The Littlest Cowboy

By Mike Berger

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    The pony’s brown hair was like a short-bristled brush, heavier and stiffer than Brian had imagined. And now that he was standing next to it, the pony seemed quite tall. Brian had to look up to see her eyes. “You wouldn’t seem so big to the other boys in my class,” said Brian, remembering how small he was compared to them. It was hard sometimes to be the smallest boy in class. The little horse suddenly jerked its head back and pawed the soft dirt. She’s almost as excited as I am, Brian thought.

    The booming loudspeaker suddenly broke into Brian’s thoughts. “The next rider will be Jimmy Nelson, coming out of the white gate.” Brian scrambled up the sides of the red gate to watch. Jimmy sat three seats ahead of him in school. He was the biggest boy in the class, a great ballplayer, and had a horse of his own. If anyone can ride one of the wild ponies, it’s Jimmy, Brian decided. None of the other boys had been able to stay on their ponies, and only he and Jimmy still had a chance. He watched his friend settle down on the animal and grasp the wide leather cinch fastened around the horse’s middle like a belt.

    Jimmy looked confident as he told the cowboys working in the chute that he was ready. The bell rang and the boy shot out of the gate on the brown and white pony. In an instant the pair were jouncing up and down. The pony kicked, twisted, and turned, trying to throw the rider from its back.

    The crowd cheered as Jimmy hung onto his bucking mount. Suddenly the little horse reared back and violently rocked forward. Jimmy sailed straight over the horse’s head just as the buzzer went off. He landed on his shoulders in the soft brown dirt. But before the pickup cowboy arrived to help him, Jimmy was up, shaking his head and kicking the dirt in disgust. The crowd clapped for Jimmy’s good try as he walked across the arena.

    Now Brian began to wonder if he should have signed up to ride in the Little Buckaroo Rodeo. He had been around horses before, but he hadn’t had much experience. If Jimmy Nelson can’t ride his horse, how can I ever stay on for eight seconds? Brian asked himself. He knew that all he had going for him was a powerful desire. “I’m going to try and hang on, and I’ll do it!” he declared under his breath.

    “OK, son, it’s your turn,” said the big cowboy who was working the red chute. Then smiling at him, the man added, “Just remember to hold on with all your might and lean back as far as you can.”

    Brian scrambled up the sides of the metal chute and stood for a second looking down at the pony. “I’m going to do it,” he told the little animal. “You’d better understand that right now.” He climbed over the top rail, kicked his leg out, and settled down on the pony’s back that was so broad Brian’s short legs didn’t come halfway down its sides. As he put his full weight on the pony, it jumped.

    Brian slipped his left hand under the leather strap, and jammed his cowboy hat on his head with the other hand. Then he slipped his right hand under the belt and the big cowboy pulled it tight.

    The announcer called Brian’s name and the boy leaned back and threw his legs up on the horse’s shoulders. “Let go if you start to fall off,” the cowboy warned him. He smiled and winked at Brian and asked, “Ready?”

    “Ready!” shouted Brian as he grasped the strap with all his might and leaned back as far as he could. The bell rang and out jumped the pony. Brian imagined he was sitting still and the world around him was jumping up and down and spinning around. The little horse kicked and bucked as hard as she could, but this rider was not going to lose his hold. Up went the horse and up went the rider. The pony spun and kicked again, but Brian stuck to her like glue. Finally, the pony gave a violent heave and Brian’s cowboy hat went flying into the air. Although he slipped over a little to one side of the horse, the boy hung on with all his might.

    After what seemed like an hour of roller coaster riding, he heard the buzzer sound, and then he let go and “bit the dust!” Slowly Brian got up, brushed the dirt from his face and clothes, and looked around, not sure where everything was. The pickup man pointed over to the side of the arena. He handed Brian his hat and said, “That was an awfully nice ride, cowboy; you had a real mean horse.”

    Brian could hear the crowd cheer for him as he made his way from the arena. He was still spitting dirt as he looked up into the thousands of faces in the stands to see if he could locate his family. Then he saw them wildly waving their hands at him and smiling. Brian grinned and waved back.

    “The winner of the pony bareback-riding event is Brian Johnson,” the announcer called.

    The littlest cowboy had won!

    Illustrated by Glen Edwards