Epiphany landed hard. Her right front seemed to buckle under her, or was it Cory’s imagination? The force pitched her forward on the mare’s neck, momentarily off balance. She pushed herself up, sat tall, and wrapped her legs around Epi’s sides. The bobble had cost them precious seconds. Was she okay? If so, Cory would have to make up for it and go even faster.
Another turn and down the long side, through a double combination, then a treacherous switch back to a roll top. Cory had no idea how she was doing against the clock, she just hoped she was moving fast enough. She bent forward and gunned Epiphany at the first jump of the combination, a wildly colored yellow and black square of rails so tall it could have been an elephant cage. She had to come into the first element strong, but not too fast, in order to land and gather Epiphany enough to clear the second. She resisted the temptation to choke up on the reins and instead sat back, waiting, as the huge fence raced toward them. Epiphany started to lift—too soon—and Cory had to just go with her. No choice. She was too far away, they’d never make it over the second. She heard a collective gasp from the crowd.
Cory and Epiphany took off from a long spot in front of the first fence. It felt like they were flying through the air forever before landing. Shortening the reins, she tried to get the mare to gather herself for the split second they had in between the two fences. Epi is struggling, she thought. Cory sat up and pressed her heels into the mare’s side but didn’t feel any response. She pressed harder and prayed.
Epiphany lifted. It was as if she were climbing over the second fence from a deep hole. She expected to hear the thud of a rail drop behind her, but instead, heard a smattering of light applause. She looked across the arena toward the last fence. She could cut the distance of approach through the middle of the arena, shaving off precious seconds, but she would have to approach the jump at an extreme angle. The safer option was to go around and take it straight on.
Cory made a split-second decision and cut across the arena.
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