I started on a donkey. At school I lived for my riding lessons, and had to write my Kenya Preliminary Exams with my left hand due to breaking my arm falling off a horse.
Heaven happened when at the age of thirteen my grandparents gave me a pony, and I would go off alone with a dog running alongside for miles over neighbouring farmlands, much to my parents’ consternation. I could never tell them exactly where I was going. I also rode twenty miles over two days to Pony Club rallies – and back again.
The injury to my arm raised its ugly head years later when I had to wring out nappies on a daily basis. But when the children were older, I would ride with them 15 miles to Pony Club rallies and back again in one day. The horses were super fit then, thinking nothing of walking twenty miles to a three-day show. We drag-hunted, hacked, raced, trekked, jumped, dressaged, played games, and even tried polo.
I’d go to the races regularly and moon over the sleek thoroughbreds parading in the ring. Inevitably, I’d pick out one in the first three, just by looking at them. I even owned a racehorse, and for a brief period, trained one – until he deposited me on my head one day while hacking out. It was six months before my mind cleared and I came to my senses.
Then I damaged my spine in a fall, which effectively crippled me for twelve years. It was sooo frustrating. No longer could I play tennis, or even stand for more than five minutes without looking for somewhere to sit. My muscles became flabby, and I grew outwards with soul-destroying speed. Then, I found a doctor who said I could ride, so long as I didn’t fall off. I discovered I could actually ride without pain, so long as I didn’t trot, and I had to take the forward seat when cantering. Of course I did fall off – and I kept very quiet about the small black bruise at the base of my spine which took ages to disappear. I could still ride without pain.
But then a miracle happened! Three months later, I discovered I could stand for long periods without having to sit down; I could walk for hundreds of yards without having to stop and rest because of the sciatic pain. And I could play tennis again. I “walked” round the world…
Coming to the UK was a challenge. I could not live without riding over the hills and far away, so found regular rides through the forests and over the downs. Whenever I go on holiday I try to organise a ride.
My time in the Lake District was wonderfully memorable – I’d never been so high off the ground before. I’ve been on a pacer in New Zealand (most uncomfortable), and galloped a wild west pony in Monument Valley (Eeeee – haa!);
I’ve ridden through the rock formations of Cappadocia in Turkey, and been driven in a fiacre in Vienna.
I’ve even ridden down the Sik at Petra.
And of course, being on horse-back among the wild animals of Africa is the most special of all…
… must come down to earth with a bump, now, and send the sequel to Breath of Africa off to the publishers.