I was nine years old and it was my first horse show ever. Pacino, my steady ride, was the picture of blue-ribbon pride with his black coat shimmering and his mane in neat braids. There I stood, next to him with my peach show shirt, newly pressed navy-blue blazer, and my hair in long silky braids with matching peach ribbons. Everything was perfect… on the outside! Inside I was trembling with fear. I was more nervous than I had ever been in my life. My body was quivering and my mom noticed. I blamed it on the chill of late fall and refused a warm jacket because that would cover my show dress glory.
I searched for distraction to steady my nerves and began to focus on the task ahead. The familiar smell of leather and the rhythmic sounds of the clip-clop of horses’ hooves soothed my anxiety as I entered the tack room to grab my pony’s saddle. Calmer now but still shaking, I began to tack up Pacino. Pad, saddle, girth, rein, bridle, stirrups…
I slowly mounted Pacino and softly pressed my heels into his soft belly, letting him know it was time. We entered the ring, both of us counting on each other for the teamwork that lay ahead. I held his reins tightly and he walked forward with a nice pace. I took deep breaths of the crisp November air, and the chill intensified my focus. We began a brisk, even trot as we passed the judge in the center of the ring. She had ten riders to keep watch on. Would she notice me?
We trotted for what seemed an eternity, and then the judge said the words I dreaded and longed for all at once, “Canter, please.” I felt apprehensive, but I knew this was no time to be timid. With a kick of my heels and cluck of my tongue, I asked Pacino to go faster into a canter. He hesitated and I felt the panic set in. One more kick, one more cluck… and we were off, whizzing past the other horses arid kicking up moist dirt. It felt like we were flying. We were a blurred flash of shadow-colored fur, racing through the ring. I felt in command, in control of my horse. I felt like I had been competing all my life. I felt totally shocked that I was still on my horse!
The judge spoke again, “Walk and line up, please.” I slowed Pacino’s pace and we lined up in the middle. Here it was, the moment of truth. The judge studied us, and scribbled away on her sheets of paper. My stomach turned somersaults but I tried to keep my composure. They announced the placing order from above over the speakers:
“First place, number 223.”
Oh well, not me. That’s OK.
“Second place, number 220.” Oh well, still not… wait, that is me!
I placed second! My first competition and I took second place! My heart beat so fast as I nudged Pacino forward to receive our prize. It was a red ribbon and the color red had never looked so beautiful to me! A grin from ear to ear was plastered across my face and stayed with me, thrilling me until I lay in bed that night, remembering the day and sweetly drifting off to sleep.