I’m sticking to the alliteration theme I started last week so I’ll share this memory with you guys in this creative nonfiction piece : ) This story is based on personal experience at a horse show I rode in and I took creative liberties to create the characters and conversations.
by Kate Buckley
Fog was still covering the fields of the horse park as I nervously stood along the fence with my teammates, watching the horses warm up. Their breaths came out like clouds of frost as they cantered and jumped the verticals. “Oh, Danny is here again. He’s a good draw, I would love for everyone to draw him,” commented Coach Meg. I said a silent prayer that I would draw either Danny or a horse like him, calm and perfect.
“Now is that horse a little heavy on his front end? The grey one with the blue polos.” I asked.
“Yeah, he is. If you get someone like him you’ll have to concentrate on keeping your weight in your heels and your seat, which you’re good at. Just be sure not to try to fix or train him, you looking good on whatever you draw is your priority.”
“Oh, with my luck watch me get him,” said Emily, as a bay refused a jump for the third time.
“Yeah, after the thoroughbred you got last time you seem to attract the trouble makers,” I replied. We watched the warm up rider pop the bay with a crop and attempt the jump a second and a third time. Finally, he went over it.
As the warm up came to an end our Coach sent us to take care of the horses we were in charge of, while she went to the coaches’ meeting to find out who we would be riding in our classes. I nervously bounced up and down as I held Storm in the mounting area. “Don’t be nervous, you’ll do great,” said Emily as she hugged me.
“Aw Em, you’re so sweet. You will too.”
“Alright, gather around girls. Emily you have Billy Bob, that huge chestnut,” Coach Meg told us when she came back from the coaches’ meeting.
“Oh, the big boy.”
“Uh yeah, of course my shortest rider ends up with the biggest horse in the show. Gianna you have Dan.”
“Yes!” Gianna did a little happy dance.
“Allison you have Peppy, and Katie you have Chance.” I nodded, but I had no idea who Chance was.
“Alright Em, your class is first. Let’s find your horse.” As Em got ready for her class I scanned the mounting arena for Chance’s name tag on a saddle pad, but no luck.
“Hey Gianna would you mind holding Storm for me? I’d really like to watch Em ride.” I handed her the pony’s reins and walked to the warm up arena. Em was perched on Billy Bob, her legs hardly extending around his massive girth. I gave her a thumbs up and watched the bay who had refused earlier warm up with his first rider. She struggled to get him over the two warm up jumps. As he came out of the ring his name tag caught my eye. ‘Chance.’ My stomach knotted up.
Em’s warm up went smoothly and I walked over to the arena where Chance was about to start his first course of the day. I watched the rider carefully as she asked him to canter a circle before beginning. He picked up the canter fine, though he threw his head in the air a bit. Her hands were in a good position, but to me the reins looked too tight. He’d need contact, but maybe not that much. He cantered smoothly and he seemed easy to steer. They approached the first jump. 1..2..1..2.. I counted his strides on the approach and watched his body tense. You can get over it, I thought, but he slammed on the brakes, almost throwing the rider into the jump. My heart sunk. I watched as he refused again and again. “Rider, you are excused from the arena,” came the announcer’s voice over the intercom.
The rest of the day I tried to keep my nerves in check, for the most part unsuccessfully. Every once and a while I watched Chance in another class. He was fine in the flat classes, but he refused jumps for several other girls. Some got him over the jump the second time, but some were disqualified after many tries. I hardly ate anything throughout the day as I was busy holding horses and helping my teammates get ready for their rides. Finally Coach Meg told me I was only 1 class away from my ride. I found Chance in the back corner. His horse holder disinterestedly handed me the reins and I mounted. As I adjusted my stirrups I could feel my body tensing, the exact opposite of what I needed it to do to have a good ride. “Don’t be nervous.” Coach Meg shook her finger at me and checked my girth and stirrups. “And if you’re nervous fake it till you make it.” I smiled the most fake smile I could manage.
I entered the warm up arena. “Drive with those legs, don’t give up at the last minute, keep your leg on him all the way to the base,” instructed Coach Meg as I entered. The faked confidence just didn’t cut it and he refused the first jump. I circled him to the jump twice more before we went over it. My body was up and tense, preventing me from relaxing in my seat and pushing him forward. I knew Chance knew it too because he refused the second warm up jump as well. I could hear Coach shouting instructions to me from the rail. Finally we got over the second jump. I left the warm up slightly rattled. Coach Meg came over. “Look at me. Now take a deep breath. You can do this, you can get him over the jumps, but you have to stop giving up at the last minute. Keep your leg on him all the way to the base, hold your hands up.”
“Perfect. Holding them right there will rock your weight back. And use your legs. You don’t have to worry about your heels, don’t worry about your equitation at all. You have good equitation, now you just need to focus on getting this horse to do what you want. You do it at home, now don’t let those nerves get in the way. Just fake it if you have to.”
I nodded and took a deep breath. As we waited to enter the arena I patted Chance and talked to him, knowing the smooth soft words I spoke were helping me calm down more than anything.
Finally the gate opened for me. “And on that last jump he’s going to want to give up. Don’t let him. Keep that leg on, especially on the last jump.”
I lifted my chin and put my leg on him. “Let’s do this,” I told Chance.
Somehow the first six jumps flew by. 1…2…1…2… I counted as I approached each jump and squeezed my calves against his barrel. Then the last jump was several strides away. I was elated, I’d actually made it over most of the course. A took a deep breath, I was doing it. As I breathed out Chance felt me relax and shifted his stride a little slower. I remembered Coach Meg’s last words and I aggressively dug my heels into his sides. 1…2… he shifted his weight forward and we flew over the last jump. As I cantered my final circle I passed the rail where coaches and other riders murmured ‘good job’ and ‘congratulations’. My face hurt I was smiling so widely. “Good boy, Chance,” I muttered. We walked out of the arena and I could tell Coach was happy too. “No matter what you placed, that was one of your best rides ever. I am so proud of you.”
Chance and I didn’t place in that class, but riding Chance is still one of the most rewarding rides I’ve ever had.