Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Mugwump Finds a Mission Statement

I'm going to be frank.

Having my life yanked out from under me, crumpled up like a piece of tin foil, run over by an eighteen-wheeler, and then handed back to me to flatten out best I can has been an education.

I've learned that life, although chock full of surprises, is definitely recyclable.

I used to joke that the only way I would ever finish a book, or seriously get back to my art would be to put me in prison, preferably solitary. Then, once the boredom, frustration and anger passed (because of course I'd be innocent), I would finally settle in and get to work.

I haven't been incarcerated, but I have been penned up, and it's not looking too good for parole.

I spend roughly 24 hours a day caring for my husband, who suffered two strokes during surgery for a blood clot going on four years ago. This happened about a year after I was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and most of you know about the one armed thing.

Good grief, if my life isn't a country song, I don't know what is.

I get a break on most weekends. My step-kids come down to visit their Dad and I get a few hours furlough. On the days my body and the weather is cooperating I get in some horse time. It's kind of a crap shoot.

I get to work my dog with the Cool K9 crew on Sundays, which is a sanity saver and then some.

It's been hard to write, especially about horses and the life I built and lost. I still write my weekly food column, but struggle to meet dead lines. It's amazing how busy I can be within the confines of these walls. Mindless chores are exhausting, worry without answers is more so.

I haven't quit the horses though. I can't. They run through my dreams at night and their hoofbeats drum in the back of my mind during the day. In the half light of early morning I think about bending, flexing, hoof placement and how to get more, with less.

My thoughts spin and take me to further research, daydreaming and theory. I find myself questioning and challenging my thoughts and motivations when it comes to myself, my connections with people and for the most part, my philosophy about horses, training and how it shapes every nook and cranny of my ever changing position in this world.

It's pretty cool, this clarity of thought.

Today, I'm sharing it. It will probably morph some more,and some of you may find yourself scratching your head and thinking, "Well duh, isn't that what you've been saying all along?"

Buts it's new and clear and exciting to me, so shut up and let me lay this out.

First off, I need to set something straight. For myself as much as you guys.

I have always represented myself as a middle of the road horse trainer with moderate success in National Reined Cow Horse Association competition.

The moderate success in the NRCHA is true. I earned enough money as an open (professional) competitor to knock me out of a bunch of the fun stuff as an amateur. I did not earn enough to make much of a stamp in the record books, or hire barn help.

I am, however, a damn fine horse trainer. I worked hard,  studied hard and  rode with an open mind. I thought long and hard on the best way to educate the horses and riders who passed through my care. I developed some kick ass feel and learned to create well mannered, well balanced horses with a light handle and reliable behavior. Some of those horses were really rank bastards, some were physically, mentally (or both) inferior to the tasks set before them, but I got the job done. Shit guys, I know stuff.

Unfortunately, I had a blind spot that truly crippled me as a pro.

I'll have to go with example here.

"Ol' Spanky has a crappy lead change. He can do everything else, the slide is awesome, spins are right there, he really looks at a cow, but I can't count on the change. I've taken him to trainers X, Y and Z, they all told me to sell him."

There I'd be, looking at some bony, wormy poorly bred piece of ...well, you know, and my brain would click in one one solitary thought. The horse needs to change leads.

I would begin. The bigger the mess the more excited I got. I would work and experiment and breakdown each movement. Sticky stifle? Club footed? Out of balance? Draggy hind end? I'd find it and work on it. Most of the time, I'd get it done too.

Then I'd start in on the client. I was always surprised and a little sad if they weren't as excited as I was. I'd drill 'em, and balance 'em, give them exercises both on and off the horse, make sure they understood rhythm, collection, leg sequence, front end vs. back...Most of the time, they'd get it too.

Then we would head for the show pen.

Most times, they'd get through. A shout would go up from those who knew of this horse's struggles with his lead change, a few of my fellow trainers would give me a "good job" head nod, my client would beam and complete their pattern. The score would be well out of the money,but by God, the damn leads got changed.


When the pressure was on, Ol' Spanky would fall back to his old ways, dump his inside shoulder to the north, hollow out his back and swing his hindquarters due south. He'd fling his head, snap his tail and show the world a mouth full of yellow teeth and a waggling tongue. For some reason, the client would panic, forget to hold him up with the inside leg while adding gentle intermittent pressure with the outside leg, hold the reins with just enough pressure to offer support, but not so much to slow down the horse, drive with both legs to encourage collection and ....

You guessed it. Said client would grab the horn with one hand, start to jerk the crap out of Spanky, drop their weight to the inside stirrup to make it easier to spur the shit out of the squalling bolting mess on the outside and go to town.

Either way, there were two end results.

 The client would sign on with another trainer. A much more savvy trainer. Kind words would be said about the kick ass job I had done getting Spanky to change leads.The new and improved Spanky would be sold for a good price. My ex-client would buy a very nice horse from the new trainer, one with a point and shoot lead change. The trainer would get a commission for selling Spanky, a commission for finding the new horse and charge my ex-client $200 a month more for training. Client would go on to win stuff and I would have yet another horse I trained making big wins an the local riding club.


My poor client would catch the fever from me, and head back to the drawing board, as hooked with my obsession to take Spanky farther than  life or Mother Nature had ever intended him to go. Those were the clients I kept for years.

I never learned what the more successful trainers in my field already knew. A bad-leaded horse can learn to change leads but they will still be bad-leaded. In the cow horse world this creates more work for the rider, who will have to carry the horse through his changes forever. Unless the run is flawless, you're looking at point hits every time.

A bad-leaded horse is going to have other problems, from a creating a rough picture, to a potential safety hazard. When I'm doing a fence run or changing directions while circling my cow, I don't want to be wondering where Ol' Sparky's feet are.

While my peers worked with the knowledge that to have a healthy forest you have to trim some saplings, I was so focused on that single tree, I ended up carving a totem pole.

But I'll tell you what, I can teach just about anything to change leads.

Guess the Mission Statement will have to continue tomorrow.



  1. "For some reason, the client would panic…"

    Old habits die hard. Learning that over here, too, the hard way of course.

    Life kicks the s**t out of us but somehow we keep going. We'll look back on this and wonder how the hell we kept it together. I hope you get time to at least pat a horse… I'm going out to pat mine right now.

  2. Good one. I was almost in tears, then I read this sentence:
    "I am, however, a damn fine horse trainer." and "shit guys, I know stuff." Then I smiled. I know about the hoofbeats through the dreams.

    I've never been a horse trainer, but I had a friend who was a damn fine trainer. She had the same fatal flaw you do. She worked with some real wrecks, and some horses that could be stars except for one small thing. Occasionally, she would get a horse she could go places with, and she would win something big like a cutting at the QH Congress. I think she got addicted to figuring things out. I never knew anyone who could do what she did with a horse.

    I'm going out with Heidi now to pat horses. Goodnight Horsaii.

  3. You're life sounds so difficult right now - thank you for sharing your writing anyway.

    I watched a Martin Black training video where he talked about starting colts in a way that they can all succeed. Yet some of the trainers he starts colts for will then quickly 'weed out' many horses - they will get rid of anything that is not quickly at some certain level of competence. I really respect Mr Black for wanting to set the horses up to succeed instead of fail.

    You are doing the same thing aren't you? - helping the horse (and hopefully its rider) learn something that will serve them well in the future. If all a rider cares about is competition and getting instant results, maybe it makes sense to replace one horse with another. I'll bet some really good horses are passed over because they don't fit into certain narrow constraints.

  4. Peanut - The thing is, I'm a cowhorse junkie. I love the sport and have had a taste of riding with the big boys. I like it.
    When trainers weed out everything but the best they are setting themselves, their clients and the youngster up for success.
    They get to where they can see the attitude, athleticism and look that will put them in the winners circle. They aren't making a statement about the worth of the other horses, just filling their barns with the horses that have the greatest potential to get them to the winners circle.
    One guy can't ride them all. If you don't win you don't ride, period.
    I never did see the big picture, I got hung up on the individual situation. I don't condemn either approach BTW. If I had understood these things sooner my career might have been very different.

  5. Ahh - as usual I was missing the point. I still like it that a by-product of your method helped a horse, even if it ended up with a different job.

    Even though your career didn't go where you wanted, I hope you're proud of your accomplishments. I wish I had a 10th of your skill; I am in no danger of 'riding with the big boys' :)

  6. Sorry that you are stuck inside, albeit for a noble purpose. You are just about the only person I quote to my friends with training issues. I have learned so much about patience and persistence from reading your blog. I'm so glad you are still thinking about us and grateful that you are still willing to take some of your precious time to continue posting.

  7. My favourite posts of yours are introspective. Or stories. Or introspective stories...

    I know about hoofbeats in dreams too. Life had me sidelined for a long time, and all I had was books and the internet, and pictures, and I read, and watched, and dreamed and read some more.

    I'm back in with the horses now, living above a barn (in a legal apartment, I promise!) and I still pinch myself because I don't think I really believed I'd be able to come back to them. The years of nothing but study have paid off I think; I'm not as far behind as I could have been and I'm training my own 'train-wreck' filly. She's a mess of problems and I'm slowly untangling her, but I'm cautiously pleased right now. I've had a lot of good help too, and your stories have taught me a lot, especially "scared or mad."

    Anyway, I guess I'm trying to say thank you, and I know you write for you, but it means a lot to me too.

  8. I think it's pretty incredible that you not only see your "blind spot" but then wrote about it for all the world to also see and think about.
    You know that saying about women having balls they just wear them on their chest to prevent chafing?
    I think that applies here.
    Good post.

  9. Even if Hind sight is 20/20 Mugs sometimes what we see as a negative other people see as a positive.

    One of my favorite 90's movies is By The Sword. This topic reminded me of this quote from the movie:

    Max Suba: Make yourself aware of your own weaknesses, as well as those of your opponents. The good ones try to cover theirs up. The great ones use theirs. Use your weakness.

    From what I can tell you have used your "weakness" very well. If you had truly wanted to be that top tier trainer with the big wins and the "right" clientele you would have been.

    What you REALLY wanted was to solve the puzzle. You are a diagnostician as much as Sherlock Holmes ever was. What makes it tick? How can I make it tick faster (or slower)or two ticks then one tick or one and a half ticks while turning counter clockwise.
    Sure the End Game might well have been making enough money to live on but the passion was the problem solving. Your passion was to convince the horse that they could, and would, do exactly what you KNEW they could do. You trained horses to BE cutting horses. Even if it was an uphill battle on more then one occasion.

    Why did Brockle come to you after being in how many other homes? Kindred Spirits. You and he are the same energy just in different bodies.

    You recognized his energy and passion all wrapped up in this kinda twitchy dog body and thought on some level..."Hmm...what makes him tick? Wonder if I can make him tick faster (or slower)..."

    As I said before Mugs. You have a Type. Intelligent, strong willed, devoutly stubborn, ardently loyal, creative, too smart for their own good type.

    You get what you give I suppose.

  10. Not only are you good at training horses, you can be good at training people. I think most of us are here because we recognize your talent and well thought out approach, which I think is why we hang on your every training word.

    Here is my bit of flattery

    Re: trainers – I have lots of stuff from lots of them. I think I have an almost complete DVD set of Larry Trocha (it is great stuff in theory, but the best soporific I know). Barbara Schulte is also great (I get motivation is needed but somehow it is not the whole picture) Les Vogt I get a lot out of (perhaps I should get more of his stuff). Buying a whole set of Lyn Anderson and watching it with focus got me a buckle in the one cow horse event they run in Oz at the AQHA nationals without having ever practiced a run before I showed. Etc ..etc….

    I like yours best – even though you haven’t got books, tapes and clinics on the market. I know you have a total program where each bit fits in the next. I get the way you describe WHY you are doing each thing when training. I KNOW you think about every bit.

    I had an old over-shown reiner and I stopped going to clinics because one trainer would do one thing one weekend which didn’t fit with what the next trainer was doing the next weekend. I didn’t want to torment the poor horse unless I could be consistent.

    Your training advice makes sense to me. I need to know how each thing we do to the horse fits in with the next thing – and the whole makes sense and is consistent.

    In my world, as a people trainer for horse training you are not only up there but at the top of the Big Guys list.

    PS And I hope you don’t mind this but I save every single piece of horse training advice you give on this blog.

    PPSS Waiting on the training books.

  11. Michelle L, well said.

    Mugs, keep on keeping on. Sometimes it's all we can do, and I'm rootin' for you. Recently had my pacemaker fail and ran a low enough BP to waste a few brain cells and some short term memory. Still remember to check in on you regularly via your blog. Was worried you had not posted in a while; thankful it was just a good case of introspection and day to day busy-ness! Why is it that even after years of putting up with illness and the BS thereof, we still have to recycle/reinvent? Why don't we get a pass? Karma doesn't say, "Oh I poked you with stick in the 80's, 90's, 00's; so you get a decade off."

    Man, healthy people just don't know what they are missing....

    Keep walking the walk, dear Mugs. Many of us are walking it with you in a parallel universe. - Amy in Ohio

  12. In my mind, this makes you the more useful trainer. Most people who want to do a discipline have a 'Sparky'. We are trying out something with what we have. Most people can't afford a horse who is bred to a specific discipline because, rightly so, they are expensive.
    So we buy the horse we can afford, and work with them to accomplish their goal. So we aren't going to 'Worlds' but we can run the heck out of barrels at our county show, or jump, or do dressage, or whatever in our area.

  13. Shadowrider - I agree. If I had sorted this out - without feeling like a failure -- and changed my direction, my life would have been easier
    Ozhorse - I LOVE your training video selection.

  14. Oh Lordy, have you been watching my lessons? When I got to the "grab the horn, tip inside and jerk and spur" I swear I blushed with shame. Even my trainer wants to give up on us. I'll keep trying though. At least I KNOW I'm wrong which has to be a step in the right direction

  15. Sometimes the client would panic.
    I swear this made me blush. You've been spying on my lessons. I wish you were here to help me because last week my trainer basically fired me. Lord knows, I'm trying. I'm really trying.

  16. Are you possibly thinking of writing a training book? Cause I'd buy it. I'd pre-order it actually. I'd learn nothing from it because my brain seems to have turned into a brick wall, but I'd still treasure that book.