Featured story from the
March/April 2007 issue
Hear the author read her story
see the illustrations for this story
“Truly a form of art,” Isabelle Wilcox imagined a sophisticated British voice saying. “And now down the long wall at the extended trot!” (Here Isabelle pressed her spur into Kaptein’s side.) “Oh and such beauty! Never before has the world seen such an extended trot. Never before has the world seen such a …”
But Isabelle never quite decided what the world had never seen because at that moment, Kaptein snorted and shied at something up on the hill.
“What is it Kaptein?” Isabelle asked her horse. Kaptein shook his long chestnut mane and pranced with his head high in the air.
“Kaptein!” Isabelle gathered up her reins with annoyance. She knew daydreaming on a horse, especially one that could get spooky and silly like Kaptein, was a guaranteed, tested-over-thousands-of-years formula for disaster.
“Don’t you try those dumb saddlebred stunts on me, mister.” Kaptein finally responded to her squeezes on the reins and put his head down a bit.
“That’s better.” Isabelle relaxed her fingers. Then she saw what her Arabian was spooking at. A small rider was trotting up on a fat pinto pony.
“Ugh.” It was Abbey and her pony, Rainbow Daughter. Named after some dumb horse in some lame TV show. In Isabelle’s opinion, horses should not have names that sounded like a kindergartner named it. But in this case, it was true; Abbey had named her pony when she was in senior kindergarten.
“Hey Isabelle!!!” Abbey waved enthusiastically from atop her small mount.
“Hi Abbey,” Isabelle said wearily. Abbey didn’t seem to notice.
“Guess what!” Abbey didn’t wait for an answer. “Ava said that since I have been doing so well on the trail, I can go with an older rider.” Isabelle knew what was coming next but she crossed her fingers in the pocket of her new vest anyway. “Do you want to go on a trail ride, Isabelle?”
“Um, OK.” Isabelle bit her lip. She liked trail rides fine, but Abbey was so annoying. She was what her friend Will would have called uber-annoying. Uber. It was such an elastic word.
“Isabelle, did you know I’m going to Sacramento for Thanksgiving? It’s true. Will you miss me? Cause I know you go on trail rides with Sammy but she isn’t a very good rider. I think anyway.”
“Sammy shows three in the pony jumper division, remember?” Isabelle said through clenched teeth.
“Oh I know but she takes from Claire, you know. I don’t think she is a very good instructor at all, well you should know, Isabelle, she hated you when you used to ride Thomas …”
“Abbey—shush up! She could be out here.” Isabelle was regretting her decision to ride with Abbey. “Let’s long trot a serpentine when we get to the field, ‘K?”
“All right,” Abbey said cheerfully. “I just love long trotting —especially outside. It’s so fun! I can’t canter without Ava so we shouldn’t go too fast; I know Kaptein can get excitable…”
And so the trail ride dragged on with Abbey chattering and Isabelle getting more fed up with her. Finally, it began to get dark and Isabelle suggested they go back to the barn.
As they rode back, Isabelle did what she had been doing for the past couple of weeks. She thought about the long process and eventually final decision that had led her parents to move to Wisconsin. Her father had been offered a high-powered job in Wisconsin, one with more pay and respect. Her father didn’t always get along with his employers, but as a sought-after medical research doctor, it was usually the hospital that was scrambling to meet his needs, not the other way around. However, if there was a way to stay fairly local, Edward Wilcox would move to a different hospital. Now, the whole Wilcox family would be moving to Wisconsin so Edward could be a research surgeon heading up cloning in the Midwest. Pretty amazing once she thought about it.
“Isabelle!” Abbey’s annoying voice cut through her thoughts. Isabelle glanced at her. The little girl was pointing at something.
“What?” Isabelle asked with as much patience as she could muster.
“There’s an enormous log blocking the path.” Abbey sounded genuinely scared. “And I can’t really jump, especially not out of the ring!”
“Well…” Isabelle frowned. “Looks like you are going to have to try. Because the way we came is about a half-hour ride from here. And we can’t go back, it’s already pretty dark. Unless you plan on camping out here.”
Abbey really did look for a second like she was ready to go galloping recklessly back to the barn. But then she shook her head. “I’ll try, OK?” Abbey even managed a small smile. “But don’t expect it to look like something out of Young Rider!“
Isabelle grinned. “That’s the spirit!” Normally, Abbey wasn’t her favorite person, but she did want her jump to be a success, not only for safety reasons, but Isabelle didn’t want the younger girl’s confidence to be damaged.
“OK, go for it, Kim Severson!” Isabelle shouted to Abbey, naming an Olympic cross-country rider. Abbey cued her pony into a canter and gamely looked ahead of the log. “Nice, Abbey, keep looking ahead, give her little squeezes if she feels hesitant…”
Rainbow popped easily over the three-foot log and Abbey landed laughing on the other side.
From where Isabelle sat on Kaptein, she saw a tiny fist pumped in the air. She could also hear Abbey praising and patting her pony as though she had just won an Olympic medal. In a way, she had. Isabelle circled Kaptein as large as she could allow and pushed him into a canter.
“Heads up, Abbey!” Isabelle shouted to clear the way for her and her gelding. Kaptein galloped strongly up to the obstacle and then stopped and rolled his eyes. “Kaptein!” Isabelle whispered fiercely into his mane. Isabelle couldn’t believe Abbey had gotten over and not her! Kaptein did cross-country fairly often. Rainbow wasn’t too experienced, although she was rock steady. Ugh.
“Isabelle! What happened??” Abbey’s voice floated over the log. Isabelle ground her teeth.
“We’re fine. Stay out of the way please.” Isabelle bent over Kaptein’s neck and urged him into a slightly slower canter. She hadn’t wanted to rush him. This time, the Arabian sailed over it, snapping his front legs to clear the obstacle. “Good boy!” She stroked Kaptein’s neck generously.
“That was great!” Abbey enthused. “But… what happened the first time?”
“Oh never mind, Abbey. You did awesome too. Now let’s ride home, it’s really dark.” Isabelle pointedly turned Kaptein around to face the barn. The chestnut gelding began tossing his head and jigging in place. “Stop that.” Isabelle tugged at the reins and Kaptein resorted to just chewing the bit.
Luckily, the ride home was completely uneventful. Abbey chattered on about how she might become a professional eventer but Isabel tuned her out for the most part. Finally, the stone barns came into view and Isabelle waved goodbye to Abbey, who would be untacking in the Horseshoe barn while Isabelle was untacking in the Diamond barn. Isabelle, frankly, was really not sorry to see her riding off towards Horseshoe, although Abbey waved until she disappeared into the other barn.
“Whew!” she whispered to Kaptein when their ride was over. “One advantage of moving to Wisconsin—no more Abbey or Claire!” Isabelle undid the girth and lifted the saddle from her horse’s warm back. She sighed as she thought about the move again. On one hand, it was kind of nice to be forced out of the complicated web of barn politics. On another, she did have some great friends at San Joaquin Valley Ranch and at St. James Middle School. Still, she would be going to Clearwater Equestrian Center, a barn known for its excellence. And attending another Lutheran school, where she would meet other religious kids. “It can’t be that bad,” she said aloud.
Absentmindedly, she unwrapped a peppermint and fed it to Kaptein. He crunched it loudly and tossed his head up and down. “Will you like it there?” she asked her horse.
He nodded up and down. Isabelle knew it was simply her horse enjoying the treat but it reassured her nonetheless. Bring on Wisconsin, she thought. We’re ready.