Just Before the Gates This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

I crouched down so that my head was level with my horse's, whispering into his ear. My nerves were shaking my whole body, but I managed to get the words out.
"You ready?" I asked him. He's a horse, so I couldn't expect a reply right? Wrong. He craned his head around and brought his nose to touch my boot, staring at me with his big black eyes. It was as if he was saying, "Are we in this together?" I nodded, patting his soft side.
Looking out across the arena, I spotted my family, smiling and waving. I waved back, trying to calm my jumpy stomach. Breathing deeply, I surveyed the other horses and their riders, all laughing and talking. None seemed to be effected by nerves, while my whole body was tingling with them.
I took a deep breath and got them to stop finally.
"Up next is Martha, followed by Kaycee, and Denise in the hole." My heart jumped in my stomach as the announcer called my name. The other rider was already racing out of the gates, it wouldn't be long now. I knew I needed more practice, the poles were my worst event of the entire rodeo. I was still having trouble with balance, since my horse could run away without me if he wanted. As a million different thoughts passed through my head, I realized the one thing I was most fearful of. Failure.
People had been telling me all of camp, what an amazing horse I had, how he was the fastest horse at camp, and how there was no way I could do bad. They were all looking at me for greatness, and I was afraid I would disappoint them. I mustn't, I couldn't, I had to do well.
Then a thought crossed my mind.
This was probably the hundredth time my horse had done this, yet he was still excited, shuffling around and acting jumpy. Kinda like my stomach. Maybe it wasn't nerves I was dealing with, but excitement!
I was doing this not because I had to prove something to anyone, but because this is what I love to do, and what I was here to do. Express not Impress. It was now ingrained in my memory.
"Kaycee! You're up!" My counselor said by the gate. I rode to my place, with a confidence I hadn't felt on a horse before. Circling Strider around, I faced the gates. Time seemed to stand still, and I couldn't hear anything but Strider's breathing.
And as I tore out into the arena, with Strider breathing hard and giving it everything he had, I remembered thinking......Moments like this, are what we live for.





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