I arranged to keep her in the little stall in the arena. After I spent my first morning with Tally blasting around me in the 1/2 acre broodmare pen I knew I wasn't going to get anywhere until she was contained.
We built a chute out of panels and ran her into the arena.
Tally trotted into the little holding pen on her own.
The tiny stall had been her prison for months, but it was as close to a safe place as she had.
The boss and I agreed on some basic rules.
Nobody except me was to walk into the stall.
No hand feeding.
No reaching through the bars.
I was going to be the only one in contact with her.
I promised the boss not to be stupid.
He made it clear I was pretty much a fool for taking her on.
Her success or failure was on my head.
I was firmly convinced I could turn her around if I handled her right.
I had complete faith in the ability of any horse to respond to the right treatment.
I had turned Sonita into a competitor hadn't I?
Loki, my 4-year-old "nothing bred" foundation filly was rising to national champion status carrying my daughter and was still in a snaffle bit.
I had ridden a series of problem horses and all but one had been a success. My only failure to date was because of loco weed.
Tally passed a vet exam with flying colors, even if we did have to run her into a squeeze chute to get it done.
So I kept building up the reasons I should be able to handle her and squashing down the doubts that kept crowding up.
She was just a horse.
I walked into the empty arena and double checked the gates.
Then I opened the gate to Tally's pen and walked away.
She ran to her corner and buried her nose. Her feet danced a nervous jig and her tail lay flat against her butt.
I walked around the arena and picked up manure, whistling and singing some Roy Orbison in my usual off-key way. I never looked at her.
I finally sat down and started doing my books. I kept up my awful singing, but I moved on to some Jethro Tull. Maybe some Songs From the Woods would make her feel better.
At long last I saw her glide past me. I kept my head down as she walked around the arena. Her blasting snorts told me her nerves were up.
I sat quietly for another good 15 minutes before I got up and headed to her pen.
Tally immediately bolted away from me.
I shut the gate and turned to look straight at her.
Tally whirled and sped around the arena.
I walked to the middle and watched her race around me.
She ran several laps and I simply let myself melt into the sight of her. In spite of the foamy neck and white eye she flowed smooth and quick like Beaver Creek after a summer rain.
She was my favorite color of bay, bright red with burnished black points. Her heavy mane rose and fell as she ran and I was hypnotized by her steady rhythms.
She slowed and I woke up enough to take a step to her shoulder. She bolted away from me and changed leads in a single fluid stride. If she wasn't good leaded when I finally rode her it was going to be all my fault.
We kept up our first attempt at communication. I kept my jumping mind as clear as I could and simply focused on a single bunched muscle in her hip.
When she would slow I would back up a single step. My movement would speed her back up. I would look at the point of her shoulder and take one step. The single motion launched her the other direction.
My afternoon lesson arrived. She perched on the fence and watched. I never said a word and Tally didn't flick an ear at her.
Finally my student left.
Tally's sides were heaving and foam dripped from her flanks nd chest. Her breath was beginning to roar.
She broke into her long strided floaty trot and I backed a step.
Tally stopped with her head flung high and stared at me. She blew like a trumpet.
I turned and left the arena. I came back with an armload of hay and opened the gate of her pen.
After I filled her feeder I left the gate open and went to help the boss feed. I found a check stuck to the fence. My student had paid me anyway. Good student.
"How's it going?" The boss asked. I thought I could hear a trace of anger in his voice, a double dog dare behind his question.
"I don't have a clue," I told him.
When I went back to the arena Tally was in her pen with her head buried in her hay. Her breathing had quieted and her sweat slick sides had dried to salty streaks.
She looked up when I latched her gate but didn't run to her corner. Her eyes were quiet.
It was a start.