Illustrations by Jean Abernethy
“Ten-minute call for children’s hunters. Ten-minute call!” The announcement over the loudspeaker caught Yancy Clements by surprise. Her first class was only 10 minutes away? Time certainly flew by at horse shows before you got to try for a ribbon.
She stopped brushing the horse in front of her and admired her grooming job. Her hard work had paid off. The stout little gelding’s name was Frito, and his coloring really did resemble a corn chip. He’d started out a dull tan, but now when the sun hit him just right, he shimmered. It wasn’t the shiny luster of a golden palomino, but the creamy glow of a summer moon.
“You don’t look like a lesson horse anymore,” Yancy said with pride.
Next it was time to get herself ready. Her show apparel was hardly fancy. It was more like a patchwork quilt of borrowed items and hand-me-downs. Such things didn’t matter to Yancy, though. She was too excited about competing at the barn’s annual show. What she wore on the outside couldn’t ruin her dream of winning a blue ribbon.
Once she’d saddled and bridled Frito, she mounted and headed to the warm-up ring. As she rode to meet Beth, her trainer, she was amazed at what she saw. Fairfield Farm had been transformed from a quiet riding stable into a circus of activity. Flowers decorated the jumps and banners hung from the fences. A food truck was parked next to the pony pasture.
She hardly recognized Fairfield’s riders and horses now that they were fashionably dressed and beautifully groomed. Yancy did, however, notice Beth, her trainer. She was easy to spot in her straw hat rimmed with a wide red ribbon.
“Come on, Yancy,” Beth called.
“Let’s get Frito over some warm-up jumps!”
Fortunately, Frito had years of show experience. He wasn’t fazed by the traffic jam of horses in the warm-up ring. But Yancy was.
“I’m trying to get in line,” Yancy called to Beth. “But I don’t want to get run over.”
Beth put her hands on her hips.
“Be brave, Yancy. Yell ‘heads up’ and ride forward. Frito’s not a youngster. He has to loosen up and get over some jumps before you go in the show ring.”
Beth’s encouragement made Yancy braver. She shortened her reins, stepped down in her heels and cantered once, twice, then three times over the practice jump. Despite his pudgy frame and chunky legs, Frito soared over each jump like a yellow Pegasus. Beth smiled at Yancy and pointed to the back gate of the show ring. Frito was ready to go.
The announcer’s microphone clicked on.
“Next on course is number 345, Frito, owned by Fairfield Farm and ridden by Yancy Clements.”
Just as she had practiced in her lessons, Yancy made an opening circle and headed to the first jump. Frito’s ears pricked as he locked onto the target. Yancy held her two-point position and Frito kept a steady canter. They both floated over the jump.
The entire course went the same way, with the tubby tan horse cruising over the jumps. And then it happened. At the very last jump, Yancy thought Frito would take one more stride before leaving the ground, but he didn’t. His take-off surprised her, and she nearly came out of the saddle.
It was both rough and awkward, and Yancy knew she wouldn’t get a ribbon. Yet she patted Frito’s neck as they left the show ring. It was her mistake, not his. He had jumped bravely.
As the show continued, something went wrong in every class that kept Yancy out of the ribbons. While cantering in English pleasure, she stopped squeezing with her legs and Frito broke to a trot. During equitation, she let her foot slip and she lost her stirrup. In jumpers, Frito had a clear round, then Yancy went off course in the jump-off.Illustration by Jean Abernethy
By the end of the day, she was discouraged. Not even a jelly donut from the food truck, which she shared with Frito, could make her feel better. Fortunately, Beth appeared just then.
“Hey, don’t be gloomy,” she said. She placed one hand on Yancy’s shoulder. “This is just your first show. There will be plenty more. But win or lose, it’s important to learn something at every show that makes you a better rider.”
Yancy took a deep breath and said, “I guess I’ve learned that showing is harder than I thought. But I’m not giving up.”
Beth smiled. “I like that determination,” she said.
“I also learned something else,” Yancy added. “Frito likes jelly doughnuts.”
Beth laughed at that. “Yes, he does! Snacking at horse shows is his favorite hobby.”
Feeling more upbeat, Yancy led Frito toward the barn. Her classes were over and the show was winding down. Fairfield’s best riders were headed in the opposite direction. They were going back to the show ring because it was time to hand out the day’s top awards.Illustrations by Jean Abernethy
Just as Yancy reached the cross-ties, the PA system clicked on. “Yancy Clements,” the booming voice said, “please come to the show ring with Frito.”
More than a little bit puzzled, Yancy turned Frito around and led him back up the dusty path. She was told to line up in the center of the show ring alongside several other competitors.
Yancy in her mismatched wardrobe, holding the reins of little Frito, stood alongside elegant riders astride fancy Thoroughbreds and impressive warmbloods. Each of those riders had earned a championship trophy or an equitation medal, and they accepted their prizes graciously.
“And now for our special award,” the announcer stated. “The winner is chosen by the judge, and goes to the young rider who has displayed excellent horsemanship and a great attitude throughout the day. It’s called the Rising Star Award, and today’s winner is Yancy Clements.”
Suddenly everyone was clapping and cheering, including Fairfield’s finest riders. Beth, in her straw hat, was leaning over the rail, giving Yancy a thumbs up. Then the horse show judge stepped out into the show ring and handed Yancy a huge ribbon. It wasn’t one solid color, but a rainbow of blue and red and yellow.
“I’ve been very impressed with your riding and your sportsmanship today,” the judge said. “You have a bright future ahead of you. Keep riding!”
“Oh, I will,” Yancy replied, and she meant it with all her heart. She clipped the ribbon onto Frito’s bridle and he flipped his nose up as the streamers tickled his muzzle. It wasn’t the blue ribbon Yancy had dreamed of, but it was the most glorious one she could have ever imagined.
This short story called “A Ribbon for Yancy” originally appeared in the July/August 2019 issue of Young Rider magazine. Click here to subscribe!
Cindy Hale’s life with horses has been filled with variety. As a child she rode western and learned to barrel race. Then she worked as a groom for a show barn, and was taught to harness and drive Welsh ponies. But once she’d taken her first lessons aboard American Saddlebreds she was hooked on English riding. Hunters and hunt seat equitation came next, and she spent decades competing in those divisions on the West Coast. Always seeking to improve her horsemanship, she rode in clinics conducted by world-class riders like George Morris, Kathy Kusner and Anne Kursinski. During that time, her family began raising Thoroughbred and warmblood sport horses, and Cindy experienced the thrills and challenges of training and showing the homebred greenies. Now retired from active competition, she’s a popular judge at local and county-rated open and hunter/jumper shows. She rides recreationally both English and western. Her Paint gelding, Wally, lives at home with her and her non-horsey husband, Ron.
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