Thursday, December 1, 2011

Scared or Mad - Tally

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."

"Fine Grandma."

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."


foxxyfjord said...

Thank you Mugs!
Worth waiting for and welcome back

Rachel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
foxtrotter said...

So glad your back!! I was holding my breath for the last half.

Jill said...


I just wouldn't have got on. Or I'd have quit after she let me walk her!

Brave people!

Can't wait to see the big guns..!

1sthorse said...

So glad you're back! You are such a talented writer. This short passage had me wondering what Tally was thinking, hoping she wouldn't lose it with Crystal and holding my breath while you described her flight and leap. Wow!

Joy said...

Oy! Is big K coming into the picture? This is, I think, perhaps your most suspenseful story yet. I really hope Tally made it ok.

jenj said...

What an exciting continuation of this story! I love how you write about Tally and Mort... welcome back, Mugs, we've missed you!

Tammy said...

Welcome back! You are right where you belong telling the stories I love!

Bif said...

Great story, Mugs!!

But... must wait for *next* installment? Really??


Nikker said...

Glad you're back! Fantastic reading you again! (0:
Held my breath from the time Crystal got on 'til the time she got off!

joycemocha said...

Holy crap!

No wonder Crystal's the one who clicked with Sonita.

(Um, a few years younger and that would be me...I'm getting the itch to play, especially with Mocha off and on sound...shoulder stuff)

Crazyhorsegurrl said...

Welcome home Mugs!

This post had me on the edge of my seat the entire time. I can't wait to hear what happens next.

Jessica M said...

She sounds like my husbands horse, I love the zen like presence bit too - ive tried that when things have gone wrong with our horses too... the deep breathing hoping it calms them, and that awful feeling of not being able to do anything. At least noone was hurt, and i bet that jump was some spectacle!

smazourek said...

Good god, I was a bundle of nerves just reading that.

Please say there was a happy ending for Tally, Cupcake's story broke my heart.

Arctic Woman said...

I just have so say...I'M SO GLAD YOU'RE BACK!!!!!

Red Hot Ruby said...

Screw the front teeth, all I want for Christmas is another Tally story!

redhorse said...

I have a friend from the UK who trains dressage horses. Years ago,I was taking a lesson from her on a horse that had done eventing, and was trained to Prix St. George level in dressage. He had a crazy streak. He could either be brilliant or freak out and do a Tally-like bolt. On this day he started brilliant and suddenly bolted on me. I don't know how many circles I did before my brain started working. I remembered J. stressing the importance of lightness, so I tried gently to keep the horse in a circle until he got tired and I could slow him down, in spite of my mental panic, I worked at maintaining my balance, not jerking with my hands, or gripping with my legs, as she stood in the middle of the arena doing an Obi Wan Kenobi impression. I don't know if she was trying to give me directions, the wind rushing past my ears didn't allow me to hear anything. Finally, the horse began to listen and I slowly brought him to a stop and looked at my friend who said in her Queen's English accent, "I would have jerked his f*cking head off." Oh, NOW you tell me. A 5 foot fence would have completely undone me.

I never rode that horse again, and I don't know if she ever got him to stop that, I'm hoping you figured out something with Talley.
Who or what are the big guns?

Anonymous said...


speachless and dizzy.....

Analise said...

I kind of found myself thinking Crystal was asking for it the way she didn't listen when you were going to tell her how to trot, you know, before they even got to the bolting point and fear happened.

Not that I think anybody deserves falling off, but I just wonder if the ride wouldn't have gone so much better for Tally if Crystal had let you tell her how to ride the horse.

Still....hoping Tally gets a happy ending. :)

gtyyup said...

I could tell that was comin'...Crystal was just way to cocky and Tally's one smart pony!

Yep...waitin' to see who the big guns are ;~)

nagonmom said...

Hilarious. I have been like Crystal, stuck on a galloping-go-round horse, with my brain frozen in the gonnadiehere mode, while my instructor tries to be Zen and calming. Of course, while in brain freeze the hearing cuts out totally, while assuming the fetal protect my gut position. I think training a horse that fetal position means whoa would be a marvelous thing!

StefRobrts said...

I followed you home from FHOTD. I am a newbie when it comes to horses. I know just enough to know I'm not ready to own one yet. I just wanted to say this story had my on the edge of my seat waiting to see what would happen! I think I'm going to enjoy hanging out here :)

equestrian57 said...

I, too, followed you here from FHOTD. Loved your post! And I, too, have been on that horse. When I finally hit the ground, all I could think was, thank god it's over, thank god it's over!

redhorse said...

I have to say this for Crystal. I love Crystal. She would be my BFF if I knew her. I loved the Sonita epilogue, and how Sonita ended up in love with her. It made me cry. I think it would be interesting to hear some stories about Crystal or horsai like her, how they learned and evolved in their horsemanship.

I also hope you bought her the burritos and a pitcher of Margaritas. I totally don't blame her for wanting to give Tally a try.

Jenn said...

Well, Tally is still standing. That's a good thing.

And Crystal sounds like a firecracker!

Michelle said...

That was worth waiting for! Hope the next part is posted soon. Glad you're back.

KD said...

I waited over a week to read this post and it was worth the wait! It's like saving room for dessert.

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