Big Jumps, Bigger Stakes: Part One

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Chapter One

There are dozens of types of equestrians. You’ve got your backyardigans, your country cowboys, your self-made professionals, your experienced old-timers, your up-and-comers, your born naturals, your know-it-alls, and the people that have more money than God himself who live at the tippy-top levels of this sport.

My world is full of glitz, glam, and six hundred dollar GPA helmets. I spend my summers traveling across the country to various horse shows, where I pay thousands of dollars to have my two minutes in the ring to hopefully earn a ribbon that costs approximately ninety-nine cents to produce. Where I show, the parking lots are lined with glittering Mercedes sedans and Range Rovers. The moms wear three hundred dollar jeans and five hundred dollar sandals to watch their perfectly outfitted daughters ride their six-figure mounts in a neatly groomed ring of dirt. Small children are handed daddy’s credit card and are given free range. Horses are important from Europe and barn workers and grooms are imported from Mexico.

Not only does this sport come with a hefty price tag, it comes with a high personal price to pay, too. Beautiful young teenagers sacrifice their weekends to jump their horses over obstacles instead of partying with their friends. Small children spend all of their time and energy pining over the older girls and wishing for their talent and fame. Extramarital affairs are common, drugs are done on the regular, and horses are pushed past their limits in a way that PETA probably wouldn’t approve of. This isn’t your normal after-school activity.

This story is about the three months I’ll never forget.

As soon as the temperature dips below 50 degrees, equestrians flock to Florida to hibernate for the winter. West Palm Beach and Wellington are filled with horses from December to March; in fact, there may be more horses than actual people. Porsches and Teslas hum quietly while they wait for horses to cross the street. Children far below the driving age giggle wildly as they race their golf carts, their braids and bow flying behind them. The Palm Beach International Equestrian Center is a humming center of activity, day and night, day in and day out. The energy is electric and it’s easy to know why everyone loves it down here.

Samantha and I are watching the older Amateur Owners go, their expensive horses making up for the fact that they still can’t find a distance to anything despite their advanced age. Yet another one crashes her horse into an oxer and screams that her most recent facelift is ruined. Sam snorts without even looking up from her iPhone, her perfectly manicured nails tapping away at the screen without missing a beat.

I have known Sam since we were both six years old, bopping along on our small ponies. She oozes gorgeous in a way that seems effortless and natural. A smattering of freckles covers her perfect ski-slope nose, and her large green eyes seem to pierce your soul. Her auburn hair falls in loose waves down to the middle of her back. Today she wears a large pair of Tom Ford sunglasses with her show clothes and is easily draped over the front seat of the golf cart.

“Let’s grab a bite to eat. Lord knows we won’t miss much here,” Sam says, making fun of the old ladies who struggle to even pick up the canter. She slams the golf cart into reverse, spooking a large dappled-grey gelding, eliciting another chorus of screams. “Oops! So sorry!” Sam says to the glaring group of grandmas as we drive past the in-gate. “She’ll probably have that horse sold by the end of the day,” I murmur.

Once we’ve navigated through the crowd of horses and grooms, Sam floors it.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see two young men, about our age, both with flawless olive skin and shiny, dark hair. My eyes widen in shock, and I nudge Sam in the ribs. “SAM!” I whisper through gritted teeth.

“What? You know I’m hungry, and when I’m hungry, I get angry.”             “I know, I know. But I’ve got some bad news. She follows my gaze over to the two hotties who are engrossed in conversation with each other.      “Oh. My. God.” Samantha rarely gets flustered for anyone or anything, but I see the blood creep into her cheeks and her breathing start to quicken. “I can’t believe they’re here.”

“Let’s get out of here before they see us,” I suggest. But it’s too late. I watch as Samantha gulps and pushes her sunglasses onto the top of her head.

We’ve been spotted. Shit.

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