‘Come on!’ The horse needed no urging. He leapt forward, off the broken path, onto the grass of the valley. Sarah guided him in the hope that he would intercept the other horse before the forest. If he could get there in time, if he could speed up, if he could catch the other horse. She squeezed harder. ‘Come on boy. Faster.’ He responded, exhilarated now, the love of running igniting the fear it engendered. Sarah felt his exhilaration, and his dread. If he stumbled, both of them would tumble in a thrashing mix of broken bones. She was clear of the other horse, gift of her head start, but she was coming from an oblique angle. The horses began to converge. She could see the other rider’s face now. White with horror. The horses eyed each other wildly. She felt hers quicken beneath her, saw the other horse respond. Jesus they were racing. If she didn’t stop them both, she and her fellow rider would be pulped in the forest. The horses came closer, faster, closer still. Sarah fought her horse now, yanking on the left rein, pulling him in, battling his compulsion to run. Ten yards, eight, seven, six. She caught her breath, pulled her horse closer, saw the terror burn in the other rider.
‘Hang on, brace yourself,’ she screamed. Five yards, four, three, two. Now they were almost together. With one hand, she gripped her reins and the pommel, with the other she reached out and down, grasping for the flailing rains of the runaway. She glanced at the approaching forest, leaned out more, legs gripping her horse like a vice. An inch more and she’d slip. Please God get the reins. The forest getting closer. One last lunge. She had them. Now she hauled back, legs braced forward, feet jammed in the stirrups, reining back for all she was worth. She felt her horse bunch under her, abruptly shortening his stride. The other horse still tried to keep his speed. She fought being pulled from her saddle. She gave a bit of rein, then yanked back as violently as she could. The other horse bridled, bunched, tried to shake his head. Sarah inched in another handful of reins. Yanked it. Both horses tried to fight. She fought back. ‘Easy now, easy now, whoaaa, whoooaaa. Easy now, easy.’ She pulled in another inch. Slowly, slowly, they began to come under her control. The forest loomed. Sarah pulled them right. They began to curve, slowly, easy now, not too violent or they’d tumble. The forest thirty yards away. ‘Easy now, easy.’ And finally they slowed, putting the breaks on voluntarily, legs jarring forward, dust flying. Till they stopped.