Wednesday, January 1, 2014


When I began this blog a lifetime ago, I was a disgruntled, burnt-out horse trainer. I wasn't the best horse trainer  to ever hit the ground and I wasn't the worst, not by a long shot.

I was, however, questioning every aspect of what I was doing. When I had begun training in earnest, I had already had my arm amputated because of a ten-year battle with cancer. I was the single mother of a little girl, crazy determined to keep her with me while I struggled to make a living, because the previous ten years had shown me, we needed to live every single moment while I made that living.

When "horse trainer" became the job description on my tax returns, it was because of circumstance and a leap of faith. I fell into a part time job giving riding lessons at a small boarding stable in Green Mountain Falls. I jumped at the chance, divorce had separated me from my beloved horses for two years, and here was an opportunity to get back into the life that defined who I was, before cancer and bad choices had spun everything out of control.

Before many months had passed I was earning more giving lessons than I was at my two other jobs, as a restaurant manager and children's book illustrator. I was getting horses in training, in spite of having to completely relearn how to function with a prosthetic. It was exciting, addictive and my daughter was with me. Lucky for both of us, she was a little horse nut too, so as my business grew I was able to decide to go full time, and fulfill a life long dream -- become a horse trainer.

I also immediately learned a few things. I had been a "pro" for many years, I just didn't know it. My previous life with horses had involved a lot of riding and some help along the way from a few kick butt trainers. People would ask me to ride their horses, help their kids, lead a 4-H group, and pay me for it. I started giving lessons to neighborhood kids when I was seventeen as a way to cover my horse bills, had a knack for it and kept it up. I had no clue this made me a professional, I would have told you I just rode for people and giving lessons was a lot easier than babysitting.

I also learned I didn't know nuttin.'

The world of horse shows had changed beyond recognition. Pleasure horses, cow horses and barrel horses were different breeds, all still  flying under the AQHA banner. The first time I saw a pleasure horse move I asked, in a naive, pitying voice, what was wrong with it. Cutters were tiny and volatile and halter horses were cartoon images of the bulldog quarter horses of my youth. I was confused.

One day I watched a grainy video of a trainer loading an unwilling horse into a trailer without a butt rope, without dragging, beating or winching. He made getting in the trailer the easiest option and the horse did it. It took him about ten minutes and made my three day method of feeding the horse in the trailer obsolete. His name was John Lyons and I was hooked.

I began my new journey on two different tracks. I began riding with a young paint horse trainer, Devin Warren, entering the bizarre world of Western Pleasure and all-around, and at the same time, buried myself in Natural Horsemanship training. It was fascinating. I threw away everything I thought I knew and embraced this new way of looking at horses.

Fast forward a bunch of years, horses, students and my own time developing as a trainer. I bought an investment horse called Sonita, she led me to a trainer I called The Big K, and my world changed again. Those of you who know this blog know Sonita and where she took me. If you're new, well, look up the Sonita stories, you'll know me pretty well by the time you're done.

So here we are, back to my beginnings as a blog writer. I had a yearning to write and I needed to vent. I'd been training long enough for the shiny obsession of learning HOW to be a trainer to fade and was beginning to question WHY.

Why did we ride long yearlings, when all evidence proved their little bodies and minds were nowhere near ready to be under our influence? Why did we keep horses isolated in 10 x 12 boxes, on a twice a day feeding schedule, when everything from their mental and physical soundness to their digestive health demanded room to stretch, socialize, run and graze? Why did we resort to medication, surgery and domination to suppress the behaviors resulting from the life we subjected them to?

Why were owners so eager to win they were willing to sacrifice their horses health? I had grown up with the attitude of owning a horse for his lifetime. Growing with them and enjoying the benefits of a friend I'd been riding for five, ten, fifteen years. Where had this buy and sell world come from and how did I become a part of it? The higher I went in the show world the more uneasy I became.

Where did all of these incredibly stupid people come from? People who brought home a mustang straight from a BLM sale - for their kids. People who spent years doing ground work and couldn't understand why their spoiled, bored, unrideable horse wasn't selling, no matter what level the tapes said he was on or how many games he could play. People who dropped off their horses for training and never bothered to learn why their mistakes put the horse in training. People who thought they could find ways around actually learning to ride, yet still be considered horsemen. I was dismayed and amazed at the same time.

I began to write stories along with my ranting and training advice. I considered them kind of an equine Aesop's Fables, a way to share my thoughts through my actual experience.

Little did I know, a short time after I began my blogging/venting therapy, my health would start me on still another journey. My body began to betray me and I began to lose much more than my desire to participate in the upper levels of the horse industry. I began to lose my ability to do my job. What the hell was I going to do?

Fate had rolled the dice in my favor again. My blogging had gained me some recognition. It attracted the attention of a client, the mother of a childhood friend and the owner of a small newspaper. She gave me an out to my terrifying dilemma. I became a reporter and eventually a columnist for the El Paso County and Fountain Valley News. "Writer" filled the space for job description  on my tax returns.

Getting out of the trenches helped me gain some perspective. I began to see both sides of all issues. I understood the trap trainers find themselves in and why horse owners were so naive. My blog was well-named, I truly am a Mugwump. I was able to wrestle with my dilemmas and questions from a distance, which helped me become kinder and more understanding. My stories continued and began to gain a following.
My life is a bunch of different things, but boring is never, ever one of them. My next twist began about three years ago. First, my weird, progressive, debilitating illness was finally diagnosed. I have Parkinson's Disease. While still adjusting to my new reality, my husband had a stroke. My health was compromising my job, my hours had been cut back to accommodate it, the next logical step was to work from home and become my husband's full time caretaker.

This is where I am today. The blog has stuttered to a halt, for several reasons, primarily because I just don't know what to say. I don't want to become an armchair expert, they just annoy the crap out of me. I don't want to wax idyllic about my wonderful life grooming my two remaining horses and taking an occasional trail ride because A. That's boring as hell, and B. I'm only there because of my stupid body's betrayal, so I would be lying.

I'm impatient, cranky, restless, bored and frantic. Any minute, any second, on any given day. I've always been private, how many years went by on this blog before I even admitted to the one arm deal? I loved being able to be credited or discredited, listened to or told I was full of shit, based on what I knew about horses, not about being brave, or special, or an example to handicapped...ya da da, ya da da, you get my drift.

Now things have changed. If I don't talk about what's happening, I have nothing new to write about, and so many things are happening! There are fears, challenges and rewards, I can share them, I guess. Will that make me one of those people looking for pity, or trying to prove how "special" their personal trials make them? Will I become trite, or worst nightmare ever, maudlin? ARGH! NOT THAT, ANYTHING BUT THAT!

So, I'm laying it out for you. I still have my stories. Most will be from my past, but there are some current ones. My horse adventures and thoughts are on a different plane, but could still be useful. I mean, seriously, how exactly does a crooked, old, PD (Parkinson's) loaded, out of practice horse trainer get a lead change on her youngster?

How do I deal with disease, drug, and over-eating induced fat, plus my decreasing mobility?

Where do I find the time to ride when my husband is an emotional and physical 24-hour-a-day ride himself?

Then, there's the dog thing. Yes, my trainer brain just can't stop, and I'm really getting into my dogs, primarily Brockle, the twice returned pound puppy. So, a lot of my current thoughts and stories are about my fumbling, stumbling attempts at getting a handle on this dog training thing, and the help I'm getting from HMT, the Heavy Metal Trainer. I can't speak from experience, only from my digesting of the new, but it's what's on my mind lately.

This is what I have to offer. I have some thoughts and ideas on where we can go with this blog, thoughts that invigorate me and inspire me to keep writing. If you're game, check in tomorrow and I'll share.

Happy New Year.


Becky said...

I can't help you with much, but if I can offer my humble advice about the over-eating induced fat from my vast repertoire of experience....

If the feeling fat makes you sad, you can eat your way out of it.

Dude, try it. It totally works.

mugwump said...

I'm on it Slurp!

DarcC said...

I've been reading this blog since almost the beginning. No matter what you write about, I learn something. Sometimes it's useful to me personally, sometimes it's not, but I always learn something. Please keep writing!

lindsay johnson said...

Our bodies change every day and let us down more and more as we age. Some face bigger challenges than others but we all face a downward spiral of increasing limitations. I, for one, use you as my inspiration when my back, hips, knees and arthritic hands make it hard to sling a saddle or haul myself up on my long suffering horse without a mounting black. My mantra is "If Mugs can do this, so can I" I will never be a good rider but I can be a better rider and you are, in part, my inspiration for this. Please continue to share your journey - there are still so many unanswered questions and still so many ways to educate us.
Happy New Year, Mugs, and keep thoses stories coming

EvenSong said...

Besides what they /\ said, you still have some stories to finish! ;-)

Anonymous said...

Oh, Mugs, I am sending you hugs and dark chocolate. I do know how you feel. I have a brainstem disease, asthma, and for the last 10 years am 100% pacemaker dependent. I still ride, but mostly I'm in the feed-n-water circuit. My nursing career in the hospital is over So the hell what? I found something else to do. Michael J. Fox is my hero, and he plays golf and doesn't give 2 hoots what anyone thinks of his ability or average. I focus on my good days, keep looking forward. I draw on my 20 years of nursing experience and tell stories when the need arises. Yesterday, as I was finishing up with my hay man, he told me of how he performed CPR on a customer last week, 2 days after Christmas. The outcome was unsuccessful, and that good, kind, honest country boy was waaaay in over his head with grief, self-blame, and unanswered questions. He'd never seen anyone die before, let alone try to resuscitate someone, let alone be the first responder. My experience turned out to be worth something after all. Mugs, what I'm trying to say is you are not, and MUST NOT, define yourself by your illness. You still have sound and solid advice even if you are not currently training some rank colt. And then there's the unresolved story of Tally - and probably a few more like her. You have no idea how many people I have referred to your blog, to read the Cupcake, Captain, and Tally stories. It keeps me from screaming "Quit being a dumbass!" - kind of like the people who write Ann Landers hoping their mother in law will recognize herself.... You are an inspiration, Mugs. I'm Amy in Ohio, and I cannot remember my Google account to save my sorry tush.

anissa_roy said...

You are smart, a deep thinker, and unflinchingly honest. You also have a way with words, the ability to craft a thought-provoking tale of the sometimes-chaos of life. So quite frankly, if you decide to make this a KNITTING blog, I will still read it despite knowing jack about knitting and not caring much. I am here for your voice and your stories, whichever ones you choose to tell.

redhorse said...

What Anissa_roy said. Plus, I don't think this is a good time to become anorexic. I'm sure you stay as active as you can, and that's what really matters. Just tell us what happened to Talley, then we can move on to knitting doilies.

mugwump said...

I know Tally is taking too long. She's hard...some of my most grievous errors, hardest lessons learned ... but I'll getterdone.

Clancy said...

I'd love to know more about Tally and Mort.

More and more I'm seeing riding as an optional extra with my horses, and something I only want to do if they enjoy it to. If not, there are plenyy of other things we can do together.

Heather said...

Mugs, I'd read this blog even if you wrote about your toenails. As long as you did it with the same style you've always used. :-) I look forward to seeing what comes next!

Anonymous said...

What Anonymous Amy from Ohio said & we all love you Mugs and with your quick brain and experience you are a valuable resource for those of us strugglers out there. Keep the stories coming - there are grains for us to learn in every one of them. Take care & God Bless You

Heidi the Hick said...

You write. I'll read. Deal?

Jenn said...

"I'd been training long enough for the shiny obsession of learning HOW to be a trainer to fade and was beginning to question WHY."


Keep 'em coming, in whatever form they take. I love your posts, and I learn from them, and I get that 'aha, me too' jolt of recognition from them. Shared worlds. Keep'em coming.

Jenn said...

"I'd been training long enough for the shiny obsession of learning HOW to be a trainer to fade and was beginning to question WHY."


Keep 'em coming, in whatever form they take. I love your posts, and I learn from them, and I get that 'aha, me too' jolt of recognition from them. Shared worlds. Keep'em coming.

GreyDrakkon said...

Sounds like...You're writing a blog. ;D Seriously, blogging is a mish mash of whatever you want it to be, it doesn't have to be 100% barrel racing, or jumping, or whatever. It's what's going through your mind, be it how past experiences influenced your way of thinking years down the road, anecdotes for the hell of it, or stuff that's bounced off your head lately to make you think. It's all quite entertaining, and I can't see you ever pulling the "woe is me" pity party card. Well, maybe for a paragraph, and then you'd shake it off. ;)

Francis said...

Ditto ditto and ditto.. knitting toenails and all that.. real life rarely has a happy ending to everything.. we all appreciate your style and thoughts or we wouldn't be here.. checking daily to see if you put out something new.. :)

Sarah W. Kinninger said...

I second what everyone has written so far. Anything you write, I'll read. You have one of the most honest blogs on my blogroll. I am constantly challenged by your questions - the ones you ask yourself and the ones you ask your readers. We need you to keep writing.

For What It's Worth said...

Maudlin Mugs has no ring to it what so ever!

Kate said...

I third what everyone has said. So long as you decide to write I will be along for the ride.

bassgirl said...

Your blog touches so many levels and is intelligently and thoughtfully written. I, too, check in almost every day to see what might be coming along. If you are excited about a topic, we will be too. Guaranteed! :)

Peanut said...

This brought tears to my eyes. Please don't stop writing.

I want to hear your stories and your ideas. I want to hear from someone that keeps their horses for life (as much as possible), someone that questions the current training and show situations, someone that thinks about the horse itself.

Thank you so much for sharing with us.

Justaplainsam said...

Still reading and still learning. I'd love an article about bosals?

Jessica Adams said...

I'm still a youngster in anyone's book- almost 24. But I've been following your blog since almost its beginning, and I can't count how many times you've made me sit and really think about what I'm doing, and (most importantly) the WHY behind it all. I have struggled with knowing who to trust when it comes to advice, and you've taught me to think for myself, find what works in my life, and choose that path. Even if it's not the cool/popular/accepted way. I've learned to trust my gut, and if that means getting after my horse for disrespecting my space while my "parelli" friends look on with disapproval, well then that's what I need to do. I love hearing your stories, as well- they're so vivid and well written. I'll take whatever you'd like to write about, and keep coming back for more :)

Jan Blawat said...

I have known one of my good friends for 60 years. We made and rode stick horses together. We rode in NATRC for several years, and were on the trail almost every weekend. We always rode on New Years Day.

This year we hobbled into the local restaurant, hunched over our canes, and reminisced for 2 hours. I still have 2 ancient horses (I am one of those who keeps them for life). My friend's last horse died at 34 yrs a few years ago. We always thought we'd be riding in our 70s, like some of the ladies who used to ride with us. But health issues can throw you for a loop at a moment's notice.

Your life doesn't end when your riding days are over, and what you learned is still valuable. You're right, there are just too many folks these days who don't have a clue about horses. That's why the things you write about are so valuable. Just because those people are ignorant doesn't mean they can't learn, and that will help their long-suffering horses as well as everyone else who has to put up with them.

I haven't been able to ride for 10 years, but I still have my tack, my 1978 truck, and my horse trailer. Those things were so important to me for so much of my life, I will not give them up. They can put my coffin in the trailer when the time comes and avoid the rental fee for a hearse.

HorsesAndTurbos said...

Mugs, because of what you learned and what you have shared, I learned how to think about my horses and how to teach them, how to understand them, and how to become a partner with them. I've said this before, but what you share has touched several horses in my life, and will always touch the horses that pass through my life.

Please continue sharing - you would be surprised what each of us can learn from what you write, even if you may not think it valid at the time.

And I ride alone a lot, and still flash back to your story with Pete, especially when both my mare and I are in a spooky mood on the trails :) You never know what story will touch us and when.

MichelleL said...

I'm with Heidi. Whatever you write I will gladly read. Your writing style entertains me no end and I don't give a rat's ass about the subject matter.

Snipe said...

Your insight is valuable, Mugs, whether it's from horseback or from a recliner. Your writing is insightful and interesting, and I'd love to hear whatever you feel like sharing.

Unknown said...

What everyone else said and more. Every day I go to your blog, hoping for more Mugs (ok, and see if there is more of the Tally story). I come here for YOU, your insights, just you. I'm here for the ride too!

KB said...

Long time reader Mugs. Love your honesty and the way you put words down. See you tomorrow.

CaitStClair said...

I second everyone else. I'm terrible about lurking and not commenting but you always make me stop and think about what I truly do and do not know. I thought I looked at things from as many angles as possible but you have really opened my eyes. Like everyone else has said, I don't care what you write about. You are always worth reading.

Anonymous said...

What everyone else said.
You write,I'll read and learn.

Lori said...

Your blog has taught me so much about thinking for myself and trusting my instincts. When something feels wrong, it IS wrong. Looking at what I was learning and from who I was learning it from. The guy down the street that can push his horse to jump big but never seems to stay sound (he assisted me in breaking my leg. When you and your horse is done, quit riding). Also there is so much more than winning. I have discovered the process is what I love, not the ribbons. You taught me that. I will listen to you knit toenails, train dogs or hear stories from past adventure. Thank you Mugwump.

Funder said...

I don't always have a lot to say, but I love reading your stories. You're a great storyteller, and I'm glad you're still sharing them!

Bif said...

Interesting people always have things to say, in an interesting way. Ranging out a bit on topics you find intriguing are still great fun to discuss on here, even if not strictly horse (or dog) based.


Bif said...

Interesting people always have things to say, in an interesting way. Ranging out a bit on topics you find intriguing are still great fun to discuss on here, even if not strictly horse (or dog) based.


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