Tally settled right back into work. She was bright and cheerful, happy to be ridden and learning at an incredible rate of speed.
Kathy may have been holding a grudge, but Tally continued to treat her with the same, pre-hurricane-ride-from- hell, calm, friendly attitude every time Kathy brought her out of her pen to groom and saddle her.
"She's like a shark," Kathy grumbled, "just swimming around, waiting for somebody to fall in the water."
"Give her a break," I told her, "it was my fault, she wasn't ready for another rider, that's all."
"Oh, she was ready for me, don't kid yourself."
I went to work on Tally. No more soft, quiet, careful rides. I swung up on her right off the tie wall and pushed her straight into a trot. I leaned and tilted and poked her in the sides with my heels. I rode with uneven reins and tipped my weight to the left or right.
I mixed up my cues, sometimes riding with just my hands and sometimes with only my legs. I drug myself into the saddle, pulling on the horn and thumping into my seat.
She didn't take it well. Her eyes would go wide, her head would come up, her tail would kink and I could feel her feet start to scatter. She would pull herself together though, all it took to bring her back was a deep exhale and relaxing the muscles in my thighs, then my knees and ankles. With each breath my seat would deepen and Tally would settle. She was trying hard and she never bolted.
I found one huge, earth sucking, black hole. She couldn't seem to handle her rider "going fetal."
If I tensed up, hunched over her shoulders and grabbed the horn she would panic. Tally would have surely bolted if I stayed that way, but I was able to get her back by simply sitting up and parking my seat bones where they belonged.
"Why do you keep doing that to her?" The boss asked me.
"Because it's the one trigger I can't seem to work her through. I'm never going to get her sold if she can't take a rider grabbing for the horn."
"When are you going to admit the mare is a one-person horse? Nobody else is ever going to be able to ride her."
"I refuse to believe there is such a thing," I answered.
The boss snorted and sauntered off.
I would work her up, bring her down, work her up again, each time she would come back to me a little sooner. When her reaction was slower and her settling quicker I would back off and put her to work. It was our favorite part of the day. She would relax into her lope, chugging around like a little freight train. I could feel the electricity in her muscles channel into the task at hand, her power would shift to her strong hind legs and her back would lift, carrying me forward with a lovely, natural cadence.
When we worked, Tally was solid as a rock, it was easy to let my mind go with the steady rhythm of her feet and become lost in the feeling of being one, not a rider on a horse, but a single sentient being. I hadn't felt this way on a horse since racing through Palmer Park on Mort, my first horse and the best friend of my high school years.
Tally was a cool little horse and I was sure I could place her if I could just unlock that last little knot.
My long time student and client, Crystal, was the next to volunteer to try her. She knew what had happened to Kathy, but she had also seen the progress Tally was making.
"Are you sure?" I asked her. "Tally might give you a run for the money, you'll have to be willing to stick with her."
"I think I can do it," Crystal said with confidence, "besides, I just drool watching you ride her, she's so beautiful."
I looked at Tally's funny little hammer head and scratched her dented, scarred neck.
"Beautiful huh? That's not a word I usually have pop into my head when I think of Tally."
"Some people think rattlesnakes are beautiful," the ever helpful Kathy pointed out.
I understood what Crystal meant though. Tally reminded me of the horses in a Remington painting. Her muscular little body and sturdy, hairy little legs all flowed together in the rhythm of a time gone by. She didn't meet the standards of the modern Quarter Horse, but everything about her showed an economy and strength that made beautiful sense. Her heavy mane and tail, whiskery face and the wild look in her large, soft eyes made me feel like the very cowboys that had drawn me into the life I had chosen.
If Crystal got it, then maybe she was the next rider that could throw a leg over my wild child and succeed.
We arranged for her to come ride on a Thursday afternoon after a good workout. If she could simply ride her through a cool down we would be on the right track. Thursday was good, Tally would be two days away from her day off, but far enough into the week to have the sass off her. It was the best I could do.
Thursday arrived and Crystal came early.
"I'm not ready for you yet Crystal."
"I'm just so excited," she told me. "Can I get Tally ready? Will she let me catch her? Can I at least groom her?"
"It would more than likely be best if Kathy catches her and gets her ready. Let's keep to her routine for today. Why don't you ride yours first?"
"James or Fallon?"
"I'd ride both." It seemed Crystal needed some sass ridden off her too.
Tally was good for me that day. She tolerated my pulling and hauling better than usual and went through her workout with her usual bright attitude. I worked her hard, there was steam rising from her neck and flanks and a solid two-cooler sweat dripping down her legs by the time we were both happy.
Crystal had ridden both of hers and tied them to the wall. She still seemed eager, but her happy chihuahua excitement had calmed and I could see she was thinking clearly. Tired works on both horses and riders.
"OK, let's get this show on the road," I told her. "It's getting chilly and I need time to cool her out before I put her up."
The breeze had sprung up and was blowing through the open end of the arena. I debated closing the door against the winter chill, but Tally hated it when I rode with it closed and it would take another ten minutes for me to wrestle the barrier gate open and drag the heavy door closed. I didn't need to rile her up now, so I just blew on my hands and buttoned up my jacket after I handed Crystal the reins.
"I thought I was going to cool her out," Crystal said.
"Well that would be my intent, but my guess is Tally will get pretty nervous. Maybe not, just take it easy on her...."
Before I could go any further Crystal gathered the reins and swung up in one smooth motion.
"We'll be fine, won't we Tally girl?" She said and leaned over to rub her hard under her bushy mane.
I sucked in my breath about as hard as Tally did, but she stayed in place while Crystal scratched her neck. Maybe Tally liked Crystal's inner chihuahua, because her head relaxed and she licked her lips.
"C'mon Tally, let's go," Crystal said and they walked off easy as could be.
I was tickled to death. Tally was cruising along, head level, tail swinging in a cheerful cadence and Crystal was relaxed and calm.
"Remember," I said, "if she jumps, sit deep and pull her around your leg with one rein."
"She's fine," Crystal said.
"Good, I'm glad you're comfortable. But don't pull straight back and don't grab the horn if things get hairy."
Crystal's teasing seemed justified. They wandered around the arena, Crystal steered her left and right, asked her to stop and back, and just generally dinked with her, Tally seemed to be enjoying the ride.
"Can I trot her? Crystal asked me. "I'm not worried about her at all."
"I don't see why not, you're looking good, just remember to cluck instead of..."
Before I could finish my sentence Crystal bumped Tally with both heels. Tally jumped forward into a lope, still calm, just a little confused.
When Tally jumped, it was quick and liquid, easy to sit but startling in speed. Crystals hands came up and she pulled back hard. Tally's head came up and her eyes widened, she leaned into the bit and sped up.
"Crystal, don't, you need to either turn her or let her lope, you're fine," I called.
Crystal's face was rigid. I realized she wasn't going to hear a thing I said. She braced her legs, locking her knees and pulled harder. Tally gathered her legs under her and they were off.
She jumped once, twice against the hold Crystal had on her and bolted. They went careening around the arena, with Tally building speed with every stride.
Son of a bitch. I walked to the middle of the arena, trying to present a Zen-like trainerly presence. Crystal was hanging in there, but she wasn't thinking at all.
"You've got her Crystal, you can bring her down," I crooned, as well as I could croon over the pounding of Tally's feet. I stayed positioned as close to neutral as I could, I was hoping I could tune Tally in, but I didn't want to create a turn.
By the third lap I could see Crystal begin to think again. She forced herself to loosen the reins and looked at me.
"Try to tighten your inside rein," I told her. "Bring her in a smaller circle. Don't pull back, just guide."
She brought up her inside hand and I exhaled in relief.
Crystal pulled, hard, and yanked Tally's head almost to her knee. Tally stumbled to one knee and I thought we were done, but I should have known better. Crystal dropped her rein and grabbed at the horn. Her back hunched, her knees gripped tight and her toes pointed down as her fear won out.
Tally was on her feet in a flash and took off in a beeline across the arena. She headed straight for the five-foot barrier gate and was flat out in three strides. I watched in helpless horror as visions of them smashing into the heavy metal rails filled my mind.
Tally cleared it, with only a click of one hind foot and a flip of her black tail.
Crystal stuck it. She flipping stuck it.
I yipped and headed after them when Tally landed clean and began to slow. Crystal fell off. She just let go and hit the dirt. In the 70's one of my favorite programs was called Laugh In. There was a recurring skit where comedian Art Carney, in a shiny yellow rain coat, rode a tiny tricycle. He would peddle along and then fall over, flat on his side totally rigid and still on the trike. It was hilarious. I had to slap my hand over my mouth to stop the strangled laugh that was fighting it's way to the surface when the image of the man falling off that trike filled my mind. I couldn't believe I was laughing, but I was.
I ran up to Crystal and kneeled next to her. "Are you OK?"
She rolled over and looked me in the eye.
"You owe me a Margarita at Jose's for riding that loon," she said, "and the Deluxe Enchilada plate for laughing at me."
I couldn't disagree.
When I gathered Tally up she whiffled my shirt with her soft warm breath. I rubbed her forward and played with her little fox ears.
"Tally old girl," I told her. "It's time to call in the big guns."