I opened the door to the arena and felt the wild scuffle it caused before I heard it.
I peered behind the door into the holding pen in back of the arena.
Tally was crouched in the corner, her nose pressed into the wall.
Her feet tapped a nervous dance in the shavings and her ears flicked back to me.
The dust swirled a hazy tornado in the pen.
I shut the door and backed away a step. She stayed in the corner, but her feet stilled. I backed another step and another. When I stood a good 20 feet from her she dropped her head and relaxed. She didn’t turn to look at me.
I turned and walked down the alleyway into the barn. Sonita nickered to me as I came around the corner. Loki stood attentive and relaxed, her ears forward and her eyes soft. The door clanged and banged as I stepped into her stall. Still skittish in her new surroundings, Loki walked out into her run and turned around to watch me.
I turned my back to her and looked across the aisle at Sonita. She raised her head up and snorted, impatient to start the day.
Tally was an interesting puzzle. I wondered what had blown her up.
Bill was an idiot but his intentions were good. I had watched him bumble through more than one horse and he had managed.Most horses blessed him with the same level of tolerance they give all of us as we find our way, they understood he was essentially harmless.
Tally’s terror was complete. Her flight reactions were stronger than any range colt or mustang I had worked with.
Loki came into the stall and whuffled my elbow. I reached a hand back and scratched her neck. She stood and relaxed as I scratched back to her withers, down her shoulders and under her belly. I slid my hand down her legs and picked up her feet, one by one. She sniffed my back and her lips grazed the fabric of my coat. This time she stood her ground when I slid the door shut and stepped into the alley.
I led Sonita and my first two rides into the arena.“I guess you get to stand tied today,” I told her, “somebody’s in your pen.”
Any day Sonita stood tied was a good training day for both of us. I had begun to understand I tried her patience as much as she tried mine.
I tied the other two alongside her on the tie wall and they carefully moved out of kick range. Sonita glared at them both and ground her teeth.
“Leave those babies be, you evil thing,” I said as I went to haul out my gear.
Tally whirled in place and landed with her nose in the corner again as I walked past. I caught a glimpse of her knee as she spun. It was swollen and weepy.
The boss came into and settled into his chair right as I started my first ride.
“That mare is sure athletic,” I said as I jogged past him.
“That mare is going to kill somebody,” the boss replied.
Sonita pinned her ears and threatened with a hind leg as I rode by her. My colt skittered and danced sideways. I started to swing the long end of my rein. I swung it in a lazy circle, fast and then slow, letting my little horse get used to the sight and feel as it whizzed past his ear. I came around the long side of the arena and headed around to Sonita.
“Watch yourself, he’s going to go,” I told the boss as we made our approach. Sonita gave my colt the stink eye and threatened him again, I swung my rein around and caught her a sharp one on the butt, once, twice, before she squealed and crowhopped out of my reach.
My colt spooked and leaped out into the middle of the arena. I urged him forward and got him loping. By the time we had loped a few circles he was ready to go by Sonita again. She acted like we weren’t there.
I let him come down to a walk and gave him his head. He walked along the wall, snorting and blowing the dust from his nostrils.
“I don’t know why you do that, you just scared the colt,” the boss told me.
“It’s OK, he’ll think about it and figure out what I did,” I said, “next time I pick up my rein they’ll both know what’s going on.”
I dismounted and led the colt back to the tie wall. He pushed his head into my hand as I went to slip the bridle over his ears. I switched sides and brought the crown piece over the other ear. I let him drop the bit and tied his halter on. I went ahead and pulled his saddle, he wanted to rub and I didn’t have more than a minute before he would be leaning into me.
I went and sat down next to the boss. He had brought down a thermos and handed me a cup of coffee.
“Thank you,” I said, “what’s up with the little bay?”
“I was hoping we could get her doctored,” he said.“We couldn’t get near her, we had to build a chute with panels and herd her in here. You can see how she’s acting now,” the disgust was plain in his voice.
He slid down into his chair, his long legs stretched out in front of him. His coat scrunched up around his ears and he held his steaming coffee mug with both hands.
“The vet said he’d have to rope her and drug her to treat the knee. It’s an old wound that healed bad. She must have reopened it when she trampled Bill.
“He didn’t think there was much point in fighting her, it’s been open too long. So if she heals, she heals I guess. What a waste of money.”
I looked over at the little mare. Her bay coat was shiny with sweat andher muscular shoulders and hindquarters popped with tension. She felt my gaze and started her nervous dance. I looked away and she stilled.
“What are you going to do with her?” I asked.
“Bill is still determined to work her,” I could hear anger and pride in his voice.
“I figure she can stay in here with you until Bill is up and around. Maybe she’ll get use to your coming and going and calm down.”
“That might work,” I answered.
“Don’t touch her though,” he warned.
“Not a problem,” I said.
I got up and walked stiff backed over to my horses. I decided to ride Sonita. I knew I would unsettle the colts.