A Challenge

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Chapter 6

Feed time, morning or evening, is very high on the list of things I like about owning horses. I loved them, and one of the ways I show my love to them is by giving them food. They were always so eager for it, displaying their impatience by nickering, pacing, and sometimes banging their stalls.

I had gone up to the house so I could concentrate on my schoolwork. Much as I hated to leave the stable I wasn’t going to get any work done done there. Too much was going on.

I marked down the last answer and looked up at the clock. What? It was already 6:25 P.M? Feed time started at 6:30. “Yikes, I’ve gotten get down there.”

I hurriedly pulled on my winter coat, and pulled the door open. A blast of winter caused me to shiver. The sun was setting rapidly and taking with it what little warmth we had.

I zipped up my coat as I went down the hill towards the stables. I then realized I’d left my gloves back at the house. But by then I was already in the stable.

“I hate winter.”

Hay had wiggled its way down my coat and was currently busy scratching my neck. But I couldn’t fix it because I was currently holding three flakes of hay for Challenger. Besides, if I tried to fix it, cold wind would scurry down my neck.

Cold or scratchy hay. What a choice.

I dumped the hay over the fence and Challenger’s head dove for it. I watched him eat for a little bit, enjoying the sound of his chewing. “What’s next big guy?” I whispered.

What attracted me to him? Was it because he looked like Jigsaw? I wondered at this longing in me to ride him, to care for him, and to bond with him.

To own him.

I jerked back, startling him slightly. What was I thinking? I couldn't own him. He was a lesson horse.

But I did want him. I couldn't deny that. But he wouldn't, couldn't, be mine.

I turned away, heavy hearted. But at least he's not one of the boarder's horses, I thought. He wouldn't be going anywhere.

The next day dawned, a bit warmer than the first. I bounded out of bed a bit more excited than usual, because today we were going cross country schooling! Unfortunately my family only had a very small cross country horse, consisting of a few logs and a small ditch. Thankfully there was a bigger cross country course nearby that we liked.

I would be taking Moonbeam cross country schooling. It would be the first time I'd gone since Jigsaw had died. No horse could do cross country like he could. But I knew I couldn't compare Moonbeam to him. It would not be fair.

I led Moonbeam up to the trailer. Mom took her and loaded her up. She latched the separator and stepped back. "We still have one more slot," she murmured. Mom was like that. She hated to go anywhere without a full trailer. She figured if she was going somewhere, she might as well get all she can out of it.

"Yeah, but we don't have anyone else to take," I replied.

A mischievous light lit her eyes. "How about Challenger?"

I gave her an odd look. "Challenger? I don't know if he's ever seen a cross country course!"

"So? Let's introduce him!" she replied deviously.

I shook my head. But then again, why not? You know, this horse is still new and fresh, little better than a green horse who might try to ditch me at the first jump, but other than that, why not?

"You're nuts, but alright," I sighed.

"We can use Moonbeam's saddle and bridle. I'll grab an extra saddle pad," replied mother gleefully. "You go get Challenger."

I grabbed that awfully colored halter and lead rope to go get him. Hearing me coming he lifted his head, a wisp of hay hanging from his lips. "Hey big boy. Want to come cross country schooling?" I murmured as I closed the gate behind me.

He snorted. I chuckled. "I know, I know. I think it's a bad idea too. But mom insists and I have a feeling that if I didn't get you she would." For some reason statement raised an odd feeling inside me, a protective feeling.

I put the halter on and led him out.

He loaded right up and we were off with the four horses. Our horse trailer was huge, I wasn't sure how mom drove it. But it was our pride and joy.

I leaned back and watched the scenery. I had memorized the route. I didn't know street names, but I could tell you how to find it.

Thirty minutes later we pulled in a graveled drive way lined with trees. A big barn was up ahead of us and as we pulled into its parking lot a woman came out waving her arms.

Mom stopped the truck and she came up to us. "Alice says she sorry she's not here to greet you, but a horse cut it's shoulder. It's minor and will heal quickly but its owner is frantic. Alice has to calm her down," apologized the girl.

Inwardly I rolled my eyes. Such owners were a pain, they always had to know what the horse was up to. But I checked myself. Wouldn't I have felt the same way about Jigsaw if he had been boarded?

"Alice says you can just park in your normal place. She should be down soon," said the girl.

Mom nodded. "Thanks," she said. The girl nodded and jogged back to the barn.

Challenger came out snorting just as he did the day he arrived. This time there were no travel boots to take off, so I just tied him to the side of the trailer, next to Shocker, mom's horse. Shocker, despite her name, was calm and I trusted she would help Challenger calm down.

Next was Moonbeam and Rayna. Despite her size Rayna was a cross country powerhouse. Mother brought her for a little tuning up before her owner came back from visiting friends.

I gave Moonbeam a quick but thorough grooming, eager to be on her back for cross country. I would ride her first, and then Challenger. Mother was going to ride Rayna first, so as not to take away Shocker from Challenger.

Finally Moonbeam was ready. Before we bridled the two horses we put Challenger and Shocker into the trailer. We didn't want them to untie themselves and go running around the parking lot while we were gone.

With that we bridled up and headed out towards the brown grassy field.

"Come on Moonbeam, you've seen ditches before," I coaxed. Moonbeam snorted in disbelief and remained rigidly staring at the horse eating ditch.

I sighed and pulled her around into a trotting circle. Moonbeam had seen ditches and jumped them before, I couldn't figure out what was so scary about this one. But she was scared and it was my job to help her overcome her fear.

I trotted her around a few times and then urged her towards the ditch insistently. I felt her coming to stop and I grabbed the neck strap as I urged her onward with firm kicks. She hesitated, then cat-leaped over the ditch.

Having grabbed the neck strap I was not left behind. I patted her on the neck and praised her.

"That was a big leap," called out my mom as she went cantering by on Rayna. She easily popped a log and came ca.

"Yeah, I don't know why she's so afraid of this ditch," I replied, circling Moonbeam around for another try. "It's not like she's never seen them before."

This time Moonbeam was a bit more cooperative. She only hesitated a little before springing over lightly. I didn't need the neck strap, although I did grab it just in case.

As I turned her to go the other direction I wondered how Challenger would react to ditches. Jigsaw had only looked at them a few times before easily taking them in stride. He'd never refused one.

I shoved those thoughts out my mind as I urged to Moonbeam into a canter. I didn't need to be thinking of my past horse love. That would only make me unfocused and upset Moonbeam.

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