Summary: It is not enough for a man to know how to ride; he must know how to fall.
Pairing: Itachi x Naruto.
Authors: Disgruntled Minion and Imperial Mint.
Word Count: 6291
Know How to Fall.
It is not enough for a man to know how to ride; he must know how to fall.
The fresh smell of hay filled the cool barn and the sounds of horses snorting echoed throughout the large barn. Outside the barns, people milled around the rolling Kentucky grounds. Laughter and joyous conversation was heard across the park as hundreds strolled from event to event, enjoying the warm weather.
It was a nice autumn day, perfect for a horse competition. Excitement was in the air, making the horses prance around as they were groomed. The stable hands were familiar with the horses, working with the rider of the horse and so were able to smooth down the nerves of the horses while the riders registered and prepared for the upcoming events.
Running a hand over his horse's shoulder to keep him calm, Naruto led his bay Quarter Horse down the wide aisle. They passed by several riders and he nodded to them politely, admiring their tall horses.
Beside him, his horse dipped his head and nudged his pocket for a treat. Naruto laughed at his actions and pushed the head away gently, knowing that Wichita didn't need another apple slice. The gelding snorted at him when he was denied the treat, choosing to ignore him as they approached his stall.
"Don't be like that," Naruto scolded lightly as he let the horse back into the stall. "You know you're the only one for me."
The gelding turned around, sticking his rump in Naruto's face and started munching on his hay. Naruto shook his head and moved away from the stall door, pausing only to slip a slice of apple into the food bucket.
Humming to himself, he moved down the aisle and scanned the stalls around him. Most of the horses were already gone, getting ready for the dressage event in a few hours. Naruto's nose wrinkled at the thought; give him a western saddle any day, dressage was too formal and stiff for him.
He paused as he passed by a stall and took a few steps back to look at the horse that rested inside. His eyes traced over the mount and he moved back as the horses head poked over the stall door, butting him in the chest.
"Hey there," he said softly. Checking up and down the aisle and deeming it clear, he reached forward to let the horse sniff his hand. "You're a pretty thing, aren't you?"
The horse snorted lightly, air breezing over Naruto's hand. It bobbed its head, flipping its upper lip back on itself, curling up to reveal pink gums and long teeth. Naruto smiled.
"You're laughing," he said, reaching a hand out to rub the horse behind the ear, palm striking against the mottled grey hairs.
"The technical term is flehmen. It's when the horse deems a scent worthy enough to be pressed into the nostrils," a voice called out, causing Naruto to turn round, hand stilling its motions.
The horse butted him gently, coaxing his hand back into motion. A man stood a few feet away, long, dark hair tied at the nape of his neck with a hair band and eyes staring pointedly at Naruto.
He was wearing basic riding clothes, black jodhpurs and a dark top, the outfit of any stable hand. He was probably coming to collect a horse to groom for the dressage competition, which explained his stuck-up attitude.
"Well good for him, can't say he'll like the smell of you though," Naruto probably shouldn't have insulted the man, but he hated it when people acted arrogant around him.
Just because he rode in a different manner to the eventers, they all assumed he was some sort of idiot who couldn't ride properly. There was a reason he chose to ride Western, and it wasn't for the scenery (though that could be a perk). He felt more free and alive in a Western saddle and the thought of sitting solidly in a dressage competition made Naruto feel slightly ill.
The man looked Naruto up and down, an eyebrow arching slowly.
"She's a mare," he said, shifting his weight.
Naruto noticed then the difference in speech pattern, namely the accent of the man. He was definitely here on one of the teams, undoubtedly one of the British teams. Naruto wondered who the rider of his team was and whether he'd heard of them.
Often with foreign riders in FEI World Equestrian Games, the best riders came from their respective countries. Of course, you did get lesser-known competitors, but some of the world's best turned up. In eventing, Great Britain certainly did hold a candle to a few major names; even so that Naruto knew them.
The mare behind him whickered in her throat, encouraging Naruto to stay where he was. Her head moved a little further out of the stable door, her neck arching over Naruto's shoulder. She bobbed her head again, shaking it a little at the man in front of them.
Naruto watched as the man dug into his pocket, pulling out a segment of carrot. While in any other context that would look odd, in the middle of a yard full of horses, having carrots in your pockets was a perfectly normal thing.
The man put the carrot in his mouth, chewing on the orange vegetable, before digging into his pockets again. Naruto frowned. Was this man just teasing the horse?
The mare whickered again, snorting noisily into Naruto's ear. He chuckled, stepping back slightly to look at her face. She really was a beautiful horse. From what Naruto could see, she was some sort of eventing breed (obviously) and very tall. Her head was well chiseled, sat atop a long neck. There was no denying she was beautiful and Naruto wondered what she'd look like in motion.
His thoughts were cut off as she snorted again, pulling her neck from Naruto's hands and out to the man. He had pulled out a pack of something from his pockets, offering one on a flat palm to the horse. Naruto frowned; was this even allowed? Especially at eventing stages, people were cautious to give horses they didn't know pieces of fruit, let alone mysterious white, circular things.
"Are you allowed to do that?" Naruto blurted out.
The man fixed him a look again. "Well Susanoo is my horse; I think I'm allowed to feed her a Polo."
Naruto's eyebrow rose as he looked at the small white thing; he'd never heard of a Polo before. His eyes widened slightly at the thought of the man trying to drug or poison the horse while her rider was away.
He slapped the approaching hand away and the small white drug bounced onto the floor, breaking into pieces. "Polo huh, is that what they're calling it these days?" He moved back in front of the mare, crossing his arms over his chest. "I'm not letting you near this horse nor am I moving until her real owner comes back. Trying to drug her with a...'Polo', that's just sick."
The man blinked at him before his lips twitched into a smile, making Naruto scowl at him. This bastard thought it was funny! He just tried to drug someone's horse and he thought it was the funniest thing in the world that Naruto had caught him.
"As I previously said, she's my horse. It's just a mint, but then I guess you American's don't know much about quality things. Your chocolate, for example."
Naruto gritted his back teeth, frowning. The man smiled again, shrugging off Naruto's anger and opened the packet a little more, ripping the paper and foil to reveal more of the 'mints'.
"I'll show you," the man indulged, putting another mint on his palm. Naruto prepared himself to defend the horse, narrowing his eyes, but the man placed it in his own mouth instead.
Behind Naruto, the horse kicked the stable door. A few people milling around the yard turned with a scowl to the horse that had disrupted the calm. Naruto frowned right back, eyes still fixed on the man in front of him.
Crunching noises escaped the man's mouth as he chewed up the Polo. A second later, he swallowed, opening his jaw to show Naruto a pink tongue and two rows of white teeth. Polo gone.
"It's just a mint. You don't have them here, but Susanoo loves them." The man took a step towards the mare he claimed was his, preparing another mint. She kicked the stable door again impatiently and Naruto watched as the man smiled.
"I know, but this little creature didn't believe me."
Naruto bristled at being called a 'little creature'. Just because he may be a few centimetres shorter than this man didn't give the man the right to call him short. And he certainly wasn't a creature either!
The mare turned her head away from the man, air snorting from her soft nostrils as her muzzle rested against Naruto's head. He could smell her breath, sweet and warm, on his cheek and smiled at the familiarity of the gesture. Wichita always rested his head against Naruto, often using him for a rubbing post.
He reached up and scratched her cheek. The mare seemed to know the other male but Naruto still wasn't sure. He had always been protective of Wichita and this pretty lady was quickly stealing his heart too; no way he was going to let her get hurt.
Still, the man had already shown that the mint really was just that and Susanoo pranced excitedly at the outstretched hand. But the man was a jerk! How could such a rude man own such a sweet horse?
Naruto glared up at the man, studying him silently and dark eyes met his. Scowling, Naruto placed a hand on the mare's nose, keeping her head from moving forward more. She snorted at him and stomped her foot at his over-protectiveness. It was silent for a second before Susanoo pushed her head forward quickly and knocked Naruto's hand away.
She lipped at treat on the waiting hand and Naruto sucked in a deep breath, waiting for the horse to keel over. When nothing happened after a few tense minutes, Naruto chuckled weakly and scratched the back of his head. "Guess it was a mint after all." His hand dropped from his head and pointed to the male.
"That still doesn't mean you can call me a 'little creature', that's just rude. I was looking out for your mare, ya know."
The man shrugged, walking to the side of the stall where Susanoo was stabled. Naruto watched as he pulled a key from his jodhpur pocket, opening the door that rested between two stables. From his knowledge of how the stables were set out here, the general layout went stable, storage room, stable, storage room. It was so each of the riders could store the equipment they needed next to the horse, causing travel time between horsebox and stalls to be voided.
It also allowed the rider to change clothes in ease as well as set out their tack for cleaning. Only the rider and respective teams could get into the room next to the stalls and it was the proof that Naruto needed to accept the man as the owner of Susanoo.
Susanoo turned her head away from the open top half of the door, walking into the shade of her stable. Naruto had the chance then to read the information clipped to the inside of the door. It had the horse's name, Susanoo, and the names of her team. Naruto noted that the man's team consisted solely of Japanese names, and yet they were riding for GB. Perhaps it was a characteristic that drew them together?
The name of the owner was printed and easy to find. At least Naruto now had a name to put to the moody bastard's face. Itachi Uchiha. Or, in its correct Japanese, Uchiha Itachi. Naruto grinned at his next thought, maybe he could scare the man by showing him he knew his name.
The man didn't even poke his head out of the storage room. He emerged from the storage room with a bored look on his face and a haynet, full, in his hands.
"Excuse me please," he said monotonously as he moved his foot, unlocking the kickbolt with his toes. The metal clanged as it moved, knocking against the metal catch on the other side of the stable wall. Next, Itachi moved to the bolt at the top, opening the door completely and greeting Susanoo with a calm hello.
Itachi entered, leaving Naruto standing alone. Naruto knew he should be angry for this, but there was something about the way Itachi moved around his horse that was, well it reminded Naruto of the way he moved around Wichita. And he loved his horse more than anything.
Just watching the man move around put him at ease and Naruto leaned against the wall. "So what kind of horse is Susanoo? I usually look at Quarter Horses and tend to ignore other breeds," Naruto said with a small laugh.
Itachi looked up, fixing him with a blank stare before returning to his horse. Naruto sputtered and huffed, not knowing what Itachi's problem was. If anything, he should be glad that someone else cared about the welfare of his mare, making sure that no one else was trying to harm her.
He grinned. Unless the bastard was jealous that his mare liked someone else besides him. He chuckled at the thought and Itachi looked back up, obviously wondering why he was still there.
"Look, I'm sorry about earlier, although you have to admit it was kinda funny." Itachi grunted at him and Naruto plowed forward with his one sided conversation. "I'll tell you about my horse, okay? He's a bay Quarter Horse who can't travel anywhere without favorite food bucket. He gets anxious when he travels and it smells like home, so it helps calm him down."
Naruto paused to see if Itachi was even listening before continuing again. "We're here for the western part of the competition, but that was earlier this week and we've finished already. Now we're just hanging out and watching the others compete." By now, Itachi had moved away from his mare and was walking over to him. "So what are you here for?" he asked, poking Itachi in the shoulder.
Itachi exited the stall, pointedly ignoring the jab to his shoulder. He sighed heavily as he felt the other male follow him and turned to face the blond. There was nothing wrong with the guy, but Itachi didn't want this kind of situation. He wasn't the most outgoing of people regardless of the situation, but he wanted to spend the free moments he had before the competition in silence, relaxing.
Itachi was about to tell the guy to bugger off when a familiar face appeared.
"Kisame," he greeted his friend and stable hand. The tall man eyed the blond with a soft smile before jerking his thumb in the direction of the stable.
"Hey, Deidara's waiting in the horse box. He refuses to come out until Susanoo's ready to be groomed and you're out of the way. What the hell did you do to him this time?"
Itachi shrugged. He wasn't to be held responsible for what Deidara took as an insult. If they weren't such good friends deep down, Itachi knew that Deidara would have quit ages ago. As it was, the blond man became upset over the smallest things. The latest? Itachi had been accepted into the World Equestrian Games and he hadn't.
The best part? Deidara hadn't even entered. Though apparently that didn't matter in the illogical schoolyard rivalry of Deidara.
"I'll get her out and you can go get Deidara. In that time I'll make sure everything else is ready."
Kisame nodded, eyes flickering to the expectant gaze of the shortest member of their trio.
"And who's this?"
Itachi opened his mouth to speak, pausing when he realized he didn't actually know the name of the blond fiend who had the balls to steal his horse's attention away. Not that Itachi was jealous. Of course not. But he had a competition to win and he couldn't allow for distractions.
"Naruto," Naruto greeted, sticking his hand out joyfully. Itachi resisted the urge to roll his eyes. "I'm guessing y'all are from Britain too?"
At Kisame's nod, Naruto grinned. "How do y'all like Kentucky so far? It's a shame that you weren't here in May, the Kentucky Derby was running then and it's pretty big here."
Realizing that he was babbling, Naruto shut his mouth and looked up at Kisame, waiting for an answer. Silence stretched between them for a second before the man laughed. "I like him," he said, ruffling Naruto's hair.
Naruto batted his hand away with a huff and turned to Itachi. "See, he likes me, why can't you do the same?" He cocked his head. "Is it 'cause your mare likes me and did that...fleh...thing to me?"
"No," Itachi answered, looking away from the bright eyes.
"Aw, come on Itachi, I'm not gonna steal her away." He waved a hand. "You need to relax more often, take time to smell the roses. Of course, if you're doing dressage I guess its kinda hard to do that; but dressage is so boring."
Releasing what he had just said, Naruto instantly clapped a hand over his mouth, but the words had already left his mouth. His cheeks flushed in embarrassment, knowing that this was the second time he had insulted Itachi within a span of half an hour; if that.
"Sorry, I spoke without thinking. It's a bad habit." Naruto said, rubbing the back of his neck nervously.
Itachi straightened up, the almighty curved eyebrow returning. "Is that so?" He murmured, glancing to a wide-eyed Kisame.
Naruto chuckled weakly, drawing Susanoo out of her haynet. She looked at Naruto before smacking her bottom lip against her top, lipping, and batting the blond gently with her nose. Naruto automatically reached a hand up to stroke the fine hairs around her chin, smiling softly.
"I'll admit at an amateur level it can be boring, but I guess the complexities and beauty of an art such as dressage would be lost on you." Itachi paused, drawing back and his eyes glancing from his horse to Naruto quickly.
"Watch us later and maybe then you can understand what it really is that makes dressage. It's hard, a disciplinary action, so you may not get it. But you know Susanoo's character and you know mine. That should be enough, even for you."
As Naruto had done previously, something about the blond caused Itachi to slip in containing insults. He didn't dislike the man at all, but there was something about him that caused Itachi to cease in controlling what he said.
"Maybe I will." Naruto paused, smirking slightly. "Only if after you'll admit what it is about me that bugs you. Bet it's the fact Susanoo likes me."
Itachi shrugged, not bothering to answer that. It was a ridiculous statement. Not possibly true. Well, only a little bit.
"Oi, don't shrug it off." Naruto stomped his foot; he wanted an answer. Susanoo huffed in his ear, making him calm down and he turned to look back at Itachi, patiently waiting for answer.
When nothing was said, Naruto shrugged and patted Susanoo on the shoulder. He had his answer on the tip of his tongue but decided to stay silent this time. He wasn't sure how Itachi would take it and he didn't want to mess with Itachi's mind before he went out to compete. That was just cruel.
Instead, he moved away from mare, giving her one last pat on the shoulder. "Fine, no answer for now but I'll be back for one, and I will stay and watch you ride," he stated. A grin spread across his face as he swept out his arm in a wide arch and bowed at the waist. "Impress me, oh silent one."
He snorted to himself and stood back up, pivoting on his heel. Whistling aloud, he strode down the aisle, side stepping another blond haired male who was coming into the stable. He'd watch this dressage and see what was so great about it. Maybe Itachi would be able to change his mind about it.
If not, there was always the chance that he could have a chance to convince Itachi to watch some western. Naruto grinned at the thought. That would be one way to make the older male relax a bit more.
Naruto stopped outside Wichita's stall and looked over the gelding. The horse came up and butted his chest, sniffing over his shirt, which no doubt smelt like Susanoo. Ears swiveled back and forth and Naruto ran a hand down Wichita's face.
"How about you and me try to woo ourselves two pretty little thangs," he drawled, letting his accent twang a bit. He paused for a second, thinking over his words. "Well, one pretty mare for you and one handsome bastard for me."
Wichita snorted and pawed at his bedding, making Naruto smile. He patted the gelding on his neck and made his way out of the stables. The large Kentucky horse park sprawled before him and he brushed off the horsehair on his collared shirt before heading towards the show arena.
There would be some time before Itachi entered the arena, but it didn't mean Naruto couldn't get settled in nicely. It was the perk of attending an event and actually taking part; an all-access pass. Usually riders kept it only to spy on the competition, hardly venturing, in Naruto's case, to English-riding events.
He'd be happy to make an exception here, though.
Itachi did a once over on the gleaming tack. The saddle was a dressage saddle, English-styled and a deep black in colour. The differences between a typical English saddle and a dressage saddle were subtle to anyone not understanding of tack, but blindingly obvious to anyone who did.
The saddle flap was long and straight, designed to fit and copy the desired leg of the rider. The seat was also deep and the knee block pronounced to enhance the saddle underneath the seated position. There was also the matter of longer girth straps and the shorter girth, designed so that all buckles would be removed from out under the rider's legs, allowing the leg to sit comfortably and neatly on top. The whole saddle sat on top of a white saddle pad, trimmed in black to stand out from Susanoo's grey colouring.
The saddle was perfect and Itachi's eyes raked over Susanoo to the bridle and reins. She was tacked up with a double bridle fitted to a cavesson noseband with a bradoon and a curb bit with a smooth curb chain and a plain, black browband.
The use of the double bridle was to show a high level of control over the horse. The positioning of the two bits, the bradoon lying higher than the curb, allowed the rider to maintain a lightness in contact, maintaining the image that the horse was mainly controlled from the seat as opposed to the hands.
The dual reins were a dark, inky black. The rein attached to the bradoon bit was wider than the other set of reins and slightly laced, for a better grip. This set of reins sat above the others.
Satisfied with the tack, Itachi patted Susanoo gently while Deidara huffed, holding her with gentle hands. For all his moaning, Itachi knew that Deidara loved his job.
Susanoo's mane was plaited traditionally on the right. White tape was braided into the plaits before they had been sewed up, holding their folded positions upright. It wasn't a regulation, unlike most things, but the manner of the course could be potentially challenging to bundles of plaits and it was better safer than sorry. Besides, the tape blended well with the colour of Susanoo's mane and forelock.
Itachi had been looking at the various competitors in the yard and had noticed several of the American riders trimming their horse's faces, muzzles, ears and legs. Itachi had no notions of doing that to Susanoo; it wasn't a custom for most yards in Europe and Susanoo looked better with the hair.
Unlike the mane, Susanoo's tail was left unplaited. It hung freely from her dock, cut across smoothly at the end, resting above her fetlocks and below her hocks.
Kisame stood holding a pot and a brush and waited for Itachi's nod. The rider nodded and Kisame moved forwards, uncapping the pot and dipping the brush inside. Hoof polish was applied before the horse entered, which, Itachi estimated, would be in about three minutes or so.
"She's started to foam," Deidara muttered, wrinkling his nose. Susanoo snorted and shook her head gently, saliva landing on Deidara's cheek.
"Leave it, there's not much point wiping it off," Itachi replied, knowing full well that it was sometimes considered that the foam was a sign of the horse's submission and acceptance of the bit. Also it could indicate that the bit was made from German silver and had no full acceptance, but Itachi was almost one hundred percent sure his bits weren't from German silver.
"Double check yourself," Kisame said as he made for his third hoof out of four. Itachi looked down; making sure his clothing was in regulation.
He had exchanged the dark jodhpurs for white full-seat breeches. The leather covering the inner thigh and buttocks allowed the wearer to sit a little more quietly in the horse's saddle, gripping a little more than simple material would. A belt secured the breeches at the top and a white shirt with a ratcatcher collar, stock tie and small pin covered Itachi's upper half, under the black shadbelly. A top hat sat proudly on his head.
His hands were covered with pristine, white gloves, while his feet and legs were covered in tall dress boots. Spurs were attached to the bottom of Itachi's boots. The last detail was Itachi's hair. Most people had criticized him for keeping his hair so long, but today it was neatly tucked away in a bun with a black hairnet to keep it in place.
Itachi nodded to Deidara and Kisame, silently thanking them. He lengthened the stirrup on the left side, placing his leg in the metal and preparing to mount. It took a moment to pull himself into the saddle, where Itachi then lengthened the stirrup on the other side.
"You all ready?"
Itachi could tell Kisame was nervous. Which he should understandably be, after all, it wasn't every day that you got to participate in an international competition. It would be Susanoo's first international as well. She had done trials in England and Itachi had full confidence in her, but it was still a little nerve wracking.
Itachi settled himself in the saddle, preparing for the first stage in the eventing competition. The dressage was always held first, followed the next day by cross-country and then, finally, the show jumping phase.
The course would only take around five minutes, but they were one of the make-or-break minutes of the competition, especially for a horse that hadn't competed this exact level before. Whatever Susanoo and Itachi did here, they would be compared to in the other events.
At the moment, the three men and Susanoo were in a small area just off the main arena. Around them, they could see other horses preparing for the dressage event as well as some other smaller competitions held in the smaller arenas. Someone was standing a little to the left of them, by the entrance to the arena, ready to signal when Susanoo should enter.
Itachi would enter the arena at the A marker, the opposing side (which would lie directly opposite A) would be the C marker. Between the two letters lay other invisible markers on a horizontal line, D, L, X, I and G. X marked the centre of the whole arena.
Around the edge of the arena would be markers for A, F, P, B, R, M, C, H, S, E, V and K, which would signal to the rider where they should start the next part of their course. It was a basic layout for any rider, but the amount of moves that had to be undertaken in that area needed rigorous and complex training.
The steward signalled that the judges were almost ready to receive Itachi and Susanoo and Itachi's team watched as the competitor before them exited at a walk, the rider patting the horse on the neck as their team rushed to congratulate a job completed. They would receive their marks later on, but the hardest part was over.
It was now Itachi's turn. Butterflies rose in his stomach and Itachi shifted in the saddle, causing Susanoo to dip her chin in slightly. Deidara let go of the reins and wished him luck as the steward signalled for Itachi to enter.
Gently nudging Susanoo with his heels, Itachi urged her into a collected canter. The beat was regular, three hooves at a time, and they passed the entrance and into the ring, finally halting three quarters into the arena. Around him, the crowd was silent, wanting to know what the tall grey thoroughbred and her rider would do in the next five minutes.
Itachi saluted to the panel of judges, asking Susanoo to progress to a trot, which she did willingly, her ears pricked and head curved slightly. As they reached the C marker, at the bottom of the arena, they tracked left, turning diagonally across the school when they approached the other corner, landing back on the track at F and smoothly changing the rein. As one, they smoothly moved to A in a collected trot, Susanoo's strides smaller and bouncier than the usual trot, where they turned down the centre line, much as they had at the beginning.
This time, however, Itachi initiated the shoulder-in, the next movement on the course. Susanoo's hind legs would continue to track straight along the centre like (leading from A to C), but her front legs would move laterally, the inside foreleg crossing in front of the outside foreleg and the outside hind hoof falling where the print for the outside foreleg lay. It was a complex move, with Susanoo bending slightly into Itachi, but they carried it perfectly and completed the movement, straightening up in the middle of the school at X.
From X to the right hand side's bottom corner - M - Itachi and Susanoo would perform a half-pass. This was a lateral movement that caused the horse to move forwards and sideways at the same time. The horse needed to be bent in the direction of travel, slightly curved around the rider's inside leg. It was the outside hind and forelegs that crossed over their corresponding inside legs, making sure that the horse remained forwards, balance and bent, with constant rhythm.
They met the track again and Itachi transitioned smoothly into a collected walk, Susanoo collecting her head nicely. At the C marker, Itachi asked her for a half-pirouette, asking the horse to make a 180 degree turn. The half-pirouette formed a half-circle with the front legs around a smaller semicircle from the hind legs. Susanoo now faced the way they had just come and was immediately began a collected trot.
Reaching the marker M, Itachi asked for his horse to cut diagonally across the school again, extending the trot so her legs stretched out further than before. They hit the track again at K, collecting the trot once more until they reached A, no more than 12 metres away or so.
They turned down the centre linen at A again, this time performing a shoulder-in to the right, finishing the movement in the centre of the school. Another half-pass was performed until they reached the bottom left corner, H, where Itachi collected Susanoo's trot once more, sitting deeply in the saddle.
They transitioned down into a walk at the C marker, maintaining the pace until M and then turning sharply across, facing the H marker. In the centre of the line they were now on (what would be marker G), Itachi halted Susanoo and applied leg, holding the reins so that she took five steps backwards, neatly and in a straight line. Immediately, as she placed her hoof on the ground after the fifth step, Itachi launched her into a medium walk, reaching the track at H.
Between H and the middle-side marker B, across the diagonal, Itachi asked for an extended walk. Like in the trot, her legs stretched out a little further. When they hit the track again at B, Itachi relaxed the walk, switching the pace from extended to a medium.
12 metres from the B marker lay the P marker, where Itachi asked Susanoo for a direct transition to canter. They performed a half-circle, crossing over to the other side of the school in a smooth canter line.
From the marker V, they performed a slightly odd diagonal, as if making for M. On this line they performed another half-pass, Itachi then collecting the canter when they reached the invisible I marker and heading for the bottom, C, where they turned right.
Cutting across the school in two elongated loops, serpentines, Itachi was able to perform a counter canter on their second loop, before meeting X. It meant that Susanoo's outside leg was the leading leg on their line. At X, however, Itachi asked her for a flying change and she made a skipping motion, changing legs so that the inside leg was leading the canter on their line. This was far more comfortable and Itachi was pleased with the smooth change.
Again, Itachi collected the canter until they hit the B marker, where they turned left, heading towards the C end of the schooling arena. 12 meters from B, they hit the marker R and turned across, heading towards the opposite S marker. Instead of shooting across, they performed their second half circle, 20m, and landed back on the track at S.
The end of the routine was nearing, with only a few more stages to go. Itachi sucked in a breath, attempting to calm his heart. Things had gone very well so far, but there was always something that could happen. It was best not to place your eggs all in one basket after all.
They performed another half-pass, smoothly cutting across the school until they hit L, on the centre line. Itachi collected the canter again until they reached the top of the arena, the A marker from where Susanoo had entered. They turned left and Itachi first extended the canter along the long right side and then collecting it again from M to C.
Another serpentine was performed, two loops with the second performed in counter-canter. Itachi asked for another flying change and Susanoo responded brightly, switching legs with a merry skip. Itachi collected the canter and headed for the E marker, tracking right before collecting the canter again to go around the short side of the school, at the bottom end.
From the M marker, Itachi turned Susanoo lightly onto the diagonal, preparing to ask for a flying change directly on the centre of the line. She skipped, changing legs, and they landed back on the track at E.
Now came a slightly tricky bend, the E to F diagonal. They turned a little too sharply, but Susanoo corrected herself and performed a flying change on the centre of the diagonal, as before. There were only two more steps and Itachi prepared to turn down the centre line at A.
They turned smoothly, maintaining their pace. 18 metres from the A marker, Itachi halted Susanoo abruptly, her hooves digging into the sand. Itachi saluted once more to the judges and the crowd clapped enthusiastically. Itachi lengthened his rein with a smile, gently patting Susanoo's neck and allowing her to walk freely.
They had completed their first stage of eventing. Itachi felt so happy. They hadn't been perfect, but they had done so well. Itachi couldn't remember being prouder now than ever of Susanoo and resolved to give her a Polo or two when they returned her to her stable.
They exited the arena, smiling to the dark brown horse and rider preparing to enter. Itachi met up with his team again and they looked up expectantly. The Uchiha dismounted smoothly, landing on the ground with a slight bend to his knees. Deidara took the reins, stroking Susanoo as he peered through his long hair, excited to hear how Itachi found it.
They had, of course, been watching - Deidara and Kisame - but they wanted to know how Itachi had found it. Itachi smiled back confidently.
"It went well," he said, "Susanoo did very well."
Deidara stroked the mottled hairs on Susanoo's nose and smiled at her. "Well done gorgeous," he gushed. It was not hidden fact that Deidara loved Susanoo. Well, any horse really. Out of all members of Itachi's team, Itachi could safely say that Deidara was the most 'lovey-dovey' member.
Kisame was the one who offered to cool Susanoo down, slipping a headcollar over her bridle and running her stirrups up to prevent them bashing her stomach as they walked off. Deidara hovered next to Itachi, a smile on his face.
"From what we saw, you did very well. She's a lovely horse."
Itachi nodded, "I was worried at first. Some of the moves had the potential to be difficult... but she handled them amazingly well. We won't have won, but I'm hoping we placed above halfway in the scores."
Deidara nodded, clapping Itachi on the shoulder. "Go get changed, I'll hang around the arena waiting to hear the scores."
Itachi smiled slightly, thanking Deidara. After all the excitement of being in the ring, Itachi needed a few quiet moments to himself. Susanoo was being cooled down, walked around to ease her muscles and Kisame would return her to her box soon, untacked. She'd have a drink and hay there before Itachi would unplait her mane properly.
As Itachi made his way back to the stables to change, he wondered if Naruto had seen the first stage of eventing. If so, what did he think? Itachi resolved to seek out the curious blond when he'd heard the results. Maybe then, he could convince Naruto to remain around for the next two days.
In case you missed the section at the beginning, Disgruntled Minion collabed with me on this. Which means to say that it couldn't be half the story it is without her amazing effort, and I'm going to sing praises because there's no co-author function on this site so I need you all to go PM her and just say thanks!
(I only won the right to publish this by a toss of a coin, GO SHOW HER APPRECIATION! :D )
That said, it's all pretty much finished I believe, so updates weekly? I think so.
Hope you enjoyed!