“Next up, number 42, Tessa Wellen riding Challenger.” The loudspeaker crackled our summons. “Here we go boy,” I murmured.
We entered trotting. There was ten high cross rails we had to get over, with wide sweeping turns. Not too hard, right?
Then why was I, deep down where I hoped Challenger couldn’t sense it, trembling?
Well, whatever. We had a course to jump. I circled him and asked for canter on the right lead.
I rose into my half seat, making sure nothing changed in my hand position. The first cross rail loomed before us. Challenger was locked on and taking me to the jump like we were on a conveyor belt.
Flowering like water, we popped it easily. He changed leads over the jump, so I had to bring him down to trot to get the right lead. I straightened him out of the turn to get a good line.
He took off before I expected him to. I got left slightly behind and he didn’t like that. He kicked out after the jump.
“Whoa bud,” I murmured. A line was coming up, an easy seven stride. For a moment irrational panic sprung up and I tensed.
NO! I was mad at myself as Challenger hesitated, made unsure by me. I loosened my grip on the reins and cued him to go on. What was I panicking about? They were only cross rails for pete’s sake!
Challenger relaxed a bit. We jumped the first one and made an easy seven stride to the next one. I brushed his neck in praise.
I brought him down to a trot and asked for the left lead as we turned. With a swish of his tail we were off again. The next jump had a flower box at its base, for some reason I didn’t get.
Challenger began to back off a bit but I urged him on. “Trust me bud,” I whispered.
And he did.
“Good lad,” I praised him. That made this whole ride, this whole show, so worth it. It could go downhill from here and I wouldn’t care.
But it didn’t. And before I knew it we’d finished the course. I brought him down to a walk and patted his neck. “What a good boy you are,” I cooed.
I let the rein out and we walked out of the arena, the loud speaker summoning the next rider. She passed us on a paint mare, looking a little nervous. I gave her a small smile and she gave me a tight-lipped one back.
All had gone well. I halted Challenger and gave him a pat, gathering my reins as I prepared to dismount.
I had just slid my feet out of the stirrups when suddenly there was a loud Bang! Challenger instantly turned 180 degrees to the left. I saw the blur of his gray body leaving me.
You know, gravel does not make a nice landing surface.
I landed on my side, knocking the wind out of me. Several people gasped and Lacy rushed up to me. “Are you okay?”
I duly noted her make-up was smeared. “Yeah, I think so,” I said as I slowly stood up. “Where’s Challenger?”
She pointed to the outdoor arena, where novice show jumping had just finished up. Challenger was galloping around inside it. Someone had the presence of mind to shut the gate so he couldn’t get out.
Watching him, for a moment I was still. He looked magnificent. Several times he soared over the novice jumps. “Too bad I’m not on his back,” I mumbled as I went to fetch him.
Several other people were about to climb over the fence to try to get him, but I waved my hands. “No! I can catch him easier if nobody else is there. Appreciate your effort though!”
They backed off and I climbed over the fence. Challenger stopped dashing around in panic when he saw me. Thankfully the reins were still over his neck and not down by his legs.
“Whoa body,” I soothed. “The scary noise isn’t gonna get you. I won’t let him get you. It’d be a lot easier to protect you if you wouldn’t dump me you know?”
He snorted in unbelief but let me walk up and grab his reins. I stroked him. “Good lad,” I murmured. This was not the first time he’d dumped me.
And unfortunately, I didn’t think it’d be the last.
I led him out of the arena. He was still a little spooky, darting sideways at little things. I sighed, feeling like all of his confidence had been shattered.
Mother was tacking up Shocker when I got back. I tied Challenger up and took off his tack. I offered him water again but he didn’t want it.
“Lacy said he dumped you,” said mother as she bent down to put on Shocker’s boots.
“Yeah. Some loud sound. Did that 180-degree spin of his. He ran into the outdoor arena. Fortunately no one was in there.”
“I guess you aren’t hurt?”
“Nah. Course, I’ll probably have a big bruise somewhere tomorrow. But that’s normal. I’m worried about what’s going to happen on the cross country course.”
She nodded. “Understandable. You know, he’s not the greatest type of horse for eventing.”
“Yeah.” I stroked his neck. “But I think he just needs some confidence. In himself, in me, in that fact that not everything’s going to eat him...”
Mother chuckled and stood up. “That’s about right.”
Lacy came round the corner of the truck and behind her was my dad.
“Hey kiddo,” he said in that deep voice of his. “How’s it going?”
I smiled and wrapped him in a hug. “Dressage and show jumping went well. After show jumping he dumped me, but I’m alright. He’s doing okay so far.”
“Yeah, Lacy told me about that.”
I shot a glance at Lacy. “Haha, she makes sure everyone knows when her best friend’s taken a fall before her best friend has caught her horse.”
She stuck her tongue out at me. I did the same.
“Hey honey,” said mother. Lacy and I looked away as she greeted him with a kiss. “Did you bring lunch?”
“Of course I did. How does BBQ sandwiches sound?”
My mouth watered. “Sounds pretty good to me.”