Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Sport or Fitness (02/15/07)
- TITLE: For the Love of the Sport
By Loren T. Lowery
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Hank looked over at his companion and smiled. “I think Thunder would have understood just one, whoa, Lance.”
Pulling back on the reins, Lance replied. “It’s like I’ve never ridden before.” He petted his horse’s neck. “It must be the high altitude.”
Hank chuckled, “We are pretty high up, can’t argue that.”
Lance looked around; white clouds teased the tops of red sandstone that towered above them as they rode. Their plateau was further cut with deep burnished arroyos filled with dark purple shadows. “Ever get tired of such beauty?”
Hank shook his head. “Never.”
“Think I’ll be ready? My assignment’s in a few hours, you know.”
“It’ll come back to you. Things you love always come back.”
“Seeing as I was called up here sooner than I’d planned, it’ll have to be my feelings for horses.” He drew a breath. “I’m honored to be called as a guardian angel, you know. Gabriel says my charge, Jonathan, just turned eight; a good age to start riding.”
Hank nodded. “Parent’s prayed for Jonathan’s protection soon as he said he wanted to be a cowboy at rodeos.”
“Gabriel said they hope he takes up Western Pleasure - maybe learn Reining. Guess that’s why I was selected for this assignment.”
“Not all the reasons.” Hank stated, sagely. “Reining is a tough sport, not everyman is able to bring out the athletic ability of his horse in the confines of a show arena. Running precision patterns, flying lead changes, rolling back over the hocks, spinning and sliding to a stop.”
Lance smiled a boyish grin. “Pretty exciting stuff.”
“Course it’s not what some would call a man’s sports.”
“A game for sissies, how many times did I hear that while a youngster? Some kids pick a sport; some sports pick the kid.”
Hank clicked his horse to a slow walk along a path stretching the length of the mesa. “So, how did you handle it, growing up?”
Lance measured his gait, next to him. “It wasn’t always easy. But I knew I loved horses, and was never happier than when I was around them.”
“Along the way my love became a passion and what others said didn’t matter. I think good can be found in all sports; but, for me, it was working with horses. Learning to ride, break, train and show in the arena made me as good and as fit as any athlete, even made a man of me.”
“How so?” Hank asked.
Lance bit his lip. “Truth be known, I was a screw-up when I was younger; and if it hadn’t been for horses tethering me, there’s no telling how I’d have turned out.” He petted Thunder’s neck. “No matter how bull-headed I was, they were ten times more so. No matter how strong I tried to be, they were a hundred times stronger; and no matter how gentle, their hearts were always a thousand times bigger.”
A warm dry air picked up from the mesa and created small whirlpool of dust and sand.
Lance reined his horse to a stop before a great gulf. “If making a man comes by needing to be honest, then yes, they made me a man. There’s no lying to these animals. They are beyond deceit.”
“Made you competitive, too, I’d venture.”
Lance smiled shyly. “Something inside me told me I could do it; and, when you find you’re good at something, you just want to keep trying. It wasn’t about beating the next guy; it was about bringing out the best in both my horse and me. Being a horseman, I was never alone; we were a team, facing challenges that I could never have coped with by myself.”
“Things good for Jonathan to know.” Hank said. “And another reason you were called.”
“Will he see me?”
“No, just sense you.”
Lance nodded, knowingly and asked quietly. “You were my guardian, weren’t you?”
Hank tipped his hat, smiling. “It was my honor.”
Lance tipped his back. “And my privilege.”
Hank stood in his stirrups, looking into the gulf before them. “You’ve been a good student, Lance, but now it’s time. Go on down, instruct Jonathan the ways he should go. Share the love of a sport that made you into the man you became.”
Nodding one last time, Lance clicked his horse to a canter and leapt into the gulf, gliding below the stars, below the clouds and into the heart and dreams of a waiting eight year-old cowboy.
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