Just outside Barn F, Katherine slipped into her protective vest, secured it, and put her helmet on. She glanced toward the spectator parking one more time hoping to see Steven before mounting Major. Quietly, Sadie led them toward the warm-up area near the starting box as she tightened and secured her helmet strap. The announcer’s voice rang out across the complex, keeping everyone abreast of each competitor’s progress through the course. Just as she picked up the reins and Sadie set her free, she heard a rider was down at the number twelve jump and a loose horse was heading toward the barns. Suddenly, a gray rider-less horse galloped by, setting Major and other nearby horses into their instinctive flight response to possible danger. If one horse was running from something, perhaps they needed to, too. Having not gathered her reins yet and riding only on the buckle, Major scooted from under her and spun in the direction of the free horse. Katherine nearly came unseated but managed to stay on by gripping with her legs until she gained control. Pain shot through her bad leg, almost bringing her to tears.
* * *
Following a warm-up canter and a few jumps, Katherine headed for the start of the course. When she glanced back, she was surprised to see Sadie and Steven appearing to have an engaging conversation as they followed. She hoped Sadie didn’t mention her leg. It felt better and she didn’t want to worry Steven. Major was calmer than usual which helped her calm down. Normally, it was the other way around. No sooner than she met with the cross-country steward, they were announced in the hole, two riders to go ahead of them. Steven and Sadie approached her.
“Major looks great,” said Steven, keeping pace as she moved closer to the starting box. “How’s the course?”
“It will be a good test of a rider’s training at speed and precision. But we’re ready!”
Following an update on a few of the riders on course, the announcer called her to the on-deck position, next to go. She thought, how funny they always find an announcer from the UK with a wonderful British accent, giving the event a touch of class.
“Next up, we have Katherine Walker onboard her Thoroughbred gelding, Major Command, from Elkhead, Montana, number sixty-three,” said the announcer, calling them into the starting box.
“Well, here we go.”
“Good luck, Kat!” said Steven, with a wink.
Sadie gave Major a pat on the hind end. “Have a great ride. See you in eleven minutes.”
Katherine waved back. As she circled in the box to face the starting line, the nerves hit her like they always do; until the second the buzzer goes off. Then it’s all about Major and the next obstacle. She stroked her boy’s neck. “Let’s do this.”
She shortened her reins as the crowd became a palpable hum, her senses as sharp as the tips of Major’s ears, working back and forth between the anticipated course and her. Katherine could feel her big bay gather himself beneath her. They were ready. She glanced at her watch as the buzzer sounded. And they were off!