Pan & the Come Back Kid
by Debbie Smith © 2014
Janey sat astride Pan, her twelve-year old buckskin gelding. His strong muscles twitched. Dust swirled from under-hooves of passing horses and riders of all shapes and sizes. Janey’s blue eyes watched on, the dust tickling her nose. Her hand occasionally swiped away those tickles.
Janey, recently turned eleven, took in the kaleidoscope of sights and sounds; riders working their horses, people chatting, a loud speaker blaring out instructions and kids chased after by anxious parents, warning them not to get too close to the horses. They were here for Hampton Common’s Annual Gymkhana, a popular crowd pleaser.
Hellos and Good luck todays were bandied between friends and passersby, many stopping to have a quick chat to Janey and slap Pan’s big apple rump.
Janey’s fingers played absent-mindedly with strands of Pan’s dark, loose mane. He stood sixteen-hands high. Large dapples spread over his rump and rippled over the rest of his creamy-tan body. His warm-chocolate coloured eyes brimmed with dark lashes and added character to his kind and somewhat handsome face. A thick black forelock hung between his twitching, elegant ears while his soft muzzle and whiskers worked overtime, exploring. Each of his powerful legs from the knees down looked like someone had taken to him with a black paintbrush and his hooves, sleek and smooth, glistened in the morning’s sun. A large dark, wet stain ran along Pan’s neck and under his girth. Janey breathed in the warm sweet mixture of horsehair, shampoo and oats that Pan’s sweat gave. She handed him a pat and smiled. Hampton Common was Janey’s most favourite place to be on the planet and the home of her beautiful buckskin.
“Hey Janey, we’re up next,” called Shorty. She was a riding mate who also agisted her horse at Hampton Common. She reined in her dainty mare, Mary-Lou and jostled up alongside Pan.
“How’s the shoulder and leg?” she asked.
A few short months before today, Janey had been involved in a serious car accident with her grandfather. She’d suffered a broken leg and fractured shoulder, but her grandfather was sent to a major hospital in another state to recover.
“I’m fine, thanks; just a case of nerves and a few twinges. Gosh I sound like my Pa. Just want to get through today.”
“To look at you, no one could tell what you’ve been through.”
Janey smiled and winked.
“Hi girls.” Jack Hampton, the owner of the equestrian centre called out as he strode past. “Looking mighty fine up there, Janey. Feeling okay?”
Janey nodded and said, “Thanks, Jack.”
“We’re just about ready for you guys,” he replied.
Janey’s heart notched up a few beats. Rivulets of sweat slid down her back under her shirt.
She saw her mother’s bright yellow polka dot blouse bib-bobbing its way along through the crowd. She waved to attract her attention. Her mum always wore this blouse for luck on important days and Janey wore a small bell on a leather choker her grandfather had given her. What started out unintentionally soon grew into a tradition; like sharing a secret handshake with someone.
Jack Hampton’s voice blared over the mega phone he carried, marshaling the under 12’s to their first event, the Bending race.
Janey reached for the small bell around her neck and brought it to her lips.
“This is for you, Pa.” she whispered. “If I can get through today, I know you will as well. It’s a promise.”
When Janey’s name was called, she edged Pan towards the starting line for the finals.
Pan’s tail swished like he had a thousand flies to chase away and his ears flickered back and forth. The flag fell and Pan sprang forwards engaging his hindquarters. They headed off at a cracking pace, weaving through the poles. Janey’s eyes darted either side of her. They were in the lead. With a quick signal from Janey, Pan dug his hooves into the sandy soil and spun on his two hind legs. She kept her right leg tight against his girth and flank to ask him to swing away from the pole, just a little. Yes. He responded and soon they were flying back through the poles to the finish line. They had won with Shorty close behind.
They enjoyed a bumper day collecting ribbons in the finals of the Bending race, the Barrels, the Bang and Go Back race, and the Rescue Relay race. It was just like old times when Janey was disqualified in the Flag race because she’d dropped the flag. She always did.
The afternoon sun drew long rays over the Common and only one race was left for Janey and Pan to run. The Key Hole race was a fast, fun race. Competitors had to gallop as quickly as they could through an area set out in the shape of a key beginning with a fifty-metre dash from the start and again to the finish. It was a timed event run throughout the day that allowed competitors to compete when they chose.
Janey left this race till last. It was Pa’s favourite event. She grasped the choker briefly and closed her eyes.
Janey’s name was called. The Marshall raised the flag and let it fall.
Pan’s massive hindquarters exploded in flight down the fifty-metre keyhole entry like a missile. Janey leant slightly back and Pan slid his hindquarters under him. She kept her inside leg tight against the girth and her outside leg checked back to his flank. Pan kept his turn tight. He spun on his two back legs while his front feet grazed mid air until they found ground and he sprinted away to the finish line.
Janey’s faced beamed and hid the throbbing pain in her leg and shoulder. She slid off Pan and pulled something from her pocket. Pan bowed to retrieve his treat. Her mother smiled.
Janey felt blessed. She didn’t fall and she’d lasted the day.
She couldn’t wait to call Pa.
This story was Debbie’s first short story for children and received 3rd place in Creative Kids Tales ‘The Key’ short story competition
Debbie hopes you enjoy reading this story. Make sure you drop her a line. She’d love to hear from you.