Cory had been walking around for three weeks hoping to figure that out. What had happened? She tried to recount what she remembered. She’d fallen off—or more precisely, she remembered lying in the wet arena sand gasping for breath with the wind knocked out of her. She remembered Vee’s warm hands touching her, telling her to be still until she was sure nothing was broken as the wet seeped through her breeches. Cory recalled getting a shaky leg back up on Epiphany. Vee told her to take the small vertical in order to get the horse’s confidence back. Cory jumped it, with her palms sweating and an electrical current running down her back and legs, making them weak and shaky. Fear. It was the first time she had felt this kind of fear. Epiphany jumped okay, but then after some more warm-up jumps, Vee lowered the combination and adjusted the back rails. She told Cory to come through it again.
Cory circled. She picked up a canter and glanced at the grid of vertical, hard wooden poles before her. She heard Vee’s voice, the steady metronome of instructions, but as she approached the first jump, she pulled the mare’s head to the side and turned her away from it.
“What are you doing?” Vee yelled, annoyed at the maneuver.
“I—I just wasn’t ready,” Cory stammered.
“Well, get yourself together and be ready. And don’t pull a last-minute stunt on her like that again.”
Cory remembered how she felt her face go flush, her mouth dry. She came down the long side of the arena again, staring at the jumps. This time she pulled the mare up long before the jump.
“I can’t do it!” The words exploded from deep within her chest. Her fingers shook on the reins. She knew the mare didn’t trust her; Epiphany was getting tense through her back and taking short, mincing steps.
Vee had been patient. That was the worst of it, Cory recalled. She came over, put her hand on her thigh, and said to take some deep breaths.
“It’s hard to go on after a fall and act like you still have it all together—but you have to for the horse. She’s looking to you for direction.” Vee patted Epiphany’s neck. “And if you don’t believe in yourself, then you’ll make mistakes. The horse will lose all trust in you, and you’ll be riding for a fall.”
“Riding for a fall?” Cory gasped at the words. Images of riders crashing spectacularly over huge fences filled her mind.
“Meaning if you fear you might fall, you make the mistakes that guarantee you will.”
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