Tuesday, January 4, 2011


She floated past me, her trot lively and even.

When I raised a hand and stepped towards her nose she stopped and flipped directions with a tidy turn.

I kissed and waved at her hip and she picked up her lope. Her muscular back lifted as she picked up her lead and her head stayed level with her meaty little mutton withers.

When I backed a few steps she stopped, her hind end dropped in a natural slide and she waited, her fox ears turned to me and her eyes bright.

I stood, my hands on my hips, and let her air up.

"I can't believe how good she is," Crystal said. She slid down from her perch on the rail and started to come down to our end of the arena.

Tally snorted and raised her head. Her eyes ringed white and I sent her around me before she could skitter away from Crystal.

"Yeah, she's a goddamn circus pony, that's for sure,"I grumbled."She'll trot in any size circle I want, turn to me, away from me, stop, walk, trot, you name it, but I'm still not on her and she's got about two more trips around here before you scare her so bad she blows."

Just then Tally decided she couldn't cope with Crystal standing in the middle of our circle anymore and bolted to the human free end of the arena.

I immediately raised my longe whip and jogged a straight line towards her hip."Hey,hey,hey!" I snarled, low and guttural. She reluctantly headed back to my end of the arena, snorting as she veered around Crystal and sidling against the arena wall so hard the walls crackled. I let her settle in her safe spot. She stood, but kept a wary eye.

"I've been at this for close to 120 days and I can barely touch her," I complained."Unless the planets are aligned just so and the spook gods are out to lunch,I'm lucky to get a hand on her, much less a halter."

"Do you want me to leave?" Crystal asked me.

"It kinda hurts your feelings, doesn't it?" I asked. "It's not like you haven't been around her, fed her, cleaned her stall, talked to her..."

"I don't feel so bad," Crystal told me,"she doesn't like the boss either and I only take care of her when he's out of town. Face it, she only likes you."

"She doesn't have that luxury," I said. "I need to sell her, she's going to have to widen her circle of friends sooner or later."

I got Crystal to stand next to me in the middle of our imaginary round pen until Tally cocked a hip and the little knot of resentment began to loosen in her chin.

When I thought she could tolerate it I walked to her shoulder and stood next to her for a slow count of ten. Then I began our daily ritual.

I reached out and scratched her withers.

"Heeey bud, heeeey bud, hey, hey, hey,"I crooned.

Tally relaxed into my hand. She kept looking around me at Crystal and her mouth stayed tight, but when I slid my hand over her ribs to scratch her belly I felt her heart beat going slow and steady.

I worked over her cinch area, scratching, rubbing and thumping, just a hair, and then worked back up to her back. I scratched the base of her tail and pulled at the long matted hair. She clamped her tail tight and leaned her weight away from me. I straightened up and rested my arm across her back. Tally sighed and I went back to messing with her tail.

When I ran my hand down her leg to pick up her hind foot she broke away again and trotted in a jittery circle. I raised the whip and drove her around me a few times.
Tally smoothed out and I backed away, asking for a whoa. She stopped and let me approach again. I slid my hand down her leg and asked for her foot she gave it willingly enough. I held the rim with just my fingertips and straightened my tired back a bit.

"Talk to me Crystal," I said, "let her listen and watch while I have her foot caught up."

"Why didn't you work her harder when she left you?" Crystal asked me.

"She wasn't being bad," I answered, "she can only take so much.This part always scares her and with you added to the mix I'm surprised she's being this quiet.

Tally swung her foot back and forth a few times and I let my arm stay relaxed and swinging with her. When she was still I released her foot, slid my arm across her rear and switched to the other side. Even though this left her side exposed to Crystal she stood and let me pick up her other hind foot. She held still for a few seconds and I moved up to the front.

I scratched her neck and under her mane,Tally relaxed under my hand and finally took her focus off of Crystal. I bent down and picked up her foot. She stuck her nose under my Carhart and pulled at my shirt. I felt her warm breath and whiskery nose on my back.

"Aw geez!" I dropped her foot and stood up when I felt a large, damp wad of something slide down the back of my jeans.

Crystal burst out laughing as I dug around in my pants, finally coming to the surface with a well chewed spitwad of hay.Tally stood next to me, her eyes serene. She flicked her ears at Crystals laughter but didn't shy away.

"How long has she been hanging on to that little gem," I grouched as I slid the rope halter and lead off my arm.

"I'm over you for the day," I told Tally,and I swung the rope over her neck. I stood kitty corner from her shoulder and slid the halter over her nose.Tally raised her head as I flipped the crown piece behind her ears. I ignored her and stepped up to tie my knot.

"Good night ladies...," the boss came down the alleyway into the arena, bellowing his good spirits in his loud tenor, accompanied by the bang and crash of the wheel barrow, manure fork and shovel.

Tally bolted into me.

Her shoulder hit me in the chest. The ground hit my back hard, then my head, as I fell under her. The wind was knocked out of me and I struggled to think as she came over the top of me. One of her hooves clipped my ribs as she fled.

Crystal shrieked and I heard the boss yell when the lead rope tightened around my arm and started to pull me across the arena floor.

Here goes, I thought. I rolled over on my belly and readied myself for a train wreck.
The untied halter slid off Tally's nose and my crash course stopped. I flipped over on my back and laid still, letting the air slowly wheeze into me.

"Are you all right?" Crystal flew over and covered me with dust when she flung herself next to me. I coughed and sneezed and sat up, resting my elbows on my knees.

"That damn mare," the boss said as he approached."When are you going to admit she's crazy?"

"I pushed her too hard," I said.

I sat in the dust and watched the pretty bay mare, her front feet dancing side to side as she watched me back. Sweat had begun to show on her neck and chest as she cowered in her safe spot.
I stood up and groaned a little. I leaned over and picked up my halter.

"Tally, I'm getting too old for this," I told her as I took my position in the middle of our circle.

"Crystal," I asked, "could you fill my water bottle for me?"

It was going to take at least another hour to calm the mare and bring her back to putting the halter on.


  1. Ditto, DeeDee. Ditto.

    I think what I like most about the Tally series is that it's not a perfect "Black Stallion" type series... you didn't give her 2 lumps of sugar for a week and suddenly she decided to trust you. It's been 120 days and you're still working on basics. Do you think if the boss's son hadn't messed with her she would have had these problems, but just to a lesser extent? Was this something in her makeup, moreso than Cupcake's anger response?

    I have so many questions about your approach to a horse with this kind of fear problems and whether you can ever trust them... and as cruel as this sounds, whether it's really worth it with so many good horses wasting away, but I don't want to get any hints about how this saga ends. FANTASTIC WRITING, by the way.

    So let me ask this instead: Not that I'm advocating this, but if you bred a mare with issues like this, would she pass it on to her foal?

  2. Becky-I would never ever ever breed a mare like Tally.
    I don't know if Bill exacerbated Tally's problems or not, if I hadn't watched his mistakes I could easily have made them myself.

  3. Thank you! What a great treat! You know, intermittent positive reinforcement is supposedly the strongest training tool. Works for me, your reader!! I thought, you know, there are good things about not having a post every day! The excitement of seeing one makes up for the no change days. And the quality is so good, Wow indeed.

  4. I'm hooked. Can't wait for the next installment :)

  5. Oh dear, this is getting scary. I so much want this poor mare to get it and be okay with humans, but I don't like the way it's going.

  6. I find the most interesting part to be that as fearful as she is, she still ran into you. I know that sounds strange... She actually was quite comfortable with you in a way, in that nervous horses bump/cluster into their buddies as reassurance. You possibly scared her by not being there after the initial thump ;-)

    In my dealings with not-as-domesticated horses (not horribly extensive, but a fair amount), those with a lot of fear of people or respect/fear of the "herd leader" won't bump into you unless they are truly panicked into blindness. They are very intent on just avoiding. Stronger flight than fight. (Farm raised horses often seem to learn early that humans can be bulled about a bit, by careless or "kind" handlers, and being bowled over by one like that is not unusual.)

    I'm pretty sure the son did you no favors, but he did try what he knew with good intentions, and there are some horses that even with the best handling are going to be that little extra unpredictable/feral/ loose screw, you name it. Still, I laud your willingness to try... even liking the mare, her issues would give anyone pause.

    Glad you survived that ordeal intact!! =)

  7. Yikes!! Thank goodness the boss's wife didn't come up a couple of seconds later. You could have had that halter fastened. That was a close call. Too close...

    You must have some very diligent guardian angels.

  8. I can see why a lot of trainers have a view that there are some horses where even if you can get them on side to a degree will never cut it as a safe riding horse- sounds to me like Tally is pretty close to that point.

    But they are also the ones that some trainers find particularly interesting, including you I think Mugs. I remember someone saying "the more difficult they got, the more interested Tom [Dorrance] got."

    How hopeful were you, by this point, that you could turn her around?

  9. "Her shoulder hit me in the chest. The ground hit my back hard, then my head, as I fell under her. The wind was knocked out of me and I struggled to think as she came over the top of me. One of her hooves clipped my ribs as she fled."

    Okay, this pretty much describes what happened to me when my mare spooked and stepped on me...only I ended up with a broken elbow.

    Talk about reliving the immediate past!


  10. I've been there with more than one horse. Reading this brings back the frustration and the feeling that I'll never get anywhere.

  11. WOW!
    I amazed by your patience and your willingness to bring this little mare over from the dark side!!

    Would the kidlet say you had this patience with her :D

  12. I am just catching up on your blog and LOVE the stories. I looked up all the 'Tally' stories and am not sure if I am missing one or you skipped on purpose. I would love to here about the interaction that happened after Bill put the child on her back to this current story where you are finally able to work with her. I am looking forward to your next installment. Thank you.

  13. What makes you keep going? I hate to fail with the dogs and I don't get the chance to work on them on my own.
    I am so intrigued you keep going( not surprised in anyway) when you know you are going to sell her. I keep going with my mare cos she's mine.

    I love your style of writing. You can tell you work with animals as you are aware of your whole environment not just the horse.

  14. Beautiful story once again, Mugs!
    I am worried about the future of Tally though. Not an easy horse to sell.

  15. How do you keep going? -

    I didn't. I retired. But how I hung in there at the time? I am notoriously willful and stubborn. I admired Tally. My boss was dying for me to fail. That's all I'm saying. Anything else will give away mt story.

  16. Jeez. I don't often swear out loud on the internet but it was close. I was just recently run over and clipped in the head, and it isn't fun. In my case I was being cocky and overconfident in my abilities. Nothing like horses and kids to give you a dose of reality every now and again.

  17. Fantastic reply haha!