I was out of breath. Sonita stepped forward. I pulled her back.
“You’re working too hard,” K said.
I leaned over the saddle horn and she stepped forward. I pulled her back.
“She isn’t breathing as hard as you are. She’s the one doing all the work.”
I sat back and shifted, wheezing. She pinned her ears and swung her hindquarters. I picked up my romels and moved her back.
“So what’s happening here?”
“I don’t know, I guess I get too excited,” I finally said. I sure wasn’t going to admit the buffalo were FREAKING ME OUT!
Sonita rattled her bit hard, making my body shake. I picked up my reins, gathered her, relaxed.
She stepped forward. I pulled her back.
Oops, K was irritated. Sonita stepped forward. I pulled her back.
“Either ignore her or make her stop! You and that horse keep picking at each other like, like….”
“A couple of queens in a bar bitch slapping each other?” I smiled sweetly.
I loved watching K turn red in embarrassment, snort back a laugh and try to stay mad all at the same time.
“If you know what I mean then get out there and ride your horse!”
He stepped in on his bug-eyed little colt and I booted Sonita into a lope. If we weren’t out of there in a hurry K had no problem helping us along, and his two-year-old really didn’t want to boss Sonita around.
Sonita relaxed into her swift, powerful circles and I was able to think. The only time she was ever at ease while we rode was when she was corralled in a big circle. How was I ever going to make her be still?
Sonita was never quiet, never at peace. She fretted, she twitched, she picked at life, not just with me, but everywhere she was. She tore down stalls, terrorized stable mates, had been known to about skin the unwary barn cat, opened doors, ripped out hay feeders, untied knots, jumped fences, kicked down fences, climbed fences, all in the name of everything Sonita.
The vet had declared her “busy,” more than one trainer had called her nuts, boarders at the barn simply gave her a wide berth.
Peaceful interaction was a rarity. The buffs were so quick, I was still in her way, and she was always two strides ahead, leaping beyond the bit, my legs, and my thoughts. I rode with gritted teeth, not so much determination, but to stop from biting through my tongue.
My holes as a trainer never more obvious then when we stood, as a group, watching the action in the show pen.
All of the professionals’ horses stood quiet and at ease, on a loose rein, often with a hip cocked, their eyes half closed, taking advantage of the break. They didn’t paw or try to step away. They never nosed the horse next to them, pinned their ears or snapped their tails. Even the studs stood quiet and relaxed.
The trainers themselves, gestured and waved, laughed, visited or shouted at clients. Their reins hung in relaxed fingers or draped across a saddle horn. Their legs might be relaxed in the stirrups, or kicked out one by one and stretched. Often they would talk on the phone, one leg crossed over the saddle horn, deep in casual conversation. They paid absolutely no attention to the horse they sat on, it might as well have been a bar stool, an easy chair, or a three rail fence.
Meanwhile, Sonita pawed, moved, jiggled, shook, whinnied, while I pulled, released, pulled, released, put her to work, stopped working, sweated, cussed under my breath, pulled some more, hung on, let go, AAARRRGGHH!!!
“You’ve got to simplify your thinking,” K said. ”Take your brain off the horse. It isn’t a rest if you’re crouched over her waiting for her to react.”
I just couldn’t get it done.
It was my lesson day. Over time, lessons had changed from one afternoon a week, to all day affairs, to two days a week. I rode colts under K’s semi-careful eye, put a handle on stiff, boring horses he didn’t want to ride and in exchange was given the privilege of having K slap me into some kind of shape. He didn’t charge me anymore and no longer felt the need to treat me like a student. I got yelled at and harassed like the rest of the help and loved it.
Today, a group of clients was showing up to work their horses and watch the progress on their futurity prospects. This was a fun bunch of people and normally I would be looking forward to the afternoon. But I was having trouble mustering up much enthusiasm.
My stomach wasn’t playing fair. It was gurgling, shifting around, and nailing me with periodic pokes and stabs. The results were so rough even the horses gave me odd looks while I cleaned that morning.
Horrifying sounds and the smells to match kept blasting or oozing from every available orifice. A thick, metallic slime had coated the back of my teeth and I was feeling a little woozy.
This had the makings of a bad go, so I hurried to get my horses loaded and head out to K’s. If this was going to lay me out, I wanted to get in as many hours in the saddle as possible while I still could.
I managed most of the day by staying downwind and sipping herbal tea from my water bottle. K gave me an odd look or two, but didn’t comment, and he didn’t make me work any extra, his usual reaction to even a hint of self-pity, so I felt like I was getting by.
Now this. All I had to do was be available for turn back, opening and closing gates, shagging cattle, bringing K a fresh horse or sitting on a spent one, no big thing. Unless of course every word spoken came with a noxious, deep, three-beer-burp, and every step up or down from the saddle, every lean, every shift, ended up with a rousing rendition of Symphony of the Dead Cats played with plenty of bass.
The storm in my stomach kept building. Sweat dripped steadily into my eyes, trickled down the sides of my nose and off the end of my chin. I wiped my face with my coat sleeve and realized even my sweat stunk.
“Janet,” K said, “go ahead and take this one.”
Who me? I stared at him. I didn’t work cattle when he had clients. They did. I was counting on it.
I looked at the cow I had brought into the pen. She was fresh and new and I was supposed to have held her back. K didn’t want the clients to thrash on her and use her up.
He kept me pinned with his blue-eyed gaze, all wide-eyed innocence on the outside and pretty pissed off on the inside. I wondered how many times he had yelled to my unresponsive ears, “Not that one!” while I sorted her out and brought her in. I was so sunk in my misery I hadn’t heard a word.
Now he wanted me to ease her down the fence and make sure she was lightly run. Lord, he wanted finesse. Which meant focus? My stomach groaned louder than I did.
I went for it. Sonita was happy to go, unhappy when I wouldn’t let her crawl on top of the cow and create a wild show run.
We lined up down the fence and made our run. With every stride the sound of my exploding intestines filled my ears, it was cannon fire, land mines, exploding tires, accompanied by a smell we couldn’t run fast enough to escape.
Please God, get me out of here. My exploding guts were the only response.
When we finished our run nobody said much.
The sulphur filled air had everybody glassy eyed and I stood as far from the group as I could politely manage to let Sonita air up. Nobody argued. K kicked out my cow and judiciously left the doors to the indoor open.
As the fresh air blew in everybody revived and began to talk back and forth. I sat my horse, shifting, front to back, side to side, feeling my misery mount. I was never going to live this one down. Ever. A soft burp slid past my grinding teeth. Still pure poison. I could just imagine how the conversation was going to go once I gave it up and went home. Swamp gas seeped up from my saddle and surrounded me. Sonita snorted over and over, like she had a nose full of no-seeums.
I folded my hands over my belly and rocked a bit.
“Hey Janet,” K said.
Here it came. The jokes were going to start. I was never going to be able to show my face in the cow horse public again.
“Look at your horse.”
I looked at my horse. Red, sweaty, …wait.
Sonita was standing quiet, all four feet planted, her ears were forward, and she was looking around with a calm, interested expression and working her roller with a relaxed and happy mouth. My hands were wrapped across my rebelling belly. Her reins were draped over the horn.
“Looks like you got your mind off your horse.” K grinned at me.
I ripped another one.