"She's a one person horse. It happens sometimes," the boss said. "She's never going to let anybody else ride her."
"She doesn't have an option," I said. "I can't afford to keep her.'
Riding Tally was like riding a cat. She flowed. Her muscular little body never was thrown off course by my weight, yet she read every shift and tried to accommodate.
There was no spook to her. Nothing fazed her. Dogs, vehicles, other horses, it was all the same to her. She learned very quickly. Once she understood what I was asking she gave it her all, every time, 100%.
She was so quick I wasn't completely sure I could stay on her through a fence turn. I had never come off, but it was just a sense I had about her. I always felt if I asked for more I might just get more than I could handle.
I moved her out of the dusty, isolated stall in the arena, and into an outside pen. She had fresh air, room to run and companionship. The boss made sure he was there to watch the first time I went to catch her. He was sure he'd have some fun to share with Bill. I had to work hard to keep the smirk off my face when I went right to her and she followed me to the gate with a bright expression. Just to rub it in a little I didn't halter her until we got to the gate. I wanted to be sure the boss knew I had her.
I had crossed a line with Tally. We had become friends. She would nicker when I drove into work in the morning and would leave her feed to say "Hi." It made me feel wonderful. It made me almost believe there was a way to reach any horse if a person had enough time, patience, education, and help.
There was only one problem. She was still terrified of every other person on the planet. She didn't want anything to do with men, women or kids. Nobody else could catch her. She barely tolerated my assistant grooming and saddling her. If I wasn't in the arena when Kathy got her ready there would be a huge ruckus.
When Tally blew it wasn't pretty. If she sucked back she would throw herself forward and crash into the tie wall. She had scrapes and scabs on her head, chest and legs most of the time from flailing against the wall, or a tie rail, or my trailer. She was starting to look like a horse tripping victim from the Mexican rodeo.
When the boss fed she would go to the far corner of the pen and wouldn't come up to eat until he had moved to the next group of horses.
"Why don't you keep her?" I was asked by more than one person."She only likes you. She'll never be OK for anybody else."
It was a lovely thought, but I couldn't afford her. I would have to sell Sonita in order to keep her and I couldn't go there. Plus I didn't believe in this one man horse nonsense. Sonita had tried the same thing and she was over it. Tally could learn to do the same.
I started working her hard and tying her up wet, foamy and tired. I'd let her stand by herself for a few hours and then Kathy would bring her a drink. We'd wait until the end of the day and I would put up every horse except Tally. Kathy would unsaddle her, groom her crusty coat, untangle her mane and turn her out.
She barely tolerated her at first, but as the days went by she began to appreciate Kathy's quiet, gentle touch. Tally's eye grew softer, her head stayed lower and her chin began to drop a few tense little wrinkles.
One morning I was running late. As I drove up to the barn I saw Tally was missing from her pen. Kathy's car was parked outside the indoor arena and I jumped out my car and blew through the door.
There stood my morning line-up, saddled and ready to go. Sonita, James and Tally. Kathy was sitting in a chair, holding a coffee mug, a big old Cheshire cat grin on her face.
"We've got time for a cup," she told me. "There's a fresh pot in the office."
I went and got myself some coffee and came out to sit next to Kathy. Sonita shook her head and stamped an impatient foot at James, he pinned his ears and swung his butt out of reach. Tally stood, mild eyed, and watched them bicker.
"How was she to catch?" I asked.
"It took me about five minutes, then she just relaxed and walked over to me. She's been perfect ever since!"
"Great," I told her. "Now it's time to see if you can ride her."
I felt guilty as I watched the Cheshire grin fade from Kathy's face.
Sometimes it really sucked being my assistant.