Donerail Farm
                                                          Dressage and Sport Horses
                                                                                  Sonnys Mona Lisa
 

  Some things are just meant to be...
 

I first laid eyes on Sonnys Mona Lisa when she was about a week old. The bay and white pinto half Arab filly was cavorting alongside her mother, who was being led over to the next door neighbors to be bred back to their paint stallion, Sonnys Sizzler. The “next door neighbor” was my friend, Carol, who owns Sonnys Sizzler.  I just happened to be visiting her that day.

I was captivated by the filly, but she was not for sale.

A few months later my friend, Carol, called me to tell me Lisa was for sale, for $3,000. But I had too many horses to even think about buying another, at any price.

A few months later I got an urgent call from Carol. Lisa’s breeder was liquidating his herd. He was taking Lisa to a horse auction the next weekend. Carol warned, “If you want this horse you’d better be there.”

Knowing I shouldn’t, but unable to stay away, I went to the sale, and even registered as a buyer (if I bought a horse it would probably be grounds for divorce).

Finally, in the midst of the quarter horses came Lisa. The high bid was $500. Carol kept urging me to bid but I could not raise my hand.
 

When the auctioneer’s gavel slammed down, so did my heart.
I knew I had lost Lisa forever.
 

I went back to the stall area to bid her a final farewell. I found her breeder and found out that she did not sell after all! He had put an $800 reserve on her. I told him I would gladly pay that, but I had to sell one horse first.

A few weeks later, I got another phone call from Carol. Lisa’s breeder had died suddenly from a massive heart attack. At the same time, I had finally sold a horse to make room for Lisa.

But I could not call the grieving family and discuss buying a horse. I would have to wait a suitable time.

About a month later, I worked up my nerve and called. The son was glad to sell her for $800, but since his father died without a will, I would have to wait to get her papers. I waited a nerve-wracking 4 months to get her half Arabian papers. She was finally mine.

She grew up uneventfully, I had 30 days training put on her, and then I took over her training myself.

I had never had a mare as a riding horse before.

The first few months I rode her, we hated each other. I called her every name in the book, and I even tried to sell her – unsuccessfully – luckily for me!

Finally it occurred to me to try and ride her a little differently than the 16.2, 1200-lb. Hanoverian cross I was also riding. As soon as I figured out that Lisa demanded feather-light aids and “please” and “thank you” she became a different horse.

She could not trot her way out of a paper bag, but she had a wonderful walk with a 12-inch overstride and an incredibly balanced canter for such a young horse.

I got a real revelation when I took her to my dressage trainer, Dinah Babcock-Morris, for the first time. I rode her for the first half of the lesson, then Dinah got on her. Under Dinah’s tutelage, in a matter of minutes,  Lisa “sat” on her haunches and her trot became airy, lofty and… beautiful! I finally saw that Lisa’s trot – while not impressive in hand – could improve substantially with training. She looked like a dressage horse!

A few months later I took her to her first dressage schooling show and she scored in the sixties.

In fact, in her first year of showing in dressage schooling shows, she won almost all the time. I don’t think she was ever out of the top three places. And she ended up winning the year end Training Level championship for the schooling show division from the Houston Dressage Society, with scores up to 69%.

The following year we hit the recognized dressage show circuit, and she did well there, too. In fact, her year-end median at Training Level with the United States Dressage Federation was over 66%.  That put her among the top 15 horses in the country  - of all breeds - ridden by adult amateurs.

And then I got divorced. To raise the money for the down payment on a small farm, I sold my warmblood, who had captured a zone championship and a reserve championship at our dressage Regionals. I was not sure that would be enough – I decided to sell Lisa, too. To make a long story short – I had some serious buyers but we were $1,000 apart in price. I dug in my heels and refused to budge – they did not buy her, and for that I will be forever grateful. I kept Lisa, although for the next two years I would not be able to show her or even take lessons.

Finally, in 1997, I could return to training for dressage. We had to start over with our training.
She returned to the show ring at Training Level and continued her winning ways, again winning the Training Level Year End Championship from Houston Dressage Society.
In 1998 we went to the Region 9  Arabian show and captured Reserve Champion at Training Level. She also was showing First Level and winning regularly with scores in the mid to high 60s, racking up points toward her Legion of Honor. We were getting very close! In addition, she was schooling all of the Second level work at home.
 

My goal was to be showing at Third Level by the end of 2000.  It seemed a reasonable goal - until Lisa severely injured a tendon out in the pasture in January, 1999.

The prognosis was questionable. My vet could not be sure if she would become sound, or remain sound. I read all I could about tendon injuries. I hunted down the country’s leading expert on tendon injuries and consulted her. She prescribed a progressive rehab regime that would take 9-12 months of stall rest combined with daily controlled and systematically increasing exercise. I was also doing daily hydrotherapy and sweating her leg. The initial protocol called for hand walking once or twice a day, gradually increasing to 30 minutes. Every day. Every single day.
 I started getting up at 5 a.m. so I could walk Lisa 15 minutes in the morning before I went to work, in addition to our evening session. It was cold, lonely and damp trudging along the perimeter of my pasture in the dark. After about the third or fourth month, I was getting very discouraged. Ultrasounds showed little healing.

 I was beginning to wonder if I should just breed her, turn her out in the pasture and call her a broodmare..

My friend Sandy Kuhlman came to the rescue. She took Lisa for a few months to give me a breather. When Lisa came home, it was time to start riding her at a walk. This part of the rehab was much easier. At least I was riding now! Ultrasounds finally showed healing. And Lisa’s attitude continued to be cheerful and calm despite her confinement.

I had purchased a breeding to Frohwind, a five-star Oldenburg stallion, the previous year, with plans to breed an Arabian mare to him. Unfortunately, the Arabian mare I bought was 9 months in foal – and she foaled early, the foal was badly malpositioned and I lost them both. Exactly a week before losing my mare and foal, my endurance horse required emergency colic surgery at A&M. It is an understatement to say that 1999 was a very bad year for me.

I had always wanted a foal out of Lisa, but was never willing to take the time away from training and showing. But now I had “forced” down time, and I had a paid breeding that I needed to use. I was extremely nervous about the prospect of breeding her, considering the tragedy I had had with the Arabian mare.

But I knew the odds were against something like that happening again, so I took a deep, nervous, breath and in July of ’99, decided to breed Lisa.  I knew it was late in the year, but I figured I would give it one shot. . I gave Frohwind, and my vet, Gregg Knape, orders for a bay pinto filly True to her cooperative nature, with only one artificial insemination, Lisa was in foal. (Although many times in the upcoming months, I would become terrified at the thought of Lisa having foaling problems – and would (not so) jokingly ask my vet if he could perform an equine abortion!)

By November, 10 months after her injury, Lisa was up to a daily full work out of walk/trot/canter, and was being turned out by herself in a small paddock. She was still a little short strided on her injured leg, though. I continued to work her daily. I planned to work her right up to foaling, but Lisa let me know otherwise. Around the end of March,  she started putting her ears back when she saw the saddle – I knew it was time to quit.  And now came the nervous waiting!

As it turned out, I had absolutely nothing to fear.

At 3:30 a.m. on Saturday, August 5 (how characteristically polite of Lisa to foal on a weekend!) with me, and a friend in attendance – and my wonderful vet, Gregg Knape on the way (just in case!) Lisa had a ….bay and white pinto filly!

I decided it was God’s way of rewarding me for my patience, and maybe something good to make up for all of the previous year’s horse tragedies. I named the filly Flying Colorz – Fling for short.

Lisa was a good mother, but she and Fling were both independent souls. So much the better for her return to her career! I started riding Lisa at a walk 30 days post foaling. Fling quickly got bored with it all and napped in the arena. By about the third month, Fling stayed in the stall while mom went to work. Occasionally she would whinny, and Lisa would not even answer – she would just flick her ear in the direction of the barn as if to say “I’ll talk to you later, dear, right now mommy’s working.”
A final ultrasound showed absolutely no sign of her previous injury! And her slight short-stridedness had vanished.

The elusive Legion of Honor was just 16 points away. So close, and yet so far! However, I learned that, in our show ring absence, the Achievement Awards rules had been changed pertaining to dressage. Instead of having to win or place in a class, now Achievement Awards points were given for your score. Placing was irrelevant.  Lisa was amazingly consistent and almost always scored in the mid 60s. I figured we could finish the award in 5 or 6 classes – or two shows. It was beginning to look like it might really happen. I tried not to think about it, as to not tempt fate once more!

I entered her in the Cedar Trace Dressage with Friends show Feb. 17-18 in College Station. The morning of the show dawned bitterly cold. Wind chills were around 20 degrees. “Warming up your horse” was NOT a literal term!  She was stiff and tight for her first class. I couldn’t even feel my feet! As the weather warmed over the weekend, our scores climbed along with the mercury! At the end of the show, we had earned 11 of the needed points!

I could barely stand the wait until the March Freestyle Farm Frostbite Show at Great Southwest Equestrian Center in Katy.  I calculated that, probably, Lisa would  earn her last needed points with our second ride on Saturday afternoon. I notified friends and well-wishers and invited them to watch. I bought a bottle of Iron Horse champagne, simply for the label. I bought jellybeans for Lisa.

And then the weather intervened again! It poured prior to, and during the Friday prior to the show. Unbeknownst to me, one competition ring had been scheduled for outdoors!  The show manager was tearing her hair out, as the parking lot was literally swimming in water and mud. You needed rubber boots to get from your truck to the barn.

Late Friday night, the show schedule was hastily rearranged to accommodate more rides in the covered arena – which meant my first ride was a first level ride out doors, and my “afternoon” ride now was an evening ride in the covered arena.

I was not thrilled with riding Lisa in the outdoor ring – I asked the judge if I could excuse myself in the middle of the ride if I felt the footing was dangerous. She said yes – so off we started on First Level Test 1.  The ring was extremely boggy, and it started raining about halfway through the test, but Lisa just put her head down and ignored it and soldiered on. We ended up scoring 65% and placed second. And earned enough points to leave us two points shy of our goal.

I had called all my friends and just told them not to come Saturday evening – it was late, the place was a mess. It was too much to ask! But they came anyway!

I was extremely nervous before our ride – and picking up on my nervousness, Lisa was uncharacteristically tense. There was so much riding on this test –  literally - but we only had to score a 59% or higher to get our needed points.

It was not a very good ride – but I was pretty sure we had scored high enough. When I came back to our stall – my friends had decorated it with banners and signs, and there was a big chocolate cake with our names on it. I was overcome and just sobbed. Lisa thought I had lost my mind. I pulled myself together and went and checked scores. A 61%! We had done it!


My good friends Sandy Kuhlman and Elaine Kern made this
colorful banner for Lisa to celebrate her Legion of Honor.

It was the first time in my life I think I was HAPPY to get a 61%!

I broke out the Iron Horse and started passing out champagne to anyone within arms’ reach – not many people by that time of the evening! Lisa got to eat her gourmet jelly beans. A goal we had pursued for 7 years, and at one point thought was unreachable was finally reached.

I am so grateful to own this horse.  She is a once in a lifetime horse, and my only regret is that I know she has not been able to reach her full potential with my limitations of time, talent and money!

Our next goal is to earn the bronze medal from the United States Dressage Federation. This requires 2 scores of 60% or higher at First, Second and Third levels. We already have the scores for First levels.

I would like to thank my husband, Mike Maul, for lending emotional and financial support during Lisa’s rehab – and for maintaining a positive attitude; Carol Shelby for helping me finally acquire Lisa, Dinah Babcock-Morris for opening my eyes to Lisa’s talents and getting us started down the right road, my friend, Sandy Kuhlman, for offering a firm shoulder when things were darkest, my vet, Gregg Knape of Alvin, TX for his unfailing good humor and his excellent vet skills, and Fran Dearing and Rebekah Wesatzke for their excellent coaching. And last, but certainly not least, Lisa herself, for just being…herself!
 

Sonnys Mona Lisa
    Career Highlights


2006 -Pinto World Championship Show, Tulsa, OK  
          Champion, Dressage, Training Level Test 2 Amateur
          Reserve Champion, Dressage, Training Level Test 1
         Third, Dressage, Training Level Test 4

         Arabian Horse Association Region 9 Amateur Hi Point Awards
         Champion, First Level
         Reserve Champion, Second Level


       Arabian Horse Association Open Incentive Program, Local Shows
        Champion, Dressage

     

       

     

2002 - Champion, First Level Dressage, Amateur Owner to Ride,
           International Arabian Horse Association, Region 9 Championships

          - Reserve Champion, First Level Dressage, Amateur to Ride,
            International Arabian Horse Association, Region 9 Championships

          -American Horse Show Association "Horse of the Year"
           Half Arabian Dressage, 4th place, Region 9

          -Houston Dressage Society Year End Amateur Champion,
           Second Level Dressage, Schooling Show Division

          - Legion of Honor, International Arabian Horse Show Association.
            Most points earned in open, all breed dressage competition

          -Legion of Supreme Honor, International Arabian Horse Show Association

          - Region 9 Amateur Champion, Second Level Dressage

2000  - Approved by ISR/Oldenburg and produced Flying Colorz by the five-star Oldenburg stallion, Frohwind.
            Flying Colorz, a bay pinto filly, scored premium for conformation at her inspection.
 

1998 - “Preferred” mare status from American Warmblood Society with a 77% score; won silver medal at her inspection, over premium-rated   warmbloods. The horse that beat her was a stallion, and he was the highest scoring horse in the nation that year.

-Reserve Champion, Training Level ATR, International Arabian Horse Association Region 9 Championships.

Numerous dressage championships and high score of show awards, in all-breed competition. Numerous year-end championships from  the Houston Dressage Society.

Numerous United States Dressage Federation All Breed Awards
from Pinto Horse Association, International Arabian Horse Association and Arabian Sport Horse Association

1993 National Champion in Dressage/Arabian Sport Horse Association

1993 “Senrab Cup” for excellence in all-breed competition from Arabian Sport Horse Association.