Her ears forward, her gait steady, Gypsy didn’t falter for a moment.
I counted my strides, one, two, three, and leaned forward as Gypsy sailed into the air, clearing the large fence with inches to spare.
“Wahoo! That was awesome!” my friend, Lucy, shrieked excitedly as we hit the ground.
I gave Gypsy a gentle, rewarding slap on her hot, sweaty neck. “Good girl, good girl, good girl,” I repeated happily. I turned to Lucy and grinned. “1.35 metres; no problem for Adele and Gypsy! Showjumping champs, here we come!” I exclaimed.
“You’re going to rock!” Lucy cried.
I dismounted my horse, loosened her girth, and walked her slowly around the rubber-chip arena, letting her cool off. It was a hot Summer’s day and Gypsy had worked incredibly hard for me. Her coat was thoroughly streaked with sweat, dark against her golden coat.
I tied her next to Lucy’s horse, Bugs, and quickly untacked Gypsy before hosing her down.
Hot steam rose up from Gypsy’s back. “I bet that feels good, aye girl?” I murmured.
Bugs pulled hard against the lead rope, sticking his face through the water flow. “He wants a drink!” Lucy laughed. “Bugs is a strange horse.”
I giggled and aimed the hose at Bugs whose upper lip curled as he drank. Gypsy watched, her eyes wide with interest. “Gypsy thinks he’s strange too!” I stated.
Lucy was my best friend and had been for ten years since we discovered we were both totally into horses at age seven. Even today, we were often lectured for discussing horses in class when we were meant to be working. Tall and slender with brown hair, I thought she kind of looked like her horse. Bugs was an athletic-built, plain bay Thoroughbred gelding who like Lucy, was very tall. At 16.2-hands-high, Bugs positively towered over Gypsy who stood a mere 15-hands-high.
Unlike Lucy, I looked nothing like my horse. I thought I was very plain looking with thick brown hair and grey-blue eyes. Gypsy was a beautiful, rich chestnut mare with a thick blaze and four white stockings. Part Quarter horse, part Thoroughbred, Gypsy stood not only short but quite stocky, being an unusual candidate for an excellent jumping horse. Though bred for Western, it was as though Gypsy was born to jump- She’d even been seen jumping freely by choice in the paddock! While her dressage was merely average, she made up for it with a super cute jumping style, scope to burn, and the heart to clear any obstacle she was faced her with.
My parents had given me Gypsy three years ago on my fourteenth birthday, as a nine-year-old mare with wins and placings up to 90 centimetres in showjumping. I was also told Gypsy had successfully given birth to a beautiful colt.
My fourteenth birthday was the best day of my life, and Gypsy was by far the best present anyone had ever given me. Gypsy and I clicked from day one and she had quickly become my best friend; alongside Lucy of course. Gypsy also gave me ever-growing confidence to move up the heights in showjumping. In one week from now, Gypsy and I were to enter and compete in our first ever 1.25 metres showjumping round at the 2015 Showjumping Championships.
Lucy and I led the horses to their paddock. We both grazed our horses at Ridgewood Stables. It was a great place with a large arena dotted with professional-looking show jumps, a small numbered dressage arena, 70 acres of turn-out grazing, and the stables. The beach was a ten-minute ride away and the roads were quiet. The owner, Michael, was very kind and obliging, and we were yet to encounter any serious problems with the boarders.
I slipped off Gypsy’s halter. “Off you go.” Gypsy stood there, ears forward, staring at me. She made no attempt to move.
Bugs however, took off in full gallop, letting loose a gleeful buck before halting and dropping to his knees in the centre of the paddock. He grunted as he rolled onto his back, hooves pointed loosely towards the sky.
Gypsy stepped towards the gate where we stood and stretched out her neck, blowing hot air at my hands. “Sorry girl. I don’t have a treat,” I told her, softly touching her velvet-nose. As if she understood, Gypsy stretched further, nosing at Lucy’s pocket.
“Ohhh, you’re too clever!” Lucy laughed. She pulled a carrot stick from her pocket and Gypsy gratefully took it between her teeth. She crunched down the carrot then reached out, hoping for more. Lucy pulled at her pocket so it was inside out. “No more. Sorry Gypsy!”
Lucy and I giggled as Gypsy sighed loudly. She turned around and plodded over to Bugs, where she too dropped to her knees and rolled, her heavy body pressing into the dirt. She stood, shaking dust from her coat, and the two horses slowly wandered side by side towards the water trough.
“Are we jumping tomorrow?” Lucy asked me.
I thought for a moment. “How about we ride down to the beach tomorrow? The horses could do with a day off jumping.”
“Sounds like a plan. Can we meet at around ten tomorrow morning?” Lucy asked. “Mum wants us to go shopping for new school shirts and socks,” she said rolling her eyes. “I am not looking forward to going back to school!”
“Sure, ten is fine; and me neither!” I told her. “I’d much rather be riding. I keep telling Mum that I plan to show-jump for a living, so technically I’m better off practicing my jumping than wasting time at school.” I sighed. “But she keeps insisting that I stay at school for the last year anyway. ‘Just in case’ she says. She doubts my ability to turn my passion into a career, though she doesn’t quite word it that way.”
Lucy nodded knowingly. “Well, we have Showjumping Champs before school starts back again, so let’s just focus on that. Talking about school is sort of depressing,” she said, screwing up her face.
I perked up. “Every time I think about Showjumping Champs I get so excited!”
“Me too. I’m really nervous too though,” Lucy admitted.
Lucy and I had been planning for 2015 Showjumping Champs since last year’s Showjumping Champs. Not only was it to be my first class at 1.25 metres, but it was Lucy’s first class at 1.05 metres.
She had previously owned an old schoolmaster named Jock who could no longer jump competitively over 95 centimetres due to mild arthritis.
But now she had Bugs. At only seven years old Bugs was young and fit. He had a big, effortless jump that had improved immensely since Lucy had owned him, and had won his last two classes at 95 centimetres. Schooling over technical courses up to 1.10 metres at home, I knew Bugs would find the 1.05 metres class within his capabilities.
“Bugs is an honest jumper,” I replied to Lucy. “I bet you guys will do great!”
I wasn’t nervous but I knew I was likely to be when the time came. I was so lucky to have such a reliable, talented horse to carry me, and my nerves, around the course.
“How was Gypsy today?” Mum asked me at dinner. Mum and Dad sat opposite me at the table and my eleven-year-old sister, Natasha, sat beside me.
“She was amazing!” I exclaimed with a mouth full of spaghetti bolognaise. “We jumped 1.35 metres. You should have seen her! She didn’t even hesitate and she cleared it by miles!”
Dad frowned. “Be careful on that horse, Adele,” he said. He was such a worrier, but I was the only one in the family who was interested in horses and was lucky to have such supportive parents.
“That’s great honey,” Mum smiled at me and lifted her fork to her mouth.
“You guys have kept the 17th free, right?”
“What’s on the 17th?” Dad joked.
“As if you haven’t reminded us of the date enough times,” Mum muttered. Then she glanced at me. “Yes, we’ll all be there to watch you. Even Natasha.”
Natasha screwed up her face. “Boring!”
Sometimes I wondered how I could be related to someone who disliked horses so much.
I zoned out as Natasha started discussing her day with Mum and Dad. I kept fantasizing about Showjumping Champs. I could almost feel Gypsy’s smooth canter beneath me as we approached the first fence. I leaned forward slightly in my chair as Gypsy took off in my mind. A rider habit.
It was yet another hot sunny day. The horse’s shoes clonked on the tarsal road as we rode North towards the beach. I loved that sound.
“So, Larissa has a new horse,” Lucy was telling me. “He’s a Selle Francais Warmblood and apparently he cost her parents over thirty-thousand dollars!” she exclaimed.
Larissa was not our most favourite person in the world. Larissa was so perfect that it made me sick.
She was very pretty with long black hair and bright green eyes. There weren’t as many Equestrian males as there were females, but any that existed were guaranteed to be chatting up Larissa at horse events.
Despite being a horse rider, she managed to keep long pedicured nails. This was because she didn’t take care of her own horses. She didn’t feed them, she didn’t groom them; she didn’t tack them up before riding, and she most definitely wouldn’t be caught dead with a pitch-fork. Her parents hired stable hands to do all the hard work for her. They even had exercise riders to keep the horses fit since they continued to buy Larissa new, expensive horses without selling on Larissa’s previous main mounts.
Larissa’s only responsibility was attending the lessons her parents scheduled for her, which were of course with highly rated grand prix and even Olympic riders. She was also expected to perform well at competitions, which she always did on her expensive well-schooled horses. Larissa always won. Always.
Admittedly, yes, we were a bit jealous of her; though I’d choose my Gypsy horse over any other horse in the world. But the reason we disliked her is because although sickeningly sweet to anybody she felt worthy of her presence, she treated those she believed not, like complete and utter crap. Apparently Lucy and I were not worthy of Larissa’s presence; probably because our horses weren’t Warmbloods and our families were middle-class.
“Larissa is competing her new horse in the 1.25 metres class at Showjumping Champs,” Lucy explained. “Imagine if you beat her!” she exclaimed. “I’d love to see the look on her face!”
“Well, there’s no chance of that happening,” I muttered bitterly.
“You never know,” Lucy said slowly. “Her new horse might be a good jumper, but so is Gypsy.”
“Her new horse is probably, like, 17-hands!” I cried, thinking of the advantages such a big horse would have over Gypsy. He’d have the ability to go around at a slower, more collected gait while still beating Gypsy’s time with his massive strides. 1.25 metres would require little effort for his long legs as opposed to Gypsy, who jumped cleanly, but with the fence high above her belly would not succeed without giving it her all.
“Height doesn’t always matter!” Lucy insisted. “He won’t be able to cut corners the way Gypsy can. She’s nimble and excellent at jumping from odd angles.”
I smiled as I pictured my little, fat, part-bred Quarter horse beating a thirty-thousand-dollar Warmblood. If only. While it was a pleasant fantasy, I’d be happy if Gypsy just did her best. And Gypsy always did her very best.
The track to the beach came into view and we could clearly hear the rush of the ocean. The horses now strode out and walked with a purpose, their heads held high.
We trotted down the beach track and into the soft sand. I always loved how a horse felt beneath me on the beach. Their movement always felt so soft; so floaty as they sunk down into the golden sand. It was like riding on a ghost-horse, gently bobbing above the ground.
We slowed to a walk and headed towards the water. Bugs, typical of the Thoroughbred breed, jig-jogged sideways, his eyes wild with excitement. Lucy was a nice, quiet rider and sat calmly in the saddle, her body so still despite Bugs’ bouncy movement beneath her.
Gypsy eagerly carried me into the sea, stopping to sniff, then paw, gently at the waves. Bugs had been race trained at the beach and the sea was no threat to him either. Soon Bugs settled down and we rode side by side through the shallow water.
“Adele?” Lucy said, squinting at me beneath her helmet.
“You know how you want to show-jump for a living?”
I stared at her. “Yeah?”
“Well,” she glanced down at Bugs’ neck. “Basically, I was wondering what will happen when Gypsy can’t take you any higher?” Lucy asked quickly.
“She jumped 1.35 metres yesterday,” I said.
“Yes, but it’s different jumping just one jump as opposed to a course. And even if she can compete at 1.35 metres, that’s only 10 centimetres higher than what you’re competing next week. If that goes well, you could be up at 1.35 metres in no time.”
I stared at Lucy, confused. “You say that like it’s a bad thing!”
“What I mean,” Lucy spoke slowly now, as if explaining herself to a child. “Is what if she isn’t comfortable competing over 1.25 metres? Or even 1.35 metres… Whatever. I mean, she is only small.”
“You said just before that height doesn’t always matter!” I cried, annoyed.
Lucy looked away. “She’s not exactly bred to be a high level jumper either though. I mean, how many Quarter horses do you see competing at huge heights?”
“She’s half Thoroughbred!” I spoke shrilly.
“But she’s built more like a Quarter horse.”
I twirled a piece of Gypsy’s mane around my finger. I knew Lucy had a point, and to be honest I didn’t see Gypsy taking me much higher than 1.25 metres in the competition ring. I knew deep down that she was nearing the peak of her potential, but Lucy knew I never wanted to sell Gypsy so why was she so insistent on making me think about that right now? “I’ll have to get a new horse,” I said finally. “But I won’t be selling Gypsy. I’ll have two horses.”
“How will you afford to buy a new horse then?” Lucy asked. “You and I both know that not just any old horse will be capable of living up to your expectations.”
“I’ll get a part-time job. You know, until my riding career kicks off.” I smiled, satisfied and relieved with my answer. I had reassured myself that everything was going to be okay. “Maybe I can find a cheap ex-race horse like Bugs to train up,” I said. “A lot of off-the-track Thoroughbreds have made it big in jumping,” I added thoughtfully.
Lucy grinned. “Well, Bugs has turned out to be pretty brilliant.”
At that moment, Bugs threw his head in Lucy’s face and began to jig-jog again, the water foaming around him.
“Well, he can be a bit naughty…” Lucy mumbled. “He’s probably not going to the Olympics either. But there are nicer Thoroughbreds out there who would put Bugs to shame,” she admitted. She then leaned forward and covered Bugs’ ears with both hands, causing him to chuck his head again. “You didn’t hear that Bugs.”
I smiled, calm again, and grateful to be riding such a laid back horse in comparison.
“Do you mind if we canter?” Lucy asked suddenly. “It’ll be good for him to let off some steam!”
“Sure,” I answered.
Lucy slid her leg behind the girth and Bugs leaped high into a canter, yanking hard at Lucy’s hands before giving in and lowering his head. Gypsy calmly popped into a canter behind him, her usually smooth gait, rough in the ocean. Waves crashed against us, throwing water into my riding boots, soaking my leggings and socks.
Gypsy’s short copper mane flew up with every stride. With a burst of speed, we were now beside Bugs and Lucy, closest to the shore, her canter small and quick in comparison to Bugs’ long, ground-covering strides.
Bugs, still a race horse at heart, pinned his ears flat and tugged against the bit. Lucy leaned forward and gave with her hands, allowing Bugs full freedom of his head and neck. I followed suite and stood in the stirrups as both horses increased their pace.
We veered left onto the wet, compact sand where both horses sped up once more. Faster and faster we went until both horses reached full gallop. Despite her size, Gypsy managed to keep at Bugs’ heels for a while, her legs moving wildly beneath me. However, although an average race horse among other race horses, Bugs was still a big, long-legged Thoroughbred, and Gypsy was still a short, stocky crossbreed; so with the subtle cue from Lucy, Bugs lengthened his stride once more and ate up the ground, leaving Gypsy and me for dust.
My hair blew wildly into my face and damp salty air burned lightly at my skin. The ocean flew by in a blur of green. I stood in the stirrups, perched low over Gypsy’s back, a handful of mane in one hand for extra balance. I gazed through Gypsy’s ears, which kept flickering back as she listened to my heavy breathing. We were going so fast, yet Bugs and Lucy appeared to be a speck in the distance and I silently vowed myself to ask for a gallop on Bugs next time.
Fit from full work, Gypsy continued on strong and I wanted to shriek with glee as her hooves thundered upon the hard sand. Besides showjumping, I couldn’t think of anything more amazing than this; the freedom, the speed and the bond between Gypsy and I left me exhilarated.
All too soon, Bugs and Lucy appeared nearer and nearer and I realized they were walking now. I slowed Gypsy to a canter, a trot, and finally a walk. She took the contact and lowered her neck, stretching out towards the ground. “That was fun aye girl?” I murmured.
“It was amazing!” Lucy exclaimed.
“Bugs is very fast!” I commented. Bugs walked calmly now, blowing hard, his thin coat lightly glistening with sweat.
“Yup; all he needed was to blow off some steam,” Lucy said matter-of-factly.
I felt so tired after our big beach ride. However, when the time came to go to bed, I was wide awake. I switched on the bedside lamp and grabbed my book, The Horse Whisperer.
I was halfway through The Horse Whisperer and I had been enjoying it thoroughly, but tonight I struggled to get into it. When I found myself reading the same line repeatedly, I shut the book and placed it back on my bedside table.
I then leaned over and reached beneath my bed where I kept my photo album. This album was full entirely of horse photographs and I intentionally kept the album there for nights like this. The first photo was of me mounted on Missy, a fat, grey Welsh pony I rode when I started riding lessons as a six-year-old, with a lady named Mel. Missy would have been lucky to be 12-hands-high, yet I looked so small up there in my pink jodhpurs and miniature jodhpur boots. I wore a huge, happy grin upon my face. Missy on the other hand, stood half asleep with her head lowered and both ears out to the side. It was just another day for Missy. Day in, day out, Missy carted around kids as they bounced on her back, struggling to follow Mel’s instructions. Such a patient pony was Missy.
I flicked through a couple more photos of Missy and I; one of me learning to trot, my legs so far forward that my foot touched her shoulder; and one of us standing between two chestnut ponies mounted by Deanna and Kirsty, two girls who attended riding lessons with me.
The next image showed me at my first horse show. I was eight-years-old here and had moved onto a more advanced pony named Tiger. Tiger was a truly stunning animal. He was part Arab and had an elegant, dished head with a huge white diamond beneath his forelock. Lean and athletically built, he was a picture of health, his bay coat forever shinning in the sunlight.
This was a picture-perfect photo. Unlike Missy, his ears were forward and his bright alert eyes were looking directly at the camera. He had a neck full of ribbons. I sat with the same happy grin I had in the photo of Missy. I remembered feeling so pleased with myself.
I continued to flick through the album, stopping to study showjumping images. Unfortunately, Mum was my regular photographer and it was rare that she managed to take an image at the peak of the jump. Instead, I flicked through photograph after photograph of Tiger a stride before take-off, and a stride after landing.
I’d started showjumping on Tiger and discovered I absolutely loved to jump. At every riding lesson I’d ask, “Can we jump today?”
I was always disappointed when Mel said, “Dressage is the base to good jumping,” and we had a straight dressage lesson instead.
I finally reached an image of Gypsy. She stood grazing at Ridgewood stables behind a wire fence. Leaning against the fence stood a large cardboard sign; it read, “Happy Birthday, meet Gypsy.”
I smiled at the memory. I remembered feeling confused. I didn’t dare hope she was for me until Dad confirmed it. “It’s not every day you get a horse for your birthday, is it?” he’d laughed.
I had burst into tears, tears of pure joy. I’d hugged both of my parents and then rushed to the paddock to hug Gypsy who had at first seemed taken aback. Still, she stood there quietly as I cried into her mane. Just as I finally managed to stop the happy tears, she’d rested her head affectionately on my shoulder and I had found a new river to cry.
I came to a professionally taken image of Gypsy and I showjumping together for the first time. The fence was only 80 centimetres, but Gypsy sailed above it a lot higher, her knees tucked tightly to her chest. Anybody could see the enjoyment jumping gave her in this image. Her dark eyes shone bright, searching for the next jump. Her ears were pricked forward.
You could vaguely see the smile beneath my helmet. My eyes were hidden behind black-rimmed glasses- Once or twice I’d come close to losing them in a jumping round and I was glad I wore contacts now. I remembered I was having the time of my life. I had been so nervous prior, and Gypsy had been sure to take away any doubt from the moment we entered the ring. Though forward and excited beneath me, she waited patiently for the cue to canter. She did not rush on approach, nor fight me as some showjumping horses do. Respectful and trusting of me, she gave me a safe, tidy round to finish off in third place.
It was after midnight. I forced myself to shut the album, sliding it carefully back under my bed. I switched off the bedside lamp and lay on my back. A white strip of light shone through the window and danced across the ceiling. All was still and quiet. I closed my eyes and silently willed sleep to come.
When fifteen minutes later I was still wide-awake, I climbed out of bed and switched on the light. I picked todays clothes up from off the floor and pulled them on. I then headed down the stairs, walking lightly on my feet, careful not to wake anybody. I stopped at the front door to step into my gumboots. Ridgewood stables was fortunately just a five-minute drive away, so I found myself with Gypsy very quickly.
It was a mild night. The air was still and thousands of stars dotted the dark sky, promising the sun for tomorrow. Not a sound was to be heard; I felt alone in the world; just me and the horses.
Bugs stood alert, staring at me through the darkness. He snorted as I approached, his body tense and ready to flee. I spoke softly to him and instantly he relaxed with recognition and started to graze. While Bugs had been very surprised to see somebody at this hour, Gypsy didn’t act fazed. She lay, her legs tucked beneath her. She nickered softly as I sat down cross-legged beside her in the dampened grass.
“Hey girl. I couldn’t sleep,” I whispered, gently stroking her thick white blaze.
Gypsy sighed and lowered her head into my lap, warming me both inside and out. I was so content with Gypsy, beneath the stars, surrounded by her sweet, horsey scent. I didn’t know how long I sat there. It could have been minutes, or it could have been hours. I was overwhelmed with a new sense of peace and when I went back to bed, I was asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.
The 17th finally arrived and both horses had been performing brilliantly on the lead up to it. Full of excitement, I slid out of bed as soon as my alarm went off at 7am. I happily tugged open the curtains.
And groaned in disappointment.
Dark, menacing clouds filled the sky. A light drizzle came down, disappearing into the mist that hovered above the ground. The trees, their leaves glistening with rain drops, swayed gently in the slight breeze. The weather forecast had stated sunshine with light cloud and winds forming in the evening.
I pulled the curtains shut again, and stared glumly at the peach coloured material. I knew that Showjumping Champs would still go ahead. It would take incredibly severe weather for it to be canceled, but it meant I’d have to put studs in Gypsy’s shoes for extra grip, and ride slowly and very carefully. By the time my round starts, the ground will be muddy and chopped up, I thought unhappily.
I pulled on white jodhpurs, then an older pair over top to keep the first pair clean until my showjumping round. I then trudged down the stairs and into the empty kitchen. Everybody was still in bed. I was meeting Lucy and her dad, Steve, at Ridgewood stables. Using his truck and their old float, Steve would tow us to the showgrounds. My parents and Natasha were coming later to watch my round.
I grabbed a blueberry muffin and headed out the door where I was greeted with a cold chill. I then double checked I had everything I needed in my car. I’d bought home my horse gear for oiling and cleaning last night after bathing and grooming Gypsy to perfection.
Lucy and her dad were already at Ridgewood stables when I arrived. Lucy was heading to the stables where the horses slept last night, two lead ropes in her hands. I hurried over to her.
“Hey!” Lucy greeted me. She handed me a lead rope for Gypsy. “It’s a shame about the weather, huh?”
“Yes!” I cried. “I was so disappointed when I looked outside this morning.”
“At least Showjumping Champs doesn’t cancel very often. I don’t think I could handle it if they canceled.”
“I couldn’t handle it either,” I agreed. “We’ve been waiting for this day for so long.”
Gypsy nickered happily when she saw me. She didn’t appreciate being cooped up in a stable. Even in Winter she much preferred the freedom of the paddock; but she was always stabled to stay clean before competitions.
“Showjumping Champs today!” I told her. I snapped the lead rope to her halter and reached for her hay net to take to the showgrounds.
“Cut it out!” I heard Lucy growl angrily. She leaned against Bugs’ chest, forcing him to back up. “He gets so pushy after he’s been stabled!” Lucy mumbled. She walked forward again and Bugs bounced along beside her excitedly. Bugs really could be a handful at times.
Once my tack and the horses were loaded up, we were away on the one-hour journey.
“I feel like I’ve forgotten something,” Lucy said thoughtfully five minutes later.
“Do you have your show gear?” I asked.
“Yes,” Lucy said uncertainly.
“Saddle and bridle?”
Lucy’s face went pale.
“Don’t worry, I packed you some just in case,” Steve assured her. Lucy was lucky. Her dad rode up until he in was in his late twenties, so was extremely helpful and relatively educated on horses and riding.
“Oh yay, thanks Dad,” Lucy said, the colour returning to her face. “I have hay for Bugs, jumping boots for his legs… Um… There’s a bucket in the float for water. I have Bugs’ breastplate and I think the martingale is still on it… It better be, he needs that,” Lucy said frowning.
“Stop stressing,” Steve grinned through the review mirror. “The only thing you’ve forgotten is your confidence.”
“I’m definitely not feeling very confident,” Lucy admitted.
“Bugs has been jumping so well though,” I said.
Lucy closed her eyes and leaned back against the seat. “It’s not him I’m worried about.”
The weather hadn’t seemed to keep anyone away for the showgrounds were full of uncountable floats and horse trucks. I noticed Lucy’s eyes widen with fear as she scanned her surroundings. But she bit her lip and said nothing. We pulled into an empty spot beside a big horse truck.
Then we realized who we were parked beside.
“No Dad! We have to move; we can’t park here!” Lucy cried. “Can we leave?” she begged, panicked. “Please?”
Larissa sat texting in the front seat of her parent’s truck, a new Holden Colorado. A groom in muck-out boots and a green rain jacket, was carefully plating the mane of her new Warmblood. I was unable to see his body due to his cover, but I was able to see he was a rich bay with a handsome face, and a long, well-muscled neck. He stood tall as I expected, even taller than Bugs.
“Don’t be silly Lucy. This park is in a great spot.” Steve said.
“But… but… Larissa!” she stammered, pointing.
“Oh. The girl you don’t like,” he said calmly. “Well, imagine how much more she’d hassle you if she realized she was able to drive you away from a perfect park.” Steve smiled smugly and opened the driver’s door. “Let’s unload these horses.”
Lucy looked at me in horror. I didn’t particularly want to be parked next to Larissa either, but the look on Lucy’s face was so mortified that I had to swallow a laugh. “Just ignore her,” I said. “She’s not worth worrying about.”
Lucy’s mouth dropped open like she couldn’t believe what I’d said. Then she sighed. “Let’s help Dad then.”
Bugs came scrambling off the float and peered around, his eyes near popping out of their sockets as if he couldn’t believe where he was. He let out a loud, shrill neigh. A husky neigh in the distance answered his call.
Gypsy who had been in a competitive environment many times before, slowly backed out from the float and gently pulled at the lead rope, asking to graze at the lush grass.
We tied the horses to the side of the float furthest from Larissa, and hung their hay-nets within their reach. Bugs took a quick mouthful and then stopped chewing, the hay strands hanging loosely from his mouth. He called out again, a high pitched noise that hurt my ears.
“Oh I just know he’s going to be naughty today!” Lucy held both hands to her face, staring hard at her horse as he fidgeted on his feet.
“He’s been to a few competitions now. He’ll calm down.” I assured her.
“Not a competition as big as this! There’s three times the amount of people and horses than there was at our other shows.”
Lucy did have a point. I saw bays and chestnuts all around- the most common horse colours. There was also a fair amount of greys and blacks, a handful of pinto horses, duns and palominos, and I spotted a couple of roans. A leopard-spot Appaloosa grazed across from us. There were horses so finely built they made Bugs looked heavy, and horses so heavily built they made Gypsy look fine.
Many people were already mounted and warming up for the lower classes. The heights for Showjumping Champs began at seventy-five centimetres. Some horses worked nicely on the bit while others bucked and pranced around, ignoring their rider’s aids.
Laughter and chatter surrounded us completely. Horses called out and answered each other from all different directions. I could see why Bugs, and Lucy, were overwhelmed.
“You don’t have to get on for a long-while yet. He has plenty of time to settle down,” I said.
“And plenty of time for me to worry,” Lucy added; but she forced a smile to her face. “I’ll be proud of myself once it’s over, and I’ll be so glad I did it.”
“Exactly!” I agreed, relieved to see her taking a more positive approach.
At that moment Larissa got out of the truck and strutted towards us confidently. “Well, he looks very stressed!” she commented, pointing at Bugs. “Are you sure you should be jumping him today?”
Lucy’s face dropped.
I jumped to her defense. “He will be fine once Lucy’s on!” I insisted.
“If you say so,” Larissa replied doubtfully, a frown on her heavily made-up face. At that moment Bugs called out again, spinning his hind end into Gypsy. She half-heartedly lifted a back leg as warning, while continuing to graze. Larissa smirked.
“And you’re STILL on that pony? Aren’t you seventeen now?” she demanded.
Rules were that once a rider turned seventeen they were unable to competitively show-jump a pony, sized 14.2-hands-high and under, with the exception of pony club competitions.
“Gypsy isn’t a pony. She’s 15-hands-high,” I told her, though I was sure she already knew.
“Right. Well she looks like a pony,” Larissa spoke smugly. “Especially when you’re on her.”
“I fit her fine!” I argued defensively.
“You have long legs Adele. You should really sell that nag and look for something closer to sixteen-hands.”
I scowled at her. I did have long legs, but Gypsy was wide with a large girth area, meaning my legs did not exceed her.
“Well, good luck!” Larissa enthused. “You’re going to need it,” she added, glancing once again at Bugs.
Lucy and I watched her wander away. Larissa waved to a girl who eagerly ran over to talk to her.
“She’s right,” Lucy muttered. “I’m going to do awful. Bugs is just too anxious today.”
I sighed, annoyed that Larissa had ruined Lucy’s new-found confidence. “Ignore her! You know she’ll say anything to put you down; that’s just what Larissa’s like!”
“But look at him!” Lucy cried.
Bugs had been digging at the ground with his front hoof, making a large hole. Wet mud dripped down his foreleg.
I started to gasp; he was destroying public grounds. But I stopped myself. “Um,” I thought for a minute. “I know!” I reached into the back of the truck for the feed I’d made Gypsy, tipping some of it into a blue bucket. “This might keep him quieter than the hay,” I hoped.
To both of our relief, he began to eat, pulling his head from the bucket just occasionally to look around.
“Should we go over and wait until we can walk the course then?” Lucy asked. She pulled her jacket tighter around her. Wet, dark hair stuck to her face.
“Yes, let’s go,” I agreed.
Luckily the course was set appropriately for the wet ground, wide with no technical angles or sharp turns required.
Lucy was expressing concern about the upright with a wooden box beneath it, painted like a brick wall. Lucy knew she needed to ride strongly and confidently into fences with fill; Bugs was still a little green and did tend to baulk at these fences. I was a little concerned about the double. It was set for two strides for a big horse. I couldn’t decide whether to push Gypsy for a long stride, or whether to collect her up and pop in a third. I decided I’d see what other riders on smaller mounts did.
Bugs had finished his feed but calmed down immensely by the time we arrived back at the float. While still alert to his surroundings, he stood quietly, resting a hind leg.
Lucy gave him a scratch on his head. “Thank goodness you’ve calmed down.”
After what felt like forever we were heading towards the practice jumps, Lucy mounted and me walking because it was too soon to bring Gypsy out.
“Relax,” I told Lucy. She sat tense from nerves on Bugs’ back. He danced beneath her, head held high. “He’ll relax if you relax.”
Lucy looked at me, her eyes full of worry. Lucy had always been anxious at competitions, but today was the worst I’d seen her. Possibly both the poor weather and the new height were tipping her over the edge.
Steve was up ahead, speaking to one of the judges. He’d proven very helpful today, helping to groom, plat, and tack-up both horses.
The drizzle had eased off for now, but the dark sky promised more rain.
They were nearing the last of those competing in the 95 centimetres class, which meant Lucy would be on soon. “I’m going to go and warm up,” she told me. She smiled faintly. “Maybe he’ll calm down once we’re actually doing something.” Bugs didn’t need any encouragement to trot; he took off like a Standardbred racing in harness.
I had a lot of time to spare. I turned to face the ring, staying on both feet, the grass too wet to take a seat. Steve walked up beside me. “How is Lucy doing?” he asked.
“She’s pretty anxious,” I admitted.
Steve nodded knowingly. “I might go and see how she’s doing.”
I watched a lean, grey horse pop cleanly around the course. His rider was well aware of the ground conditions and rode him accordingly. A few slick, skid marks led up to each jump, especially the wall jump- probably from horses skidding into refusal.
Wet, slippery mud.
I bit my lip, concerned. It was not the best day to be competing at a new height; I’d have to ride this course very, very carefully.
The next rider rode on too tight of a rein, causing her beautiful Arabian to fight for his head. She sat rigid. While holding him back, she also urged him forward with her spurs. The poor little horse was clearly very confused. He had no choice other than to leap into his fences. Without the freedom to use his head over the fence, he crashed down the top rail of the first jump. The rider responded to this by tightening her reins even further, causing the Arab to throw his head further back to avoid the pressure of her hands. Fighting her abruptly, he bounced into the next fence. Naturally, she held on tighter. Head to his chest, he plunged into the air in attempt to clear the fence. While his hind hoof hit the back pole, it miraculously managed to stay up.
The little horse bolted forward towards the next fence, mouth open wide against the Dutch Gag. I cringed as she sat back, her weight against his mouth. I caught a glimpse of her fearful face and wished for the horse’s sake that she’d retire.
Give him his head! I wanted to scream. But of course, I didn’t.
I watched with worry as they approached the third fence, an oxer. It appeared extra muddy in front of this fence. Unable to use his head and neck for balance, he slipped and slid straight into the jump.
There were gasps all around. Poles clattered loudly, scattering the ground. Helpers hurried to re-build the fence.
I watched, my anger growing, as the rider gave the frightened horse two hard smacks with the whip. He jumped forward, the whites of his wild eyes showing, his mouth foaming.
She trotted him around, waiting for her second chance to attempt the oxer. While she did so, she lengthened her reins slightly. I could almost hear the Arab sigh with relief as his eyes softened and he lowered his head. He trotted around obediently, stretching his stiff neck down towards the ground.
The bell rang and she re-tightened her reins.
His head shot back up.
The rider kicked him harshly into a fast, uncollected canter. He approached the fence with his ears flat against his head, tossing up mud as he ran. He again, skidded to a halt, his front hooves tapping the fence. Luckily this time the jump stayed standing.
By the third attempt both rider and horse had given up. The rider merely sat there, her legs still and ineffective. The little Arabian stopped metres out from the jump.
Three refusals. They were eliminated.
The girl rode out. Her face red beneath her helmet, I could see that she was crying. The horse looked simply relieved to be leaving the ring and I felt relieved for him also.
The fences were then put up to 1.05 metres. There were just two riders before Lucy was due on. The first rider rode too quickly, taking down three rails.
Lucy appeared beside me. Bugs’ warm up had definitely transformed him- He looked half asleep! “He looks calm,” I commented, rubbing beneath his forelock.
“He actually jumped really well in the warm up,” Lucy said. “I’m still so scared though. I’m sick with nerves; totally sick!”
“Maybe you should have entered 95 centimetres too,” I said. “Then you would have been more relaxed for your 1.05 metres round.”
“Well it’s too late now!” Lucy snapped in reply.
I raised an eyebrow at her, a smile playing on my lips. I was use to Lucy’s outbursts in situations that stressed her out.
“Sorry, I’m just so stressed,” she muttered apologetically.
I turned back to the ring. The current horse and rider had gone clear for the first round, but when the bell went off for the jump-off, in a desperate attempt to get a fast time, he pushed his horse too fast and he slipped, taking a rail.
“Lucy, go really slow. Don’t worry about time faults. A lot of people are taking rails because they’re going too quick. It’s too risky with the wet ground, both for the sake of taking rails and for the sake of Bugs,” I told her quickly.
Lucy didn’t reply. Her face tight with fear, she wandered slowly into the ring.
Poor Lucy. I felt bad for her. I hoped she’d do well.
“You’ll be fine Lucy!” Steve called after her.
Bugs had luckily remained calm- for now. He pottered around at the trot, softening into the bit as they waited for the starting bell.
I crossed my fingers as Lucy sat back and asked Bugs for a canter. She collected him up and they approached the first fence. It was impossible to see Lucy’s face from here, but I could imagine she’d look terrified. Bugs on the other hand, pricked his ears, tucked up his knees and cleared the first fence confidently. He sped up on the other side, eager for the next fence. Lucy must have taken my advice for she half halted him back to a slower canter, barely faster than a collected dressage canter. He tugged at the bit slightly, fighting to go faster, but relaxed as they approached the second fence, clearing it with ease.
They continued forward like this, Bugs occasionally fighting Lucy between jumps, but giving in to her when faced with each fence. They cleared the double with no problems, two perfect strides. As they turned the corner towards the wall fence, Bugs’ hind legs slipped out beneath him.
“Uh oh,” Steve murmured.
My heart skipped a beat.
But he picked himself up and continued forward.
I held my breath as they approached the wall fence. Lucy sat back defensively. “Ride him forward Lucy!” I hissed quietly.
Bugs lowered his head, staring wide-eyed at the wall as he found himself being driven towards it. He started to back off, slowing his pace.
But Lucy felt it.
She closed her legs and urged him forward with her seat. He responded, and then it was too late for him to stop. He had to go over. He appeared to panic for a moment, switching his canter lead right before take-off. He plunged high into the air but Lucy was prepared and sat the leap well. He wasn’t touching that wall!
“Yes!” I cheered under my breath.
Bugs landed in a disunited canter. With no time to correct it, they were facing the last fence. Unbalanced, Bugs slipped going into the fence, nearly landing face first. I knew he was going to take a rail. The odds were not in his favour this time.
But no. To my amazement, Bugs twisted his body and scraped over the fence, the rail still intact.
“Wow! He’s such an honest horse!” I exclaimed to Steve.
“She did well staying on that one!” Steve laughed. “Look, she’s lost one of her stirrups!”
I hadn’t realized. Lucy corrected herself just in time for the second bell. She increased her speed only slightly for a safe and tidy jump-off.
She trotted over, a huge grin on her face. “He was amazing!” she exclaimed happily. She dismounted and wrapped both arms around his neck.
“You were both amazing!” I corrected her.
“Well done champ!” Steve congratulated her, patting Bugs’ sweaty neck.
“I want to do it again!” Lucy exclaimed excitedly.
Steve looked at me and rolled his eyes. He turned back to Lucy. “Before you weren’t sure you wanted to do it even the one time!”
“I know… But I feel differently now,” she replied, poking out her tongue. “I’m going to take Bugs back to the float. Are you going to get Gypsy now?”
“I might as well. After your class there’s only five riders in 1.15 metres and six in 1.25 metres- Although I am last on,” I replied. “I thought there would be more riders.”
“One of the judges said a few riders have pulled out due to weather conditions,” Steve told me. “They are probably smart,” he added chuckling. His face turned grim. “We’re lucky it hasn’t rained again for a bit, because the ground is bad enough without it.”
Finally, the 1.15 metres class came to an end. My family had arrived to watch my round, and I had bridled and mounted Gypsy, who felt sluggish beneath me. “Come on girl! Wake up!” I laughed. I gently asked Gypsy to soften at the poll, and popped her into a trot. She did as she was told; slowly. Usually she was a forward moving ride before showjumping, excited for what lay ahead.
I decided she must have spent too long standing around; or perhaps the weather was putting her off. Using more leg than usually necessary, I collected her up a bit more and asked for a canter.
She obliged. But she felt different.
Gypsy cantered like the Western horse she was bred to be. Asking to stretch forward and down, she cantered ever so slowly, her gait flatter than usual. The warm up area was churned up like the showjumping ring, and I wondered if she was simply being cautious to balance herself.
I pointed her at one of the warm-up fences; a simple straight bar. To my relief, she picked up impulsion at the sight of the fence. Her ears pricked forward. She took off nicely but stumbled on landing and I near face-planted on her neck, grasping her mane. I’d left out a small piece of Gypsy’s mane. I often held onto it for extra balance over fences when required. It was a good way to ensure I didn’t accidentally pull on her sensitive mouth.
“Larissa is in now!” Lucy came running over to me. “You’re next!” she hopped from one foot to the other. She acted like her horse as much as she looked like him. Either excitable and happy, or stressed and anxious, depending on the situation. Sometimes hanging out with Lucy was like hanging out with two different people.
Disappointed to be entering my round on a bad note, I slowly followed Lucy.
Larissa had gone clear and was starting her jump-off round. Her new horse was definitely impressive to watch. He had an enormous canter and a jumping technique to die for. Larissa however, always under pressure to win, was too focused on speed. Her horse slid on his feet a few times, but expertly re-gathered himself, until the last fence where Larissa rode him like her life depended on it. Sensing her determination, he excitedly put on a burst of speed, sliding a stride out. It was too late to correct himself and so he took the back rail with his front feet.
Larissa rode out cursing under her breath. She dismounted and shoved the reins into the hands of a groom.
“Oooh, she won’t be happy about that,” Lucy mused, just loud enough for me to hear. She looked up at me, her brown eyes sparkling. “Well. Go get ‘em!”
I smiled at her. But I was nervous. Our warm-up had knocked my confidence.
The dark sky looked menacing above me. A drop of rain landed on my glove. As I trotted around the jump course, I realized just how terrible the ground really was. The ground felt squishy, giving me a similar feeling to riding in deep sand. The weight of the horses had left deep hoof prints in the soft ground. The grass had been rubbed raw, a prominent line of uneven mud leading up to each fence. What was left of the grass still glistened with water.
Another rain drop hit my glove. And another.
I frowned as doubt clouded my mind. Is this such a good idea? It’s so slippery. Maybe I should pull out. What if I mess up? I thought. But everybody else has managed to go around safely, I argued with myself. Although, they went before me. The ground has worsened with every round.
I focused on Gypsy, staring down at her darkening neck. The rain was falling rapidly now. What’s taking them so long? I asked myself. Maybe I should pull out…
The bell rang.
I glanced at my parents, who stared back expectantly, sheltered under a large umbrella. Lucy gave me a thumbs up. I couldn’t read Steve’s expression.
I gave Gypsy the cue to canter. She obliged, this time enthusiastically, and I steered her into the first fence, holding my breath. Gypsy didn’t falter despite the ground conditions. I was so lucky to have such a careful, sure-footed horse. As we landed on the other side, all doubt escaped my mind. She cleared the next few just as nicely, her wet neck reaching up to greet me. The rain was coming down hard now, but it didn’t matter. We maintained our rhythm and she jumped each one as effortlessly as the last. Gypsy saw the double and sped up, flattening her stride. I cursed under my breath, realizing I’d forgotten to pay attention to how other riders on smaller horses took the double. I bit my lip and closed my outside rein, asking Gypsy to come back to me. “It’s too slippery,” I told her. Gypsy pulled gently against me, disagreeing with my decision. But she reluctantly slowed down.
It was when we neared the fence that I realized my sweet little horse knew what she was doing. Gypsy had been going for the long stride I’d been considering earlier, and I was a fool not to have let her. “Sorry girl!”
I sat and waited. I knew we were going to take down the second fence to the double and there was nothing I could do about it.
But Gypsy had other ideas.
I counted my striding on approach. One, two, three, four… I prepared for take-off, but to my surprise Gypsy kept going for a fifth stride.
The double was right there. We were in too deep.
Cringing, I sat back to ensure I wouldn’t go flying when Gypsy crashed through the jump.
And I got left behind.
I didn’t know how she did it. I’d never know how she did it. Somehow Gypsy sprung over, her body sailing with her front legs following. She popped me up and out of the saddle. My feet flew back deep into the stirrups. I let the reins slip through my hands to ensure Gypsy had full freedom of her head and neck. Gravity pulled me back into the saddle as her front feet hit the ground. I landed hard on her neck, grabbing the loose piece of mane as she sailed clear over the second part of the double. I slid to the side, and Gypsy slowed down allowing me to correct myself.
Gypsy had just done the impossible.
My hands shook violently on the reins. My heart bet wildly in my chest. “You are one crazy mare,” I said in a shaky whisper.
She didn’t argue for the rest of the course. She didn’t need to. She knew she could clear the other fences from a slow rounded canter; this horse had springs in her feet. Gypsy cleared the wall and finished the round clear. She was so clever on her feet that she hadn’t slipped once.
The bell for the jump-off rang and Gypsy sprang back into canter. I didn’t need to ask; she knew the second bell was the cue for to start the jump-off. She quickened her pace but I asked her to go slow. Her ears flickered towards me as she collected back up into a slow canter. I knew she’d be feeling confused.
She flew over the first fence, stretching her neck out as we sailed through the air. My heart was positively soaring. She sped up again on landing and this time, I gave in to my insecurities and I let her.
This horse had saved me so many times. She’d covered my mistakes, clearing rails I considered a definite goner. She’d prevented me from falling in every way a horse possibly could. She taught me something new every time we competed. She’d bought me this far… Who was I to question her?
“I trust you,” I murmured.
She cleared the next fence, slipping slightly on landing. However, she quickly regathered herself and carried on contently, so I continued to let her choose her pace.
I felt so free. It was just Gypsy and I. Everybody else was forgotten.
At the second to last jump, everything went wrong.
Gypsy sped up. Her usually smooth canter turned bumpy. Her head shot up high as she bounded towards the fence, each stride jarring my back.
Despite the increase of pace, everything seemed to go in slow motion. Suddenly, I could feel the rain pelting down on my back. I could hear it, thundering onto my helmet. I could feel the cold, damp water seeping through my gloves.
Pouring… It was pouring…
I heard voices; people talking. It wasn’t just me and Gypsy anymore. Did I hear shouting? My mind clouded over and I was hit with a wave of dread.
Gypsy took the jump long, hollowing her back. She touched the rail, but it remained. She stumbled as she landed and I heard a crack, ever so quietly that I could have imagined it. That gentle sound filled me with apprehension. She scrambled back up and continued forward.
Her gait so rough; her head so high; her ears so flat.
I felt her body trembling just slightly as she ran. I heard someone screaming.
Something’s wrong. Something’s wrong. Something’s wrong. The words chanted in my head, a continuous wave of anxiety.
I pulled hard on one rein, struggling to turn Gypsy away from the incoming fence.
But it was like she wasn’t there.
Ignoring me, she continued on. We were a stride out from the final fence. It was too late to pull her out safely. Terrified, I tensed and prepared for the worst. Gypsy leaped high into the air. Up… up… up… I grasped desperately at her mane as both stirrups were lost. For a brief moment it was as though time stood still. I felt frozen in midair, high above the fence, my stomach turned over in fear.
Then we plunged down.
Down… down… down…
She scrambled along the ground; frantic.
Something’s wrong. Something’s wrong. Something’s wrong.
Gypsy seemed to vanish out from under me and I felt myself sail through the air. I landed hard on my back, the wind knocked out from inside of me. Pain shot through my body. I was too stunned to make a sound as I saw Gypsy above me; only she was falling.
I was about to be squashed.
Unable to move, I jammed my eyes tightly shut and waited for further pain.
Suddenly, someone grabbed my arm roughly, hoisting me out of harm’s way. A moment later I felt a whoosh of cool air followed by a deafening thud as Gypsy’s body slammed onto the ground, just inches from where I lay.
For a moment all was silent. My body in shock, I’d temporarily lost my sense of hearing. I was so confused. I knew everything was wrong; I knew it was bad; but I couldn’t process what had happened, or why it had happened. Then suddenly, I could hear again.
“Adele! Adele, honey, are you okay?” Mum’s distressed voice.
I heard squeaky footsteps as they approached me quickly through the wet mud. “Is she okay?” Lucy’s voice. So loud.
I heard whispers and soft murmurs all around. I thought I heard crying. The thundering rain had lightened back down to a weak drizzle.
I heard a man’s voice. “Call the vet. The horse is going to need put down,” followed by a loud gasp.
That’s when I forced myself back to reality, launching myself up to a sitting position so fast that I screamed in agony. My back! It hurt so much! Such a sharp, sharp pain, all down my spine.
“Lie back down,” Mum placed her hand on my shoulder, encouraging me to get back down. But I ignored her.
Mum, Dad, Lucy, Natasha, Steve, and one of the fence judges stood surrounding me. Everybody else stood back, watching and murmuring sadly from the sidelines.
My eyes flew to the area Gypsy had fallen. She must have gotten to her feet whilst I was in a daze for she stood a few metres back. Her ears pricked forward, she gazed around contently. I sighed with relief. She was okay. What was that man talking about?
That’s when I saw it.
Her right foreleg; it dangled loosely from the joint.
A wave of nausea rolled over me and I swallowed hard, forcing away the taste of vomit. My body began to shake violently.
This is a nightmare. This isn’t real.
Then I was screaming; screaming and crying. My physical pain forgotten, I threw my body around, wailing uncontrollably. My head pounded and my vision blurred through my never-ending flow of tears.
“No, no, no, no, no, no, no…” I thought that maybe if I said the word enough times, this wouldn’t be real.
Then Mum was crying. She grasped me in a tight hug. “It’s okay honey, it’s okay,” she murmured. I don’t know why people say it’s okay even when it’s clearly not okay. It’d never be okay.
I pulled away from her and dragged myself to my feet, waving slightly. I had to be with Gypsy.
I approached her and threw my arms around her neck, sobbing loudly into her matted mane, her sweet horsey scent faint beneath the smell of wet-horse.
Gypsy still looked so content and I didn’t understand why. Doesn’t it hurt?
“I’m s… so sorry. I’m so sorry, so sorry, so sorry…” I was worried about the ground conditions, but I’d jumped her anyway. I’d risked her life… For what? Now she had a broken leg… And now…
“You know what this means, don’t you Adele?” a voice said behind me. Dad’s voice. I turned. His voice was calm, but his eyes were wet. “The vet is on the way.”
I knew this had to happen, but hearing it finalized everything, and my already broken heart shattered completely. I couldn’t handle this.
“It… it’s all my fault…” I stammered.
“No honey. Accidents happen,” Mum reached for me again. “It’s not your fault.”
Lucy, who had vanished to the car, came back with Gypsy’s feed. “I’ll see if she wants to eat while we wait,” she said quietly, her eyes fixated on the bucket. Then she glanced quickly at me with her tear-streaked face. “I’m so sorry,” she choked out.
Gypsy buried her face in the bucket, gratefully eating the feed offered.
“Why doesn’t she look sore? M… Maybe it’s not as bad as it looks… Maybe we can save her,” I cried hopefully.
“Her body has gone into shock. You don’t need to worry, she’s not in pain for now. But that’s a clean break. I’m sorry,” a man with shaggy dark hair answered beside me. The fence judge.
“That’s right,” Dad agreed apologetically, placing his hand on Gypsy’s shoulder.
“I’ll untack her,” Lucy offered.
Gypsy hungrily finished her feed and tossed the bucket away. I rubbed beneath her forelock in gentle, circular motions, watching her big brown eyes soften. She sighed and lowered her head, resting her nose upon my thighs. I cried quietly. No words could describe the sadness I experienced. These were my final moments with my beloved horse; all because I took a stupid risk.
Everybody stood watching in silence, lost for words. There was nothing anybody could say to make this nightmare any easier.
All too soon the vet arrived- a short, wiry, little man with glasses. He drove a red truck, towing a big trailer. The trailer was to remove Gypsy’s body once she was euthanized, I knew.
Once she was killed. Dead.
A fresh flood of tears exploded to the surface, and I once again buried my face into Gypsy’s neck.
“Such a shame,” the vet spoke in a surprisingly deep voice for his petite size. “How did it happen?”
“She slipped showjumping,” Dad spoke under his breath, as though trying to stop me from hearing. I didn’t understand why. I knew she’d slipped showjumping. I knew it was all my fault.
“Hmm, yes. It’s not the best day for it,” the vet replied. He stepped up beside Gypsy and I. “Is she your horse?” he asked me.
I nodded without looking at him.
“She’s a very nice mare,” he commented.
“Not for long,” I said hastily, my voice cracking.
“This happens more often than you’d think,” he said. “We should probably do this quickly. I think the pain is starting to kick in.”
I gasped and grasped her tighter, afraid to let her go.
“This won’t hurt her a bit. I promise. It will just be like she’s going to sleep,” the vet assured me.
Except this time, she won’t wake up… I thought.
Trembling, I took a step back. I didn’t ever want this moment to come, but the idea of the pain coming on made me terrified for her. I didn’t want her to suffer… I owed her that. And as I looked at her, I knew I was making the right decision; the time was now. She appeared to stand hollow, her ears drooped to the sides. Her head was lowered and her beautiful eyes looked sad; so sad. I whimpered softly, over-whelmed with guilt.
“Can everybody please back away?” the fence judge called out to all those watching. “Give these guys some privacy please. Go back to your vehicles.”
Mum smiled gratefully at him. I didn’t care either way. Whether there were strangers watching, or only us, we got the same result- Gypsy’s death.
I stood stroking my mare, unable to speak; unable to say goodbye. As her legs waivered and collapsed beneath her, I too, fell to the ground still stroking her warm body. I lay against her, ignoring the mud seeping into my clothes, and I cried. Everybody else was forgotten once again. It was just Gypsy and I.
Then it was just me, stroking the corpse of which once was my horse.
The rest of the day went by in a blur. A man in a forklift had to hoist Gypsy’s body onto the trailer. I didn’t know who had arranged that. Plans had been made for her to be buried at Ridgewood stables.
The rest of the competition was called off. Lucy had placed second on Bugs, but it was no longer a day worthy of celebrating.
Sorry people kept glancing my way as I headed to my parent’s car; I was traveling home with them. Even Larissa had nothing rude to say as I grabbed my gear from Steve’s truck.
The drive home was morbid and quiet; even Natasha didn’t speak.
As soon as we arrived home I climbed the stairs to my room. I refused dinner and got into bed where I cried, occasionally falling into a light sleep to escape agony, not only emotional but physical, for my head pounded with a bad headache. I’d escape for a little bit only to wake up again and cry some more. I even managed to sleep for a straight hour and when I woke up again, just for a moment, I’d forgotten that anything bad had happened. For just a moment everything was okay, only to have the day’s events flashing back to me, horrifying me once again.
The day quickly turned into night. Tossing and turning, the day’s events repetitive in my head, I somehow found a way to cry myself to sleep.
The sun shone through the gap in the curtains, warming my face and awakening me the next morning. I opened my eyes groggily and cursed myself for not shutting the curtains completely. I longed to close my eyes and disappear once again, to a world where yesterday was unknown to me; but the fresh pain washing over me meant that was not an option; I was wide awake. I reached over to my dresser, gasping as a sharp pain thundered down my back, and read the time on my cell phone. 9.05am.
Today Gypsy would have had a day off riding as a reward for her hard work the day prior. I would have headed out to the stables, given Gypsy a small feed with all the vitamins and minerals she required, then groomed her until her coat shined. I would have spoken quietly to her as I always did, talking about absolutely anything that crossed my mind. The radio would have been playing quietly in the garage beside us. Gypsy would have stood contently, enjoying the feel of the brushes bristles gently massaging her skin.
Now, Gypsy had forever off riding. Never again would her golden coat glisten. Never again would she be there to listen.
Tears filled my eyes. I knew today was going to be a long and horrible day. Maybe the rest of my life would be. I lay back down; I might have been wide awake, but I felt too devastated to do anything at all. I cried until I had nothing left, then I curled into a ball and simply lay there, forcing my mind into a blank state. I longed for a drink of water and a wheat pack for my back, but I couldn’t bring myself to leave the bed.
I must have drifted back to sleep. I woke an hour later to a gentle knock on the door. Mum wandered in with a plate of pancakes and a big glass of water. “Hungry?” she asked softly.
“No,” I replied, but reached for the water. How could anyone be hungry at a time like this?
“Well I’ll leave these here for you. Is there anything else I can get you?”
“Um… My back is still really sore,” I mumbled.
“I’ll go and heat you up a wheat pack and bring you some paracetamol.”
She left, re-entering the room five-minutes later to pass me two paracetamol tablets and the wheat pack. “I struggled to sleep last night,” Mum told me quietly, making me guilty that I’d managed to sleep.
I placed the wheat bag onto my bed and lay down on my back so the heat was applied to the painful area. It soothed it, and I felt a mild sense of relief. Mum sat down on my bed brushing a piece of hair from out of my eyes. She sat there, simply watching me. I ignored her and closed my eyes.
After a while Mum stood back up. “Let me know if you need anything,” she said.
I lay there all day, Mum occasionally coming to heat up my wheat pack. I had a sense of ‘not being’ and I welcomed this as opposed to the sadness I’d felt so much of.
By 6pm my stomach rumbled loudly, and guilty that I could feel hunger in my grief, I reluctantly picked up one of the now-cold pancakes.
I was munching away when Lucy opened my bedroom door and peered at me. “Can I come in?”
“Mm,” I mumbled in reply, propping myself up against the wall.
She sat down on the bed beside me. “How are you doing?” she asked. She looked so uncomfortable, fiddling with her hands.
I looked down and shrugged.
“Your Mum told me to tell you we plan to have the burial tomorrow,” Lucy murmured.
Sadness rushed over me, drowning my blank state of mind. I blinked back tears; I didn’t want to cry again. I wasn’t ready to face the burial of my horse; but then I’d never be ready.
“I…” I tried to speak. “I don’t want to be there.” But I knew I’d go. It was my last chance to say goodbye.
Lucy placed a hand on my knee and looked at me with sad eyes. “It’s not your fault. You know that, right?”
I shook my head. “No Lucy. It is my fault. The ground was so wet and so muddy… so slippery.” I stared at her solemnly through tear-blurred vision. “I risked her life.”
“You didn’t know… It was a freak accident; it could have happened to anyone,” Lucy insisted.
“The worst part is, a moment before the bell rang, I had doubts. I had doubts Lucy; but I rode her anyway. If I’d listened to them, Gypsy would still be alive today.” A hot tear ran down my cheek and I furiously brushed it away. I hated myself.
“There’s no point thinking ‘what if?’ Adele. We’re only human, and not all of our choices can be the right ones. I competed Bugs despite the grounds… So did everybody else there. Does that make us wrong too[?_] Am I… I mean are _we all, bad people?” Lucy cried.
I didn’t reply. I didn’t know how to.
“It could have happened to any of us Adele…”
“But it happened to me. The grounds weren’t as bad when it was your turn. By the time it was my turn, it was so much worse,” my voice cracked.
Lucy sighed. “It doesn’t really matter now.”
My face flushed and I glared at her. “My horse is dead, and you say it doesn’t matter now?! It will always matter Lucy! I’ll always be carrying this guilt, and I’ll always miss Gypsy! Always!” I shook my head in disbelief. How could she say that?
“I… I didn’t mean that,” she stammered. “I only meant it doesn’t matter whose fault it is… It doesn’t matter what you could have done differently. She’s gone and there’s nothing that can be done to change that.”
My anger was quickly taken over with the all-too-familiar feeling of sadness. The idea of Gypsy really being gone was too much to comprehend. The fact I’d never see her again hurt more than words could ever describe. Only technically, I would see her again; her body; her empty soul-less body dumped into the ground and covered with dirt.
Lucy smiled at me suddenly. A sad half-smile. “Did you know she won for you?”
I stared at her in confusion.
“You guys got first. You won your first ever 1.25 metres class,” she explained. An un-readable expression crossed Lucy’s face. “She carried you to a win with a broken leg.”
I stood staring into the huge, deep hole.
My family was there. Lucy and Steve were there. Michael, the owner of Ridgewood stables, stood with us too. The hot sun shone shot brightly above us. A gentle, warm breeze played gently through my brown air. The weather didn’t fit the atmosphere at all. It was a reminder that while everything felt so broken to me, the world would keep spinning; with or without my happiness.
It had been a struggle to get out of bed; a struggle to face what lay ahead. My face was blotched with pink and my eyes were rimmed red.
All else was silent as Gypsy’s body was lowered into the Earth. Natasha appeared unable to watch, her head buried deep into Mum’s coat. All faces were serious, with the exception of Michael who stood so contently that from his expression alone, you’d never have guessed him to be at a funeral.
“Does anyone want to say something then?” Michael asked cheerfully. Too cheerfully.
All eyes were on me. “I… I can’t,” I stammered, my eyes filling up with tears.
“It’s okay,” Lucy whispered, placing a supportive hand on my shoulder.
“Anybody?” Michael asked.
Then to my surprise Dad spoke up. “I will.” He shuffled closer to the grave, his hands shoved deep into his pockets. He cleared his throat. “I don’t trust horses,” he started. “When we bought Gypsy for Adele I was anxious. I know horse riding can be dangerous, and I kept expecting Adele to get hurt. Over time that horse allowed me to worry less and less, because I knew that Gypsy was looking after my daughter.
Adele loved Gypsy from the very first moment she saw her, and do you know what? I think that horse damn well loved her too!” Dad paused, glancing around the solemn faces. “The partnership between the two of them gave me an appreciation for horses. Thank you Gypsy, for helping and looking after my daughter. Rest in peace.” He bowed his head.
My pain was mixed with love at this moment; love for my father and his kind words.
Everybody repeated, “Rest in peace.”
“Shall we bury her then?” Michael suggested.
“Um,” I muttered. “Could I have a moment alone with her?” I asked shyly. I had to say goodbye to my beloved horse. I couldn’t merely walk away.
“Do you all want to come in for a coffee?” Michael gave me a quick smile, and I smiled through my tears in appreciation.
“You just come and get us when you’re ready, honey,” Mum said.
I watched as everybody followed Michael towards the house, leaving me alone. I turned back to the grave and stared down at Gypsy’s lifeless body, wondering where she was now; if she was anywhere at all. I couldn’t bear the thought of her simply not existing.
I knelt down beside her grave. “I’m so sorry girl. I didn’t mean for it to happen,” I whispered. “You’re crazy you know. You didn’t have to keep going for me. You won for me though. Lucy told me yesterday that you won for me. We even beat Larissa,” I told her. “But I’d be happy to never win again, if I could only keep you with me.
“You are the best horse in the world. I could never, ever find a horse like you because you are one in a billion. Living without you is just too much for me to comprehend. The only thing that could ever keep me going, is the thought that one day I’ll see you again.” No longer hysterical, I felt calm, as though floating upon a lake of sadness, comforted by my own words. “I love you Gypsy. Goodbye for now.”
Days passed by in a blur. I ate little, rarely left my bed, and spent my time sleeping, or flicking through images of Gypsy, our memories fresh in my mind. I lacked motivation to do anything. Life just seemed so pointless without Gypsy to ride and care for. I no longer had goals, ambitions, or a happy place. I cried on and off throughout the daytime, and thanked God for keeping her out of my dreams.
One afternoon Lucy came over. “Are you ready for school next week?”
“What day is it?” I asked. I’d lost track of the days. They had no meaning anymore.
“Monday,” Lucy replied.
“No… School starts on Monday,” Lucy raised an eyebrow at me. “Today is Friday.”
I groaned. I knew school would be starting again soon, but I hadn’t realized just how soon. “I’ll never be ready for school,” I moaned.
“At least it’s only one more year,” Lucy said. “I’m not looking forward to it either.”
“I just want to stay here forever,” I mumbled, yanking the duvet up over my head.
Lucy reached for it, pulling it back off my face. She looked at me, her face serious. “It’s nearly been a week since Gypsy’s funeral. You should come outside and get some fresh air. It’ll make you feel better,” she insisted.
I glared at her. Nothing would make me feel better.
“Or, why don’t we go see a movie or something?” Lucy suggested. “We could go shopping… Or go out for tea. You need to get out of the house!”
“No thanks,” I replied sharply.
“How about we go and ride Bugs?” she spoke casually, rolling a piece of hair around her finger.
Anger rushed over me and I struggled to push it aside. “No!”
“Why not? You don’t have to jump him if you’ve lost confidence. Flat work would do him good; or you could ride him on the road and I’ll walk. I don’t mind.”
“I haven’t lost my confidence!” I snapped. “I’m not riding Bugs. Not now, not ever!”
Lucy looked hurt. “What’s wrong with Bugs?”
“You don’t get it, do you?” I spoke carefully through gritted teeth. “I’m not riding Bugs because I’m not riding any horse ever again!” I surprised myself a little. The decision had lingered at the back of my mind since the day Gypsy died, but not only was this the first time I’d told Lucy, it was the first time I’d admitted it to myself.
Lucy gasped, her eyes wide with surprise. “But riding means everything to you!” she argued.
“Well it doesn’t anymore.”
“What about your showjumping career?” she exclaimed.
“Luckily Mum made me stay at school. For the first time ever I understand what she meant by ‘just in case.’”
“But what will you do?” Lucy’s voice softened.
“I have a year to figure that out.” I thought for a moment. “Maybe I’ll just work in a supermarket. What does it matter anyway?”
Lucy stared at me in disbelief. I stared back, challenging her to push the subject further. She looked away and climbed slowly to her feet. “I know you’re upset about Gypsy, Adele. The thing is that she’s dead, and there is nothing you can do about it,” she spoke bluntly. “You need to get on with your life.”
I looked at her in horror. “It hasn’t even been a week!” I shouted. “Gypsy was everything to me! And I killed her Lucy! I killed her!” I felt so hurt, so angry. “So forgive me if I haven’t forgotten that she ever existed after six days, Lucy!” I finished, my voice dripping with sarcasm.
“Moving on doesn’t mean forgetting her,” Lucy said calmly. A small half-smile crossed her face. “Just remember, she is just a horse.”
With that, Lucy turned the door handle and stepped out of my bedroom, leaving me in a state of shock, for I did not know Lucy could be so cold-hearted.
I puffed up my pillow and snuggled into it. I felt too furious to cry, so I lay there trembling with anger until eventually I calmed down. I don’t need Lucy anyway, I told myself.
The truth was, deep down I needed her more than anything.
Monday morning arrived far too quickly.
“You’re still not up! You need to get up right now,” Mum insisted. “You’re running late!”
I groaned and shuffled deeper beneath my sheets. The truth was, I wasn’t tired. I was simply not ready to face school, nor the people. I wasn’t ready to face discussing what happened to Gypsy with my school friends.
I wasn’t ready to face Lucy…
Mum yanked the blankets off me, and I was hit with a wave of cool morning air. I looked at her with pleading eyes. “Please don’t make me go,” I begged her. “Please.”
Mum sighed. “You’ve been in bed for over a week now. I think today will be good for you.”
“I’m not ready; I’ll break down about Gypsy in front of everybody!” I cried.
“I’m sure people will understand,” Mum replied, throwing me my school uniform. “Imagine how much worse it’d be turning up to school days after everybody else has already started.”
I knew Mum was not going to give in. I rolled off the bed onto the floor, and began to slowly get dressed, starting with my school socks. Not long after, I was hustled into the car, a piece of banana cake in my hand. I had no time for a real breakfast. I didn’t even have time to brush my hair. But I didn’t care; my appearance held no significance to me.
I entered the classroom just as the bell rang. I had English first and my new English Teacher, Mrs. Baird, was writing her name on the whiteboard. Lucy was in my English class and I spotted her in the front row, a text book on the desk in front of her. She glanced briefly at me before returning to her text book. I sighed, and chose a seat in the middle row next to a quiet girl named Anna. I didn’t feel like conversing with anyone.
The day dragged by slowly and I tried desperately to focus on my school work, but never-ending thoughts of Gypsy crossed my mind, distracting me.
When the bell rang for lunch, I headed outside. It was another nice Summer day. I headed towards our usual lunch spot, a couple picnic tables shadowed by a large tree. I spotted my two friends, Danielle and Izzy.
Between them sat Lucy.
I hesitated, then continued towards them. Danielle and Izzy were my friends too. A little conflict between Lucy and I wasn’t going to keep me away from them. I did not like the idea of eating lunch alone- I still had some dignity.
As I neared, I heard Lucy and Danielle’s conversation.
“I’ve got Bugs on this new formula to help him build muscle,” Lucy was telling Danielle. “I swear I can already see an improvement, and he has only been on it for a week!”
Danielle nodded. “That sounds really good.” Danielle, like us, loved horses. She didn’t own her own horse yet, but got fortnightly lessons and went horse trekking on a gelding named Casper at her auntie’s farm.
Izzy looked up from the orange she was peeling. “Hi Adele,” she greeted me. “Did you enjoy your holidays?”
I felt surprised that Lucy hadn’t filled the two of them in about Gypsy. Danielle gave me a quick smile, then turned her attention back to Lucy. Lucy didn’t even glance at me.
“Unfortunately no,” I replied honestly. “At least not the second half.”
Izzy looked at me questionably and I quickly explained what had happened, leaving out the part that it was all my fault. My heart lurched as I went through the story again, and I wondered how many times I’d have to tell it in this lifetime.
“I’m so sorry!” Izzy cried. She was genuine, but I knew she wouldn’t truly understand. Izzy didn’t like horses. She wasn’t a fan of many animals at all for that matter. She feared practically anything that moved, and obsessed her life around her boyfriend.
Danielle who had overheard me, threw her hand to her mouth. “Oh man. I couldn’t bear it if Casper died. That sucks! That really, really sucks.” I nodded. What was I supposed to say to that?
Danielle wasn’t great with words. Not much of a talker, she was the listener in all of her friendships. Danielle was the type of person who appeared to lack emotion; nothing fazed Danielle much. She brushed off her repetitively bad grades, and never let her solid figure or face of freckles get in the way of asking out a guy she fancied. She was relaxed and full of confidence, and I envied her for that. Despite appearing careless, she was deep down a gentle soul who loved horses and animals of all shapes and sizes. Once when I went to squash a big spider on my desk in class, Danielle had calmly said, “Wait,” and had cupped her hand around the spider, placing it on a tall branch outside the window. Myself and half of the class were practically freaking out. I personally could not bring myself to hold a spider!
Lucy who had remained quiet during my explanation of what happened to Gypsy, quickly returned to her conversation about Bugs’ diet, and giving me an apologetic smile, Danielle leaned forward to listen.
Both offended and relieved at how quickly the subject of Gypsy’s death was dropped, I pulled a bag of chips out of my bag.
“What did you do over the holidays?” I asked Izzy.
“Not much,” she replied. Izzy appeared deep in thought, so I didn’t push for further conversation.
I sat eating, my mind contentedly blank. Admittedly it was nice to be outside under the sunshine.
“Do you want to come?” Danielle asked me suddenly.
“Huh?” I looked at her.
“Lucy and me are going on a trek at my auntie’s farm. She’s bringing Bugs, and you could ride my auntie’s other horse, Fudge. She’s bay with a blaze and…”
“Adele doesn’t ride anymore,” Lucy interrupted.
Danielle appeared lost for words. She unwrapped a muesli bar, and Lucy jumped into another conversation, saving Danielle from having to respond.
While school hadn’t been at horrible as I thought it’d be, I was still happy to get home. Mum was sitting on the couch talking on the phone when I walked in.
“Uh huh,” she murmured into the receiver. “Oh, I will be! Thank you very much for this information.” Mum turned to face me as she spoke. “I’ll be in touch. Bye.” She pushed the end button and stared at me thoughtfully, chewing her bottom lip.
“Why are you looking at me like that?” I asked.
Mum sighed. “That was a lady who saw our incident at Showjumping Champs,” she told me. She stood up and hooked the landline to its charger. I waited patiently for her to continue. “She happens to know the people we bought Gypsy from.” Mum sat back down and stared hard at me. “I’m happy to inform you that it was not your fault that Gypsy broke her leg. I am unhappy to discover we were conned.”
I took a seat across from her and reached into my bag for my uneaten sandwich.
“It’s good to see you eating. You’ve lost weight; anymore and you’ll vanish completely,” Mum commented. “Anyway,” she began again. “Gypsy had a paddock accident with the previous owners which resulted in a large crack to her leg. They gave her time to recover, and she did faster than expected. They then put her in foal to give her further time to strengthen that leg. They were strictly informed by the vet that while she should be sound enough for dressage and hacking, they were to no longer jump her. Obviously they ignored the vet’s advice. They show-jumped her a couple more times then sold her to us without mentioning the injury.”
My mouth fell open. A sense of relief washed over me for I was no longer to blame; however, overwhelming that was the hatred I felt towards the previous owners.
“The lady on the phone, Beth, her name is, she said this is not the first time they’ve lied about a horse for sale.” Mum ran her hands through her hair. She appeared tired; defeated perhaps. Her facial features showed no sign of the anger I felt within. “I should have got her vet checked,” Mum added.
I stared at her, temporarily speechless. “Is… Is there anything we can do?”
“Well, Beth did say she has a few people to back us up. Beth and the old owners aren’t the only people who knew about Gypsy’s cracked leg; and I did one good thing when we bought her.” Mum smiled at me. “I took a screenshot image of Gypsy’s advert. In court that will come in very handy because nowhere in that advert does it mention her injury. It also outlines her as a showjumper.” She winked at me. “I think we have a good chance of winning this case. It’d be nice to have the money to help your father and me out with buying you a new horse.”
Court? Money? A new horse?
“They deserve to be caught out for their lies,” I said slowly. “And you should definitely try and get your money back. But I don’t want another horse.”
Mum looked surprised. Then she quickly straightened up. “I’m sick of you moping around in your bedroom. Horses have kept you out of trouble and given you something to be happy about for the majority of your life. And you were doing so well on Gypsy; you can’t just give up,” she insisted. “Now that you know Gypsy’s death was not your fault, you don’t need to feel guilty. There’s no reason for you not to get another horse.” Her blue eyes flashed. “Plus, you have a showjumping career to follow.”
I threw my arms, exasperated. It always seemed when you finally agreed with someone, they changed their views on the situation. Mum was the one who had spent the last few years doubting the possibility of a showjumping career. “Unless you can bring Gypsy back from the dead, I don’t want a horse!” I hissed. I spun on my heel and marched up the stairs.
“There’s an envelope on your bed for you by the way!” Mum called out from behind me.
The envelope was hand addressed to me in tidy, linked writing. I ripped it open and discovered a card. A palomino foal was pictured on the card, with the words, ‘Sorry for your loss’ printed in pink. Inside the card was a red first place ribbon. The inside of the card read in that same perfect, linked writing:
I’m truly sorry for the loss of your horse. She was one incredible jumper.
I promised I would pass your ribbon from Showjumping Championships onto you.
I closed the card, surprised. I wondered why Larissa had collected my ribbon, and I wondered what had changed in her to send me a card. I thought Larissa hated me.
I straightened out the ribbon; the very last ribbon Gypsy and I would ever win together. I lay down on the bed, stretching out my tired legs. I had a lot of new information to process.
It was Friday afternoon. The week had consisted of less tears over Gypsy, although the longing for her remained. I wasn’t getting over the loss of my beautiful horse; more so, I was reluctantly learning to live without her. What choice did I have?
Things were still awkward between Lucy and I. We spoke only if necessary, usually ignoring each other among our small group of friends. I missed her, but I still felt offended by her words.
I’d just gotten home from school. Mum and Dad sat side by side on the couch, talking quietly. “Where’s Natasha?” I wondered.
“She’s at a friend’s house,” Mum replied.
I stared hard at my parents. Usually Dad was still at work, and the way they sat on the couch with the television switched off was unusual. Mum smiled cheerfully at me. Dad looked nervous.
“What’s going on?” I asked suspiciously.
“We have a surprise for you,” Mum replied. “Let’s go now,” she said, glancing at Dad, who nodded. They got to their feet and headed towards the door, Dad’s car keys dangling from his closed fist.
I held back, nervous. “Where are we going?”
Mum grinned. “It’s a surprise.”
I considered refusing to follow until they explained where we were going. But curiosity got the better of me. And I’d already lost Gypsy; what was left to be afraid of?
I climbed into the back seat of Dad’s car.
We drove in silence. Within minutes we were pulling into the driveway of Ridgewood stables. I felt too stunned to utter a sound. I didn’t understand why we were here. I looked out the window, gazing across towards where Gypsy was buried. My heart leapt in my throat.
Dad bought the car to a stop.
That’s when I saw her.
Frozen in shock, I stared ahead, struggling and failing to understand what was going on. She’s dead, I told myself. I was there when they put her to sleep. I watched her body lower into the grave. Her lifeless body… I had convinced myself there was nothing to fear, but I was terrified, my body rigid. There in the distance stood Gypsy. Alive. She was alive. Alive… Alive…
Then I realized. I was an idiot; a fool. Gypsy couldn’t be alive. I knew very well that Gypsy was dead. I let my breath out in one big whoosh.
Mum and Dad exited the car, and silently I followed. As we neared Gypsy’s look-alike, I noticed this horse had only three stockings, unlike Gypsy who had four. His narrower blaze veered off to the left unlike Gypsy’s, and he was much slighter in build; a more athletic type. As we reached the gate, I realized this horse also stood nearly a hand taller than Gypsy. The horse held his head over the gate, poking his nose out towards us. He had a cheeky expression on his face that practically begged you to pet him. I ignored him and spun angrily to face my parents.
“Why are we here?” I demanded.
Dad didn’t reply. Instead he scratched the horses nose. The horse had an ‘in your face’ personality and appeared to lap up the attention. Mum appeared oblivious to my unhappiness. “Honey, this is Coby.”
“So?” I replied bluntly.
“He is yours.”
“I don’t want him,” I snarled at her. My face grew hot; I felt furious. “I told you I didn’t want a horse. How could you buy me a horse when I clearly told you I didn’t want one?! What’s worse, is that you chose a horse that looks like Gypsy as if that would make everything okay. This isn’t Gypsy! He will never replace Gypsy!” Mad and upset, I collapsed onto the grass and let out a sob. I couldn’t believe my parents would do this to me. Nobody understood how I felt, and I felt so alone in my grief.
“But Adele,” Mum kneeled down beside me. “You don’t understand.”
“No. You don’t understand! I don’t want this horse! I don’t want any horse!” I cried. I glanced up at Coby. He resembled Gypsy far too much. “I don’t want a horse that reminds me of Gypsy every time I look at him; and I don’t want to ride anymore!” I swallowed hard, trying to force away the overwhelming emotion that filled me within.
Dad left Coby leaning against the gate. “What your mother is trying to say is, this is Gypsy’s son.”
I furrowed my brow in confusion. “Huh?”
“We were planning to take Gypsy’s previous owners to court. I spoke to them on the phone. To say the least, they weren’t happy and tried to talk down her injury as though it was nothing. After much debate they offered us Coby on the condition we didn’t take them to court,” Mum explained. “Coby is Gypsy’s son. He is five-years-old. He is broken in but hasn’t done a lot, so you’ll need to produce him. They did say that he is by a big Thoroughbred stallion making him Three-parts-Thoroughbred, and apparently he has shown tremendous jumping talent.”
“They reckoned the stallion was a showjumper too,” Dad added.
Mum nodded in agreement with Dad. “He’s a better height for you too,” she commented.
“How can you even believe a thing these people have told you?” I scoffed. “For all we know, he has a hidden injury too.”
“Now, we did learn something Adele,” Dad said. “We had him vet checked.”
“Well you wasted your time,” I told them. “Because I’m not keeping him.”
“Think about it honey; he’s just perfect for you!” Mum gushed.
“He’s very friendly too,” Dad added, stroking Coby’s face once again.
I couldn’t meet the eyes of either of my parents. I turned towards the car. “I’d like to go home now.”
That evening, I headed down to the kitchen for a drink. Mum sat at the kitchen table reading. She glanced up from her magazine. “Lucy will be looking after Coby in the meantime,” she stated casually.
I opened my mouth but no words came out. I hadn’t told Mum that Lucy and I weren’t on speaking terms. Next week at school would be very awkward. I was not looking forward to seeing Lucy.
Not at all.
Like a coward, I avoided Lucy entirely. I spent my lunch times in the school library, flicking through books that I’d never dream of reading. Previously the only books I enjoyed reading were horse novels, but I had no interest in reading those anymore.
I’d fallen into a cycle. At school I’d work my very hardest in class, going straight upstairs to my room after school. I ate my dinner alone in my room, lost in my thoughts. Thoughts of Gypsy and now Coby would enter my head continuously, and I’d struggle to block them out. My lack of a life meant I didn’t exactly have much else to think about. I thought about Lucy too. I wondered if we’d ever go back to normal.
At night, I’d fall asleep easily. While my dreams were still free from Gypsy, Coby entered them a couple of times in ways that made no sense, my unconscious mind expressing the guilt that lurked within. But you told them you didn’t want a horse. It’s their fault, not yours, I’d tell myself.
Sometimes I dreamed I was with Lucy. We were content in my dreams; the argument had never occurred.
Usually a year rushed by too quickly, yet the last few weeks felt like a lifetime. So much had changed in so little time. I was still processing all of the change and I felt unsure of what to do next. So far, my plan was to survive the rest of the school year; then I’d go to university, or perhaps go straight out in the workforce. I hadn’t a clue about what I wanted to do as a career.
I’d move out of home, and there, I could sit up in my room grieving all I wanted without disturbance. Was I depressed? I didn’t know.
Lucy and I had always planned to flat together after high school; it was something we both looked forward to. We’d always discussed the late nights we’d spend together, eating junk food and watching movies. We planned to take turns driving us to our horses where we’d spent numerous hours riding together, like we always did. We agreed that if either of us ended up in a relationship, that we’d never let it get in the way of our friendship. I found that easy to promise as while I’d had crushes on boys, and one relationship with a guy named Jarred for a few months last year, I was too busy obsessing over horses to obsess over a boy. Lucy had had numerous ‘boyfriends’, but the longest relationship she’d managed to have was only about three weeks.
Now, I was obsessing over a horse that no longer breathed, and I didn’t have Lucy. I wondered for the first time in my life if finding a boyfriend would help me to live my life without horses.
It was a five weeks after Gypsy’s death. I still thought about her constantly, and although I still cried for her some nights, the pain was no longer so fresh, and my sadness was lined with memories that made me smile instead of cry.
Lucy and I were still barely speaking, and my parents hadn’t even mentioned Coby to me. I assumed Lucy was still caring for him. I could only assume my parents had made the decision to sell him by now, although I didn’t care to browse online to see if he was listed. Part of me just couldn’t bear to know. I still had a guilty conscience as I knew deep down my parents were trying to help me, not hurt me. Beyond that, there was something else I couldn’t explain.
The night prior when Coby visited me in my dreams, I’d ridden him. In my dream I had no resentment, nor fear. I mounted him as though he’d been my horse forever, and we took off cantering around the arena, his gait like a rocking horse. In my dream I’d felt happy. I was enjoying myself immensely.
I faced him towards a huge jump, bigger than I’d ever jumped Gypsy. We were approaching it, me waiting in anticipation. Just before his hooves left the ground, I’d woken up, annoyed at myself for dreaming of riding.
Tonight, I was having another night where I couldn’t fall asleep. Luckily nights like these were the minority of my nights.
I’d looked through my photo album numerous times, bringing each image of Gypsy to life in my head. I decided that next week, I’d get printed copies and make a collage of her for my wall. Gosh, I missed her so much!
Being a Saturday, I wasn’t too worried that I couldn’t sleep, but I was bored and had no reason to stay awake. I wished Gypsy was alive so that I could visit her. I imagined touching her warm body; running my hands over her fine Summer coat, tainted black in the darkness. I could almost smell her, the scent of horse; the scent of life. The thought of standing next to Gypsy nearly exceeded my imagination now. It was hard to believe I’d ever been that close to her at all.
I pulled off my shorts, stripping down to my underwear and a singlet, and slid under the covers. I rolled onto my side, reaching for light switch, planning to simply wait for sleep to come. My arm brushed the book on my bedside table. The Horse Whisperer. I was halfway through it and hadn’t read any further since Gypsy had passed away. My hand hovered over it. I didn’t want to read about horses; I was trying to leave that part of my life behind me. But I was curious to the know the ending, and the night would be so long if I simply just waited for sleep to find me.
With a sigh of defeat, I picked up the book and began to read.
I began to finally feel drowsy only a few chapters away from the end of the book, but I had become engrossed in the story, so I fought to stay awake. I was too close now.
When finally, I read the last page, I didn’t go to sleep. I sat up in bed and ran over the storyline in my head.
In the book, Grace, a thirteen-year-old girl, and her friend, end up in an accident on their horses when faced with a large truck. Grace’s horse, Pilgrim, rears up in front of the truck, tossing Grace to safety.
Unfortunately, Grace’s friend and her horse do not make it. Grace survives with the amputation of one leg, and her horse, Pilgrim, is still alive, but physically in a bad state and mentally disturbed from the accident. The vets encourage Grace’s mother to put Pilgrim to sleep; but her mother refuses to because she feels he’s required to help Grace to be happy once again.
Grace is depressed, angry, and shut-down from the accident. She encourages her mum to put Pilgrim to sleep, but again, her mother refuses to. Grace rebels against her mother; she has no intention to ride again and feels like Pilgrim would be better off euthanized.
Despite this, when Pilgrim is back to a physically healthy state, Grace’s mother drives Grace and Pilgrim across the country to a horse whisperer. In a nutshell, over time the horse whisperer mentally heals Pilgrim. Pilgrim and Grace learn to trust one another again, and Grace rides him, happy for the first time since the accident.
The character, Grace, reminded me of myself in a way. My friend didn’t die, nor did her horse. I still had both legs. But I was angry and I guess you could say a little shut down. I didn’t want to ride, but my parents were convinced it’d help me to move on and be happy again.
What if they were right?
I woke up the next morning feeling refreshed. I felt lighter somehow. The sun lit up the curtains; it was another nice day. Summer had been living up to its expectations this year.
I pulled on my shorts from yesterday, and a black t-shirt, and headed downstairs.
Natasha sat at the kitchen table with crayons and a colouring-in book. She hummed a tune as she coloured. Mum lay on the couch watching some talk show on T.V, and I assumed Dad was still in bed.
Mum glanced over her shoulder at me. “Did you wet the bed?” she joked. “It’s 9am, what are you doing already up?”
I just shrugged and poured myself a bowl of Rice bubbles.
“I’m going over to play with Jenny today,” Natasha boasted, as if I’d care.
“We have to check with Jenny’s mum first, honey,” Mum called.
“Cool,” I mumbled. I hurriedly gulped down my cereal. “I’m going for a drive,” I told Mum.
Mum smiled, probably happy that I wasn’t spending the day in bed for once. “Are you going to see Lucy?” she asked.
“Uh… Yeah,” I lied. I slipped out the front door before she could ask any further questions.
I was relieved to find Ridgewood stables empty. Even Andrew’s car wasn’t in the houses driveway. Crickets chirped in the distance. I spotted Coby grazing where I’d met him in the front paddock, his golden coat shinning. I felt a pang of sadness, for in the distance he still could have been Gypsy.
I headed over to the tack shed and opened the door, where I was greeted with the sweet scent of horses and leather. I inhaled deeply, a sense of security overwhelming the sadness deep inside. I felt at home among the saddles and bridles. Like a wild bird set free from captivity, I felt where I belonged; and I wondered how I ever believed I could stay away.
I reached for the halter and lead rope, hesitating as I realized it was last on Gypsy’s face. That’s when I noticed a new-looking blue halter and lead rope hanging right beside it with a new grooming kit below. I realized my parents must have bought them for Coby, and I felt grateful for that. I grabbed both the halter and lead, and the grooming kit, and stepped back outside into the warm summer air. It was going to be a hot day.
Coby nickered and wandered over to the gate when he saw me coming. He appeared happy when I slipped on his halter, almost relieved for some attention. Coby had been kept paddocked alone, and I wondered why Lucy hadn’t put him in with Bugs. I stroked the blaze on Coby’s nose, narrow compared to Gypsy’s thick one, which was the width of nearly her face. I tied him loosely to a piece of twine on the gate and stood back to look at him properly for the first time.
Coby looked at me with interest. He had a more defined head than Gypsy, daintier to match his finer frame. He had a well-muscled, arched neck on sloping shoulders. He had the higher wither and long legs of a Thoroughbred, and a short back, finishing off with the large and strong hindquarters of a Quarter horse. Overall, he had taken more to the Thoroughbred side of his breeding, the opposite to Gypsy. He was a nice type, standing approximately 15.3-hands-high. He was certainly a picture to look at.
I walked back over to Coby, who sniffed at my leg. I noticed that two of his white hooves were lightly cracked, and noted to arrange for him to get shod.
I unzipped the grooming bag and pulled out a soft body brush. The ground was dry and Coby was already clean. Coby, the definition of ‘friendly’, kept turning his head around to look at me as I gently brushed his summer coat. He then stretched, pulling against the lead rope, and took the brush in his teeth. I gasped in surprise as he pulled the brush from my hands. The strange animal nodded his head up and down, the brush bouncing from the bristles as he went. “Hey, give that back!” I laughed, grabbing for the brush. But Coby tossed it over the gate, causing me to laugh harder.
I decided to forget the brush for now. I untied Coby and opened the gate, leading him down towards the arena. Coby walked excitedly beside me, a spring in his steps. Luckily, unlike Bugs, he had the training and respect to stay at my shoulder despite his eagerness. I stopped at the tack shed, and holding the rope by its end I stepped in, reaching for my lunge line. To my surprise, Coby decided to walk in after me, his head nearly hitting the top of the doorway. I smiled and backed him out. “Well at least you’re brave!” It was proving impossible not to like Coby’s full-on personality.
Once in the arena, I hooked the lunge line to Coby, and using my arm, I sent him off around me. He strode out, gazing with interest around the arena. I gave a gentle tug on the lunge lead, encouraging him to bend to the inside. Without a bit in his mouth, Coby ignored the cue and continued to walk quickly around me, distracted by his surroundings. I took a different approach and asked him to trot. He rushed in his gait at first, circling around me in an uncontrolled manner. I calmly asked him to slow down, and after a few attempts, he obliged. It was then I could see that he had an impressive, elastic trot; balanced for his five years of age. His canter was large with round and bouncy, ground-covering strides. He’d obviously inherited his movement from his father.
After I’d lunged him on both reins, I was quite impressed. I kept glancing over at the jumps, my curiosity begging me to see how he jumps. The previous owners had claimed he had a big jump, but after the secrets they held about Gypsy, who could know if their words were true. Beyond the curiosity I was a little worried that Coby might not be a jumper at all. I’d finally decided that I couldn’t live a life without horses; I couldn’t live a life out of the saddle, and with that, my heart was in showjumping.
I wasn’t ready to be disappointed.
I pulled Coby in. He lowered his head and I scratched him beneath his forelock. “Can you jump?” I whispered. I slowly lead him towards the jumps. I decided I’d simply see how he reacted. The first step was to see if he’d even seen a pole before, let alone been jumped for real. As we neared, he quickened his pace, ears forward with interest. Beneath his pricked ears, his eyes bulged in excitement, or perhaps uncertainty. He snorted softly, blowing warm air against my arm.
“Have you seen poles before, boy?” I asked softly. Coby cautiously lowered his head, sniffing at the first pole. Then he lifted his feet and followed me over it. I petted his neck, then stood back, allowing him to lunge at walk over the pole. He did this happily without another glance. When he broke into a trot, I let him. He trotted over the pole, lifting his feet carefully, then veered sideways, rudely tugging against me. “Hey!” I cried. I gave the lunge-line a quick jab, and he gave in to the pressure, coming around to the pole once again. This time he started to canter after the pole, and again, he pulled hard against my arm. Annoyed, I tugged back, glancing over to the direction he was persistent to go to. There were no horses in that direction, nor was the gate we’d came in; there was no reason for him to be acting like this. All that stood in the direction he wanted to go was a couple of jumps.
When he did it a third time, I considered grabbing a bridle from the tack shed. With a bit in, I’d have more control of him. I knew if I let him away with this behavior, he’d continue to do it.
I decided first to change what we were doing to give him a chance to think, rather than predict exactly what was expected of him. With a bit of extra force than preferred, I managed to bring him to a halt. Leading him, I carried another pole and set it in front of the first one so that Coby would have two in a row to trot over. I then lunged him in the opposite direction to before.
Coby willingly trotted over the poles. Ears forward, eyes bright, he appeared to be enjoying himself, which was a positive sign. He was very careful with his feet and was yet to touch a pole. However, as before, he proceeded to tug sideways towards the other jumps.
I thought for a moment. Pushing him on, I was prepared for the next round. As he cleared the poles, I loosened the lunge line and stepped towards him, this time encouraging him towards the other jumps. It was my choice now, and he more than willingly obliged. He eyed up the little cross bar, and appearing keen with not an ounce of uncertainty, I allowed him to line up to the jump. Coby broke into a slow, but impulsive canter. He was ready.
Taking off at exactly the right moment, Coby tucked his knees tightly to his chest and sailed into the air, much, much higher than was necessary to clear the small cross-bar. Stretching out his neck, he showed a relaxed, easy technique in behind, and landed smoothly on the other side. He cantered around me and over the jump once again.
I stood, gob-smacked for this horse could fly, and over that little fence he could have easily been mistaken for Gypsy. Again, he showed the jump of a true athlete, continuing on to jump the fence again. He needed no encouragement from me. Coby was jumping from free will, and appeared to be having the time of his life while doing so.
“Wow!” a familiar voice said from behind me. I jumped slightly in surprise and spun around to see Lucy, her eyes wide in amazement. “Is he impressive or what?!” she added.
I spoke softly to Coby, and reluctantly he came back to a walk. I gradually shortened the lunge-line, allowing him to walk in a small circle around me to cool off.
I was so happy with Coby that I temporarily forgot Lucy and I hadn’t been talking. “He’s amazing!” I exclaimed. “He has what it takes.”
“He has what it takes for what?” Lucy wondered.
“I think he may have what it takes to take me to the top! He can help me achieve my dream.” I was mesmerized in the moment.
Lucy raised an eyebrow, then a big grin broke out on her face. “You’re back!” she cried.
I shifted uncomfortably, suddenly lost for words. Lucy too, shoved her hands in her pockets and stared at the ground. She peeked up at me. “I’m sorry Adele. I’ve been really unfair to you. I guess I just wasn’t sure how to handle Gypsy’s death or your grief.” Lucy’s eyes filled with tears and she wiped them away with a sleeve, fixating her gaze on the ground once again. “I should have tried to be more understanding; I should have been there for you… I’ve been selfish, and a really horrible friend. I’m so sorry.”
Lucy’s words were true. She had been a little selfish, and she hadn’t been a very good friend; but I knew it must have been hard for her too, and the apology was sincere, so I forgave her immediately. “I’ve really missed you,” I admitted.
“I’ve missed you too. So much.” Lucy replied.
“Thank you for looking after Coby,” I told her. And I meant it. I was glad now that my parents had gotten him for me. In a way, I felt like a part of Gypsy lived on in him.
“It’s fine! Your parents knew you’d come around. And so did I,” Lucy smiled at me. “Also, I didn’t have to do much. I basically just had to put his cover on when the weather was bad.”
I realized in my distraction that Coby had stopped. He stood, staring at us as though waiting for his next command. I giggled. “Sorry boy.” I asked him to come in and rubbed his blaze, mixing stray white hairs into his chestnut coat.
“I’m so happy that we’re friends again,” Lucy murmured.
“Who said we’re friends again?” I joked. Then I added seriously, “I’m glad too. We have lots of adventures to live. You, Bugs, me, and Coby.”
Lucy nodded vigorously. “We sure do! In fact, we should ride together tomorrow. You can have your first ride on Coby!”
I stared into Coby’s big, brown eyes. “How does that sound Coby? We’d better do some dressage,” I said slowly. “It’s important for you to learn… But after that, maybe we could try a jump because I know you’ll love that! Your mother loved to jump too. She was very good at it just like you. The last time I rode her, she jumped so high. She took a leap for the sky.” My eyes filled with tears, but this time it didn’t hurt so much. I’d found my silver lining. I stroked Coby’s neck softly, and gazed above at the blue and cloudless sky. “And she made it.”