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Lily and her friend Mandy compete against each other in a horse show for the first time.
The sign points toward the ball field behind the library. JUNIOR HORSE SHOW TODAY. Lily's stomach jumps, and she clutches the door handle of Gramp's big old truck. At last she is really here. The horse show is about to happen.
The truck creaks and rumbles onto the ball field. A cool gray mist hangs low. It makes the grass look very green. Other colors are bright, too: red bandages on a dapple gray horse; shiny blue, maroon, and silver trailers; the rusty brown snow fence ring that Gramp helped set up last night.
Gramp parks the truck. When the engine shuts off, Lily can hear Beware in the back, crunching hay.
"See Mandy anywhere?" Gramp asks. Lily is looking, as her fingers fumble at the seat belt. Nearby is a trailer that looks like Mandy's. Standing beside it is a chestnut horse that looks a little like Shane. But the horse's tail is braided, and so is his mane, in little short braids evenly spaced along his neck. Mandy doesn't know how to make those braids.
Gramp hops out of the truck. "Hey, Woodie!" somebody yells. Everywhere Gramp goes, somebody knows him.
Lily climbs down on her side of the truck. She can't bring Beware out until Gramp is through talking. Just for a minute there is nothing to do but look.
There are horses everywhere: tied to trailers; cloaked in bright blankets; being led somewhere; being groomed. All the horses look tall and beautiful.
There are kids in breeches and crisp white shirts. Kids in chaps and cowboy hats. Parents bundled up in sweaters, with thermoses of coffee. Parents in shorts and goose bumps.
Under a yellow striped tent near the ring, a crowd of kids and parents gathers. Mandy might be over there, signing up for classes, getting her number. Last year, Lily remembers, they stood in line together. They were sharing Lily's old pony, and right up to the last minute they couldn't decide who should ride in which class.
But if Mandy is there, Lily does not see her.
Thump! Beware stamps inside the truck.
"Guess the little mare wants out," Gramp says. In a moment Lily hears the chain on the tailgate rattle. She starts toward the back of the truck.
Lily turns. A girl in white breeches and a dark coat and hat is coming toward her. The girl leads the braided chestnut horse. It's Mandy! But she looks so grown-up. She looks like a rider in a magazine, and Shane looks like a magazine show horse.
"Lily, you don't have your riding clothes on!" Mandy's eyes are very bright, and she seems to have even more freckles than usual.
"Mom and Gran are bringing them," Lily says. She can't stop looking at Shane's braids.
"Doesn't he look great?" Mandy says. Her teeth are almost chattering, she is so excited. "My mother did it! From a book!"
"Oh," says Lily.
Beware's hooves thud inside the truck as Gramp turns her. Now he leads her down the ramp.
Beware's coat glows dark red. Her mane hangs long and black down the side of her neck. When Gramp led Beware into the truck half an hour ago, Lily thought her mane looked beautiful. Now it seems shaggy and messy.
Gramp ties Beware to the side of the truck. "Hi, Mandy," he says, and: "Lily, better not stand there like a bump on a log. You've got to get this horse ready!"
Now it's time to hurry. Lily brushes Beware all over, with the currycomb, the hard brush, the soft brush. When she brushes Beware's belly, Beware curves her neck around and scratches Lily's arm with her bristly upper lip. Beware loves to have her belly scratched.
But Lily doesn't have time. She gets out a soft piece of cloth that used to be Gramp's T-shirt. She polishes Beware with the cloth until her coat is sleek and bright. She combs Beware's mane and tail until every hair lies straight and separate.
"She looks beautiful," Mandy says. It's true, but does Beware look like a show horse?
While she works, Lily listens to the sounds of the horse show. Even though there are so many people and horses, it seems quiet. Everyone is grooming and getting ready. Nothing has started to happen yet.
Mom says, "Brr! Chilly morning." She has Lily's good riding clothes over her arm and a mug of coffee in her hand. Gran is with her, in a gingham dress and a sweater. She has brought a big picnic basket.
"It'll get hot later," says Gramp. "All set for a day with the horses, Gracie?"
Gran snorts. "I'm here to spend the day with Lily," she says.
"Better get dressed, Lily," Mom says. "Oh, Mandy, don't you look sharp!"
Lily takes her clothes into the back of the truck. In the dark corner she starts to take off her barn clothes. "I'll go sign Lily up for her classes," she hears Mom say, right outside the wall of the truck.
"No racing!" Gramp warns her. "Remember what we decided."
"You decided!" says Mom.
"Barbie, you know it's right," Gramp says. Lily hears Mom make a little sound that doesn't quite agree with him.
Lily doesn't agree with him, either. She wants to ride in every class, all day long. She wants to win as many ribbons as she can. But Gramp thinks the racing classes in the afternoon might teach Beware bad habits. And Gramp is the one who knows the most about horses.
Lily pulls on her breeches, and buttons her fresh white shirt. She slides her feet into her tight boots. She puts on the dark jacket that Mom used to ride in when she was Lily's age. The jacket makes Lily feel tall and straight, the way she should look on a horse.
She puts her helmet on. She feels like Mandy now. The tall black boots pinch a little, but they make a nice hard sound as Lily walks down the ramp.
"Looks good!" Gramp says. But Mandy is looking at her hair.
Lily's hair is too short to braid and too long to disappear under her hat. So is Mandy's. They have exactly the same haircut. But this morning Mandy's hair lies neat and soft on the back of her neck.
"Come over to our trailer and I'll give you a hairnet," Mandy says. "There were two in the package."
The hairnet makes Lily's hair feel heavy and together and special. When Mandy has helped her put it on, Lily looks at herself in the mirror of Mandy's pickup. Now she looks grown-up, too. The mirror can't show how she feels inside.
"Do you think we'll win blue ribbons this year?" Mandy asks. "I've never won a blue before."
"Me, either," says Lily. Last year the pony wouldn't let them win. But this year Lily feels sure she'll win blue ribbons. This year she has Beware.
And this year Mandy has Shane. He stands beside the trailer, his copper coat shining. His braids are pulled so tight they make little Vs all along his neck. Shane is a good horse, too—and there is only one blue ribbon in each class. If Shane wins it, then Beware can't.
"Thanks, Mandy," Lily says.
Mandy is staring across at Beware, and she jumps when Lily speaks. "Oh. Um, good luck."
Lily walks back across the wet grass. The sounds are getting quicker and sharper now. There is a loud, whispery noise from the announcer's tent, and then the loudspeaker voice says, "Testing. Testing. Can you hear me over there, Woodie?" Gramp waves his hat.
"Thank you," says the announcer. "And welcome to the thirty-third annual Bradford Junior Horse Show. Halter Class will be starting in about seven minutes, there's coffee and doughnuts at the food tent—and the sun is coming out!"CHAPTER 2
There is still a gray mist in the air, but the sun shines through it. It tickles Lily's eyes.
Mom comes back with Lily's number—number sixty-two. She pins the cardboard circle onto Lily's sleeve. "There! You look wonderful!" she says. "And so does Beware."
"Better go on over," Gramp says. "Let the judge get a look at you, before the rest of 'em crowd in."
Lily unties Beware. She folds the lead rope in her hand, and she turns Beware around.
Beware's head goes up. She points her ears at the ring, and she steps forward eagerly. "Look, Gramp!" Lily says. "She wants to go!"
"Ayup," says Gramp. "She's ready to win some ribbons!"
Other people are heading toward the ring, too. They lead their horses in, and Lily follows.
In Halter Class the cleanest, sleekest, best-behaved horse will win. Maybe it will be Beware. Her coat is very shiny. Her mane hangs like a soft, floaty curtain. She walks quietly. She is interested in the other horses but not nervous. Lily looks at the judge, to see if she has noticed.
The judge stands in the middle of the ring. She is wearing a cool skirt and blouse, comfortable shoes, and a big shady hat. She carries a clipboard, and she is writing something on it. Maybe it is something about Beware.
The ring fills up with horses. Everyone in the show goes in Halter Class. Little kids with ponies. Eighteen-year-olds who are almost grown-ups. Don Rice, who rides Western, in his black hat and shiny purple shirt. Ginger Taylor, who always wins the Jumping Class. Mandy and Shane are there, too. Shane keeps crowding into Mandy.
When all the horses are in the ring, the announcer says, "Line up, please." People bring their horses to stand side by side, in a line that goes from one end of the ring to the other.
The judge walks down the line, looking at each horse. Then one by one people lead their horses down the line in front of everybody. They turn around and trot back to place. Some horses won't trot, and some won't walk. But they all look sleek and trim.
Mom and Gran watch from the fence right in front of Lily. But there is nothing to see right now except a lot of horses standing still. Gran folds her hands on top of the snow fence. They look fidgety, with nothing to make or fix or clean.
Mandy and Shane go down in front of the line. Shane trots both ways, but he looks beautiful.
Don Rice is next. His buckskin horse is very clean, and it walks and trots perfectly.
And now the judge is looking at Beware.
Lily stands straight at Beware's head. Her heart thumps hard. She watches as the judge runs a hand down Beware's neck and looks for dirt on her fingers. The judge puts her hand under Beware's mane, and there is dirt there. She makes a check mark on her clipboard, and Lily's face gets hot.
The judge walks behind Beware, past her unbraided tail—another check. Beware turns her head to look back at the judge. "Okay," the judge says. "Walk her out, and trot her back."
Beware walks and trots right beside Lily. Lily never has to pull on the lead rope. But by the time she gets back to the line the judge has already moved on.
When the judge has looked at all the horses, she writes on her clipboard and hands it to the ringmaster. The ringmaster goes to the yellow tent. He comes back with six ribbons, and the announcer says, "Okay, here are the results for Halter Class. In sixth place—"
Lily's heart pounds. What if she wins sixth? Or fifth? But she doesn't. She keeps waiting, and listening. What if Mandy's name is called?
When Don Rice goes to get the blue ribbon, Lily can see Mandy standing beside Shane. This is not like last year. Then they were little kids, and they got a ribbon in every class. In Halter Class they get no ribbon at all.
At least neither of them got a ribbon, Lily thinks. They are still even. She makes a "too bad" face at Mandy, and Mandy makes one back. Then it's time to go saddle up.CHAPTER 3
Now everyone is hurrying. "Where's my girth?" somebody yells. "I can't believe I didn't bring my girth!" Mothers and fathers are running around, too. Everybody has lost something or messed something up.
Gramp is waiting at the truck, with Lily's saddle over his arm. "Good little mare," he says to Beware. "She did just what she's s'posed to."
"But we didn't win a ribbon," Lily says.
"Pfft!" Gramp settles the saddle on Beware's back. "Who wants a ribbon for housekeepin'? That's what Halter Class is—just washin' and dustin'!"
"And housekeeping doesn't matter at all, Linwood?"
Gramp whirls around. Gran is standing there. "Oh, boy, now I'm in trouble!" Gramp takes off his green hat and holds it over his heart. "Gracie, I didn't mean it! Just trying to cheer Lily up!"
Lily tightens the girth and listens to the sounds around her. "Ow, get off my foot!" somebody yells. A horse walks by with no bridle on. He wanders just ahead of his owner, snatching bites of grass. Gramp picks up an extra lead rope and goes to help.
Lily bridles Beware. Then she mounts and rides over to the ring. Beware is calm, but she is eager to move. It feels good to be on her back, crossing the ball field with other riders all around.
The next classes are Equitation classes. The rider, not the horse, is being judged. The little kids always ride first, and they are in the ring now.
Lily tries to tell who will win, but it's hard. One little girl sits straight and still. But when her pony turns in circles, she doesn't do anything. She just sits there, looking scared.
One pony bucks, and the boy falls off. The pony trots to the gate, and Gramp catches it and helps the boy back on. Lily sees him say something, and the boy laughs.
All the little kids get ribbons anyway. Then it's the Juniors' turn.
Lily follows Mandy into the ring. There are lots of Juniors. They all look good. Even Mandy sits molded in position, like Lily's plastic cowboy who fits perfectly on his plastic horse. Nothing can shake the cowboy loose. It doesn't look as if anything can shake Mandy, either.
Lily rides Beware around the ring, just walking. She tries to remember everything Gramp and Mom have taught her. Sit up straight. Heels down. Elbows at your sides. She passes Mom, standing by the snow fence, and Mom says quietly, "Smile."
That's right. You're supposed to smile, too. It shows the judge that riding is easy for you and that you are having a good time. Lily stretches her lips and looks at the judge. The judge is looking at the clipboard.
"And trot, please!" says the announcer. "Rising trot."
Rising trot means posting—rising out of the saddle at every other step. Lily could never post right on the pony, but on Beware it's easy. For a minute everything feels fine.
Then there are hoofbeats, getting loud behind her. Beware puts her ears back, as if she might kick. Two horses pass, one on each side, very close. Their hooves drum, and a cloud of dust rises. One horse cuts in front, and Beware has to dodge. Lily loses the rhythm of the posting. She is bumping along, just like on the pony.
"And walk, please. Walk."
Lily sits deeper, and Beware starts walking. A chestnut horse flashes past. It's Shane. He goes halfway around the ring before Mandy can make him walk.
Lily tries to settle into the saddle and ride right. Next they all will have to canter. That will be even harder.
"And canter, please!"
Horses grunt as their riders urge them on. Some start cantering fast, and some won't canter at all. Two horses trot fast ahead of Lily. Their riders kick them in the sides.
Beware just lifts into a canter, in the gentle rhythm that Lily knows well. If they were alone in a field, Lily would want to canter like this forever.
But other horses keep passing and cutting in front. It is noisy and dusty. Beware has to slow down, and speed up, and dodge. She doesn't feel smooth now, and Lily doesn't have time to think about riding well.
"Walk," says the announcer. Now they have to turn around and do it all again, going the other way. It is just the same, except that Shane runs away with Mandy.
At first Lily thinks Mandy is showing off, galloping fast past all the other horses. But she goes all the way around the ring, and when she passes again, Lily hears her saying, "Whoa, Shane!" Mandy's voice sounds shaky and scared. Lily is scared, too. Shane is going so fast he could crash into somebody. Lily is glad when Mandy gets him stopped.
Finally the announcer says, "Line up," and in a minute the ringmaster brings back the ribbons. Lily doesn't see how she could get a ribbon. Unless maybe the judge didn't see her bumping at the trot. Unless maybe she was riding beautifully all along, even when it didn't feel that way.
"In sixth place," the announcer says, and Lily's heart thumps anyway, "number eighty, Mandy Firestone riding Shane."
Mandy? But Shane ran away! Didn't the judge see that?
Mandy rides forward with a proud, surprised smile, and the judge puts the green ribbon on Shane's bridle. Lily listens. Fifth place, fourth place ... Mandy got a ribbon. Maybe she will get one, too, in spite of everything.
But Ginger Taylor wins the blue, and Lily follows her out of the ring, with everybody else who didn't win.
Excerpted from A Blue for Beware by Jessie Haas. Copyright © 1995 Jessie Haas. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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