Girls Horse Club Blog

A Weekend That Only Gets Worse

Published by • Nov 17th, 2011 • Category: Fiction

by Jennifer H, age 14

Larissa stacked the last heavy box of random horsey items into the dusty tack compartment of their family’s shiny white three horse trailer. Instantly, the nerves hit her. That was like putting the seal on an envelope. She really would be eventing, that very weekend, for the first time in several months. In an attempt to mute the feeling in her stomach, that somehow reminded her of gymnasts doing flips and somersaults, she mentally went over the items she had packed, hoping she had everything she needed for the big weekend ahead of her.

Three day eventing, astride her gorgeous dapple gray Warmblood gelding, Great Ambitions, was Larissa’s life passion. It was an equestrian competition that tested many aspects and skills of an equine and their human teammate. The first event of three day eventing was dressage, a beautiful sport that tested the human’s position, abilities and the horse’s behaviour and movement. Next was the thrilling cross country phase, that makes the whole weekend worthwhile. It consists of jumping large, solid obstacles in a course that travels for a far distance over varying terrain, with the horse and rider pair traveling at the optimum time becoming the winner. Finally, there is the colourful show jumping phase, where the rider and horse attempt to complete a course of brightly painted, challenging fences—without knocking down a rail—in the quickest time possible. These courses often are difficult, with many tight turns and fences that are made to test the trust and confidence between an equestrian pair. Larissa was most interested in the cross country phase, like many other eventers, it was by far her favourite discipline of the three. She had not yet found anything quite as exciting and exhilarating.

* * * * *

Larissa awoke from the nap she had taken from her hometown to an equestrian facility just outside of Lexington, Kentucky. She rubbed the sleepiness from her eyes and shook the groggy sensation from her limbs as they pulled into a parking spot just outside the large, airy stables. As soon as her father twisted and pulled the key from the ignition, she swung the door of their quad-cab pickup open and leaped out of the vehicle, running down the length of their truck and trailer hitch. Eagerly, her mind a blob of dizzying questions and thoughts about the weekend, she fiddled with the latches on the trailer door until finally, she swung the large door wide open.

There, standing before her in the darkness of the trailer, was her best friend and teammate, Great Ambitions, also known as Felix. His eyes were wide, almost to the point of looking fearful, but also inquisitive. Of course, this was his normal reaction to new places, which was quite similar to Larissa’s; curious, excited, nervous and scared, except she didn’t show it as easily as he did.

Though, as she brought him out of the trailer, she noticed his coat wasn’t completely unscathed. On his forehead, there was an area of about two inches in diameter where he had sheared a layer of skin and hair completely off, leaving a dirty pink mark.

“Oh dear, buddy… look at you.” Larissa gingerly swept his steel gray forelock away from the wound, and lead him towards his assigned stall, which her mother had informed her was on the far, west side of the barn. Tying him to a rail outside his stall, Larissa ran to get a soaked cloth to clean the dirt and dried blood off his sculpted, intelligent-looking head. With light, careful strokes, she removed the area of all grime, and then gently hosed it before going about the steps to insure the wound would heal correctly. After spending about ten minutes working on the wound, she was able to turn Felix into his freshly bedded stall. After he was settled in, with hay and fresh water, Larissa set to work unpacking all of her things. When this was finished, she returned to Felix, brushing his coat, which was already quite immaculate from the bath she had given him quite early that morning. After brushing him, she set to work braiding his mane and tail so he would look elegant and tidy for their dressage ride the next morning.

When all was prepared for the next day, Saturday, the Greggory’s headed to their motel. Their motel was small and satisfactory enough for them, considering it was only several minutes from the competition facility. Also, the only time they would spend at the motel would be when they headed from the stables in the evening to sleep for a few hours before returning to the stables in the early morning, which was just what they were about to do.

* * * * *

Early… so early… Larissa thought, as the irritating buzz of her alarm clock sounded. She knew, however, this was one of the minor sacrifices she made to be an avid participant in the world of horses. Of course, she thought, it was definitely worthwhile. Once she arrived at the barn after showering, eating a quick breakfast, and dressing in her barn clothes, Larissa once again felt nervous about the competition. She was somewhat reassured and soothed as she settled into her familiar routine of tending to her horse.

By eight o’clock, Felix was gleaming, decked in shining leather tack, his tail done up and his mane gathered into neat braids, pinned up to the crest of his neck. Larissa was looking very professional in pristine white breeches, immaculately polished knee high riding boots and a spotless long, black riding coat. After their vet inspection, they would do a quick warm-up and then they would be riding their dressage test in the ring for the event judges.

The vet inspection went well, and Larissa Greggory and Great Ambitions were given the official approval to compete. Without delay, Larissa headed to the warm-up ring to prepare for their ride. All was going well as they stretched and loosened up at the walk. Much to Larissa’s distress, however, by the time they were cantering, Felix was in an uncooperative mood for a reason that was unapparent to Larissa. He was tossing his head, kicking his heels out, and bullying his rider. Larissa fought him for a while, but brought him down to an easy walk before she became too frustrated. She knew to the key to a good dressage test was to have a nice, easy warm-up first of all. So far, things weren’t going exactly as planned, and she was becoming even more nervous for her dressage test that was only minutes away. Larissa knew her horse would begin to pick up on the negative emotions she was feeling, so she took a few deep breaths, and tried to turn her negative thoughts into positive ones. Felix still didn’t seem in the best mood as she took him for one more lap around the ring. Larissa hoped and prayed this little act he was putting on would soon fade.

The loud speak crackled, and a woman’s voice sang out, “On deck, Larissa Greggory and Great Ambitions.”

Larissa puffed out a nervous breath and slapped hands with her parents before trotting her lap around the dressage ring and then entering when the rider before her had exited.

Okay, here it goes. Larissa knew that in order to place they would have to be flawless. Many riders before her turn had executed very impressive tests. They entered the ring at a brisk, energetic trot, stopping immediately in the center of the ring. Next, Larissa made eye contact with the judge, smiled and saluted, her hand quickly touching her head and then sharply dropping to her thigh. After the judge, they proceeded with their program.

So far, Felix felt soft and responsive under Larissa, and this calmed her. What a horse, having a fit and putting her right on edge in warm up, and then behaving like a perfect gentleman when they entered the ring. Their test went very well, Felix was performing at his best, his movement forward and free, his hindquarters engaging in every step, his steps elastic and his body soft and supple, exactly what the judge would be looking for. Felix was a very well-trained horse, and Larissa was lucky to have the privilege of riding and owning him; Felix did not let her forget that. Their circles were well balanced and round, their lines straight, their turns accurate and crisp. All of his gaits were powerful, but yet graceful. His transitions from trot to canter and canter to trot quick, but subtle. Larissa also did a good job — her legs were long and relaxed on Felix’s side, her hands gentle on the reins, her eyes up and the body movements that she used to direct and control Felix were hushed and almost unnoticeable. As they finished their round with a final salute to the judge, Larissa couldn’t contain the smile that her lips formed into. Their round had been next to perfect; Larissa had remembered the whole pattern, Felix had performed it with ease and agility, while Larissa had been his quiet, communicative pilot. She exited the ring, and squealed as she met up with her parents, high-fiving them both.

“Great job, hun!” As Mrs. Greggory chimed praises, she rested her arm on Larissa’s leg as mother, daughter, father and horse returned to the stable to prepare for the next event.

After Larissa had stripped Felix from his tack and thoroughly brushed him, she had a quick bite to eat and gathered all of the supplies she would need for their cross country course. While she was in the middle of collecting multiple buckets, her mom appeared from checking Larissa’s dressage scores, her arms out and a smile on her face. “Larissa!! You got third!” As Mrs. Greggory ran up to Larissa, she embraced her in an enthusiastic but quick hug. She patted Larissa’s head of tousled, dirty blonde hair.

“Yes!” Larissa exclaimed, jumping up and clapping her hands together. She scooted over to Felix and planted a kiss on his velveteen nose. “You’re such a superstar.” Larissa murmured words of flattery to her gelding, patting his muscular neck and fiddling his braids.

* * * * *

By two o’clock that afternoon, Larissa was more than ready to tackle the fields and hills with their spectacular cross country jumps. She was wearing a lime green polo shirt and helmet cover while Felix was outfitted in the same color, his saddle pad, boots and reins were all lime green as well. Larissa had just finished popping over a couple of fences in the tiny warm-up area, and now she trotted around the perimeter of the so-called ring, dodging several other riders and horses as she went. Her level of elation for the upcoming ride was quickly escalating, and she couldn’t wait any longer. Felix seemed excited too — his stride was lively, his ears perked, eyes wide open and alert, absorbing all of his surroundings eagerly and inquisitively.

Finally, the starting box attendant called Larissa over for her tack check. They inspected everything, making sure her saddle, equipment and apparel was safe for use and that she was wearing her medical armband. Then, they led her into the three-sided pen of sorts that was their starting box. They observed their watches and after a few seconds told her she was free to start her round. Larissa urged Felix forwards, and he picked up a vivacious canter with no hesitance. Larissa scanned the rolling field ahead of her, looking for the first jump. It was a stone wall with a small hedge on one side. Steering Felix towards it, she pressed her hands into his neck and prepared for the jump. As he coiled together and then sprung into the air, Larissa moved with him, stretching her arms out so he could in turn have room to stretch his neck, and letting him come up underneath her as she held herself in jumping position. In moments, they hit the ground on the other side, and now that they had the first jump out of the way, all of Larissa’s remaining nerves disappeared, and it was just her and her horse, enjoying themselves.

Larissa kept up off Felix’s back, in galloping position, as they cantered and galloped around the field. She felt the three beat rhythm of his canter, felt each stride he took, as he first collected himself and then launched his large but strong body forwards. It was a picture perfect day; the sky a bright blue, nearly cloudless, with the sun radiating a comfortable heat. She was concentrating already on her next jump, an intimidating log set-up. There was a log on the ground with another log piled on top of it, and then right behind that, another log, except it was elevated about a foot or two above the other two using tree stumps. They would have to clear all logs at one go. It was a far jump to make, and even though it was frightening looking, Larissa delighted in the challenge.

She waited, keeping Felix’s stride nice and even as they approached. She knew they mustn’t rush the jump, but that they also needed a good deal of power to completely clear it. About two feet from their take off spot, Felix stumbled, and Larissa instantly wondered if this was going to work out. Luckily, Felix managed to stay upright, but Larissa still had a gut feeling that their approach was all wrong. It was too late though, Felix was already making a valiant effort to hurl himself over the logs.

Okay, we can make this. Larissa made sure to leave Felix alone so he could clear it without being bothered by his rider, and she tried to reassure herself that they would make it all the way over. Everything felt right in the air, so far.

An instant later, however, everything felt wrong. Larissa was being pitched forwards, and she felt the reins jerk. No longer did she feel that Felix was up and in front of her, but his head and forelegs were more behind and under her. His back end was up too high, as if he was a gymnast kicking into a headstand. She did not have a moment to right herself and figure out what was happening before she was hurled to the ground. Inevitably, she wasn’t quite quick enough in her reaction, and she felt her head make an impact as she hit the ground. Next, she curled into a ball, an instinctive reaction that she had taught herself for times like these when she was thrown off her horse. In the background, she heard a uniform gasp from the spectators and then urgent, panicked voices. When she stopped rolling, she turned her head just in time to see Felix somersault over the fence, his front legs had got caught in between the elevated log and the ground logs. This had sent him tumbling forwards. The thud of his twelve hundred and something pound body making contact with the ground was horrid and made Larissa scream out in terror for her horse. After his body hit the ground, Felix did not move, he was left lying on his side. Larissa staggered to her feet and ran over to her baby, while the paramedics ran after her, urging her to come with them to get checked over.

“No! Leave me alone, I’m fine!” she argued with them, shoving the men in dark uniforms away from her as she crawled to her horse and cradled his head in her lap. “Felix…”

The scene was then a rush of people coming at Larissa and Felix, the vet, the show officials, a few competitors and spectators, Mr. and Mrs. Greggory, the medics…

As her surroundings became more chaotic, Larissa started to feel rather dazed and light-headed. Abruptly, she felt herself drop backwards, and that was all. She didn’t even feel her head hit the ground.

A half hour later, Larissa awoke, finding herself befuddled. Her mother was beside her, their hands clasped together. She saw her mother’s lips move, but did not hear her words. She was too occupied with trying to piece together where she was and why she was there. As she scanned the room, she recognized features of her surroundings that were related to the medical field, and also realized they were in a moving vehicle. An ambulance… but why?

Soon the image of her horse flipping over the cross country course materialized in her brain, and the realization of what had happened hit her full force. Larissa tried to hold herself back, but couldn’t, and burst into a sobbing fit. Her mother stroked her hair and attempted to soothe her, but it was no use. Larissa couldn’t even get herself to form the words that would allow her to get an update on her horse’s condition. All that came from her mouth was blubbering nonsense and choking noises as she cried.

* * * * *

Two days later, when the doctors at the hospital were certain Larissa had suffered no more than a minor concussion, she was released from the hospital. Only then did her parents finally tell her how Felix was doing, even though she’d begged for an update every waking moment of the last two days.

Instantly, Larissa felt panicked, as she heard her mom draw in a deep breath before informing her on her horse’s state. “Larissa… I don’t know how to put this, so I will just say it right out.” Her mother paused once again and Larissa felt her fists clench, her fingernails digging into her palms. “Felix, he… when he fell, he landed wrong and injured his spinal cord. We had him immediately sent to a sport horse vet clinic and rehabilitation clinic for horses suffering with serious injuries such as his. The vets say he has a long recovery ahead of him, and right now we can only hope for the best. They will be doing everything they can, don’t worry.”

Larissa opened her mouth to respond, but couldn’t. Her face drained of color and she turned her attention to the passing landscape through the window of their truck. Her lips quivered, and she let her mom carry on.

“He is having difficulty walking, there is a lot of weakness in his hindquarters and his hind legs. They are wondering if he is… if he is… partially paralyzed. Until then, they have him in a full body sling of sorts, like, in the movie Dreamer, y’know? That’s so he can’t move around too much or injure himself any more. He’ll be staying at the sport horse clinic for a while, and even if he does make a full recovery, he may not be suitable for riding in the future.”

Her mother’s words were like salt on an open wound, she was upset and the realities of what had happened to her horse were making everything even worse. At least, she thought, he was alive. And not paralyzed. Sure her mom said they were wondering if he was partially paralyzed, but if he was still able to kind of walk, even with trouble, it means he would be able to move on his own again, didn’t it? Larissa’s mind was a mess of questions and what ifs, which was never a good thing for a person as worrisome as her.

“Can I go see him, Mom?”

“Yes, we’re on our way there right this minute, L’issa.”

When they arrived, they were greeted by the veterinarians who were working on Felix’s case. They talked away to Larissa’s parents, but Larissa wasn’t following the conversation. She was just staying near them, feeling dazed, as they walked to where Felix was being kept.

There he was. Her lovely horse, hung from the ceiling of his stall in a leather sling with lots of different straps. His eyes were dull, his ears resting back slightly, overall, he did not look very happy. Felix’s ears perked forwards somewhat as Larissa approached him. He grunted and then sighed in the way horse’s do as Larissa stroked his muzzle and looked him over. Her beautiful, brave horse. He always tried so hard for her. Larissa felt so horribly guilty about his accident, as if it was all her fault. If only she had turned away from the jump sooner…

“Will I ever be able to ride him again, Doc?” Larissa asked, her voice small and timid.

“We’ll see, Larissa. We have excellent staff here and a great, very advanced facility to help your horse recover. He will be well cared for here and we can assure you we will do all we can to help your boy return to normal. Though at this point in time, we think he has suffered some nerve damage, and he may not walk the same, as it seems like his brain signals are not quite getting through to his hind end as well as they should. I wouldn’t get your hopes up to high, Larissa, but I do believe miracles can happen.”

Larissa tried to manage a smile, and nodded to the vet before focusing her attention once again on her horse.

“Felix, I will make sure you get better soon and can come home. I don’t know if we’ll ever compete again, but that’s okay.” Larissa slipped her fingers into his soft mane and twirled the strands in her hand. The vet and her parents were silent as she shared a peaceful moment with her equine pal.

After a little while, they proceeded on and the vet showed them their beautiful, world class healing facility. There were pools for the horses to wade in to regain their strength, equine massage therapists, an oxygen chamber to enhance the time of recovery, an underwater treadmill, a walking machine, which is similar to a revolving door where the horses are able to exercise without a handler, a beautiful indoor arena with extremely comfortable footing, a hot/cold compression system, a solarium, and finally, vibration therapy. To Larissa, it all seemed expensive, technologically advanced and hopefully, she thought, very effective.

After the tour was finished and the Greggory’s were satisfied with the care Felix would be getting, Larissa was allowed to go visit Felix quickly before leaving. After embracing her equine friend, she left the facility. Uncertain of Felix’s future, Larissa knew, as her mother had said, that they could only hope for the best. The best, Larissa thought, would be that she and Felix would return to the eventing scene. However, she knew that was highly unlikely, so she instead accepted that she might never be able to ride her horse again. She hoped that he would recover quickly and painlessly, to live the rest of his life comfortably in a lush green paddock with his horse friends and Larissa by his side.

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  1. Oh my gosh!!! I love it- You are a very talented author and I hope you share more of your work:)