When the young cowboy (appropriately named Chance) arrived to be the first to set foot in a stirrup since Trace’s rewiring began, hope and dread were jockeying for position as I looked on. They decided to begin in the stall. I found that scarier, envisioning the aforementioned young cowboy slammed into walls should Trace decide not to go along with this latest bit of tomfoolery. Chance and Karl, however, had done this before many times; this was, they assured me, standard procedure.
Chance put his foot in the stirrup. Trace’s head shot straight up, eyes wide. Chance held his position for a while and then retreated and rubbed Trace on the neck. Trace dropped his head slightly, but the tension in his body was palpable. They repeated this several times, and Trace neither relaxed nor exploded.
Then Chance put his foot in the stirrup, and, instead of removing it, stood straight up. Trace stiffened, but stood statue still. Chance lowered himself back to the ground, left his foot in the stirrup for an extra moment, and then took his foot out and rubbed Trace’s neck. This, too, got repeated more times than I could count (I pondered what kind of strength it might take to step up like this, this many times in a row).
At last Karl, who had been watching all this, arms crossed, studying Trace’s every expression, spoke. “This time go over,” he said.
Chance nodded. Then he stepped up as he did before, and this time, without ceremony, just grew his leg over and sat lightly down.
Traces head went up even higher, white-rimmed eyes hard; his body remained stiff and still.
“That’s OK,” Karl said softly. “Just sit there for a while and let’s see if he can relax a little bit.”
After what was probably only 5 minutes but seemed like three hours, Trace let out a longer breath that was still far from a sigh. His head remained locked in its upright position.
“That’s good,” Karl said. “See if you can move him around a little bit.”
In the stall? I silently questioned. There’s no room!
Chance picked up one rein and pulled Trace around in a slow, easy, tight circle. Then he went the other direction. Trace lowered his head a little bit, becoming interested. Who would go for a ride inside the stall?
“That’s enough for today,” Karl declared.
Over the next several weeks, Chance and Trace progressed from the stall to the round pen, and from slow circles at a walk, to a trot, then a canter in both directions. There was no bucking, no explosions, and any resistance seemed to dissipate quickly and easily. Karl looked on, arms crossed, and at seemingly random times during each ride would say, “That’s enough for today.”
Over the course of the next two or three weeks, they moved out of the round pen and to the big arena, then to the open field with a plowed pathway. After a beautiful canter around the plowed track in the open area, Chance rode up to where Karl and I were standing, dismounted and handed me the reins. “Here’s your horse,” he said.