In the Middle Are the Horsemen The Carolinas Equestrian My hands were in fists, and they were still, steady against my mare’s withers. Twelve strides out and I stood up a fraction in my stirrups. My hands came up and the reins went tight. She pulled against the pressure. Damn it! Pay attention! Her mouth, her weight, her energy, all pulled firmly forward like a train. Seven strides out and I leaned back against the reins. Her head came up, but she didn’t slow down. My knuckles went white. Four strides out and I changed my mind. I let her reach forward again. I urged her on. Come! On! Her mouth closed around the bit. I hit her with my stick. Damn! My arm swung high, I smacked her again. Two strides left.

Maybe, I thought.

And then we hit the jump.

Her legs collapsed above the knees and whipped back toward her ribs. The impact threw her chest forward and her head down. Her body slid over the brush and the log. Bark and branches grabbed at her stifle. Together, we hit the ground face first.

I had no idea where she was. I stood up as a soldier stands after battle; the happiness of being alive quickly overcome by the shame of not being dead.

I looked around. Was she okay? Oh my God, I hoped she was okay. Was she okay?

Sapphire was being led off the course. Someone took my arm and steered me after her. The two-way radios burst with noise. Back and forth they talked. Are they okay? they asked. Are they okay?

The first time I evented had not been like this. The first time was easy. It was sensual and tactile. I had smelled the wind as it carried the scents of the Pacific Ocean over Vancouver Island. I saw the light shining through bowed maple leaves and dappling the mossy earth into a thousand hues of green and brown. My mare’s stride had been rhythmic and perfect, like a long-distance runner’s.

I’d seen a rainbow in our wake through the water. I’d sensed a gull at our wings on the hills.

But this time was no easy gallop in the clouds. This time, coming down to that last jump, it was RAT-TAT-TAT-TAT. Sapphire’s legs moved in the uneven staccato of a Gatling gun. RAT-TAT. There was no dance that day—we were trying too hard! RAT-TAT-TAT. No ocean breezes filled my senses. No spotlight lit our path. There was only courage and shame and love and guilt spilled at that last fence.

This excerpt from In the Middle Are the Horsemen is reprinted with permission from Trafalgar Square Books (www.horseandriderbooks.com).