So after the visit to the chiropractor, which consisted mostly of me covering my eyes and peeking through my fingers after each adjustment to see the look of immense relief on my horse’s face. Not only did He Who Will Not Be Wormed or Clipped cooperate with this barbaric-looking horse pretzel manipulation, he stood for it with a kind of detached, “Well, OK, let’s do this thing” sort of demeanor. Afterward, the chiropractor told me all Trace’s head shaking was response to something like when a sleeping limb wakes up — a lot of tingling and weirdness he’s shaking off in one great big, whole-horse, full-body sigh of relief.
I was almost afraid to ask when we needed to come back. “I don’t need to see him again unless he seems to be hurting or it will make you feel better,” was my answer.
The trick now, the chiropractor explained in what turned out to be the biggest understatement of the year, is convincing TRACE it’s not going to hurt to carry a rider — or to carry himself differently. His head was all but locked in a perpetual up, hollow-backed, hyper-vigilant, pre-flight state.
Over the next 8-9 months we took that horse back to surcingle and driving lines. A strange “teardrop” bit that looked like a snaffle with a metal tassel in the middle taught him to cup the cluster of tiny ball bearings at the end of each strand like a bird dog retrieving a prize quail. my horse was oddly interested in all of this . . . approaching every strange this old guy asked him — or me — to do with a sort of quizzical curiosity.
I learned how to drive — and drove that horse all over the club where he lives and plays. We felt the eyes and snickers of our nay (and neigh) -saying barn friends. “There she goes again . . .another new idea for that worthless horse.” In freezing Texas temps I drove him up and down the barn aisles, learning to manipulate the lines to get him to pivot around at the ends. (I won’t say this wasn’t a disaster at first. There was a whole lot of human training going on and it is probably no small miracle I didn’t hang myself.) “That’s OK,” Karl would always say. “You’ll get it.”
We did. Pretty soon Trace was doing all Karl’s strange “routines” with ease, we were driving without tangles. He was turning, backing, and moving forward on command — and best of all, carrying his head in a manner much more befitting a horse than giraffe. In the process I was starting to relax — I felt myself adopting that same quizzical curiosity as Trace. What would we do that day? Never any telling. I’d arrive, follow instructions and leave not knowing for sure whether I had done well or not so much, but the one thing that was certain was that we were making progress toward something. I and my horse were calming down, listening to one another and working together as partners in this strange new quest.
“Next time we’ll get on him,” Karl announced one day.
My heart stopped. Up until that moment this was all fun and games — an interesting exercise. The idea of one day riding Trace? Purely academic. This was a horse deemed “unrideable” by three trainers I respected, with cautionary advice from my most recent clinician who did get on him, but realized an explosion was imminent. “He wants to be good,” Harry Whitney observed. “He’s just got a lot to get over.” Everyone I respected, from my sweet, supportive husband (he bought me a Hit-air vest for Christmas last year) — to my barn friends who kept trying to convince me to get another horse, one I could “just throw a saddle on and ride” — to my dad and my vet (“why are you wasting your time with this horse?”), agreed that riding Trace would be a dangerous gamble of life and limb. So what was I doing here? And why was I doing it?
As I stood there considering quietly leaving the country, I think the look on my face must have given away my emotional roller coaster ride.
Karl laughed. “You’re not going to get on him,” he said. “I have a kid for that. He can ride anything. But he’s quiet and has very soft hands. We’ll know in just a few rides what we’ve got.”
The kid’s name?
Check back here next week, any time after noon, for the final strand (for now!) of this remarkable horse tale.
Or, as Karl likes to say to Trace when we’re ready to go to work, “Well, are you coming or not?”