Sunday, 13 January 2008

The Lure of the Desert

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.


moonrat said...

my dad grew up in arizona in the middle of the desert (not in a city) and whenever i have gone to visit his family out there i've felt so inspired. there's something magical about the crushing heat. it practically forces the poetry out of you.

bunnygirl said...

I loved the Walter Farley and Marguerite Henry books, too. Nothing made me happier than finding one I hadn't read yet!

If you ever go to Santa Fe, I know a place nearby where for a very reasonable price you can ride a horse with a private guide through the hills and arroyos. The guide will take you at whatever pace your skill will allow, and it's a very fine thing to go cantering across the desert scrubland!

Thanks for inspiring a few memories!

Chumplet said...

The southern edge of the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia is the only true desert in Canada. Just three years ago, my father and I went for a three-hour trek through mountain paths strewn with wild sage. This time, the horse didn't run away.

Stephen Parrish said...

I should have said this long ago, but I love your paintings. My very first oil painting was a copy of an illustration of a horse in Black Beauty.

Demon Hunter said...

I have never ridden a horse before and not sure if I will or not! :*) Thanks for sharing the story! :*)

Chumplet said...

Thank you for the compliment, Stephen! Many of the paintings were freebies from charity auctions. I think I'm done with that scene. From now on, I want money!

Hello, Demon Hunter. I hope you find the nerve to get on a horse. Sometimes it feels like flying.

Ello said...

My youngest loves horses but I have to admit to not liking them myself. I am too much of a city girl. But all my girls love horse rides. And I love your paintings!

Church Lady said...

OMG! What a story! Truly amazing.
I also followed Seattle Slew, and dreamed of being short and thin so I could be a jockey too.
I am learning a lot about horses through someone my DH works with--he's a professional equestrian and has participated in the Olympics. He owns beautiful Belgian horses. Huge!!
I LOVE horses....

Bernita said...

What a lovely, vivid post, Sandra!
And there's a writer's lesson there.

BernardL said...

I enjoyed reading of your ride very much.

The Anti-Wife said...

What a great story. I rode horses at summer camp as a young girl, but always dreamed of being a cowgirl out riding on the range - ala Barbara Stanwyck or other strong Western women.

Kanani said...

Hey Chumplet, Those are nice memories, and I find movies and books that can capture what it's like to ride absolutely enthralling.

By the way.... thanks for bringing up "hummer." I was way off base, and Josephine Damian came by and straightened us out, bringing new smut to my naive and impressionable blog!

Chumplet said...

Imagine a simple post about wardrobe malfunctions developing into a sex education class!

Hummer -- it's not just a car anymore.

Kimber An said...

We've read all those horse books! Or, rather, my daughter read all those horse books and made me listen while she told them to me in excruciating detail.

Zee said...

OMG! King of the Wind was (and still is) one of my favorite books. I must have read it ten times when I was nine years old. My dad was a cowboy and I lived on a ranch until I was five. After we moved, I yearned for a horse, and all those Marguerite Henry stories filled the void. Come to think of it, sometimes I still think about horses.... just a dreamer, I guess.

I cried and cried when MH died. At that time, she lived very near my home in the San Diego area, so her obituary was prominent in our paper. I treasure those books. She made the world of a tall, gangly loner smart-girl just a bit brighter.

Sooooo, guess what I found on eBay about two months ago? An autographed copy of Justin Morgan Had a Horse. Autographed by MH and Wesley Dennis. I'm so thrilled! And the Morgan horse had its start in Vermont (my new home state)... how cool is this?!

Thanks for the memories!

Chumplet said...

Oh, Zee! You lucky girl to get such a book. I read that one, too... or maybe it was the movie I saw.

There are rumours that the Morgan is descended from the rare Canadian horse that may have crossed the border into the States around that time. The same build, colouring and toughness in both breeds. There is a campaign to save the Canadian from extinction.

Don't let go of your dream to own a horse, Zee. I haven't.

wordtryst said...

Moonrat should read Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey if she hasn't already. It's the best ode to the desert I've seen.

I don't have a clue what the hummer talk is about.

I'm always amazed at the things I find out on writers' blogs. They've pointed the way to many a good read. I've taken note of the books mentioned for my sister the horse maniac - just in case she hasn't read some of them. She started riding in her thirties, after yearning after horses all her life. Now she's the top rider in the civilian corps of a certain military branch here. I'm supposed to buy her a horse of her own when I'm rich and famous. (Ha! The girl is a dreamer.)

Great story, Chumplet.

Chumplet said...

I've been waiting for Daddy to buy me a horse for 47 years. I guess I should accept the fact that it's all up to me!

Becky Mushko said...

In 1977, six months after compressing a couple of vertebrae when I fell off a runaway lesson horse, I bought my first horse. I figured I already owned the back brace. . . . I owned him for over 10 years and gave him away to a little girl who owned him long enough for her little girl to ride him. he died at 33.

I recently bought some 1960s Marguerite Henry books at Goodwill for $1.00 each. I was delighted.

It's always nice to read the blog of a fellow writer/horselover. I don't ride anymore, but I've got two horses in the backyard. One I just missed seeing born (but I saw her take her first steps); she'll be 27 in May.

Jaym said...

Amazing story!

I grew up on the Black Stallion/Henry books. Spent many, many hours lost in daydreams about them. Fortunately, I had a little bay half-Arab mare who kicked, bit, tossed me off, spooked, bolted, scraped me off on trees, couldn't be caught, and listened to many a heart-broken sob. My love-affair has continued since then. She's dead, but Romeo, the bigger bay half-Arab is carrying on her legacy, beautifully.