On the morning of the Pennsylvania State 4-H Horse Show I slid into my barn sneakers, rubber soles flapping and threatening to fall off at the most inconvenient time. I headed to the barn weighed down with grooming supplies, horse treats and my show clothes. Since our schooling session would not start for 15 minutes, I arranged my supplies and then entered to say good morning to Indiana, a Welsh thoroughbred yearling. Scratching the crest of her neck, I settled down with her head in my lap. Her sweet breath tickled my hand as her gray muzzle searched for treats.
Minutes later, during our final chance for schooling in the ring, Indy was attentive, ignoring the other foals’ antics. Pleased with her performance, I brought her, still clean from her bath the night before, back to her stall and braided her mane. While I dressed, teammates highlighted Indy’s coat, polished her hooves, and offered cheers of good luck.
After hours of preparation, Indy and I were called into the arena. Amid blurred faces in the crowd, I noticed “Good Luck” signs from my cross-country team and 4-H club. I led Indiana through the swinging gate into the deep moist dirt of the arena. Keeping her in the most advantageous posture, I placed her in a hunter set, her front feet even, back feet spread, with her feet pointing straight ahead. She looked sharp, but I also had to maintain the correct angle to the judge, smiling so that everything looked effortless.
Awaiting the results, each competitor stood in a line with their backs to the judge. Shaking, I feared the judge had seen every twitch, every mistake. The loudspeaker crackled with the critical announcement: “Number 314, Kelly Henkler showing Uptown Rabbit” - that is Indy’s show name! I hugged my little gray champion, then shakily accepted the silky blue ribbon and weighty engraved plaque. We exited the ring, no longer just a girl and her pony, but state champions.
Hanging the gleaming plaque on my wall, I realized that even though the show was over, the part I truly love will never end. Although I can always admire my prizes, the glory of winning was not what I missed. I missed sitting with Indy’s head in my lap, the smell of grain, and the sound of a horse walking by. Now I know that all I need to do is go to the barn where I can see my friends and love my horses. All I need to do is run my fingers across a horse’s coat or laugh the next time a horse nuzzles my hand, breathes on my neck, or even slobbers on my shirt, and I will be home.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.