CORY TRUDGED ACROSS the showgrounds under a bruised-purple mass of thickening clouds. The sky looked a lot like the muddy watercolor paintings she did as a kid. The parking lot, previously crammed with trailers, had thinned out. Jack and Vee, off conducting some horse training business, had told her to be back at the stabling area by four to leave for home. Cory hugged herself, glanced at the watery winter light and thought maybe she would head back to the stabling area and see if they could get on the road earlier.
Cutting through the deserted parking lot near the maintenance building, she turned the corner and heard an angry voice hiss, “Now! Lift it now.”
Something told her to stop and wait. What were people doing back here when it was almost dark? She inched closer and hid behind a huge tractor parked behind the building. The familiar sound of a horse cantering on the hard bluestone footing was all she heard. Then nothing. A woman’s voice called out, “Now, hit him now!” Then the staccato sound of hoofbeats.
“Figure that one learned him something,” a man’s voice said.
“We’ll do it again to make sure,” the woman said.
Cory bent down and peered between the tractor body and its giant wheel. Two people stood near a dark bay horse ridden by a small man. A jump was set up, made out of a few poles resting on hay bales. The rider cantered the horse in a tight circle, then pointed him toward the jump. As the horse approached it, he raised his head and shortened his stride. The rider slapped his flanks with a short, thick crop and gunned him at the jump. As soon as the horse lifted off the ground to jump, the woman yelled, “Now!” Together with the other man, she lifted the jump pole quickly so the horse smacked his front legs against it with the sound of a limb breaking off a tree. The bay horse landed and took a few sore steps from the stinging blow, then slowed to a trot.
“That ought to do it. If he doesn’t snap his legs up quicker after this, I don’t know what else to do with him,” the skinny blond woman said.
“Sell his ass for dog food,” her partner replied.
The woman turned to roll the poles back up against the machine shed. It was Angela!
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