When I was a girl, I read voraciously. It never occurred to me that I would wish to craft such stories when I grew up.
Being a horse lover, I picked up books about horses with the guarantee that I would love the story. The Black Stallion series and Black Beauty come to mind, as well as those of Marguerite Henry.
The mystique of King of the Wind took me to faraway places and gave me the assurance that one can succeed no matter what their origins. The Godolphin Arabian was one of three horses that formed the original stock of all racehorses in the Thoroughbred Registry.
Naturally, my newfound knowledge led me to the sport of Thoroughbred racing, where I followed the careers of such champions as Secretariat and Seattle Slew. I had a major crush on Secretariat (as far as a reasonable human can have a crush on a horse) and my father tried desperately to get me tickets for the last race of this incredible champion at Woodbine Racetrack. Alas, he couldn't get it and I was reduced to watching the race on a tiny black and white portable television.
I rode my bike as if I was a champion jockey, flying around the clubhouse turn to victory. Dad took me on a few tame trail rides but I still imagined I was in a race every time we accelerated to a tame trot.
When I was a teenager, I visited my father while he was on assignment in Algeria. Of course, my romantic feelings surfaced as we made arrangements to ride Berber horses across the plains north of the Atlas Mountains. Images of Bedouin tribes riding across the desert filled my mind. I even imagined the possibility of being kidnapped and sold to the white slave market. Yup, I had a vivid imagination.
We set out on a ride through rocky terrain - my dad, his girlfriend, the guide and me. My horse was a bay, a little fractious and nervous. The ride proceeded without incident until we turned for the journey back to the stables.
It was then that the mare decided to take the bit in her mouth and bolt. I tugged with all my might but was afraid of losing my balance and falling to the hard earth. In a vain attempt to keep my seat, I lifted my bottom from the saddle and grabbed a handful of mane, just like the jockeys I'd seen on television. The wind made my eyes water and the horse kept running faster and faster. My fellow riders were quickly left behind.
To the south a line of trees worried me. What if my horse simply crashed into them? To my relief she curved left and followed the line of trees to another treeline. However, she didn't slow. I thought for sure we were destined for a big collision.
The thumping and lumping finally led me to lose my seat. Just as we approached the trees, I bounced from the saddle and flew over the mare's head. I landed on my feet just as she skidded to a halt.
There we were, Berber mare and me, heaving great breaths with both sets of knees shaking. My arms were still wrapped around her neck and my head was pressed against her sweaty hide.
I don't know how long it took for my companions to catch up, but it seemed like minutes.
The first thing my dad shouted was, "Are you all right?"
His girlfriend (much later to be his wife) yelled with delight, "Sandra, that was fantastic!"
It was then that I decided I liked her.
The guide apologized for the mare's bad behaviour and offered to switch horses. I rode a magnificent grey Arabian back to the stables, admiring the shadow of his arched neck on the stoney ground.
You would think that such a harrowing experience would put me off riding forever, but in the thirty years that followed I landed on my ass countless times (never my fault, of course) and I wouldn't hesitate to ride again.