A Challenge

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Chapter 16

I cooled Challenger out and took off his tack. I could tell he was still raring to go after the dressage test, which was good because we had show jumping in two hours. I filled a bucket with water and offered it to him.

He snorted at it but did drink. After which he slobbered over me and got my shirt wet. “Eww, gross. Why’d you have to do that?” I scolded.

He looked at me innocently as if to say, “Who me?”

“Yes you. Now I’m wet. You better be glad my show jacket will cover this up,” I lectured.

He shook his head and took a bit of his hay net. I chuckled and set the bucket down. I’d offer water to him again before we went jumping.

The dressage test had gone really well and boosted my confidence. I was a little upset with myself about conflicting my aids in the transition to the walk. That could have been really good if I hadn’t let my guard down. But for all that, it made those months of training seem worth something.

“Tessa!” I turned at the sound of my name, just in time to be engulfed by Lacy’s hug. Challenger stepped back in surprise.

“Lacy! I didn’t know you were going to be here.”

She pulled back. “What? My best friend is finally showing her horse at his first show and I’m not going to be here?” She faked a show of hurt feelings. “I’m shocked you think so little of me Tessa.”

I laughed. “Well, I’m glad you’re here.”

“How’d the dressage test go? Where are you placed?”

“I don’t know. I don’t think they’ve put the results up yet.” I patted Challenger’s neck. “I’m real proud of him though. He did good.”

Mom came around the corner of the truck. “Hey Lacy, why didn’t you tell me us you were coming?”

“I wasn’t sure I was Mrs. Wellen,” said Lacy. “Something came up. But I’m here now.”

She grabbed my wrist and tugged. “Come on Tessa, let’s see if your results are posted.”

I looked back at mother, who waved for me to go on. “I’ll take care of the horses,” she encouraged.

Lacy tugged again. “Come on!”

I yielded and we weaved through the show grounds. More people were here now, and horses with or without riders were everywhere. The sun was now shone down a pleasant warmth, the chill of the morning exiled.

“So, when’s your next ride?” asked Lacy.

“In a little less than two hours. We have showjumping next. If you could call it that. It’s just some really tall cross rails.”

“Pssh,” Lacy said with a wave of her hand. “Don’t undermine that Tessa. If you can get him around that course with both you and him intact, that’s beyond me! He’s a wild one.”

I rolled my eyes. “He is not, and it’s not going to be that bad.” Lacy had a slight tendency to elaborate.

“Here we are.”

The big board that had current results posted on it was in front of us. We weren’t the only ones there. I shuddered at the press of people. Did no one think of “personal space” nowadays? For goodness sakes, Challenger had more respect for that than people!

Lacy let out a cry of victory. “Look Tessa, here’s your results!” She scanned down the list and squealed again. “You’re in fifth place!”

I pushed past somebody and let my finger trailed down the list. Sure enough, Challenger was ranked fifth in a division of twelve horses. I smiled. “Not a bad result for his first dressage test.”

“Nope, not bad at all.” Lacy slapped me on the back in celebration. “Way to go! Why, you might even win first today.”

I snorted. “Not likely Lacy. Still, that is a nice result.”

She rolled her eyes. “Whatever Tessa. Come on, let’s go tell your mom.”

When we got back to the trailer mom had Shocker tacked up and was snapping on her helmet, getting ready for her showjumping round. “How’d you do?” She asked.

I walked up to Challenger and stroked his neck. “This big boy is currently ranked fifth out of twelve horses.”

“Not bad,” mother commented. “Give me a leg up Tess?”

“Sure.” Mother gathered her reins and lifted her leg up for me.

I grabbed it. “One, two three!” With practiced ease I hoisted her up into the saddle. We’d done this dozens of times.

“Thanks,” called mother as Shocker walked off. “My round should be done before yours, but if not, Lacy can take pictures for you.”

“Whoo! Go Mrs. Wellen!” called out Lacy. We were sitting in the grass watching the novice show jumping.

I glanced at my watch. I only had thirty-five minutes, it was good thing mother was going now, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to watch her. As it was, I was cutting it close.

Mother circled Shocker before heading for the first jump. They cleared it with ease and turned for the next one, an oxer with flower boxes. Shocker didn’t bat an eye.

The course was easy for both of them. And as they jumped around, I imagined Challenger and I were riding it. He’d spook at those weird looking standards. I don’t think he’d like the double...

They cleared the last jump and mother brought Shocker down to a walk with a pat. No rails were down. I clapped while Lacy let out another “Whoo!”

I pushed myself up. “Gotta go Lacy. It’s time to warm up Challenger.”

She scrambled up. “Need help?”

“No, I should be fine.” I paused, then said, “Please, when I enter the ring, don’t yell, okay?”

Lacy chuckled. “Okay.”

We’d tacked up Challenger before going to watch mother’s round. All he needed was his bridle. I offered him water one last time, but he refused to drink.

I shrugged on my show coat and buttoned it. “Well, here goes nothing.”

Lacy gave me a leg up, and with that, we were off for the warm up.

The warm up wasn’t going as well as the dressage had. For one thing, there were more horses than last time. I felt like I was stuck along the rail.

For another, Challenger was feeling fresher for some reason, and extra sensitive, if that were possible. I was in a conundrum. His freshness made me want to be firmer with him, but he’d really start acting up if I was.

I took a deep breath and halted him so I could gather myself. I needed to reset. Riders whooshed past, some of them giving me the evil eye. But I didn’t care.

Challenger was a coiled spring beneath me. Instead of thinking about that negatively, I tried to imagine how I could use that to my advantage. Why, I had a horse with Spanish Riding School sensitivity right here!

I gathered my reins and asked him to trot from a halt. He sprung into it easily. I posted, wondering how lightly I could ask him for the canter. Time to find out.

I sat and tried to just use my seat to ask for the canter. His ear flicked back. He wasn’t quite sure what I was asking.

I advanced my inside hip more and barely pressed with my outside leg. Now he knew what I wanted and leapt into canter. “Good lad,” I praised him and raised into my half seat.

“Jump!” called the rider in front of me as she turned her horse and aimed for the small vertical set up in the center of the arena. I checked the horse beneath me. He was nice and calm.

The rider jumped the vertical and no one else was going. “Jump!” I called as I began to turn. I had a clear shot to it.

Challenger spotted the jump and pricked his ears. I half-halted, reminding him to keep an even tempo. One stride, two strides, three, and he rocked back to jump.

We cleared it with ease. “Good lad,” I praised as we landed. He shook his head and let out a playful buck.

“Hey now, let’s not get to feisty,” I scolded lightly. He snorted and I laughed.

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