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Short Story: The Misadventures of Number 487

Molly Tucker stepped up to the long wooden table set outside the tack room. It was the entry booth for the makeshift horse show office. Mrs. Albee, the mother of one of Molly’s barn buddies, had volunteered to help. She smiled at Molly and checked her name off the list of entries.

An illustration of Molly and her horse in this short story about a horse show
Illustration by Jean Abernethy

“Good morning, Molly; it’s nice to see you,” Mrs. Albee said. She handed a stiff white card to Molly. The number 487 was printed on one side.

“Here’s your number for the day.”

Molly looked it over.

“Hopefully my horse won’t destroy it.”

“How is Mr. Chips today?” Mrs. Albee asked. “He’s one of my favorite horses.”

“Well,” Molly began, “if you really want to know, he didn’t enjoy his bath. I told him that gray horses need baths to look clean, but he didn’t agree.”

She motioned to her riding breeches. A purple blob of shampoo had left a swoosh across her leg.

“This is from bath number three.”

“He’s had three baths?” Mrs. Albee seemed amazed.

“He rolled after the first one yesterday,” Molly began. “Then I gave him another one and put his blanket on. But he somehow got it off and slept in the one and only dirty spot in his stall. So I had to give him another one this morning.”

Mrs. Albee leaned over the edge of the table and acted as if she was sharing a secret.

“Just remember, Molly, every horse show is an adventure. That’s what makes them so much fun.”

Ready for Anything

With that bit of advice, Molly began the walk to Mr. Chips’ stall. The path made a loop around the arena. Like magic, it had gone from the hum-drum riding ring where she took her lessons to a grand display of jumps, banners, flowers and greenery. Excited, she walked faster.

She would’ve skipped but didn’t because she’d forgotten her boot socks. Her bare feet were rubbing against the inside of her tall leather boots. The warm July morning didn’t help, either. If her feet began to sweat, she wondered, would that make matters even worse?

Parked near the front of Chipper’s stall was the truck that belonged to Sue, her trainer. The windows shimmered like mirrors, and Molly gasped when she saw her reflection. Her short hair had sprung from her hairnet. It was sticking out beneath her helmet like a scarecrow. She quickly combed through her hair with her fingers, secured her hairnet and strapped her helmet back on.

“That will have to do,” she said to herself.

Within a few minutes, Molly had tacked up Mr. Chips. That had its own challenges. Always searching for a treat, the speckled gray nuzzled the pockets of Molly’s show jacket. The slobber marks left waves of foam on the fabric. Molly tried to blot them away with a rag, but it didn’t help.

“Well, at least you’re clean,” Molly told her horse. She led him to the mounting block and climbed into the saddle. At the same time, Mr. Chips grabbed the reins in his mouth. He began chewing them like a stick of gum.

“Please, Chippers, don’t chew on my nice show reins,” Molly pleaded. She pulled them out of reach, took a deep breath, and rode to the warm-up ring.

Warm-Up Time

Sue was already helping some of the barn’s other riders. They were schooling back and forth over a low jump.

“Come join us, Molly,” Sue called. As Molly trotted into the warm-up ring, Sue gave her a long look. “Mr. Chips looks awesome,” Sue said, “but you look a little disheveled.”

“What does that mean?” Molly asked.

Sue thought carefully for a moment.

“It means you look untidy. Or scruffy.”

Molly recited all of her mishaps and finished by saying, “And that’s why I look disheveled.”

“Welcome to the world of horse shows,” Sue replied. “Each one is an adventure.”

“Yes, I’ve heard,” Molly said.

Show-Ring Misstep

Mr. Chips warmed up well. He was an old champ when it came to showing. By midday, Molly had won several ribbons, and felt like she could win her big jumping class.

Perhaps she tried too hard, though. She made a sharp turn toward the final jump and rode her horse to an impossible take-off spot. Mr. Chips wisely refused. Molly wasn’t upset, because she knew it was her mistake.

But she was embarrassed when Mr. Chips paused for a snack. He grabbed a mouthful of flowers from the base of the jump and carried them like a toy while they exited the arena.

Molly and her horse became the talk of the show. She was the determined young rider, and Mr. Chips was the gentle horse with a quirky disposition. What happened at lunch only added to that opinion.

Sweet Tooth

Illustration by Jean Abernethy

Molly led her horse to the picnic tables set around the lunch wagon. She searched for someone to hold her horse while she ordered. Mr. Chips searched for something sweet. He found it. In one quick move, he stole a glazed donut from a lady’s hand and chewed it with joy.

“I’m so sorry!” Molly cried.

Fortunately, the lady laughed, and gave Mr. Chips a pat on his nose.

“I once had a horse just like yours. He also had lots of heart and personality.”

Molly was glad the lady wasn’t mad, especially when she found out the lady was also the judge!

On a Roll

In their final class, children’s hunters, Molly and Mr. Chips had a wonderful round. It wasn’t a surprise when it was announced that first place went to number 487. Molly proudly led her horse into the arena while Mrs. Albee followed with a long blue ribbon and silver plate.

“I wanted to be the one to give this to you,” she said.

Molly reached out to accept the awards but felt a tug on the end of the reins. The people along the rail began to laugh, and Mrs. Albee placed her hand over her mouth in surprise.

Mr. Chips had let out a sigh, pawed the ground, and rolled in the soft dirt. Then he stood up and shook like a wet dog after a bath.

Molly had no choice but to laugh, too.

“I have definitely learned that horse shows are an adventure,” she said.

This short story about a horse show appeared in the Summer 2020 issue of Young Rider magazine. Click here to subscribe!

Cindy Hale

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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