Not long after my sister passed away I was trying to figure out what to give my dad for Christmas. My two biggest problems was that my dad didn’t really want anything and I was pretty broke.
Parents aren’t supposed to have favorites but there was no mistaking that out of 5 kids my sister and I were Daddy’s favorites. Michelle used to be the only princess but then the step-sister came. I never challenged Michelle’s throne on Daddy’s right side. I just set up a new seat on the left side.
Finally I decided that I would give Daddy something no one else could. I had written a short story sharing a memory between me and Michelle. I decided to make it into a special book and give it to Daddy for Christmas.
This Christmas season I’ve missed my sister and father more than usual. As a result I’ve decided to share the story I gave daddy with the world.
Below is the story “Leap of Faith”. Thanks for letting me share.
A Leap of Faith
I tagged along with my older sister to the barn and horse shows whenever I could. Michelle taught me the rudimentary principles of horsemanship. She also arranged for me to take riding lessons from Ann.
When I was twelve years old, Michelle invited me to go to a Knights of Columbus show. She told me to bring my riding shirt and jacket. At first, I thought this was an odd request. A few weeks earlier, she had given me her old grey jacket with black velvet trim and a pink riding shirt. I figured she wanted to wear it at the show.
The show was held on Mother’s Day Sunday. Michelle’s beautiful chestnut horse was tied to Ann’s trailer. Cindy was a patient and tolerant creature who welcomed the fumbling attentions of her owner’s little sister. On this day, a blue leg wrap surrounded her tail, protecting a meticulous French braid. Her coal black mane was neatly arranged in two dozen braids which were folded under. I searched for a soft brush to clean away some invisible dust. My sister’s voice ended my hunt abruptly.
“Did you bring your shirt and jacket?” Michelle asked. I nodded before she commanded, “Well, hurry up and get dressed.” My mouth hung wide open as I stared at my sister in disbelief. This was some kind of joke. I protested saying that I didn’t bring my hunt cap. I reminded my sister that I didn’t own a pair of breeches or a pair of boots. Michelle had brought my hunt cap. It was in the trailer’s tack room with a pair of breeches for me to wear. Michelle said that I could wear her boots and told me to get dressed.
Closing the tack room door behind me, I tried to figure out what was going on while I changed clothes. I had never competed before. This was not a rinky-dink affair at someone else’s farm. My heart was pounding. There was no way I could place with so many experienced riders attending. I thought to myself “Why isn’t Michelle riding?”
As I tucked my shirt into my breeches, I heard my sister talking to an unidentified male voice outside. Michelle explained that she was trying to sell Cindy and that I was showing her horse today. Her final words to the mystery man were, “If she can show her, anyone can.”
Relief and great sadness filled me immediately. Nobody expected me to place. Cindy would look excellent in the ring, even with a mediocre rider. What if this was the last time I rode Cindy? My chest was heavy when Michelle banged on the door and asked if I had finished dressing. I opened the door, pulled on her boots and prepared for my first over fences class.
Fear knotted in the pit of my stomach making me queasy. The gate swung open, and I rode Cindy into the ring. The announcer identified us over the loudspeaker as we made an introductory circle. We accelerated from a trot to a canter and headed for the first jump. My heart pounded as I stared at the wall straight ahead. I leaned forward as Cindy’s powerful legs cleared the obstacle. I panicked for a moment. My mind screamed, “What’s next? Oh yeah, the in-and-out.” I chided myself as I pulled the braided leather rein requesting Cindy to make a left turn. My horse did a flying lead change every time we changed directions, sparing me the responsibility of correcting her stride. I felt better after we cleared the in-and-out and headed for the flower box. I leaned forward in anticipation of clearing the hurdle, but Cindy refused the jump. Luckily, the forces of inertia did not throw me from the saddle. My cheeks burned from the glaring eyes of the spectators. I trotted Cindy in a circle and made a second attempt at the frightful jump. Again, my horse refused the obstacle. Thinking I would be disqualified with three strikes, I desperately made a third request for Cindy to jump over the flower box. This time she obliged. She hesitated at the next jump, but unwilling to embarrass me further, she cleared the pole. We finished the course, slowed to a trot and left the ring.
My mind numb, I took a tongue-lashing from Ann. Michelle cried, “What did you do to my horse? She’s never refused a jump before!” It was true. Somehow, I had managed to transfer my inadequacy to my sister’s prize winner. I hung my head and sauntered to the concession stand for a cool drink. Ann reestablished Cindy’s confidence on the practice course.
After a much needed break, I prepared for my two under saddle classes. Both horse and rider would be critiqued in the first event. The second one would only analyze the horse’s performance. There would be no acknowledgement from the judges in the first class, but I looked forward to accepting a ribbon in the second. I finished the first class as expected, no humiliation, and no prize. During the second class, I maneuvered Cindy too close to a skittish horse who kicked in our general direction. The price for that kick was Cindy’s moment of glory. Only one event left, and I was ready for a long drive home.
Determined, I entered the ring for my final class. Cindy could do this by herself; I just needed to tell her in what order to clear the jumps. We made our circle and were identified over the loud speaker. Next, we cantered toward the pole jump. After clearing it, we rode all the way to the railing and prepared for the next obstacle. I pulled the rein. Cindy turned and did a flying lead change. She thundered toward the roll top and vaulted over it. We made a wide sweep and cleared the double. We went through the in-and-out like we were in our ring back home. We finished the course, slowed and did our farewell circle. It was a clean routine. We exited the ring with our heads held proudly.
Ann’s niece appeared muttering that Ann had ordered her to take Cindy back to the trailer. I wanted to see which competitors in my class placed. I hoped we had managed to snag something, anything. Reading my mind the girl said, “You won’t win anything.” Knowingly, I handed over the reins. If I had been wearing my own clothes, I would have told her to take a hike and bathed Cindy myself. I watched them walk away for about thirty yards and then turned my attention back to the ring. There was a short delay after the last rider exited the ring. Eventually, the judge gave out the awards.
First place went to a boy from our barn. Second through fifth places went to strangers whom I had admired all day. The announcer boomed over the loudspeaker, “Sixth place goes to number 274.” Could this be? I reached over my shoulder and pulled the number off the back of my jacket. It was 274. There had to be some mistake. I was putting the number back on my jacket as Ann came jogging up to me.
“Where’s your horse?” Ann asked excitedly. While the announcer repeated my place, I told Ann what her niece had said and done. I started to bolt for the trailer, but Ann grabbed me by the arm. “You stay!” she barked, and pointing to a boy from our barn she demanded, “You go!” I was grateful; he could probably run faster than I could. The announcer warned “Last call for 274.” I spotted Cindy and my colleague racing toward us. There was an outline of a saddle written in sweat on Cindy’s back, and she was wearing a red halter. I dashed forward to greet them, took Cindy’s lead shank from the boy’s outstretched hand, and sprinted for the in-gate. Ann yelled, “We have a late jog-in!”, but we had delayed too long.
I was miserable. Cindy had placed despite my shortcomings, and I still managed to let her down. On the way home, Michelle asked me why I was so sad. I tried to explain to her how I felt. My sister declared that I had participated in one of the biggest horse shows on the Eastern side of the United States and that I was not supposed to win anything. Somehow, even that was not enough to make me feel much better. Ann’s niece apologized for taking Cindy under false pretenses and presented me with a green ribbon. She had felt guilty and gone to the announcer’s box to claim the prize for me. I still felt horrible.
I always wondered why Michelle had chosen me to ride in that show. She could have entered and brought home several blue ribbons. Eighteen years went by before I figured it out. My sister died on September 7, 2000. After the funeral, I ran into several people from my horseback riding days. A few influential people told me that Michelle thought I had a good seat and a lot of potential.
Talent and self-confidence are the two requirements necessary to excel at anything. Michelle not only knew I had talent, but she also knew I was lacking in self-confidence. So many years ago, my sister tried to give me the one thing I needed the most.
Originally written September 27, 2001
Bound in book form and presented to Daddy December 25, 2001
- Lisa L. Bowen