“Okay, let’s try an easy jog, relax your hands, let the tension run down your back, into your legs and out your toes,” I had choked down enough arena dust to keep me full until the next morning.
The school horses were about over the thrill of teaching kids to ride, as they shuffled past Annie wrinkled her nostril and glared at me, Brandy went so far as to shake her head until rings on her sidepull jingled.
They knew whose fault this third lesson was.
“OK girls, now we’re relaxed, we’re going to keep our legs loose, our seat balanced, chins up aaaaaaaand lope.”
The last lope around the arena was for Brandy’s benefit. If she hadn’t made that face I’d have let them quit.
The girls were giggling when they stopped and the two wise school horses headed for the tie-rail. They knew it was five-o-clock and they weren’t packing the squeakers for another single step.
Tally came up to the gate of her pen and watched the girls unsaddle the old mares. I walked past and went to sit in my chair in the corner.
She flicked an ear at me as I went by but kept her attention on the girls. Bill hobbled down the alleyway and sat down next to me. It was the first time I had seen him in six weeks.
“Hey Bill,” I said.
“Hey yourself,” he said.
We sat in a fairly friendly silence and watched the girls groom the horses.
“Are they too hot to put them up?” One of the girls asked with hope vibrating
in her voice.
“Maybe a little,” I answered, “why don’t you hop on them and walk
The kids didn’t ask twice, they scrambled up bareback and rode off whispering and laughing, the mares walking in tandem with their heads low.
“Those mares ain’t hot,” Bill said with a laugh.
I reached out my boot and kicked him a little.
“They can ride around until their folks show up,” I told him, “ I like
“You know they tell their folks to come late so they can ‘cool them
out’”, he said.
“It doesn’t hurt anything, besides they’ll feed for me. How’re you
feeling?” I asked.
“Pretty good, Dad says you’ve taken good care of my mare,” Bill said.
“I haven’t done anything,” I said, "she is quieting down some.”
“Can you touch her?”
“I haven’t tried,” I said, and got up stiff legged to dust off my jeans.
“C’mon girls,” I called out, “let’s go feed.”
I left Bill sitting in his chair, watching the bay mare. I saw her start
to pace around her small pen. The pressure from his steady gaze began to make her twitch like she had a fly.
The next morning I brought Sonita in to run off a little snort. She was full of pep and jigged a little at the end of the lead rope. She kept plenty of slack and didn’t try to pass my shoulder so I let her be, even when she kicked up a little.
She stood quiet while I untied her halter and walked out to the middle of the arena for a long luxurious roll. She exploded as she stood up and took off without taking the time to shake off the dust.
I leaned against the empty holding pen and watched her play. Tally twirled in place like a circus dog, so excited to see Sonita run she forgot to worry about me being so close.
“Hey you, hey, hey, I’d like to let you out,” I said in a low, quiet singsong, ”but I can’t.”
Tally glanced over at me and settled back at the gate.
She turned her attention to Sonita and watched her blast down the wall of the indoor. I walked out into the middle of the arena and Sonita charged, I ducked left and she buried her hocks into the ground to cut left. She lowered her head and bared her teeth. I dodged right and she moved with me. I took off running and she flew along side, blocking me neat as a pin. We kept it up until she started leaning into me.
“That’s enough,” I raised my hands and stood straight. Sonita could tell I was only mildly serious and snorted at me before taking off with a fart and a buck.
I went back to the fence and pulled my halter and lead off the pen.
Bill came around the corner. Tally spun off the gate and scrambled into the corner, her head low and her feet dancing.
“You’re mare has her all fired up,” he grumbled.
I went back to the middle of the arena and waited. Sonita trotted around me a few times with her tail flagged, snorting and inviting me to play. When she saw I was serious she stopped and waited for me to tie her halter back on.
I tied Sonita to the wall and went to get the first of my rides. When I came back Bill was in the pen with Tally. She stood with her head jammed tight between her front legs, shoved as far into her corner as she could get.
Bill stood next to her, murmuring and rubbing her back, neck and butt. Her feet drummed a steady rhythm and I could see the tremors ripple across her flanks.
The boss came in and stood watching Bill, his chest puffed with pride. He walked over to me and stood across from the filly I was currying.
“He’s a hand isn’t he,” he asked.
“He’s something,” I answered.
The boss stepped back and folded his arms. I watched the light cool in his eyes but managed to keep my gaze level. Something had shifted between us and I felt an uneasy knot tangle in my stomach.
Bills quiet murmurs cut through the dusty air.