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Picture Perfect This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.


   "Next up is number 26, followed by number five," the announcer's voice crackledover the loudspeaker. A crowd had gathered around the riding arena surrounded byendless rolling hills and tall pine trees. At the top of a steep hill was a bluebarn, just large enough to hold a few horses. The scent of horses and leatherfilled the afternoon's sun-warmed air.

As horse and rider number 26entered the ring, my horse stomped at the ground, threw his head up and swung hishind end around. As I collected him, I realized my dusty number five had fallenfrom the bridle onto the damp grass. The horse continued to stomp the ground asmy mother reattached it to the bridle.

"Next up is number five,followed by number 16," the voice blared from the announcer's booth a momentlater. I turned the horse toward the entrance gate. As we made our way to themuddy entrance, the crowd gasped in amazement at the size of the creature beneathme. Shortly after, the air was silent except for the constant thudding as myhorse dragged his hind hooves against the ground. A disability from alife-threatening disease had struck my horse years ago, causing him to drag hishind hooves.

Entering the ring, we carefully circled the perimeter. Thehorse cautiously took each step, keeping his balance through the sloshing mud. Weapproached the judge's booth to salute; it was a simple structure topped with atarp. As the tarp flapped in the breeze, the horse began to act skittish, fireglowing in his eyes. The judge was a short lady with red hair, glasses and a longblack coat. She shot an angry glare as she watched the horse pacehimself.

The seconds ticked by. A sharp whistle came from the booth,signifying we could begin. I put my legs on the horse and gently squeezed. Thethudding of hooves dragging grew louder. A tall brunette stood outside the ring,a book in her hand. As the whistle sounded, her voice filled the air as she readinstructions. I listened intently and cued the horse to do various moves. Hisshort brown ears flickered intently, signifying his attention. Each step of thehorse was picture perfect.

Murmurs came from the gathering crowd asthe giant horse went through the test like a true champion. Then, out of theblue, another sharp whistle came from the opposite end of the arena. I tightenedmy grip on the reins as I cued him to stop. The crowd was silent as thered-headed lady, her hands behind her back, approached the horse, a dirty look inher eye.

"I have to disqualify you," her voice rang out."The horse appears to be lame. He is dragging his hind feet," sheannounced.

"He had a disease years ago," I began to explain,"and because of that he drags his feet. He's not lame."

"Ido not have prior knowledge of this," the lady interrupted. "You willhave to scratch your next class. You are dismissed." As I turned the horse,an angry fire burned within me.

I silently dismounted as the crowd staredme down. I led the horse to the barn, the air silent except for the thudding ofhis feet. As I lifted the saddle from his back, thoughts flooded my mind: all thehard work, long hours, bills and effort we had made to get this far, all for thisdisappointing conclusion. As I stood in silence next to my partner, though, Irealized that we don't always need fancy ribbons or shiny trophies to be numberone.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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