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User:FelixSagittarius/At the Ranch Pt 5/9

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At the Ranch
Preceded by: At the Ranch Pt 4/9
Succeeded by: At the Ranch Pt 6/9
Separator r left.png  At the Ranch, pt. 5/9 "School days, school days," Separator r right.png
Tales from the Blind Pig story universe

By Felix Sagittarius


After passing the night comfortably, the hostler and another man appeared at the door of my box early in the morning. I was munching on hay when they walked up, and took a last mouthful before turning to the door to greet them.

Mr. Jakes, the hostler, said, "James, this is Ted Gallery. He's going to be working with you on your training. He knows what he's doing, and is an excellent horse trainer."

Ted stretched out his hand for me to sniff, and I nodded to him.

He said, " Morning, James. I'm here to give you lessons, in, ah, not riding - how about ridden?" He chuckled at the joke, and I snickered too. "Did you ever do any riding before this happened?" I shook my head, the small amount of time I'd spent on horseback wasn't worth counting. "Well, that's not unusual these days. If you're ready, my friend?" he said. I nodded and he continued, "Follow me, please, and we'll get started."

He walked off and I left the box and followed him out to an exercise ring. We passed through the gate, which he left open, and finally halted in the center. Ted had laid out a variety of horse equipment on the ground. He said, "My friend, I'll try to make this as easy for you as I can, but I know about a horse's instinctive behaviors too. So if you're having any problems, just back away for a minute, and we'll work with it, okay?"

I nodded and he continued, "Good. Lets get on with the lessons. Now, first thing I'll do is put a saddle blanket on your back, and let you get used to it." He picked up the blanket and said, "A real horse is very nervous about things on their back, and your instincts will probably tell you the same. The blanket's been washed of course, and I haven't found any burrs or such, but it's your back. If you feel something jabbing you, let me know and I'll go over the blanket again."

He picked it up and held it for me to sniff. Hmm, sweat, old wool, lots of other had obviously seen a good bit of use.

Ted walked around to my side, and tossed the blanket on my back as I watched. I felt a twitch from the horse mind, and soothed it; 'See? Nothing but a piece of cloth, nothing to worry about...' It wasn't happy, but it listened, then accepted it.

Ted said, "Take a couple of turns around the ring, and let yourself get accustomed to the feeling, okay? With a real horse I'd use a line, but you're not a horse, so I'll leave you free to do as you will."

I nodded and walked off, going around first at a walk, then a trot, until having the blanket there felt natural. I saw Wideload and Tommy off in another ring being fitted with harness for their training, and hoped they'd take it well. I whinnied at him, and he nickered back. I also saw Bryce and Terri at their riding lessons.

"Come on back here and we'll do the saddle next," Ted called.

I slowed to a walk, then went to meet him. He had a bucket of water and gave me a drink, then said, "Mr. Jakes was right, my friend. You're a smart one! Real horses take some time to get used to a blanket. Now, lets see about the saddle."

He picked it up off the ground and said, "This is what's called a Western saddle. We use them almost exclusively around here, so you'll be wearing one most of the time you're on duty. Most of the cowboys have their own, tricked out as they like 'em, but this is a basic one."

He held it out for me to smell. Hmm...leather, wood, steel, sweat - both human and equine, oils, and some polish. I noted it all in my memory, and nodded.

Ted continued, "Now I'll set it on your back. It's a lot heavier, and I won't fasten the girth until you say so. Take your time, and let me know when you're ready. Some horses can't take it at all, and a fair number of SCABs have had problems, so don't be ashamed to let me know if it's too much for now."

Again, I nodded. Ted swung up the saddle, and set it gently on my back.

As the heavy saddle came down on my back, the horse mind screamed 'predator!' and tried to buck and run. I took a step, then froze, as I fought for control. I got it, locked my legs, and stood, shuddering and sweating. I started the long procedure of soothing the horse mind, showing it what had happened, reminding it of the smell of the saddle and letting it see that it wasn't moving. 'But, it'll eat us!' the little mind wailed, and I went through what had happened over and over, again and again. The horse mind wasn't a coward, but it was the sum of instincts far older than humans, ones that had served horse kind well, and it wasn't easy to override.

I worked at it, gently and with repetition. I'd found over the months since I'd discovered the horse mind that it would allow me to dominate it, but that it was also rebellious and sneaky, looking for any way it could to trip me up if I took it for granted. I'd also found if we both worked together, things went far more smoothly. It could take a good bit of time, but the results could be far better. And if that meant I was becoming more equine, well, there was no way of getting my old body back, and I now was a horse, albeit an extremely intelligent one, for the rest of this life.

It took a while, but I gradually convinced the horse mind nothing was going to happen. The shuddering stopped, and I turned my head to look at Ted and nodded.

"Great, James!" he said. "Real horses take hours, even days, to get as far as you have! Let me tighten the cinch band, then you can feel how the saddle moves. I've got the stirrups tied up, so you won't have them moving around and making things worse." He came over, reached under my belly, and pulled the belly band together, then tightened it snugly. He said, "Go ahead and circle the enclosure now."

I headed off, and slowly walked around the circle again, feeling the saddle moving on my back. The horse mind stirred, uneasy: I soothed it, and continued walking for several rounds, head nodding in time with the body's rythms. Then, I stepped up to a trot. The horse mine got much more nervous, then relaxed when nothing happened. I went to a canter, then a turn at a gallop, to get the feel of it, then slowed and returned to the center where Ted had watched and waited.

"You're doing very well, James! I'm impressed! Mr. Jakes was sure right about you being smart. You've apparently come to understand the body's instincts well too. That vet you were with must have given you more help than most of the poor SCABs we get here have had. We've had one who showed up...well, you'll see when you get to the herd. Poor fellow...," he sighed. "Well! we've used up most of the morning. Do you want a rest, or shall I proceed to the next part of the training?"

I thought for a moment, then turned and walked out of the ring and over to the water trough. Ted laughed and said, "Well, I need a drink too!" I got a long drink, as did he, then we walked back to the ring side by side. Ted walked back to the blanket on the ground and turned back to face me.

"Now, you have a halter already. Probably as an ID, since it has your name on it, right?" I nodded, Doc Malcolm had made it for me, and had embossed my name on it. Ted held up the bridle and said, "This is the primary control system for horses. It has a bit, which goes in your mouth, which is pretty sensitive as I'm sure you've noticed. I'm not going to use one, my methods, especially for an intelligent being, are different, but some of the cowboys aren't that smart and you'll eventually end up with one. So, I'll let you get a feel of it, okay?"

I slowly nodded - the very idea of having that thing in my mouth was repellent, but he was right, I needed to know the way it felt. He slid the harness over my head and behind my ears, then presented the bit to my mouth. I opened wide, and he slid it in behind my incisors, into a gap before the molars, at the rear edge of my mouth, over my tongue. I felt and tasted the cold metal, which rapidly warmed. The thing pressed against my mouth, and was very noticeable. I mouthed it, getting a feel, and noticed that if I wanted, I could catch it in my teeth. Ted pulled gently on one of the reins. To ease the pressure, I swung my head over.

"Think you get how it works?" he asked, and I nodded. He gently removed the bit, and took the bridle off. "Now, this is what I prefer to use, even on a real horse," he said. He held up another assembly of straps, but without the bit. "It's called a hackamore," he said. "Works on the same principles without the hard pieces. I'll put it on you and leave it on, all right?" I nodded and he slipped it over my head and fastened it behind my ears. He ran the reins over my head and set them on my back. I twitched at the feeling, but I rapidly grew used to them.

"Now we come to the hardest part for both of us," Ted continued. "I'm going to climb into the saddle, and let you feel what its like to have someone there. So, I want you to know what I'm doing, and be ready for it. Is it all right with you?"

I nodded. I still wasn't entirely happy about the idea of carrying a man around on my back, but it was a part of what I was required to do here, and I might as well get on with it. I turned my head and watched as Ted put a foot in a stirrup, and prepared to mount. Then, with one continuous motion, Ted swung himself up and into the saddle. The horse mind cried out in panic again - this time it could feel Ted moving with me and adjusting to the saddle. I reached out and soothed it again, standing trembling while I gentled it, and got myself used to the extra weight and balance problems. Ted didn't say anything, or move more than necessary until the trembling stopped, and I looked at him again and nodded that I was under control.

"You got it?" he asked, and I nodded again. "Very good! Now, the real training can begin. We'll work on this for a bit, to get you used to walking with me here and I'll start teaching you the commands and actions you'll need to know to do your job properly. I won't work you hard today, you've already done an incredible amount, and you'll need time to get used to it. So we'll only work for another hour or so. Now, when I touch your sides with my heels, like this, that's your signal to start walking...."

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Ted and I walked together back into the barn. Mr. Jakes saw us coming, and came to the door to meet us.

"Well? How'd James do?" he asked.

"He's one of the smartest SCABs I've had the pleasure to meet," Ted replied, "and we made great progress. According to the training sheets, he's almost two days ahead of schedule! He'll be ready for advanced training by the end of the week at this rate."

"Told you he was a smart one!" Mr. Jakes laughed. "James, lets get you unsaddled, and give you a bath and brushing. When that's done, you'll find a bucket of sweet feed in your box. Normally, I wouldn't keep doing that, but you're working hard, and need the extra food."

They got busy; Mr. Jakes removing the hackamore and Ted unbuckling the saddle and lifting it off, then removing the blanket. The now empty space on my back suddenly felt cool, as the breeze found the sweat there. I drew a deep breath and sighed, glad to be free of the confining cinch belt! Ted tossed the blanket onto the wash pile, then carried the saddle over and set it on a rack in front of my box. Mr. Jakes walked with me over to the wash stall, and hosed me down. Ahhh, but the cool water felt good after working in the heat of a Kansas summer!

Dry and glowing from the brushing, I went back to my box and tucked into the bucket of feed. Wideload and Tommy came into the barn from their training, to be washed and brushed, and I nickered a welcome. Bryce and Terri were waiting at the door after their sessions for their wash and brush downs and Mr Jakes had their trainers helping him. A busy time of day, but things quickly settled down, as we all chatted about the day we'd has. Bryce was interested in how I'd done at learning to be ridden, and was impressed at the speed with which I'd learned. He'd never even had contact with a horse, being a city boy, and he'd had a good deal of problems with the horse instincts. Terri turned out to have been an expert equestrian, so she had known what was coming, and went through it much more easily. We gave him what advice we could, but he'd figured out ways of coping himself, which in the end was all anyone could do in this situation.

Bryce and Terri had a surprise for us - tomorrow was their graduation trip! They'd be going on a long trip out to some of the further areas to check fences there, and expected to be out for the night, They were to be ridden by the ordinary cowboys, who would grade their responses to being ridden, and if they passed, they'd be put on the rota and sent out with the herd. They were both excited, though Bryce was somewhat apprehensive as to his responses to being ridden by someone strange. Terri reassured him, and they would be travelling together, so she could coach him at need.

Wideload and Tommy said they were doing very well, although there were some parts that took time to get used to. But, they were smart beings, and the training was easy enough. They were looking forward to being hitched to the wagon, and starting to learn how to really work with it. It seemed like they were becoming close friends as well, although that didn't really bother me.

Ted had said he was going to start training me on gaits tomorrow, and with the silent signals between man and horse a good rider would be using. I was looking forward to it eagerly, and with that, prepared to sleep.

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I spent the next several days working with Ted. He was teaching me everything he knew of horsemanship, and I was soaking it up. He was very impressed, and even had another rider called in to try my paces. Ted introduced her to me as Nancy Logan, an Olympic level rider. She was impressed, too, and asked me if I wanted to learn dressage.

I gave her my best quizzical look, and she explained - they were what she called high school horse moves, various kinds of non-normal moves and paces like those used in competitions and by groups like the Lipizzoner Stallions of Austria. I'd seen them once when I was a boy, and remembered how gracefully they'd moved. I would never have believed then I'd be learning the moves from their side! I nodded eagerly - if I had to be a horse, I wanted to be a really good one. She laughed and hugged me, and I nuzzled her.

The next morning, Ted showed up with Nancy, and we got started. We worked all morning with only a water break, then stopped for lunch. The humans went together over to the little cafeteria, and I headed for the barn. When I passed the doors and my eyes adjusted to the light, I saw that Terri and Bryce were back. They were very happy, they'd passed, and were going out to the herd that afternoon! I was happy for them, and told them about learning the dressage gaits, Terri was impressed, she knew what that entailed in the way of work, and wished me well. I'd be busy learning, so I'd miss their departure. I wished them well, and said I'd see them in the next few days. I cleaned the bucket of feed Mr. Jakes had put out for me, then headed back to the door to watch for Ted and Nancy.

When I saw them coming, I walked out to the water trough and got a long drink, then went to the ring to meet them. I'd gotten so used to having the hackamore and saddle on, I hardly even noticed them anymore. Nancy'd brought me a carrot, and I crunched it up with bliss, and rattled out a 'thank you' in Morse. Both Ted and Nancy noticed it.

Nancy asked me, "James, what was that about? Were you trying to say something?"

I sighed, then nodded. I'd found that with a good bit of work, I could scrape words in the dirt, and we'd used it if I really needed to get something across from my side of things. It took a level of movement that was difficult, but I scraped out MRSE CD, then stepped back.

Ted whistled, then said "Wow, you know Morse code? Is that what that was?"

I nodded, then turned to face them both and started. Tap, tap, tap - thump, thump, thump - tap, tap, tap. I repeated it twice more, but was disappointed to see only a puzzled look on their faces.

"Sorry, James, neither of us know it, and I don't think anyone on the ranch does, either," Ted said.

"Hmm, what about Lance, the kid over in communications? He might," Nancy said.

"Well, we can check later, and let you know, James," he said. "In the meantime, however, there's work to do." He turned and helped Nancy into the saddle, and we got back to learning.

Several long hot hours later, we all decided to call it a day. We all went to the water trough and got a drink, then I went through the tap, thump routine again to remind them. Nancy said she'd go check, and Ted came with me to help me get unsaddled and ready for the evening. We walked into the barn, and Mr. Jakes wasn't there to meet us. That was unusual, to say the least. Ted removed the saddle and blanket, then took off the hackamore. He led me over to the shower and soaked me down, then started with the brush. He was well into the job when we heard the noises from the other end of the barn.

We both walked over to look down the long aisle in the barn. There was Mr. Jakes, swearing luridly, using language I'd never heard out of him even when Terri accidentally stepped on his foot. And there was Bryce. He'd suffered a real beating, and more. He was limping on three legs. A part of his mane was missing, torn out, along with bites all over his back.

"Sweet Epona, what happened to you?" I cried.

"Lucifer," he groaned. "Lucifer, that's what."

To be continued...

Preceded by:
At the Ranch Pt 4/9
At the Ranch Succeeded by:
At the Ranch Pt 6/9