriptive! Maybe Sonita was standing still because she was overcome by fumes. :)

  12. Who is the dude in the picture? Is that actually K?

  13. anon - just some guy breaking every horse safety rule known to mankind....

  14. OMG...hilarious!!! Really can't believe you held out...that's way beyond cowgirlin' up and I'da gone home!!!

    Great story...and blog hug back at ya~

  15. "Swamp gas" is not nearly as bad as Texas three day road kill gas......

    It's funny that prior to the age of, say 47 women, tend to hide the natural body functions.....after 47we laugh about and can actually have burp offs after a ride and drinking beer......after 50 a woman will say WTF.

    Getting old ain't for sissies or those with NO sense of "Gross Anon".

    Great story Mugs; very descriptive!

  16. Yeah I like that photo... some of us would sit like that at the saddle club between our classes and watch everybody else. Really dumb. I'd lean on my knee while my leg was thrown over my horse's neck, lazily thinking how it could go terribly wrong if he so much as stepped sideways. I can't get away with that now... I will have to be some kind of good example!

    This post was both funny and sickening. Brilliant. You actually made me queasy! Good job. I know what it's like to sit on a horse wondering if I'm gonna barf or not. It's never happened. So far.

  17. Oh man that's a wretched situation right there! I'm with flyin', I think you chemically bombed Sonita into a fugue.

  18. Usually your stories are safe to read over lunch. Today, not so much. Hysterical, yes, but still gross! No dog parallel, except they would have been fascinated and sniffing the sources....

  19. "Symphony of the Dead Cats" made me laugh....

    I agree with scsarah - after 50, it's okay to let go and laugh about it.

  20. That was a pretty good story..and some a little too discriptive..LOL I still have a really bad habit from my younger days of riding bareback. Hanging on with my feet! I can still hear my trainer when I was working a cow and it got a little too fast and furious for me, I would tend to grab with my feet when my mare(the Ice Princess)would go to stop, he would yell out and say, "HEY NO FAIR HANGING ON WITH THE SPURS!!" I would just yell back, "Well, I get better traction that way!"
    Another thing I did for awhile was phsyc myself out for getting ready to check her at the ends because she liked to stop on her front end. So I would go across the pen in anticipation of stopping her and not realizing that I had the reins tight and wondering why she wasn't going as fast as she should, so my trainer would say, "RELEASE her!" finally after the 3rd time of him telling me that, he said, "Do you drive your car down the road with the brakes and the gas on at the same time????" I thought I was pretty clever when I came back with the response of, "Well, sometimes when I need to dry the brakes out!" LOL

  21. Just reading this made my stomach do a few flip flops. HILARIOUS! I have no other words...rotflmao

  22. Well now, your story made me laugh and fart at the same time. At my age, who gives a flip! Least my coworkers were out of the office!

  23. Love your writing Mugs, you make me laugh, you make me you made laugh so hard I cried lol!

  24. Love your writing Mugs, you make me laugh, you make me you made laugh so hard I cried lol!

  25. Love your writing Mugs, you make me laugh, you make me you made laugh so hard I cried lol!