January 19, 2011
By , Silver Lake, United States
For as long as I remember, all I wanted to do was be part of a horse show. I wanted to be one of the smiling girls atop a glistening thoroughbred, gracefully prancing in front of a crowd of adoring fans. For years, my longing for thick leather paddock boots and a soft, velveteen helmet grew stronger until I was diseased. Horses were always on my mind, and I was plagued by a want for something that I did not have. When I finally became an equestrian, most of the time my desire to win eclipsed my ability to enjoy the sport that I was passionate about.
The horseless time in my life was on my mind as I halted Peabo with our backs facing the unsmiling judge. I had come so far- from a wide-eyed girl to one of the skilled riders I had once admired so. I just had to get a blue ribbon. I snapped back into reality as my horse shifted restlessly under my saddle. “It’s okay,” I whispered soothingly into his tall, chestnut colored ear. “You will be in your trailer soon.” He nickered in reply, and his pink tongue played with the hard, metal bit in his mouth. I sighed impatiently as time droned on, a never ending space of suspense.

Something about the fact that superior eyes were gazing at the number on my back made me uneasy. The judge knew something that I didn’t, and that caused me feel anxious. What would happen if all my hard work and sweat proved fruitless and futile? Would my trainer be disappointed or congratulatory anyway? These questions built up inside of my mind, making me even more of a nervous wreck than I was earlier that morning.

The first thing I saw when my family arrived at the event was the trailers smattering the otherwise green landscape with cold metal and chrome. There were so many sizes and shapes; all

accompanied by a tall horse and a snobby-looking rider. My anticipation built as I stepped out of the car; sweat pouring down my neck and legs, pooling in my hot, black boots. We made our way towards some empty seats to watch the other contestants show in their divisions. The day was muggy and overcast, the sun, just a bright orb underneath the shale clouds. The air was infused with the smells of hay and hotdogs and sweaty horses, making my nose wrinkle. Barns and farmhouses dotted the rolling green swells of wildflowers and ponds, filling me with a sense of familiarity and peace. “I can do this,” I yelled inside my head. But the peace passed just as quickly as it had come, because no familiar scene could help me become a victor.

I had to defeat everyone.

Before I knew it, my division was called and I found myself on top of Peabo, who was being fresh and acting like a green pony. I could tell this was going to be quite the challenge. My name was called and Peabo was on the move. “Now Elle, keep your heels down and back straight. Don’t forget to hold your crop in your left hand since you are tracking to the left. Straighten up your wrists and kick. Canter! Take back, take back! Oh shoot, get your darn foot back in that stirrup before you fall off the horse! For goodness sakes, jump over the fence!” I was instructing myself as I rode, not even believing I was actually there. Then, just as quietly as it sneaked up on me, my division was over, and I was lining up, waiting to get my royal blue ribbon.

All of the sudden, the loudspeaker crushed my dreamlike trance, and the announcer cleared his throat. “We would like to thank all of the riders competing in the Young Entry division for coming out today to the Red Mountain Hounds Horse Show. Our judge has made his decisions. First place goes to Number 584, Aaron Stevens and her horse Bonnie.
First, I was confused. I had lost and I had failed not only myself, but my family, too. Second, I was angry. What did that girl, Aaron, have that I didn’t? I was great and she was just average. My shoulders slumped, but I kept my show smile plastered on my face, like a mask that I couldn’t take off. The announcer‘s voice cut through the air once more to announce the next winner. “And second place is Elle Cross and her horse Mr. Peabody,” his deep voice boomed. I trotted to retrieve my red ribbons, thinking how nice it sounded for my name to be suspended in the air so that everybody could hear it. As I exited the arena, my trainer approached us with a grin. “Great job! I knew you could do it. All your practice paid off.”
“Thank you,” I replied, unsure of what I did.
“It is amazing that you are competing at this level anyway, but second place? I am so proud of you,” she said with a smile.

It was at that moment, I felt a rare wave of accomplishment ripple through me. She was proud of me because I got out there and tried. Success doesn’t necessarily always mean perfection. I did not win, or get a perfect score, but I did get experience. I received the knowledge that I don’t have to be the ideal rider to truly gain excitement and pleasure from my sport. Someday, I will be a smiling champion with adoring fans and blue ribbons. But for now, a hard earned second place is fine with me.

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