“Where did she go?” I ask myself, straining to see over the creek bank.
I had fallen behind Cassie in the creek bed, carefully guiding my chestnut mare between boulders in the foot-deep water. Cassie had rushed onward, risking a broken fetlock. She always had to be first.
Finally reaching the steep embankment, I let my steed pick her own path through the scattered rocks and logs covering the slope, green branches and leaves evidence of recent high water. We clear the top, but Cassie isn’t in sight. The trail disappears behind a sharp outcrop of dark stone I had seen from the creek. A waypoint on the map I’d studied.
I give Pioneer a free rein and she takes off like a rocket, slowing only to negotiate the sharp turn, hooves slipping on gravel. No sign of Cassie riding Chester, her surefooted but slow Palomino stallion.
Pine trees hug the trail, their whiplike branches slapping my face painfully; saplings on the stony trace hindering our advance. I duck, bob, weave, but Pioneer remains on course, the small woman on her back forgotten. An outcrop looms ahead, daring us to jump it. Pioneer accepts the earth’s challenge and we take flight, sailing over the obstacle.
A gentle turn marked by more black stone. Pioneer clears the crag at full speed. Cassie mounted on Chester not far ahead. Pioneer wants to catch them more than I do. I lean forward, eyes watching for danger on a trail we’ve never ridden before.
I risk a look into the rocky chasm only a few feet from Pioneer’s hooves. From my vantage point atop Pioneer, I see the trickle of a stream at the bottom. My gaze returns to Cassie, fifty yards ahead, glancing over her shoulder. Another rocky promontory. Cassie and Chester disappear behind it.
Pioneer puts on the brakes, pressing my boots into the stirrups. I’m confused as she warily rounds the jutting rock, as if expecting trouble. Chester is waiting expectantly. He neighs nervously, standing in front of a jumble of irregular black rock and soil, reins hanging from his bit.