Walking back to the trailer, Riley reflected on the pattern and visualized her run. She slipped into automatic pilot as she finished getting ready – leg wraps and bell boots for her horse, long-sleeved shirt and hat for herself, the competition bridle.Rock and roll music was playing over the loudspeaker several minutes later when Riley got close enough to the arena to hear, and when the announcer called her name, she felt ready. She had already positioned Novocain, her horse, where she wanted him as the competitor before her exited the arena. She was aware of the announcer still speaking but was no longer listening – her complete focus was on her riding and her horse.
Novocain began to hop, almost in place, as they came closer to the mouth of the alley. He was ready to go, coiled like a spring, waiting for her to let him go. Riley put all her weight in the stirrups as they passed the protruding fence so it no longer posed a danger of catching her leg. Her seat and upper body switched to a forward position, and she released the firm hold on the reins. Novocain burst into a full run immediately.
With her seat and legs she encouraged the gelding to run. Both hands were on the reins to help guide and steady him with her eyes fixed on the point just before the first barrel where she wanted to be when she would ask him to start the turn. When she cued him at that point he responded immediately; he checked his momentum and wrapped the barrel so closely her leg skimmed the top all the way around. As he straightened from the turn his powerful hind end pushed away and he covered the ground quickly to the second barrel. She sat deep in her saddle and cued him again. He gathered his body to shorten his stride and made a pretty arc around the barrel, wasting no time.
As they left the second barrel the crowd was silent, watching the near flawless run unfolding. Riley knew that although Novocain was running hard and fast, he was also running carelessly, and she feared he would crowd the last barrel. They were covering ground to it very quickly and she caught herself overanalyzing, debating how much to let him turn it on his own. As they closed in on the barrel she failed to raise her inside hand or sit back to cue him to gather for the turn. Her body reacted by stiffening as she realized she was neglecting to ride her horse.
She felt Novocain hesitate, as if he was questioning how she was riding now versus their practice and training sessions. It caused him to falter in his stride, losing track of his feet momentarily. As he pushed away from the misstep, a back hoof caught the edge of his front shoe, jerking him and pulling the shoe off. He stumbled slightly. His momentum kept him up and he quickly regained his form, but they had bumped the barrel as they left it. She encouraged him to hustle as they sprinted for home and there was silence except the sound of Novocain running. Just before they crossed the timer the crowd moaned, and she knew the barrel had gone over.