I rode Tally hard that morning.
She chugged like a little freight train, her snorts growing louder as she relaxed and lost herself into our workout. She turned into a little machine as she warmed up.
Her muscular little body surged with power and her natural cadence made it easy to get lost in the rhythm of her lope. She was deep strided and strong, making me feel like I was on a much larger horse as she carried me through the corners without a lean or a wobble.
The bright little bay worked on her own to stay evenly balanced between my legs. She was the only horse I had ever ridden that took my concept of keeping an imaginary sliver of air between my seat and legs and made it literal. With just a touch she would reposition herself so no uneven contact came between us.
Tally was an incredible education. I had to be aware and soft all the time, my riding had to be instinctive, my timing blended with hers to the second, or the surge of panic I knew so well would come bubbling up through her, her back would hollow, her head rise in the air and her legs would begin to scramble.
If my middle was solid and my stinking, eternally sinking, right hip hadn't slid into the pocket of my saddle I could bring her back to me with a sigh, a touch of my calf. My riding improved on my other horses in leaps and bounds. The more instinctive and less intellectual my training became the better off we all were.
My heart ached at the thought of selling her, but my reserves were going fast and my time was becoming more precious as my business began to grow. I needed Tally to learn to accept other riders and I needed it quick.
My assistant Kathy had finally decided she was ready to give Tally a whirl. She wanted her tired and she wanted her on a longe line with me on the end of it.
So I worked hard to tire the mare that morning. Tally was hard to wear out. She had become addicted to our morning work outs, her need to move came closer to being satisfied the harder she went, so it was difficult to wear her down. Tally had flipped my standard release and rest reward system. Her reward was getting to move out, circling at a good clip, huffing and chuffing away. Right when I would think she was ready to stop, her heavy tail would flag a little and she would ask for more.
Finally we stood in the middle of the arena, sweat rolling of both of us in waves. Tally was bright and soft, but relaxed, and I was rolling around on a contact high that gave me confidence this mare could do anything.
"Why don't we start with you just getting up and down on her, we'll take it slow," I told Kathy as I slid down.
"Sounds good to me," she said. Her mouth was set and her shoulders stiff as she approached. "I still want you on the end of a rope."
We slipped off Tally's bridle and put the halter and longe line on. I tied the head piece tight and close to her ear, making sure the pressure on her face would be even, not too much on her nose, not too much on the poll.
She was puzzled. Kathy should be unsaddling her, taking her out for a rinse and tying her back in the line up, not getting her ready for another ride. Tally's eyes stayed soft and she rested her nose first on my arm, then Kathy's shoulder.
"Yep, I'm gonna ride you," Kathy told her.
"Live and let die," I said.
My long time friend glared at me, my compliant and congenial assistant gone in a flash, "Shut...up."
Kathy muttered something I couldn't quite hear as she put the bridle back on over the halter.
I stepped away, the longe line doubled in my hand, enough slack in it to tell Tally Kathy was in charge.
Kathy gathered her reins, stepped into the stirrup and stood up in one easy move. She balanced straight in the stirrup, over Tally's back, one hand on the swell, the other on the cantle.
Tally snorted and raised her head. Her eyes rolled white and she started to shift around.
"Janet...." Kathy said.
"Hold steady, she's just sorting things out, if she goes, just step down and stay at her shoulder. I'll pull her around if need be," I answered.
Tally rebalanced and sighed. Her head dropped as she relaxed and Kathy stepped off.
"That was great! Let's go again." I said.
"Can I wait until I don't want to puke anymore?"
"You're fine, hop on up there."
"I hate you when you're perky."
We repeated stepping into the stirrup several times until Tally started looking around and began to get restless.
"Do you want to swing a leg over or should we quit for the day?" I asked.
"If you ever want to see me again we'll quit for the day."
"OK, we'll go again tomorrow."
"Hooray, I can't wait," Kathy said. "By the way, I think you can put Tally up, I need to go have a cup of coffee."
The next morning began the same, except Kathy was feeling little more positive and Tally was completely unconcerned when she stood up in the stirrup.
"Do you want to get on and walk her around? We can make it her regular cool down," I asked her.
"That will probably work," Kathy told me. She seemed calm and relaxed when she threw her leg over Tally's back. Tally stiffened, but offered no resistance.
Tally was stiff and white-eyed, but she listened to the unfamiliar hands on the reins.
"It's like riding a little bulldog," Kathy said.
"Bull terrier? French Bull Dog?"
"More like a Boston..."
Tally bolted. Her hind legs suddenly powered under her and she was off like a shot. Kathy grabbed the swells with both hands and deepened her seat. I set my legs and balanced the longe line across my hip so I could power Tally down as she took off across the arena.
She didn't leave. She cut across the circumference of our circle and headed straight towards me. I frantically started gathering in the line so she wouldn't get caught up in it. The mare's eyes had gone cold and hard, like dark little marbles. As she shot by I saw Kathy pick up the reins and pull. Tally leaned into the bit and pulled back. The leverage lifted Tally's front end off the ground and she pushed off with her hind end. They were burling straight into the arena wall.
I got my line squared away and put some steady pressure on the halter, trying to stop the blind bolt without pulling horse and rider over.
"Get off her face!" I shouted. Kathy was white faced and silent, there was nothing in her world except Tally. She couldn't hear me.
I don't know if Tally felt the pressure of the longe line or decided against crashing into the wall, but she veered away, gathering even more power through her turn, her legs thrust deep into the arena as she took off up the side, so close she slammed Kathy's knee into a support beam.
When she hit the end of the longe line I felt her gather for another leap.
"Hang on!" I shouted, but Kathy had enough. She let go and flew into the arena wall as Tally ripped into yet another turn.
The air was heavy with dust and I could barely make out Kathy's still form on the arena floor. Tally stood about twenty feet away, stamping her foot and twitching her tail in irritation.
I ran over to Kathy and knelt down next to her.
"Kathy? Kath? Are you all right? Oh God, let her be OK."
She groaned and rolled over in the sawdust.
"I am never riding that bitch again."