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
"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
I couldn't think of a reply before she spurred her mare through the
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.
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: http://go.to/writeroffthelake