The adventure begins with this free introduction
On a lazy Sunday, we are happy to bring you an excerpt from the latest novel Crawling Between Heaven and Earth, from Eventing Connect contributor, Mary Pagones. Mary is a New Jersey-based writer and editor. An enthusiastic reader of all things pony-and horse-related throughout her life, she took up riding as an adult. In addition to her latest novel, her works include:
- The Horse is Never Wrong,
- Fortune’s Fool,
- Quick Bright Things Come to Confusion, and
- Stars Hide Your Fires.
Chapter 1: Unenlightened
I watch my friend Brad Montgomery walk back and forth, his horse barely able to jig in a straight line. Cornelius looks fit as hell. If the cross-country phase could start now, the big horse would be fine. But during the jog, the horse is supposed to trot quietly right beside his rider, and Cornelius is having none of that. The gelding pulls away from Brad, like, “I don’t know this man,” as if Brad hasn’t put every single waking moment of his life into training this horse since he bought Cornelius as a youngster. Brad’s not one of those super-rich or famous riders with a string of horses. He and his wife Ruth are just scraping by, and Cornelius is the only horse he has running at Advanced right now. Kind of like me. I feel my mare Pearl’s hot breath down my back, through my jacket, look at her spotless white coat that’s glittering gold in the sun, a faint reminder of the fact that she was born a chestnut and turned grey as she matured. I’m assuming she won’t be spun—rejected—but you never know with horses. Or vets.
“I guess his horse is sound,” says the woman taking pictures behind the white plastic ropes. “Not sure Brad Montgomery will be by the end of this.” She’s not a reporter, she’s a professional photographer, which means she wants to get good shots that the riders might actually want to buy later on, so she’s annoyed by the horse’s performance.
Brad looks like he’s flying a kite on a windy day, his arm is stick-straight. There’s blue flowers lining the driveway. For some reason, maybe the weird pattern of feathery leaves and sharp, steel-grey shards of gravel, Cornelius has briefly lost his mind. He’s a big, dark, shiny horse, even darker than Jazz. Jazz was the horse I recently had to retire from Advanced level competition. But unlike Jazz, who everyone said was one of the great horses of the sport, Cornelius is still pretty green and it’s uncertain how he’s going to turn out, if he’s up for the challenge of this three-star. Brad has competed this horse successfully. Massive tables, trakehners, ditches are okay, just not flowers today.
Eventing is officially made up of three phases—dressage, cross-country, and stadium. Before a Concours Complet International (CCI), the riders have to parade their horses before the vet to show that the horses are fit to run. There are two kinds of internationally recognized events, the Concours Complet International (CCI) and the Concours International Combiné (CIC). No one ever says the French names that I’m aware of, but that’s what the initials stand for. Both types are ranked in terms of their length and difficulty according to a star system (the more the stars, the more difficult), and the CCI has a longer cross-country track and more technical dressage tests. With the CCI, the sequence always has to be dressage, cross-country, and showjumping, while the CIC can reverse the order of cross-country and stadium. There are some other rules, too, as long as a book.
With the best riders here, you’ve got some of them with their top horses in the CCI*** or CCI** and their prospects at the CIC*** and CIC**. And some just running their best in the CIC*** as practice for when things really get going in Europe. But me and Brad, we only have one horse that’s competitive at the upper levels. And we’re not going to Europe.
Brad’s in horses because that’s what his family has always done. He’s ridden since he was a kid and he and Ruth live on his mom’s property with their horses. They eke out a living, training and teaching. I have my own small operation as well, backed by an inheritance I got from my dad when he died. I honestly didn’t want to be on my own this early in my career, still in my early twenties, but that’s how it’s worked out so far.
So aside from the fact he’s my friend, I feel for Brad because we have a lot in common. Including the fact he looks like hell today, more miserable than his horse. If he was gay in some bizzaro parallel universe, I’d never be into Brad. Brad has a thick neck and a body built like a sparkplug, with a long torso and short legs. It’s the worst kind of rider’s body you could imagine, but when he’s riding, he makes it work. His blue jacket looks too big and his khaki pants look too short, like Ruth picked them out without him trying them on. Physically, I got lucky: I’m the opposite way—tall with long legs and long arms. Well, pretty much lucky, except for my coloring.
I’m pale, blond with freckles, and sporting a nice little Band-Aid beneath my eye, where the doctor had to remove another spot that had turned into something jagged and nasty. He called it a precancerous growth, and since I’ve actually had straight-up skin cancer all over my back, I let him. It was just to “be safe,” the doctor said.
“Safety is my fucking middle name,” I muttered beneath my breath, glad that whatever he had to do wouldn’t interfere with my riding this time. That’s all I cared about.
Another flash from a bulb. Cornelius spooks right into Brad. “Oof.” Brad’s wearing a pair of loafers and I notice his horse has left a nice dent in them, probably in Brad as well.
“Accepted.” The vet looks bored. As long as he doesn’t get trampled, it’s an easy day’s work as far as he’s concerned.
“He loves you, Brad, really he does,” I say as my friend walks by me. “You know that someone really loves you when they also want to kill you.” Brad glares at me as he hobbles.
Continue reading by getting your copy here.