Vee pointed at the triple along the diagonal with a sweep of her hand. Cory took a deep breath and asked Epiphany to trot, picking up the pace. She squeezed to move the mare on, but it was as if her legs were overcooked spaghetti. The cold stung the inside of her nose as she sucked in great gulps of it, trying to hold back a lump that was rising in her throat. Gusts of wind rattled the large doors in their tracks and swept small eddies of sand across the arena, causing her eyes to water. Vee was explaining the approach to the triple, detailing every move, every step. She pointed at the jump, gesturing with her arms spread wide. Something about getting to the base correctly for the first element. Her words were being carried away by the wind rattling the doors and drowned out by voices in Cory’s head.
Vee must have taken Epiphany through a triple, or she wouldn’t have asked me to do it . . . would she? The voices prattled on.
Vee stood near the approach to the triple, feet wide apart. The same combination that got her neck broken.
The triple combination—three elements with only a stride in between each—was spread across the arena like an endless forest of garishly painted poles and panels waiting to pull a horse and rider under. Cory shook her head to dislodge the image of a crash.
She leaned down to whisper in Epiphany’s ear, “Let’s go,” and picked up the canter along the outside line. She gathered up a few inches of rein. They were tacky from the dark patch of sweat on Epiphany’s neck and had stiffened in the cold. Epiphany’s head rose up. The mare spotted the fence and Cory became a projectile hurtling toward the monstrous jump. She tried to shorten Epiphany’s stride, but it was no use. Vee was yelling something over and over. What was it?
Cory tried to sit up straighter, but it was like a strong hand was pushing her forward from behind. She grabbed more rein, but Epiphany lunged forward. Please, dear God, just jump it! She gritted her teeth with the effort of squeezing with her legs. At the last minute, two strides from the jump, she looped a few fingers around a lock of mane and bent forward in anticipation of the enormous thrust of the jump. But it never came.
For a split second, all forward motion stopped under her. Epiphany hesitated before the jump, sending a spray of blue-gray stone dust in front of her like a smokescreen. Cory catapulted out of the saddle like from a slingshot onto Epi’s neck. Her face brushed the rough hair of the mane as she desperately wrapped her arms around the mare’s muscular sweat-soaked neck. Epiphany lifted her head in an upward jerk, smashing into Cory’s cheek and causing pinpoints of light to dance before her eyes. The sharp smell of horse sweat wafted in a cloud as Cory sniffed in a combination of dust and blood.
With one eye buried in Epiphany’s mane, the other watched the blurred image of Vee running toward them. Then Cory felt the second thrust, upward and back, which flung her upright into a sitting position. She noticed the reins hanging in a loop by Epi’s ears and watched in horror as those ears, head, then neck and shoulders rose in front of her as the mare attempted to half-climb, half-jump the fence. Images her brain could scarcely make sense of flashed before her eyes—the mare’s neck up close again, the faint white line of hair that ran along her underbelly, a hoof studded with evenly-spaced nails, but cracking at the outer edge. Then only the blue-gray expanse of stone dust stretching across the arena at ground level. Vee’s jodhpur boots appeared. The stitching had come undone along one seam and Cory wondered if Vee’s feet were wet. She heard a bird call in the distance. The arena sand scratched the side of her face, and something wet spread in an ever-widening circle under her hip and thigh.
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