It was my first "real' training job.
I was the official trainer and riding instructor at a small boarding and breeding barn in Green Mountain Falls CO.
The couple that owned the stable was friendly, outgoing and opinionated. The Chief and Madge were strong believers in the foundation lines of quarter horses and students of primitive color. They stood a buckskin stallion and bred for color.
The look of their horses was a familiar comfort and they were patient with my lack of experience in the current show world. I was good enough to run a small group of students, could start a nice colt, work with a rank broodmare and was more than willing to learn the ropes from the young trainer that was preparing their stud for the IBHA show circuit . We seemed a good fit.
One of my first duties was to work with Madge and her mare DixieAnne.
"DixieAnne is a special case," the Chief told me. "She's a well bred mare, with plenty of Poco Bueno top and bottom. She seems to have some problems with her way of going. Madge is extremely fond of her and wants to show her, but they've got a long way to go before we can put them in the ring."
Madge came into the barn with a proud strut, leading a coarse, large boned mare with a pretty face and a bright expression. The mare's shaggy winter coat hid her so-so build, but her extreme cowhocks were a standout no matter what the season. Her tongue was in constant motion. It worked busily around her muzzle, reaching for the shanks of the mechanical hackamore, wiping out her nostrils, or just wagging back and forth, slinging a steady stream of slobber.
"This is my DixieAnne," Madge shouted. Her wizened, monkey face lit up as she slapped the pale dun mare's neck. "Isn't she something?"
I took a sip of my coffee in order to delay making any comments that could end my job before it had really started. I scrambled to find some suitable compliments. DixieAnne didn't seem bothered by Madge's habit of hollering every word that came out of her mouth. She even seemed to enjoy Madge petting her with the same enthusiasm, whacking her hard on the neck, shoulder and butt while cutting loose with her air horn praise, "Good girl, DixieAnne, good girl!"
"She seems like a nice, level headed horse." I managed.The mare stepped into me and used her bony head to whack my hand so hard she flipped my cup of very hot coffee back into my face. I was saved from being burned by the spit bath that covered me. The malicious gleam in DixieAnne's eye told it wasn't the first time she had played this little prank.
"Ha!" Madge cut loose with a pleased belly laugh."Isn't she something? I've always said, if DixieAnne came from a litter of puppies she'd be the funny spotted one."
"Uh, yeah, could you maybe back her off a step or two?" I asked. "Why don't you crawl up there and show me what she can do."
Madge led DixieAnne out into the arena and I watched her mount up. The mare stood with all four feet planted while Madge dragged herself up, but the tongue never let up. She rode off quiet and willing.
The Chief stayed with me in the center of the ring. DixieAnne had the weirdest hitch in her getalong I had ever seen. She wasn't limping, she was kind of rolling along, loose jointed and relaxed, yet all four legs were completely out of sync. She weaved and wobbled between the reins, every bit the stagger of an old drunk with one too many under his belt. Madge gathered up her reins and got ready to trot.
"Wait til' you see this," the Chief said with a grin.
DixieAnne wan't trotting, she had sped up her shambling walk, head bobbing first, her tongue began running over her muzzle even faster and foam began flying before she broke into a true, lateral pace. The pace had none of the flow of a Foxtrotter, the strides in the back were shorter than the front and her front legs moved out slightly out of sync with each other.
"What is she doing?" I was in absolute awe.
"We sure as hell don't know," Madge bellowed, "but let me tell you, it hurts!"
"We bought her as a broodmare," the Chief told me, "so her way of going shouldn't have been a problem, but then Madge took a shine to her and decided she wants to show her."
I had nothing. My mind refused to acknowledge what my eyes were seeing and my ears were hearing.
Madge brought DixieAnne up to us and yelled "Whoa!"
DixieAnne stopped a foot from my face and went in for the head butt. I was on to her now and jumped back before she got me. The Chief and Madge laughed with delight.
"Get on her and give her a whirl," the Chief said.
"You've got to feel it to believe it!" Madge shouted.
I was relieved when, other than a few friendly swipes of the tongue DixieAnne stood quiet while I adjusted my stirrups. There were manners in there somewhere.
We rode off at a walk and I couldn't believe what I was feeling. Everything moved out of sync, from the head bob, through her shoulders and hips to her legs.
When I asked for a trot the pace was bone rattling and my back began to seize in protest. After a few laps around the arena I sucked it up and cued for a lope.
I almost fell off.
I was riding an old hay truck, stuck in second gear, down a steep hill.
"Good God Almighty," I said. The Chief and Madge were laughing so hard they had to hold each other up.
We tried the other lead and I got more of the same. At least she was consistent.
I finally asked her to stop, well, maybe begged her to stop, and she parked it very nicely.
"What exactly do you want me to do with this horse?"
The Chief was suddenly all business. "Why, train her of course. Teach her to walk, trot and lope like she's supposed to."
"I'm going to need to have regular lessons too," Madge shouted. "I'm planning on cleaning up at the IBHA shows!"
My life flashed before my eyes.