A Challenge

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Chapter 18

Lacy, dad, and I sat sprawled on a picnic blanket, with BBQ sandwichs in our hands. Mom’s cross country round was coming up and we were going to watch her run. Challenger and I’s run wasn’t until quite a bit later.

I watched a bay horse and it’s rider jumped a bank and then down the other side, then a brush jump. “They handled that well,” I commented.

Lacy nodded, licking sauce from her fingers. “They sure did. I liked that bay.”

“Eh, I wasn’t much a fan of his color.”

She play-swatted me. “You never like bays!”

“They’re too common,” I protested. “I mean, far be it from me to judge a horse by it’s color. But bay’s definitely not my favorite. At least, plain bay isn’t. A bay with socks or a blaze I could go for.”

She rolled her eyes. “All the bays I’ve seen here haven’t thrown their riders like your ‘rare’ gray boy did.”

Now it was my turn to roll my eyes. “Oh, whatever. You’re just jealous.”

She snorted. “Jealous to be spun off at any moment? Jealous to risk being bucked off every time I put a foot in the stirrup? No sirree, not me!”

I smirked. “You don’t know know what you’re missing out on.”

“Nah, I’ll just stick with ol’ Russo,” she replied, referring to her chestnut gelding.

We watched another pair come roaring up to the bank. The rider looked like she was fixing to be hit in the face with a baseball bat. Despite that they jumped up, went down the other side, and cleared the brush jump with minimum difficulty.

Lily looked at her watch. “Your mom’s up next.”

I looked towards the start box. Mother was circling Shocker, waiting to be told she could go. “Looks like they’re a wee bit behind today.”

The attendant motioned mother in the start box. They counted down, and then she was off. They cleared the first jump and turned to the left, aiming a huge log.

I set back and watched, wondering... When I’d be able to do that with Challenger.

My cross country run wasn’t going to be in any way like mother’s. It was actually just twelve small log jumps and a trot through the water complex. Still, it was more than nothing.

For the third and final time I mounted Challenger. I had no fear from my fall. After being thrown several times that had faded. I knew he didn’t mean it, he was just nervous and sensitive.

Our warm-up was quick and short. I could tell he was a little tired from the rides before. It made him a little more docile, which I was glad for.

Now we were waiting next to the start box. There was two other horses before us. I walked him in figure 8′s to keep his mind occupied.

“1, 2, 3, go! Have a good ride!” called out the attendant. The rider spurred his horse out the start box. The horse wasn’t happy and let out buck.

I clenched my jaw and looked away. It irritated me, but there was nothing I could do.

“Number 23, you’re up!”

Just a few moments, and it would be time for us.

“1, 2, 3, go! Have a nice ride!” The attendant finished counting down the last rider. I urged Challenger into a trot. Only a minute or so more, and it would be our turn.

I forced my muscles to let go and to relax. All would be fine. The logs were only twelve inches tall for pete’s sake!

“Number 42, you’re up!”

I finished our circle and trotted up to the start box. Challenger skittered to the side, slightly unnerved by the tight space and my tension. I let out a breath and halted him.

He settled, flicking an ear back to see what I wanted. I gently nudged him forward into the box. I raised into my half seat in preparation.

“1, 2, 3, go! Have a good ride!”

This was it. I started my watch and gave Challenger a firm squeeze to let him know it was time to go!

He snorted and bounded in canter. The moment we were on course my nervousness and everything else melted away. This was my element.

He stretched out, previous tiredness forgotten, enjoying himself. The first log was coming up fast. I clucked and half-halted to get his attention. Even though it was small, I didn’t want him to jump it flat.

He listened, and we launched over it. We landed on the other side and feeling good, he bucked. I laughed and asked him to keep going.

I slowed him to steady canter. We’d get penalties if we went too fast. We popped three more logs easily. Now the water was coming up.

I asked for trot. He tossed his head and let me know he didn’t think much of the idea, but he complied. I made my reins an inch or two shorter.

When we reached the water, he stopped dead. Just like I thought he would. I circled him and let him sniff it. Then I circled again, this time insistently asking him to go in.

After a moment of hesitation he cat-leaped in. I had grabbed the neck strap and wasn’t left behind. “Good lad!” We trotted through and I asked him for canter on the other side.

Just then a flock of birds passed right over head. Challenger freaked and bolted. I still had the neck strap in my hand so I didn’t get dumped this time. I pulled him into a one-rein stop.

Once he’d calmed down a bit I did a trot circle, then asked for canter and continued on like nothing had happened.

The next log was between two trees. Challenger clearly did not want to go into that tight space. Inwardly, I grumbled about the person who thought it was a good idea to stick a log between two trees for green horses, as I circled Challenger for another try.

He tried to dodge it but I wouldn’t let him, so he finally leaped over it. I patted his neck, and told him what a brave boy he was before we continued on with the course.

The rest of the course passed easily. We ended up with two time penalties for not staying within the required time, but that was alright. I hadn’t gotten dumped and we’d enjoyed ourselves.

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