Heather and Laura arrived at the show with more than enough time to get registered, have a snack, and watch both the exhibition and open classes. The facility was not as nice as that in Deerfield; there was only one ring, it was outdoors and there was no chute at the entrance. Instead, horses warmed up outside the ring where they circled, if necessary, and then simply charged through the gate, but the footing looked good, and the crowd seemed eager and supportive.
They saw Kevin ride and improve his time again, and then, because Heather was riding second to last in the youth class, she had time to watch Kendra too. Boomer, her horse, was anxious, fumbled his departure, and went too wide around one barrel, and cut too close to another, but as the pair crossed the finish line, Heather stood up and cheered loudly.
Eventually, Laura suggested that they return to the trailer to get Rimfire ready. “Hey, buddy, how ya doing?” cooed Heather as she approached the horse. “Did he behave himself?” she asked the group of competitors who had parked their trailer next to them. They had a big, six-horse trailer, with a full load of animals, plus eight people to do the riding and grooming. Several of them had happily volunteered to watch Rimfire while Laura and Heather saw some of the show.
“He was fine,” replied a teenage girl with short brown hair that was almost completely hidden underneath her western hat. “All he did was sleep.”
“Thanks for keeping an eye on him. We really appreciate it.”
“No problem. Hey, when are you riding?”
“Pretty soon. Time to warm up.”
Heather turned her attention back to Rimfire and gave him a good brushing while Laura pulled out his saddle, bridle, pad, and overreach boots. Rimfire continued to stand quietly while Heather adjusted the pad and Laura placed the saddle on his back.
“Hey, Heather, I just had a great idea!”
“I’ve got my cell phone in the truck. Why don’t I call Nicholas and give him an update? I think I have his number.”
At this suggestion, Heather suddenly felt sick. She had forgotten all about her deception, but Laura’s proposal brought her plan crashing back to reality. “Um, um…” Heather fumbled for a quick excuse, “uh, I don’t think we should bother him.”
“Well, uh, he’s gotta get ready for his dinner.”
“I’m sure he’ll have time to take a quick call.” Heather’s hands began to shake as she tried to adjust the cinch strap on the saddle. Her back was facing Laura, so there was no way her friend could see Heather’s trembling hands. Pretending to be concentrating on getting Rimfire ready, Heather was instead carefully listening to the phone call.
“It’s ringing but there’s no answer,” whispered Laura. “Hold on, I’ll leave a message…Hey, Nicholas, it’s Laura. We’re at the show, and I wanted to call to let you know Heather’s getting ready to ride. Call me as soon as you get this message.”
Heather couldn’t stop shaking, and now not just her hands were wobbly but her arms were too. Her legs felt like jelly, her knees were buckling, and it seemed as though she would fall over at any moment. Suddenly, the impact of what she had done began to sink in. “Laura,” she started to say, and then hesitated.
“Uh…um…I’ve got something to tell you…”
“You can tell me later. You’ve got to get Rimfire warmed up; it’s almost your turn.”
Laura grabbed Rimfire’s bridle and put it on the horse. Then, as she climbed into the bed of the truck to get his boots, her cell phone rang. “Nicholas? Hey! Hold on, I can barely hear you. Let me try moving to a better spot…Heather, I’ll be right back. I’m going to run over to that little hill at the edge of the property to see if I can get better reception.”
Before Heather could say anything, Laura was gone.
“Heather Richardson and Rimfire’s Silver Bullet are in the hole,” boomed the voice over the loudspeaker.
“Hey! Isn’t that you, Heather?” asked the neighbor who had watched Rimfire earlier. “You better hurry.”
Heather jumped up on Rimfire’s back and trotted to the ring. “Laura’s going to be furious, she’s going to kill me, she’s going to be so mad,” she muttered to herself.
When Heather arrived at the ring, the horse and rider team before her was already doing the pattern. There was no time to properly warm up Rimfire. The young rider tried to stay calm, but her heart was beating so fast, and she felt sick to her stomach. She couldn’t keep her mind on the race she was about to run but instead, focused on the trouble she was in. She suspected that this might be the last time she’d ever get to ride Rimfire.
As Heather’s name was called to run her pattern, Laura came dashing in from the outskirts of the farm. Nicholas had been confused at first as to why Laura had called, but the two friends quickly figured out what Heather had done. Nicholas was upset that Heather had betrayed his friendship, while Laura was incredibly angry at the way Heather had used her to get Rimfire to the show. Laura apologized profusely to Nicholas, even though it wasn’t her fault, and promised to keep Heather from competing.
“Heather,” she called out, but it was too late. Heather charged into the ring, her whole body tense, her mind on her problems instead of her horse, and her trembling hands clutching the reins tightly. Rimfire tossed his head as he neared the first barrel, trying to release the pressure on his mouth. The reins were too short and pulled the bit back against the bars of Rimfire’s mouth, forcing his head close to his chest. He needed to stretch his head out to help balance his body, but Heather refused to loosen the reins.
Rimfire managed to clear the first barrel, and as he aimed for the second one, Laura reached the ring. The instant she saw the pair in the ring, she noticed that Rimfire didn’t have his overreach boots on. “Heather!” she screamed, “Stop! Stop! Rimfire doesn’t have his boots on!” but her voice was drowned out by all the other people screaming, cheering, and yelling, “Pocket! Pocket!”
Coming around the second barrel, Heather’s preoccupation with Nicholas’s finding out what she’d done destroyed what little concentration she had left. She couldn’t hear Laura, nor did she notice all the screaming. Heather clenched the reins, and as Rimfire tried to curve his body around the barrel, his constrained body position forced him to stumble. He fell toward the barrel, and Heather’s shin slammed into the metal rim. The barrel moved and tilted and almost rolled over but then wiggled back into place. Meanwhile, pain tore up Heather’s leg as a small trickle of blood oozed out onto her sock. At the same time, Rimfire’s back leg overreached and tore at the bulb of his front heel. He too, felt pain shoot up his leg, but the proud Morgan was in full race mode, and his competitiveness would not allow him to stop.
Rimfire took several tumbling steps forward, and the entire audience cringed. Would he fall?
The horse refused to succumb to defeat and fought the urge to go down. He wanted to run! Rimfire struggled to regain his balance and somehow, in mere seconds, he was back on his feet, charging to the final barrel.
“Pull up! Pull up!” shouted several people who could see blood seeping out of the back section of the horse’s front hoof. With the roar of the crowd once again at thunderous levels, Heather couldn’t hear what they were saying. She continued onward, still clutching the reins.
Rimfire raced around the last barrel, but the pain in his heel was too much, and he stumbled a second time. However, this time...