A Challenge

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Chapter 19

I patted Challenger’s neck as I went to undo his girth. “Well, that’s it for the day boy,” I whispered.

He stomped his hoof and I realized his fly spray was probably worn off by now. “Sorry, I’ll fix that in a minute.” I went over and undid the other side of the girth, then slid his saddle off. Mild sweat stains darkened his gray coat, and the saddle pad was slightly damp.

I put the tack in the trailer and then grabbed a stiff brush. As I brushed the sweat stains out Challenger stretched out his neck in delight, the bristles scratching itchy skin. I smiled at him and kept going until he had his fill.

As I sprayed his legs, mother came around the tail end of the trailer holding a BBQ sandwich . “Good job!”

I smiled at her. “Thanks. You’ve got some sauce on your chin.”

She wiped it away with the edge of a napkin. “Huh, so I did.”

“Have they put the results out for your division yet?” I asked her.

Lacy came bounding around the trailer, with dad following at a slower pace. “Yes they did!” she chirped cheerfully. She grabbed my hand. “Come on, let’s go see!”

I didn’t seem to have much of a choice in the matter as I was pulled along.

Seeing the knot of people near the rankings board immediately made me cringe and want to step back. I didn’t mind people, so long as they respected my space. It puzzled me how horses could respect my space better than people.

Lacy sensed my hesitancy but wouldn’t be deterred. She pulled me into the press of people. I inwardly groaned.

“Here’s the novice division!” Exclaimed Lacy. Her energy had pushed us to the front. She squealed. “You mom won second!”

“Wait really?” I stepped up beside her. Sure enough, there was mother’s and Shocker’s name in second place. “She’s gonna be so happy!”

“Second place? Are you sure Tessa?”

“Yes mom, I’m sure! It was right there, you couldn’t miss it!”

Her face lit up. Dad came up and swung her around in an embrace. “Good job hun,” he said, and kissed her square on the lips.

I grinned and turned to Challenger, who actually looked half-asleep. A nice change. I fingered his gray mane. “Better get Shocker ready for the awards mom.”

“Aren’t you going to tack up Challenger?”

I shrugged. “I don’t think I won anything. What’s the point? It’d be the third or fourth time putting the saddle on.”

Lacy hopped up from the trailer. “I’ll go see if your results are up yet.” And she raced off, thankfully forgetting to drag me along.

I grabbed my water bottle and plopped down on the edge of the trailer. “I don’t know where that girl gets all her energy,” I commented.

Mother shrugged as I took a drink. “I guess she’s a type O or something.”

I nodded absently. “Guess so.”

Dad spoke up. “You know what I want?”

“What?” replied mom.

“Some ice cream to celebrate your big win.”

She smiled at him. “Alright, but only after the awards.”

Mother began to tack Shocker back up. The mare gave her a irritated look as she tightened the girth. “I know,” mother said to her. “But this is the last time today, I promise.”

Just then Lacy came running around the trailer. Challenger spooked and skittered sideways. I sighed and stood up to calm him.

“Sorry,” Lacy said breathlessly as she came up to me.

“It’s alright-”

She cut me off. “You won fifth!”

I stared at her. “I won what?”

“You’re in fifth place! You better tack Challenger back up.”

“Wait what? Are you sure? There’s no way... Not with that cross country round...”

She gave me an exasperated look. “Yes, I’m sure. There’s no way I could miss his name, it’s the most creative one on there.” She then smothered me in a hug.

My shock and disbelief gave way to elation. I hugged her back and then turned to hug Challenger. He drew his head up, not sure about what I was doing, but I didn’t care.

“We did it boy... All that work paid off.”

Challenger refused to stand still next to the other horses in our division, so we went off the side a bit. I felt a bit self conscious. “Challenger, you’re embarrassing me,” I whispered as I pulled him into another circle.

But even that couldn’t dampen my excitement. We’d actually won something are our first show! Despite the refusal on cross country and the time penalties, we’d won fifth.

Finally Challenger settled down as the woman in the microphone began to list off the rankings of the Novice division. Mother was further down the line from me.

“In second place, Mary Wellen and Shocker’s Dare!” Mother nudged Shocker forward to receive her ribbon. I would have clapped, but Challenger was just barely standing still as it was.

After the novice division was beginner novice, then starter, and finally intro. Intro was Challenger’s and I’s division. It seemed to take awhile to get through all of them. Challenger would stand still for a few moments, then get restless, then stand still, then get restless... I resorted to figure-8′s and forgot the notion of standing still.

However, I noticed that I was not the only one dealing with a nervous or energized horse. Most of the horses in my division were green and young. But even they seemed to have more patience than Challenger.

Finally it was our division’s turn.

“For the intro division: In sixth place, Lucas Cazzy and Lemon.”

The man on the palomino squeezed his horse forward as I turned Challenger around for another figure-8.

“In fifth place, Tessa Wellen and Challenger.”

I brought Challenger out of the figure-8 and walked him up to the lady handing out the ribbons. I made sure I had a tight grip on the reins.

She smiled at me and walked up to Challenger with the green fifth place. “Congrat-” She was cut off as Challenger sidestepped away from the ribbon she was going to pin to his bridle. I sighed, knowing this was going to happen.

She tried twice more, but Challenger wasn’t having it. Finally I had an idea. “Let me try.”

I slid down off of him and took the ribbon from her hands. Challenger stilled. I slowly raised it up to where his brow band and headstall met. He leaned away, but let me put it on.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to get on when he was like that, but I didn’t think I had a choice. I mounted, and after a half dozen spooks, Challenger realized that the ribbon was not going to kill him. By that time the last ribbon had been given out to the first place winner of the intro division.

As we cantered our victory lap to the clapping of the crowd, I wasn’t sure my heart could have soared any higher. Momentarily forgetting to be spooky, Challenger let out a buck of excitement. I laughed, right before he spun to the side and threw me.

The crowd’s clapping turned to “Oh!” as I hit the ground. One lady rushed over to see if I was okay, while three others tried to corner Challenger.

I stood up and brushed myself off. “I’m fine,” I reassured the lady.

I looked up and saw Challenger was backed into a corner. He was starting to panic and looked like he might bolt. I ran up to the people who’d cornered him.

“Please, stay back. He’ll bolt and run you over,” I cautioned as I stepped forward. He stilled when he saw me, and my heart swelled.

He trusted me.

He actually trusted me.

And that mattered more to me than all the ribbons in the world.

He let me walk up and grab his reins. I stroked his neck. “I’ll never betray you,” was my whispered promise.

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