I toke a deep breath in, trying to get my shaky hands to settle. I wiped my sweaty palms on my beige breeches, before taking one last breath and stepping forward and putting my left foot in my silver stirrup iron. It shone bright bright against my horse's deep black side. She looked back at me like she was asking, “Whats taking so long?”. I smiled at her gentle eye, the big white star on her forehead was comforting. For the first time in seven months, I would be getting back on a horse. Against all odds and predictions, and tests, I was here, proving myself, and proving them all wrong.
*Seven Months Earlier*
I pulled the leather strap for my girth up one more hole so it was nice and tight. Shadow, my five year old Thoroughbred mare shot a sarcastic glare over her shoulder, but quickly forgetting and went back to yawning away.
“You're a silly horse Miss Shadow Puppet.” I laughed.
I unhooked the cross ties off her deep red leather halter, letting them bang against the walls of the wood. I slipped her halter over her ears and slowly entered the bit into her mouth, careful not to bump her teeth. I did up all the buckles into the well used holes. Just as I finished my friend, Callie, and her horse, Dixon were standing behind me ready to go into the indoor arena for our weekly group lesson.
“Well this is going to be fun.” She said sarcastically.
Usually it would be weird for her to say that, but there was a horrible rain storm taking place, threatening to become a thunder storm any time now. “At least we're in the indoor.”
“Yeah, but our indoor is naturally lit, Sterling. The rain and storm will be right there.”
“Whatever, we have a show soon, and Shadow has been bad lately we need all the work we can get.” I said as I patted Shadow's neck as we walked side by side.
I was just about to swing my leg over the saddle when my mind brought me back to 'that day'. The flashback hit me hard.
*Seven Months Earlier*
I knew as soon as I got on and started warming up that this was not going to be an easy day. The thunder, lightening, and hail, all started just as I was starting to begin my warm up. The ring was eerily dark, with a greenish tint. To me it seemed calming, inside at least. I loved storms. They were my favourite weather.
“Alright kids!” Our coach, Sloane called as she walked into the middle of the ring. “Today I want to focus on doing some simple gymnastics and grid work. I will set up three different patterns and you will complete each one.”
The grooms, Ryder and Caleb started setting up the jumps. They were no bigger than three feet, but for some reason I was nervous. Shadow was not behaving. And there was a massive storm going on.
As they were being set up I paid close attention to Sloane's directions. “You will canter a small circle to get ready, then you will do the gird on the far right. It's a small vertical, one stride to a bounce. Canter four strides after the last jump then make a complete change in direction, and come down the grid in the middle. It is a vertical, one stride to a bounce of three, then two more strides to a higher vertical. You will then canter in another circle to get momentum for the last exercise. Five bounces, at two feet.” As she finished the instructions she continued to tell us what she wanted out of us in the exercises.
“Alright, Hayley, you may go first, followed by Callie, Sterling, and then Lauren.”
I watched as Hayley guided her Strawberry Roan gelding, Joe, over the jumps. Joe was a very well made Hunter horse so he toke the jumps gracefully and flawlessly. When they finished all the grids, Callie started to canter Dixon in a small circle.
Unlike Joe, Dixon was more inexperienced. But Callie's soft hands, and strong leg gave him the reassurance to complete the exercises like an old pro. She had a little trouble at the second bounce. Joe panicked a little and chipped a small canter stride in between the jumps, and had to tuck his knees way more than he should, causing the rail to fall. Callie shrugged it off, patted Joe's bright grey neck and continued.
Next it was my turn. I couldn't figure out why I was so nervous. But I gulped down a few deep breaths and continued on my way. I asked Shadow to canter right from a walk, since we did it all the time. She let out a small hop with her back end. That was normal to, and I didn't even move from the saddle. She went on to Canter very calmly in her circle.
I let her out of the circle in the right place to have at least four strides to the first jump. Her stride was long and smooth. Just as she lifted off the ground, I rose out of the saddle, sliding my hands up her glossy neck. We finished the fist pattern with ease. On the turn to the second grid Shadow gave a few small broncs, so I circled her before going to the next jump.
“Good call Sterling, you wouldn't have made it without the circle.” Sloane's voice was fuzzy since I was concentrating but I still caught the words.
We were circling just before the last grid, Shadow felt great, so I let her out and we went towards the five bounces. She jumped the first one, touched the ground and took off again, the same for the third. Then she took a huge stride, where there was no room for even a small one. She leaped over both of the last bounces together. A total spread of almost thirteen feet.
The reins were ripped from my hands and my feet were thrown from the stirrups. It toke all I had just to cling on. On the other side I stopped Shadow as fast as I could so I could regain my seat.
Sloane walked over to see if I was okay. I'm sure my face must have been white. My whole body was a convulsing wreck. “Sterling, are you alright?” She asked. My voice wouldn't quite work yet, so I just nodded.
After I started breathing again I started to feel normal again. Usually that wouldn't have bothered me, but I was a nervous wreck today. When I was completely sound again, after everyone had taken another turn I was ready. We started over again, circling, completing the first and second grid. I started my last circle, becoming nervous for what she would do on this last bounce.
I pointed her at the first jump, she hopped over it, same with the second, I started to hold back over the third jump, but it was a very bad mistake. She landed way to far from the right take off spot. So she improvised, she thruster herself into the air. The movement threw me back in the saddle. Shadow still somehow came up short and came down over the poles. Her legs got tangled up in them causing her to scramble onto her knees. This time there was no way I was staying on. I tumbled off her left shoulder. My right leg coming over the saddle.
I thought it was all okay until I was violently stopped from falling. My right foot was caught awkwardly in the iron.