This is the first of what will be many posts about Sonny. Sonny was the beginning of everything. She was my first horse. She was the first horse I looked at. I didn’t want to look at any others. She was a green broke (that is being generous) underweight 2 yr old breeding stock paint. She was awesome and I loved her like no other.
I was lucky, being a beginning rider with a young green horse, that she was very laid back. I had tied her one day with her rope too long and she got tangled. She just laid down and waited for me to come untangle her. She almost never spooked, and she never ran without being asked(except the day she backed us into the electric fence and the day we were chased down the road by a guy on a motorcycle… story for another day). I remember watching her lay flat on the ground in the yard, where we would turn her loose to graze, but instead of dozing she was picking at grass with the side of her mouth.
We had some struggles as all beginning riders and horses do, mostly because she was lazy. I remember my mom having to grab her bridle and pony her down the road.just so we could make it past the edge of the yard. I showed her in 4-h and at practices we were expected to walk trot and canter around the rail. We did walk/trot, but she wouldn’t canter. One practice I had 3 leaders trying to chase my horse into a canter with ropes and whips, and she still wouldn’t go. Two of them got on and tried to make her go themselves and she wouldn’t go for them either. We eventually came to an understanding, and I could get her to go, but it still wasn’t always in the most controlled fashion, and I usually had to have spurs, a whip, and an adult on the ground to make it happen.
I showed her in 4-h shows and at the local fair for 3 years. We were awesome at egg and spoon, and we did well in costume class and halter, but we weren’t that great at the rest of it. She was pretty much a left lead only horse, although if I got her going really fast I could get her to switch to her right. Every once in a while she would just take off on her own (like the day she cut sideways across the arena and kicked out at the judge on the way by…)
The third year while we were at fair things seemed to get really bad. Her behavior actually got scary which had never really happened before. I remember crying and debating whether I should scratch my classes because she was wanting to buck, and I felt like my quiet horse had turned into a monster. Fair was 3 days long, and on the third day we noticed swelling around her cannon bones, both front legs, although the left was worse. We took her home and watched her but the swelling didn’t go down. She was diagnosed with degenerative joint disease, and had pretty significant arthritis for a horse her age. (She was 5 at this time.) The swelling lasted for 2 months, and would return periodically. I was told she was not going to be sound enough for me to ride anymore. I was 15 at the time, and while that news was hard to hear, I think the hardest part was realizing all of the spurring, whipping, chasing, yelling that we had done to try to fix her “bad behavior”, and the entire time she was in pain. We hadn’t listened to what she was trying to say, we just called her lazy and kept pushing. Eventually it got to be too much, and she started acting out.
Sonny gave so much of herself to me. She taught me so much, and she worked pretty hard since I rode every chance I got. My ignorance of the symptoms of lameness in a horse caused her so much hardship. Then to add to that I also allowed myself to be pressured into some very harsh methods to get her to perform. At the time I was very uncomfortable with it, and for good reason. I will always regret some of the things I did in the name of “making her behave” or “earning her respect”.
Sonny died almost 9 years ago. Next week would have been her 20th birthday. As I remember our bareback sunset rides, lazy Sunday trail rides and countless hours spent trying to coax her down the road I will always remember the valuable lessons she taught me, and I will not allow her suffering to be in vain.