In praise of Tally

Tally two years ago - fit but with an inverted top line and injured
Tally two years ago – fit but with an inverted top line and injured

It has been just over two years since I brought a broken Tally home from the trainer. It has been two years of recovery from wounds both physical and mental, rather than two years of advancement. Under saddle we are only at the stage of a baby just started for the first time … exactly where I estimated we would have been two years ago, if I’d had the confidence to start her myself. Yet, Sunday was one of those days where Tally showed me the many ways in which she has grown and the level of trust she now has in me.

This weekend was not promising for horse time, with Saturday morning taken up by a memorial service.  But, the weather was kind and we managed to find slots of time just the same.  Time was limited enough that we opted not to ride – instead we set up some poles and jumps for Coffee and Tally.  By the time it was my girl’s turn on Sunday afternoon, the weekend had been quite long, the temperature was rising, and I was running out of steam.  But my opportunities are rare enough during the week, so I was not going to lose this one.  Tally made it well worth my while!

Tally contemplating her options for not entering the trailer.
Tally contemplating her options for not entering the trailer.

The trailer was hooked up – a rare occurrence, since we use the truck to haul hay and bedding most weeks.  Tally’s only hauling experiences were to and from the trainer, and the trip in which she was seriously injured while at the trainer.  None of that being happy experience (other than the trip home), she harbors great trepidation about trailers.  I take these rare opportunities with the trailer to practice loading with no pressure.  As always, she approached the back of the trailer with caution.  As I climbed in and turned to face her, I could see the worry in her expression and the tension in her body.  Past sessions have entailed much dancing around, running backwards, and other such drama.  On this occasion, she looked around contemplating her options, turning to look behind her and to both sides.

Cautious but munching down her reward in the trailer.
Cautious but munching down her reward in the trailer.

I called to her softly, with some words of encouragement.  It was enough to get her to look directly at me.  I watched as she took a brief moment to contemplate … then climbed on board the trailer.  It was clear by her posture how uncomfortable this was for her, but I asked and she answered.  As she nervously munched on the goodies in the trailer, she started backward to escape.  Another habit from the past, when she would load but immediately bolt backwards.  I put slight pressure on the lead rope and talked soothingly – she answered by coming forward and settling back to eat.  This time she waited until I asked her to back out.

The lunging session was a pleasure.  She started a bit distracted, but soon settled.  It was not long ago that I despaired of ever having the control on the lunge that makes jumping sessions fun.  It requires the ability to move the horse in or out at a mere touch, to be able to send the horse out and away from you, or to indicate a straight line. Tally has always been highly distract-able and too reactionary to make this process possible or comfortable.  I would send her out on a straight line only to have her drifting into my path.  She might enter a pole set in the center and end outside or inside of the last pole.  All of that is finally in the past!

Tally has become all business about ground poles and jumps.  Point her to the center and she aims down the line – 1-2-3-4!  Her fences are easy and an imperfect take-off spot is handled matter-of-factly.  Even when our rooster, Charlie, decided to take a closer look only to go flapping off when I swished the whip, she gave barely a twitch of an ear!  This is no longer the mare that I felt sure would be the one horse to kick me in the head!

I decided to make an adjustment to a fence – always a challenge with my fidgety girl.  Another testament to her development – she followed me to the fence, then stood stock still as I moved all around, lifting and shifting poles.  Patiently she watched as I occasionally had to flick the line over the jump to prevent a snag.  Not a foot moved as I finished and walked back to reward her patience with a big chunk of carrot.  I can hardly believe this is the same mare!

My pretty girl today - a bit pudgy, but more relaxed and healthy.
My pretty girl today – a bit pudgy, but more relaxed and healthy.

Walking back into the barn, I stopped to set my sunglasses on the shelf, and Tally quietly maneuvered herself into the grooming area.  The thought flashed in my mind that I hardly needed to hang on to her at all … then I decided to try my theory.  I unclipped the lunge and removed the cavesson, leaving her standing with no restraint.  She stood, completely relaxed and untethered, as my mother went around removing her boots.

I’ve had hopes of being able to ride and train Tally – sometimes those hopes have been thin.  More recently, I’ve been hopeful that we can achieve some enjoyment out of just training at home.  After Sunday, I see a future with endless possibilities for us – visions of riding through beautiful countrysides, polishing our skills in clinics with classical trainers, or getting a chance to show my beautiful girl to the public.  Any of that, once so unlikely, now seems more than possible with this sweet girl!  And just that possibility is a huge gift from her to me!

Be good to your horses!


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