Tired and dusty riders milled around the riding arenas with soda cans in hand while they clapped each other on the back and talked about what wonderful rides they’d had. It was the last horse show of the season, time for the “End of the Year” trophies to be passed out and each rider had a sort of excited anticipation about them. We stood in the shade at the edge of the old schooling barn watching, I always enjoyed seeing the excited faces when names were called to receive those hard earned little statues. We always finished in a comfortable position. Never Champions, always Reserve, only points below the first place rider for the division. That was our spot, it had been for the last ten years, it might have been because we never really tried to win. With us, it was just two friends having a really great time.
This year our names were called first, I glanced around in a confused state. Had we really earned the high point trophy? I hadn’t even kept track of the points this year. Turning toward my horse I bit back a grin. He stood so proud. His chestnut colored coat shone bright red in the afternoon sun. He held his magnificent head high, ears pricked forward and nostrils flaring. I tugged at the leather lead line and he walked amicably beside me, well defined muscles rippling with each step.
“Way to go Farm pony!” Came a friendly cry from my fellow riders followed by hysterical laughter from those who new us so well. I cradled the small trophy in my hand and patted my bulky quarter horse. Off to the side, a teenaged rider, on an underdeveloped young horse looked on smiling enviously as she hugged the Reserve award. Seeing that rider and her horse took me back to another time.
It was the first time I’d brought my newly purchased three year old gelding to the riding school. My instructor and I had gone rounds over my buying a barely trained young horse, especially without her approval. This horse was special. I knew he was the perfect animal for me. The first show of the season I pulled my parents minivan to a stop at the front entrance of the old barn. Behind the van was an old brown and beige farm trailer, I had to chain the back doors shut because the hinges were loose and they threatened to fly open at any given time.
A small crowd quickly formed around the barn entrance waiting to see this grand animal that I had so proudly described to them during our Thursday night lesson. He shoved the side compartment open with his nose the instant I turned the latch and out popped his dusty head. I quickly grabbed his ragged heart covered red halter and shoved him back enough to untie his lead rope. He began backing towards the door, he obviously knew the routine because I had to push his rump forward enough to unhook the inner safety cable before pulling the wobbly door open. With a clatter of clumsy hooves my new gelding was off the trailer and sounding an arrival call while he pawed the air above my head with a teetering rear. After a few minutes of prancing and tossing his head he finally calmed enough for me to untie the bailing twine that held his ragged oversized blanket in place.
Pulling the frayed cloth aside I stood back proudly as if I’d just unveiled a great statue. Here was my pride and joy, standing so proudly. The crowd, I could tell was in awe, not one person made a sound, that is, until the young rider from gosh knows where walked by with his high dollar Appaloosa-looking pony; the one named Spike. He stopped for a moment taking in the sight, gauging his competition I was sure.
“You are NOT really going to show that farm pony here are you?” He asked with obvious disgust. I felt the smile fade from my face and couldn’t help but allow my shoulders to sag as I looked around at the faces of my fellow riding mates. They hadn’t been awestruck at all, in fact, they’d been in shock. I could see it now, one girl even had tears in her eyes. I looked back at my grand purchase again, this time with scrutiny.
He had a hole in his face, right about at the cheek bone that was draining a yellowish puss and that side was severely swollen, but I knew as soon as I got the infection cleared he was going to have a wonderful head. His eyes were a little on the dull side but they were so full of wisdom for such a young horse, I was sure I could see his thoughts. His coat was shaggy and he had starvation hairs across his tummy, his ribs showed terribly, but some people like a little rib on a horse, that’s what the previous owner had said, although three of my fingers could fit in the dip between each one. His mane was so badly tangled with briars and knots that I was going to have to roach it, but that was all right, these were all things that could be fixed with time. He had chipped hooves that were badly in need of care and his tail was either chewed or rubbed off, but I could tell he was going to be the perfect show horse. He had what it would take and I was sure of it. I looked around at my friends and then glanced at the boy, who would later be labeled “Snot Boy”.
“He’s a pretty color.” My friend Amy, who never took less then a second and the occasional third place ribbon with her sweet floppy eared quarter horse mare offered.
“I like him.” Kelly, another classmate chimed in. “In a year, I’ll bet he’s a totally different horse.”
“I know he will be.” I ensured them, smiling so proudly……