Challenger had many problems, but loading into the trailer was never one of them. He loaded right up and went straight to munching on his hay net. I patted his neck and told him to be a good boy.
As we latched up the trailer gate I reflected that I’d never been this nervous before a show. Well, maybe except for my first one with Jigsaw. And even then, I knew Jigsaw would get us out in one piece.
Challenger was liable to fall to pieces before we even finished our dressage test.
For the tenth time I opened the trailer’s tack room and went over it. “Saddle, bridle, three saddle pads, girth, boots, fly spray, brushes, purple shampoo, buckets, braiding bands...” I checked them all off to myself.
Then I snapped my fingers. “Of course, how could I forget?”
That’s why you always go over your gear ten times before you leave for a show. In my experience, on the tenth time you generally remember what you forgot. It just took ten tries.
I power-walked back to the stable tack room. I grabbed Challenger’s extra halter, that nasty green and orange one. I hated the colors, but it was always good to have a spare halter.
Then, I reached over and grabbed the bag of Manna Pro apple nugget treats, Challenger’s favorite. I always made sure to take treats to a show.
I stuck those in the trailer tack room as mother walked up to me with the truck keys in her hand. “Ready to go?”
“I think so,” I said, looking over the tack one last time.
“Quit being paranoid, it’ll be fine,” assured mother. I nodded. Really, it wasn’t forgetting something that made me so finicky. It was just something to do with my nervous energy.
I hoped into the truck and buckled my seat belt. Mother started the engine and we were off. Dad was coming later, he had some things to take care of at home. He was also going to bring us lunch.
The sun had been up for a half hour now, gradually banishing the night. Everyone else was sleeping soundly on this Saturday. Not us.
And that was perfectly fine with me.
My foot was tapping for most of the ride. But when we were ten minutes out I scolded myself. I had to get rid of this nervous energy. Challenger needed me to be there for him. If I lost my cool this wasn’t going to go well.
I took some deep breaths and outlined what we were going to do when we arrived. First, we’d go and get our competition numbers. Then, we’d unload the horses and settle them with hay nets. My dressage test wasn’t far off after that, and I wanted to make sure to get lots of warm-up time on Challenger, so I’d probably tack him up soon after mother left.
Mother pulled up to the gate. We’d showed here for several years. The barn manager was always friendly and polite.
We parked in a nice grassy spot. There were other people and horses there, but not as many as there was going to be. Still, one could feel the excited show atmosphere building up.
Taking it all in, I trailed behind mother as we went to get our numbers. The outdoor arena already had the jumps for the Novice division set up. The indoor arena was where the dressage would be judged.
The lady who gave us our numbers was very kind and polite. I looked at mine as we went back unload the horses. 42 was my number.
Mom unloaded Shocker first. She was calm and immediately started eating on her hay net. Mom’s dressage was in 45 minutes, so she began to tack her up.
Challenger shot down the ramp like the day he arrived and let out a shrill scream. I laughed at him. A few horses answered back, which set off a whole chain of neighs.
I tied him up next to Shocker. He was less eager to eat from his net, grabbing a bite and looking all around. I watched him for a little while, until mom asked me to pin her number on her saddle pad for her while she changed into show clothes.
With experienced hands I deftly pinned the number onto the white saddle pad, making sure I didn’t stick Shocker by accident. I smoothed it out and tried to make sure it was square. I slid the pin a little sideways so that it’d line up.
Mother stepped down from the trailer. “Thanks sweetie,” she said, pulling her hair into a hair net. “I wish we’d left earlier so we had more time...”
I patted her on the back. “You’ll do fine.” I pointed to the warm-up ring. “I’ll stay with Challenger, I can see you from here.”
She nodded. I gave her a leg up and with that she was off.
I sat down on the edge of the trailer next to Challenger, who’d begun to calm down a bit. His coat gleamed from the bath I’d given him. Thankfully, for once, he hadn’t bothered to roll. A miracle.
Challenger and I were only competing in the Introductory division. The jumps were only 18 inches, the dressage test had a bare minimum of canter, and the cross country course was only 10 fences. But that didn’t matter to me. What mattered was that we got through it in one piece. Without Challenger or I having a meltdown.
I watched mother warm up for a few more minutes before looking at my watch. Time to tack up Challenger.
I pinned the number on the saddle pad before tacking him up. I didn’t want to take the chance of accidentally stabbing Challenger with the pin. That’d be a bad way to start off the day.
Challenger pricked his ears at me as I came out of the trailer with the saddle. He snorted at me and sidestepped. “Whoa baby. Shhh. It’s okay. We’re just tacking up like we always do,” I soothed.
I lined up the saddle pad, then gently sat the saddle on top. I tightened the girth up slowly, just as he liked it. The only thing left to put on was his bridle.
After that I grabbed the braiding bands and dutch-braided his mane. It’d grown enough in the last few months that I could do that, and I wanted him to look nice for his first show. No matter how small it was.
I tied up the braid and glanced over at the warm-up ring. Mother was now cantering Shocker, who was taking it like the pro she was. If only I could be sure Challenger would be that calm.