August 31st, 2008 ShoGun’s Gratitude

Where does the time go?!  Just 3 short weeks until the competition.  ShoGun is ready.  Sort of.

There is nothing more frustrating than an impossible temptation and mine is visualizing ShoGun as a finished horse. 

ShoGun is the kind of horse that everyone likes.  One youngster we met this week out riding said it best when he blurted to his Mamma, “He has kind eyes!”.  Yes, he does.  And he has athleticism, stamina and a kind soul.  He is going to be a hell of a horse when he’s finished.

It’s rewarding to finish out a horse.  There’s no question about how the horse is going to adjust or what they will do with a new owner.  And its fun to show off the well trained horse.  It inspires people.

ShoGun is already doing this.  People can’t believe he was wild just weeks ago.  They can’t believe he’s so quiet.  So good.  So well mannered.

“Wait until he’s finished,” I always say.  That’s temptation rearing its ugly head.

I remember then that  ShoGun is only 3 and oh, yeah!  He’s to be adopted September 21st!

And then I am tempted to make a noise somewhere between a splat and a barf.  This isn’t what I want to think about.

If there is one thing  that every trainer has in common in this competition, it’s that none of us like to see our horses go.  These mustangs grab your heart, soul and wallet and still leave you standing with a silly grin on your face!  In any other circumstance, we’d be angry, robbed and unhappily poor.

But this is different.

Lucy did it to me and now ShoGun is too.  They’ve pushed me to reach new heights.  To struggle to understand the complexities of life.

Why oh why can’t this just be simple?!

The other day Kirk and I rode the eight miles or so from Newport, Maine to Corinna, Maine.  We unwittingly did this is 80+ degree heat (95% humidity) and somehow managed to leave our water bottles behind.  No matter.  We trudged on anyway, but as our thirst grew, so did our horses.  We stopped several times but neither one was willing to drink from the lake or the creek.  We figured they definitely knew more than we did so we didn’t force the issue, but as the day wore on, it was clear from ShoGun’s repeated attempts to sip muddy puddles that we needed to do something fast to quench their thirst.

Enter a friendly, animal loving vacationer.

We stopped so ShoGun and Mickey could give a toddler a ride and a pet and during the process, this good samaritan offered the horses water.  ShoGun slurped mightely and it was clear he was grateful.  He pushed his beautiful head into her chest (something he reserves as sign of affection), and drooled all over her (something every horse does to show their appreciation).

She giggled like a school girl and took photo after photo, promising to paint ShoGun’s portrait.  I’ve commissioned a copy. 

I hope it won’t be a lonely reminder of the horse I once knew and trained.

I don’t ever choose to dwell on the gloomy.  Instead, I want to celebrate the good.  Like the fact I have the skill and health to enjoy a horse like Shogun.  That I get to ride him and where ever we go people are in awe of him.  That Shogun really likes our work together.  That he’s such a happy, content horse.

Like ShoGun’s gratitude for the taste of cool water on a hot day, I am grateful for all of the sacrifices Kirk has made to help me get this far in my dream. 

I am grateful to others too.

Joe Creighton of Equissentials Fine Equestrian Apparel for supplying my breeches and making the best, most comfortable, ’stick in the saddle no matter what’ breeches that were ever made.

And Jane and Bill Verry for providing  thier truck for me to pick up ShoGun and convincing her trainer he needed a mustang too, so that we could bring home a full load to keep ShoGun company.

To Michael Gerald for allowing me to haul he and his horse Dakota across the country and for paying me to do so.

To my Mom who made our trip to NC and Washington D.C. possible!

To John and Annette Veelenturf for the beautiful farm we call home.

And to many others who have wished us well.

I carry a stone in my pocket as a tribute and as a reminder of all that I am grateful for.  I’ll carry it with me on our victory ride when ShoGun and I win this competition, but first, I must get to the competition!

When I think about all of the hard work ShoGun has endured, I know it is his time.  I owe it to him to find the best possible home for him.  I know he needs to be one of 30,000 unwanted mustangs to find a forever home.  It is this that has kept me driven to succeed with ShoGun.   He trusts me.

I didn’t want to do it, but on the advice of a dear friend, I have been encouraged to share the need for money that ShoGun and I have.  It is all that is standing in our way of competing.

To raise the money, I’ve decided to sell stones.  Gratitude Stones.  So, like Shogun and I, you can be reminded of all that you are grateful for.

These stones are hand picked, organic and 100% authentic.  They also come direct from the trails we’ve been riding.  They are guaranteed not to break and are 100% genuine and natural.

If you would like a stone, please send $5.00 to:

Karina L. Lewis and ShoGun, 315 South Road, Harmony, Maine 04942 or send payment via paypal to:

Our goal is to raise the $6,000 we need to make this trip.  Anything additional will be donated to The Mustang Heritage Foundation to continue this wonderful program!

And please, if you think of it, forward a copy of this to all of your friends!  Let them know that 30,000 mustangs need their help!  They can begin by sponsoring one.  ShoGun.  The grateful horse with a future.


August 22nd, 2008 ShoGun’s Breakthrough

Every horse has a sticky point and ShoGun hasn’t been an exception.  Having breakthrough’s is a normal part of the training process.  Where some horses struggle with accepting equipment, ShoGun has struggled with being away from his herd.  Now, let me define that.  ShoGun is absolutely a SUPERSTAR when he is away from home and it is just he and I, or just he and other horses.  But here at home, the arena is just outside the barn door and within view of his pasture and mates.

Mustangs are fascinating.  And having 4 in one pasture, all under the age of 4, all just 6 weeks post holding pen, has had its ups and downs.  But we prefer a natural environment here, and so we listen to them and try to assimilate into their herd as much as we can. 

On the ground, this is going fabulously well.  The horses are easy catch now that they know they can be caught and they all like attention, so we use that as their reward.  The barn is a cool place to rest, so I spend as much time out there ‘grooming’ with them as I can, and they all take turns learning new tricks.

Each one has their space and their private time with me and with others who visit here at the farm, so it is a happy place, and horses like happy places.

Being under saddle, suppling to the left and to the right, walking, trotting, and cantering on command aren’t necessarily ‘happy’ exercises if you are a 3-year old mustang, fresh from the wild and happy with your new girlfriend, Itchy.  Yes, the love story has blossomed into a full blown relationship for ShoGun and Itchy.  They are the epitomy of ‘attached at the hip’.  They graze together, eat together and even crowd into the same stall together if I let them.  They love each others company, and all other horses are dead to them when they are together.

This is why I kept getting dumped and why I reluctantly decided to get my round pen out from around the cow barn and back into use as a horse training tool.

While I have kept ShoGun working outside of any confinement, the time had come for me to help him understand that as a team he needs to listen to my cues and I to respect his unabiding love for Itchy, who calls non-stop when he isn’t within her sight.

This wouldn’t be such an issue if ShoGun were able to continue concentrating while working with me.  He’s an absolute genious when he’s concentrating.  Flawless, in fact.  But one whinny out of Itchy and his head comes up, his body goes stiff, and he’s off to the races to see what in the world is happening to her.

The first 2 times I came off him were not serious.  More my decision than his.  I can tell when a horse is listening and when they’ve just disengaged to the point that any cue may send them into the type of horse distraction that usually gains you a buck.  Both times I stepped off just as he was taking off.  The good news is that he never goes very far.  This is good, because both of these times I was trail riding and it would have been a long walk home on my own legs.

In this way, ShoGun is very normal.  The kind of teen-age horse that wants desperately to please me (his parent) and answer the call of nature (love).  When this kind of ratio enters into the horse + human equation, I’ve had enough experience to know that I will be second to get my wish on that list.

So, enter the round pen.  Set not 100 feet away from where Itchy calls her stall home.  ShoGun works beautifully.  Walk, trot, canter..(still working on the left lead), and he even side passes well.  But this all is forgotten when Itchy calls, so I decided to push him through an episode, ready for the rodeo.

ShoGun didn’t disappoint and it must have at least looked good, because Kirk said, “Gee Honey.  That was a great dismount!”

“It wasn’t intentional.” was all I could say.

ShoGun needed to break through this barrier.

So 2 days later, we finally got it.  And low and behold, it was a new love that was his savior and his distraction!

I volunteered to watch my neighbors horses and put them on the other side of the round pen.  On cue, they provided just enough distraction that ShoGun temporarily forgot Itchy and decided to focus his attentions on this very new, very loud colored Appaloosa and very short, very petite, miniature mare.  As he moved away from my cue, I put him to work and suddenly I saw the proverbial lightbulb come on over ShoGun’s head.  He turned his head toward me and it was clear he said…”Oh!  Is this what you want?”

I let him slow from the canter to the trot to the walk, and then to a standstill and like everything thing else with ShoGun, that was all it took.  He’s once again a SUPERSTAR, and his reward was a really long, fun trailride with new horses and people and new trails to explore.  He had a BLAST!  We walked, trotted, cantered A LOT and even ran and raced some.  He never missed a beat and we even rode circles around 2 of the horses in our group who were having some lameness issues.

I’d ride ahead, then circle back to see how they were doing.  ShoGun thought this was great fun and he exercised some independence for the first time.  He rode lead, point and everything in between and did everything flawlessly.  Heck, he behaved better than some of the well trained horses.  He didn’t try to bite, kick or intimidate anyone, and he was mindful of the herd dynamics to a fault, giving one older, wiser gelding adequate berth and staying out of the lead mares way.  But if I asked, he gave it and we even pushed past these pushy horses just to prove he could do it.

We rode western with a bosal and he was very very happy.  He was so happy in fact, he didn’t even answer back when Itchy neighed her woes to him.  He stood quiet when asked and didn’t move a muscle unless I asked.  I’m proud of my boy!  It’s clear he’s had his breakthrough.

August 8th, 2008 ShoGun vs. the Rain

ShoGun and I have been riding up a storm apparently.  I hasn’t quit raining since the first day I threw my leg over him.

Last week, after ShoGun reluctantly parted from his new love interest, a petite 3-year old mustang mare named Itchy (because she LOVES to be scratched), and let me have the priviledge of riding him.

We’ve trailered every day to new locations and made good use of our time in both our arena and the huge covered arena in Skowhegan.

Yesterday we rode through the pouring rain and took a long trail ride which included slogging through mud, water a foot deep and crossing various terrain which included logs, brush and all manner of brush.  ShoGun never missed a step.

We encountered dogs, trucks, bicycles, people and cars.  He was unflappable. 

I was most impressed with his level of collection and his overall ability to stride out and remain totally balanced.  His walk, trot and canter transitions are phenomenal!  He’s really putting all of our hard work together.  Most of all, I love that he regularly checks in with me.  He looks first right out of the corner of his eye, then left, but is always relaxed.  The only time he differed was when we came over the hill toward home and all of the crew came thundering toward him, whinnying to him as we came closer toward home.  That’s a LOT of distraction at our house with 7 personal horses and 3 additional mustangs in for training and adoption! He kept his composure though and truly seemed to enjoy our time together for this morning bright and early he was in the barn pestering me for more!  Or perhaps he was just thanking me for bringing him back to his beloved Itchy.  It really is a blossoming love story.

However, our vet, Dr. Dennis came out and ShoGun had a full dental and examination.  He passed with flying colors though he did have some sharp edges on his teeth that needed to be removed.

His accomplishments are many at this point!  He is sidepassing with ease now, though he sometimes mistakes the cues.  He backs without hesitation and can pivot left or right with ease.  He will also leg yield and we are working on backing, which is coming easily to him.  He bends left, right and any manner in between with just the lightest of touch.  Most of all, he just really seems to enjoy our time together.  Some might say he’s a Mamma’s boy.  Poor Itchy.

He is being ridden in a bosal which he loves!  He is whisper light, which I love!

Tomorrow we ride at the Skowhegan State Fair, Maine’s oldest continuously run fair and Saturday will be our debut at Tractor Supply!

August 3rd, 2008 ShoGun + Saddle = Explosion

Who would guess that a world traveled horse would even think about bucking, ShoGun has grazed the grasses of 12 different states, visited the Kentucky Horse Park, the White House in Washington D.C., eaten at Denny’s drive through, stayed at the Super 8 six different times and visited with Friesians, Andalusions, Belgian Drafts and raced the floor of 6 different large arenas, one a coliseum and the saddle proved to be the piece of the puzzle that would send him into orbit. There’s no denying that taking ShoGun to the Equine Extravaganza in Raleigh, NC was a calculated move. Watching ShoGun leap 4 feet into the air like a jack rabbit from a stand still over a little thing like a discarded napkin was enough to alert my common sense that ShoGun needed LOTS of stimulus if I was ever going to ride him safely. If walking up the front steps to the Department of the Interior or facing down bicycles (ridden by cops) wasn’t enough preparation, certainly there couldn’t be much that I’d missed, so with excited anticipation I placed my saddle upon ShoGun’s back and smiled delightedly as he walked calmly around the arena with me. He’s doing really well! I heard Kirk say, but then, watching ShoGun, I knew that what was about to happen might rival any 8 second buck-fest in Pro-Rodeo history.
Wait 40 seconds, I said, then, be ready to get out of the way!
Sure enough, in one split second ShoGun corked sky-high like some errant fire cracker. He’s so athletic that he took his hind foot and put it over his back, scooping as he went, I am sure, to rid himself of the saddle. Both Kirk and I scattered. Shogun’s fear inspired him to want to be near us, hence, my earlier warning to that like our beloved horses, we should be ready to take flight. It was a sight to see! He bucked headlong around the arena, twisting one way, then the other. When that didn’t work, he squirted the other direction putting head, neck, feet and body into motion, all going in different directions. He leaped straight up, then dove left, then right. He pounded the dirt with his hooves flying and sent dirt shrapnel everywhere. The only thing he didn’t do was bawl, which some horses do when they are really angry. Wow!! was all I could say. His power was phenomenal and his athleticism I knew was such that he could pick a fly off in mid-air. Literally.
I watched him clock a Moose fly and the grimy beast didn’t even see it coming! That’s tough to do. I know, I regularly hunt them. Then as quick as it had begun, it was over. ShoGun dropped his head, heaved a big sigh and came sauntering over to me, nestled his head to my chest and stood quiet as a kitten. He wasn’t even winded. Such is the way with ShoGun. He’s pure dynamite, but completely put together when he’s not totally coming apart.

Saddle + Bridle = Driving! ShoGun’s saddle training progressed without incident and he hasn’t offered to put any effort into bucking again. I think my decision to allow him plenty of room to *blow* was the right one. He has such a huge stride that we’ve spent 0 (zero) time in the round pen. Hell what am I saying, I don’t even have a round pen! Ha ha ha OK, I have access to one, but my round pen at the moment is housing bottle calves which fortunately are now big enough to wean.

Anyway, round pen or not, I’ve elected to work ShoGun in the arena and in an outside environment because my philosophies have always leaned toward a more forgiving approach and it’s working. ShoGun is doing wonderful! He had an initial bout of resistance to the bridle but after that he’s been eager to learn the basics of being under saddle much like he approached all of the excitement of being on the road. I suppled him with a snaffle the first 2 days and worked with him on ground driving but now we are riding and he’s enjoying it. He is still a bit insecure but we’ll get past that in the next few weeks. He prefers the bosal I am using to the bit. Not surprising. He didn’t know it, but the bit was just to help him understand the basics. He’s such a big and powerful mover that his first instinct is to “push”, not yield. We are working on the delicate balance of his understanding yield to pressure and he’s very sensitive when he wants to be and very stiff when he doesn’t. Particularly on the left, but he’s working with me and that is what counts. He is also doing well with his ground work. He’s learned to trot beside me. He will back on command and yield hind quarters and fore quarters readily. He’ll cross the bridge and he began to master backing and turning at the same time yesterday. He has come a long way!