Monday, April 27, 2009


As many of you may have heard, I had a serious accident with Sangria a couple weeks ago. I had taken her along to the beach for my birthday weekend celebration. Even though we had only had a dozen or so rides, I felt that Sangria's progress was so rapid and solid that she was more than ready for a beach ride. She'd not given me any issues with the saddling or riding part of our training. We had ridden in arenas, round pens, trail rides and even on roads past barking dogs and across rural highways. She was steady and calm - I was sure I didn't have anything to worry about.

Unfortunately, her calm demeanor fooled me into believing she was so ready for something like a beach ride that I treated her like a seasoned horse. When we got to the beach on Saturday morning, it was misty and wet. All of the horses were put in small outdoor paddocks until the rest of our guests arrived. By the time we were ready to ride a few hours later, all of the horses were completely soaked (they didn't have blankets on) and a few were shivering.

We saddled everyone up and got ready to go. There were 10 of us riding, including two small children, which is no small feat to get ready. We had to make sure all of the horses were saddled up and ready to go, children were bundled in their waterproof coats and that fresh, green horses were put through their exercies.

By the time I got to Sangria, she was her normal calm self. I did not take advantage of the round pen on site, I did not lunge her and I did not even do our usual groundwork exercises before gettng on. I just tightened the girth and got on. As I always do, I asked for her head to my left, which she gave quickly and softly. Then, I asked or her head to the right. This is when she exploded - and it wasn't a small blow up - it was a huge bronc bucking fit. I went flying, but being at the beach, the ground was sandy and I landed on my rump. No big deal.

Sangria had run to her herd mate a few feet away. I was easily able to catch her. She was nervous from what had happened, but quickly calmed down with my reassurances. I pet her, checked her saddle for pinching and then did some groundwork exercises. When I felt like she was no longer nervous and was tuned into me, I got back on. This time, she was excellent with our giving exercises on each side. I still don't know what happened, or why she blew up - other than perhaps the saddle was pinching her wet hair or something out of the ordinary.

Once I was back on, I walked her around trying to keep her busy until the last few riders were ready to go. She seemed fine and relaxed. We finally got on the trail to head down to the beach. About 5 minutes into our ride, one of our guests who was new to horses but on a seasoned horse, came trotting up behind Sangria and I. The horse he was riding was swishing his tail and pinning his ears. Sangria bolted, which caused me to tense up. I immediately went for the one-rein stop, and we almost stopped, but then she went the other direction and off I came.... again.

I gathered her up again, somewhat frustrated at this point, but reassuring her. I did the giving exercises on each side until she seemed in tune to me. I mounted up and rode her around as the group of riders stood there waiting for me. When I felt like we were ok (though Sangria was still a bit jumpy), we moved on. As we got to the end of the trail, before heading out to the dunes, there was a gate that needed to be opened. We all stood there as one of the riders got off to open the gate. This time, I don't know what caused Sangria to blow, but again she took off bucking. When I came off this time, I was determined not to let her get away from me. As I came off, I kept a hold of my 1-piece roping reins. I flew over her head and she immediately started backing away from me. I still had the reins in my hands and was drug along as she tried to get away from me. As soon as she realized she couldn't get away from me, I stood up, approached her and reassured her.

This time I was angry and frustrated to the point that I wasn't looking clearly at the situation. Looking back, I should have worked with her at the round pen before getting back on after she bucked me off the first time. However, hindsight is always 20/20, right? So, as I approached her for the 4th time, I was frustrated and embaressed. I did no groundwork, I just got on. And a bit more forcefully than usual. Once on, I abruptly asked for hindquarter yielding and brought her nose around to each side. She immediately complied, though was a bit startled at my abruptness.

The group moved on, but this time, I held her back as the group moved forward, as I wanted her to see the gate being closed behind her and the person approach her from behind. She was antsy and kept pawing the ground as I asked her to wait until our last rider caught up to the group and his horse. She had displayed fear issues of anything coming up behind her in the past, and this seemed to be a huge part of her issue on this day.

Once we were all gathered up, we headed out. We were at the back of the group - I figured this would help as no one or nothing would come behind her. Unfortunately, both Sangria and I were pretty worked and and tense at this point. Within a few moments of our ride on the dunes, she bolted and bucked again. I again came off, but again had the bad idea of not letting go of the reins. Only this time she bolted forwards, and I was drug along beside her hind feet. This is the last that I remember, but she apparently either kicked me in the face in her panic to get away, or my face just happened to be in the path of her hooves.

A long story short, I was knocked unconscious with many, many facial fractures, broken teeth and a gaping injury to my top lip. I came to in the arms of my wonderful boyfriend who kept me calm until the ambulance arrived. I was taken to the Aberdeen hospital, where they did x-rays and a CT scan. It was quickly apparent that I had orbital fractures, maxillary fractures, my nose was broken and there was a large break in my palette. They removed a large rock from my lip and sewed it up. Approximately 10 teeth had been broken or affected in this accident, including my front top four teeth. However, upon further examination of my CT scan, the doctors were immediately concerned that I had fractured the bone around my carotid artery and that it was in danger of being ruptured - which is life threatening.

The doctors wanted to air-lift me to Seattle's Harborview hospital, which hosts an excellent trauma center. Unfortunately, the weather was too poor to allow that, so they put me in a solid neck brace and drove me by ambulance to Harborview. Once at Harborview, they did more x-rays and CT scans and were able to determine that my carotid artery was not at risk of rupturing after all. They discharged me that night, with plenty of pain killer narcotics and instructions to come back to the Ear, Nose & Throat clinic within a few days once the swelling had gone down to determine if I would need surgery for any of my fractures.

Once at home, the reality of the accident hit me and I was terrified. By morning, my left eye was completely swollen, almost shut! And my lip that was lacerated open was also extremely swollen. I couldn't eat anything and drinking was painful as well due to my broken teeth and exposed nerves. I was on a liquid diet and the only way I could drink anything was through a straw to the back of my throat, bypassing my painful teeth. I was a mess.

I spent the next week at many appointments - the dentists, the plastic surgeon, the ENT clinic and even UW Dental Urgent Care where they put temporary filling material over my broken front teeth so that breathing wouldn't be so painful on my exposed nerves. I stopped taking the narcotic pain killers as quickly as possible and soon, I was making small milestones every day. Going out in public was embarressing, as I had a lot of bruising & swelling and two very prominent black eyes. I tried to take it all in stride, but it started to get me down after a while.

My teeth were also one of my biggest issues. I could deal with the ugly black eyes - and I could deal with the obnoxious scar I will now have on my face/lip forever. But when I smiled, my teeth were crooked and broken off. And very painful. I was having a hard time with this. One of my first appointments after the accident were to the dentist. Being unemployed, I wasn't sure how I could afford to pay for getting my teeth fixed, but I at least wanted a plan in place. The dentist I visited, Dr. Ron Sherman of First Impressions in Issaquah, was sympathetic and willing to help. His $2800 quote was marginally less for the amount of veneers, crowns and fillings he would have to do to return my teeth to normal. Yet, there was no way I had $2800 in my budget without a job. I was heartbroken.

A close friend of mine, Susan Bunch, took it upon herself to ask the horse community for help on my behalf. I felt uncomfortable asking for help but at the same time, I was desperate to get my teeth fixed. Unbelievably, within 24 hours of Susan's email, the funds had been raised to cover my dental expenses. Dr. Ron Sherman was also generous enough to match any and all donations!!! When the dental office called me and asked me to come in for my first appointment, I couldn't help but start crying. I couldn't believe everyone's generosity! I am still overwhelmed!
I have spent a lot of time at the dentists over the last week. I now have temporary teeth over my broken ones and am awaiting my final veneers and crowns. I am almost able to eat solid food (I even ate pork chops for dinner the other night, though I had to take extremely small bites and chew slowly - but it was a huge milestone!). And best of all - I can smile - and proudly! There is nothing like being able to smile and really feel it rather than wanting to hide behind your hand so people don't notice your broken teeth. I am so utterly grateful for everyone's love and support! I will be getting in touch with each and every one of you that offered your support!

Back to Sangria: I was extremely concerned about Sangria and our progress. Should I drop out of the Extreme Mustang Makeover competition? Should I return her to the Litchfield corrals? Or should I try to continue her training, in hopes of making her a suitable mount for someone one day? I have to admit, I was terrified of getting back on her. She doesn't have a mean bone in her body, and the blow to my face was a freak accident caused by me - by my not letting go of the reins. I wasn't hung up in the saddle or anything. But who knows what would happen if and when I started working with her again! Plus, I had promised those closest to me that I would not start working with her (under saddle) until at least the two week mark.

So - I spent as much time as I could trying to fill in the gaps on the ground. Sangria is nervous about anything behind her, from a horse and rider coming up behind her to somethin dragging behind her. We have spent alot of time on this and I think we have made great progress. She now drags a tarp or tire quietly and easily. I can bounce a large ball up behind her without her flinching. I have attached a tarp to the top of her saddle so that it flaps in the wind as she moves - she has become quiet and willing with this exercise as well. I can also mount up an wave that tarp around as she stands quietly. Following another EMM trainer's blog, I also chose to introduce her to ground driving. I typically don't feel that ground driving is a great training device, except that for Sangria, I wanted her to be able to take guidance from me while I walked behind her. She was excellent and I can now ground drive her while waving a tarp or kicking the ball towards her rump as we walk in serpentines and figure 8's. I may ground drive her down the road at some point.

A couple days ago I had my first ride on her since the accident. I am still somewhat fragile myself, as well as extremely nervous. So we took it very slow and easy. I rode her in the round pen. I also chose to ride her bareback. For some reason, I feel much more comfortable riding her bareback than with a saddle. She did very well and responded to my cues nicely. At this point, I am no longer concerned about the competition and am now just going to do my best to get Sangria as far along as I can for her new owners. I am already quite a bit farther behind the other trainers due to my time off after the accident, but I think this was a reality check that I needed!

Here are some pictures and a video of some of the exercises that I have done with Sangria since the accident. Any thoughts or input on moving forward with her is greatly appreciated!

Friday, April 10, 2009

First Drill Practice!

One of the things that sets Cowgirl Spirit Rescue Drill Team apart from other rescues, is that we use the sport of drill to train our horses to be valuable equine athletes. In the sport of drill, horses learn to ride close to other horses at all gates (walk, trot, canter and even gallop). They get used to loud music, many different arenas and most will even learn to carry a flag. In our experience, the rescues that we have worked with and introduced to drill, have quickly become well rounded equines.

So, I wondered if our tactic for the rescues would have the same affect on a wild mustang. Sangria has quickly become stable enough in her training to start riding with the team. On Wednesday, I took her on a two hour trail ride, where she had to carry me up steep terrain, over logs, through creeks and puddles and downhill. On the way back to the trailer, we rode down a quiet side street with little traffic. However, as we passed a house, a little Jack Russell terrier came racing out, barking at our horses. Sangria bolted forward, but only got about two strides before I asked for a one-rein stop. She quickly stopped and stood there watching the dog. I'm so glad her training is sticking with her in those kinds of moments.

Last night, we had drill practice. We were missing a few of our riders, so we mostly just worked one on one and a bit with eachother. Sangria and I did lots of walking and trotting. She gets grumpy when I ask her to trot, and is fairly lazy - but she doesn't do anything about it other than pin her ears. I'm pretty sure this is a greenie thing and will go away fairly quickly.

Towards the end of the practice, I started doing manuevers with the rest of the group. Sangria was easily maneuverable into her spot - but she had issues with herd dynamics. She's still so green that she doesn't quite understand that pinning her ears and threatening to bite other horses isn't acceptable. Being the boss mare in the pasture is still her mentality when riding. I am working hard to curb that behavior immediately and am fairly confident it is also a greenie thing and will not be an issue.

Here's a couple pics of her out with the rest of the group last night. I'm so proud of her! The one thing that I think she also needs work on is dealing with other people. One of our team members went to pet her and she repeatedly pinned her ears, wanting nothing to do with her. We need to make sure this doesn't become a habit either. Treating people that way is not acceptable. Luckily she's not that way with all people!

Early tomorrow morning we are taking almost all of the horses to the beach for the holiday weekend. I am excited to ride Sangria on the beach and am confident that she is more than ready for it! I'll be sure to get lots of pictures - though I think it's supposed to be rainy weather! Oh well!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Leaps & Bounds

Sangria is doing great - I am extremely thrilled with her progress, her mindset, her attitude and her ability to learn new things. We have now had quite a few rides under saddle, including a trail ride and riding at the arena where the drill team practices. Last night we had our first trot steps and our first attitude blow up since she was hot and tired and didn't want to go anymore. I cant say enough good things about this girl!

Last Friday, Jenny and I spent the evening together working with our mustangs. While we have both been working with our mares individually, we were looking forward to working them together. I had ridden Sangria a few times bareback but I hadn't been ready to ride her with a saddle on yet prior to our session. This was the perfect opportunity so I as eager to see how she'd do! Amazingly, she was perfect!

The very next day, Cowgirl Spirit held our twice-weekly practice at the local arena. I have brought Sangria there many times, but haven't felt that she was ready to ride there yet. This time, I felt like we had progressed enough to ride with the other horses. She was good though distracted with all the activity going on. I only rode for a few short moments, but was extremely pleased with her! At the end of the day, we rode down the short trail to the river to let the horses play. I decided to pony Sangria down since I didn't know if she would be ready to ride solo. She loved the water!

On Sunday, we went out on a trail ride. I had intended to ride Sangria, but it was extremely windy at the rescue headquarters and for the first time since bringing Sangria home, she was nervous and anxious. She almost didn't let me catch her either! This is very out-of-sorts for her, so I decided not to ride her on the trails and instead pony her along.

Once we got out on the trail, however, she pretty quickly returned to her easy-going self. We were all enjoying the perfect weather and trail ride. Half way through, I decided to try and get on Sangria and ride her for a bit. She was great and had no problem on the wide logging roads. However, I became nervous on the skinnier deer-type trails as Sangria and I didn't have our one-rein stop implemented well enough yet. So, when she trotted down an incline to catch up with the horse in front of her, I panicked and decided it was best to go back to ponying her!

Yesterday I took Sangria back to the round pen to re-install our one-rein stop and move forward in our training. We also rode strictly in the bit for the first time - she was great! It took about 20 minutes before we reliably had a good halt in either direction, but I was extremely happy with how quickly she caught on. I also feel like I can now ride her on the trail and not worry about being unable to stop!

We also trotted for the first time under saddle - which she got, but is a bit lazy and after repetitive request to trot, she bucked in annoyance. I automatically growled at her, which scared her and caused her to bolt a bit. I was able to pull her around and stop immdiately! Awesome! I asked her to trot again, to which she moved out easily and didn't offer anymore attitude. What a good girl!

Friday, April 3, 2009

A Week Of Progress

Sangria and I are continually moving forward in her gentling and training process. I work with her as often as I can, introducing new tasks, tools and requests. This past week, our major accomplishments were getting her feet trimmed by the farrier, playing with the scary blue tarp, more hindquarter yielding, lots of trailer hauling and ultimately her first couple rides, albeit bareback!

Sangria has progressed to the point of being ok with many daily tasks, such as tying, putting her blanket on and off, grooming or touching everywhere, tacking up, leading, loading and even clipping. She has gentled dramatically though has almost gone too far in that direction and can be pushy at times, so we are now working on personal space issues.

Cowgirl Spirit's amazing farrier, Greer Hei, came out twice this week to help work with Sangria - getting her used to other people handling her. Greer has a confident yet calm manner about her and was quickly able to trim Sangria's feet.

Almost all of my first rides on an unboke colt have been in a saddle, but something told me that it would be better to introduce Sangria to a rider bareback the first few times. I think the repetition of getting on and off and being able to bail should she no longer be ok with me being on her is why I made that decision. While Sangria is very smart, and figures out what you want her to do right away, she's also somewhat ADD! Capturing and holding her attention can be difficult at times. So, while she might be fine with me jumping on her, sitting on her, asking her to walk around, she can quickly get distracted, then re-realize I am on her and get scared!

So, I am working hard to build her confidence so that being on her is not scary. I've been on her a couple times and she's done great. I am hopeful to ride in the saddle today - once I've met that goal, we will graduate to the large arena, and then trail rides, and the biggest goal of all - a beach ride next weekend. Boy, we've got a busy week ahead of us - I hope Sangria is ready for this! :)

Pics from our first ride: