The Big Jump, 2019 First Place Youth Division

By Elaina Hoffman

The thundering of the horses hooves, pounding out a rhythm, fills my body as we gallop up a rise. The smell of horse sweat and leather wafts up to my nose from this magnificent brown creature I sit astride. I tighten my grip on the smooth saddle horn as we break over the top of the hill. A glimpse of tan shoots past me.

“Dang it!” I lope up to the where the horse came to a stop ahead of me. “I almost had you that time!”

“Yeah right! I always win. What made you think this time would be any different!” 

The girl bumps her horse’s sides with the heel of her worn, brown leather boots that have the toe wrapped in sparkly green duct tape, asking him to walk. Her long sandy blonde hair is always pulled back into two braids on either side of her head. She wore her new ball cap. Written across the front is “Cowgirl” with a “Buck’n Bronc” stitched behind it. The rim of the hat has a fancy hand-beaded trim. Her T-shirt is off-white with black shoulders. In the middle is a picture of a little black sheep with a small stain on the bottom left. Her blue jeans have stains and tears from all the brandings and horse wrecks they’ve been through. Her hazel eyes gleam with mischief and excitement. When she smiles, it’s sometimes hard to tell if she’s imagining a grand adventure or thinking of where to bury the body.

“I had a five-second head start, Elly. I thought for sure that would be enough! Next time, I want an eight-second start.”

I urge my tired horse to move along with her buckskin, Chico. We continue to chat about random things as we head at a lazy walk down the opposite side of the hill on our horses.

Nearing the bottom, I realize in horror that there is a creek. A very muddy, low, shady creek. I jerk back on my reins immediately. Elly, noticing that I am no longer walking with her,looks back up at me from the creek bottom as she slows her horse to a stop, too.

“Well, are you coming, or am I going to have to leave you here?”

“Can we go a different way, Elly? I don’t want to go this way. We always go this way, so we should try a different way. Yeah! That’s it —” I continue to babble nervously as I stare at the mud hole that looms ahead of us.

“Why? What’s wrong with this—” she gestures to the creek, looks where her hand is pointing, and then slumps her shoulders. “Oh, ya,” she sighs, remembering my gelding’s intense fear of water. “Come on, it’ll be fine! He hasn’t been through a creek in—” she starts counting on her fingers, shakes her head, and then puts her hands down— “a long time. Just try it, please!”Elly’s voice comforts me, but not enough. My horse hates creeks, which is completely irrational because he lives in a flood-irrigated pasture. Even the smallest stream seems to him to be enough to swallow him whole.

“I don’t know, Elly. Gib despises them, and you and I both know that. What makes you think he’ll just forget it?”

“Because he hasn’t been through one in, like, forever. Duh!” She laughs at her own goofiness, so I can’t help but laugh too.

“Fine, I’ll try. But I know where you live and if I die, I’ll come back and haunt you! And you know I will!” I say, lightened by her laugh.

“Okay. you do that.” We continue to walk down to the the creek bed. I try not to think about it as we come closer. This 1,100-pound animal puts his trust in me, a 72-pound girl. If I act scared, he knows it, and will be even more freaked out.

As we continue walking nearer to the creek, Gib tenses, seeing the dark mud and water shadowed by the surrounding brush.

“Are you sure about this, Elly?” | ask as I tighten my grip on the reins, my palms already sweating as my heart rises to my throat.

“Yeah. It ll be fine,” she says optimistically. “Just get Gib to go right behind Chico. We’ll go first, and you just make him keep coming. Don’t let him stop or he will have room to jump.” I somehow find a small assurance in her statement and urge Gib up on Chico’ s tail. Elly slowly pushes her horse to go into the muddy water.

Elly starts up the other side of bank, but in spite of my persistent kicking, Gib won‘t move. In the panic of knowing what is to come, I tighten down on the saddle horn with a death-grip, my knuckles turning white. Every muscle in my body clenches, preparing for the massive lurch. My horse’s muscles tighten, he lunges, and he flings himself to the other side of the creek like he’s trying to jump the Snake River! l get jolted forward, ramming my gut into the saddle, but fortunately, I stay on this time.

Elly looks back over her shoulder. “See, now that wasn’t so bad. Right?”

I have mud speckled on my face and all over my blue T-shirt. My heart is racing and my hands seem to be welded to the saddle horn. As I catch my breath, I manage to squeak, “Am I dead or alive because I really can’t tell and, at this point, I am not sure which I would prefer.”

“Well, I can still see you and you’re not hanging limply off your horse, so I think it’s safe to say that you’re not dead.” Elly’s mouth curls up into a mischievous smile. Her contagious giggle catches me and I burst out laughing too. Gib walks off down the trail like nothing ever happened.

We continue our ride, happy as can be, enjoying another beautiful day on the ranch.