(What If? Exercise: Read the description here.)

I can hear the crowd cheering, applauding madly as the contenders before us finally complete their round. The competition is fierce today. Why shouldn’t it be? This is the Grand Prix after all, and only the best come to compete.

A cloud shifts in the sky, allowing the sun to shine brightly over the course. Some might say it’s a sign of good luck, but I choose not to believe in such things; we’ll do well because we’ve trained weeks for this, and if we win, it’ll be because of all our dedication and teamwork alone.

The judges have finished announcing their scores, and our opponents now come striding in, passing us by without a glance. I notice Belle shifting slightly in place; if I didn’t know better, I’d say she was nervous. But maybe that’s just me.

“All right”, I breathe with as much confidence as I can muster while the announcers call our names next. “Let’s do this.”

With a click of my tongue, Belle and I stride proudly out into the course. The audience follows our progress as we make our way to the starting point, and the judges fall silent as we position ourselves, ready for the signal. All eyes are on us. It’s now or never.

A few seconds pass… then the bell chimes. Time to ride.

I click my tongue once more and coax Belle forward with a firm squeeze of my legs. Obediently she begins to move in a walk, then a trot, and finally a canter. No surprises; this horse and I have been working together for years, and by now we know each other’s every intent. With the sun gleaming in her chestnut coat and the warm summer breeze flowing visibly through her light mane, I start to feel the rush of riding that is always so familiar but never gets old. There’s no question; this is where I belong.

The first jump approaches. Four feet. We can make that, I think with assurance, and I know Belle can sense it in me. As the fence grows in our line of vision, I shift into the two-point position, ready to cue the horse for the leap. Just a few feet now; she knows what to do from here. In a single fluid motion, Belle and I dip together as one, and her strong hind legs push against the ground to send us both sailing through the air and over the fence. This is by far the best part of show jumping: that brief second in every leap when both horse and rider are flying together, defying gravity like a great two-headed mythical beast. Then gravity wins, and Belle’s legs touch the ground again. As we clear the jump, I lean back slightly to allow for a smooth landing. The fence’s planks remain untouched after the leap. No penalty incurred.

With another 15 obstacles to clear, the course is far from over, but so far so good. The horse continues forward, and now I tilt the reins and lean with her to steer her toward the next jump. Another four-foot-high vertical awaits us, this time with poles. Not a problem; Belle clears it with the same effortlessness as before. I can feel the pride and triumph rising in my heart now. We can win this competition, I just know it.

The clock keeps running as we continue through the course. Verticals, oxers, liverpools – none of them are too great a challenge for my Belle and me. Expertly we turn as one past the cleared obstacles and hurtle straight toward the next fences in the sequence. One, two, three jumps in a row. Combinations have never been a weakness in our routine. Almost every fence cleared, and not a single plank or pole overturned. We’re almost there. Just one more jump to go.

But the final jump is a triple bar.

Of all the show jumping obstacles Belle and I have ever practiced with, the triple bar has always been the most difficult for us to clear. Roughly every three attempts we make to jump it, one try will result in the third bar being knocked off the fence. Whether this is because of a difficulty Belle has to leap completely over such a wide ascending spread or an error in timing and control on my part, it’s hard to say. In any case, this means that there’s about a 33% chance we won’t completely clear this jump now without incurring a fault. Can we make it this time?

I decide I have to trust my horse. Deep down, I know she wants that blue ribbon just as much as I do, and she’s going to do everything in her power to help bring it home for us. No matter what, we’re in this together.

The last jump approaches…

Once again, I ready myself in the two-point position, guiding Belle straight toward the center of the triple bar. Five feet away from the fence, I squeeze her sides just a little with my legs. The horse dips, my body moving with her, and she kicks off from the ground in the takeoff.

Suddenly, everything seems to be happening in slow motion. In the flight of the jump, I’m now aware of several things at once: the breeze on my neck, the steady stretching motion of the horse’s legs, the racing pace of my own heartbeat. The high poles of the fence almost seem to slide beneath us as we soar fluently above them. There’s one… There’s two…

And at the very last pole, I swear I can just sense Belle’s final surge of determination take over. In that one split second, I feel her shift her back legs the tiniest fraction upward, and suddenly I know the pole won’t be dislodged from its post as her hooves barely shave by it…

Never in my life has a jump landing felt so triumphant. I can’t even hear the crowd cheering anymore; the rushing sound of my heart almost leaping out of my chest is too overwhelming. I spare a glance at the clock, which stops after we cross the final line of the course. Two seconds under the time limit. Unbelievable; we did it!

The audience is going wild. We were far from the favorite team to win, yet here we stand, being presented with a $10,000 prize and a first place blue ribbon. I may be the one getting most of the glory, but I’ll always know who the real champion is. Could I have asked for a better show jumping horse than my Belle?

This short story is based on What If? Exercise 9: “Taking Risks”. The idea is to write a detailed first-person story depicting an event that you will likely never experience firsthand in real life. The objective of this is to step outside the limits of “write what you know” and practice writing what you can only imagine, an important skill that every fiction writer should learn.

The subject I chose for this piece is a certain sporting event that I’ve always enjoyed watching during the Olympics, but that I’m sure I would never be able to try myself. Though it took a fair amount of research to write the story as accurately as possible, I had fun imagining myself in the narrator’s place. I hope you enjoy what I’ve written. Thanks for reading!

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