by: Wes Ishmael

“Just like a 50-pound sack of potatoes tossed from the hay loft.”

That is how people described the sight and sound of Gatsby Charles Mayfair III landing belt loops-over-elbows in the dirt lot where parents parked the pickups and horse trailers.

The World in Miniature

That's the beauty of youth rodeos and junior livestock shows. You're liable to see anything because these are some of the last venues where the herculean struggle between unearned wealth and the capitalistic spirit are waged.

Over here are the kids from the country competing with the same horses they use for helping out at home, with hand-me-down saddles and tack prized for utility rather than looks.

Over here are like-minded peers from one-acre haciendas, whose parents scrap out their living in town but want their kids to have the same chances they had growing up out in the country.

On both counts, these kids and parents show up with pickups, trailers and horses in a rainbow of colors, model years and states of repair.

That's how Hooter had been reintroduced to them. Bugsy had convinced him a year earlier that she needed to compete at any event within driving distance. Like the Tri-County Junior Rodeo Classic today, Hooter started loading up Bugsy and her Mom, Claire, and heading to the shows with Flash.

Flash was a grizzled Bay gelding, mutton-withered, neither big nor speedy, but steadier than an old maid at a public gathering.

Just as when he was a kid competing, only in a more glaring sort of way, Hooter quickly discovered another variety of parent still sprinkled in among the others. They arrived in sparkling new one-ton, crew cab trucks with all the bells and whistles, waxed for Pete's sake. They pulled four-horse trailers dwarfed by the camper in front of them, and unloaded a single mount. Chrome on the saddles and bridles made the eyes burn.

Typically, it turned out these parents were the offspring of money, wealthy by bloodlines rather than personal creativity and industry. As over-indulgent parents they showered largesse upon their kids because their children were earnestly interested in learning about horses, and the parent doesn't know how to say no. Or, they pulled out all of the stops because they were trying to fulfill their own dreams through the children.

Gatsby Charles Mayfair III fit the latter group. He was a pudgy, pale, 17-year-old Mama's Boy, obnoxious and immature for his age. He wasn't even interested in getting a drivers license. “Never do what you can pay someone else to do for you,” he'd gloat.

His dad, presumably Gatsby Charles, Jr. had never been seen at these events. On the other hand, his Mom, Stacia, made sure to be seen by everyone, all of the time. From her yelping dogs that appeared to be a foreign and sickly breed never seen in these parts, to her audacious fashions, to the way she ordered Gatsby's personal driver and groom around, you couldn't miss her. She was the proverbial taste no one ever acquired.

When Hooter met Stacia at one of the first show's he'd trailered Bugs to, Stacia informed him she was a past junior dressage champion, and she longed for the day when she and her family could finally return to God's Country in New England.

Claire, Hooter's fiancé, shoved a dill pickle in his mouth before he could respond.

It was obvious that Gatsby III didn't share his mother's interest in horses. It was just as obvious how Stacia was bribing the boy to at least mount up for the competition. First it was radio-controlled planes that he'd have buzzing around, scaring horses and enraging contestants. Next, it was air rifles. You get the idea.

It didn't take Gatsby five minutes to unveil his newest toy at this show, some sort of fancy, souped up golf cart. Gatsby would gun in between trailers, stirring up dust and demonstrating the many, loud horns the machine possessed.

“He's way old enough to know better,” Hooter seethed on his way yet again to grab Gatsby or his mom, whichever came first. Before he found them, as always, the show officials interceded and directed Gatsby to the far corners of the fairgrounds. They didn't want to lose Stacia's lavish show endorsements. “Gatsby and these others are supposed to win prizes, not carnival trinkets,” she'd sniff by way of explanation.

Tilly Rides Again

What the show officials never counted on was a freckle-faced 12-year-old girl by the name of Tilly Carmichael. Bugsy idolized her. She came from a solid family a county away that Aunt Pinky and Hooter had known for years. The Carmichaels made ends meet, but struggled to maintain middle-class status like most everyone else.

Tilly had been blessed with more horse sense and pure ability than a tribe of Apaches. She absolutely ate, drank and slept horses. She and her prized Paint, Cochise, always appeared as one, classic poetry in motion. Tilly was focused and fearless, so was Cochise. When they competed, everyone else was usually running for second.

But Tilly and Cochise were those rare winners that folks respected rather than tried to tear down. Tilly was kind, but she wasn't scared to say what was on her mind. That was especially true if she thought someone was doing something that bothered Cochise.

Sammy Rodriquez and Bugsy had been visiting with Tilly earlier when Gatsby made his first honking forays among the trailers. Tilly had chased him for a ways, cussing a blue streak, before her folks and the show officials could get her stopped.

It was after the keyhole race and before the breakaway roping. Tilly had come back to the trailer for her rope, nodding at Sammy who was trailered next door.

They both heard it at the same time: a low hum, turning to a high-pitched whine. There was Gatsby's maniacal laugh and that horrible horn.

As Sammy told it, Tilly gave Gatsby a head start, just like scoring a calf out of the chute, then spurred her pony fast.

“It was the most beautiful loop I've ever seen,” Sammy marveled. “She snaked it right underneath the canopy roof of the cart.”

And right around the chest and shoulders of an unsuspecting Gatsby Charles III.

“There just wasn't much bounce to him,” Sammy said.


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