Chapter Nineteen: Proving My Worth

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I bring Flame into the cross ties and start untacking him, his foamy sweat getting all over the tack. "Well, you're not the cleanest horse," I say as I lift his saddle off his back. I go down to cubby twenty-two, the second to last cubby. Flame's neighbour will be Sundance, Laura's horse. I put Flame's saddle, girth, saddlepad, breastplate, and jumping boots into his cubby. When Lynn comes back, she's holding a leather halter and a small silver key. I take the key and put it on my key chain with Raquel's cubby, my locker, and my dorm room. I take Flame's bridle of and replace it with his halter, leaving him tackless on the cross ties. I put his bridle away and return with Raquel's grooming kit. He leans into the brushes and I rub them across his body, taking the sweat and dirt away. I breifly stop to ask Lynn a question as she adds shavings to his stall.

"How is he so fast?" I ask, leaning into him. Lynn stops what she's going and looks up.

"Both of his parents were OTTB's, both with great histories of racing. Midnight Ride and Dark as Day. Incredible horses, really," Lynn explains. "Flame was going to be a racer. He didn't quite make the cut, so I bought him when he was two and started light training when he was four."

"Oh," I say in awe. I get back to grooming.

~

When I finish grooming Flame, I decide he needs some TLC, so I get his leather lead and bring him to the dorm to let him graze in the front yard. Reagan, Maggie, Alex, and Mason all see me and come out to greet me.

"Is that..." Maggie asks, getting cut off.

"Yes," I reply.

"Are you-"

"Yup," I say again, stroking his neck. "For the next week."

"Woa," Mason says, approaching Flame like a sacred creature.

"Know what the best thing is?" I ask, mounting Flame bareback against the fencepost. "This."

With that, I kick Flame's sides and he takes off at full speed down the cobblestone street. I hold on tight, my hands holding his mane and lead for security. When I reach the end of the path, we turn around and sprint back to the dorms.

~

It's Friday, the last day of school before our two week break. It's an odd day, so I'm in culinary with Rea and Alex. We made BLT sandwiches, and we're currently talking while eating.

"So, you ready for the big show tomorrow?" Reagan asks, finishing her sandwich.

"Yes, I'm so glad that Lynn is letting me ride Flame," I reply while wiping my mouth. "Just a little nervous."

"Yeah. We've been practicing on the same course for a while, now we'll be on new turf," she replies.

"Lynn told me that me, you, Quinn, and Winston are getting our secondary class or classes off today so we can get ready for tomorrow," I say. "We'll only have cross country today."

"Oh really? Yay!" Reagan exclaims, taking all of our paper plates and throwing them away.

"Yeah, speaking of which, it's time to go," I say just as the bell rings. The three of us walk to the dorms together, change into our riding uniforms, and walk to the barn. I glance into the pasture where Raquel is lazily grazing with Sundance. I miss riding her. I turn my attention to Flame, and start grooming him. He's fairly clean, so I tack him and bring him to the cross country building. When all of the students are here, she announces good news.

"Today, we're going to the steeplechase track," she says excitedly. "It's going to test your horse's stamina and ability to focus. We have nine students today, so we will run five at a time. Winner of the first race will also compete in the second race. Let's go!"

She mounts her other horse, a bay gelding that is the same size as Raquel. We all mount and make our way to the track. Lynn explains that the steeplechase class is going to test out the cross country course. We arrive at the track.

"The first group is Cameron, Reagan, Quinn, Maggie, and Winston," Lynn reads off of a paper. We line up our horses and Lynn counts down.

"...5"

"...4"

"...3"

"...2"

"...1"

"GO!"

The gates open and I rise in the saddle, giving Flame maximum ability to move his back. I only focus on him and getting him to run faster and faster, which isn't a problem because he loves to run. We leap over the jumps, not paying any attention to Winston who is getting closer and closer to us. With three jumps to go, I push Flame to go faster than I've ever run him before. He responds with a snort and picks up speed.

We rush across the finish line seconds ahead of everyone else. I slow Flame to a gallop, then a canter, then a trot to a walk to cool him down. We trot back to the group.

"Nice job to Cameron Taylor riding Dancing in a Ring of Fire," Lynn exclaims. "You'll be racing in the next run as well."

"That's not fair! She's riding a freaking racehorse," Winston exclaims angrily.

"So?" Lynn responds, getting annoyed. "It's your brother's fault. He's the one who hurt Raquel."

"Yeah, plus, Moon is an OTTB and still came in third," Maggie chimes in, stroking Moon's grey neck.

"Thanks guys," I say as I get into position for the next race. Lynn does another countdown, and we take off sprinting. Flame seems to get the point now and runs at a normal pace, staying neck to neck with Dani's horse. During the final four jumps, I encourage him to run faster, and he does. We finish the race in first by 2 seconds.

"Cam, you're going to kill it tomorrow," Lynn says when I return. "I'm betting on you."

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