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3:33 Sport Short #34 // After the Horse Show by Karissa Womack

Most high school athletes keep old uniforms, trophies, and photographs, things that can be stored in boxes, left in basements. When equestrians stop showing, we’re left with a horse. Like my 17-year-old, roan-spotted Appaloosa mare, Willow. And the velvet helmet I got for my 13th birthday, the Ariat tall boots that pinched the back of my knees, the fake white tail from our trip to Tennessee for a regional show. I still have the board fee, vet bill, farrier fee, the price of grain and hay.

I’ve graduated from horse girl to horsewoman. I quit the hunter jumper circuit for a lot of reasons, though injury makes the top of the list. I tore the tendons in my right foot just before the equestrian team try-outs at Auburn University, then Willow foundered, damaging her front two hooves. Years later, after we’d both rehabilitated, I found I didn’t have the time or money to show as a young adult.

When I stopped showing, I gained membership to a new horse community. To get to Cypress Trails Equestrian Center, I drive far from the busyness of Tampa, out to Odessa, Florida, where the roads get narrow and everyone slows for hoof traffic. I spend my weekends with other horsewomen, like the rodeo rider who stopped competing when she was t-boned last year in her truck.

My Sundays at Cypress Trails include listening to an eclectic mix from Florida-Georgia Line to Eminem, while filling water buckets or getting a leg-up onto haltered horses and riding them bareback to the pasture. Or winter trail rides, like last week when Willow spooked, rearing and tensing her long neck at the Osprey perched on a telephone wire. On that ride, my friend took my rein in her hand and Willow followed her horse, finally calm, as we walked side by side, our horses bumping against each other just for the touch.

Horses need to be with their herd to survive. They have a hard time adjusting to new members, touching noses in introduction, then squealing and sometimes biting their new mate. Maybe we have the same instincts as our horses. When we retire from showing, we’re not left with a memory, but a fur and bone and pink-nosed reminder that loving horses is a way of life. My ruffled show ribbons hang in my childhood bedroom in another state. But Willow, she’s just down the road waiting for her joint supplement and a lope along the neighbor’s fence on a windy afternoon.


Karissa Womack is an MFA candidate in Creative Nonfiction at the University of South Florida. Her flash fiction has appeared in The Citron Review. She is the Managing Editor for Saw Palm: Florida Literature and Art and the Interview Editor for Sweet: A Literary Confection.

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