I wasn't getting a handle on her. We could walk, we could trot, we could lope a few strides. But nothing felt right.
Tally felt like a keg of explosives. It was like riding a horse down the alley way of a rodeo arena before a barrel race, or sitting on a bull in a bucking chute (which I did once, but that's a Mort story). There was a feeling of anticipation while I was on her and not a good one.
When I start a young horse I spend the first rides ignoring the terror hamster running on his wheel in my stomach. The rotten rodent spins that wheel through at least the first few rides, sometimes more, while I find out what kind of ammo the colt or filly is packing.
Then one day, I'll get on to ride and the terror hamster will be quiet. It's the day I know we've gotten through the rough stuff and I know the horse under me. I trust the evil little hamster and I'm careful until he quits running his wheel.
With Tally, the hamster wouldn't stop. The weird thing was, she wasn't doing anything wrong. She was soft in my hands and obedient to my legs. She was eerily balanced and smooth as silk. She was also very, very quiet. She accepted direction and learned quickly.
I felt like she was waiting. It wasn't like she was out to get me. Tally seemed to like me well enough. But tension wove through her muscular little body and wrapped around my shoulders like a wet blanket every time I threw my leg over.
She took tiny little steps and went with her head low. Her trot was almost a pleasure jog, with the same feeling of pushing through deep water. Her lope was barely there. She held herself back with everything she had but kept her back up and her legs well underneath her at the same time.
Tally wouldn't relax and wouldn't increase her speed. Having her follow another horse didn't seem to matter. She would tuck into the hip and go along willingly enough until the horse moved out faster than she wanted to go. Then she would just lag behind.
My inner hamster warned me not to push her past her self imposed limits. My inner hamster wanted me to go screaming into the night. I hauled her out to the Big K's instead.
"What's going on?" he asked me. He looked Tally over with a critical eye. We were standing outside my trailer. Tally raised her head and snorted at K then stepped her hindquarters away from him.
"I can ride her, but it's like riding a time bomb. I can just feel her ticking away," I dragged my fingers through her mane. "She won't move out."
"Have you pushed her past it?"
"Because she's scaring the crap out of me."
"You can't know what you've got until you dig down and pull it out of them," K said. This was something he had told me time and time again.
"I'm not sure I can handle what Tally's got and I sure can't talk myself into going digging."
K stood with his arms folded and looked at my little mare for a minute longer. "You're probably hanging onto her face."
"Probably. Trust me, there's something about her that's not only making me want to hang on, but I'm just about going fetal every time she raises her head."
"OK, I'm going to go saddle a pony horse. You saddle up your mare and wrap her legs. We'll do some digging."
I saddled Tally and tried to ready myself for whatever was coming. I had never been hurt while riding with the Big K and he had talked me through some tough situations. I hadn't been able to explain the wild current I felt running through Tally but if anybody would pick up on it K would.
K rode out on Dill, his tough little Reminic gelding. "Bring her here," he called. "I'll haul her around the outdoor for a bit and try to get a feel for her."
I led Tally to him and he took the lead rope. He moved off and Tally planted her front legs. She stood frozen until she felt pressure on her poll from the rope halter and then she bolted. She shot behind K's horse and the lead rope dug into his thigh and across Dill's rump. Dill whirled away from the pressure and turned to face her. K kicked him forward a few strides and gave himself enough slack to dally.
Once he had her secure K started to push Tally's hip around with his horse nose to tail. Dill was relaxed and good at his job and kept Tally moving without scaring her. She tolerated being pushed back and forth, but every time K would give her a little slack she would try to bolt.
Tally slammed into Dill's side, try to crawl over the top of him, even shoved her head under his belly and pushed, once she picked a direction she would run blind until she was wrestled to a stop.
The Big K looked over at me, eyebrows raised and his eyes wide, with his best, "What the hell?" look on his face.
"You've been riding this?" he asked me.
"She doesn't act like this when I ride her," I told him,"but you're getting what I'm feeling. It's just waiting for me."
He shook his head and worked her farther out in the arena. He continued to push her this way and that with Dill, trying to give her a little slack and a rest every time she complied. After a good twenty minutes both horses had rivulets of sweat running down their legs and foam outlining their saddle pads.
The two horses stood side by side and blew. K leaned over and pulled on my saddle, rubbed Tally's neck and butt and flopped my stirrups around. She stood quiet and relaxed for him. Satisfied, he released his dally and began to pony her around in circles. Tally trotted alongside Dill with a free and open trot. K broke into a fast lope and Tally went along with him.
They came down the arena fence and K grinned as they sped by. "I think we got her," he called. Tally spun and shot off in a straight line behind them. The Big K held on as she pulled him back but Dill scooted forward as his weight shifted and he had to let her go.
He stopped Dill and took off after her. Quick as she was, Dill was quicker and K hooked onto Tally like a cow going down the fence. Dill began to work her up and down the long side of the arena. He drove her hard along the fence, then stepped in front of her, turning her into the fence and sending her out the other way.
Tally seemed to relax into the work and K was able to reach over and gather her lead rope after a few more turns. The horses' lungs worked like bellows and I could see a flash of ribs every time they sucked in another lung full of air. K dallied again before leading her to the heavy pipe tie rail just outside of the arena. Tally came along with plenty of slack in her rope.
He sidled Dill up to the rail and tied her off before he dismounted. She stood quiet enough, at least until the Big K stepped off his gelding and was standing in between the two horses. Tally sucked back and reared when she hit the end of her lead rope. She whipped her head back and forth and squalled like a burned cat. K ducked under the tie rail and began to work Dill around to him from the other side.
Tally leaped forward and tried to clear the rail. If she hadn't been tied she would have come down on top of K. The rope held and she was yanked over backwards just as her front feet cleared the rail. She flipped and crashed to the ground.
I waited, watching to see how the big K would react. He held his position and watched Tally thrash on the ground until she got her feet under and jumped up. As soon as she was up he came towards her fast with his hands raised and she sucked back again.
"Hey!' he yelled and waved his hands some more. She reared again, shaking her head and he stepped in closer, shouting and waving his hands like a banshee. It looked to me as if she was going to jump again, but instead she put her feet back on the ground and stared wild-eyed at the big K, still leaning back so hard she was almost sitting like a dog. I couldn't decide who was crazier.
His arms went back to his sides but he held his position. The seconds ticked by like hours as they faced off. Tally finally stood up and leaned forward enough to ease some of the pressure on her poll.
The Big K gathered up his reins and led Dill over to me.
"I think she'll be OK now," he said. "Go grab your bit."
"Do you want me to ride her?" I was trying desperately to keep my voice from shaking. I looked at her front legs. The backs were raw and bleeding from knee to elbow and she'd lost a chunk of hide from her hip bone. "She's pretty scurfed up, maybe she's sore."
"She did it to herself and I don't see any bone sticking out. We'll go in the indoor and I'll pony her around a little more. Then you can hop on and I'll pony her again. I think she'll shake loose and move out just fine."
K was right. Tally ponied around like a seasoned cutter in a warm-up. K cruised the indoor arena for a few minutes and told me to get on up. I reminded myself to breathe and got on my little nut case. Tally moved her feet a little, but seemed relaxed and friendly. I held my reins, but kept them loose and rested my hands on the swells of my saddle so I wouldn't grab at her.
K started us out with the nose to tail turns he had began 100 years before when I first handed her over.
"She's looking good," K said, "go ahead and use your legs to start our turns, just stay out of her mouth."
"So if I die today will you keep teaching Kidlette?"
"You're not going to die, I told you she was fine."
He led us out of our last turn and started long trotting around the arena. Tally stepped out with Dill, calm and quiet. Her trot was strong and flowing, her cadence was lovely. I told my inner hamster to shut the hell up and started to relax.
"How did you know?" I asked him.
"How did I know what?"
"That she was ready to cooperate."
"She quit looking like she was going to kill me."
"Why do you think she's so scared?"
"You think this mare is scared?" K looked at me with the same raised eyebrow s he had for Tally when she first blew up on him.
"Sure she is," I leaned down and rubbed on her sweat stained neck.
"I was watching her eye through that whole deal out there Janet," K's voice was dead serious. "This mare was 100% pure mad at me. If you're going to get this job done without getting hurt you'd better remember that."
He smooched to Dill and we loped off. Before we were done that afternoon I was moving Tally around the arena without K's help. We went through all her gaits, free and easy and at a good clip.
When we were done K said he was going to skip our regular "beer-thirty" break.
"I'm not in the mood today." He headed to the show barn with Dill, his head sunk low between his shoulders as he studied the ground. His black mood rolled over me. I wasn't sure where I was failing him, but I knew it had something to do with Tally.
I'd just have to chew on it during the long haul back to my barn.