Cory stood in the arena, which was bitterly cold today, and watched a cloud of breath swirl around Vee’s head as she struggled to drag a jump standard into place. She had set a double combination down the diagonal line—a tricky line to ride. Why couldn’t she cut her some slack and make it a little easier for a change? Cory crammed the helmet down more, slipped on a glove, and led Epiphany around to look at the jumps.
“Let’s start with the vertical, then down to the small roll top,” Vee called, interrupting Cory’s thoughts. “Just sit quietly and wait for the jump to come to you.”
Vee took up a position across the arena. Her head was slightly tilted to one side, feet apart, and each hand slipped into a back pocket with her elbows sticking out like wings. Her concentration pose, studying every tiny move I make.
Cory sat taller and resisted the urge to grab up more of the reins. The scenery swam by in her peripheral vision as she stared with target lock-on at the fence galloping toward her. Airborne. Epiphany’s front hooves touched down, making a soft whisper in the slushy, shifting arena sand.
“Okay, let’s try something a little more challenging.” Vee adjusted the ground lines on the large oxer.
Cory noticed the top poles, garishly painted with red and blue stripes, were about even with Vee’s chin. The fence was at least five feet and the spread . . . She circled around the jump and stole a sideways glance. You could drive a car between the front and back rails.
“Helloooo? Did you hear me?” Vee asked.
“Cory, she doesn’t need to see it. Come down the long side and don’t mess with her during the approach. If you start pulling or adjusting her, she gets worried. Sit quietly, and lots of leg off the ground.”
Cory turned Epiphany, and with the lightest leg aid, she leapt into the canter. She sat deep, molding her legs around the mare’s belly. Turning the corner, the fence was now dead ahead. Epiphany’s head lifted slightly as she caught sight of it. Her ears faced forward to the jump, then flipped backward, listening for Cory’s signals. Almost at the base of the jump, Epiphany compressed herself onto her hind legs, then catapulted forward and up. They flew through the air forever. Cory peeked out over the side, past the mane flying in her face, in time to see the top rail of the jump passing under her left foot.
Just as suddenly they landed. Cory’s head snapped forward with the jolt just as Epiphany threw in a little buck. A sharp sting of cold rushed into her lungs as she gulped for air. She realized she’d been holding her breath again over the fence. A bubble of laughter worked its way up from her gut and escaped out cracked, frozen lips.
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