Endowed in perpetuity by the Glenna Luschei Fund for Excellence

3:33 Sports Short #35 // Western Riding by Pamela Balluck

The American Quarter Horse Association Show was coming up. The money had been spent. I had registered at first chance and received a number to pin on my back months ahead. I had registered in more classes than ever. I was preparing on my own, though I could still phone Claudia, but I could not pay Claudia, and apparently neither could my family, which I somehow understood even as a self-involved tween was why I was no longer in need of a trainer. Claudia kept abreast because Buck had been bought from her; she had rehabilitated him from past abuse that for one resulted in a blue-grey blind eye. Claudia had trained me to show him.

I had entered to compete in a brand new A.Q.H.A. class, Western Riding, a course I taught myself from its diagram in the Association’s handbook. It involved ten upright poles to bend, which we did not have on our Montana ranch, so I marked the places where the poles would stand with pieces of firewood that I hauled in a wheel barrow to the flat part of the pasture where the ground was dry enough, near the fence between Mom’s garden and the aluminum horse trough. The corral we used as a riding ring didn’t afford us the space of a show arena, which at the Fairgrounds was a cordoned-off section of racetrack in front of the grandstands.

In the diagram, the ten vertical poles were set up in two parallel rows. Mounted rider was to come through a gate, side-stepping the horse while mounted to close the gate, then with tail end to gate, mounted rider was to face the right-hand row of poles, with a log laying perpendicular to the third on its outside. I used firewood to represent the poles and the log. Buck and I practiced the gate on gates around the ranch. Once through the gate, I was to walk, then jog, Buck on the outside of the right-hand row and over the log, eventually canter him, bending the poles in the other row of five while changing leads as if skipping, and then same in the first row while maneuvering that perpendicular log and, after a U-turn, to gallop between the two rows of poles, come to a sliding halt, stand four square, reverse at some speed, halt, do a one-eighty pivot, and leave via the other end of the arena at a walk.

I wasn’t positive whether Buck and I were doing it correctly, whether we would be prepared for the actual course at the Quarter Horse Show, but I somehow felt better having put Buck through it, time and again, almost exclusively on my signals, as he could not necessarily see all the fire-wood markers. I felt proud of how Buck and I had grown together and I think I became more confident than I would have been had we access to practicing in a facsimile of what to expect.


Pamela Balluck's fiction has won publication prizes from such journals as Western Humanities Review, Southeast Review, Green Mountains Review and has appeared in, among others, PANK, Quarter After Eight, Ocean State Review, plus online at Night Train, Freight Stories, Drunken Boat, Litragger, and is forthcoming at Redux. Recent creative nonfiction, “Parts of a Chair,” won a Southeast Review prize and is listed as “Notable” in The Best American Essays 2015. She teaches writing at the University of Utah.

 

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