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The First Time

by Vanessa N Hanko

Although the sun had not yet come up, I'd already bicycled three miles to the stable. As I parked my old Blue Schwinn against the side of the barn, Mike's rust and white '56 Chevy convertible shimmed up the driveway and halted in a spot usually reserved for rental riders. Jesse, the sixteen-year-old stable hand I'd had a crush on since my recent twelfth birthday, was loading Elaine's Arabian mare into the cattle truck.

Twenty minutes later we had Mike's leopard Appy and my aged grade bay gelding, Cherokee, loaded. Jesse decided he had the best chance for a blue ribbon if he rode Cinder, a Quarter Horse stallion who'd injured the stable owner in a loading mishap. But Jesse was a proficient handler. After snorting and shaking his head half a dozen times, Cinder pranced into the truck. Mike closed the tailgate. Elaine sprinted toward his spiffy Chevy, as determined as I not to be tardy for our first horse show.

I crawled into the front seat of the truck, glad to be alone with Jesse. I hoped now he'd perceive me as mature enough to be his girlfriend. But, as usual, we hardly spoke until we arrived at the fairgrounds and then we were too busy filling out entry forms or tacking up for Jesse to fall in love with me.

I had money to enter four classes; I'd known for weeks which ones. When I reappeared at the truck, Mike was helping Elaine choose a bridle for her first class, Open Equitation. Jesse, who didn't have any classes in the morning, had gone off with some high school girls he knew.

"What classes did you enter?" Elaine asked me as she swung lightly into the saddle.

"Western Pleasure, Ladies Pleasure, Open Pleasure, and Novice Equitation."

Elaine wrinkled her nose. "Novice Equitation! Why Robin March, that's for horses and riders who don't ride well enough to show in other Equitation classes! Aren't you embarrassed to enter such a baby class?"

I couldn't think of a reply before she spurred her mare through the entrance gate.

Mike's brotherly hand cupped my shoulder. "Ignore her," he said. "Elaine's the only person I know who starts at the top. How many fathers can afford both private lessons and that expensive Arabian?"

I shrugged, but regretted entering the Novice Class. I considered scratching but I'd forfeit my entry fee and I'd saved too long to lose five dollars for nothing. Besides, forfeiting would let me in for relentless teasing.

The day was unusually hot for so early in the season. After a few hours we snapped at each other as we picked itching straw out from our shirts. The horses were affected by the heat, crowd and unfamiliar circumstances, too.

Jesse spent most of the day with a girl whose platinum ponytail would make a Palomino feel envy. I feared he'd invite her to ride home with us. Equally upsetting, I'd shown in all but Novice Equitation and I hadn't placed. Elaine had three ribbons--including a first place blue; Mike had a third place yellow, and Jesse had too many to count.

My Novice Class was near the end--the Egg and Spoon was always the finale because it left a mess of smashed, stomped raw eggs mashed into the show ring grounds. Mike, Elaine and Jesse had unsaddled their horses and picketed them under a nearby tree. Jesse's Palomino-tailed high school girl had jaunted off with another spectator--male, of course.

Mike, Elaine and Jesse loafed by the rail, their boot heels hooked over the lowest rung, elbows propped on the uppermost board. At first I wished I'd waived the class but as I entered the ring and saw that at least half the entrants were adults, I relaxed. It turned out to be the largest class of the show.

Night Horse Woman

"Nighthorse Woman"
By Diana Stanley

Cherokee gave me no problems at the walk, jog and lope. We lined up in the center of the ring and the judge started down the line asking us one by one to back our horses. Cherokee tossed his head and threatened to rear. My cheeks warmed as the judge passed on to the next horse. I was too nervous to see if Jesse had noticed.

As the judge checked out the rest of the horses I tallied thirteen horses who wouldn't stand as the judge worked down the line. Cherokee stood quietly but an occasional twitch of his withers warned me of impending impatience.

The judge dismissed all but about a dozen horses and riders. My heart beat faster when I found myself among those still in the ring. We walked, trotted and jogged, then returned to center ring. I watched as the judge handed a paper to the ring steward who ran with it to the announcer's booth.

"And now for the results of the Novice Equitation class," the announcer said. "In Fifth Place is Robin March, riding Cherokee."

Stunned, my mouth opened wider than Cherokee neighing. I cantered to the judge and accepted my ribbon as my friends cheered me. I forget everything else except riding out of the ring and Mike kissing me on the cheek while Elaine giggled. Jesse silently nodded and I resented his raining on my victory.

Immediately after the show ended, we loaded the horses. Elaine and Mike sped off in Mike's Chevy. I sat in the truck, stroking the pink silk of my fifth place ribbon and waiting for Jesse. He jumped in and drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, staring out at the empty show ring. Instead of starting the truck, he leaned over and put his arm around me.

"Congratulations," he said in a husky voice I barely recognized as his. Then he pressed his lips on mine.

The kiss was abbreviated; almost as if I'd imagined it, yet as real as the ribbon I held in my hand. He revved up the engine and as the truck bumped out of the fairgrounds, I considered giving him a more passionate kiss. I knew I wouldn't, the same as I knew he would never kiss me again.

In the years since that first show, I've owned finer horses, won more impressive classes and kissed dozens of males. But it is that fifth place pink ribbon, faded and torn and scarcely visible amid the hundreds decorating my office wall, that makes me thrill to the triple pleasure of my first show, my first ribbon and my first kiss.

Vanessa N Hanko has been writing fiction - short stories, novels and screenplays - for more than twenty years. She enjoys writing in different genres and has published in children's mags, teen mags, confession mags and men's mags, as well as on the web. You can see some of her previously published work by visiting her website at:

  More Fiction

~ Naked Mole Rats ~ Snow Dates ~
~ The First Time ~ Blossoming ~



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