The showgrounds are all puddled up from the rain overnight and wetness seeps into the hole in my boot. Parents crowd the bleachers, hugging little kids to their sides, clutching their blue and red class ribbons. The pony classes are finished but some of the older kids are standing around to watch the later classes. The ones with the big fences. The one I’m taking Octavia in, without any sort of warm up. Thanks, Dad.
Octavia dances from one foot to the other as I scan the seats looking for him.
“Cory.” Sarah reaches to tuck a stray hair up under my helmet. “I talked to the judge and you can go in and take a few warm up fences before you start.”
“Where’s my dad?”
“He’s here. Go on. I’ll be right here.”
Sarah leaned over, cupping her hands for me to get boosted up into the saddle. Octavia won’t stand anywhere near a mounting block. Another bad mile memory, I guess.
The footing in the ring sloshes a bit under foot as I let the mare ramp up into a forward trot. One trip around the perimeter to let her have a good look at the jumps before we start. I owe her that at least. Sarah slips through the fence boards and adjusts the cups lower on a colorful vertical jump along the rail. I circle Octavia around her.
“Come down over this one. If she feels okay, go ahead and turn to take the roll top.” Sarah squints up at me and shades her eyes. “Don’t worry, she knows her job.” She ducks to squeeze back through the boards to the other side of the fence.
Octavia’s head is high, pulling back on the reins. Her back is flat and stiff, like sitting on a cement wall, but one that’s capable of exploding at any time. I know she’s better if she keeps moving, preferably at a canter, so I lightly bend her and touch her outside flank. She lurches into a canter, spraying muddy water up onto my legs. The cold seeps into my breeches, but I feel warm, almost too warm, as we turn to the fence.
As soon as the mare sees it, she lowers her head and cranks up the pace. Closing my fingers on the reins earns me only an annoyed toss of the head and she charges forward. Faster. I loop a strand of mane, bend forward, and let her take me to the jump. Blood pounds in my ears, but doesn’t drown out the gasp from the bleachers when Octavia levitates far from the base of the jump and takes off flying over it.
We land with another head toss and I sit back, trying to decide in a split second whether to turn to the rolltop. I scan the rail, looking for Sarah, to check her face, get some guidance. I can’t see her. Octavia leans around the turn like I’m in a motorcycle race. All I can do is point her in the direction I want to go. The rolltop.
This time, I sit back and she canters to the very base, pops up and throws her body over it. When we land, my foot is dangling without a stirrup.
“She’s horrible!” My words are whipped away in the breeze as we pass Sarah. I circle and bring Octavia back to the walk. My face is burning and I can’t catch my breath.
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