She was teaching Gemma Shu-Risso on her pony, Chewy. Gemma enjoyed their last few steps at the canter. Then the shiny brown pony slowed to a walk.
Kelly said, “Good job. Give him a big pat.”
Gemma didn’t need to be told twice to pat Chewy. She loved her pony as much as he loved treats. Most ponies liked carrots and apples, but Chewy liked sweets, too. Gemma still remembered the day he had reached over his stall door and stolen a bite of her granola bar. Now everyone at Mangrove Equestrian Center, including head trainer Kelly Van Beek, knew about Chewy’s love of granola bars. That’s even how he got his nickname.
“That’s enough for today. You’re in great shape for the horse show next Saturday,” Kelly said.
When Gemma heard this, her coffee-colored eyes sparkled. She grinned as brightly as the Florida sunshine that afternoon. She thanked Kelly for the lesson, then gave Chewy another pat. The bay pony sighed loudly as if he had heard he was done, too. Sometimes Gemma thought Chewy understood what people said.
Gemma walked Chewy into the middle of the ring, swung her long legs over his back, and dismounted. Her feet landed in a soft cloud of sandy dust. She rolled up her stirrup leathers just like she’d been taught in her first lesson five years ago. She knew a lot more about riding horses now, but it was still important to remember the basics.
She led Chewy toward the gate where other students and their ponies waited to enter the ring. First in line was a small girl with big blue eyes and curly brown hair gathered in a thick ponytail behind her helmet. Liv Gordon fidgeted with her reins, clearly eager to ride her new pony, Finn. Gemma had seen Liv around the barn, but they didn’t usually ride at the same time and hadn’t talked before.
Gemma paused as she walked by and said, “Hi! You’re so lucky to have Finn. I saw him at horse shows with his old owner. He’s such a good pony!”
“I know! I’m really excited to ride him,” Liv said with a smile.
She felt proud and lucky to own Finn. He was the first pony she had ever owned. Before she had only borrowed ponies from friends or leased them from her trainer.
“I’m Liv, by the way. What’s your name?”
“I’m Gemma and this is Chewy,” she said.
They talked for a few more moments before Gemma asked, “Are you showing next Saturday?”
Liv tensed a little. “Yes, but it’s my first time showing Finn. I don’t know if we’ll be a good team. So I’m kind of nervous.”
Before Gemma could respond, Kelly’s husky voice rang out, “Enough chit chat, you two!”
Kelly called Liv into the ring to begin her lesson. When Kelly called, students listened. She was basically a legend at Mangrove Equestrian. Everyone knew that she began riding even before she could walk. Her family had owned the farm for thirty years and she had taken over when her parents retired. While short and stout in appearance, she had command of any room she was in. Liv noticed her messy blonde hair always poked out of her sun visor.
Kelly’s distinctly raspy voice came from years of calling out commands to her students from the middle of the ring. This included Liv, who got on Finn and began riding around the ring. Kelly gave her instructions as she rode along at the trot and then the canter.
When Kelly asked Liv to change direction, Liv suddenly noticed a rider on a large horse coming straight toward her. Liv pulled her right rein, then her left, but she didn’t know which way to steer Finn around the horse. She braced herself as they nearly collided. Luckily the other horse and rider swerved away.
Kelly called Liv and Finn over. “Do you know how big that horse is? You almost got smooshed!”
“Well, Finn looks half his size,” replied Liv.
Kelly continued, “Next time a big horse is about to trample you into a pony pancake, yell, ‘INSIDE!’ or ‘OUTSIDE!’ and then go around them.”
Liv nodded. She asked eagerly, “Can we jump now?”
Kelly chuckled. “You always love to jump! Yes, go trot the cross-rail.” She pointed to a small jump in the shape of an X made by its two poles crossing in the middle. Just the other day, Liv and her friends had jumped over these fences on foot without their ponies. But jumping with ponies was the most fun.
Liv trotted Finn toward the cross-rail. The fuzzy gray pony pricked his ears when he saw the jump. Liv got excited, too. Maybe too excited.
Right as Finn went to take off, Liv leaned too far forward, pressing her weight on his neck.
“Don’t get ahead of him,” Kelly said. “Stay back in the saddle.”
The next few times trotting the cross-rail were better.
“Great. Let’s put together a little course for you,” Kelly said.
Kelly and Liv were standing in the middle of the riding ring. All around them were colorful wooden jumps. Sometimes riders would jump one or two, but Kelly wanted Liv and Finn to jump many of the fences in sequence.
Kelly began to point out a series of fences. Liv memorized the order as Kelly spoke, “Start over the blue fence. Then around to the red jumps one after the other. Next come around over the green jumps. Finish over the yellow jumps riding toward the in-gate.”
“This is simple. Just seven jumps,” Liv whispered to herself. It would be the same kind of course that Liv would have to jump at the horse show. Liv held her reins in one hand, while she traced the course in the air with her pointer finger. When she had memorized it, she nodded at Kelly and gathered her reins.
Liv eased Finn from a trot to a canter and headed to the first jump. She felt he was on a good rhythm. Finn soared smoothly over it and Liv’s heart flew with excitement. But on her way to the next fence, Finn turned too early. He was cutting the corner.
“C’mon, Finn!” she mumbled as she pulled his head toward the outside of the ring. She hoped her pony would straighten out. But this only made it worse.
Liv realized they were aimed directly at the side of the jump, which held up the poles. If she didn’t fix her direction, she and Finn might collide with the heavy wooden jump.
Liv’s heart started to race. They were almost at the jump. Should she keep going and risk a collision or circle to safety?
The jump was coming closer and closer and closer.
Liv held her breath and thought, “What if I crash?!”
Read more about Kim Ablon Whitney and Caraneen Smith’s new #BarnBFF series at barnbff.com.
Kim Ablon Whitney is a USEF ‘R’ Judge in Hunters, Jumpers and Equitation and author of The Show Circuit Series, Blue Ribbons and The Perfect Distance. Her latest young adult series (ages 7–12) #BarnBFF, written with Caraneen Smith of Bigeq.com, follows two girls and their adventures with their ponies. Available on Amazon!
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