Tatla, a little bay horse with a white star on her forehead, a grey muzzle and two white socks on her back feet, has a reputation of being slow. These were my first impressions of the horse who would find her way into my heart and become one of my firm favourites. She became not only my personal challenge, but my mentor guide and confidence builder.
The first time I rode Tatla I couldn’t get her to walk fast at all. We were falling further and further behind the rest of the group as we struggled up hill. I was trying everything I could think of to speed her up, but to no avail. I was frustrated. Partly at Tatla for being slow, but mostly at myself for not being able to do anything. I was feeling helpless and useless, a poor rider. But I kept going, trying to speed her up. Eventually, we had to get off our horses and walk down hill. Now Tatla walked easily at my pace, which meant I knew she could move fast, I just had to find the way to move her. Once we started riding again she was moving quicker, but over the rest of the pack trip it became apparent she was only fast when she was riding into camp, or on a flat surface. I wanted a faster horse or a bigger horse. I realized that I was being tested by her and she now became my challenge. I had had some successes, but there was still a ways to go.
The next time I rode her, we were the first in line. Having Tatla in front slowed the pace for the rest of the group, which again made me feel like a bad rider, but I kept persevering, trying to bond with her by feeding her my apple cores, but to little avail.
As Tatla is such a small horse there aren’t many people who can ride her. This meant that over a two week period in September I got plenty of time to work with her and would soon learn that it wasn’t just size we had in common. When I was told I would be riding her I wanted to choose another horse, but other than riding Nean, a young, inexperienced horse, I had no other options; the bigger horses were needed for the other riders. So, I saddled Tatla and off we went, doing our best to keep up to the others.
Then, I had the opportunity to run down a sandy mountain slope with Tatla. At first, she simply refused, pulling her head back on the bridle so I couldn’t move her. Then, Kevan told me to move over, Tatla was standing on bigger rocks, not the sandy part. I was in the wrong place, Tatla had been trying to tell me that, but eager to get on with the adventure, I hadn’t listened to her. Once I was on the sand, Tatla followed me easily down. We literally ran and I was elated. We then had to fight our way through fallen trees and branches. With both of us having short legs this was a challenge, but with my constant, gentle encouragement, we made it through. When the ground cleared, we ran together through the forest to meet Kevan and Lea, who were far ahead of us waiting in a meadow. I had a new found respect for Tatla, who had kept going through all that tough terrain. At Lizard Pond we took photos, standing in front of the water. I wanted a great picture with this amazing horse as she’d done such a good job.
Over the next two weeks I learned more about Tatla. She might be slow and steady, but I realized she was actually the safest horse I knew. Kevan had once told me she would only move as fast as the rider was capable of, which made me think I must be an awful rider, but that wasn’t true. She was naturally a steady horse, she liked to be sure of where she was putting her feet, and, if I tried to take her somewhere she didn’t think was the right way, she would freeze and refuse to move. At first, I was annoyed by this, kicking her harder to get her to move. But really she was asking me if I was sure about this, did I really want to take this turn from the trail or walk her through this slippery, sticky patch of mud? I needed to listen to my horse more, trusting her to take me a safer way if she could find it.
Then, she started to increase my own confidence in my riding ability. At the end of our first week together in September, she broke into a gallop as I rode her bareback across the meadow. She didn’t think I’d fall off and when I realized that, I stopped worrying and enjoyed the ride with her. I learned Tatla loved to run, it just sometimes took her a little while to warm up.
A few days later Tatla was being slow again. I had a long day of riding to do and I couldn’t get her to speed up. It was quicker to get off and walk her, which I did for perhaps a total of two hours over the day. Walking up hill, I learned to have a more positive attitude towards Tatla, how hard she and all the other horses worked to get us to the mountain tops. I could barely breathe, and I didn’t even have to carry a rider up on my back. Now, I was trying to encourage her with gentle words and keeping my mental state and body language calm, hoping she’d respond better to that than angry shouts and kicks. I’m not sure if it worked or not, but I sure felt better for it.
But, I still wasn’t fully committed to this horse. As it says in the Remarkable! book, we ‘Believe the best in each other, want the best for each other and expect the best from each other’. Well, I sure wasn’t embodying that mindset. I wasn’t expecting the best from Tatla as I would be riding from Big Creek to Tyax camp, a journey I had ridden on Crazy Jack, a fast horse, in two hours. I didn’t hold out these hopes for Tatla and told Kevan as much. I said I needed a fast horse, as I would need to keep up with Dale and Blue in the mountains. I told him how it had been quicker for me to walk her yesterday and he laughed.
‘A good rider can make any horse go,’ he said.
‘I never claimed to be a good rider,’ I replied.
‘But you want to be?’
‘Then Tatla’s the perfect horse to practice with.’
I thought through the situation and decided I would be riding Tatla. I liked her well enough, I just wanted her to be a bit faster. Riding her behind Kevan and Crazy Jack, I thought we’d just be left behind. But Tatla went fast. She had to trot most of the way to keep up to Jack, but she never faltered. Sometimes she’d get behind as she waded through mud half way up her legs, but she’d catch back up on the better ground. She barely even got behind walking up hill. We made the journey in two hours, I was so proud of my little horse, who showed so much courage, and of myself. Something had finally clicked, now I had a more positive attitude towards Tatla and I felt a bond with her. I’d seen how hard she worked, how determined she was to keep going, how she was always safety-conscious and that she responded to me better now.
Over the next few days I was happy to ride her, we were a team, conquering the mountains together. There’s a good chance I love her more than she loves me, but I’m working on that. I knew how much I loved this horse when I realized I was calling her by my nickname for her, Tattie, more than her real name. I now get defensive on her behalf. When I saw Lisa and Manon bring her back from the staking meadows with her hobbles still on I said, ‘You made my poor Tatla hop all the way home?’ The horses can move while hobbled but I wanted her to be able to walk properly.
Then, Tatla and I got another chance to run. We were riding the horses home to the ranch from the trail head and it would soon be dark. We had eight riders and seventeen horses, I was riding Tatla and leading Billy with Fortress tail-tied behind him. We trotted so we’d be riding as little as possible in the dark. Tatla took a little encouragement to get going, especially when Billy didn’t want to join her in a trot. But once I got her started, she ran and ran. Although she was trotting hard, Billy behind her seemed to be barely moving, his legs flowing rather than running. Then, Billy took his opportunity to overtake Tatla, and I couldn’t get her to move any faster. He pulled ahead and I had to let go of his rope. We stopped the horses and I took Nean from Fenja, who now led Billy and Fortress.
Now, Tatla had either got into the running or was more motivated with Nean at her back as he kept trying to bite her, and she started to gallop to catch up to the horses in front. When we got caught up Tatla didn’t want to slow down so I had to rein her back to stop her from trotting off. As we walked through the total darkness, Tatla was easily keeping pace to Pearson, Castle and Pika, the bigger, faster horses at the front of the herd. Running with the horses had been a crazy experience and I had greater confidence in my own abilities, not only that I’d stayed on, but that Tatla had trusted me not to fall off. This horse is my firm friend now, she has done so much to contribute to my personal growth. We both had to the courage to work hard and keep going, even if our shorter status meant we were a little slower and that’s similar to the ranch culture; everyone grows and evolves at their own pace while working together as a team to overcome challenges and face our fears. But now we both enjoy running and that’s our common factor. This is our transformational journey.
Author: Charlie, UK