Dirt flew across the paneled fence, splattering the faces of onlookers. Cowboy hats ducked slightly and the announcer cackled into the microphone, “That was quite the show, my friends.” Minutes later the bull trotted proudly out of the arena, after much effort of the pick-up men.
She sat on her horse in the corner outside of the arena: out of sight, out of mind. Her arms were crossed, hiding her anxiety. Barrel racing was the next event. She knew once she picked up the reins her mare would start up, like an engine of a motorcycle purring in anticipation, and she would have to contain her. The excitement, the nervousness—it never died away. Three cans were set up. The cowboys scooted them and twisted them to the perfection of a barrel racer’s pleasure. She was last hole, the bottom of the rake. Saving the best for last, she told herself. She let out a long breath. Her mare matched her with a loud blow. She patted her neck careful not to disturb the reins. That was how sensitive her mare was, how in-tune of an ensemble. Stepping off, she tightened the cinches, another indication that the race was nearing.
The announcer spoke her name in a long drawling voice; she was next.
She picked up the reins, the mare started prancing and breathing quickly, pulling her head against the reins, explosive but gentle. She pointed her towards the alley, the long path to a short pattern. Instantly, the mare picked her head up, pushing against the reins, begging to be let loose. Closer they inched to the gate as the previous horse left the arena. The anticipation building as they saw the first barrel. She kept her eye on it before giving the mare the cue that it was all hers; it was the mare’s turn to take control.
A major part of barrel racing. Trust that as they ran full speed towards the barrel, the mare would, in her right lead, hunker down grazing my toe in a perfect semi-circle around the girth of the barrel. Trust that we would find each barrel and getting as close as possible—“You can bump ‘em, you can kick ‘em, just don’t knock em over!” the announcer cackles—we would make the pattern home, clocking our fast time.