the jitters will wear off a little more, the more that you go.

We're all up in the bleachers; Me, T, Susan, and Nikki. It's about 10:30, a Saturday night, and only about a hundred and ten riders have ran so far tonight. My shirt is sticking to my back and I'm getting more antsy with each drag. Five riders. Drag. Five more. Another drag. Yawn.

Susan and T get up to make their way back to the truck, T hopping along on crutches with the newly shattered ankle Tsunami gave her last weekend. The swelling hasn't gone down enough for the doctor to go in and put it back together. They said it was in twelve or thirteen pieces. The thought of broke bones spook me, so I know I'll never again ride barefoot and bareback. Probably.

"You getting on to warm up yet?" she says.

"I'm gonna get a drink at the concession stand first." Thirsty.

"Well, get me a chicken basket, will ya? and Ketchup."

Susan chimes in that she would like one too. So, me and Nikki scoop up my lucky horse-shoes I've been peddling, and make our way to the stand. I sold six tonight. Not bad. At the stand, I place the order and grab a small little fry basket to squirt ketchup in out of the pump jug.

"Would you like some chicken and fries with your ketchup?" I say as I set the goods in T's lap. She fishes some money out to reimburse me as I'm munching on her fries.

"You gonna get on your horse? They're on 121 right now." Susan says. Yeah, I better go. My horse is dozing, tied to the trailer with her face buried against the hay net. But, she's alert when I get up to her head. I slip her halter off, and her nose-band on. Next, her headstall, gently pulling her ears through and lifting her forelock over the brow-band. I fasten the throat-latch, run the tie-down through her breast-collar and snap it to the front d-ring on the girth. I tighten her cinch snugly and go to mount.

She knows what is coming and she's more than ready. My old little mare dances in circles around me as I finally get my foot in and swing up. I make her stand for a few seconds, she tosses her head and wrings her tail. No waiting games right now, please, she seems to ask. I flick my heel a half a centimeter up and she jolts forward at a joggy walk. I keep her reined in.

We ride to the circle of soft dirt, where several riders are trotting, loping, walking their horses counter-clockwise. A couple of rebels are going their way clockwise, mostly cutting off others and being a slight nuisance. My horse isn't as calm as she was when I got here earlier, when we rode about and socialized, stretching legs after the haul and seeing what was around. I make her settle into nice trot, nice enough for me to sit and not post. She carries her head low and ignores the commotion of horses and seemingly-tandem riding pairs around her. I've been surprised with her tolerance of others getting so close. She isn't known for playing well with others, and she'd try to kill the other horses if penned up with them and left to her own devices. But under saddle, she's a doll. I pat her neck while speaking low, and I say "Good mama. Good girl." She's not my baby if she's three years older than me.

We go back to the truck and the crew. They're on the 130's now. I'm 144. It's almost go-time, so we take up to walking circles kind of close and to the side of the alley. I aim for big, wide, circles. Keep calm. Keep calm. Carry on. My stomach is doing flips. Skip knows it. I'm nervous. Skip knows that too. Her walk becomes a jiggy trot. She's really light in her front, and she is buzzing like a hot-wire. I feel the currents in her, electric girl. I'm nervous sick. Just don't let me hit anything.

I'm feeling floaty when I hear the announcer booming on the P.A. "... please come running. Up next, Number 144, Heather R., on Skip, come riding, and then we'll have 145... Then a drag..."

143 blasts out of the arena on her pony, and I'm up next. Oh, Hell. I point my horse to the alley, she's jigging and I'm sitting deep in the saddle. She balks at the mouth of it, so I swing my quirt and give her a pop on the rump. There's some encouragement for her to move, and she surges forward. I settle onto my little jet-pack; up the alley and into the arena. We blast our way to first barrel, I do a quick "check" on the reins, try to find the "pocket" as we slide around it. My right hand is guiding the way and my left hand is wrapped around the horn of my double J. I try to remember to look where I'm going and as we depart from the first can, I put my left leg on her side, HARD, as I pick up my reins with both hands once again. Don't you dare duck out, Mama.

Our New-Years run at Marshall was a total fail. I quit riding when I got in that arena, and as a result my almost perfect little geriatric mare made a beeline out of the pen as soon as we rounded that first barrel. I might have been just a bit spooked and intimidated, there in that little indoor arena. My run was following up to the run of the all-too-well-known Martha Josey. She was clothed in a getup involving lots of bling, a black hat pulled low, ruby lips, and a deep purple colored duster. She smiled and talked up a polite banter as we waited in the labyrinth-like alley, my horse pawing and jigging (and otherwise making a total ass of herself), while her horse was stock-still as a statue. I was shocked she talked to me, until T pointed out that everyone is a potential client and there's an image to be made there.

But this time, we make it around the first one and on to the second barrel we go. I go a lot wider on this one than I should have, but second barrel is always the one we cream. We chug around it, clean, which is relief for me.

Heading to third, and now my brain has caught up enough to get me kicking. I sit deep, right hand on the horn and round the last one nicely. The clover leaf pattern is done, both of us heading back out the way we came, and I've got my quirt out swinging. Skip's neck is out stretched flat along with her ears. She chugs down the center of the arena... Go, pony, go! As we exit the alley, I'm again sitting deep, deep, a little bit back in the seat, and I ask my girl for a stop. She slows down to a resemblance of a walk, but she's still high as a kite. We need to get ourselves in check before I return to the trailer. Ten minutes later her breathing is almost normal, so we make it back to the bunch.

"I had to walk her down and make sure she was calm before we pack up and go, the last thing I want is for her brain to get fried like some of these others." I never want her to get sour. I use my horse for more than barrels. She's my joyride, too. Pond swimmer. Trail horse. Usin' horse.

"You did good! A whole second faster than your best run a couple weeks ago, I think you're almost competitive!" Susan says.

"Yeah, well my stomach was flopping about while warming up, it happens so fast it seems like my brain gets left outside the arena, I almost can't think! I just, I wanted to make sure not to hit anything."

"Well, you know you did that, and that it's you that's nervous, and not the horse. You just let her do her job. You've already beat yourself from last time, and you're not kicking to the first barrel, or from first to the second, so you know there's room for improvement there."

I nod my head, tie my horse to the trailer, and go to fill up a bucket for water. I watch my mare's little bay ears twitch with each swallow. I'm tired and its almost midnight, but the fever is there, and I can't wait for the next run. I'm already hooked.

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