The day I rode a green horse into a horseshow was a day I'll never forget.
The coolest thing I’ve ever done is to show a horse that hadn’t been ridden in a year. Yes, that’s as crazy as jumping off a roof or diving into the ocean where there are floating icebergs, but it was an act done from necessity.
It was Saturday. I’d decked myself out with the correct costume for the horseshow's Western morning, which meant I was wearing my good black jeans, a fancy long-sleeved black shirt with white piping, and my slightly dusty black cowboy hat. I didn’t have the money for fancy chaps or fringed leather vests, but I did have on some brand new black cowboy boots, which I was mighty proud of.
Unfortunately, I arrived that day to discover that Fancy, the horse I’d leased for the month, the one I’d planned to ride in the show, was lame. My smile fell into the dust.
The owner looked at me, gave a brief chuckle and said, “Well, I do have another horse you could ride.”
Sharon was hesitating slightly. I wondered why. Besides, what horse? Fancy lived alone in the corral behind her house.
I shifted my stance slightly, wondering why Sharon looked so reluctant. She probably thought I wasn’t good enough to ride this mystery horse.
Sharon caught my expression and laughed, then shook her head. “April is an Arabian -- flighty as the wind. She stays in the Simon’s pasture because no one’s able to handle her. She hasn't been ridden for a year, but if you'd be interested in giving her a try . . . I mean, if you really want to show today. . . "
“Whoa, no one has ridden her in a year?” I said. I gulped, then thought about the alternative. “Would you help me catch her?” I asked.
The first class, Western Equitation, started in two hours. There was probably no way I'd make that class, but I figured I’d give it a shot. After all, what did I have to lose? . . . except a broken leg or arm. My hands started shaking as I reached for the halter.
We walked out to the pasture that bordered the show arena. Sharon continued talking. “You know, I’d really like to sell the Arab. If you can get her to show well, someone might be interested.”
I didn’t make any promises. Already I had butterflies fluttering about my stomach so fast they were giving me motion sickness.
Amazingly, the Arab came right up to us, nibbled her carrots, and allowed me to slip on the halter. Then April walked docilely beside me. Even when we got her over to the arena with crowds of people, horses, and dogs, the little mare remained calm as an old nag. I eyed the owner.
Sharon laughed, picking up on the look. “Riding April is a lot different than walking beside her. You’ll see what I mean when you mount up.”
I took Sharon's word for it and lunged April. She wasn’t really lunge-trained, but she more or less got the idea. However, my arms ached after twenty minutes, and a crowd was already gathering. April was like a brand new copper penny with an arched tail that bannered into the morning's light breeze. Already she'd attracted a group of admirers.
I stopped the mare, quieted her down, then brushed her out. Fifteen minutes before my class I tacked her up, adjusting the owner’s saddle. Then sending up a silent pray, I mounted her and prepared for the worst. April fooled me. Not one single buck followed. Her lovely neck arched, and she moved into the bit like an experienced horse. I walked, trotted, and cantered about the practice arena. The mare settled, showing lovely paces.
Still trying to get a feel for her, I walked the mare over to the gate and urged her into position so I could open and close it. April was green in her responses to leg pressure, but she wasn’t unwilling. Her head bowed. She listened to my soft spoken words.
The announcer called out the class. I double-checked April’s girth, patted her, and prepared to enter the arena, wishing that I’d had more time with her. There were at least a hundred people watching, and I had no idea what to expect from April once I got into the show ring. Would she dump me? Would she embarrass me?
I didn’t even get inside before something set her off. I don’t know whether it was a misplaced laugh, a child screaming, or a paper rustling, but April snorted, shied, and then kicked up her heels into a wild, fireworks display. People backed away. Quiet descended as everyone watched. I wasn’t paying attention to them, though. I was circling April, tighter and tighter. The mare's explosion was short-lived and not all that violent. A minute later, just before the gate officially closed, I was able to ride her into the ring.
To understand just how beautiful April was, you have to remember that the other horses had all been bathed and groomed. Their owners had painted shiny polish on each hoof. All the other horses' muzzle whiskers had been trimmed off. Their animals were primed and ready. But that didn’t matter with April. Even without show prep, the copper mare drew all eyes.
April was a perfect lady throughout that class. She hardly felt green. We won Western Equitation, just like we took first place off and on for the rest of the morning. In the afternoon, I changed clothes, put an English saddle on April’s back, and rode her back into the arena where we took even more ribbons. Unbelievably, we even came out with High Point Trophy
By the close of the show, April had been sold. Sharon got a good price for her, too.
It’s still hard for me to believe all that really happened. If someone had told me this story, I would have snickered behind the person's back, figuring the tale was a load of milarky, because you just don’t ride a pastured horse into a show ring. Nor would I have believed that a person could win ribbons on a horse she’d never ridden before. But you see, somehow I earned April’s respect, and she settled down and worked for me.
I guess it's true, miracles do sometimes happen.
I wish I could have been the one to buy April, but I didn't have that kind of money, yet I’ll never forget the day she gave me. Riding that mare was as crazy as hand-feeding sharks, but it was the honest-to-goodness coolest thing I've ever done.
P.S. Although most of my work is fiction, this one is a true story.